An Epic Adventure into The Hollow Earth by

Gerry Forster
under Down
Under
ONELIGHT.COM PUBLICATIONS
An Epic Adventure into The Hollow Earth
Gerry Forster
under
Down
Under
ONELIGHT.COM PUBLICATIONS
2
PART ONE ANTE ABYSSUS
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
PART TWO THE PIT
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
PART THREE SANCTUM SANCTORUM
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Illustration of AVISTAR
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
End
Gerry Forster’s Bio
Undara
Under Down Under Poster
Illustrations of Chas, Drew & Errol
Onelight.com
Seekers
C O N T E N T S CLICK ON TO GO TO CHAPTER/AREA
bookcover artwork by James G. Gavin
INTRODUCTION LESLEE DRU BROWNING
EDITORIAL JAMES G. GAVIN
PROLOGUE GERRY FORSTER
IIllustration of Hazel & Marianne
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Copyright © Gerry Forster 2002
All rights Reserved
The right of Gerry Forster to be identified as the author of
this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in
or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in
any form, or by means (electronic, mechanical, photo-
copying, recording or otherwise) without the prior written
permission of the publisher or the author. Any person
who does any unauthorized act in relation to this
publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and
civil claims for damages.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not,
by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or
otherwise circulated without the publisher’s or author’s
prior consent in any form of binding or cover than that in
which it published and without a similar condition
including this condition being imposed on the subsequent
purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead,
is purely coincidental.
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An Epic Adventure into The Hollow Earth
Gerry Forster
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For Greg, Leslee,
Helen, Doreen and Bruce,
with my sincere thanks for
their constructive comments,
their help, encouragement
and, above all, for their
patience
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Stories make our world. Stories are never memorized but always remembered, and they are the
means by which we explore the world of things, beliefs, and ideas. Stories educate, entertain and some-
times explain the unexplained. Legend and myths combined over time can reveal truths that lift the veil of
ignorance from our eyes and show us that which we have missed.
An author brainstorms when he writes a story. He pulls from within him distant memories of ancient
pasts, sprinkles in present day events, and, oftentimes prophesizes with his pen, giving birth to stories
about future events. These stories hold clues to what we may expect to discover just around the corner of
life. It has happened many times; probably the most famous was the story of the Titanic, which was
written well before the big ship sank. Fiction writer’s write about things they see, or feel, they describe
events that most likely are true, but must be categorized as fiction only because they have yet to be proven
in the eyes of science. But, for a writer to describe an apple he must have seen and tasted the apple
sometime during his life. In this country apples are real, but I would bet that there are peoples in this world
who have never seen an apple, let alone tasted one, and would therefore tell you, if you were to describe
to them an apple, that the apple did not exist, thus, for them, the apple is fiction. I ask you then, can
anyone say that when an author writes fiction it is completely false, a total fantasy, a simple fabrication of
the imagination? I think not.
Gerry Forster is a storyteller in every meaning of the word in that he sparks our imagination; he
brings to life what others only dare to dream about. He makes us sit up and take note and wonder—could
his story be true? His characters are unique and lively in that they are from different cultures and countries
that band together to bring the reader into a world where most dare not tread. They do this by introducing
the idea that we are not alone in this world, that we are not the only inhabitants of the Earth. Gerry
Forster’s ‘Under Down Under’ is a writer’s quest searching for the Hollow Earth. Many will say that a Hollow
Earth does not exist, cannot exist! I ask why not? Can any one scientifically prove that a Hollow Earth does
not exist? No. There is no hard evidence anywhere that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the world
we call Earth and walk upon daily, is not Hollow. No one can say for sure that there is not a complete
civilization that lives beneath our feet. No one can say that the earth is not layered with cities on top of
cities.
Gerry Forster has no doubt in his mind that a Hollow Earth exists. His book sings the song of one
who has seen what most have yet to perceive. Through the window of his mind the vision came; pure
stories in the wind, currents of awareness from a less familiar part of the Earth’s realm guided his pen. He
welcomed the whispers and put his pen to paper so that we may all enjoy his story. He had no struggle
with this material, no strain. He makes no effort to persuade us to understand, to prove or disprove; to
believe or to disbelieve in his work. He wrote what the whispers had to tell and what belongs to him is here
in his work. His hope with presenting us with ‘Under Down Under’ is that it may connect those of us who
read it with the Source from which it flowed, and perhaps allow us to imagine that a Hollow Earth may
indeed be very real.
Leslee Dru Browing, healer and author of “Silent Thunder”, “Alice’s Adventures into the Hollow
Earth”, and “Walks with Mikos”. Creator of Seekers Site.

FOREWARD to “Under Down Under”
by Leslee Dru Browning
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Imagine today a representative in Congress standing up and announcing that certain regions of the
Earth should be explored for the existence of other civilizations beneath the surface. And, by doing so the
prosperity and well being of all surface people will be dramatically altered forever, in the process of coming
in contact with such beings.
Such a situation did exist in U.S. Congress in the 1830s and polar expeditions through government
funding as well as private organizations were undertaken. In that time many of these proponents in search
of lost lands kept safely guarded reports of worlds beyond the poles which have been deftly passed down
to a susceptible public as fiction. In which time the popular belief of a paradisical hollow world, was
tenaciously dethroned by a very hot place of liquid magma, raging fire - the mind stuff of superstitious
Christian dogma easily turned over in the Hades setting of ancient lore. In time this myth of a hot central
sphere tightened its hold on the mindset of the surface population through the aid of the world controlled
education system. One may not think that all of mankind can be made ignorant by an ‘education system’?
We are often told stories when we are children to smooth over the harder realities. And the realiza-
tion that the Earth as well as neighboring if not distant planets are hollow with living civilizations, some of
which are very advanced, is too much for ‘the many’ to absorb.
Too many human minds at a very young age are kept weak in a harsh mental climate, whether by
the belief that they have a life of probable doom through nuclear attack ahead of them or their dreams of
happiness will always land on barren deserts. They are taught in leading universities that unless they are
able to enter into the corporative world as true professionals they have no future. In other words their rites
of passage to the Inner Earth treasures of royal awareness have been consciously, by a duplicitous frater-
nity of willful souls, removed from the children of the surface. Due to the influx of those who feed off the
energy of others, these energy vampires have paralyzed humanity as a whole and have given humanity a
bad name in the universe. Now, humanity must earn dearly in pain every drop of knowledge and happiness
it has, or join the likes of those whom only feed on others. Unless, there is an opportunity for them to move
into the energy rich realm of the Inner Earth, mankind only lives a certain number of years and then leaves
a legacy of children, to repeat the same cycle again and again. The perennial cycle of the human species is
a seeming and often ludicrous perpetual state of consciousness that is destined to an imbalance of great
heights and great lows. Such is the way of the surface earth prison.
We humans have established ourselves a culture which is meant to survive. Truly the survival of
industry is paramount in this relationship which allows for the interests of research and then adaptation.
The difficulty in this arrangement is adaptability which should be the first of the components - has taken
last place, due to the thrust of ongoing industrial momentum. And in all of this the fear of the loss of ‘one’s
lifestyle’ and the support of one’s children is the crucial underpinnings of the continual drama of this life, in
day and out.
Those who are educated to the degree of understanding pathology relating to human stress are
clearly aware in the use of the manufacturing and implementation of disharmonies. It is as one organism
being self created and manipulated, by an off center virus, runs a One World Machine, a decoy of true
consciousness. The populace is caught in the tyranny of the continual adjustments by this world surface
machine, as is exercised in increments on the populace as a whole. One, in which by no one is left out.
For the One World Machine to work efficiently it was and is now necessary to keep the Earth ‘solid’.
"There Has Never Been True Evidence of a Solid Earth"
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____
There have been numerous books of fiction written on deep cave dwellings and a proposed ‘hollow
earth’. Writers Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. G. Wells, Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, Jules Verne, have popularized the
beliefs of mythological ancient kingdoms still existing beneath the Earth, where the adventurous mind,
body or spirit may boldly step into, through a secret often forbidden hidden passageway.
Gerry Forsters’ book “Under Down Under” ushers in again the use of fiction to describe this probable
reality. Another genre of science fiction books on Hollow Earth is now trickling into main stream conscious-
ness, in the new hope that the Inner Earth is not only inhabitable by our human species but is indeed the
destiny of a gentle and peaceful people, who will be guided by their natural divine wisdom in the correct
use of Mother Earth’s abundant resources, the greatness and depth of which is still unfathomable by the
surface human mind.
“Under Down Under”, sends our minds through a series of eventful twists and turns into the depths
of the Earth through the portal of a dead volcano located in the northern section of the province of Queen-
sland, Australia, and into the pristine kingdom of ancient Giant Elders. A unique perception to the riddle of
a hollow earth and who and what exists beneath the surface, Gerry Forster’s voice is a master story teller
that carries the reader through a labryinth of hidden perspectives, as the near future, the new dream,
reveals itself onto the central world drama, as it is turning, in our day.
-James G. Gavin
Editor/ Publisher
Onelight.com Publications
2002
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under
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An Epic Adventure into The Hollow Earth
Gerry Forster
Prologue
Science continues to ponder the great mysteries of the universe that still surround
us; even in this advanced era of the 21
st
century AD. We have landed men on the moon
– or at least rockets and probes – not everyone is convinced yet that NASA actually landed
men there – and we have landed robotic crawling explorers on the planet Mars, and have
satellites orbiting that planet photographing its surface and relaying them back to us here
on Earth for processing and study. We are anticipating actually landing humans on the
Martian surface within the next decade or so. And yet, even amid all this marvelous hi-
tech development, we still cannot say for sure just what lies a mere 600 to 800 miles
beneath our feet as we stand upon our own plane Earth!
There have been many speculations over the past hundreds – nay – thousands of
years as to how our home world is actually formed internally. Some have asserted quite
firmly that the interior is made up of a vast 3000-mile diameter ball of nickel-iron which is
under such enormous pressure that it cannot solidify and remains semi-liquid. They claim
that this, in turn, is surrounded by a layer of dense liquid rock called the outer-core. This
is then enclosed in a thick layer of magma and it is this molten rock that finds its way out
on to the outer crust of the planet as “lava”, ejected by mountainous, recurrently-inflamed
“boils” and “sores” upon the Earth’s skin, which are called volcanoes or volcanic rifts.
Some geologists definitively claim that the Earth’s temperature climbs very rapidly
the deeper one descends down a deep mineshaft, such as those in the South African
diamond and gold fields, and that it must therefore continue to climb to temperatures
where even the rocks run like water. So that if one were to descend, say, a mere twenty
miles, one would probably die by being slowly cooked alive, as if in a pressure cooker. But
of course, the thoughtful student would ask “How can they possibly know these things if
they have never been able to go down and prove out these speculations?” For that is all
Prologue
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they are.
However, there are many others who hold entirely different views. For just as many
years, there have been men who believed that the world is hollow inside. That we dwell
upon the outside of a spherical shell of rock some six to eight hundred miles thick. There
is plenty of sound historical and religious basis for such a belief, even if not yet an accept-
able scientific one. Many religions around the world, even today, subscribe to the notion
that the interior of the Earth is where the spirits of the dead go, to await judgement by
their particular gods.
The ancients especially held this view – the Egyptians had their dark underworld of
the dead, where green-skinned Osiris rules and where Anubis and Horus wait to weigh the
heart of a man against a feather. If they are found to be in equilibrium, the soul may enter
Osiris’s afterlife kingdom. If not then it will be consumed and destroyed forever by the
Monstrous Ammit, hybrid Devourer of the dead. The Greeks also had their Underworld
of Hades, which was approached via a ferry poled across the Styx by Charon. And so also
did many other ancient religions entertain very kindred concepts.
Even today, the devout Christian or Hebrew fears being transported to Hell or Sheol,
where armies of demons under the command of Satan, delight in torturing the souls of
the damned amid a vast cavernous world of darkness and flames. Many of the people in
this present day world believe that such a terrible place lies beneath their feet.
However, there are many, too, who believe that this inner world is a place of great
peace and beauty, a veritable Paradise. They believe that it is peopled by a race of
spiritual beings whose souls are filled with grace and light, and that their race was the
origin of humanity. They believe that this might well be the original Eden from which our
forefathers were expelled for their sins! Today, there is a growing body of belief that this
might be a race possessing incredible technology. This, together with all the other spiri-
tual powers of the ancients that have been lost to sinful humanity here on the outer
surface for many millennia!
They are also thought to be the same entities who emerge and appear from time to
time in amazing space faring craft - which we in our abysmal ignorance call UFOs - in order
to maintain a watching brief upon the lunatic depredations of our degraded external
species. Their greatest concern is for the wellbeing of the beautiful planet which they and
we jointly share. The heartless despoilers of it come a very poor second…. That is,
except for those precious few beautiful souls upon the outer surface who really love and
care for this planet and the wonderful array of amazing life forms it bears. And, of course,
for that Great Creative Spiritual Intellect whose Handiwork they - and we - all are!
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Many now believe that it is these Inner Dwellers who will intervene when Mankind
finally oversteps his bounds, and who will bring about a great purging of our careless and
destructive race from the outer surface of the Earth. Whether these people are the
avenging Angels of God who will pour forth the seven vials of His Wrath upon fallen
mankind - as is prophesied in The Biblical Book of Revelation - is yet to be discovered. If
so, that terrible Day of Wrath may not be long in coming! We can only wait and see…….
Or do we really need to wait? Is it perhaps possible that the gates of the Garden of
Eden, Man’s original birthplace, might once again be open to those who are prepared to
attempt the journey? There is but one way for us to find out the truth, but the way must
first be discovered. Is it, as some Hollow Earth devotees are convinced, by means of the
vast openings that are reported by some seemingly dependable witnesses to actually exist
even to this day, at the poles of the Earth? Or can entry into the Inner Earth only be
attained by spiritual means? Means such as soul Astral Travel, or Spiritual Teleportation,
or simple mental Thought Projection? Or if we can contact these Inner Beings, can we
perhaps ask them to come and fetch us in the physical body to their realm by means of
UFO transfer – this latter method could perhaps account for the thousands of reported
cases of alleged “UFO Abductions” ! They may not have been actually abducted at all,
but have simply asked to be transported to this wonderful inner realm!
Who knows, perhaps some wishes can be granted? After all, isn’t a prayer simply
just such a wish? And if these Inner entities are the angels of God, can they not concede
such fervent prayer-wishes to us – if it is His Will? Maybe it’s possible to have one’s wishes
come true in such a way… if we can only believe strongly enough! One cannot help but
recall that great song: “If You Wish Upon A Star”. But are there any “Blue Fairies” out
there listening?
Sadly, for most of us there’s only one way in - and to get to Paradise, you have to go
through Hell first! Here’s wishing you a safe journey, Pilgrim!
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PART I
Ante Abyssus
“Vien, retro a me e lascia dir le genti.”
“Come, follow me and leave the world to chatter.”
Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, 5
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CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER ONE
Suddenly, the blond young giant, staggering and stumbling under the weight of his
wounded companion, found himself emerging from the almost stygian darkness of the
tunnel. He pushed on toward a densely interwoven screen of dangling tropical lianas and
vine leaves that delineated a faint pearly semicircle of light. At last he could see again!
But he wasn’t out of danger yet. He could hear their feet pattering and splashing along
the long black passage behind him, their calls and whoops echoing back into the depths
as they hounded him down. A final supreme effort of brute strength, and he burst through
the matted tangle and out into the open, beneath a pale wintry sky. Before him he could
see a wide, open grassy area edged on both sides with tall spindly-looking trees, and
ahead lay a broken outcrop of red rock. That would have to do. He was tiring rapidly and
was desperately in need of some sort of cover where he might be able to rest awhile –
even if only for a few minutes.
He charged, gasping out loud in agony and weariness, across the open clearing
through a deep carpet of lush, mauve-green grass, and clambered up the sharp, un-
weathered rock, panting and blowing like a grampus, trying to hold his friend’s bloodied
body over one shoulder whilst using his free hand to grasp at the razor like edges of the
stone slabs. My God, how they hurt! At the top of the outcrop, he paused, dripping blood
from gashed hands and feet, to risk a quick glance behind him. Surely his pursuers must
be almost upon him now! To his amazement, they were not! He looked back at the
almost concealed tunnel entrance, and could just discern the vague movements of a host
of gesticulating, brown lizard-like forms behind the screen of vine stems and leaves. He
could hear their vicious hissing screams of rage and frustration quite clearly, even from
here.
Why had they stopped? Another hundred yards and they could be upon him and
his poor battered friend, tearing and slashing them with sharp fangs and talons. But
something was preventing them from following him. What? Then suddenly it hit him.
Could it be the light? Were they afraid to venture out of the deeply-shadowed gloom?
That was IT! They just couldn’t stand the LIGHT! Now as he looked back more closely,
he could see that two of the demonic, filthy, scaly creatures had rushed headlong through
the mat of vines after him. They were now staggering blindly about, squealing in pain,
covering their hideous slitted eyes with taloned forepaws. Even as he watched, they both
finally blundered back in among the dangling lianas to rejoin their foul hadean brethren
within. Thank God for that! At least, a respite – for now!
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Painfully, Drew lowered himself down the other side of the jutting outcrop. His cut
and bleeding feet feeling for footholds beneath him until they struck a flattish stone plat-
form. Then he was down, and in some sort of safe cover - at least for the moment. Now
he carefully lowered his friend’s bloody and bruised body down upon the smooth cool
rock, propping his poor torn back against a stone slab. Urgently he crouched forward and
placed his ear against his friend’s chest.
At least he was still breathing, and his heartbeat was still reasonably regular. Thank
God for small mercies! Now he was free to slump down to a sitting position and lean back
himself. God alone knew where they were, and how they were going to survive this
horrifying experience!
After a moment or two of blissful rest, he examined his unconscious friend to assess
what damage he had sustained. Thankfully, after a brief overall check, he found that,
apart from a multitude of deeply clawed lacerations and several large severe contusions to
Erb’s head and body, nothing seemed to be broken. He would live, all right, but he’d be
in some pretty awful pain when he came round.
His own injuries were not much less severe and his body was aching all over from
toting a limp 14-stone man over his shoulder. Like Erb, he’d lost a fair amount of blood
during the fight and their subsequent flight along the labyrinth of foul, fetid tunnels. Not
to mention the severe bruising they’d sustained in their frequent skids on the slimy, be-
fouled rock floor, and blunders into protruding rocks.
Now he could relax a little on that score. At least they were alive, and safe for the
time being. But where were they? He peered around their location. Astoundingly, he
discovered that they were perched upon a wide ledge of stone overlooking a precipitously
deep gorge. He crept painfully forward on hands and knees to look over the edge of the
rock platform.
A sheer drop fell away below him for at least a thousand feet, ending in a deep-
looking river, edged with luxuriant tall trees and bushes. To one side, a little further along
the ledge, perhaps twenty or thirty yards, a stream flowed out through a gap in the
palisade of outcropping red stone, creating a mini-waterfall as it plunged off into the river
far beneath. At least they wouldn’t die of thirst! Slowly, Drew raised his weary eyes to
scan the horizon beyond the other side of the gorge. But now he was really staggered!
THERE WAS NO HORIZON! All he could see was a endless vista of mountain ranges and
gorges ascending into a distant blue haze where they gradually became lost to view! The
land just seemed to go on and on – upwards!
It occurred to him that he must be suffering some form of delirium. Perhaps he
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should rest up a while and try to snatch a few minute’s sleep. If their pursuers had
regrouped and followed them, they would surely have been upon them long before this.
He’d just have to risk it. Tiredness swept over him in a gigantic wave. He lay back against
the rock slab next to Erb, and gazed up into the pale hazy white sky, where a faint sun
struggled to break through. It was just like being back in Scotland.
As he lay there reflecting upon such thoughts and images, his mind strayed back
over his life. A previous existence that he’d almost forgotten in the horrendous place from
which they had just escaped. He first recalled his home in the Queensland outback, and
then, suddenly, all the old memories began to return. His childhood and his father, a man
driven by ambition, whom he had only seen infrequently…. Ah, yes! It was all coming
back to him now. Blurred childhood memories flooded through his mind as Drew slumped
back into a deep sleep….
* * *
Drew’s father, Alasdair MacDonell, was invariable away. Either on business-trips
overseas or entertaining in his Sydney Harbour-side mansion in between his endless round
of board meetings, and business functions while Drew was growing up. Drew often went
to stay with his father there, but he hated the place. Though he had loved sailing his 16-
footer on the Harbour during his brief stays with the “Old Man” during his teen years, prior
to being sent overseas to get a “Proper bloody education”.
His father had little faith in Australian universities, especially in view of the brash,
self-opinionated “yuppies” they produced, whom he encountered every day in the busi-
ness world. Thus, like his father before him, Drew had attended Edinburgh University in
Scotland, from whence he returned with excellent degrees in Geophysics and Archaeol-
ogy.
Alasdair MacDonell was a tycoon of the “old school”, who had been raised on the
Queensland property himself, when it was a real “fair-dinkum” cattle-station, and had
developed a strange love for “rock-hounding” in his spare time (of which his father al-
lowed him precious little) as a boy. Then, when he was sent to “the Coast” to get the
“decent schooling” his own father had missed out on. Alasdair’s flair for geology was
nurtured by his science teacher, and attracted the interest of the Headmaster. He was
instrumental in getting Alasdair’s father, Angus MacDonell, a tough Scots migrant who’d
built up a prosperous cattle property from scratch, to allow him to go on to pursue his
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chosen subjects at university. But Angus insisted that Alasdair be sent overseas to Edin-
burgh University in Scotland. Alasdair took all before him and won Honours Degrees in
Geology and Economics. The rest was history.
Alasdair had shaped a great career for himself, first as a field-geologist for a giant
mining corporation, and then in easy strides into a senior position of management and
soon, on to the Board as first a junior then a senior director. Meanwhile, as his salary had
risen accordingly, he had made quite a few perfectly-timed investments in Corporation
shares. With his hereditary Scottish canniness, helped by a booming mineral market
during the 1970s, they swiftly multiplied into a fortune. Now he was the Chairman of the
Board, as well as a major stockholder. However, old Angus did not live to see Alasdair’s
meteoric rise to fortune. A heart-attack carried him off during his early fifties, but his
sturdy Scots wife, Elspeth, helped by a dependable foreman, had still managed to keep
the cattle-station running reasonably well for a decade or so.
Now, alas, she had joined her husband. They shared a little white-railed family
burial plot under the shade of a great and leafy river red gum, not far from the fine
homestead they had labored so hard to build up so many hard years before. Alasdair
often took time out from his busy schedule to visit the property, which was now his own,
and to pay his respects at his parents’ graves, standing hatless under the rustling boughs
gazing out across the wide open country as the hot winds ruffled his own already graying
locks. He’d received many tempting offers for the lushly-pastured property, with its
excellent grazing and sweet, permanent water. But his love for his parents, and the bitter
toil and backbreaking effort they had sweated into the place, would never permit him to
consider such an insult to their memory.
His own wife, Mary, a city-bred girl, had eschewed the country life preferring the
comforts of the fine old Sydney home he’d purchased, with its fine views across the
famous Harbour, its balmy cooling summer breezes, and the convenient society of her
friends. It was there that she gave birth to Andrew. It was there too, that she quite
suddenly succumbed to an attack of spinal meningitis, leaving a broken-hearted Alasdair
to wonder how he could possibly raise his little son alone.
He now possessed a cattle-property he had neither time or desire to run, and a small
child in dire need of parenting. However, the same resourcefulness that had helped him
build a business empire soon came to his rescue. Consequently, Alasdair found himself a
bright young station-manager named Bob Jackson to run the family cattle-station for him
– on condition that Bob and his wife raised a family of their own in the dear old home-
stead! Bob was a fairly rough young diamond, but he knew his job and he was totally
honest. Alasdair gave him full reign to run the “Glengarry” property and look after it as if
it were his own, and to pocket the profits for himself and his family.
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All Alasdair asked in return was that they care for and love the place as his father and
mother had done, and that from time to time he himself would be welcomed into their
midst. Not as a benefactor but as an avuncular figure, whenever he felt the need to
escape the money-hungry business madhouse of Sydney and touch his home-roots for a
day or two. He already had his own company plane, so such escapes were easy.
But much more important was his stipulation that they accept and raise his young
son, Drew, as one of their own offspring – at least until he was old enough to be placed in
a suitable residential boarding-school at Charters Towers, near the North Queensland
Coast. During the quarterly school-holidays, Drew was to be welcomed Home to the sta-
tion homestead, and loved just as if he were their own flesh and blood.
Fortunately, Alasdair had chosen well, as he did with all his people, and the young
manager, Bob, proved his trust to be well-placed. He and his wife soon grew to love the
little blond-haired lad just as if he were their own, and when they began having children,
Drew became an elder brother-figure to them.
Drew grew up to early manhood, and was dispatched off to Britain to receive the
same educational opportunities at Edinburgh University that his father had been granted.
There he applied himself with vigor and acquitted himself so well, that his father keenly
hoped, in due course, to welcome him home and draft him straight into his own corpora-
tion, so that when the time came, Drew could take over the reigns.
Unfortunately, Drew had other ideas. His greatest love in University had been the
study of Archaeology, and, much to Alasdair’s disappointment, Drew displayed little inter-
est in his father’s huge mining corporation or in the massive wealth it generated. His
driving passion in life was to search Australia for traces of its ancient prehistoric past – a
past which reached back far beyond the advent of the aborigines, into the very dawn of
time itself.
During his time in Edinburgh, he had become a member of a covert student discus-
sion-group, who would talk far into the night about those arcane, mysterious millennia
which they all felt must long pre-date the orthodox “Archaeology” their professors dwelt
upon, which began in the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa and ended with the Roman Empire.
Before long this same revolutionary thinking had also spread into Drew’s other pri-
mary subject, Geophysics. He had been drawn into an Internet group of like-minded
rebels who were interested in a very different structure for the Earth and the planets, than
was didactically taught by their rigidly-orthodox tutors. They dared to contemplate an
Earth (or even any of the terrestrial planets) which was not a solidly-packed body, filled
with molten magma surrounding a large nickel-iron core!
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However, Drew remained mindful of his father’s expectations regarding his scholas-
tic attainments and the subsequent good degrees. Because of this, he somehow man-
aged to so school his mind and compartmentalize his thinking, as to be able to fully absorb
all the required curriculum of orthodox Geophysics and Archaeology. Yet, at the same
time, he was able set up an entirely separate, but equally-powerful, mental “hard drive”,
on which he could also squirrel away his newly-acquired knowledge of hypotheses and
concepts regarding the Hollow-Planet theory. It was a terrific mental strain at first, trying
to “keep a foot in both camps” but he carried his father’s brilliant mental genes, as well as
his grandfather’s stubborn, unbending will to succeed, and thus he was able to focus upon
both views with equal strength of mind.
Some of the others fell by the wayside, but Drew ploughed ahead regardless, con-
centrating upon his official lectures by day, then focussing his mind upon the exact oppo-
site in the evenings. Only one was able to keep up with Drew in this. A rather brash yet
bright American youth from Detroit, Michigan, whose father was an automobile million-
aire. This was Errol Ross Burroughs, a large, square-jawed young giant, with close-cropped
ginger hair and freckles, who shared a room with Drew.
Errol and Drew had hit it off together from Day One, and had become close as
brothers as their time in the great university progressed. They were both studying the
same subjects and, because their minds were very closely attuned, they competed in the
friendliest sporting fashion to outdo each other in their studies. As a direct consequence
of this, they both fared extremely well in their finals, passing in all subjects with excellent
degrees. They went everywhere together, and enjoyed their weekends exploring the
land that featured so strongly in both their heritages.
Errol’s mother was herself of Scottish descent, her parents having migrated from
Aberdeen to Canada soon after their marriage. She had first met Errol’s father during a
business conference in her home city, Toronto, where she was then the PA to a Canadian
lumber tycoon. It was love at first sight, and Errol’s father wasted little time in the
formalities of a lengthy courtship. Instead, he swept her off her feet in a whirlwind
romance and, within three months, made her his bride. Thus she had soon found herself
installed as the mistress of a fine lakeside mansion in the lushly wooded countryside of
northern Michigan, waited upon hand and foot by a wealthy American husband who adored
her. Errol duly arrived, and, after a far more lavish childhood than Drew’s had been, he
was sent off to college. Then, having proved himself to be both a fine scholar and an
irrepressible girl-chasing hell-raiser, he was sent, at his mother’s specific request, to round
out his education in Scotland’s strongly- disciplined Edinburgh University - at precisely the
same point in time as Drew.
And thus developed a bond of close friendship, seasoned with a liberal dash of
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healthy competition. What one did well, the other endeavored to do better, in or out of
classes. They both got into the usual undergraduate scrapes involving drink, girls and
pranks. They learned scuba-diving and rock-climbing during their holidays, too, at both of
which sports they became highly proficient. It was through them that they learned self-
reliance and discipline, and how to take care of themselves in tight corners. And they
both joined the same “Underground” evening study-groups of taboo subjects – of which
the internal “Hollow Earth” was by far the most fascinating.
There was only one member of the great University’s faculty who knew anything of
their extramural studies. Professor Dinnwiddie was both Drew’s and Errol’s tutor in Geo-
physics, and had somehow stumbled upon their ghastly secret. He had confronted them
both with their “infairnal duplicity and pretence” in trying to “run wi’ the ‘haire o’ noncon-
formity and the hoonds of academia’ at the same time.” What had they to say for them-
selves in mitigation of “sae appalling an insult toward such a grand hallowed seat o’
lairning as Edinburgh Univairsity, eh?”
Errol had turned bright crimson and was momentarily struck dumb, so it fell to Drew
to explain that they wanted to hear both sides of the Geophysics story. They heard the
orthodox theories by day, and studied their far more intriguing alternatives by night.
When Dinwiddie scathingly asked him what more intriguing alternative there could possi-
bly be to the magnificent Geophysics curriculum taught at Edinburgh, Drew hesitated.
“Weel, mon! Oot weth it!” roared Dinwiddie. “What’s sae damned fascinating that ye’d
both waste ye’r ain valuable time – and mah ain – in boggling ye’r brains weth it till the
wee hours, when ye ought tae be relaxing your theck heids in honest slumber in raidiness
for honest study?”
It was then that Errol final found his voice. “I’ll tell you why, Prof!” he said in his
Detroit drawl, and using the abbreviated title that Dinwiddie detested. “It’s because you
smart guys don’t teach us a goddamn thing about the Inner Earth! You just stick to the
same old goddamn bunk they do everywhere else! Gee Whizz, man! I could have stayed
Home and learned all this stodgy, orthodox old crap at Michigan! Don’t you guys have any
sense of adventure? Hell, I could .…”
At this point he had to shut up, because Professor Dinnwiddie, a rather heavy man
in his late forties, had suddenly turned a peculiar shade of mauve around the gills, and
appeared as if he was about to have an apoplectic fit. They were both horrified that he
might keel over in front of them, so contorted were his features. Drew was just about to
shout for a porter to call an ambulance, when Dinnwiddie finally managed to give tongue.
To their astonished relief his purpled visage was creased by a gargoyle grin. Then he gave
vent to a loud guffaw of rumbling laughter.
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“Oh, nooo!” he snorted. “Not that confoonded “Hollow Airth” blether all over again!”.
He clutched, weak with mirth, at the edge of his desk. He then went on to tell them that
this subject had been cropping up ever since the publication of U.S. Admiral Richard E.
Byrd’s alleged “Secret Diaries” of his mysterious flight beyond the North Pole into the
Inner Earth. Virtually every new batch of students that had enrolled since for the Earth
Science course had its fair sprinkling of fanatical Hollow Earth lunatics. “Pairhaps,” he
added, with his renowned syrupy sarcasm, “the Univairsity should mebbe conseeder opening
a brand new depairtment daidicated tae the Inner Airth? Weeth both of ye as it’s haid
lectors an’ tutors, o’course, eh?”
He was still rumbling with mirth as he ushered them out of his study. “If aiver ye
decide to gae in sairch o’yonder place, ma puir wee deluded loons, be sure and let me
know! Ah might even be taimpted tae come along weeth ye, even if ainly tae prove ye
baith wrong! Ah could do wi’ a guid laugh!”
Followed by the Professor’s echoing rumbles of laughter, Drew and Errol retired
fuming to their room, swearing a dark oath together that, one day, they would make
Dinwiddie eat his words.
However, Professor Dinwiddie continued to coach them both with unabated dili-
gence, patience and forbearance. And, when the time came for their finals, they both
sailed through effortlessly, and had graduated with considerable merit, if not honors.
Edinburgh and Professor Dinwiddie had done them proud, and when the day arrived for
them to depart he bade them both a warm and moist-eyed farewell. A farewell that was
every bit as warmly and poignantly returned by Drew and Errol, who had come to regard
“Old Din Dins” as a greatly respected father-figure.
It was a somber day when the two parted company at London’s Heathrow Airport,
Drew to board a Qantas flight for the long trip back to Australia, and Errol to take the far
shorter transatlantic flight home to Detroit, via New York. Before making for their sepa-
rate flight-lounges, they enjoyed a couple of last beers together in the main terminal, and
vowed to keep in close contact, promising to visit each other once they had sorted out
their respective careers and settled down to make their different ways in the world. Then
Errol’s flight was called, and they bade each other farewell with a final brotherly bear-hug.
Soon, it was Drew’s turn to board his own flight home to that wide brown land Down
Under. It was a very long and wearying flight, and he had plenty of time to think about
the life that awaited him upon his return. His father had arranged to meet him at the
airport in Sydney, despite his usual overcrowded schedule of endless business meetings
and conferences. He had told Drew over the phone before he left Edinburgh, that he
would like him to spend a week or two at his Sydney home, so that they could discuss
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plans for his future. He had made it clear that he expected Drew to join the corporation
and undergo a crash-course in top-management, with a view toward eventually taking
over as CEO when Alasdair decided he’d had enough.
Drew thought long and hard about this. He had noticed, even before he left for
Britain as a callow youth, how much of his father’s time was consumed by the exacting
demands of running the giant mining corporation and its many subsidiaries. He had also
observed, during his periodic boyhood stays at the harbor side mansion, the terribly long
hours his father had to spend in the relentless round of meetings and functions that go
with wealth and power. He also knew, through a family friend who wrote to him confiden-
tially at the University, that his father had already suffered two minor heart-attacks but
had brushed them aside as mere inconveniences, instead of heeding them as warnings to
slow down. Drew was also aware that his grandfather, Angus, had died of a massive
heart-attack in his early fifties, and that his own father now well into his late forties, was
living a far more stressful life-style than his father had ever done. This gave Drew
furiously to think about his own future. Did he really want to follow in his father’s foot-
steps?
It wasn’t as if he had no ambition, or that he disliked the idea of working for a living.
Regardless of the fact that his father already had far more money than he knew what to do
with and could retire whenever he chose, and let his son live the life of a playboy if he so
wished. It was simply that, thanks to his years in the university, Drew had become imagi-
natively fired up to pursue a entirely different goal in life. His studies, whilst certainly not
unhelpful in fitting him for the role his father had planned, had also drawn his interests
into a totally different sphere. He wanted to be an explorer – not looking for oil or
minerals – but for clues to the secrets of the ancient lost civilizations, and - Yes! Even
“portals” that might lead to the Earth’s legendary hollow interior, whence, he was con-
vinced, humanity had originated.
However, after Drew’s landing in Sydney, his tearful father had welcomed his muscu-
lar giant of a son home with such an enthusiastic handshake and a heart almost bursting
with gladness, that he’d had to put all that on hold. At least, for the time being anyhow,
until an opportune moment arose when he might be able to explain it all to his doting
father. Somehow, Drew didn’t think Alasdair was going to receive that particular piece of
news with any great enthusiasm. He’d have to wait and see!
In the meantime, once the initial jet-lag and the culture-shock of being back in
Australia had worn off , Drew was content to spend a few days lazing on the mansion’s
wide patio. He basked in the brilliant Australian sunshine and gazed out over the magnifi-
cent panorama of Sydney Harbour in all its vibrant colour and aquatic activity. He admired
the brightly-gleaming white “sails” of Sydney’s beautifully-designed opera-house, and the
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gigantic span of the “Coat-Hanger”, Sydney’s world-famed steel suspension bridge. He’d
actually seen its miniature original on a weekend drive with Errol down from Edinburgh to
Northumbria. It was the main bridge over the Tyne river in Newcastle-Upon Tyne, and
had been built by the same British firm. It too, had been nicknamed the “Coat-Hanger”!
The harbor was alive with craft of all sorts and sizes, and Drew finally succumbed to
the siren-call of the white sails and the blue water. He happily rediscovered the joy of
taking his old sixteen-footer out of her boat-shed again and hoisting her sails. His father
had kept her well-maintained, and he was even more pleased to discover he’d lost none of
his skills as a sailor. It wasn’t until he was returning from his first stimulating sail around
the harbor, that he noticed a huge sleek launch tied up to the jetty down below the big
house. He could easily imagine what its primary function was. A highly expensive seago-
ing office and bar, kept solely to impress Dad’s overseas business acquaintances, and
aboard which, no doubt, many a big financial deal had been struck or a rich contract
signed. The whole idea suddenly seemed repugnant to Drew. This definitely was not his
line of territory!
As he climbed the steeply-winding stone steps back up to the house, he realized he
was going to have to bite the bullet and bring his father up to speed on his own plans.
However, the first problem was to catch his father in a free moment. True, Alasdair had
taken a day off from the office to welcome Drew home and hear about his experiences in
“The Old Dart” as he still persisted in calling England. (Despite Drew’s pointing out that
Scotland was definitely not a part of “The Old Dart”!) During their single, almost
uninterrupted, day together, Alasdair had made no mention of Drew’s future. It seemed
as though he’d completely taken it for granted that Drew would fall in with his plans
without any dissention or demur.
Instead, he had lounged around on the sundeck, cheerfully plying his now-fully
mature but dog-tired son with beer and liquor, and - in between frequent urgent monosyl-
labic business phone-calls – he’d rambled on about the old happy days, when Drew was
a child and his mother still alive. Alas, he had plied the liquor considerably more to
himself, with the result that he soon fell into a drunken stupor and had to be helped to bed
by his son and his butler. The next morning, when Drew awoke long after sunup, his father
had already departed for another stressful day at the office. Once again, this reinforced
Drew’s view that the life of a big-shot tycoon was not for him. The sooner his father was
apprised of this fact, the better!
His opportunity finally came about a fortnight after his homecoming. His father
arrived home early one afternoon, complaining of a stomach-upset. However, when Drew
suggested calling the doctor, Alasdair pooh-poohed the idea, dismissing it as merely hav-
ing eaten “not wisely, but too well” at an important business lunch.
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“Bloody wog-food!” he grumbled. “That’s the only drawback with dealing with some
of these foreign jokers! You’ve got to eat the same garbage as them, or they regard it as
a bloody insult!” Then he leaned back and sighed massaging his midriff tenderly. “Still,
I guess if I have to eat bloody pig-poo to make a buck, I reckon it’s worth it in the end! I
just signed a thirteen point five million-dollar deal today, son! Not bad pay for half a day’s
bloody work, eh?” He heaved himself up painfully and wandered out onto the sundeck.
“Fetch us a six-pack of coldies, will you, son? Let’s put our feet up for a bit and enjoy this
charming million-dollar view I paid for in blood, sweat and tears!”
Drew did as he was bidden, and, as they sat back in the long armed sundowner
chairs, and quietly drank their ice-cold beers straight from the bottle, Alasdair was glad to
note that his Dad seemed a lot more relaxed and at ease. They sat in silence for a while,
then, just when Drew was steeling himself to raise the issue of his future, Alasdair beat
him to the punch.
“By the way, son,” he growled in his gravelly voice. “I meant to ask you when you
fancy coming up to the office and having a bit of look around. Sort of get the feel of the
place, as it were, and let me introduce you to some of the fellers, eh?” He gave Drew a
sidelong twinkling glance. “And the sheilas, too, of course! It’s time you got your feet wet,
son, before I toss you in at the deep end!” Before Drew could reply, his father went on.
“After all, I won’t be around forever, Drew, and they’ll need to get used to the idea of you
being the big boss instead of me.” He paused to take another long draught of his beer,
and Drew seized the golden opportunity with both hands.
“Funny you should mention that, Dad! I was going to talk to you about it myself,
when I got the chance!” He drew in a deep breath before launching into his carefully-
rehearsed speech. He outlined all the things he’d discovered about himself and the world
in general at Edinburgh. The friends he’d made and how he and they had found common
interests and objectives in life. He told Alasdair about his fascination with the ancient past
and how he had planned, along with his mate, Errol, to go into it all on a more serious
level, beginning with the continent of Australia, which he believed had once been the
home of a great hi-tech civilization many thousands of years before even the aborigines
migrated there.
He explained how his professor of archaeology had really made them all sit up and
listen during his fascinating lectures, by painting wonderful word-pictures of the amazing
sites he had visited around the world. He’d told them that what had been discovered thus
far was merely the tip of a huge iceberg of lost history and civilizations that would put their
modern one to shame.
However, Drew was very careful to avoid making any mention of the Hollow Earth
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theory. That, he felt certain, would be just too much for his highly pragmatic father to
either understand or swallow.
Surprisingly, Alasdair had just remained sitting there in total silence for over half an
hour, as Drew chatted animatedly, without making any of the angry protests or interjec-
tions Drew had been expecting. He just leaned back in his armchair staring out across the
bright sunlit harbor as though his son’s long-winded explanation had completely mesmer-
ized him. Drew glanced at his father expectantly, waiting apprehensively for the tirade
that was bound to follow once his words had sunk in.
It was then that he noticed that the front of his Dad’s white golf shirt was soaked in
beer from the bottle that he held limply at an odd angle across his chest. At first Drew
thought he’d bored him to sleep with his talk of ancient civilizations and so forth, but then
he realized that Alasdair’s eyes were still wide open and unblinking. A sudden nameless
dread gripped him. Had the old man taken a sudden fit or a stroke or – or something?
Drew shook his father’s arm vigorously to rouse him.
Then the almost-empty beer stubbie rolled out of Alasdair’s clutched hand and clat-
tered noisily across the sundeck boards. His head lolled sideways toward Drew, as he
shook him, his sightless eyes seeming to stare blankly straight through his son. Then
Drew realized the truth. With an anguished cry, he leaned across and hugged his dead
father to his chest, rocking him back and forth like a limp, rag doll, whilst hot tears began
to well out of his eyes, and a gigantic lump rose up in his throat, choking back the useless
words of comfort he tried to utter.
And it was thus that Mainwaring, Alasdair’s faithful old butler, found them, half an
hour later when he came out of the big lounge to see if they were ready to dine. Then he
hastened away, white-faced and stricken, to phone urgently but hopelessly for the family
doctor and an ambulance.
The doctor arrived a few seconds before the ambulance, but after a brief examina-
tion, he looked up at Drew’s pale anxious face and grimly shook his head, confirming his
worst fears. Then he nodded to the waiting ambulance men As they lifted his father’s
body on to the collapsible gurney, the dam of Drew’s grief burst, and he wept inconsolably
like a woman for his departed beloved father. The doctor stayed with Drew for nearly an
hour afterwards, but despite his consoling remarks, and the shot of powerful sedative he
administered, the dawn was breaking before Drew finally sank into an exhausted but fitful
sleep, under the careful watch of faithful old Mainwaring.
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CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 2 CHAPTER 2
The news of Alasdair McDonnell’s sudden passing spread like a bush fire throughout
Sydney’s Central Business District. Everyone - even his numerous business rivals - mourned
the death of this colossus of the Sydney business world. Despite his overpowering and
relentless drive, and demand for perfectionism, he had been a man greatly admired and
loved by all who knew him, and none more so than his own loyal employees at Clanranald
Corporation. He’d been a hard taskmaster, but a scrupulously fair one, and hard work had
always been highly rewarded in his empire.
At his funeral, there was not a dry eye in the packed church, except for Drew’s. His
tears had already been shed, and he was now living in a zombified state of self-reproach.
He never took his eyes off the magnificent oaken casket all through the lengthy service.
As he gazed, the minister paid the obligatory lengthy tribute to a man he had only met on
two previous occasions - his marriage, and Drew’s baptism.
Drew’s mind was in turmoil. He felt somehow responsible for his father’s death.
Had he so upset his Dad in not wishing to follow him into the world of big business, that it
had been the final straw needed to induce the coronary that had killed him? Then he
recalled how Alasdair’s general manager had phoned to advise him about his Dad’s failing
health. He also recalled Alasdair’s own words spoken within an hour of his death. That he
“wouldn’t be around forever”. Alasdair’s doctor had told Drew, later on that fateful after-
noon, how he’d warned him repeatedly that his heart was in bad shape. That he must
slow down – even if it meant taking early retirement. But Alasdair had chosen to ignore
the warning. He’d taken his life into his own hands by ploughing full-steam ahead - and
damn the torpedoes!
Suddenly it occurred to Drew that his father had known he was dying on that final
day, and had come home expressly to be with his beloved son when the fatal blow finally
fell! None of it was in any way Drew’s fault. The old man had gone out the way he had
always wanted to go. He’d simply dropped in full harness, without any of the hoohah of
coronary by-passes, diets and rest, or even a whimper.
By the time Drew emerged from this doleful reverie, the minister had ended his
lengthy eulogy and the choir were now singing “Amazing Grace”. Not with the customary
church-organ, grand though it was - but to the accompaniment of a lone Scottish piper,
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magnificently arrayed in full MacDonnell highland dress and clan regalia. The choir’s
voices was almost drowned out by those of the huge concourse of business associates and
friends who had come along to send Alasdair upon his way to that final Stock Exchange in
the sky, and filled the church to overflowing.
The haunting sound of the pipes, the voices, and the words of the beautiful hymn
that had always been the family favorite, brought tears springing to Drew’s eyes afresh.
And they still flowed freely as he followed his father’s coffin down the aisle and out to the
waiting hearse, with the piper leading the way, playing the sweet, melancholy strains of
the sad lament “The Flowers of The Forest” upon his bagpipe.
A long cortege of expensive cars then followed the hearse to the airport, where
Alasdair’s private aircraft was waiting on the tarmac. His was to be no elaborate show-
funeral. He had left strict instructions with his solicitor that, in the event of his death, he
wished to be buried alongside his father and mother in the tiny white-fenced graveyard at
the old family homestead up in outback Queensland.
As his father’s coffin was being transferred from the hearse to the plane, Doug
Edwards, the general manager, of Clanranald Corporation came over with a couple of
other senior executives to offer their heartfelt condolences to Drew, and also to say that
since Drew was now the sole heir and principal stockholder of the firm, he hoped for some
instructions from him regarding the future running of the corporation. To the already
distraught Drew, it was like a red rag to a bull. “Do what the hell you like with the bloody
firm!” he cried in a flare of temper. “It’s already killed my Dad - I don’t want any bloody
part in it! You can run the whole show for all I care, Doug!”
But almost at once Drew regretted his outburst. “look, Doug.” he said contritely.
“This obviously isn’t the best time to discuss this. Just carry on as normal, will you, mate,
and I’ll give you a call in a day or two regarding future plans.” Then seeing that the trio
were still looking a little anxious, he added: “Don’t worry! I don’t intend firing anybody! I
just want you all to carry on as if Dad was still the boss. If he trusted you, then so do I.
OK?” They all looked relieved at this and nodded gladly. Edwards took his hand and
thanked him, as did the others, then they left Drew to his gloomy task of supervising the
stowage of his father’s casket into the aircraft.
The flight up to Queensland took three hours, during most of which Drew sat beside
Mike, his father’s pilot, moodily staring down at the wide landscape passing below. But by
the time they crossed the mountainous border into his home-state, his mood had begun
to brighten up a little. “Soon be Home now, Dad!” he murmured quietly over his shoulder,
glancing at the pilot, Mike Butcher, with a wan smile as he did so. Mike smiled back
through his dark sunglasses and gave Drew a “thumbs-up” signal of approval. “Won’t be
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long now, son.” he said. “Then you’ll be back with Bob and Mum again! Seein’ them again
ought to buck you up a bit, mate!” then he broke off for a while to talk over the radio,
calling in and checking his flight-plan with Brisbane Air Traffic Control.
This gave Drew time to think about his coming reunion with the two people he now
cared most about in the world. Bob Jackson had become a very close second father to
him, and Bob’s missus, Joan, had been his Mum in every sense, for as far back as he could
now remember. His own birth-mother was only a faintly-recollected ghost from his in-
fancy. Now she and his father would be reunited somewhere in whatever world followed
this one. This thought warmed his heart considerably, as did the thought of his father
shortly lying beside his own parents at Glengarry Station.
The flight was uneventful. Drew must have nodded off for a while lulled by the
steady droning of the plane’s twin-engines. The next thing he knew was Mike shaking him
by the shoulder, and yelling in his ear. “Wakey, Wakey, Drew! We’re there, mate!”
A dazed glance out of the cockpit window, revealed to Drew the lush spring green of
the home paddocks surrounding the homestead. Then almost below the plane, he saw
the bright metallic gleam of the afternoon sun reflecting off the aluminum-painted iron
roofing of the rambling house and its outbuildings. The sight of the dear old place nest-
ling in the cool shelter of several giant Moreton Bay Fig trees almost brought tears to
Drew’s eyes.
Mike took the plane in a low, swooping pass right over the shining roof, and they saw
Bob and Joan waving vigorously up at them from the large yard beside the main house. A
little further away stood four other gesticulating figures, wildly waving their Akubra hats in
the air. Then they were past, and Mike was banking the plane around in a wide circle to
line up his approach on the red-brown clay landing strip. Drew now found himself looking
down on the giant old River Red Gum tree, and the white picket fenced burial-plot which
it lovingly sheltered from the elements.
As Mike expertly throttled back the Beech King Air to touch down as gently as a
drifting falling leaf upon the smooth airstrip and taxied back toward the homestead, Drew
once more turned his head sideways and whispered gently over his shoulder toward his
father’s casket. “You’re Home, Dad…for keeps, this time!” Despite the engine noise, Mike
heard him and solemnly nodded in silent sympathy.
Then, as he switched off the ignition, a great silence descended over them. They
sat there for a moment, each wrapped in his own inner thoughts paying homage to the
dead warrior behind them. But the silence was soon broken when a small group of
people came hurrying over to the plane. Mike unbuckled himself and climbed stiffly out
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of his seat. Then, as he walked back to open the fuselage door and drop the steps, the
spell was broken and the sound of excited voices came flooding in.
Drew reluctantly broke off his silent communion and made his way to the open door,
running his hand lovingly along the smooth edge of the strapped-in casket as he passed.
As he stepped down from the plane, he found himself suddenly embraced tightly around
the neck by his tearful Mum whilst his proxy father, Bob, clenched his hand in a grip of
iron. “Welcome Home, Drew!” he said, his ice-blue eyes squinted against the morning
sunlight. “ Didya have a good flight, son?” he asked quietly. Drew could hardly answer
him until Joan released her tight stranglehold on his neck and stood back staring in plain
amazement. “My word, Drew! You’ve turned into a regular blooming giant!”
It was then that Drew realized the swift passage of time. He could hardly believe
that it was over four years since his Mum had last hugged his then scrawny and pimply
neck, and Bob had sat beeping the horn of his Holden utility in mock impatience. There
hadn’t been any flash company executive aircraft to hand then.
Bob had to drive him 80-odd miles over bumpy dirt roads and tracks to the railway
station at Winton. There he had caught the Rockhampton train down to Brisbane where
he was to board a Qantas 727 to Britain. That had been quite a trip for young Drew - even
before he got onto the London-bound plane! Small wonder he’d slept through a large part
of the 30-hour UK flight, broken only by brief landings at Singapore and Bahrain.
He recalled how Alasdair had flown up the previous week from Sydney via Brisbane
in his old Cessna. But he’d only been able to spend a day with his son before flying
onward to Darwin on urgent business. Alasdair’s parting words on that occasion had been
“ Have a good trip “Home” and give’em hell at the Uni, son – and don’t forget to bloody
write! Even if it’s only for more money!” he’d grinned then and hugged his son round the
shoulders, a hint of moisture on his cheek.
His father’s parting gift had been £600 sterling in ready cash, with the promise of
the same amount to be transferred every fortnight into an Edinburgh Bank of Scotland
account. Then his Cessna had rapidly dwindled into a tiny winking glint of early sunlight,
heading northwest toward the Northern Territory.
Now Alasdair’s flying days were ended – unless God saw fit to kit him out with pair of
wings, of course! Drew still believed in God, thanks to Joan’s determination to make a
Christian of him. They’d tried dinned some religion into him at the private Presbyterian
boarding-school in Charters Towers, but the cane hadn’t really been the ideal tool for
spreading the message of Christian love and forgiveness. However, Joan had finally won
where the school had failed, and Drew now believed.
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It was great to be back in the old station homestead again, far removed from all the
soul-searching stress and emotion of the past three days. His two remaining step-broth-
ers (the eldest one, Jim, now married and only over for the sad occasion) and their two
sisters were overjoyed at seeing their big brother again, despite the sad circumstances of
his homecoming, and the fact that their beloved, if rarely seen, Uncle Alasdair was now
reposing in his coffin in the icehouse at the back of the house.
Though they were still really youngsters, they were already hardened and inured
enough to Death out here in the outback, to simply brush it aside as a part of daily life. It
was an everyday event – an essential part of country-living to them. But it didn’t stop
them making a great fuss of Drew, pulling his leg and cracking jokes about his giant
stature. They ragged him mercilessly, regardless of the fussy “shushing” of Joan, who was
concerned about Drew’s melancholy mien.
And, despite Bob’s disapproving scowls, they eventually succeeding in bringing back
that old familiar twinkling grin to Drew’s tired, drawn features. Young Charlie, who’d
been a cheeky ginger-headed little brat of eleven when Drew had left for Britain four years
earlier, then told Drew that there was an email waiting for him in the computer.
“An email?” asked Drew, taken aback a little. “You mean you’ve actually got a com-
puter here?” Bob smiled down on him, as he slumped wearily in one of the big lounge
chairs. “We might look like bloody country hicks out here to you city-slickers, mate,” he
grinned, “but we do have enough brains to be able to handle somethin’ as elementary as
a bloody computer! Don’t forget who it was that taught you how to pre-set your video-
recorder, Drew!”
It was then that Drew recalled his father buying him a TV and VCR for his last
birthday not long prior to him leaving for the UK. It had been duly delivered and installed
in his bedroom, since Bob and Joan already had their own in the big lounge-room. How-
ever, Drew hadn’t been able to master setting up his VCR to record at a specified time.
Bob had come to his rescue and shown him how it was done – out of the thickly illustrated
handbook that had come with the machine.
“You’re supposed to read the bloody instructions first, you silly galah!” Bob had
hissed. “What d’ya think they print ‘em for? Beats me what they teach you up at that
bloody flash college, mate, but it’s not common sense, that’s for bloody sure!” Drew had
never forgotten that little lesson in good old practical gumption, and had applied it ever
since, even throughout his university career, where it had proved a very handy and reli-
able adjunct to his bright intellect.
The email turned out to be from his old buddy, Errol Burroughs in Michigan. “Erb”-
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as Drew had come to call him - had just heard of Alasdair’s death over the international
business-grapevine, and had immediately phoned the Sydney house. Fortunately Main-
waring, Alasdair’s old retainer, who had supervised all Alasdair’s domestic affairs, had
been able to give him the email-address of Drew’s proxy family at the Queensland home-
stead. In his message, after expressing his deep sympathy for Drew’s sad loss, Errol had
told him that he was thinking of coming over to Australia to see him, as he was at a bit of
a loose end, having been granted a sabbatical year by his father. This had been a reward
for his fine achievement at Edinburgh University, before being drafted into the family-
owned automobile corporation.
He also had a pretty interesting proposition to put to Drew, but would tell him more
when he saw him. He understood Drew’s present grim situation, but when did he think he
might be “back on deck and ready to repel boarders”? He went on to tell Drew all the
latest news from his own family front, and that he wasn’t overly rapt in the idea of joining
the family business. Family tradition, Errol remarked, was “a hell of a dreary goddamn
business”, wasn’t it?
When he read this, Drew had to give a thin smile. ‘Good old Erb!’ He thought to
himself. ‘A true-blue rebel, just like me!’
Much cheered by the message, Drew went straight off in search of Joan to see how
she felt about having a visitor come over to stay for a few weeks. He explained who the
visitor was, and that he’d be no trouble. Joan, glad to see how much more chirpy the
message had made him, agreed there and then. “But you’d better just check with Bob,
too, love.” she said. “We always decide things together in this family, remember? But I
know he won’t mind!”
Drew found Bob in his office - a partitioned corner of the big machinery shed -
talking seriously on the phone to someone, leaning back in an old office chair with his R.
M. Williams riding boots resting on a corner of its paper-littered top. He looked fairly
solemn as he waved Drew to take a pew. After a few minutes, the conversation ended
and he put down the receiver. “It’s tomorrow afternoon, mate,” he said quietly. “That was
the church minister from Winton. He says he’ll be able to get over just after lunch to do
the service for your old man. So I guess I’d better get a couple of the fellers onto the old
shovels. Stan an’ Jimmy ought to be around somewhere, so would you give ‘em a yell for
me?”
“No worries, Bob,” replied Drew, “but just a quick question before I do. Is it OK with
you if I invite a Yank mate of mine over to stay for a few weeks? He’s the bloke I shared
with at Uni over in Scotland, and he wants to proposition me about something he’s cooked
up!”
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Bob smiled at him. “Not a problem, Drew!” he said, “Just as long as you check with
your Mum first! Don’t forget that it’s her that makes all the decisions around here! Reckon
he could have your Dad’s old room, if that’s agreeable to you?”
Drew had to smile wanly himself at this. It had ever been thus when he was a
youngster. Joan always insisted that theirs was a democratic household, but Bob knew
who really wore the pants around the place! “I already did, Bob,” he grinned, “and she
says it’s OK with her if it’s OK with you!” Bob smiled back at him at him then sighed
wistfully. “If only that was bloody true!” he said. “Now, do me a favor an’ roust up Stan an’
Jack!”
The burial service went off without a hitch. It was a peaceful scene, as the small
group of mourners, including all the station hands, stood around the freshly-dug grave in
the fenced enclosure under the redgum’s welcome leafy shade. The minister was an
elderly white-haired Scotsman, and Drew found it really inspiring to listen to his gentle
and soft Highland accent as he recited the burial liturgy over his father’s coffin. Then, as
Alasdair was finally lowered into the ground, tears began to roll down the cheeks of most
present. Although he hadn’t really been a loveable man, he had been greatly respected
by everyone on the property.
There were no representatives present from the company, as it was strictly a family
affair. The big business world that had helped kill Alasdair had no place here. Drew had
been insistent about that. As the simple service drew to an end, Drew cast the fist
handful of red earth onto his Dad’s casket. The dull thud of the soil sounded a drum-roll of
final closure to his grief. It was time to begin living again.
Up at the house, the mourners had the ritual repast of tea and sandwiches – or, in
the case of the hands - a couple of stubbies of ice-cold beer to toast Alasdair and wish him
a safe journey to the Other Side. It occurred to Drew that he hadn’t yet replied to Errol’s
email. Fortunately, the family’s email address was written on a yellow Post-It note at-
tached to the front of the computer. He hadn’t used an ordinary “Windows” PC for years.
Those at Uni had been operated on straight-forward business-type systems like that of his
father’s at the Sydney mansion.
However, he soon got back into the swing of it and managed to fumble his way into
the Outlook Express mailbox, and send a cheery and affirmative reply off to Errol’s Detroit
email address. Happy to tell Errol he was welcome to come out ASAP, Drew included full
directions on how to reach Winton and the “Glengarry” property. However, all Errol really
had to do was let Drew know when he’d be landing in Brisbane, phone him from there,
and then Drew would book his rail-ticket. He himself would be waiting to pick him up and
fetch him home.
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By nightfall, young Charlie darted triumphantly into the living-room waving three
sheets of closely-printed paper. “Here you go, Drew! It’s an email from your cobber in
America!” he grinned. Drew had been like a cat on hot bricks since sending off his email,
so it was with much relief that he took the proffered sheets. The family sat around
watching him expectantly as he avidly scanned the lines of Errol’s reply. Their patience
was soon rewarded when he finally laid down the document and gave vent to a loud yell
of “Yippee!” “Is he coming over then, love?” asked Joan, laconically, smiling expectantly
and winking at Bob.
“My Word, he is!” grinned Drew. “ He’ll be here in four bloomin’ days’ time. And
what’s more, he’ll be flying up from Brisbane! He’s hiring a plane, so we can get around
and see the country together!”
“Heyl Just have a bloody dekko at the lad, Joan!” said Bob beaming broadly. “How
long is it since we saw young Drew lookin’ so flamin’ chuffed? He’s as happy as bloody
Larry!” Joan smiled back at her husband in mild disapproval. “Oh dear, I do wish you
wouldn’t swear so much, Bob.” But she was extremely glad and very relieved to see Drew
finally back to his old cheery self. “Good on you, Drew,” she said quietly, “You deserve a bit
of a break at long last. I’ll start in on getting your mate’s room ready first thing in the
morning, after Jim’s gone home.”
Bob, who had disappeared into the kitchen, returned with three large bottles of cold
beer from his giant bar-fridge. He handed one to his elder son, Jim, who was staying over
for the night, then he passing the other over to Drew. “Here you go, lad!” he grinned.
“Wrap your flamin’ laughing-gear round that! I reckon this calls for a bit of a bloody
celebration, don’t you?” All three of them then clinked their bottles together in a happy
salute.
It was long past midnight when Bob and Jim helped a very unsteady, but decidedly
cheerier Drew to his room and tucked him into bed. Bob hung back a moment after Jim
had left the room. “Good on you, lad!” he whispered to the already snoring young giant.
“Little Man, You’ve had a Busy Day!” he crooned in a hoarse off-key whisper. Then he
softly added: My bloody oath, you have, son!”
CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 3 CHAPTER 3
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The following four days dragged by on leaden feet, not only for Drew, but for his
step-family too. They were as keen to see this great friend of Drew’s as he was himself.
After the second day, Drew had taken to his old pastime of riding, something that Bob had
taught him as a child. It was a knack that was very akin to cycling, in that, once learned,
it was never forgotten.
Bob had presented him with a large roan stallion that, despite a rather wicked way
of glaring at one sideways and showing an alarming expanse of white eyeball whilst doing
so, had plenty of both intelligence and muscle. He was called “Daemon” and Drew was
not entirely surprised to learn that the stallion had been his father’s pride and joy when-
ever he deigned to spend a little of his rare and extremely precious free time at the
property.
They soon became comfortably familiar with each other, although Drew often got
the feeling that the horse was never going to become his in anything other than body.
Daemon was too willful and spirited to accept Drew’s mastery completely, and the big
horse often showed him, by little temper-tantrums, that he was only permitted to be its
rider as long as Daemon decreed it to be so. Nevertheless, Drew rapidly established a
sort of super-sense “pact” with Daemon, and the pair soon developed a mutual respect
and trust. Drew found the great horse to be a marvelously powerful and sure-footed
mount, with a turn of speed that was totally exhilarating, and they covered many miles
together all around the huge spread of the property.
Occasionally, Drew would spot some particularly interesting-looking outcrop of rock
that warranted closer inspection, and would dismount to examine it. At such times, he had
no need to seek a stunted shrub or old tree trunk to which he could hitch the horse.
Daemon had already bonded to him sufficiently not to wander off. There were many
interesting spots around Glengarry Station that puzzled Drew in their curious geology, and
he could hardly wait for Errol to arrive so that he could show them to him. At one point
near its southern edge, he came across an odd-looking orange-brown up thrust butte that
protruded abruptly out of the red sandy earth, rather like a miniature Ayers Rock, and he
found that it was riddled with caves
Some showed signs of ancient occupation by aborigines who had left their unmis-
takable mouth-sprayed hand-marks and animal glyphs on their inner walls. But there
were others that went much deeper and darker into the rock, and, after exploring one of
these for a few dozen yards, he threw a stone into the darkness and from its distant
clatter, knew that it went on much further. Without decent lighting and some back-up
support, it would be sheer stupidity to follow it further into the blackness alone. He finally
had to make a strategic withdrawal and a mental note of its location. He’d return to the
site with Errol, and one of the station-hands, armed with sensible caving gear. Things like
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ropes, lights, proper boots, water and provisions, and perhaps a two-way intercom radio.
It was definitely a place worthy of investigation.
But of course, so was the vast bulk of Australia itself - he reflected as he rode home.
Here he was, seizing upon the first likely-looking site, for a spot of geology and possible
archaeology, when the entire gigantic continent beckoned, with all its tremendously ar-
chaic wonders – mountains, gorges, canyons, caverns, buttes and bluffs, ideal for rock-
climbing - not to mention untold bottomless pools and subterranean, water-filled cavern-
systems! They could even examine those too! Both he and Errol had learned the arts of
rock-climbing, base-jumping, caving and cave-diving back in Britain, during their vaca-
tions around Scotland and its Western Isles. Together they had explored such mysterious
islands as Staffa, with its huge Fingal’s Cave; Eigg, Callanish, and even the famous Bass
Rock, northeast of Berwick. Australia had a wealth of such weird places, too. It would
make a very welcome change to do some cave-diving again. Alas! The best places for
that were mostly down in South Australia. It would be a fairly daunting drive from
Winton!
But he’d almost forgotten that Errol would have a plane. They could go wherever
they liked in this great brown land, and the target-sites would be so much easier to pick
from the air! He found himself becoming quite euphoric at the prospect. Impatience
began to nag at him. He could hardly wait to get started.
The intervening days gradually dwindled down, until suddenly, it was the eve of
Errol’s arrival. Bob sent some of the men to sweep overblown sand and tumbled dead
spinifex off the runway, and to clear out an old but roomy feed-storage shed, that might
serve admirably as a hangar for Errol’s aircraft. Joan suddenly remembered a dozen
things she’d overlooked in preparing for his arrival. In the meantime, Drew had received
a further email from Errol advising him of his imminent departure from Detroit to L. A.
from whence he would be flying Qantas to Brisbane. It had been sent the previous
evening. Now it was twenty-two hours later. He’d be here tomorrow!
Strangely, despite all the excitement, everybody slept like logs, and it was Drew who
was the first to hear the phone’s persistent ringing, in the big lounge room. He struggled
to wake himself up, and stumbled, still half-asleep, down the passage to answer the
phone. “Hullo?” he grunted dozily into the mouthpiece, “Who’s this?” Then a very
familiar voice echoed loudly in his ear. One with an unmistakable Detroit twang, that
roused him to full wakefulness with a start.
“Hey! Hey! Is that you, Drew, old buddy? Don’t you remember your old sparring-
partner? It’s ME, you dummy – Errol! Sorry to intrude so rudely on your beauty-sleep,
brother, but you did invite me over, remember?”
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Drew was almost speechless. “Well, I’ll be blowed!”, he croaked back. ”How’s it
going, mate! I didn’t expect to hear from you for bloody hours yet. Did you get an earlier
flight or something? What sort of a trip did you have? Where are you n…”
“Whoa, buddy!” laughed Errol at the other end of the line. “One thing at a time,
Drew! A. We had a tailwind, so we made up a couple of hours. B. It was a great trip –
remind me to do it again someday! And, C. I’m calling from the office of an airplane-hire
company at Brisbane Airport. So if all goes like I planned, I’ll be heading your way within
the hour. How the hell does that grab you, “Mate”? Gotta go now and register a crummy
flight-plan, grab a few maps, flash my AmEx card and we’re in goddamn business! What
else can I tell you?” He chuckled good-naturedly.
Drew was amazed again. “It just struck me that I never even knew you could fly a
plane, Erb! And you must be really shot after that trip. I know I was when I first came
home. Why don’t you book into a motel and grab a couple of hours’ sleep?”
“Oh, I flew since I was a kid, Drew! My old man, let me take the controls, once in
a while, then he finally got me regular lessons. Had a pilot license since I first met you,
buddy. Never had a chance to fly in Scotland. Got plenty of practice in since though, so
I’m back up to snuff! As for sleep, I got plenty coming over. They had to wake me up after
we landed here! Anyhow, enough already, buddy, I gotta FLY! Catch you in maybe two
hours, OK? Tell your Mum ham and eggs’ll be just fine with me. See ya soon, Drew!”
Then he rang off, leaving Drew’s already bemused thoughts in a total whirl.
Drew’s Mum, having sleepily picked up the bedroom extension beside her bed, had
already heard most of the gist of their conversation, and she now emerged into the lounge
room. “Better get our skates on, then, Drew!” she said as she put on the electric jug to
brew the early-morning cuppa. “Go and get your shower, love, before Bob hogs the
bathroom.”
Five a.m. is quite a normal rising-time for a station family, so by the time Drew came
out of the shower, Bob was patiently waiting his turn. In the background the squeals and
laughter of the youngsters could be heard, and when Drew got back into the big living
room, there was a mouth-watering aroma of sizzling eggs, bacon and sausages permeat-
ing the cool morning air. He poured himself a scalding hot cup of tea, while Joan served
up the first sitting of breakfast to Drew and Charlie. “There you go, boys.” grinned Joan,
with a conspiratorial wink. “First up, best dressed!”
As usual, young Charlie burned his hand on the hot plate, but it didn’t stop him
wolfing down his food as if it was the first he’d had for months. But Drew took his time.
The huge breakfast, complete with fried bread, and hot buttered toast, was far too tasty
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and delicious to be gulped down in such an uncivilized fashion. Such a gourmet delight
had to be lovingly savored to the last morsel. Bob was a lucky bloke having such a
wonderful cook for his wife.
Meanwhile Bob and the two girls had taken their places at the big table, and, as
Joan busied herself frying up another great batch of eggs, bacon and sausages for them,
Bob sat sipping his own one-pint mug of scalding black tea. He noticed the milky light
brown colour of Drew’s tea, and, as was his habit at mealtimes, delivered one of his old
bushland homilies.
“Black!” He told Drew. That was the way tea was supposed to be drunk. In good old
Aussie fashion, and preferably stirred with a gum-twig to give it a touch of eucalyptus
flavor. Then he went on to talk about the Australian bushmen, swagmen and drovers of
old, and how they’d made their tea. By boiling a billycan of creek water over a twig-fire,
and throwing in a handful of tea-leaves and another of sugar as soon as it hit the boil, then
stirring it with a fresh gum-twig, while it still boiled. “Gotta drink it scaldin’hot, too, son,
otherwise it’s bloody stewed!” he added.
He would have gone on to explain how to make damper, the old bush-bread that
swagmen and drovers used to bake in the campfire-ashes and eat with their tea, but he
was cut short in mid-sentence by Joan slapping his gigantic breakfast down in front of
him, and telling him to pipe down. “Come on now, Bob!” She said. “That’s enough of all
that! Shut up yabbering, and get that down you while it’s hot!”
Strangely, she got no argument from Bob, and all that could be heard for the next
quarter-hour was the busy clatter of knives and forks and the munching and crunching of
breakfast and toast as the rest of the family enjoyed their morning repast.
Drew, who had finished his meal, excused himself and went outside to get some air
whilst it was still cool. Out here on the edge of the desert, the nights were almost freezing
cold even in the summer time. Early morning, just around sunup, was really the best part
of the day for inhabitants of the outback.
Some of the stockmen were already saddling up their mounts and awaiting their
orders for the day from the head stockman, prior to riding out. They’d had their break-
fasts even earlier than the homestead family. On Glegarry Station, they took it in turns to
cook, but some of them, whose culinary skills were pathetic if not downright dreadful,
usually escaped inclusion in the roster. Drew had already met most of them, and had
watched them performing their often painfully difficult chores.
These included branding, castrating, tip-pruning dangerous horns and dipping against
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cattle-ticks. But the heaviest work was mustering and camp-drafting. Some of the hands
were expert horsemen who took part in local rodeos, and the ribbons on the bunkhouse
walls bore proud testimony to their prowess.
In an earlier day and age, Bob would have been out there saddling up to ride out
with his men, but he had his hands full these days with paperwork and organizational
tasks. The typical penalty of progress. His second eldest son, Charlie was already a
trainee “jackaroo” in his spare time, in between his satellite audio-video classes on the
“Distant Education School of The Air”. This was also shared by the two girls, and the
satellite dish also picked up the family’s TV and phone signals.
Fortunately, Alasdair had generously arranged the finance for all this to be provided
via the Clanranald Corporation, for as long as it was required. A special room in the big
homestead had been set aside as a classroom especially for that purpose, and all the
necessary power was supplied by one of the property’s two large diesel generators along
with the homestead’s other electrical power needs. Bob and Joan had much to be
grateful to Alasdair for, as they could never have afforded such a system. Alasdair also
paid for Jim to attend boarding-school too. And, although they had no inkling of it yet,
they would very soon have cause to be even more grateful.
After much soul-searching, Bob and Joan had decided against sending Charlie off to
boarding-school, as he wasn’t as bright as his brother Jim had been However, whatever
Charlie lacked in intellect he more than made up for in good old fashioned “nous” and
common sense. Bob had no doubt that in the fullness of time, Charlie would be perfectly
able to take over the running of the property on his own.
Drew had been so engrossed in daydreaming about all these matters, that he had
almost forgotten about Errol’s imminent arrival. As he glanced at his watch, he saw that
the time was now nearly 7am, and a feeling of joyful anticipation of soon seeing his old
sparring partner again surged through him. He heard the screen-door creak open
behind him as Bob came out onto the wide verandah that encircled the entire homestead.
He wore his wide-brimmed hat and carried Drew’s in his hand.
“Better shove this on, son!” he said. “We don’t want your mate arriving and you
standin’ about the airstrip without it, do we? Lost enough good mates through bloody
skin-cancer already, without you developin’ it.”
They stood on the verandah a few moments longer, watching the two station handy-
men, hobbling across the dusty yard. Stan Lawson was the younger of the two. He was
a lanky “Chips-Rafferty”-like man with a very sober attitude, a long, thin face and an even
longer nose. He’d been crippled for life when a galloping steer’s horn had been forcible
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rammed through the back of his right knee, as he’d ridden his horse into a stampede in an
effort to turn the leaders.
That had been some years back. Stan had very nearly lost the leg. But thanks to
the prompt response and brilliant on-the-spot surgery of the Flying Doctor from Lon-
greach, he had managed to hang onto it. But it had taken a very long spell in the Mackay
Base Hospital, and several operations to get him back on his feet again. However, at least
he hadn’t lost his job, thanks to Bob’s fairness and goodwill. He’d been hurt in doing his
job for the station, so the station was responsible for his future. Though his locked knee-
joint now prevented him riding a horse, at least there were still plenty of other jobs he
could do around the place, which he did with a will.
The other handyman was his offsider, Jimmy O’Rourke, who, despite his Irish name
and Lutheran upbringing was as black as ebony. Jimmy was a typical Mission-raised
aborigine who had been taken away from his drunken and violent mother at an early age
for his own welfare. The Aboriginal Inland Mission, established by John Flynn, had raised
him and given him a new name, as well as a decent education. Now, although still wiry
and tough, at the rip old age of fifty-nine, Jimmy was an “old feller” by Aboriginal stan-
dards. In Bob’s view, he had earned his corn many times over, and deserved a secure
retirement on the property.
Not that Jimmy was ever likely to retire. He still enjoyed doing odd jobs around the
place, and he and Stan were virtually as inseparable as Siamese twins. Not that they were
always the best of mates. Jimmy had a great sense of fun and mischief, and loved to play
tricks on Stan. Stan was quite the reverse, in that he didn’t suffer fools gladly - or fooling
about, either. In his view, Jimmy was nothing but an overgrown piccaninnie, and he
treated him like one.
Stan’s occasional outbursts of mock rage at Jimmy would have made any Champion
of Racial Equality cringe in horror. He was often seen limped furiously (and painfully) after
Jimmy wielding a thick bullwhip (with which he was a widely acclaimed expert in the
Rodeo circuit) yelling “Come here, yer rotten little black bastard, while I bloody larrup yer
black arse!” Instead of being cowed or upset by this, Jimmy would insult him back by
calling Stan names such as a “One-leg Brolga-Feller with Long Beak”. Stan hated this
reference to his oversize olfactory organ, and didn’t regard himself as one-legged red-
nosed grey stork, either. But it was all pure front and showmanship. Stan was too deft in
the handling of his whip to even touch Jimmy when he cracked it, let alone hurt him, and
Jimmy knew this all too well.
As they passed Bob and Drew, they both nodded. Stan said “G’day, Boss! Howya
goin’?” Bob acknowledged their greeting with a tip of his finger to the brim of his Akubra.
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Then, to Drew, Stan added: “G’day t’ yer, Drew! Hear yer got a Yank mate arrivin’ any tick
o’the clock, eh?” Drew smiled back at the pair and nodded his beaming affirmation.
“Yair,” Bob said sidelong to Drew, “an’ I reckon it’s time we were headin’ out to the
airstrip just about now, too!” No sooner had he said it, than Drew heard the very faint
sound of a aircraft engine approaching in the distance. “My Word, Bob!” he laughed.
“You’ve got ears on you like a bloomin’ bandicoot!” As they set off at a jog-trot towards
the airstrip, the sound of the plane’s engine rapidly grew to a roar, and a six-seater Cessna
206 zoomed low over their heads, its pilot waving vigorously through the left-hand cockpit
window. Then he pulled back the stick and the plane executed a perfect up-and–over
loop, barely missing their hats with its spatted wheels as it leveled out again. Finally,
however, after doing a circuit of the homestead during which he checked out the way the
tattered old windsock was blowing, and the state of the hard-clay runway, the pilot brought
the Cessna round again, now facing into the light wind, and gently floated it down to make
a perfect three-point landing.
“Bloody Hell!” yelled Bob in Drew’s ear “This mate of yours seems a decent sort o’
pilot - but he must be as mad as a bloody meat-axe!” Drew just laughed. It had to be
Errol to pull such a risky stunt like that low loop. He was a born daredevil.
Because the wind was blowing toward the homestead, the Cessna had to land and
taxi away from them, then, using the rudder and propeller draught alone, its pilot turned
the plane around at the far end, and taxied back to where they waited. As it came to a
stop, the side cockpit-window slid back to reveal Errol’s madly-grinning features.
“Hey, Drew!” he yelled, waving a casual hand. “How ya doing, old buddy!” Then he
prodded a finger toward the now cleared feed-shed. “Say, is that gonna be my hangar?”
he asked. “If so, I’ll run her straight over there and see what clearance I’ve got! OK?” He
gave them the thumbs-up signal and gunned the engine slightly, just enough to pull the
plane up to the wide shed’s doorway. There was at least six or seven feet to spare beyond
either wingtip. So Errol gunned the engine again a lot harder, and with the rudder right
over to port, he span the plane around by a full 180 degrees to face in the opposite
direction. Its tail was now toward the “hangar” doorway. Then he cut the motor, and,
after fiddling with the controls for a moment, he unbuckled himself, squeezed out be-
tween the seats and opened the side-door. As he sprang down, Drew raced forward to
welcome him.
“How the hell are you, Erb!” he cried happily. “Long time no see, mate! By Gee -
you’re look blooming fit, old son! Come on over and meet my new Dad.” The pair walked
back to where Bob was waiting with a grin of welcome across his face. Drew performed
the formalities. “Errol, this is Bob, my second Dad - Bob, this is Errol, who you’ve heard
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so much about.” Bob leaned forward and grasped Errol’s hand in a grip of steel. “Pleased
to meetcha, young feller,” he said still crushing Errol’s fingers. “Heard a lot about you.
Welcome to Glengarry Station!”
The young American strove to retrieve his hand trying not to show the pain he was
suffering. “Likewise, Bob,” he almost groaned, “and thanks for having me over!” At last
Bob let go of his hand. “Where on earth did you learn to fly like that, son?” he asked,
waving his hand around in imitation of an up-and-over loop.
Errol grinned, concealing the agony as the circulation returned to his mangled
hand. “Aw! That was one of the first things my old man taught me when I was around
sixteen!” He chuckled. “He was supposed to be trying to put me off flying for life – but I
guess he sure got that wrong! When we talked it over later, he finally came clean and told
me that Mom had put him up to it. She hates me flying!”
“Can’t say as I blame her, meself, either.” replied Bob. “Thought you were gonna
take our bloody hats with you!” Errol reddened slightly. “Sorry about that, Bob.” he
apologized. “Guess I did cut it a tad fine.”
“No worries, cobber!” laughed Bob. “Just havin’ a go at yer! Let’s get on up to the
house.” But Errol looked uncertainly back at the plane. “Er, can you help me push her
inside, first? Just in case we get a storm or – or something?”
Bob was just about to tell him there wasn’t much danger of any storm, but at that
point Stan and Jimmy arrived on the scene, so between them all they gently maneuvered
the plane backwards safely inside the iron shed. It fitted inside snugly, with plenty of
room to spare, back and front as well. “there you go, mate.” said Bob as they emerged
from the shed-hangar, “Snug as flamin’ bug in a rug! All we need now is a bloody good
fortnight of decent soakin’ rain, eh!” Then, turning to the two yard-hands, he told them
to haul out the visitor’s luggage and bring it up to the house.
Errol was still eyeing Bob in some mild alarm.
“Why? Is there some bad weather on the way?” he asked, rather anxiously, gazing
up under his raised hand at the clear blue vault of the spring sky. Bob grinned up at him.
“None that I’ve heard about, Errol, but we certainly need it pretty badly. It’s as dry as
snake’s bloody armpit out there, mate, an’not much help to the stock!”
Leaving the two station hands to close the doors, the three then headed back to the
homestead. On the way, Errol paused in mid-stride. “There’s just one thing that still bugs
me, Bob.” he said, peering carefully all around at the outbuildings.
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“Oh? What’s that, then ?” asked Bob, looking a little puzzled.
“Well,” said Errol, “I don’t see any railroad engines around.” Bob still looked puzzled.
“What the hell would you wanna see bloody railway trains for, mate?” But Drew grinned
broadly. He knew the punch line to this one off by heart.
“Well,” said Errol looking around again. “This is supposed to be a station, isn’t it?”
Drew burst into laughter, and slapped Bob on the back. “He had me going with that gag
back in Uni, years ago, Bob!”
Bob just grinned up evilly under his the brim of his sweat-stained old hat. “Oh, I
see! He’s bit of a bloody wag, is he? We’ll have to try an’ cure him of that, won’t we, eh,
Drew?”
Now it was Errol’s turn to look puzzled, and a touch unsure of himself. He’d experi-
enced the Australian grim sense of twisted humor before, from Drew!
Up at the homestead, Joan was waiting for them at the top of the verandah steps,
surrounded by her rowdy bunch of offspring, who were dying to meet a real live American
for the first time outside a TV screen. Once again Drew made the introductions and Errol
was the epitome of politeness. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you, at last, Mrs. Jackson! I
guess Drew probably told you all about me in his letters, ma’am, so I hope you’re not too
disappointed! Real nice ranch you got here, by the way! Hope Drew’ll take me around
the…”
But here, Bob interrupted Errol’s little speech. ““Ranch” did you say, son? Ranch?
We don’t have any bloody ranches over here, mate! This is Australia, my lad! We only
have…..”
“STATIONS!” grinned Errol, red-faced again. “OK, Bob! You win, buddy, I guess
I’ve got some “language-study” to catch up on, haven’t I! Don’t worry, I’ll soon get the
hang of it! Specially with you as my tutor!”
However, it was now Joan’s turn to butt in. “The only language you’ll ever learn from
him is BAD!” she laughed. “Don’t you take any notice of him, Errol. Come on inside and
I’ll make you that breakfast you ordered over the phone!”
By then Stan and Jimmy had arrived with the gear from the plane, and while Joan
got his breakfast ready, Drew took Errol to see his room, where the handymen had dumped
his cases and bags.
“Here you go, old son.” he said as Errol tested the bedsprings and gazed admiringly
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around the freshly-painted, high-ceilinged airy bedroom, “This is your room for as long as
you want to stay, mate! I don’t suppose it’s as flash as your place in Michigan, but you’ll
have to get used to roughing it a bit. You’re out in the back blocks of Oz now, old son, so
you’ll just have to cop it bloomin’ sweet!”
Then Drew lowered his voice a little. “by the way, Erb, don’t take too much notice of
old Bob! He’s a really great bloke once you get to know him – and he’s a great kidder, too,
so be warned! Don’t try an’ take the Mickey too much, or he’ll chew you up and spit you
out! He’s an expert at chopping big fellers down to size!”
“Yeah!” said Errol with a rather wry grin. “I already found that out! I was beginning
to think I’d rubbed him up some way! Anyhow, buddy,” he went on, “I love this place!
They used to build houses like this back in the old days back Home, and they’re all worth
millions now! I guess I already feel like I came Home, Drew!”
“Good on you, son!” Joan’s voice echoed from the doorway behind them, taking
them both by surprise. She’d just caught Errol’s last comment. “Bob and I really do want
you to consider this your home while you’re with us! Oh, and sorry to interrupt your cozy
little chat, and all that, Errol, but you’d better come and get this “Four-Star Breakfast” you
were on about, before I have to feed it all to the dogs!”
Errol, who was totally famished, required no second bidding, and made a beeline
straight for the huge living room. And soon the peaceful mid-morning quiet of the old
homestead was broken by the clatter and rattling of a knife and fork being applied to the
heaped and highly savory contents of a large dinner plate with all the workmanlike vigor
and lip-smacking appreciation of a dedicated gourmet.
After Errol had finished his enormous breakfast, Drew suddenly recalled Errol’s men-
tion in his first email from Detroit, concerning some “pretty interesting proposition” he’d
wanted to put to him. They’d decided to take one of the station utilities into Longreach so
that Errol could check with a bank there regarding his transfer of funds from Detroit. And,
at the same time, for him to cash some traveler’s cheques and buy a few personal items.
Drew had suggested that, while they were at it, Errol could take a look around a typical
Queensland outback town. But more importantly the long drive down would be an excel-
lent opportunity for them to discuss privately whatever it was that Errol had on his mind.
“Gee, Whizz!” exclaimed Errol, when Drew mentioned this. “I’d almost forgotten the
most important reason for my trip over here, in all the excitement!” Then, noticing the
slightly crestfallen look on Drew’s face, he quickly added. “That is, second only to the
terrific pleasure of meeting up with my dear old buddy again, of course! When were you
aiming to leave, Drew?”
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“What about now?” asked Drew, feeling a whole lot happier. “There’s no time like
the present, old mate!”
CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 4 CHAPTER 4
The trip to Longreach in the station utility truck was quite long, hot, and a bouncy
one at first, as the outback dirt-roads were often full of washouts and potholes. But fortu-
nately, the road between Winton and Longreach was considerably smoother. The two
chums were able to converse better than in the jerky, gasping shouts that the rougher
tracks had forced out of them at the beginning of the 200 mile trip.
Once they were on there way, and Errol had gotten over the enormity of the desert
landscape that they were passing through, he started to tell Drew about the idea that had
initially brought him all the way from Michigan.
Apparently, he’d continued to maintain contact with a few discussion groups on the
Internet after his return to the States, and one of the members had raised the issue of
land-based portals in various parts of the world. American cave-systems had already
been considered and studied at length. Especially after the revival of an old book from the
1800s called “Etidorhpa”. This book told of a rather fantastic trip made by a man who was
kidnapped by a Freemason group for a betrayal of their cause, and was sent upon a
subterranean journey beneath the Kentucky hills, with an eyeless, alien-looking humanoid
as his guide and mentor. After many adventures and much turmoil, the man had finally
been led out into the Inner Earth – a vast spherical space, in which he at last found some
kind of Nirvana.
However, the great Mammoth Cave system, which seemed to be identified in all but
name in the book, proved to have been fairly thoroughly explored. And according to all
accounts, it seemed to be definitely limited in its actual extent. Other US cave-systems
had also been considered, with similar reports from experienced speleologists, as also had
the better-know ones in Central and South America. Brazil was a hot favorite for a while,
because of its deep hidden cave-systems that were reported by Colonel Percy Fawcett’s
expedition in the early 1900s, but, in the absence of Fawcett’s later notes, they could not
be rediscovered.
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Some water-filled systems occurred in Yucatan, Mexico. These were known as “cen-
otes”, and could only be explored by trained cave-diving teams. But none of them actually
went on indefinitely. The longest one was El Jacinto Pat which was enormously extensive
underwater subterranean tunnel system somewhat over 183,000 feet in total extent. It
was just like the random borings left by some gigantic worm, often winding back and forth
over and under itself. Although this amounted to over 17 miles in total, it was all largely
horizontal rather than vertical, so because of this lack of depth, it was dismissed as being
of any real interest to hollow-earth searchers.
The quest continued in other areas of the world, with the Himalayas region as being
a prime-target due to the innumerable reports, myths and legends of great underground
cities existing there. Cities such as Shamballah and Agartha. Africa was also examined
closely, but the only really deep pits and tunnels there of any note were largely man-made
diamond and gold mines!
At length, after an extensive scrutiny of Asia in general, it was found that most of the
best candidate tunnels or possible “portals” were concentrated around the South-East
Asian region. Many likely sites are recorded in local myth and legend but these still await
proper exploration by trained speleologists. However, although this was frustrating, it led
the search to Australia and New Zealand, both of which possesses promising-looking sites.
The region around South Australia seemed to offer several good prospects, including a
number of very deep circular sink-holes filled with water. Most of these were located in
South Australia, and some of them reached depths estimated at 80 or 90 meters before a
mushy bottom was found – although this was composed of so much soft biological detritus
that it is still hard to be sure that even this depth is accurate. The volume of many
millennia of deposition of this muck might hide the fact that the actual floors of the ponds
go considerably deeper!
But Errol was much more in favor of locating a dry descent than a wet one, as the
latter would have eventually led to huge problems with air-supply and the added burden
of cumbersome extra air-tanks and other gear – not to mention eventual water-pressure
difficulties associated with deep diving. After all, if they tried to descend through water
to the gravity limit, some four hundred miles down, what would the water-pressure be
like? He couldn’t even imagine it at one mile deep, let alone at four hundred! One would
need a super-strong bathysphere – like those used by Piccard and Beebe, only vastly
stronger - to attempt such an enormous plunge!
The “Gravity Limit” Errol mentioned, referred to the actual focus of the hollow
planet’s gravity, which he believed was not a point in the center of the hollow Earth.
Rather, it would be a spherical field, like a vast bubble of electromagnetic force, close to
8,000 miles across, that would be located around halfway through the 800-mile thickness
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of the Earth’s crust.
According to one physicist he’d spoken to about such a hypothetical “gravity-sphere”,
the gravitation-pull (or “push”) might actually begin to reduce from the rocky outer sur-
face down, and could possibly become “Zero G” at the actual level of the EMF gravity-
shell. This expert had some high-faluting concept that the force rapidly became depleted
after it began penetrating solid rock. It was thus likely to dwindle away to nothing by the
time it had reached its focus. After that, however, it would steadily increase again as it
went back “UP” through to the inner surface of the spherical rock shell. Then it would
again lessen to zero at the sphere’s center.
There was only one way to test this concept, and that was under the actual condi-
tions in question! Tests couldn’t be made in a laboratory setting because of the already
prevalent gravitation present all around the test-area. Even a vacuum test would be
useless, since gravitational force ignores vacuums! Errol said that the physicist was a
brilliant guy from MIT who had delved exhaustively into all the physics and mathematics
of the thing, and claimed that it worked fine - theoretically - on paper! But if it was true,
then all their problems were solved! A bathysphere should work fine! All they had to do
was pick the right sink-hole!
But Drew was not convinced - either about the gravity decreasing, or about the
need to attempt any sink-hole descent. His own view was that a large chunk of Australia
was one of – if not the oldest rock foundations of the entire world. Practically all of
Central and Western Australia was an original remnant slab of the fabled continent of
Gondwana. Therefore, if there truly was a truly original “portal” or tunnel that led right
through the crust, that would have to be the most likely place to find it! Errol was silent
for some time while he digested this idea, then finally he threw up his hands and sug-
gested that they should “hit the atlases and schoolbooks” and search for a likely cavern-
system that might offer some promise of real depth. One that hadn’t yet been fully ex-
plored would obviously be the likeliest choice for a starting-point. Fortunately, he’d
brought a great bundle of colour-photocopied maps and charts of Australia over with him.
They were both physical and geological, including a fair number of satellite and aerial
pictures of certain areas he favored.
“I guess I thought I’d better have a back-up “Plan B”- just in case you didn’t buy
into the “Cenote-Sink Hole” brainwave, old buddy!” he grinned resignedly. “But I agree
with you one-hundred percent, Drew, that Australia has to be the best bet - whichever
way we try it! The main thing is - would you be interested in actually looking around for
a portal with me, huh? Am I right in assuming that you are ?”
Out of the corner of his eye, as he drove along the dusty dirt road, Drew could see
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the anxiety in his friend’s face as he put the question, and had to fight down the urge to
string him along a bit. He pretended to ponder the idea very deeply, and remained silent
for a few moments, his brows knitted in apparently serious thought as the bouncing ute
jolted them around in their seats. However, he was rather surprised at the ease with
which Errol had apparently abandoned his sinkhole theory and that he already had a “Plan
B” figured out. Maybe this was the one he really wanted to push?
“Oh, come on, buddy, for Pete’s Sake!” cried Errol after a couple of minutes of this
silence. ”It’s not like I’m asking you to sign the goddamn Declaration of Independence or
anything! Just a straight “Yes” or “No” will do!”
Drew decided that he’d pulled Errol’s leg long enough. “Oh, well, – I guess there’d
probably be no harm in coming along and taking a bit of a look around, mate.” He said.
“Specially since you’ve come all this blooming way to ask me! I’d be a real ratbag if I said
“No”, wouldn’t I!” Then he glanced, grinning from ear to ear across at Errol. “What the
hell did you think I’d say, you half-witted nong? It’s the best offer I’ve had since I got
home!”
Errol grinned back ferociously, and punched Drew hard in the left bicep. ”You
bastard!” he grumbled. “You were just kidding me along, weren’t you! Go on! Admit it,
you lousy rat!” But his face belied his mock-anger, as it was wreathed in a great smile of
relief. He’d wondered hard and long before he left Detroit whether he should spell out his
proposition in his first email message, but had decided not to, in case Drew had lost
interest in the Hollow Earth . Instead, he’d decided to gamble on being able to talk Drew
around directly, to come in with him on the quest.
“Funny that you brought that up, mate.” Said Drew. “I’d begun to have a few thoughts
along the same lines myself! As a matter of fact, that was the last thing I was trying to get
through to my old man, when he collapsed!” Then, noticing Errol’s querulous stare, he
added, “No, no, Erb! It wasn’t me that gave him the attack! He’d been working himself to
death for years. Crazy old coot. The quack told me his ticker had been hanging by a
thread for ages and marveled that he’d lasted this long! No, Dad was simply a workaholic!
Poor old sod!” Drew fell into a rather pensive brown study for a while after that, his mind
flashing back to that fateful afternoon.
“I suppose he wanted you to follow in his footsteps, like my old man, eh?” Errol
asked. “My Pop wants me to join him in the automobile business, when I’ve had my
sabbatical, but I haven’t given him a definite “Yea” or Nay”. Though I reckon I probably
might, once I’ve cracked this little problem!” He sat wrapped in thought for a few min-
utes. Then he added: “At least, I don’t need to worry about it now. Pop told me there’s
no rush and he says I needn’t worry about cash, either! That’s one thing he’s got in
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superabundance! I guess you won’t exactly be stuck for a buck, either, eh, buddy! You
should be in for a tidy inheritance I guess!”
Drew gave Errol a wan smile. “No, I suppose not.” He mused. “ According to our
lawyers, Dad’s left me the whole box and dice… but I’d rather have dear old Dad still
around anytime! He was a real decent bloke, Errol, even if he was a bit rough around the
edges, and came down hard on me a fair bit!” He sighed deeply. “Ah, well! Never mind,
mate, I’ll try and live up to his expectations one way or another! But it won’t be in the
damned business world, I’m afraid, that’s for blooming sure! I’ll leave all that side of
things to the experts!”
Errol was very glad to hear this. “So you will be free to team up with me then? I
wasn’t sure what your future plans were going to be. Maybe you should have a “sabbati-
cal”, too, old pal! After all, we can both afford it, and we’re both footloose and fancy-free!
What say, feller? Are you in, or are you in?”
“I’m IN! I have been since I first bloody heard of the Inner Earth!” laughed Drew,
as they approached Winton and turned left onto the Matilda Highway. “So shut up now,
mate, and let me introduce you to my old cobber, Banjo Paterson!” He steered the ute
over toward the area in the center of the busy main street where the famous old outback
poet’s statue stood, and where his greatest work was now further immortalized across the
road in the Waltzing Matilda Center. After a couple of refreshing cold beers and a hot
roast-beef sandwich at the bar of Tattersall’s Hotel - plus a topping-up of gas for the ute,
they continued upon their cheery way.
The rest of the trip to Longreach was one long recital of Paterson’s poems and songs
by Drew, much to Errol’s delight. He’d already fallen under the spell of the old “Ocker”
traditions (and their weird catch-phrases) during their Uni days in Edinburgh, and loved to
hear these rollicking old bush poems and songs. Errol’s especial favorite was “The Drover’s
Dream”, a very funny song about Australian animals that he’d laboriously learned off by
heart from Drew, and could now sing in a near-perfect, slow Queensland-outback drawl.
He joined Drew in singing this one, as well as “Waltzing Matilda”, another great favorite of
his. Errol was amazed to notice sheep grazing the paddocks on either side of the
highway, and, whilst they were what “Waltzing Matilda” was all about, he’d somehow got
the idea that this was all cattle country and that sheep were only raised down in the cooler
southern states.
As they hurtled along the smooth highway at full speed, he was struck by the sheer
distances of the outback. In the far distance, its low ranges, outcrops and mesas on the
skyline reminded him of the lonely highways of the western American states, like Texas,
Arizona and Nevada, but the scenery here was even more dry and sunburnt. Even the
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breeze of their movement through the hot desert air was like the draught from a fan-
forced oven. He wished Drew would wind the windows up and turn on the air-condition-
ing, the controls of which he could see tantalizingly close on the dash, but he didn’t dare
to ask. The last thing he wanted was for Drew to chip him for being a “weak city-bred
wimp”. No doubt things would get a lot tougher and hotter before they were through! Not
a pleasing prospect! Fortunately for Errol, he didn’t know just how prophetic his thoughts
would eventually prove to be!
Now and again, a gigantically long, cattle-crammed road-train would roar past them,
its array of chromed klaxon-horns blaring forth atop the cab, sucking them along errati-
cally in its slipstream of choking red dust. But strangely, they never passed a single police
patrol-car. Holy Gee! These Aussies could get away with murder compared to the States,
he thought, plus driving on the wrong side of the highway, into the bargain! He really
would have to try this right-hand driving for himself! Drew had never let Errol drive his old
second-hand-bomby car in Scotland - but maybe he might let him have a crack at the ute
on the way back to Glengarry?
Sometimes, sadly, they had to swerve to avoid hitting bloated, road-killed kangaroo
corpses, and once a huge black crow that had been picking over the remains of a squashed
snake flew up just a split-second too late. It left its innards in a nasty smear across one
side of the windscreen, before becoming a flapping bundle of bloody feathers on the
almost-molten asphalt behind them. Errol began to realize that the Australian outback
was an extremely hard and unforgiving country, with little sympathy or room for even the
smallest error or miscalculation. It was hardly the sort of place for human families, to live,
white or black, let alone the poor half-starved and parched livestock that was their princi-
pal means of making a living! God alone knew how the aborigines had managed to cope
in such a forbidding land - or the native animals, come to that. Yet they did, and amaz-
ingly well, too!
He recalled seeing the film “Lawrence of Arabia” and how he’d marveled that the
Arabs could actually live in such a sweltering furnace of a land. But here he was in a land
of white men of Northern Anglo-Celtic background like himself, who stood up to, and
labored in virtually the same sort of conditions as had the indolent Arabs, and they actually
seemed to love and enjoy the harsh life here! He suddenly found himself pining for
Michigan in the fall, with a cool evening breeze blowing in off the lake, and a blazing log
fire spitting and crackling in the big living-room fireplace.
Drew glanced across at him. “How’re you doing, Erb? You seem to be pretty quiet,
mate! How d’you like the heat so far? Never, mind – it’ll soon be summer! Dreaming of
Home, were you? Suppose it’ll nearly be autumn over there now, eh?”
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Errol was speechless. He made a mock despairing gesture of wiping the sweat of his
brow, and grinned back. He knew that Drew was really only joshing him – or “Havin’ a
go!” as the Aussie expression went. But he was once again amazed at the strange mental
rapport they shared. It had been like this since they’d first met at the University, when a
porter had shown him up to the room he was to share with this stranger from Down Under.
He’d never run across an Australian before in his life, and once they got talking, he’d found
Drew’s accent and turn of phrase quite weird compared to those of the many Brits he’d
met.
Till then, he’d always labored under the assumption that Australians were really
only Brits who lived in another country, over on the other side of the world. They had the
same sort of government as Britain, they also drove on the wrong side of the road, and
they even had the same flag to some extent - except for the white stars!
And yet they’d turned out to be so totally different! In many respects they were
quite similar to Americans in their taste and their demeanor. Even their history was closely
kindred to that of the early settlers in America - except he gathered that many of their
forebears had been shipped out here to start the settlement - as a form of punishment!
He could sympathize with them! The rest had been migrants and free settlers like they’d
had in the States. Why they even had States, too, in Australia, unlike the British Counties!
And come to think of it, they also had their own “Star-Spangled Banner” with its white-
starred Southern Cross, too! It sure was an interesting place – if only it wasn’t so god-
damn stinking hot!
He was just about to humiliate himself and request Drew to please turn on the air-
conditioning, when Drew pointed up the highway ahead. “Here we go, Erb!” he said,
“We’re just coming into Longreach, now!” Errol looked quickly through the dusty and bug-
spattered windscreen and saw that the road ahead had suddenly begun to widen and
there were real green trees casting their black shadows across it, with white-painted
buildings gleaming behind them, some with red-painted iron roofs, others with alumi-
num-silver ones. Cars and station utes were angle-parked on either side beneath the
shade of the trees and the facaded buildings, and the awning-covered sidewalks were
surprisingly busy with people.
Most of the men wore typically western-style Akubra hats, very like the old cowboy
Stetsons, as well as cowboy-style boots! This was quite a culture-shock for Errol, even
though wide-brimmed hats were common on Glengarry Station. The whole setting seemed
so typically like the old US Western towns – even down to the Coca-Cola signs and over-
head electric power lines on poles! Only the beer-advertising signs were out of place.
The bright red and yellow “XXXX”, and the “Fosters Lager” beer signs were distinctly
Aussie!
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Fortunately, the first empty parking-place they found was almost right outside the
branch of the very bank to which his ample fund of money had been forwarded by his
bank in Detroit – and even more fortunately, it was still open! Ah, well! One had to get
lucky sometimes! By now it was already afternoon, so Errol headed into the bank whilst
Drew went of to do a bit of quick shopping for Joan and the kids. He bought a large “slab”
of “Fourex” beer in cans to help boost up Bob’s bar-fridge supply, as well as umpteen cans
of soda-pop for the kids.
Drew also bought a nice box of chocolates for Joan, as well as some candy-bars for
the kids. They would normally have melted by the time they got back, but he wrapped
the slab of beer-cans and the cans of soft-drink very carefully in a couple of clean Hessian
sacks and the ute’s tarpaulin, with the box of chocolates and the bars in between them, so
that the chocolate would at least still be solid after the two-hour drive home to Glengarry.
By the time Drew had finished parceling all these goodies up and wedging the
bundle firmly between a couple of empty boxes so it wouldn’t bounce too much, Errol had
emerged from the bank. As he triumphantly stowing a healthily-thickened wallet into his
pocket, he treated Drew to a big grin. He was a happy man now. Everything had gone like
clockwork, and his ample funds had been safely transferred.
“All fixed up OK, eh?” asked Drew unnecessarily. “Got your brass all sorted, did
you?”
“Surely did!” smiled Errol. “ We can go get whatever we need now for the expedition
– anytime you’re ready – ‘mate’!”
Drew smiled back, a tad ironically.. “But we don’t even have a blooming plan yet,
Erb! Gettin’ a bit in front of ourselves, aren’t we?”
Errol’s eyes twinkled back at him. “I don’t believe that’s gonna slow us down much
is it? We can start in looking over the maps tonight if you like! I mean, if were really
gonna do this thing, we’d better start in pronto, hey? What say, old buddy? ”
“You won’t get any argument from me about that, mate!” replied Drew.
As they had finished up their business in Longreach, and they still had a two-hour
drive home, hopefully before sundown, they decided to take a rain-check on seeing the
rest of the town, for that day, anyhow. Instead, they treated themselves to a quick
hamburger and Coke apiece then made for the ute.
The road back seemed a lot clearer of traffic, especially since most of the few re-
maining road-trains for the day were heading in the opposite direction. So Errol asked
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Drew if he could take over the wheel for a while. “Don’t worry, buddy!” he said. “I think I
can stick to the “wrong” side of the road OK! It’s just that I’m gonna have to get used to
driving your way, or I’ll be like a goddamn fifth wheel later on!”
Drew could see the sense of this. There wasn’t much point in only one of them
being able to drive if they were going to do some real travelling in the near future! They’d
need to be able to take it turn about. So, without any further ado, he pulled the ute over
to the side of the road, and swapped places with Errol.
“OK, cobber!” he said. “Let’s see how you get on! But for the love of Mike, Errol, stick
to the left side of the road! Don’t even try to overtake anybody, either! You might forget
yourself and stay in the right lane! In which case we can both kiss our backsides good-
bye! Just keep telling yourself that all these mad Aussie drivers just escaped from a
loony-bin, and you might just be all right!” Then, just as Errol was about to take off, he
added, “Hey! I hope you’ve got your driver’s license with you? It may be a Yank one, but
it might get us off the hook if you get pulled over…” He was about to add “or if we get into
a bingle!” but he thought better of it.
As he pulled out onto the highway, Errol couldn’t help but notice how Drew braced
himself with one hand grasping the dash in a deathlike grip and the other arm locked
behind his seat. He smiled to himself at Drew’s obvious distrust of his abilities. He looked
forward with glee to giving the poor guy his first flying-lesson!
Much to Drew’s surprise and relief, Errol handled the Ford ute like a veteran. He
anticipated the upcoming right turn off the highway at Winton before Drew got the chance
to warn him of its approach. “We hang a right turn just up here don’t we, Drew?” he
asked, veering into the outside lane. Obviously his phenomenal memory hadn’t wilted
since their University days! Drew was finally satisfied that Errol would be safe on Austra-
lian roads, and Errol was much gratified to see Drew at last let go off the dashboard and
lean back in his seat.
“Fancy a nice cold beer, mate?” asked Drew, as they approached the town of Win-
ton. “There’s a real nice pub just up here on the left, so if you do, we’d better get back into
the left lane!”
Errol, who was parched by the unusual, dry heat showed his eagerness for a drink
by immediately moving back into the left lane. The hotel was almost opposite the turnoff
for the road that would take them home to Glengarry. Errol drove into the pub carpark,
and within a matter of seconds they were pushing their way through a crowd of sweaty
drinkers, toward the bar. The place was filled with the almost deafening noise of patrons
arguing and laughing in groups of three or four. One thing struck Errol immediately. The
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noticeable scarcity of chairs and tables, which he had always been accustomed to finding
in American bars and Scottish pubs.
Drew told him that the idea was that, in an Australian bar, you stood and drank until
you became so legless that you fell down, then you were promptly tossed out of the door
to make room for another, fresh patron! To Errol this sounded too much like a MacDon-
nell leg-pull to be true and he gave his friend a sidelong, cynical look.
Drew caught the barmaid’s eye and ordered two glasses of Fourex. Within seconds
they were holding foaming glasses of the ice-cold amber fluid. Errol took a sip at his beer
and nearly choked at the sharp, bitter taste of it! “Holy Cow!” he gasped, how can you
guys drink this for pleasure? It’s like drinking goddamn frozen acid!” But he nevertheless
took another long sip at his beer.
“Just give it time, Errol,” said Drew with a cunning grin, “it’ll soon start tasting like
bloody ambrosia! You’ll see!” Then he drained his own glass and thumped it down on the
bar-counter which was covered by a long red velvety runner. He signaled the barmaid
again to fetch them two more Fourexes.
“I’ll get these, Drew!” said Errol, reaching for his wallet.
Drew shook his head, “Your money’s no good here, mate. This is my shout!” He then
had to explain to Errol all about a round of beers in an Aussie pub being a “Shout” on the
part of the purchaser. The term “Shout” applied to any free treat, such as being taken to
the movies, at someone else’s expense. Errol, who had already heard many weird
expressions used by Drew during their years together in Edinburgh, realized he still had a
lot more to learn about Australian idioms.
Just then, a large, sunburnt, sweaty and hairy individual, clad in a battered bush
hat, a faded navy-blue singlet and tattered beige shorts, and wearing rubber thongs or
“flip-flops” on his feet, butted into their conversation. “You a bloody Yank, eh?” he asked
Errol, with a wide, gap-toothed grin. “Howjer loike it over ‘ere, mate? ‘Ot enough for yer,
is it?” His attitude was one of overbearingly friendly arrogance.
Errol stared at him for a minute, wondering if he was being targeted for some sort of
abuse. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. He’d met Anti-Americans before in Scotland, and
he still had the scars to prove it! However, he felt a gentle nudge from Drew, so he
decided to play it cool. Especially since the guy looked like he could eat him for breakfast!
“Yeah, that’s right, buddy!” he said, with a pleasant grin. “It’s great over here, judging
from what I’ve seen so far! The goddamn heat takes a bit of beating, though! Dunno how
you fellers can stand it!”
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The beer-bellied giant treated him to another ex-bruiser grin. “You wouldn’t wanna
be ‘ere in the bloody summer then, mate. We’re not outa bloody spring yet! What are yer,
anyway - a tourist? Thought youse Yanks only came over to ‘ave a gig at Ayer’s bloody
Rock or swan around the Reef, or to play about on our beaches like the bloody Nips! Don’t
get too many of youse blokes out ‘ere in the Outback!” He paused to drain his glass, and
then wiped the froth off his wide mouth. “Watcher drinkin’, mate? Another beer?” and
before Errol could pluck up the courage to refuse, he found himself looking at a third glass
of the fiercely powerful amber fluid!
“Me name’s Alf, by the way.” said the stranger. “What’s yours, mate?”
“Oh, sorry! My name’ “Errol”!” said Errol, proffering his hand.
The big man took it and crushed Errol’s fingers almost to pulp in a grip of iron. “
G’day! Pleaster meetcha, Errol, mate!” he grinned. Then, nodding toward Drew, he said,
“’Oo’s yer cobber, there, Errol? Yank too, is he?”
But before Errol could answer, Drew spoke up for himself. “Naw, mite. Oim a local,
meself!” he said, adopting the broad local Ocker dialect. “‘E’s an old school-pal of mine,
wuddja believe? ‘Is folks took ‘im out to Yankeeland when ‘e was still a bloody joey, an’
this is ‘is first time back in Ozzie! Oi’m jus’ draggin’ ‘im around the traps, like, ter get the
gen’ral ‘ang ‘o the old plice agine! Oh, yeah! An’ me nime’s “Drew”, mite! It’s orright, Oi
already ’eard yours - “Alf”, isn’it?”
Then Drew stretched forth his own huge right hand. “Owyergoin, ’Alf, mite?” he
said, crunching Alf’s fingers in his own special bone-crushing grip – one that Bob had
taught him to use as youngster, when meeting school-bullies. It had always proved to be
a great “Don’t-Mess-With-Me” introduction, and worked like a magic charm in establishing
an order of dominance with would-be tough guys. Just as it did this time. The agonized
look on Alf’s face showed that it still worked!
Errol was thankful for Drew’s intervention, not because of any timidity on his part, as
he could handle himself very well. As Drew himself had discovered during sparring-bouts
in the Uni gymnasium - and when they’d been drawn into occasional brawls (not of their
own making, let it be noted) in Scottish pubs! No, Errol was simply not given to using
violence or shows of strength. Intellect and wit were his principal weapons of offence or
defence.
However, once this supremacy issue was resolved, Alf proved to be a source of great
fascination to Errol, as he fitted perfectly the archetypal insensitive, “rough-as-bags, rip-
yer-guts-out”, beer-bellied, loud-mouthed, aggressive Aussie male he’d always been in-
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doctrinated into believing. The classic American perception of the average Australian. A
perception he would soon discover to be totally erroneous.
Errol also saw Drew in a new light as a consummate ‘character’ actor! He’d always
striven at Uni to put across a quiet, genteel scholarly image, but his present performance
would have had Hollywood baying at his heels waving movie contracts! Forget “Crocodile
Dundee” and even “Indiana Jones”, or “Rambo”, come to that! Drew was more the
strong, silent “Quiet Achiever” type, who had no need to show off his prowess with fists,
knives or bullwhips.
Suddenly Drew, who had left Errol to converse with, or rather listen to Alf for a while,
caught a tiny fragment of heated conversation from the far end of the bar, where a group
of younger men were talking about the Internet. He slid along closer within earshot,
taking his glass with him. One of the young guys, a ginger-headed youth who perfectly
fitted the mould of a science-geek, aged around eighteen or nineteen – was holding forth
about flying saucers and suchlike strange “sci-fi” marvels - phenomena not unknown in
Queensland, since many sightings had been made around the northern region of the
state, as well as “crop-circles” and the celebrated “Min-Min Lights” around the sugarcane
country.
He was clearly a well-traveled Web explorer as he had evidently read a lot of con-
spiracy theories about secret bases and underground labyrinths under America and other
places around the globe. He had just broached the subject of UFOs being from inside the
Earth, and his pals were decrying the idea. The alcohol added fuel to their fervent desire
to contribute their own two-cents worth.
“No, mate, that’s a load of crap!” one of his detractors cried. “How the hell could
anything come out of a place that’s full of molten magma? Except for lava, of course!” he
added, to the amusement of his pals. “I’ll grant you there are caves in the bloody crust,
but how far down can you go in that heat without bein’ roasted alive! Haven’t you heard of
the “Deeper-Hotter” principle? What did you do in the Physics class, Kev – play with
yourself? It’s obvious that you weren’t payin’ attention to the physics teacher, anyhow!”
The one called Kev just laughed back at him. “By Cripes, mate!” he said, “You’re just
another born mug! Don’t you get it yet? All of the so-called “science” they teach kids in
High School and Uni is just a load of complete bollocks! If you had half a bloody brain,
mate, you’d know that all they teach is pure bloody THEORY! I’ll bet you London to a
bloody brick that you can’t tell me who it was who went down through the Earth’s crust
and saw that it was all magma inside, AND that there was a bloody great ball of nickel iron
at it’s center! Go on then, you know-all bastard! Who was this great scientist who proved
all that crap to be true?”
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Another of the young men suggested “Jules Verne” - to the mirth of his mates.
“No!” yelled Kev, “An’ it wasn’t bloody David Innes or Abner bloody Perry, either!
You know why?” He looked around his circle of listeners challengingly. “Well I’ll tell you. It
was NO bastard! Nobody’s been deeper that three kilometers into the earth, an’ that’s in
a diamond mine in Africa! Three bloody fartin’ kilometres! So how can bloody Science
say or even bloody know what’s really down there?”
Another of the group said that he’d heard that geologists could test it out by means
of seismic shock waves from earthquakes. He received a sneering reception from Kev,
who asked him how they could tell which way such waves traveled around the Earth. “I
reckon they just travel around the crust!” he told them all, shortly.
“OK then, you smart sod!” said his first antagonist, turning from the bar where he
was just paying for his shout of drinks. “What do you reckon is inside, then? And who told
you? Go on, smart-arse! We’re all hangin’on your every bloody word!”
“All right, then!” said Kev, “It was Admiral Byrd of the American Navy! He flew a
plane right inside the Earth, through a hole up at the North Pole, and….”
A laughing detractor interrupted him: “Up the hole in your arse, you mean!”
At this point Kev took a wild swing at the offender, who turned around to duck, and
knocked a full beer-glass out of an elderly but hefty patron’s hand, just as he lifted it off
the bar. Drew backed off hurriedly, knowing that a “stouch” was in the offing. He swiftly
downed what was left in his glass, then grabbed Errol, who was in mid-sentence chatting
with Alf, and hauled him protesting off to the door.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!” he yelled, above the rising uproar behind him. “You
don’t want to see this, mate! It won’t be a pretty sight!”
As they exited through the bar-door, a thrown stool hit the door-frame beside them.
Errol risked a quick glance back as he went out. The whole bar seemed to have erupted
into a scene highly reminiscent of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western.
“ Holy Smoke! What the hell happened in there, Drew!” he asked as they made for
the station ute. “You didn’t start it all, did you, buddy?”
“No.” replied Drew with a sly grin, “but your famous Rear-Admiral Richard bloody
Byrd did - when he wrote all that “Secret-Diary” garbage about those Hebrew Hindus and
their bloody Nazi flugelard saucers, welcoming him to the Inner Earth!”
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Errol stared at him in bewilderment as a police patrol-car slowed past them into the
pub carpark. “What the purple blazes could Richard E, Byrd have to do with a bar-brawl
in the Queensland outback, Drew? I don’t quite get the connection?”
“Don’t worry about it!” said Drew, reaching for the car-keys. “It’s a long story! Re-
mind me to tell you all about later, mate!” Then he gunned the engine, and, as the hotel
rapidly began to empty, they turned out across the highway and headed northward to-
wards Glengarry and home.
CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 5 CHAPTER 5
As the sun dropped swiftly toward the western horizon, they turned on to the long
private dirt track up to the Glengarry Station where a humongus hot evening meal awaited
them.
Joan had a fine roast dinner almost ready to serve, and the glorious aroma that hit
them as they entered the house was so mouth-watering that they postponed their much-
needed showers until afterwards. A quick wash sufficed instead, then they joined the rest
of the family at the huge dining table. It was a wonderful meal, and afterwards, Drew
brought in the goodies he’d picked up in Longreach. Joan and kids were delighted with
Drew’s treats – as also was Bob, with his slab of beer!
Then, after they had luxuriated in a nice hot shower, the two retired to Errol’s room
to check over his maps and prints, and to get down to brass tacks regarding their pro-
posed search for an Interior “portal”. Young Charlie followed them in but Drew told him to
buzz off and get lost. Then Errol hauled out his bundle of charts. The thick roll of colour
copy prints he produced would have choked a tyrannosaurus! He’d obviously worked very
assiduously in amassing the maps and satellite photos of possible sites in Australia He
had focused upon the oldest parts of the continent first, which were largely in Western
Australia and the Northern Territory.
This was because the western half of the vast island continent - which is as large as
the United States, excluding Alaska - is believed by geologists to be part of the original
Gondwanaland, its geological foundation being composed largely of Precambrian Archaean
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and Proterozoic bedrock. Australia, being located almost centrally on the Australian-In-
dian tectonic plate, had been preserved almost intact since separating from its adjoining
continents, Antarctica and India.
New Zealand, however, which Errol had also considered - being right upon the
eastern edge of this plate - had not been so lucky. The double-island was still paying the
price for its precarious position on the edge of the plate by frequent earthquakes and
other tectonic disturbances. These were largely attributable to its immediate proximity to
the Kermadec-Tonga Trench, a very deep rift in the crust nearly 35,000 feet or seven miles
deep. It was the second deepest part of the world-ocean after the 1000 feet deeper
Marianas Trench that edged the Philippines! All such trenches are naturally volcanic by
nature, due to the ceaseless enormous friction between the Earth’s tectonic plates. Be-
cause of this, they weren’t really very safe bets for stable foundational rocks. So Errol had
to delete New Zealand from his contemplation.
But this wasn’t to say that Australia had a totally clear record for tectonic activity. Its
entire eastern coastal belt had been an almost continuous string of volcanoes in the an-
cient past! Volcanoes that had most probably arisen from the Tasman Sea, before the
uplift of the present richly-soiled and verdant coastal strip, where 90% of Australians
currently live! However, as Errol pointed out, extinct volcanoes themselves were no
barrier to Inner Earth exploration, since they were great funnels into the Earth’s outer
crust. If one could just find a way past the solid mountainous lava-plugs that remained to
mark their locations – this could turn out to be a quick way through to the middle of the
crust! However, the negative aspect of this idea might prove to be the existent of an
impassable, enclosed layer of subterranean lava sandwiched between the two halves of
the crust. There was just no way of knowing if this was still molten, or had solidified, like
its ancient vents.
At this point, Drew put in his ten-cent’s worth. It might not be inconceivable, he
opined, that if such a layer of lava had existed under eastern Australia – or anywhere else,
for that matter – it might very easily have burst through both the external and the internal
surfaces, at the same time! If this were so, then they would possibly be able to follow
open lava or gas-tubes both into the outer crust, and out again on to the internal surface!
Errol was rather amazed at this bright idea. It simply hadn’t occurred to him at all!
But it did seem to make pretty sound sense! Maybe that was the way to go, then. Just
like old Professor Hardwigg and his English nephew, Harry, had done with their Icelandic
guide, Hans, in Verne’s “Journey To the Center of The Earth”!
However, Drew dragged him back to earth with a thump by pointing out that Verne’s
story, even though well-reasoned, was only pure fiction. Even the volcano, “Mount Snef-
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fels”, was an invention too, as far as he knew – and, besides, it had only become extinct
relatively recently, a mere 800 years earlier! He personally felt that they might be a lot
safer if they followed a more benign route, through the original Proterozoic bedrock – if
such a route could be discovered among its folds and creases. He had been thinking
about places such as the southwest corner of Western Australia, around Albany, or maybe
the vast Kimberley region up in WA’s northwest corner. Also there were some excellent
areas in the top End of the Northern Territory which deserved a close look.
For instance, the Gregory National Park plateau on the Victoria River had been found
to conceal a really big tunnel-network that was only just being opened up! This was the
Bullita Cave System, and had already been checked out up to 38½ miles – with much
more left to be explored!
In fact, come to think of it, most of the northern part of Australia – even Far North
Queensland – had some terrific likely sites on offer. In the southern half, there was also
the Nullarbor Plain and Mount Gambier region of South Australia, which was full of sink-
holes and large caverns, and was also the site of an ancient volcano. Or there was always
Tasmania - a genuinely mysterious “Island At The Bottom Of The World” geologically
speaking!
Or, failing any of these - since Errol was so keenly rapt in the volcanic route – what
about the Mount Warning area on the NSW-Queensland coastal border? That had once
been a gigantic shield-volcano – one of the largest on Earth. The ancient crater, was now
a rich dairy-grazing area surrounding the gigantic lava-plug of Mount Warning. But it was
still encircled for two thirds of its ancient diameter by a great mountain range covered in
a dense rainforest-jungle, much of it as yet unexplored!
They both sat beside the bed, which was covered by large poster-sized maps and
colour-prints of topographical charts of Australia, as well as aerial and satellite photo
blowups. Drew was astonished at all the effort Errol had obviously put into gathering all
this wealth of visual data together. If anything, however, it was probably just too much!
They were almost overwhelmed by all the myriad possibilities that lay spread out before
them! But at least they had made a good start upon weighing up the fundamentals of
their quest. It came basically down to two alternatives. Either Errol’s volcanic lava-tube
idea, or Drew’s cavern-tunnel approach.
Finally, Drew yawned and stretched his arms wide above his head. “I dunno about
you, mate,” he said, “but frankly I’m completely shot! I reckon we ought to pack it in for
tonight and sleep on it. Maybe tomorrow we might be able to come back to it all with a
fresh new angle. What d’you reckon, Erb?”
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Erb, who was himself fighting of waves of sleepiness, agreed. It had been a pretty
eventful day, and he too was both physically and mentally exhausted. “Fine by me, Drew,
old buddy!” Then he added with a grin, “But I still fancy the volcanic route, myself! And
to hell with Jules Verne and his goddamn Professor!”
Then he paused, and his sleepy eyes suddenly opened wide. “Hey, Hey! Speaking
of “Professors”, Drew, - we could just do with some input from old “Din Dins” right
about now! Remember how he once said he’d like to be there if we ever discovered the
Inner Earth?” He beamed at Drew, and Drew beamed back.
“I wonder what the old Prof is up to, right about now, mate?” he pondered. “What
say we give him a call tomorrow, Errol? If I remember correctly, It’ll be about the middle
of the half-yearly break at Edinburgh!”
A huge grin spread over Errol’s face. “Hey, yeah! Why don’t we invite him over for a
“wee bit bluidy holiday”! He was always complaining that he never had time to relax,
wasn’t he! Let’s phone the poor old guy first thing in the morning!”
“No!” said Drew, “It’s just gone ten p.m. – that makes it twelve noon over there!
Why don’t we call him tonight! It might spoil his lunch, but at least we’d be more likely to
catch him hanging around the old Alma Mater! What d’you reckon, Errol, shall we? I don’t
think Bob or Joan will mind us using their phone for an overseas call – especially since I’m
the one whose now paying their bills!”
“Why the hell not!” agreed Errol, now wide awake and grinning widely. “Let’s do it!”
Drew went out into the big lounge room, where his Mum was sitting knitting, alone,
Bob having already watched his favorite TV show and gone to bed much earlier, as is the
habit of outback cattlemen. The youngsters were also in bed, so Drew quietly asked Joan
if she minded him making an overseas call to his old university.
Joan had no objections at all, just as long as he tried not to wake up the whole
household. She also added that she’d left them some supper on the side if they wanted
a bite to eat before bed. Drew thanked her politely and, unplugging the handset, took
it into Errol’s room, which was the farthest away from the rest of the house. En route, he
collected his own address-book which still contained a lot of old phone-numbers – mostly
of girls he’d known in Scotland – as well as that of Edinburgh University. As he plugged
the phone into the wall socket, he wondered if Professor Dinwiddie would still be at the
University. When Drew and Errol had called on him at his study to bid him farewell, he’d
told them he’d been contemplating a long sea-voyage, as he had several months’ worth of
unused holidays. Drew had promptly suggested a nice cruise Down Under, and Errol, not
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to be outdone, had recommended a cruise to the United States as an equally attractive
goal for an excellent holiday.
The Professor had chuckled at the pleasant prospect, but the two brand-new gradu-
ates felt that he was too set in his ways to ever leave his beloved Scottish seat of learning
– even when the place was practically deserted. It would take at least a couple of crow-
bars and several sticks of dynamite to dislodge the old curmudgeon from his comfortable
ivory tower! Professor Dinwiddie was simply a dyed-in-the-wool academic – and an
incurable workaholic, at that, too! His desk alone had borne silent testimony to that,
being burdened under an enormous pile of assorted tomes and bundles of computer
printouts, as also was every other level surface, including the chairs, in the big gloomy
room!
Dinwiddie had been like some ancient alchemist toiling in a dark dank cellar, only
emerging periodically to loudly deliver - entirely without notes - his ponderous but unfor-
gettable lectures, in his broad Highland accent, with both ham like fists gripping the edges
of the master’s gown which he always proudly wore, as well as his tasseled old mortar-
board. He had been regarded as somewhat of an anachronism by the rest of the science
faculty, who had long ago abandoned such scholarly trappings in favor of leather-elbowed
sport-coats and flannels.
However, his encyclopedic knowledge and mastery of his particular subject was
indisputable and unmatched in the whole of Britain. Nor was he above personally tutoring
such minds as he considered worthy among his charges. True, there were several official
tutors on the department staff, but Dinwiddie felt a compulsive inner need to cram all he
could of his vast academic knowledge directly into the brains of these selected fledglings.
In much the same way as a golden eagle might forcible thrust morsels of freshly-killed
rabbit down the throats of her young.
Both Drew and Errol had attracted his attention in this respect, despite their curious
extramural pursuits into other realms of arcane philosophy on the subject of geophysics.
They both had powerfully inquiring minds into their chosen subject, and that was enough
for Professor Dinwiddie to take them under his personal wing! He knew instinctively that
they would derive lasting benefit from his tutelage, and would put his valuable knowledge
to good use. Unlike many of the dolts who passed through the grueling course success-
fully, only to end up pursuing some totally alien and humdrum occupation in the outside
world!
These were the thoughts that ran swiftly through Drew’s mind as he looked up the
phone number of the faraway university, then dialed in the numbers. Soon, after a melo-
dious procession of blips and beeps, he heard a crystal-clear woman’s voice advising him
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that he was talking to the Secretary’s Office of Edinburgh University and how could she
help him. He quickly explained who he was and that he was speaking from Australia,
and would like to speak to Professor Dinwiddie of the Geophysics Department. He was
then requested to hold the line whist the call was transferred. Then after speaking to
another young woman, and repeating his request, he was again put on hold for a minute
or more.
Then suddenly he heard a familiar Scots voice, booming almost deafeningly over the
ether. “Halloo! This is Professor Dinwiddie, speaking! Whom dae Ah have the plaisure of
addressing? And dae ye no ken that ye’ve pulled me awa’ from mah damned lunch!”
Drew almost burst out laughing , and Errol saw a great grin spread across his face. He
quickly placed his own ear next to the receiver in order to hear the crusty old Prof sound-
ing off down the line.
“Hello, sir!” said Drew, politely. “Sorry to disturb you, Professor, but it’s Andrew
MacDonell speaking from Queensland, Australia. I don’t know if you remember me or not,
sir, but I left the University a couple of months back!” There was a moment of silence at
the other end, then suddenly the Professor’s voice returned. This time sounding far less
aggressive. “ Weel, Weel! Young MacDonell, eh? And all the way from Australia! How are
ye, mah boy! Ah recall ye verra weel indeed! To what, might Ah ask, do Ah owe the verra
great plaisure o’ this call?” Drew explained as briefly as possible the expedition that he
and Errol were planning to embark upon, and, ignoring the Professor’s attempted inter-
jections, he reminded him of his stated wish to be present when they discovered an
entrance into the inner Earth, and that, if he’d really meant what he’d said, how would he
like an all-expenses paid air-trip to Australia to join them for a few weeks? This really
silenced the professor for quite a few long-drawn-out moments.
So much so indeed, that Drew, wondering if the poor old chap had fainted or some-
thing, had to shout down the phone: “Hello! Hello! Professor Dinwiddie! Are you still
there, sir? Hello?” Then, in a much more subdued tone, he at last heard the Professor’s
voice again.
“Man! Are ye really serious aboot what ye’re saying tae me? Ah’ve never set foot
oot o’ Britain, let alone flappin off in an aeroplane tae the other side o’ the world! What
on Airth would ye want of a bumblin’auld mannie setch as mahself? Och, aye! Ah mind
weel what ye and ye’re American pal – Beddows - was it?- were up tae wi’ ye’re Hollow
Airth nonsense, but Ah didna expect it would last long. Ah would have thought ye’re
faither would have ye oot sairchin’ for oil or minerals in yon Australian Ootback o’ yours, by
now!” Drew quickly filled him in about the sudden death of his father and that he was
more interested in pursuing his original goal than such mundane commercial activities.
He also added that Errol had come over from America and was there beside him as he
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spoke, and that his name was Burroughs - not Beddows!
Before Dinwiddie could reply, Drew quickly went on to say that, even if the expedi-
tion was a bit beyond him, the offer of a nice holiday Down Under still stood, regardless.
They would both sincerely enjoy meeting him again. So was he interested or not? All he
had to do was to say “Yes” or “No” – either way they would understand. If he liked, they
could send him a email message with more details of their plans, and he could make his
mind up from there? In any event, they would dearly love to have the benefit of his
advice as to choosing the best route, and would be ever in his debt if he could spare them
the time?
Drew and Errol then had to endure another drawn-out silence from the other end.
They could almost hear the Professor’s mind whirring away like clockwork as he mulled
over this astounding proposition. Then suddenly, he was back. “Andrew, Mah bonnie
wee man, ye can coont me in!” They both almost whooped with delight.
“A mon would have tae be a daft idiot tae refuse such a fine kindness.” Continued
the professor, “Ah’m muire than ready for a guide break awa’ from this place, so Ah’m at
ye’re disposal! What will Ah hae to dae now, then? Ah’ll hae tae advise the Dean that
Ah’m taking some leave, o’course, but a dinna think he’ll raise any objection. He’s been
airging me tae take some leave for years! Pairhaps Ye’ll arrange mah travel and suchlike
from your ain end? Anyhoo, Ah’d appreciate it if ye can send me an email message aboot
a’ that? Ah’ll just get the Secretary tae pass our email address on tae ye – But fairst,
Andrae, might Ah hae a quick word or two with Harold, if ye dinna mind?”
Drew nearly exploded with mirth at this, and quickly handed over the phone to
Errol. “Here you go, Harold,” he grinned. “You’d better spell out your name for the dear
old nong!” then he went in search of a pencil and paper ready to note down the Professor’s
email address.
By the time he returned, he found Errol nodding and grinning and interjecting the
occasional “Yep!” or “Nope!” in response to Dinwiddie’s rambling remarks. He was clearly
almost stifling himself to death with inner mirth and delight at what ever was being said to
him. Then finally, he gasped out: “OK, Prof! I better hand you back to Andrew now! Been
great talking to you, sir, and I’m sure looking forward to seeing you again real soon! Catch
you later, Prof!” Then he passed the instrument back to Drew, and slumped down on to
the floor, his sides heaving in an agony of silent laughter. Drew was also having a job to
control his own mirth.
He dutifully listened whilst a female voice spelled out an email address for him and
he jotted it down with a still-quaking hand. Errol’s laughter really was extremely infec-
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tious! Then she told him the professor wanted one last word before they rang off. The
dear old Scot came back on the line and thanked him again profusely for his kindness. He
told him he’d be only to happy to be in at the discovery – if there ever was one, of course,
which he doubted. But he’d certainly offer them all the assistance he could in helping
direct them underground.
However, he hinted darkly, that they should think it all over be very carefully. The
only place they might discover down there could just possibly be the very last place any
good Christian soul would ever wish to find themselves in! However, that was a “wee
puzzle” he’d leave for them to figure out for themselves!
He ended up his long-winded discourse by wishing them both every good fortune,
and that he looked forward to receiving Drew’s email, and would hopefully be seeing them
in the very near future. One final touch of his cynical whimsy was his last query. Would he
need to bring his umbrella? Then, cackling happily, he rang off.
“Whew!” gasped Drew, hanging up the phone and slumping back in his chair. “I’d
forgotten what a blooming talker the Prof was! I’m beginning to wonder if we did the
right thing, mate!” He grinned fiendishly at Errol who was still red-faced and sweating
from all his stifled laughter. “What do you think, Harold?”
Errol collapsed again into a heap, sniggering uncontrollably. Drew saw that he
wasn’t going to get much more sense from him that night, so, with a little wave and a
beaming grin, he departed for his own room and the blessed comfort of his bed.
It was already broad daylight when the two awoke. And they received a fairly cool
welcome from Joan when, at length, they completed their ablutions and appeared in the
big kitchen, as hungry as starving lions. “Well I’ll be blowed!” cried Joan with more than
a touch of heavy irony. “Just look what the blooming cat dragged in! I suppose that you’ll
be looking for your lunches, will you?” Drew glanced up at the large kitchen clock that
hung upon the twelve-foot high painted vee-jay timber wallboards. It said seven-
twenty-five!
Whilst this might not have been anything remarkable to a city-dweller, Drew realized
that in the outback, where the working-day began at anywhere between four and five
a.m. it was terribly late! He apologized abjectly to Joan for their lateness, as also did
Errol.
“Guess it was all my fault, Mrs. Jackson!” he mumbled. “Drew was all set to push off
to bed, when I suggested we ring our old Professor in Edinburgh!” He looked at her
rather sheepishly, with a “Mea Culpa” ghost of smile on his face. “So I guess if you want to
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take it out on me, I’ll understand!”
Errol, who was a rather handsome and well-mannered young man, had always been
able to charm the birds off the trees. And this time he got away with it once again, which
was no great surprise to Drew. He recalled Errol’s powers of persuasion with the opposite
sex in their University days, all too well! It had led Drew, who, although red-blooded
enough, was a tad inept and clumsy around girls, into all sorts of embarrassing situations
over the past four years.
However, he was relieved to see that Joan fell for Errol’s “meekly-sheepish” line like
a ton of bricks. Soon they were tucking into a scrumptious breakfast. Joan sat down with
them to enjoy a cup of coffee, her mid-morning “Smoko” as she called it, much to Errol’s
mystification. It fell to Drew to explain the origins and continued tradition of “Smoko
Time”, which had begun way back in the early days of the original colonists, as a mid-
morning break when the shearing-shed hands could pause for a breather and enjoy a nice
mug of billy-tea and a pipe of baccy.
“By the way.” said Joan, after Errol had absorbed this bit of Australiana lore. “Did you
manage to catch your Professor on the phone, Drew? I heard you talking and laughing as
I went to bed, but I didn’t know if you were on the phone or not.” In actual fact, she really
knew they had! Joan was as inquisitive as most of her gender, and had listened on her
bedroom extension for a few brief seconds to a Scottish voice addressing Drew. Of course
she hadn’t listened in to their entire conversation. She had merely wished to check if they
had got through to Scotland.
“Oh, yes!” said Drew, clapping his hand to his forehead. “I completely forgot to tell
you, Mum! I’ve invited Professor Dinwiddie over for a few weeks’ holiday, and I meant to
check with you if he could come and stay here, or whether I should book him into a hotel
in Longreach! I don’t want to impose on you, Mum, but we both thought it’d be sort of a
repayment for all his patience and long-suffering with us both over the last few years!
After all, if it hadn’t been for him, Mum, we might have bombed out on our Geophysics
course. He gave us a hell of a lot of his spare time helping us to cram for our finals. I
reckon it’s the least we could do for the dear old bloke! D’you think you’d be able to fit him
in here, or not?”
Joan considered this piece of news for a moment. Then she asked “Just how old is
this “dear old Professor”, Drew? He might not take too kindly to all the rumpus that the
kids kick up. You know how grumpy some old fellers can get! It’s not the room or the
board that’s the problem. I just don’t want him to find himself stuck in a madhouse for
weeks on end!”
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Drew grinned. “Well he’s not actually got one foot in the grave and the other on a
banana-skin, Mum, if that’s what you’re thinking! I’d reckon him to be around the fifty-
mark or thereabouts - don’t you, Errol?” Errol nodded his agreement, and Drew went on:
“He doesn’t knock around on a stick, or in a bath chair or anything like that!” Then he
turned bright red, as it suddenly dawned on him that Bob and Joan were themselves both
far into their late forties! What a bloody berk I am! he thought, mentally giving himself a
kick up the backside. That’s knocked that on the blooming head!
Fortunately, Joan, who knew Drew’s weakness for blurting out silly remarks without
first pausing to think, chose to overlook his faux pas. Instead she put their minds at ease.
“Oh, I don’t call that “old”, Drew! You do exaggerate, don’t you! Why he and Bob should
get on like a house afire – especially if he likes a drink!”
Drew recalled Old Din Din’s penchant for an occasional wee dram of aged-in-the-
wood Highland Dew. But he couldn’t quite picture the Professor downing ice-cold Fourex
Bitter straight from the can or stubby! However, he decided to take the optimistic course.
“I’m sure they will, Mum!” He grinned at her, lying through his even white teeth.
After breakfast – or early lunch! – Drew suggested that Errol might like to go out
riding with him – provided that Errol could ride a horse of course! Errol almost hit the roof
. “Hey! Bro!” he grinned. “Don’t start in on me! I learned to ride before I could even
goddamn walk, buddy! Don’t forget where I’m from, buster! The land of the original
cowboy breed, man!”
Drew grinned back at him. “Hang on a tick, mate! Since when did they have cow-
boys around Detroit? Just because you can fly doesn’t mean you’re descended from
bloody Hopalong Cassidy! Anyhow, let’s get over to the old corral and rustle you up a
geegee, eh!” After changing into suitable clothes, boots and spurs, and donning their
shady akubras, they rambled off across the homestead yard joshing each other about their
prowess as horsemen. As they approached the big stable building, they met Bob, who,
on hearing about their prospective visitor, seemed quite happy about the idea. His only
reservation was to be expected. ”You’ll have to clear it all with your Mum of course, Drew,
son! I don’t want her to…”
But Drew hastened to assure him that it was already settled and that she was in full
agreement with the Professor coming to stay at Glengarry. “Oh, well, that’s all right then!”
said Bob. ”No bloody worries!” Then, upon hearing they were off for a ride, he took them
down to the paddock and picked out a horse for Errol.
“Here you go, young feller!” he grinned benignly. “This here’s Daisy - as nice and
gentle a little mare as you’d ever wish to meet!” Daisy greeted Errol with a wild toss of
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her large head and a glaring white-ringed eyeball, pawing the ground skittishly with a
outsize hoof. Errol suddenly realized once again that Bob still intended putting him
through the hoop for his wild flying a couple of days earlier! He’d just have to prove
himself up to the challenge! Meanwhile, as Bob helped Errol to catch and saddle up Daisy
and Daemon, Drew had gone off into the barn. He returned a few minutes later with a
couple of big flashlights that he’d refilled with new batteries, plus some coils of thin but
enormously tough nylon rope, and a small sackful of odds and ends. He didn’t say any-
thing, but just smiled mysteriously at the others.
“Just something I’m itching to show you, mate!” he told Errol. “Tell you when we get
there!” Then, after rolling the gear into a sack and tying it behind the saddle, he put his
left boot into the stirrup and swung his right leg easily over Daemon’s back. The large roan
stallion didn’t flinch this time. He’d already sniffed at Drew and recognized him as a friend.
Now it was Errol’s turn to clamber onto Daisy’s back, but the mare kept on sidling
away craftily each time he tried to swing his free leg up. Bob grinned widely at these
antics, which only served to make Errol more flustered. In the end, Drew got the general
idea of Bob’s little game, so he grabbed hold of Daisy’s bridle and held her still until Errol
was safely up in the saddle. Then, with a conspiratorial wink from Bob, he set off down
the back paddock, with Errol bringing up the rear on a still recalcitrant Daisy. She soon
settled down however, and they headed off toward the distant hilly region where Drew
had examined the curious outcrop, some twenty-odd miles west of the station.
Once out of Bob’s range of vision, Errol turned out to be an excellent rider, and they
enjoyed a gentle canter across the wide brown country side by side. Drew had more
sense than to attempt any sort of racing, as it was much too hot in the near midday heat,
and he didn’t want to tire the horses unnecessarily. Fortunately, the property was well
supplied with still-brimming water-holes, so they had no fears of their mounts becoming
too dehydrated.
Errol peered around the landscape with great interest as they went along. He was
accustomed to riding around the lush green grass and woodlands of Michigan, and had
never ridden across the dry western plains of America in his life. Yet nevertheless, he
seemed to feel as if he was at home in this faraway land of Down Under. Even the heat
seemed a little more tolerable than it had seemed in the utility the day before.
At least it was nice and dry! Not like the sticky, humid heat he’d encountered after
he’d arrived at Brisbane International Airport! The flies were the only problem. They
clung to one’s eyelashes, ears and lips in an infuriating way, as they searched for moisture.
But he’d heard that the mosquitoes in the subtropics of coastal Queensland were really
something else in summertime! He didn’t really fancy coastal Australia at all! Yet that
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was where ninety-percent of Australians chose to live! They were quite a weird bunch of
people, really! But he had found them amazingly easygoing. Well, thus far, anyhow!
He was suddenly aroused from this mood of comfortable daydreaming when Drew
reached across and grabbed his arm. “Hey! Over there, mate! There’s your first Willy-
Willy!” He pulled the brim of his hat a little lower and stared in the direction of Drew’s
pointing finger. A whirling column of dust and dried weed was weaving its way erratically
across the semidesert toward them. Errol had experienced tornadoes in the States, but
only in darkly-overcast, stormy weather, and never at close quarters. But the willy-willy
seemed fairly innocuous to him, especially since there was no rumbling thunder or black
clouds overhead. There was a noticeably strong hot breeze blowing and the dust of the
willy-willy formed a large cloud overhead, but there seemed to be no real weather con-
nected with it. And, even as he watched, it suddenly collapsed and vanished like a desert
ghost. But now Drew was pointing toward something else, and Errol could make out a
low range of jagged rock on the skyline a few miles ahead.
“That’s where we’re heading, mate!” said Drew excitedly. “You may find this a bit
more interesting!” then he slapped his horse into a canter, and Errol followed suit. It
didn’t take very long to reach the curiously-formed orange-red outcrop, and soon they
had dismounted and walked the horses into one of the large shallow caves out of the hot
sun. Here, Drew unfastened the bundled sack from Daemon’s saddle and withdrew the
two large flashlights from it, as well as the coils of fine nylon rope. “Come on, Erb.” he
said. “Its around the back of this big rock!” But Errol was keenly inspecting some of the
aboriginal cave paintings and handprints upon the smooth rock walls of the adjacent
caves.
“Aah! So this is the actual “Fair-Dinkum” aboriginal native art of Australia, eh, Drew!”
he said enthusiastically. “ I wish I’d brought my goddamn camera with me now! Mom
asked me to be sure and take her plenty of pretty pictures back!” However, Drew hastily
assured him that there’d be plenty of time for all that later on. In the meantime would he
please come on and have a dekko at what he’d found!
Errol became just as excited as Drew when he showed him the long dark tunnel that
burrowed away deep into the surrounding towering rocks. “Did you take a look inside
yet?” he asked, flashing his torch into its black depths. “No way!” replied Drew. “Not on
my bloody own, old son! No bloody fear! I’ve saved this one up till you got here so we
could check it out together! I don’t expect it’ll be what we’re really looking for, but at
least, it’s a good chance to “get our feet wet”, so to speak!”
As it turned out, however, there was little likelihood of wet feet, since the whole area
was a dry as a bone. Drew led the way flashing his powerful light up and down, and side
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to side as they proceeded.
It was certainly no small find, as the tunnel steadily widened into quite a sizeable
cavern as they went forward. The floor was comparatively even and sandy, but, most
importantly, it gradually went downhill. Eventually they came to a point where the cavern
divide into two tunnels and the ceiling rapidly descended quite low above their heads.
Before they left the big cavern, Drew tied one end of a coil of the thin nylon rope around
a column of protruding rock, and paid it out behind them as they headed on down the left-
hand tunnel.
As Drew flashed the torch beam ahead of them, Errol shone his into the little grot-
toes than branched off the passageway. They all looked as if they might lead somewhere,
but they could only follow one trail at a time. Drew turned around at on point as Errol was
flashing his torch down a particularly inviting side-tunnel, and suggested that it might be
a good idea if he switched off his torch, so that they would have back-up if his failed for
some reason. Errol thought this was a good idea and promptly complied. “How’s the
“Babes in The Wood” cord going, buddy?” he asked, as they had by now come quite a
distance. Drew held up the still-ample remains of the coil for him to see. “At least, we can
still find our way back, Erb, even if the torches give out! Hansel and Gretel had the right
idea – ‘cept we wouldn’t be able to feel bread crumbs among all this sand and gravel!”
Errol began to develop an even greater respect for his companion from that point
onward. At least Drew wasn’t lacking in either foresight, caution or guts - a neat combi-
nation of the major qualities that they would probably need most when it came to the real
thing. He was glad of this opportunity for a “dummy-run” even if it finally petered out to
zilch. They wouldn’t be going into the real business as total fumbling amateurs!
They continued onwards for a further hundred yards or so, but as they did so, they
noticed that the roof of the tunnel was gradually getting lower so that they were now
forced to stoop as they went deeper. The character of the tunnel had also changed. The
side-tunnels petered out and the tunnel walls became much smoother, as if they had been
scoured smooth by a powerful jet of water. When they found themselves finally reduced
to proceeding upon all-fours, Drew called a halt.
“Looks like we’re literally “at the end of our rope”, Erb, in every sense of the term!
I’ve got about a couple of feet of the cord left, and from what I can see up front, there’s
no let up in this squeeze!” He sighed in exasperation. “ The only way we can get any
further is by dragging ourselves along on our stomachs. Don’t really fancy that much, do
you, mate?” He leaned sideways as far as he could in order for Errol to see beyond him
down the rapidly constricting passageway. “What do reckon? I still have another coil of
cord here, and I could tie it onto the end of this one, but the big problem is getting back
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if we’re flat on our bellies! It’s not easy trying to wriggle backward lying down!”
Errol bit his lip. “How long are those coils of cord, Drew?” he asked.
“Around two hundred meters.” said Drew. “That’s about six hundred and fifty-odd
feet in Uncle Sam’s good old measure! Or two hundred and eighteen yards if you can
imagine that better! Take your pick! It’s still quite a hell of a distance, whichever way you
measure it!”
“Sure is!” Agreed Errol, “But it’s zero compared to eight-hundred miles, buddy!
Nope! I vote we go back while we still can! Maybe we could try the other branch of the
tunnel, what say?”
Drew grunted his agreement, and they began to crawl laboriously backwards, until
at last they reached a point where they could stand and turn around. It was easier after
that and they soon arrived back at the original junction. “Well, now!” said Drew. “What
shall we do next? How much time have we got left, anyhow?” He glanced at his watch
and saw to his amazement that it was already nearly four in the afternoon. “Blast it!” he
said. “I forgot we had such a late start!”
It was then that he realized something else he’d forgotten. The email he was sup-
posed to have sent off to Professor Dinwiddie! ‘Double-damn it all!’ he thought.
Errol was just as concerned as Drew about this oversight. “Well, I guess that’s it, old
buddy.” he said. “We’ll just have to come back and check out the other passage another
day, at least we’ve kinda made some sort of a start, but we’re gonna have to think real
hard about what sort of equipment we’re gonna need for the real MacCoy!”
Drew was already way ahead of him
in worrying about that! One thing had swiftly become clear to him in the narrowing
squeeze of the passageway. They were going to need some sort of back-up when they
finally took the deep plunge! Two were obviously not enough to cope with any real
emergencies. But who else was there? Old Din-Dins wouldn’t be up to the underground
bit, he was plainly too old and too out of condition.
Maybe some of their old Internet egroup pals might be interested, but they’d have
to come from the States or England - or wherever – always providing that they were up for
it, of course! Or even still on the Net, come to that!
“I reckon we’re going to have to get ourselves a decent computer, Errol.” He told his
friend as they rode unhurried back toward the homestead, “We can’t hog the kids’ PC or
there’ll be hell to pay – especially from young Charlie! He’s on it all the damn time!” He
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thought for a while. “What say I get Stan to run you into Longreach tomorrow and you can
pick one up for us, eh? I’ll have to stay here and get on the blower to organize something
with the airlines for the Prof’s flight and such! We’re goin’ to need a computer for all sorts
of other stuff as well – especially data! I dunno about you, mate, but I’ve already
forgotten half the bloody stuff I learned at Uni!”
Errol nodded a little glumly “ Yep, I guess that goes for me too, Drew! But let’s not
forget we’ll have old Din-Dins to help us out with that side of things, bro! After all isn’t that
why we asked him out here in the first goddamn place?”
Drew grinned. “Too right, old mate!” he said. “I ‘m just hoping that the kids haven’t
got the computer tied up this evening so that I can get that email written and off to
Edinburgh, tonight! Fair dinkum, Erb, I could kick myself square up the backside for not
thinking of it this morning, before we went off down that blooming rabbit-hole!” He shook
his head sadly at his own thick-headedness.
Then, the roofs and treetops of the Glengarry homestead hove into view on the
horizon, and this brightened them up considerably. They spurred their mounts into a
swift gallop for the last couple of miles, and enjoyed the exhilaration of a friendly race for
home. Their horses seemed to enjoy it too, and bolted away at a cracking distance-
devouring pace. It seemed like no time at all before they pulled up in the yard beside
the big iron barn, and dismounted.
As they did so, Stan and Jacky came ambling over to take over the unsaddling and
hosing down of the two horses. Errol gave Daisy a couple of pats on the shoulder and
murmured a few sweet nothings in her ear. She reciprocated by snuffling the side of his
head with her wet muzzle.
Stan was astonished to see this. “By Gee, Errol!” he laughed around the thin butt
of hand-rolled cigarette that seemed to be a permanent appendage upon his bottom lip,
“You’ve made a real bloody hit with our Daisy, mate! She doesn’t usually take so bloomin’
kindly to strangers! She bit a lump out of Bob’s arm only about a couple of months back
– an’ he’s known her since she was a bloody foal!”
Errol couldn’t help smiling wryly to himself. “The Biter Bit!” he thought.
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CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 6 CHAPTER 6
As soon as they entered the house, (much to Joan’s surprise, as she had half ex-
pected them to come straggling home long after dark and expect her to cook them a
belated meal), Drew made a beeline for Charlie’s computer. Fortunately, Charlie was
outside somewhere with Bob pursuing his training as a jackaroo. But the computer was
switched on and the monitor screen was freewheeling a pair of graphic trapezoids that
constantly changed colour and configuration as they swirled around each other.
He immediately clicked the mouse to the desktop, which was packed almost solid
with Charlie’s chosen icons, then he clicked on “Internet Explorer”, and within seconds
had located a trusted Brisbane travel agency to check out the Qantas or British Airways
flights from the UK for availability of a return business-class seat over the next week or so.
In very quick time, he had arranged two tentative optional bookings for Professor Dinn-
widdie - including the shuttle-flight from Edinburgh - for seven and twenty-one days later
respectively, direct to Brisbane. This was simply because he had no idea how much time
the Prof would need to get his passport and visa sorted.
After submitting his credit-card details, the booking-agency promised to email him
the full flight-details for both options (the applicable one to be confirmed by the passen-
ger) within half an hour. Having thus initiated the exercise, there was no point in begin-
ning to compose the email to the Professor till he had all the facts to hand. Drew hurriedly
scribbled a large block–lettered note asking Charlie not to hog the computer until he’d
finished his business and taped it to the monitor screen.. He then hurried away and
grabbed a quick shower, whilst he had the time to spare.
Just as he finished his shower, and was drying himself off, Joan knocked on the
bathroom door to ask if he would like an early tea time meal. She was doing Errol eggs
and chips, if he was interested? That sounded fine to Drew, whose culinary tastes were
of the simplest imaginable. Errol had often remarked that it must have been due to his
“peasant-upbringing”, but Drew was just one of those people who set no store by making
the ingestion of food into an art form. It was probably in his genes, as his father had been
the same – or would have been had not been such a big-shot in the business world, and
thereby compelled to do a lot of social dining in flash and often exotic gourmet restau-
rants.
As he pulled on his clothes in his bedroom, Drew recalled his father’s remarks on the
day he’d died, about “eating pig-poo”, and he smiled faintly to himself. His Scottish
forebears must have existed entirely upon gritty salted porridge and boiled mutton – with
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the occasional haggis thrown in, of course!
Errol was already halfway through his meal of egg and chips, when Drew sat down
beside him. “Hmmm! Yum!” mumbled Errol appreciatively. “There’s a lot to be said for
plain, wholesome food, buddy! This is delicious!” Drew grinned at him, “Yeah! I know,
mate! That’s why the “Colonel” and “MacDonalds” struck it so rich in the States! You
Yanks’ll eat any bloody thing as long as it’s got French Fries with it!” He had to smile at his
own hypocrisy. Errol had always pulled Drew’s leg for being so addicted to fast take-away
foods during their Uni days in Edinburgh. He’d even suggested that the Scots should start
up a chain of “Edinburgher” Take-Away outlets. Perhaps with “Haggis and French Fries”
as a special gourmet-delight, and “Oatmeal Porridge and Ice cream” as the main “sweet”
to follow! Drew would have been their first and principal customer!
Meanwhile, Joan had placed a great plate of fried eggs and chips in front of Drew,
who was, by this time, almost ravenous. He tucked in with a vengeance and just allowed
Errol’s additional fast-food suggestions, such as “Scotch Egg and French Fries” and “Egg-
inburghers” to fly harmlessly over his head. Because he tucked in so voraciously and
silently, he finished his own meal well before Errol, and thus won the bonus award of an
extra helping of leftover chips! His hunger now sated, Drew excused himself and went
back to the computer.
True to their promise, the travel-agency had sent him the emailed flight schedule for
Professor Charles. A. Dinwiddie, care of the Science Faculty, Edinburgh University, Scot-
land, UK. Drew knew only too well that the “A” stood for “Archibald”. They’d often joked
about it as students. When the Professor was absent for any reason – a very rare event –
they had sung a parody of a famous Scottish song of the 1745 Rebellion, that began with
“Baldy Archie’s noo awa’…” and ended “May he no come back again!”
However, he now had all the needed flight-numbers, dates, and departure and
arrival times, so he started on the all-important email message. Errol joined him as he
was typing feverishly away, trying desperately to keep it short and sweet. But it was
difficult to explain all that they had in mind in a mere couple of pages. Finally, after some
helpful editing suggestions from Errol, he managed to get it all down to seven pages.
Then after a very careful scrutiny of a printout copy and a few spelling corrections, he
pressed the “Send” button. “Now,” he said, leaning back on the computer stool, hands
behind his head, “all we’ve got to do is blooming wait!” Just then young Charlie came in,
and eyed the pair sitting at his computer. But instead of whining about their unauthorized
use of same, he surprised them both by displaying keen interest in what they were up to.
Errol told him the basic details of their quest.
After digesting this, Charlie said brightly “Hey! You two! Have you checked out the
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Undara Lava Tubes sites yet?” and without waiting for an answer he clicked the “Favorites”
button, scrolled down to an entry, and a couple of clicks of the mouse later, he had the
famous tourist attraction’s colorful web-page up on the screen. Oddly, although both of
them knew something about lava-tubes, especially those of the Hawaiian volcanoes, Mauna
Ulu and Kilauea, they hadn’t really thought about this local one at Undara, about 100 miles
inland from the North Queensland coastal town of Cardwell. The site was well illustrated
with intriguing color-pictures and some quite useful text information. Drew and Errol were
quite rapt in the place, although they both realized that a lava-tube could, at best, really
be only of superficial interest from a subterranean-exploration viewpoint.
Nevertheless, Errol was especially keen to see this geological wonder. “Wowee!” he
cried. “That can’t be far from here, buddy! Why don’t we get the plane out tomorrow and
mosey on over there for an eyeful, Drew! Anyone got a map of this region?” Charlie
again came to the rescue by producing an Australian school atlas, and they soon discov-
ered that Undara was just about two hundred miles north-north-west of the Glengarry
station. “Hey, about that!” grinned an elated Errol, “Only an hour’s hop away! Goddamn
it, Drew, this I gotta see! What say, Mate! Are we on for tomorrow? And I’m warning
you, buddy - if you say “No”, I’m going without you anyway!” Drew could hardly refuse
such a “cri de coeur” and although he’d been looking forward to a further exploration of
that other tunnel under the outcrop, he agreed without argument. “Hey! Hang on!”
chimed in young Charlie, with some indignation. “What about me, you blokes? Can’t I
come, too? I mean, it was me that told you about the place, wasn’t it, so it’s only
bloomin’fair!” Drew looked at Errol and held out his hands in a long-suffering gesture of
helpless despair. Errol just grinned and nodded happily, so Drew told Charlie he could
come with them as long as his Mum and Dad said it was OK. Charlie raced out of the room
with a loud yell of “Yippee!” and a huge grin across his freckled face.
“Say! Young Chas is a pretty smart operator!” opined Errol. “He could be useful to
us, Drew! He’s pretty slick on the draw, computer-wise, so he could save us heaps of
hassle in digging info out of the Net!”
Drew immediately saw the sense in this. “Okay, Erb! I’ll go along with that, just as
long as he doesn’t make a real pain of himself! You don’t know the cunning young ratbag
like I do! Next thing he’ll want to come with us on the blooming expedition! I’ll let you
imagine that scenario for yourself!”
“Ahh, you’re too hard on the poor kid, Drew!” replied Errol. “Anyhow,” he went on,
changing the subject, “What time d’you reckon we should set off tomorrow? Would sunup
be too early, d’you think? It’d give us a lot more time to have a scout around the place!
Guess we could get Joan to make us up some sandwiches and a flask of java for our
“Soakup” or whatever you call it! And maybe she might even make enough for our lunch,
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too – if I ask her nicely, eh?”
“Smoko!” Drew corrected him. “And I think we’ll find they probably have some sort
of eating-place on site, so no need for us to bother Joan! Yair! I reckon the earlier we get
started the better – always providing we don’t sleep-in again!”
Just at that juncture, Bob walked in with young Charlie. “Hey!” he cried, scowling in
mock outrage. “What’s all this about takin’ this young bludger off sight-seein’ when he
should be doin’ his chores?” he winked conspiratorially at Drew and Errol. “Can’t say as I
much like the idea of him goin’ skivin’ off when there’s bloody work to be done around the
place - an’ his lessons to learn, too….” He winked again, as Charlie’s bottom lip began to
protrude in disappointment. Then he ruffled Charlie’s ginger hair playfully with a leathery
work-toughened hand. “Still, like me old Dad used to say, “All Work an’ No Play…!” Oh,
hell! I reckon I can manage without him for one day!” Charlie’s face lit up like a
Christmas tree. “Gee! Thanks, Dad! Thanks a lot!”
Don’t thank me!” said Bob. “Thank Errol an’ Drew for takin’ you! An, don’t you go
makin’ a bloody nuisance of yerself, either! D’you hear me, son?” Then, with a cheery
grin at the others, he turned on his heel and left them all to it. Charlie clapped is hands
joyfully. “Ripper! You little beauty!” he yelled.
It was then that Drew told Charlie he’d have to work off the favor by helping him to
fix up the new computer when it arrived. “It’ll probably be here by the time we get back
tomorrow arvo,” he said, “so don’t forget!” But Charlie was elated at the news, especially
when he heard Drew’s new computer was fifty times more powerful than his own two-year
old but already outmoded model. And when Drew told him they would need his help in
searching the Net for information, his joy knew no bounds Such net-searching work was
right up his alley.
Then, as an earnest of his good faith for their kindness, the happy youngster set
about downloading the entire “Undara” website for them, in full color on nice white high-
resolution paper.
Around ten that night, as Drew and Errol were once more sitting in Drew’s room
studying all the printed-out Undara information and discussing the possibilities of making
an entry into the earth via some volcanic vent, young Charlie tapped quietly on their door
and slipped in, glancing furtively over his shoulder in case Joan saw him. In his hand was
an email printout.
It was from their dear old professor in Edinburgh, to tell them that he was greatly
intrigued by their proposed adventure into the subterranean realms of deepest Australia,
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and would be only too delighted and honored to accept their fine and extremely generous
offer of an airline trip to that “fair wee land” which he gathered from the guidebooks he
had consulted must be “crammed to overflowing with the descendants of his own coun-
trymen”. And a holiday on a real live Queensland cattle station would be the icing on a
wonderful surprise Birthday Cake!
He would be happy to take the earliest of the two optional flights, since he had, in a
sudden fit of nostalgia, made arrangements only six months earlier to visit his ailing elder
and only sister, in Nova Scotia. He’d made all the requisite passport and visa arrange-
ments as well as booking a flight to Halifax, in Canada, only to learn a few days later that
she had died quite unexpectedly. Or, as he poetically put it, “departed suddenly but
peacefully from this tiresome Vale of Tears” - of a severe stroke at the grand age of fifty-
eight years! It had all come as quite a blow to him.
“Poor old sod,” murmured Drew, then continued perusing the four-page email.
However, after a brief chat with the Dean that very morning, the professor had
forwarded his still-current passport to Australia House for the appropriate visa to be at-
tached for a minimum stay of six months. Upon studying the flight-times for the earlier
trip, he’d discovered that, by some stroke of cunning genius, Andrew had cleverly timed
his landing in Brisbane to coincide exactly with his fiftieth birthday! How Andrew had
discovered his birth date he had no idea, but doubtless this would be revealed in due
course. But it was a magnificent gesture that he would never forget!
“Well! How lucky could a blooming man get!” cried Drew in astonishment. “I hadn’t
even the foggiest idea when the dear old codger’s birthday was! Or even how old he
actually was! I was just guessing when I told Mum he was around fifty!”
Dinwiddie then rambled on a little about the difficulty of packing a suitable wardrobe
of clothing, as he understood it could become rather warmish at times in Queensland and
he certainly had no desire to find himself suffocating in tweeds and a deerstalker in the
middle of a heat wave.
“What the hell’s a deerstalker?” asked Errol, in a puzzled tone. He was rewarded by
a astonished stare from Drew. “Didn’t you ever watch any of those old “Sherlock Holmes”
movies with Basil Rathbone, mate? Drew said, with disbelief. “You must have! That
Victorian sleuth who went around with his old doctor pal with the white ‘tash! “Elemen-
tary my dear Watson!” and all that jazz - remember?”
Errol’s eyes suddenly lit up, as if seeing an angelic revelation. “Oh, yeah! Now I
remember! Used to watch him on TV when I was a kid! British guy with a big nose -
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always wore a kinda cape and funny headgear…. and always peeking through a magnify-
ing-glass? That the guy?”
That’s the bloke!” laughed Drew, “And his funny headgear was a deerstalker!”
* * *
By eight the next morning they were already halfway to Undara. Drew sat next to
Errol, and Charlie sat in one of the four passenger seats with his nose pressed hard against
the plexi-glass window gazing down upon the vast panorama of scenery below.
They had already passed over Hughenden and Errol had discovered that if they
followed the Kennedy Highway north, it would bring them right up to the site they sought.
The countryside below was much more thickly clad in gray-green than that which they
had left, and it was fairly elevated, too, as they were flying over the Great Dividing Range.
Here and there along the way, they passed over station homesteads with large
swatches of lighter yellow-green, and were flying sufficiently low to allow Charlie to see
the cattle ranging over the countryside, and the occasional station pickup ute trailing its
plume of red dust along a dirt road. He just sat there quite entranced, saying how great
it was to see all the scenery from such a fantastic viewpoint. The youngster had only
been in a plane once before, but that time he’d been seriously ill with a burst appendicitis
and hadn’t been able, or inclined, to look out of the windows of the Flying Doctor’s Air
Ambulance as he was flown urgently to Longreach Base Hospital.
Drew was just happy to sit back and survey the great stretches of savannah wood-
land, watching out for some sign of their objective, and listening to Errol theorizing about
the alternative possibility of there being some kind of volcanic gas vents or fumaroles in
the district. Whilst he was dubious about finding any unblocked lava-vents leading down-
ward, he was convinced that there should be open fumaroles from which steam and
scalding water may have once issued from the depths. These are related closely to the
geysers and hot springs notably depicted in famous geothermal places like Yellowstone
National Park in Wyoming, USA or in Rotorua and other thermal regions in New Zealand.
He was convinced that if one could only find such a fumarole - a suitable large one and
preferably one from an extinct volcano, it might conceivably be their point of entry!
According to all the downloaded literature they had read last night, this region of
North Queensland had been a really volcanically active area some 190,000 years ago. This
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meant that the Undara volcano - or volcanoes, (it seemed there had been several craters
fairly close together at Undara) might be relatively young enough not to have eroded
away so completely as to have collapsed all their vents and tubes. The fact that the lava-
tubes were still fairly intact.
The various web-pages Charlie had downloaded seemed to indicate that there were
still over eighty sections of the longest tube – which was said to be the longest in the
world, at around a hundred miles or one hundred and sixty kilometres!
However, even better still, the whole McBride Province plateau near the top of the
Great Dividing Range boasted the existence of no less than 160 separate volcanoes within
an area that was only eighty or so miles in diameter, the oldest of which dated back three
million years! Surely they ought to be able to find some means of ingress in such a
fantastically tectonic area!
Errol said that he felt more gut-certain than ever that this area would yield some-
thing up for them, than any of the others they had checked out on all the maps he’d
brought with him. That weird “McBride Province” ought surely to narrow their search area
down pretty dramatically, especially as they had an aircraft to help with the search! Errol
positively oozed confidence of success, and Drew soon found himself feeling equally opti-
mistic and enthusiastic.
By this time, only a little under an hour of leaving Glengarry, they were already
rapidly approaching their goal, and could distinctly see the cluster tree-carpeted bowls of
the Undara craters dead ahead. They were at just the right altitude in relation to that of
the sun above the eastern horizon to get a near-perfect three-dimensional view of them.
It was quite an impressive sight, particularly when they spotted the long hummocks of the
overgrown lava-tubes – broken here and there by clumps of bushier vegetation where the
roofs had collapsed. But the whole scene was much more extensive than they had imag-
ined from the data they had been studying. After circling around the surrounding area,
Drew spotted the landing-strip at some short distance away, along a dirt road that con-
nected it to a park-ranger station and tourist center. He buzzed low over the center, and
they saw a man in uniform emerge from the main structure and vigorously wave him over
toward the landing-strip.
By the time Errol gently touched the Cessna down in a neat three-point landing, a
four-wheel drive was already bouncing its way along the track toward them. After Errol
had parked the plane off to one edge of the landing-strip, and they had climbed out of the
aircraft, its large, friendly driver was already waiting to greet them.
“G’day!” he said cheerily, with a big friendly grin. “How’s it going, folks! Welcome to
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Undara Volcanic National Park! Got any gear with you?” They shook their heads, and
Drew told him that they’d just “nipped up from Winton to let an overseas visitor” – here he
indicated Errol – “have a bit of a gander at the lava-tubes”.
“Oh, right!” said the driver, breezily. “I think he’ll be in for a pleasant surprise, then!
I’m one of the guides here. Anyhow, hop up into the car and I’ll run you back to the
station, then you can sort yourselves out from there!”
They all clambering into the vehicle and, after a short drive, and a very brief chat
with the driver, soon found themselves approaching a small cluster of buildings.
“Hey!” shouted young Charlie, pointing to what resembled a tall stack of huge blocks
of rock jutting up some distance away above the shady trees. “They’ve even built a view-
ing place up there!”
Their guide-driver smiled at this. “No, son,” he said,” that’s an outcrop called Barker’s
Knob, but it does comes in handy for keeping a fire-watch over the savannah bush land
around here. It gets dry as tinder at this time of year and unless you could spot a fire right
at the outset, it could race right over the entire plateau like a - like a- ”
“Like a bush fire?” suggested Drew helpfully.
“Yair!” said the savannah guide, with a grim face. “There’d be nothin’ left but a
blackened waste for a hundred miles in any direction – not to mention the decimation of
all the local wildlife! Fire’s the big hazard in these savannah areas. ”
The ranger station and tourist center was now in sight, and it was strange to see a
long line of antique railway carriages standing among the trees! Soon they stopped
outside the main building. They got out and their driver took them inside to meet one of
the officials who helped in supervising the tourist center. She turned out to be a very
pleasant, personable woman, and Drew became rather tongue-tied as he tried to explain
their mission. Errol came to his aid using all the charm he could muster, which was fairly
formidable. He quickly outlined the idea they were pursuing, but without mentioning
anything about the inner earth theory. He told her that he had flown over from Detroit
specifically to join his fellow geophysicist in making an in-depth study of the craters, lava-
tubes and any fumaroles or vents there might be.
They were interested, he told her, in seeking some way to get beneath the level of
the actual tubes themselves so they could later gain permission to investigate any hollow
chambers that the principal volcano may have left behind. Fumaroles were the most
likely bet in this regard, since they might not have been blocked with solidified lava.
Would it therefore be possible for them to take a look around the tubes and the perimeters
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of the ancient calderas to see if such fumaroles still existed?
He hastened to add that they were both qualified geophysicists and that they had a
colleague Professor on his way over to join them from Edinburgh University, in Scotland,
even as they spoke. They had scoured the whole of Australia for a site where such
fumaroles might exist, and had finally settled upon Undara. To whom would they have to
apply in order to carry out their research?
The lady-supervisor was suitably impressed by all this – as well as with Errol and
Drew - and said that she could put them in touch with the National Parks Department in
Brisbane, if their project required any major works involving drilling, excavating or any
suchlike heavy equipment. That sort of thing was frowned upon. However, if none was
needed and there was no likelihood of any damage to the local environment or interfer-
ence with the local tourist or park activities, things could be streamlined. They might be
able to come to some sort of arrangement that wouldn’t require the inevitable red-tape
that such an official request might entail.
They both hastened to assure her that the immediate work could be done by them-
selves, since a simple visual assessment was all they sought, and if they found what they
were looking for, it would involve nothing more than a simple speleological operation. In
short, little more than a spot of caving or pot-holing!
Their pleasant hostess was at once won over. In that case, she suggested, why
didn’t she get someone to take them around some of the park area and the lava-tubes on
a sight-seeing tour so that they could get the feel of the place? She said the park’s busy
season hadn’t yet begun, and one of the guides would be quite happy to show them
around. Drew hastened to assure her that they would be glad to pay any appropriate
tour-fees, double, if necessary – for such a privilege! The lady supervisor said that
perhaps a contribution to the National Parks and Wildlife Fund would be very welcome and
that she would organize a tour for them forthwith. After Errol had written out a generous
cheque, she suggested they might like some refreshment while they waited? They wel-
comed this idea, since it was close to “Smoko Time”. They were soon seated round a
picnic bench under the shady trees enjoying coffee and sandwiches and saw that the rail-
carriages had been converted into neat accommodation units and a dining car!. The
scenery was magnificent at this hour of the morning, with the sun still low in the sky and
the area almost empty.
It was as they were thus absorbed in their snack and contemplating the scene
outside, that a man in dark-green shorts and shirt with shoulder-patches, and wearing a
pale fawn, broad-brimmed hat came clumping up to their table in heavy bush boots and
ankle-gaiters.
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“Hi, fellers!” said he. “You the scientist blokes who want to take a look around?”
They nodded and Drew introduced himself, and his two companions. He introduced him-
self as Leo, and said he’d been asked to take them wherever they wanted to go around
the Undara site. If they were ready, he’d be glad to get started as they had some territory
to cover. “Tell you what!” he said, as they headed for the exit, “You picked a fine day for it,
fellers! She’s a real stinker today, all right!”
It was only then that they realized how hot the day was already becoming. The
tropical temperature had already risen considerably since they’d arrived and after the cool
early morning atmosphere they had first encountered, the air now enveloped them -
especially poor Errol – in a moist blanket of stifling, muggy heat. They accompanied Leo
outside to where his four-wheel drive stood waiting. Mercifully, his vehicle was air-
conditioned, so much of their travelling between points of interest would be done in
comfort. However, Leo assured them that it was nice and cool down in the tunnels so they
wouldn’t have to cop too much of the unusually humid heat.
As they clambered into his vehicle, Leo grinned at Errol, whose pink visage was
already glistening with dribbling perspiration. “You’d be the American bloke, eh? Don’t
worry, mate! You’ll soon get used to it! We all have to out here! It’s amazing how quick
you can adjust when you have to! Had a bunch of Scandinavians visiting the park last
week, straight out from Sweden, and they thought they were going to melt clean away!
But by the time they got back from their tour, they decided to stay over another day! It’s
not always this muggy, by the way - we’re 2,500 feet up here! So there you go! And here
we go, too!” he added, putting the vehicle in gear, and heading off among the trees. “Just
sit back and enjoy the trip, fellers!”
Then he launched into what was clearly an often-repeated history of the lava-tubes
and the volcano that had caused them. And despite their having already read much about
the region and its amazing features from the Web pages, they were happy to hear it all
repeated in detail by this highly-experienced savannah guide, whose colourful description
made it all come to life before their eyes. As Leo talked, Drew and Errol glanced at each
other. They both felt the same sense of deep inner conviction that this really was going to
be the Starting-Point of something really big for them! Leo was an excellent exponent of
his subject, and they were soon engrossed in listening to his potted travelogue – not so
much in its present-day surroundings - but far back in ancient time.
“First off,” said Leo, ”let me explain to you that these lava-tubes here at Undara were
created by a giant volcano when it erupted around 190 million years back. This whole
area is called the McBride Volcanic Province, and it contains the craters of about a hundred
and sixty volcanoes altogether, most of them lying within an area of roughly eighty miles
across! Just imagine that, if you can! Wall-to-wall volcanoes! The actual tubes that I’m
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going to show you, were caused by the molten lava flowing down a system of ancient dry
riverbeds. The upper outer layers of the lava cooled and crusted over, but the white-hot
molten magma being pumped out from the volcano just kept on flowing along merrily
underneath the solidified crust, travelling further and further along the riverbeds away
from the main crater.
“When the eruption of the volcano finally slowed down and stopped, and all the
residual lava had draining out through the tubes, it left them like a lot of hollow tunnels,
which soon hardened into solid rock…”
Here Drew interrupted him. “How come the lava still carried on flowing out when
the volcano slowed down to a stop? Surely it would all have just cooled down and bunged
the tubes up?” He tipped a quick wink at Errol as he asked this. Being geophysics
graduates, they already knew why, but Drew was merely checking out their ranger-guide’s
knowledge of his subject.
But Leo wasn’t put off his stroke for a second by this seemingly curly question.
“Good point!” he grinned. “ Actually, the reason’s fairly simple. You see, the walls and
roofs of the tubes really formed an excellent thermal insulation, so because of this, the
lava that was flowing through them was able to retain its heat and fluidity a great deal
longer than ordinary surface lava could. Because of this, lava flowing inside these tubes
could be carried for pretty long distances. For example the last active Undara volcano had
one tube that ran for a hundred miles, or one-sixty kilometres, following an old creek-bed
northwest, halfway towards the Gulf of Carpentaria!”
He grinned round at them proudly. “It’s actually the longest in the world! Leaves
those Hawaiian volcanoes for dead! The longest Mauna Ulu lava-tube only reached seven
miles long in 1974!”
Meanwhile the vehicle was bouncing along a well-worn track toward a raised up
meandering, twisty ridge of hummock land that protruded from the savannah bushland.
Leo pointed toward it. “We’re coming to part of the main tube now!” he added, before
continuing with his saga.
“The geologists reckon that, at its peak period, Undara pumped out about 1500 to
1600 square kilometres of lava – that’s about 20-odd billion cubic metres of the stuff! It
was going at a rate sufficient to fill 1500 big petrol-tankers a minute! Or so they reckon,
anyhow! Funny thing is that even the Aborigines seemed to understand about volca-
noes, and that this had been quite a decent sized one - even though they probably never
saw one erupt. They must have followed this tube we’re just coming to for all its length.
How do we know? Because the name “Undara” in Aboriginal lingo means “A very long
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way”! How about that, eh?” His passengers made suitably impressed noises at this
revelation.
By this time, they had reached a point where part of the long “Dotted-Line” of
snakelike, upraised and sporadically well-vegetated ground had obviously collapsed some-
where in the distant past, and afforded them a view into its half-subterranean, dark and
cavernous interior. Leo stopped the car and opened the door, permitting an oven like blast
of humid hot air to flood into the vehicle. “Let’s go down and have a look inside!” he said.
“And don’t forget you’re in the tropics now, so put your hats on! Don’t want anybody
coming down with blooming sunstroke, do we?”
Then, after glancing down to check that they all had decent boots on, he reached
over into the back and produced four large flashlights. “I know it sounds a bit daft out
here in the blinding sunshine” he said,” but we’re really going to need these shortly!
Now, follow me - and for Pete’s Sake, tread carefully! We don’t want to be sending for the
“Flying Doctor”, do we?”
He turning around then and led the three visitors along a well-trodden, stepped
path which took them down across the face of the cave-in.
Though they had known roughly what to expect from the pictures they’d seen on
computer printouts from the various Undara sites, it was nevertheless quite an astonishing
surprise when they saw the sheer size of the actual tube. The ceiling seemed to be at
least thirty or forty feet high, whilst the width was something close to sixty or more feet.
Drew tried to imagine this vast tube filled with molten lava rushing along at perhaps a
jogging speed. He imagined himself running ahead of such a molochian flow along an
ancient riverbed. It didn’t even bear thinking about!
What if the river had been full of water and primitive life-forms as the molten fore-
front of the flow seethed and boiled its relentless way along! God! It must have been Hell
on earth for the dinosaurs back in the early Jurassic, when all these volcanoes began
erupting from the Earth’s skin, and pouring forth their lava like white-hot pus! He had
seen volcanoes, such as Etna and Stromboli, steaming and smoking, from the air during a
week’s trip to the Mediterranean one summer with Errol, but he’d never witnessed an
actual eruption. And together they had visited the ruins of Pompeii under Vesuvius’ loom-
ing shadow.
All the TV news shots he’d seen of volcanoes in full eruption flashed across his mind
as he though on these things. He silently thanked Providence that he’d been born long
after such events had been commonplace all over the Earth.
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However, as he thought on these things, he realized that Leo was now holding forth
about the tubes and their wild life. He rejoined the others as they ambled along, flashing
their powerful torch-beams about the walls and roof along the stretch of tunnel towards
its other collapsed end. It was wonderfully cool here in the gloom of the tube, and a
strong draught of air kept it well ventilated. It was perhaps as well since the floor of the
cavern was covered with bat-guano that gave off the strong, pungent stench of ammonia.
Their guide then pointed out with his torch-beam the huge colonies of horseshoe
and bentwing bats that clung to its high ceilings like black patches of squirming life, and
told them of the life-cycle that existed in the lava-tubes. He was talking about the abun-
dant insect-life of and around the tubes upon which the bats lived . He also spoke about
the many opportunistic pythons which hung draped around the leafy vines that festooned
the entrances, and caught many of the little bats on the wing as they flew out in huge
flocks upon their nightly forays.
But Drew wasn’t especially interested in the biology of the caverns, so he quietly
edged away again and flashed his torch all around the lower edges of the tube walls.
There were many small tunnels and clefts, caused either by runoff storm-water drainage
or the simple settlement and thermal expansion and contraction of the rock, down the
millennia. He saw that the floor of the cavern-tube – where it wasn’t buried in bat guano
and general blown-in dirt and detritus – consisted largely of smooth, solidified lava. Obvi-
ously it was the top of the residual lava which hadn’t entirely cleared the lava-tube before
finally cooling and setting solid!
However, from what little he could see during this very superficial sweep with his
torch, there were no apparent signs of actual holes in it, which might permit them to get
down beneath the tube.
In general, Drew felt pretty disappointed that the tubes themselves – no matter how
spectacular – would most likely not prove to be of much assistance to them. Neverthe-
less, they would have to follow through with the entire tour now, even if only to keep in
the good books of the management!
It looked very much as though their only real chance of getting inside the volcano
proper was going to be by means of their original fumarole idea!
As he rejoined the others, where Leo was still holding forth, he noticed Errol’s question-
ing glance in his direction. He shook his head almost imperceptibly , and Errol gave a
despairing upward roll of his eyes, and a shrug of his shoulders to signify that he under-
stood Drew had drawn a giant blank. The answer obviously didn’t lie within the lava-
tubes themselves!
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The rest of the abbreviated tour was basically a continuation of what they’d seen
before but with lots of interesting variations upon the first section of tube they had visited.
There had been a great many cave-ins along its enormous length – or the portions that
were within the ranger’s ambit. It would obviously be out of the question, with the best
will in the world, to see the entirety of its 100 mile-length, and would certain be of no
earthly use to their purpose to do so. The first few sections showed them clearly enough
that the tubes, whilst a geological wonder, and one that would no doubt greatly enrapture
Professor Dinwiddie, were essentially a more of a spectacular tourist attraction rather than
a means of gaining entry into the subterranean labyrinth they both knew must lie beneath
their feet. However, they enjoyed the tour gratefully, and made many strange new
discoveries that might be of use to them if and when they did actually effect into the
underworld proper.
There were many strange insects and biological curiosities that they had never en-
countered before in any of their periodical field-trips either in Britain or on the Continent
during their University years, and it slowly began to impinge upon their consciousness
that they might be in for many even more bizarre encounters once they entered the
underworld beneath. One of the things they had neglected to consider was the simple
basic necessity of finding breathable air! Even in some of these lava-tubes they encoun-
tered regions of “bad air” where carbon dioxide was concentrated to levels almost 200
percent of that considered normal. And yet even in such a place as this where it would
have been impossible to strike a match, because of the lack of oxygen, there was a
superabundance of thriving cave-life. Particularly of strange insects that had somehow
adapted to a much-lowered oxygen level.
Isopods and scutigerids abounded, together with others that even Les could not
give a handle to! However, this situation regarding breathable air, gave them both furi-
ously to think.
Would the lower underworld have any breathable air at all? Drew wondered. What
if the atmosphere was largely composed of mephitic gases like hydrogen sulfide and
hydrogen chloride, or the whole range of poisonous hydrocarbon gases, that are found in
deep oil-wells? Perhaps they would need to take oxygen-cylinders and underwater
breathing apparatus! These would create a terrible burden and would seriously impede
and prohibit their progress in so many areas that the whole project might have to be
either knocked on the head completely, or require some very seriously reconsideration!
Drew wished to high Heaven that he had paid a lot more attention during his classes
on chemistry and gases. However he knew enough about the subject for him to master
deep cave-diving using breathing-apparatus. So he couldn’t imagine what more he needed
to understand than this. However, in the words of Mrs. Beeton’s famous Cookery Book
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recipe for Jugged Hare:- “First, Catch Your Hare!”. This would have to be their watchword
for the moment. Before they started to indulge in too many “What If’s” and other
counterproductive thoughts, the first thing they had to ascertain was if there really was
any way of ingress to the subterranean by means of fumaroles! Which meant they must
first find a suitable defunct and negotiable fumarole - whether here or at some other
volcanic site!
By midday, after they had visited three or four sections of the lava-tubes, Leo de-
clared that it was time they “headed back to the guide Station for some tucker.” They
were all famished after all the unusual exercise of clambering up and down steep foot-
paths and in some cases, ladders, so they agreed readily. As they headed toward the
four-wheel drive, Errol grabbed Drew’s arm and pulled him back for a moment.
“Listen, old buddy.” He murmured quietly so Leo wouldn’t hear. “Interesting though
these tubes are – and I wouldn’t have missed seeing ’em for worlds – I somehow get the
feeling that were just spinning our wheels looking down there for an entrance. I guess we
gotta go search around on our own. Waddaya say, Drew?”
Drew nodded his head sadly. “I’ve had the same feeling myself, mate!” he said. “But
how do we break it to Leo? I mean the guy’s a decent sort of cove and we’ve learned a
lot from him in a hell of a hurry this morning, but we really need to go off and search for
fumaroles around the base of the volcano. I dunno if he’d understand? Wouldn’t want to
hurt the poor bloke’s feelings though!”
Well we can always ask him, bro’!” said Errol. “He may know something about them,
too. After all, he’s no slouch around volcanic stuff, is he? Look, buddy. Just leave it to me,
and I’ll broach the subject on the way back to the center. He might be able to bend the
rules a little since we’re here for scientific purposes. What say? We got nothing to lose.
They can’t stop us going off on our own, but it’d be a helluva lot easier if we had a vehicle
to run around in! I don’t believe I can take much more of this goddamn sticky heat!
Okedoke?”
Drew grunted his approval. “Seems to make sense, Errol. Maybe he’ll take more
notice of you than me! Especially you being a Yank, an’ all! “Familiarity breeds con-
tempt!”, old son, especially when it comes to overseas tourists. Us locals usually come off
second-best!” He smiled a trifle sardonically.
Errol laughed at his cynical remark. “In that case, how d’you think he’d handle old
“Din-Dins” then, Drew! Poor guy’d never be able to get a goddamn word in edgewise
with the Prof butting in every two seconds, and questioning everything he said!”
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Drew grinned fiendishly at the prospect. “Maybe, if we’re very lucky today, mate,
we might have ringside seats at just such a little scenario - in the very near future!”
Then they headed to the vehicle, where Leo was already sitting in the driver’s seat,
impatiently tapping the steering-wheel with his fingers.
“Are we right now?” he asked, as they took their seats in the vehicle. “Dunno about
you people, but my guts are beginning to think my throat’s been cut!”
Then he slipped the gearshift into “Drive” and they set of bouncing over the rough
terrain back toward the distant ranger-station.
With many misgivings, Errol leaned over the seat beside Leo and told him about
their desire to look around the base of the old Undara volcano for fumaroles or other likely
subterranean entrances rather than visit any more of the lava-tube sections.
Much to the surprise of both Errol and Drew, Leo welcomed the idea. He said it
would make a pleasant change from his usual routine duties, and that he knew of a few
likely spots they might find interesting. However, he’d have to clear it with the “Boss” first,
as any departure from the norm had to be noted down as a matter of record, in case of
any misadventure. “We don’t want to face any multi-million-buck insurance claims!” he
grinned. “The Boss will probably want you to sign some sort of waiver-form to that effect.
Would that be OK with you?”
Both Errol and Drew readily agreed to this, so Leo clicked on his two-way intercom
and spoke to the supervisor, telling her of their wishes, at the same time steering adroitly
around the worst bumps and holes in the track with one hand. Her voice came back over
the speaker quite clearly. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that.” she said. “After
all, we’ve done it before occasionally for special geological groups, so it’s really no differ-
ent, Leo! If they agree to sign a disclaimer to that effect, it’ll be fine! We may need to
think about the cost of the extra fuel and so on, but otherwise it should be all right! I’ll
try and have some paperwork ready before you leave after lunch. See you soon. Over
and Out”
Leo thanked her then glanced across at Errol. “Didya catch all that?” he asked.
“Yes, Leo!” cried both Errol and Drew simultaneously. “Great stuff! Thanks a lot,
buddy!” added Errol. Drew echoed the same sentiments and told Les emphatically that
his blood was worth bottling!
Feeling much relieved, and fortified by an impromptu steak barbecue lunch under
the shade of the trees around the ranger-station, they made their way to the office to fill
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out the necessary documentation. After this was completed, Drew asked the senior Guide
how they’d be placed if they found what they were looking for and wished to return
directly to the discovered site – perhaps even in a helicopter? She said that this would
be fine, just so long as they advised her of their estimated time of arrival, as there were
frequent comings and goings of tourist aircraft to a nearby franchised tourist-center from
Cairns and Townsville, and the Barrier Reef islands, and she didn’t want any aerial-colli-
sions to sully the reputation of the park!
As they went outside, Errol looked at Drew a little quizzically. “Hey! What’s with all
the goddamn “chopper” business, buddy?” he asked with a wry smile. “Isn’t my plane
good enough, or something, bro’?”
Drew immediately pacified his friend. “No, mate! It’s not that! It simply just
occurred to me that if we hired a chopper, we wouldn’t have to depend on bothering Leo
or any of the rangers, and we could fetch whatever climbing or other gear we needed
right to the spot, without them being any the wiser. What they don’t know they won’t
worry about, if you get my drift, Erb? We could come and go anytime without a lot of
hassle that way! I’ll pay for the chopper, of course! I know a guy in Longreach who’ll hire
one to me. So what do you reckon, mate?”
Errol saw right away that Drew was absolutely right. It would be helluva lot easier!
Why the heck hadn’t he thought of that himself? Maybe he should have hired a chopper
in Brisbane instead of a plane! “Good thinking, buddy!” he grinned. “Now all we gotta do
is find this goddamn hole!”
The rest of the afternoon was spent in driving out over the savannah grassland
avoiding the sparse trees and shrubs, not to mention rocks and potholes, following the
perimeter of the volcano’s base. They came upon a number of likely-looking, rock-choked
mini-craters, which they could only check out visually. Lacking any means of probing their
depths except by torchlight, they couldn’t really tell if they were promising or not It was
swiftly borne in upon them that they must go back to Glengarry and collect some proper
gear.
However, there was one largish hole, that Drew almost fell headlong into, which
bore the classic attributes of a fumarole. But it was roughly the size of a large grave and
gaped blackly like one, too! Also they couldn’t help noticing that the rocks that sur-
rounded the aperture had a yellowish tinge, which had evidently been almost eradicated
by the passage of aeons of time. Errol got down and sniffed at it, but if it had been sulfur,
the smell, like the yellowish deposition stains had been long been removed by the wind
and rain of millennia. Drew got down on his belly with one of the powerful torches, and
Errol lay across his legs so that he could lean well down inside the yawning grave like gap
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for a better view. The bright beam of light shone down a rocky shaft that clearly bore
some brighter yellow sulphurous marks as far as he could see, which amounted to only
around twenty or thirty feet, as the well or shaft, curved erratically from side to side like a
drunken chimney, and bent away completely out of sight at that depth. However, he felt
absolutely certain that it continued on downward. He backed out and let Errol take a look
for himself. Errol was quite jubilant when Drew and Leo finally hauled him up clear of the
hole.
“What do you think, mate?” asked Drew, his face gleaming with sweat from his
exertion and excitement at the find. “D’you reckon this might just be our portal?”
Errol looked back with an equally excited grin on his face. “You know, old buddy, I do
believe it’s possible! But we won’t really know for sure until we get around that goddamn
bend. What a goddamn pity we don’t have any gear to try a descent!” He tossed a rock
into the hole and they heard it clattering away down into the blackness for several mo-
ments until the noise of its descent faded away to nothing. There was no telltale splash of
water. The hole must be very deep - and dry!
Here, young Charlie - who was about half the size of either of them - offered to shin
down and “have a gig”, but they wouldn’t hear of it. Without a rope, one slip might take
him God knew how many yards down, and he might get jammed or wedged solid if he fell.
It was no use. They’d have to come back with some proper gear, like ropes and maybe a
block and tackle mounted on a tripod of wooden poles.
By now it was four-thirty in the afternoon, and they found themselves being
overtaken by the first hints of approaching sundown, a freshening breeze, and a diminu-
tion of the sun’s glare. But, although it made their work much more pleasantly cool, it also
made it increasingly difficult in terms of spotting any other apertures. The gradually length-
ening shadows seemed to produce thousands of imaginary dark depressions. Reluctantly
they accepted Leo’s advice to pack it in for the day and continue their examination of this
hole the next morning. Before they left, however, Errol removed a large red bandana,
which he had been wearing around his neck to soak up the perspiration. He climbed a
nearby tree and tied it firmly by the corners across the twigs and leaves of a high branch,
so it formed a bright red square.
“X marks the spot, eh?” asked Drew. “Pity we didn’t bring one of Joan’s old bed-
sheets, mate - or maybe a bloody flag!” But Errol noticed that he didn’t stipulate which
nationality – Australian or American.
“Or some of that “orange-tape” stuff the Council road-gangs use to fence round
their roadworks!” put in young Charlie brightly. “An’it shines in the dark, too!”
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This smart suggestion was received enthusiastically by Drew and Errol.
“Hey! Hey!” cried the latter enthusiastically. “That’s a brilliant idea, kid!” Then he
looked at Drew. ““Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings”, eh, Drew?” he grinned.
“Seriously, old buddy, d’you figure you could get hold of some of that fluorescent tape?
We’ll probably need a whole heap of it before were through! It’ll make a great trail-
marker down below – if we do make it down , that is!” Drew made a mental note to ask
Bob if he knew anyone in the Shire Council Works Department.
By the time they arrived back at the airstrip, Drew had been doing a spot of deep
thinking. As they pulled up close to the Cessna, he turned to thank their Guide friend,
Leo, profusely and told him they wouldn’t be back till maybe the day after tomorrow if not
later, as they had some things to sort out over the next day or so.
Leo pointed out to them that there was the very well-set-up Undara Tourist Center
nearby that offered full bed and board facilities if they wanted to stay over for a while, and
avail themselves of some real comfort, great tucker and fine entertainment. That whole
trainload of vintage railroad carriages they’d seen had been completely refurbished into
really beautiful private sleeping cabins with all mod cons! But, Drew reluctantly had to tell
him that since they wanted to keep their presence as private as possible, they’d prefer to
keep to themselves. Leo told them they didn’t know what they were missing – but it was
entirely their own choice! Then he grinned and said in a mock Irish accent that “he’d see
them again when he saw them again!”
Then as they boarded the plane and Errol started the engine, he withdrew to stand
beside his four-wheel drive and watch them takeoff. He waved his hat at them as they
circled overhead then set a course southbound towards Winton, with the golden-orange
rays of the setting sun glinting off the aircraft’s gleaming paint work.
As they cruised the three-quarter hour trip home to Glengarry, they were all im-
mensely impressed by the truly magnificent display Nature provided in a gloriously-col-
ored sunset. The sun was now a giant orange-red ball, sinking rapidly behind a gathering
bank of deep-mauve evening clouds, all limned with a beautiful edging of brilliant gold.
The whole scene was back dropped by a strip of daffodil yellow sky that gradually dark-
ened upward through tints of pale green and cerulean blue into the dark violet of the
oncoming night.
It was almost dark by the time they buzzed the Glengarry homestead, circled it a
couple of times, then landed, with the aid of Bob, Stan and Jimmy waving torches at the
end of the airstrip and the plane’s own powerful landing-lights. As Errol taxied the Cessna
toward the hangar-shed, they saw Bob silhouetted against its wide, lighted doorway,
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waving his torch in welcome. They were Home!
CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 7 CHAPTER 7
The next morning, after a solid and sound night’s sleep, Drew awoke to the sound of
birds greeting the sunrise. He felt enormously refreshed and was somewhat surprised to
find that it wasn’t yet six o’clock. He could faintly hear the sounds of crockery being
clattered around and the giggling of the Jackson children as they finished their breakfast
at the huge old kitchen table. He stretched his long, lean form luxuriously before flinging
back the bedcovers and pulling on his old jeans and tee-shirt. Then he poking his sleep-
tousled head out of the open sash-window to draw in a few lungfuls of the fresh, crisp
early morning air. Deliciously chilled air that had been borne in a great arc up across
Central Australia by a strong southerly wind blowing straight off the Antarctic continent.
As he made his way to the bathroom, he met Errol just emerging fresh out of the
shower. He positively shone with radiant well-being, and smelled strongly of shampoo
and aftershave. He greeted Drew cheerfully with a flashing white smile, and flicked at
him playfully with a damp towel.
“Hey! Drew, feller! How’re you doing, buddy!” he cried happily. “It’s sure a great
morning, isn’t it! Gee! I’m looking forward to my chow, today all right, after all that hard
work we put in yesterday! I guess I must’ve lost ten–fifteen pounds in sweat, up there,
yesterday!”
“Oh, yeah?” grinned Drew, “And I’ll bet London to a bloody brick that you’ll put it all
right back on again at the flaming breakfast table!” Then as he headed for the bathroom,
he yelled back over his shoulder. “Hey! And leave some blooming tucker for me, you
greedy ratbag! I’ll be there in about two minutes flat!”
Around the breakfast table, as they enjoyed another of Joan’s giant breakfasts – this
time one of steak and eggs, Drew’s favorite - he and Errol held a quick Council of War with
Bob. They had decided to brief Bob in detail on what they were doing since they would
need his help in implementing their plans, both for the day’s activities and for their great
(hopeful) underground adventure in the immediate future.
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Drew had planned on hiring a helicopter (normally used for agricultural spraying
purposes) from a friend of Bob’s. But, unfortunately, when Bob rang his mate about the
matter, it turned out that he was using the chopper for most of that week. At this, Errol
did a bit of quick thinking and then went off to use the phone. He was back in about ten
minutes looking very pleased with himself.
“Well! That’s all fixed, guys!” he grinned smugly. ”I got us a chopper! All I have to
do his fly the Cessna back to Brisbane this morning, and they’ll swap it for a four seater
helicopter! Naturally, I’ll have to make a minor cash-adjustment and…”
“Which I’ll bloody pay this time!” interjected Drew, not wishing Errol to end up
financing the whole exercise. “So “But” me no “Buts”, old mate!”
“OK! OK! Have it your way, buddy!” said Errol, making smoothing gestures with his
hands. “I sure appreciate the offer! Anyhow, like I was saying… I’ll do the swap and then
fly the chopper back here, which should take around maybe five or six hours, with a bit of
luck, and…..”
But once again Drew interrupted him. “Hey! Hang on a tick, Erb! Why it’s going to
take you half a bloody day to get back? And, also, I didn’t know that you could fly
choppers, too? You’re a real blooming surprise-package, mate!”
Errol flushed slightly at this. “Well, I guess I gotta admit I haven’t flown one in a
coon’s age,” he confessed sheepishly,” but they’re going to throw in a couple of hours’
“refresher-course” at the hire-outfit, so I should be hunky-dory for the trip back! I just
figured that, from what’s happened so far, we might as well dump the plane and get
ourselves something a bit handier!” then he looked at the others, a little quizzically. “I
don’t suppose either of you guys can handle a chopper, can you?”
Drew shook his head rather shamefacedly, but Bob grinned broadly and held up a
victorious thumb. “I don’t want to be regarded as a skite,” said he, “but I have been
known to do the odd bit of “whirly-birding” in me time!”
Here Joan joined in the conversation. “ yes, and I’ll bet you still didn’t do anything
about applying for a license, Bob Jackson!” She then went on to tell them how he’d once
been up with his mate – the crop-sprayer – who, in response to Bob’s remark about it
“looking like a piece of cake” flying a helicopter and that “Any ha’fwit who can drive a
bloody car should be able to handle one of these babies!” - had at once suggested that
Bob might care to “give it a bloody lash, then!” Cash-money was wagered on the out-
come, and, after a few general basic instructions, to which Bob paid very close attention,
he’d landed the chopper and they’d traded seats.
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Much to his mate’s astonishment, Bob had mastered the aircraft in a matter of a
half-hour with almost no boo-boos. The only real trouble arose when he tried to scare his
pal by looping the loop! The result had almost ended up tragically, but fortunately the
pilot was able to grab the controls in time - leaning across Bob to do so - and then he’d
made Bob finish off the trial-flight by setting the helicopter down – with a hefty thump!
After that, Bob had been given another chance, which culminated in him taking a
series of impromptu lessons from his crop-spraying pal. Since then he’d flown the ma-
chine solo a few times, and had even had a go at some regular crop-spraying himself
when his friend was sick in bed with a bout of Ross River Fever. He’d intended applying
for a pilot’s license, but somehow, he’d never got round to it.
Errol and Drew stared at him with new eyes. “Well! I’ll be buggered!” said Drew in
wonderment. But Errol was quite keenly interested in Bob’s surprise accomplishment.
“I think we could use another pilot, Drew!” he grinned. “What say we book him in for
his flying-test?”
But Bob wouldn’t wear such a proposal for a second.
“No way, Errol, mate!” he growled. “They’d fail me like a shot! Just like they did with
me driver’s license back in 1977! You’ll have to take me just as I am or bloody forget all
about it!”
Now they stared at him again, in even greater amazement. “You mean you’ve been
driving around all these years,” cried Drew incredulously, “without a driver’s license?”
“Yair, I guess so.” admitted Bob reluctantly. “but the cops never pulled me over
once, so I’ve never needed to show the bloody thing – which I don’t have anyway!” He
stuck out his grizzled chin pugnaciously. “And I don’t intend goin’ for any bloody Drivin’
Test! So don’t start bloody urgin’ me about that, either!”
Joan just scowled at her obstinate husband, then she flounced off out of the room in
high dudgeon. “Now you jokers’ve got me right in the poo!” growled Bob.
A second later Joan popped her head around the door again. “Oh, Drew!” she said
apologetically. “I forgot to tell you that your computer arrived yesterday. I didn’t know
where you wanted it so I told them to set it up in your room. The salesman said to tell you
it’s all ready to use!” Drew raced off like a shot, wondering how he could have missed
noticed a brand-new computer sitting in his bedroom. However, when he entered he saw
that Joan had covered it with a large tablecloth to keep off the dust.
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He switched on the power-point then pressed the power-button, and it immediately
began booting up the Windows program. As he was doing this, Errol and Bob followed
him in.
“Wowee!” said Errol, delighted. “All set up and raring to go, eh, buddy! Well, have
fun, Drew! I’m heading off to Brisbane in a couple of ticks and Bob’s coming along with
me for the flight! So we’ll see you later this afternoon!” Then he added in a half-whisper,
“All being well, of course!”
It wasn’t until Drew heard the Cessna’s engine revving up that it dawned on him
what Errol’s last remark might have inferred, and by the time he got out into the yard, the
plane was already airborne and banking away towards the east. “Shit!” he growled to
himself. “we’ll probably see the crash-report on the six o’clock news!”
He didn’t dare give Joan even the faintest hint of his sense of foreboding about Errol
possibly allowing Bob to take a turn at the controls of the helicopter on their way home!
Better to say nothing, he thought, grimly! However, his mood soon changed and he had
several things to chase up. But first he wanted to see if there was any mail from the
Professor, as tomorrow – or was it today? – he’d be just about ready to board the Qantas
jet for Australia. He tried to figure out what time it would be in England about then, but
he wasn’t sure about the daylight-saving – at either end!
He found that the sales technician had left him his new email address written on a
strip of tape and attached to the monitor - since his was the same firm who would be
Drew’s web-server, at least pro tem. Then he realized, much to his annoyance, that
Dinwiddie would only have young Charlie’s mail address, so he hastened away to find Joan
in order to clear it with her that he could use Charlie’s computer. Just how bloody frustrat-
ing can things get? He asked himself!
Joan was a bit surprised that he wanted to use Charlie’s computer now he had his
very own brand-new one. It took Drew a minute or two more of frustrating talk to explain
to her about email addresses being different, from one user to another. She was also
surprised that Bob had gone off with Errol to Brisbane without telling her, too. She
thought it might be because he was annoyed with her for telling him off.
Drew had a mental wrestle with himself not to blurt out his own misgivings about
the jaunt. However, he managed to keep his mouth shut and was soon checking Charlie’s
email “Inbox”. Happily, he found a new message awaiting him. Drew guessed it had
probably been sent from the University, prior to Did-Din’s departure on the shuttle flight to
Heathrow in London. The Professor just wished to inform Drew that he’d finally got all his
paperwork sorted out, and had received back his passport from Australia House, contain-
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ing the requisite Entry Visa to stay in Australia for a six month period, and, should he wish
to extend his stay he must be sure to apply to the Department of Immigration for a new
visa. However, since he was only coming over for a couple of months or so, it was of no
concern to him.
Also he now had his Business Class airline tickets to hand, and would be hopefully
soon be presenting them at the Qantas check-in counter! Drew glanced up at the date on
the email and noted that it had been sent yesterday morning UK time.
For a horrible moment, panic gripped him, and he had visions of the professor
standing in the Brisbane International Airport terminal gaping about himself in bewilder-
ment and growing rage at no one being there to receive him! Then he recalled that there
was a nine (or was it ten?) hour time-difference, and since the total journey, including two
two-hour landings along the way, came to 28–29 hours altogether from the scheduled
flight-time from Heathrow - plus say nine hours, to be safe – a total of 38 hours from his
email-time…. And, Oh, Yes! PLUS the hour and a half domestic Shuttle Flight, AND a six
hours’ wait in Heathrow before boarding the Qantas flight to Brisbane, it now came to
almost 45 hours. Thus the professor wouldn’t be landing in Brisbane until early tomorrow
morning!
Then it struck him forcibly that Drew wouldn’t be back until later that afternoon, and
wouldn’t have the speedy Cessna to fly back to Brisbane the next day to pick up the
professor! What the bloody hell could he do now? It was a complete stuff-up! What
should he do? Ring Errol at the private aircraft-hire office at Brisbane Airport? He quickly
scrabbled through the wad of papers relating to the Cessna-hire that they’d looked at
whilst discussing swapping over to the helicopter. He discovered among them the travel-
firm’s email concerning the Professor’s Qantas booking. It was then that he noticed the
departure-date from London Heathrow.
A great feeling of mixed relief and utter foolishness swept over him. The Professor
wasn’t due until a bloody WEEK from tomorrow! What a flaming idiot he’d been, getting
himself all worked up and confused like that! But so much had happened over the past
two or three days, he’d somehow lost all track of time! By Jingo! He was so blooming
glad he’d stumbled upon that bit of paper, otherwise he’d have made a real prat of himself
to Errol and Bob by asking them to stay over in Brisbane and pick up the Professor tomor-
row!
A vision of them waiting at the terminal for the plane to arrive and then watching out
interminably for the Professor to finally emerge from Customs flashed across his mind,
and he realized that he had been simply trying to do too many things at once! ‘Better get
your finger out, old lad!’ Drew told himself, ‘before you really stuff it all up! Better start
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writing some of these things down!’ He dug out a leather-bound executive diary some-
one had given him as a birthday present earlier in the year, and which he’d never used. So
he at once entered the Professor’s actual arrival-time and date on the appropriate page –
dated one week hence!
It was a logical step from there to considering what he had to do today. He had to
contact the Council Works Department about borrowing or buying some rolls of their
orange Roadworks safety-tape. Then he needed to get in touch with a mate who ran a
diving-gear shop at Mackay about some Lycra wetsuits, facemasks and breathing appara-
tus, plus a number of compressed-air cylinders – Oh, yes! And a battery-operated air-
compressor, too, to refill them!
He and Errol, who were both experienced sporting divers, had discussed the possi-
bility that the fumarole or vent might contain foul air, CO2 (carbon dioxide), or even SO2
(sulfur dioxide gas) when they got lower down inside it. So they needed to be ready for
such an exigency. The Lycra suits would be a good protection against the tube’s walls
possibly being covered in raw sulfur lower down, too. In the event that they found the
fumarole-tube clear of such hazards, they ought to still take the gear along anyhow, in
case of submerged areas along the tubes and passages that they hoped to find below
ground. Drew still recalled his brief stint in the Boy Scouts at his Charters Towers board-
ing school. Particularly the dear old Baden Powell motto that had been constantly dinned
into his head at their meetings: “Be Prepared!” Well, he’d do his best to see that they
were!
There was also the question of rations to be considered. If they were going to travel
for weeks, or even months underground they would need a heap of food supplies. The
best bet would obviously be to locate a supplier of Army “C” Rations, so that they would
gain the maximum nourishment from a minimum of portable bulk. It was even conceiv-
able that they might still have to supplement any such rations with
Any sort of edible subterranean game or other edible matter that dwelt under-
ground. Mushrooms would be a strong possibility, as would some of the crustacea and
cave-bugs they’d seen in the lava-tubes. But who knew what sort of other life they might
encounter down below? There might well be a lot of lizards and snakes, since many
reptiles lived in subterranean environments.
He’d actually eaten both once before, when Bob had pulled a rather unpleasant
trick on him, in his youth, prior to going overseas. Bob and Jimmy had taken him out
camping once to the furthest extremes of the large property, and had sent him off to
collect more sticks for the camp fire while they prepared the evening meal. When he got
back with a big armful of dried sticks, a delicious aroma of barbecued chicken struck his
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nostrils. Jimmy was the cook, and he had obviously brought some food with him. He sat
down hungrily whilst Bob barbecued the pieces of meat over the blazing fire. Then he
handed several pieces to Drew in a tin dixie. The chicken was delicious and Drew even
asked for more, which Bob was only too happy to serve him.
Finally, his hunger sated and wiping his greasy hands and mouth on a handkerchief,
Drew expressed his opinion that the “Colonel” had better watch out if Jimmy could fix
chicken that good! Jimmy asked who was this “Colonel” feller? When Drew told him
about the famous take-away fried chicken, Jimmy rolled over backwards laughing, his big
white teeth flashing gleefully in the firelight. “That not chicken, Mister Drew!” he grinned
widely. “That be snake-feller! And the other be sand-goanna!” Drew had disbelieved
them both as they sat grinning at him across the leaping flames, until Jimmy held out both
the snake’s and the goanna’s heads skewered upon sticks as proof. Bob was grinning too,
and asked him how he’d liked his first taste of real, fair-bloody-dinkum outback tucker!
He’d felt totally nauseated for a few minutes and had wondered whether to stick his
fingers down his throat to make himself sick. However, he’d thought better of it, not
wishing to appear a wimp in front of Bob, and despite his sense of mental revulsion, the
meal seemed to sit quite pleasantly in his stomach.
After that experience, Drew had realized that the native Aborigines ate all sorts of
dubious “Bush Tucker” – even including crocodile meat and various large insects and their
larvae, such as wichetty-grubs, yet this fare had no ill-effects on them. Maybe he’d
have a word with Bob about letting Jimmy take Errol on a “Bush-Barbecue”! At least
they’d both be prepared then if the worst ever came to the worst!
His thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of the phone, and a moment later,
Joan called out to him that Errol was on the line from Brisbane. He raced through and
took the proffered receiver from Joan. “G’day, mate!” he said, “What’s happening? No
problems, I hope?”
Errol’s voice came back as clear as bell. “No, everything’s fine, buddy! We got the
hire-deal sorted out. They came up with a Bell 206 Jet Ranger! Seats five including me,
and has a decent range – 702 kilometres – that’s 436 miles, so we can do the round trip
from your place to Undara on one tankful of gas. S’pose we could always get an extra
tank fitted, but she should do it OK as is - waddaya reckon?”
“What speed will she do?” asked Drew, knowing that it wouldn’t compare to the
plane trip. “118 knots.” Errol replied, then he paused for a moment to talk in a muffled
voice to someone else. Then he was back. “That’s 136 miles an hour to you, buddy! Bit
slow compared to the Cessna, I know, but then again, it’s not really speed we’re looking
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for, is it?” There was silence for a moment, then he added in a mock Western drawl.
“Waal, pardner! Waddaya say? Do we clinch the deal, or what?”
Drew felt happy enough with what he’d heard, so he told Errol he’d be guided by
him, since he was going to fly it. He didn’t as about the monthly rental as he had already
guessed it would be at least a thousand dollars a week. But Errol had one further question
for him that almost sent Drew into a fit of hysterical laughter.
“Say, Drew.” He began, somewhat hesitantly. “Just one other point crossed my
mind, buddy! When was old “Din-Dins” due to land here? Is it tomorrow or next week?”
He sounded mildly worried. “I’m honestly darned if I can recall! Bob claims it’s next
Thursday , but I couldn’t be sure! We wouldn’t want to come all the way home and leave
the poor old guy stranded here, now would we?”
Drew couldn’t resist it. “Cripes, Errol! You’d forget your blooming head if it was
loose, mate! It’s next week, you boofheaded numbskull!”
Errol laughed self-consciously at the other end. “OK, Drew – I guess you got me!
But I was only checking to be one hundred percent sure! See you in around four hours’
time - we’ll need to make a couple of fuel stops en route! See ya, buddy!” Then he was
gone. Drew felt a little happier with himself after that, knowing that he wasn’t the only
dumbbell on the team.
He had only just hung up the phone when it rang again. He picked it up and was
surprised to hear the familiar voice of Doug Edwards, the general manager of Clanranald
Corporation, calling from Sydney. “G’day, Drew!” said Doug. “Hoped this might be a good
time to catch you in! We were having a bit of a yarn about you earlier on at the
management meeting, and we’d like to know if you’ve come to any decisions yet regard-
ing the firm? Is this a good time to talk, or would you like us to come out and see you? I
could bring the Chief Accountant, Ray Fletcher, and the company lawyer out, if that’s OK
with you? We really do need to get this sorted, Drew, so that we know who’s who and
what’s what! I know you weren’t interested in taking over your old man’s position, but we
do have to appoint someone to the Chairmanship of the Board! What do you reckon?”
This question left Drew in rather a cleft stick. He had completely forgotten that his
father had been the main lynch-pin that held the firm together. The options were clear to
him. Either a new Chairman had to be promoted from within, or imported from without.
Common sense told him that somebody who already knew the ropes would be eminently
preferable to a rank outsider.
“Doug?” he said. “You recall how I told you to carry on as if Dad was still running the
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show? Well, you’ve been with the firm for what…ten, eleven years, now? Well, in my
honest opinion I think you’d be the obvious man for the job, yourself! How do you feel
about it, Doug? I mean, I’m sure the rest of the Board would agree with me on that! You
don’t have any real opponents or enemies among them, do you?”
Doug said that he didn’t have any at all that he knew about, and that he’d be greatly
honored to take up the post if Drew was sure he wanted him there. However, it would
have to be raised at the next Board Meeting, and it would help a hell of a lot if Drew could
be there to back him up. The next meeting was scheduled for next Wednesday if Drew
could make it.
Drew groaned inwardly, that would mean he’d be in bloody Sydney just when old
Din-Dins arrived! He thought hard for a moment. Then he came to a decision .
“Look, Doug.” he said. “I’m already committed for the latter part of next week, so I
don’t think I’ll be able to attend. But what I will do is to email all of the board members
personally with my own recommendation for you as the new Chairman. How would that
grab you, Doug? What I can say in person I can say just as well on paper, so I don’t see
any problem, do you? If they need my signature on any documents afterwards, well, just
send the Company Secretary up here with the lawyer and I’ll sign them here. How would
that be? In any case,” he added, “I have a few legal and financial points to sort out re the
Company myself, so maybe that’s the way to go. What do you think?”
Doug said it sounded fine to him, and that he’d go along with Drew’s suggestion.
“By the way, Drew,” he added, “How are you fixed yourself, financially, in the interim? I
know that you’ll be getting all the settlement from your Dad’s personal estate shortly –
another two or three weeks should see that sorted - and that you’ll also get your share-
dividends paid into your account, as usual, of course. But if you need any cash-money to
tide you over in the interim, don’t hesitate to give me a yell! Whatever you want, I’m sure
I can get it for you, no problems….”
“Such as what, for example?” Drew interjected.
“Well, a new car – a BMW? A Porsche?…You name it, Drew! Even a new house on
the coast, if you like….or maybe a boat? Even a plane! It’s up to you! I’m sure we can
charge it all up to MacRanald Holdings! We’re not exactly in the bloody Receiver’s hands,
you know!” He laughed, then paused expectantly.
Drew was heartily wishing now that Doug had phoned him yesterday. And kicking
himself. Still it wasn’t too late.
“Could you help me with a helicopter-hire arrangement, Doug?” he asked. “Like a
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bloody fool, I’ve hired one privately from Brisbane, and it never even occurred to me to
see if the firm could organize it for me!” Then he went on to give Doug a fairly sketchy
verbal outline of his and Errol’s expedition plans underground around Undara, but without
going into the Hollow Earth aspect of it all.
“Hey!” laughed Doug cheerily on the other end of the line. “That’s no problem at all
– after all, we are a Mining Corporation and you are a qualified Geophysicist! Why the hell
didn’t you contact me earlier! Listen, Drew! If your doing some geological exploration
around Undara, you might need a special permit, so leave it with me and I’ll make a few
inquiries and contact a few people. Lot of interesting terrain up that neck of the woods
and we’ve been considering a couple of operations up there for a while now! So We
should be able to smooth the path a little for you up there. Anyhow just leave it with me.
OK?”
Then he paused a moment before continuing. “In the meantime, Drew, I’d be really
glad if you could send out those emails you mentioned to the Board Members. I’ll send
you a list of them if you like, with their individual email addresses and a few personal
details about ‘em! Then you can do the rest, OK? Anyhow, I’ll leave you alone now, Drew
– Oh, and let me have all the details regarding your chopper-hire, too, won’t you, and I’ll
get our Accounts people to transfer the rental over to us! Just drop them to me in an
email, OK? I’ll need your email address, anyhow, for the Board business!” He little knew
that Drew was gnashing his teeth at his own lack of foresight about renting the helicopter.
He should have used his alleged intelligence and thought of putting it through the Com-
pany, himself!
“Well, I won’t take up any more of your time Drew.” Doug concluded, “Give Bob and
Joan my best, by the way, and tell them we’re still looking after them! Catch you later,
Drew, and thanks for everything! Cheers!” Then he rang off.
Joan smiled at Drew as he replaced the receiver. “Nice chap that Doug, Drew! Your
Dad brought Doug with him the last couple of times he came up for a break, and he’s been
very good to us. Your Dad was very kind to Bob and me, you know! All our major bills are
paid through the company…. I don’t know how we’d have managed if we’d been left
entirely on our own! Is Doug coming up to see you? I’ll have to get the place tidied up
and.…. ”
“No, No!” laughed Drew, “I think we can sort this out without you having a houseful
of executives to put up with! So don’t fret yourself, Mum!”
Drew had always called Joan “Mum” ever since his first day at the station home-
stead. And he still did when they were speaking privately. As far as he was concerned
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she was his Mum, in everything but blood. Then he told her all about the expedition, and
what it entailed, and also that he wanted Doug to take over the Chairmanship of the
company, as he himself was content to simply remain a major stockholder, and just wanted
to pursue his own personal dreams.
She told him then that Alasdair had always known that it would be this way, and had
often wondered if he should have left a legally notarized decree that Doug should take his
place. However, he had “left the door open” for his son – just on the off-chance that he
might have altered his views by the time he graduated.
Drew was only too relieved that he had, at least, now fulfilled his father’s alternative
wish regarding Doug Edwards.
Before afternoon “Smoko” time, Drew had already organized the Scuba gear, air-
tanks and compressors, and had dispatched Stan off to the Council roadworks yard to pick
up several yards of the “Day-Glo” orange safety-tape netting. Stan was also bringing back
four or five powerful flashlights and a substantial supply of large, extra-heavy-duty batter-
ies for them. They had plenty of spares at the station but Drew wanted to be as self-
sufficient as possible.
He also managed to track down an ample stock of Army-surplus “C-Ration” packs, at
a big Army-disposal store in Longreach, along with sundry other odds and ends of military
equipment, including three sleeping bags and other camping gear, as well as a couple of
folding shovels, four large hunting knives and a well-stocked First Aid kit. And, best of all,
four “Walkie-Talkie”-type intercom radio phones!
In addition, he’d also ordered four capacious military rucksacks such as troops wore
into a battle-zone. He’d no idea if the professor would even consider accompanying them
underground, but he must have enough for three, at least, plus a spare. If “Din-Dins”
elected to remain above ground, Drew was sure that Stan or Jimmy would be only too
happy to join them, even if only for the first “leg” of their journey. The only worry with
Stan was his stiff leg. Even if he was keen to join them, would he be up to the challenge,
physically?
He found it hard going trying to think of all the possible gear they might need on
their great journey, and realized that he’d probably missed at least half of their ultimate
requirements. Probably the most obvious ones, too! Such as candles and matches, for
example! And a compass! Errol would have to be consulted about the rest – his brain
was tiring rapidly after all the hassles and excitements of the day! He reminded himself
in his diary to watch out for Doug Edwards list of Board-members, too! He must see that,
that important matter was attended to, post-haste!
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By now he’d more or less become totally wearied by all these chores, so he turned
his attention to the computer. It had occurred to him only yesterday that it might be
worth a try to check out the old Hollow Earth egroups that he and Errol had belonged to
while in Edinburgh, so he quickly clicked his way through to the appropriate search-
engine and checked out a couple of the lists. Happily, and much to his surprise, when he
checked the Members lists, he discovered that he and Errol were still subscribed members
of the two groups they had joined some three years earlier!
Fortunately, they’d sensibly elected to use accommodation email-addresses on the
directory where the lists resided, and had done all their postings directly on the list-sites.
Of course, many pages of messages had flowed under the bridge, and many of their old
sparring-partners had dropped (or been “bumped”) out of the lists since his own last
message-posting. Happily, he found several of the “old hands” were still there – and still
arguing about their pet HE theories in the same old circular manner.
However, Drew was particularly pleased to spot a couple of young women on one of
these lists who had both been unusually keen contributors to some of the more serious
discussions. These two particular females – for the Hollow Earth theory attracted interest
from philosophers of both genders - had been among the few subscribers who had some-
how always managed to stay “On Topic”, instead of rambling wildly all over the discus-
sional landscape, “like bloody Brown’s Cows”, as Bob might have put it his quaint Queen-
sland idiom!
On an impulse, he went to the posting-page and tapped in a message of greetings
on behalf of both himself and Errol, saying that they were both together now in the Land
of Oz Down Under, and in active, physical pursuit of a portal into the Inner Earth. He took
specific care to include the two girls’ email-pseudonyms (if “girls” they still were, in fact!)
and asked them to drop Errol and himself a private line or two. This time, he changed his
and Errol’s email addresses to his own new one on their personal-detail pages and clicked
the box to receive daily “Digests” of messages. There’d be no time to read them individu-
ally off the PC monitor-screen!
He then went of in search of more material about Undara, and managed to find
some very much updated scientific-interest pages about the region, beside the usual
tourist-oriented material. He delved deeper after fumaroles and lava-tubes, and located
some brand-new web-pages on them, which outdated much he’d learned at University!
He printed these out for Errol’s benefit, as there was also some new material about the
great Mount Warning shield volcano region on the coastal border between New South
Wales and Southeast Queensland. The high plateaus surrounding the fifty-kilometer cra-
ter depression, which included the still only half-explored Lamington National Park rainfor-
est-jungle, might well conceal a great many hidden vents and tunnels in its densely-
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wooded green depths!
On one particular website, he found a whole swathe of scientific material on the
subject of lava-tubes and their associated phenomena. There was one large diagram that
especially caught his attention. It showed a cross-section through a lava-tube and its
underlying foundations, and from this and the accompanying text, he learned that quite
often, certainly around the shield–volcanoes of Hawaii, there were all manner of base-
ments and sub-basements beneath the lava-tubes themselves, and these could be fol-
lowed far underground.
The features of these complex tube systems were often quite similar to those of the
far more common limestone caverns and tunnels, and included such things as tubular lava
stalactites and stalagmites, flowstones and lava falls above plunge-pools. Windows in the
floors of some tube levels gave access into lower levels, and so on. A whole exciting new
range of possibilities began to open up to Drew as he read of these fairly recent discover-
ies in Hawaii. If they could occur in the shield-volcanoes of Hawaii, surely the same sort
of complexities must have happened to those here in Australia? Both the huge Mount
Warning volcano and those on the McBride Volcanic Province plateau around Undara had
all been of the vast, shield-variety!
It was as the full implications of this new data, sank in, that Drew suddenly heard a
strange whirring, “clack-clacking” sound approaching from the southeast, and racing to
the window he saw a helicopter approaching the homestead, barely a hundred feet over
the treetops! ‘Terrific!’ said Drew to himself, feeling suddenly filled with elation. ‘Errol and
Bob are back Home at last!’
He pulled on his boots and hat and raced out into the yard, where Charlie and the
other kids were standing in amazement with their Mum, watching the chopper land upon
the rectangular yard within a couple of dozen yards of the homestead’s back verandah!
This was real door-to-door service! However, Drew saw that Bob was in the pilot’s seat!
‘Now for the bloody fireworks from Joan!’ he thought a tad grimly. ‘They could at least
have had the sense to stop a few miles from Glengarry and swap places! Now Bob will
really cop it in the blooming neck!’
But strangely, Joan said nothing. Instead she just smiled with great relief as Bob
climbed out of the helicopter followed by Errol, and came striding over to embrace her and
their admiring offspring smiling widely. “Don’t worry, love,” Bob grinned, “Errol put her
down a couple or three paddocks back down the road and let me fly her the rest of the
way! Just for the kids’ sakes – o’ course!” Then he turned to wave at the chopper with
a sweep of his hand. “She’s a real ripper, isn’t she, Mum! Waddaya say, kids?” The
youngsters all gave a loud cheer, and, much to Drew and Errol’s astonishment, Joan looked
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up at her husband in admiration and gave him a great big hug!
Errol grinned rather furtively at Drew, then gave his usual “Don’t Blame Me” shrug,
with his palms outstretched sideways in mock resignation. Meanwhile the kids were all
over the aircraft, and Bob had to bellow at them to leave it alone. “Next bloody thing
they’ll be going for a bloody joyride in it!” he remarked to the others.
“Yes!” smiled Joan, archly. “Just like their blooming Dad, eh?”
Then they all headed into the house, leaving Stan and Jimmy walking around their
latest acquisition, gazing at it in wonderment, whilst young Charlie leaned on the fuselage
with one hand, pointing out all the parts of it with the other and learnedly explaining and
how they worked.
Errol paused and glanced over his shoulder out of the back doorway and shook his
head at Drew. “Next thing young Chas will be expecting goddamn flying lessons, too!”
he grinned wryly.
Drew just grinned. Then he remembered his conversation with Doug Edwards.
“Oh, Yeah! That reminds me! I dunno what the monthly rental is on the “whirlybird”,
Erb, but I’ve got some good news for you!” Then he went on to tell Errol about Doug’s
offer of Clanranald Corporation footing any major expenses they might incur in their geo-
logical survey-work, including the “chopper” hire, and his offer to have a word with the
National Parks and Wildlife people about a special dispensation for them to conduct some
non-invasive research in the Undara Park area.
Errol was really delighted to hear this and all about the various other items that
Drew had sorted out during the day, including the Professor’s latest email. However, Drew
avoided mentioning his own stupid confusion over the Prof’s arrival date.
“Sounds like you been a real busy beaver, Drew!” smiled Errol. “But I guess we’d
better give the plane-rental guys a call about the changeover of hirers, or they’ll wonder
what the hell we’re up to. Be happy to let your company take it over though, buddy! The
rental fees were a quite a bit on the steepish side – even for me! Holy Smoke! I almost
decided to BUY us a second-hand one, instead! Anyhow, I only hired it for six months.
We sure won’t find much use for it down below, will we!”
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CHAPTER CHAPTER CHAPTER CHAPTER CHAPTER 8 88 88
The following morning, after breakfast, the first thing Drew did was to check his
computer-mailbox to send Doug all the details of the helicopter-hire from the copy-docu-
ments Errol had brought back with him. Fortunately, Errol had arranged the six-month
rental in both their names, and - under the required statement relating to their proposed
usage of the aircraft - had written that they would be using it for some geological and
mineralogical exploration in Cape York. He nearly fell over when he saw that the rental of
the chopper - even though far from brand-new - was to be over $12,000 per month, and
murmured a quiet prayer of thanks to the Providence that had caused Doug Edwards to
mention that he would arrange to have this paid by the firm!
Doug had sent him the promised list of details regarding each of the Board members
together with his own private remarks about their personalities, foibles, and other busi-
ness interests. In fact the lengthy email was virtually a set of secret dossiers, rather than
a simple “Who’s Who” of the board of Clanranald Corporation. Drew found it quite
entertaining reading, but he discovered nothing to feel concerned about relating to any of
the individuals named and described therein. So he sat down and carefully composed a
basic proforma letter that could be modified here and there to suit each member’s per-
sonality. Then he set about the onerous task of typing the separate email letters to them
all.
In these, he explained that he was hereby officially advising them that he was
declining his right to take his father’ place either on the Board, or as the CEO, of the
company. Instead, he urged them to honor his father’s own expressed desire that, in
such a situation as this, the present General Manager should be appointed to the Chair-
manship of the Board. Since he himself would not be severing his connection with
Clanranald Corporation and would continue as the Company’s major stockholder, he heart-
ily endorsed his father’s choice of Douglas Edwards to be his successor.
Therefore, he keenly urged them to demonstrate their good business sense and
undoubted wisdom by forthwith appointing Douglas Edwards to the Chairmanship. Doug
was most eminently suited to the post, having most effectively and dedicated supervised
and conducted the Company’s affairs over a number of years as its General Manager.
Drew believed he would prove even more effective – if any higher a degree of efficiency
and dedication were even remotely possible - as the future Chairman of the Board. It
would be nothing more than his right and proper due for such unswerving loyalty and
dedicated service to Clanranald Corporation. He trusted that they all shared both his own
views and those of his deceased father in this, and that such views would be reflected in
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the outcome of their next meeting.
Drew left it at that, without any further mincing of words. They should get a
general idea of his own personal position from this, without any overt coercion on his part.
They were all older men who had greatly admired Alasdair, so he expected them to pay
him this last honor by acceding to his final wishes. He then sent the individual emails off
to the Board members confident about their compliance.
Now, having disposed of the difficult part of his correspondence, he turned his
attention to the more pleasurable task of acknowledging Professor Dinwiddie’s last mes-
sage, and wishing him a relaxing and enjoyable flight Down Under. He also mentioned
that they had already made something of a find within 200 miles of his present home, and
hoped to have a more detailed and positive report on it by the time he arrived. He told
him that Errol Burroughs would be waiting at Brisbane to meet his international flight and,
after a quietly relaxing meal in one of the restaurants, would fly him directly out to the
homestead. In the meantime – “Bon Voyage”!
This duly sent, he was now able to turn his attention to two other emails he’d
printed out that had arrived only a few hours earlier. One was from New Zealand, and the
other from Canada. The senders were the two young women whom he and Errol had
encountered on one of the Hollow Earth groups and had befriended from afar by the
miracle of electronic mail. Neither he nor Errol had the faintest idea what they looked like
or even how old they actually were. These were things one didn’t usually probe into
overmuch on such groups. It all added to the mystery of the thing!
Because of this rather clinical asexual association, they’d all been able to maintain a
close focus upon the subject and exchange arguments and occasional badinage quite
freely. Drew had been quite pleasantly surprised at how the female mind could grasp
such convoluted concepts as those involved in their common topic.
His father had repeatedly told him that a woman’s place was in the home, raising a
family and tending to the welfare of her man. He’d often warned Drew not to get himself
tangled up with females who sought to be academically equal to men. He’d had several
such in Clanranald Corporation, and had often regretted taking them on in the first place.
Give a business woman, or even an academic one, the faintest sense of equality with her
male counterparts, and one was inviting big trouble!
However, Drew clearly recalled his father’s total dependence upon his own personal
secretary, whose quick mind had saved him from both business and social calamity on
many occasions. Miss Richards – whom his father always referred to affectionately as
“Jenny” - had been his “strong right arm” for more years than Drew cared to remember,
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and in addition she had also been the “Keeper of The King’s Memory”, too! “Jenny” had
arranged both his business and his private lives with equally meticulous care, and Drew
knew that his father would have been totally lost without her. He’d often wondered why
Alasdair hadn’t just simply married Jenny!
So, in effect, Jenny had proved his father to be a fairly chauvinistic old fraud with
regard to women. In any case, Drew, being a handsome and personable young man in a
rather rugged way, had always found himself quite at ease with the opposite sex – except
when they tried to inveigle him with their feminine wiles for the sake of adding another
eligible young male scalp to their belts.
That had been the good thing about his association with the females on the Net-
group. It had been purely a meeting of minds, and they had become quite close friends,
even at such great distances, and all sight unseen!
He picked up one of the emails. It was from the girl in New Zealand. She’d known
he was an Australian of course, back at Edinburgh, as he’d stressed that the “uk” on the
end of his then email address, didn’t mean he was a local. And the “nz” on the end of hers
had shown her at least to be a sort of neighbor at least. She had somehow taken more of
a mental liking to Drew than Errol, since his tendency towards brash American self-as-
suredness tended to come across in his messages.
New Zealanders, like Australians, preferred rather to hide their lights under bushels
in displaying their knowledge on argumentative issues. Thus a bond of antipodean kinship
had developed between them - a “mateship” perhaps - in the old ANZAC tradition. Not
perhaps so surprisingly, in a like manner Errol had developed a similar mental rapport with
the Canadian girl for very similar reasons. But it had all been on a purely platonic and
scientific level among them all.
Apart from knowing that they both attending a famous Scottish university, the girls
had no idea that Drew and Errol were both from wealthy backgrounds, since the subject
had never been raised. That was another plus in their favor with Drew and Errol. Many
of their University flirtations and conquests had been enhanced somewhat by their rich
backgrounds being know among the female students. It was hard to conceal such
knowledge in such a knowledgeable place!
But now Drew had really captured their attention by remarking, rather unguard-
edly, that he and Errol were actually contemplating an expedition into the bowels of the
Earth. This had proved to be a real drawcard with both girls, and they were anxious to
hear more. The New Zealand girl (or woman) had remarked in her message direct to
Drew that she would be interested in taking part if he was getting some kind of party
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together for the proposed expedition. After all, Brisbane was only a couple of hours or so
plane flight across the Tasman from Auckland, where she lived! She’d looked up Undara
on the Net and an atlas, and it looked very tempting!
She’d done a bit of backpacking around both islands of New Zealand as well as New
Guinea, but her only knowledge of Australia was from a trip to the Gold Coast in Queen-
sland the previous winter. Would he mind keeping her updated, as she was really keen to
give any such adventure a whirl? By the way, she’d added, since they weren’t talking on
the group-list, her name wasn’t “Darkangel”, as per her email address’s pseudonym. It
was Hazel Townsend. Both the girls had known that Drew’s and Errol’s names were their
actual first names long ago, when they’d first joined the Hollow Earth group-list in Edin-
burgh but for some reason, women on the e-groups, chose to be rather mysterious and
esoteric about revealing their names.
She was of British stock, her parents having migrated to “Enzed”, before her birth,
from somewhere near Manchester, England. In between trips she helped her parents out
in their gardening-supply business. She said she was “over twenty” – whatever that might
mean! – and that she liked caving and pot-holing. This was an interest that she’d gained
from her parents, who had both been in the same speleological club in northern Derby-
shire. It was also why she’d been bitten by the “Hollow Earth” bug! This was very
interesting news to Drew!
Drew now read through the other email. This was from “Minnehaha” in British Co-
lumbia. In many respects her message mirrored that of Hazel’s and she too had revealed
her true name to be Marianne Stevenson, a kindergarten teacher in Vancouver. She also
said that she was of Red Indian blood on her mother’s side. She too, was keen to join any
expedition they were planning, and had been contemplating a trip Down Under for the
past couple of years. It sounded such a nice, warm and friendly place! Also she was very
keen to check out the great Australian Outback, especially those great red rocky desert
areas which had always reminded her of Mars! She firmly believed that the Inner Earth
was peopled by hi-tech humanoids who used UFO spacecraft, as well as animal and veg-
etable life.
She didn’t go into her antecedents, likes and dislikes, beyond a love of caving,
but she waxed quite lyrical about her belief in the Interior of the Earth and how she
longed to go there physically someday. Her mother’s Indian blood ran strongly through
her veins, and it seemed that there was much of the shaman in Marianne. She was also
a practiced Astral and Dream-Traveler, and claimed to have entered the Inner Earth many
times in the spirit. Drew was familiar with this aspect of Hollow Earth belief, even though
he was rather skeptical about it. But, he’d long ago realized that one could never get off
First Base with a hermetically-sealed mind.
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“There are more things in Heaven and Earth….” was now his main philosophy in life.
Nothing was impossible, and nothing could really be excluded in such a quest as they
were bent upon. It seemed to him that Marianne could be as great an asset in her field
of expertise to their expedition as Hazel could in hers.
It was whilst he was pondering upon these two messages that Errol poked his head
around Drew’s door. “Hi, Drew!” he said, “Are you decent? How’s the new computer
doing? Anything worth reporting?”
Drew waved him inside. “Just pull up a pew, old son, and have a read at these!” He
held out the two message printouts from Hazel and Marianne. “They might make your
day!”
Errol did as he was bidden, and, taking the messages from Drew, he sat on the edge
of Drew’s bed and read them both through, his eyes lighting up when he realized who
they were from. Then he handed them back to Drew his face shining like a Christmas
tree. “Well, I’ll be doggoned!” he grinned. “Who’d have thought it! Looks like the rein-
forcements are on the way, old buddy! What do you think, Drew? Shall we invite them
over?”
Drew picked up the two letters himself and sat back in his computer chair, frowning
slightly and scratching his head in perplexity. “You don’t reckon, we might be jumping
the gun a bit here, Errol?” he asked. “I mean, once we know for sure that the fumarole
really is negotiable and does actually lead somewhere, I’ll be quite happy to have them
over… But…”
“But it’s early days yet, eh?” finished Errol. “Yeah! I guess you’re right. But when
are we going to check the hole out, Bro? Today, tomorrow, or when the Prof gets here?”
He thought for a moment, then added, “Maybe we send them a positive sort of reply
saying that as soon as we’ve checked out the first stage, and found things look promising,
we’ll send for them – free trips, of course? Guess it might hold things up a tad, while they
get their flights booked, and all that jazz….”
“Oh! Blow it!” growled Drew. “You’re a persuasive sod, Errol! I’ll invite ‘em over
tonight – but you can go and pick ‘em up in Brisbane!” Then he though a moment or two
longer. “Hang on a tick! Any clues on where the hell they’re going to stay? Mum’s been
pretty accommodating thus far - and I don’t mean that as a joke! - but this might be
pushing Ayers Rock uphill a bit, Errol! All the rooms are spoken for, and we can hardly
pitch ‘em a bloody tent in the back yard, can we?”
Errol grinned saucily. “Well they can always shack up with me, buddy!” Then,
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seeing Drew’s sober scowl, he went on somewhat chastened, “Do they hire out any de-
cent trailer-homes in Winton or Longreach? If we could get a nice roomy, air-conditioned
job, it’d…Hey!….WOAH!”
He ducked neatly aside just in time to avoid the heavy boot that Drew hurled at his
head, then made a hasty chortling beeline for the door. A second later his face reappeared
around it again. “Oh, yeah!” he leered .”And I’ll be footing the bill for this one!” His head
vanished again as the other boot whammed into the doorjamb.
But the more Drew thought about Errol’s last suggestion, the more sense it made.
He ambled into the lounge-room and picked up the local Yellow Pages. Bob looked up
from his perusal of the TV guide, and seeing the Yellow Pages phone-book in Drew’s hand,
he yelled: “Watch out, Joan! Drew’ll be hiring a bloody great Zeppelin, next!”
He found that there was a large caravan park in Winton, but there were also a
couple of decent motels there, too. However, this would mean that they would have to
drive about 50 miles every time they wanted to pick the girls up or run them back again.
He now began to see the really sound idea behind Errol’s suggestion of a hire caravan in
the Glengarry homestead yard.
He rang up the Winton caravan park, but they were unable to help him as their vans
were already booked up. However, he met with more success in Longreach, and was able
to arrange a reasonable deal for the off-site hire of a large air-conditioned van. Com-
pared to their present outlays, the caravan rental was peanuts! He would send Stan down
to tow it to Glengarry during the next couple of days.
He then went back in to see Joan and Bob, and ask them how they felt about
entertaining two additional guests. He stressed that, since all the rooms were now occu-
pied or booked, they would be sleeping in a caravan in the yard – if this was OK with Bob,
of course! Surprisingly, they raised no objections at all, except for Joan saying that they
would have to be prepared to have their meals at the same time as everyone else, and to
generally “muck in” with the family. “I’m not running a blooming hotel, you know, Drew!
So I’ll expect a bit of consideration… and help!”
Finally, he composed, and sent off reply-emails to both Hazel and Marianne, in
which he invited them to come and stay at the homestead, and that upon receipt of their
acceptance, together with their passport and other details, he would make the appropri-
ate airline bookings for them to fly over to Brisbane. He would be paying their fares over
and their accommodation would be free - if they didn’t mind sharing a luxury caravan!
Also he suggested that if they had any favorite caving gear, etc. to bring it with them.
He’d look forward to their replies as soon as possible!
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Now, at long last, he was clear of all the entanglements , and could get his head
together with Errol regarding their next visit to Undara. The orange tape had been
brought from the Council Depot by Stan, and the underwater gear, air-cylinders and wet-
suits were due to arrive air-cargo tomorrow from his Mackay Scuba dealer friend. Apart
from the girls and the Professor, they were just about all set!
When he went out in search of Errol, he found him leaning on the horse-paddock
fence-rails, patting the horses and talking gibberish to them. They appeared to under-
stand him too! Maybe it was the American cowboy in Errol coming out! When Drew
suggested they go for a ride and abit of a yarn, Errol agreed at once, and before long,
Jimmy had their horses saddled up and evidently raring to go, judging by their happy
whinnies and head-tossings. Within a few minutes the pair were cantering out of the
back paddock gate and out on to the open grazing land. They rode swiftly for a little
while and allowed their mounts to ease off the pace in their own time. Then, as they
quietly jogged along at a steady walking pace, side by side, Drew asked Errol how he was
feeling about the way things were going in general, with regard to their forthcoming
adventures. After all, it was no mean undertaking!
“Well, buddy, since you ask,” said Errol after a little introspective thought, “I had
rather expected we’d have been a bit further along by now. Things seem to have kinda
bogged down somehow, what with having to hang around for the Prof and all. I believe
we ought to go check out that fumarole tomorrow, Drew, and see if we can shed a tad
more light on it! I’d hate to have to tell the old guy that it was a bummer when I see him
on Thursday! When did you say those suits were coming? And what about a block and
tackle to haul us out? Any news about all that, yet?”
Drew told him the diving-gear would be there first thing in the morning and that Bob
already had a spare block and tackle ready, complete with tripod, in the barn workshop.
He hoped that Bob would be able to spare the time to come with them and help out with
the setting up of the tackle and lend a few pounds of heaving-power on the rope. As far
as he was concerned, Drew believed that they could head off to Undara in the morning, as
soon as the diving-gear arrived! He’d ask Joan to pack them up some sammos for lunch,
and a couple of flasks of coffee or tea, so they wouldn’t need to spend visiting the Tourist
Center. That way, they might be able to at least check out the first fumarole chimney and
see if it led to any sort of passage.
As for the whole thing being long-winded getting sorted, well, some poor sod had
to do all the organizational work, and in any case, he’d also had to straighten things out
regarding the family firm, too. So how did all that grab him?
Errol nodded his understanding. “Sorry, buddy, I wasn’t being critical of you, it’s
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just so goddamn frustrating, hanging around waiting for something to happen! And you
did ask me how I felt! Anyhow, tomorrow sounds fine to me, Drew!” Then he added “Hey,
and before I forget! What the hell is a goddamn “sammo”, Drew? You keep springing
these Ockerisms on me out right of the blue! I guess I’m gonna have to invest in an
Aussie-slang dictionary next time I’m near a bookstore! Then I can teach it all to poor old
“Din-Dins” when he arrives!”
Drew laughed at this. ”Listen to the pot calling the kettle black!” he said. “You Yanks
are just as bloody bad as we are when it comes to slang!” Then he continued, “As for
“sammos” – they’re just sandwiches, you dumbbell! And I reckon old “Din-Dins” needs a
bloody interpreter himself ! “ Hoots! D’ye no ken what Ahm telling ye, Mah wee mannie,
or are ye just plain gormless? Yon “sammos” are naithing but butties!” ” His highly-
passable imitation of the Professor’s Highland Scots accent nearly sent Errol toppling out
of his saddle, in a great fit of laughter.
“Aw, hell, Drew!” He chuckled, gasping for air, “ I can see that we’ll wind up either
laughing our way into the Inner Earth, or die laughing in the attempt! Wouldn’t have it
any other way, buddy!”
At this point in their meandering journey, they suddenly discovered that the horses
had somehow recalled their previous ride and had brought them back to the large outcrop
of red rock where they’d tried to explore the narrow tunnel. However, although they
dismounted and wandered around a little, they manfully overcame the urge to go and try
out the other right-hand passageway they’d found. That would keep for a later date!
They were facing a far more formidable exploration at Undara! However, they did manage
to clamber up to the top of the outcrop’s highest pinnacle, and they found that the view
from there was quite breathtaking in its sheer immensity.
As far as the eye could see in any direction, the horizon was almost unobstructed,
except for the odd stand of bleached-looking white gumtrees and the occasional butte or
mesa of sandstone. Otherwise it was a total wilderness of sere desert grasses and circular
patches of prickly grey-green spinifex. There were no cattle to be seen, but Drew assured
Errol that they were there all right, probably standing in the meager shade of the wild
orange, wilga and leopard wood trees, and, of course, the coolabahs, for which the region
had gained some notoriety through Banjo Paterson’s famous song, “Waltzing Matilda”!
However, the relentless sun soon drove them to seek shelter in the shadow of the
outcrop, where their horses patiently and sensibly waited in the shade. Here they sat and
pondered what might await them once they began their subterranean eight-hundred mile
(hopefully less) downward journey. Drew had opened the conversation in this vein, and
Errol hastened to point out that once they reached the halfway mark at the (assumed)
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gravity-sphere level, they should then begin climbing upwards again, but this time toward
the inner surface.
“It’s really a pity we don’t have any contact with the Inner Earthers.” said Drew,
wistfully. “It’d be great to have a saucer land at the homestead and all of us just hop on
board, and be whizzed straight in through one of the ocean portals!” He sighed heavily.
“Instead, we’ve got to fight our way through all sorts of dark tunnels and caves and hope
we manage to survive long enough to come out on the right surface!”
“Or maybe, “said Errol, not to be outdone, “between us we might’ve been able to
raise the wind sufficiently to build a big earth-boring inner-space craft, like my illustrious
namesake’s Abner Perry and David Innes!” said Errol, “If only we’d had the mechanical
know-how to design such a goddamn machine!”
“I recall a guy on the Net once talking about there being a regular portal in “The
Devil’s Triangle” in the North Atlantic, where the water kind of vortexed right through the
crust, from the outer to the inner ocean.” said Drew. “He also reckoned there were many
similar submarine portals around the world’s oceans, and that the Inner Folk were able to
come and go through them in UFO’s when the vortex was operating. As I recall it, he
reckoned they were able to create these vortexes whenever they wished by some sort of
controlled natural means!.
“Most of the ships and planes that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle, were sucked
down and through by this vortex. It affected the atmosphere above the portal as well as
the sea, which is why the planes went down. He said the sometimes the same vortex,
could bring them back in the opposite direction later on. They reckon that’s what happen
to those Gruman Navy planes from fort Lauderdale in Florida!
Errol leered a bit skeptically at Drew when he mentioned this. “Ahh! You’re trying to
kid a kidder there , buddy! You saw that in “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”,
Speilberg only put that bit in for effect! It never actually happened!”
But Drew ignored the jibe and kept right on making his point. “Would I try to have
a lend of you, mate?” he asked earnestly. ”Anyhow, the Yanks haven’t cornered the whole
market on this sort of thing! The Japanese have a similar phenomenon off their eastern
coast – it’s called “The Devil’s Sea”! They’ve lost heaps of big ships and fishing-boats - and
planes - in just the same way! So how about that then, eh?”
They discussed many aspects of the Inner Earth and how they might have been able
to get their more easily, if only they’d had recourse to the sort of equipment such as Edgar
Rice Burroughs had devised for his heroes, both on Earth and Mars. It was great for sci-
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fi authors to invent marvelous machines such as Well’s Cavorite-coated shutters on Cavor’s
polygonal Moon-craft in “First Men on the Moon”, or Verne’s deep-sea submarine craft in
“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. But for them, in this highly-technological
time in history, it appeared they were doomed to use Shank’s Pony to get to the Inner
Earth!
However, if that was what it was going to take – well, so be it! They had their lives
before them and all the time in the world! Well – They hoped they had! This led Errol,
who was a tad more cautious than Drew regarding his personal safety and well-being on
the journey, to raise the question of what or who they might encounter en route to the
inner surface.
He said he’d read a book some time previously which posed a scenario in which the
crustal depths of the earth were actually the domain of devils and demons - a sort of
genuine old-fashioned Hell. But the Inner hollow part of the Earth was actually the realm
of Paradise, where all the old prophets and suchlike Biblical characters, like Abraham, had
resided in complete comfort and peace. Then, after His Crucifixion, Jesus went down
there and took them all up to God’s Heaven, which existed in a different dimension alto-
gether. He said that some modern Pentecostals actually believed that Heaven was a giant
planet somewhere in space, where the good folks who’d passed on were able to live
forever in regular physical, but immortal, bodies! But Drew, who had long since aban-
doned any such religious ideas, laughed at this idea.
“What you mean, mate, is something that I once heard some bloke say on the Net
– “If you want to get to Heaven, you have to go through Hell first!”. Well, old cobber,” he
grinned, waving a demonstrative arm, “I reckon this is the real Hell right here, all around
us!”
Errol removed his hat to wipe his sweating brow. “You got that right, bro’!” he said,
“ In fact I got a hunch it’s a goddamn sight hotter than Hades out here!”
“Yeah, must agree with you, Errol, old son! I reckon we ought to head back and get
ourselves a nice cold shower – or even a swim in the dam! Waddya reckon?”
Within five minutes they were riding easily back toward the homestead, not overex-
erting the horses in the mid-morning heat. Just before they reached the huddle of build-
ings and shady trees of the homestead, they tied their horses to a large shady tree beside
the big dam which supplied much of the stock’s drinking-water during the real drought
spells, and quickly stripping off their clothes, they both dived headlong into its refresh-
ingly cool waters. Cool, that is, in comparison to the air-temperature which was already
up into the high thirties, centigrade!
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They literally had a whale of a time splashing around for a quarter-hour, until Drew
told Errol it was time to get out of the sun’s dangerous UV radiation. Skin-cancer, he said,
was tremendously prevalent out here in outback Australia - something to do with the
thinning Antarctic ozone-layer. The old time diggers hadn’t seemed to be bothered by it to
anything like the extent that even the city-Aussies were today.
“Still that won’t be any problem where we’re heading, will it?” He remarked as they
got dressed again, being already dried out by the sun’s heat alone.
As they came up to the homestead, they saw a delivery truck just leaving the yard.
By the time they got there it had already headed off toward Winton, trailing a red-brown
plume of dust. Bob was looking over some cardboard packages on the back porch that
bore the stickers of a well-known air-cargo company.
Hearing the soft clopping of their horses’ hoofs, Bob looked up and saw them ap-
proaching. “Hey, Drew!” he shouted, “Some packages just came in from Longreach for
you! Came in on the morning’s airfreight. Were you expectin’ somethin’ from Mackay?”
He hefted one of the cardboard cases. “Feels a bit heavy, too, son!”
Drew left Errol to see to the horses and took the back steps two at a time. A quick
glance at the sender’s docket under its transparent plastic patch, told him it was the
underwater-gear he’d ordered from his Diving Supplies friend on the coast.. He ripped
back the tape around the box top and found a brand-new underwater face-mask with all
its attachments packed in separate plastic packets. There were two others in the same
case, as well as safety-helmets fitted with head-lamp attachments.
“Got anywhere safe I can keep this stuff, Bob?” He asked. “I don’t want the kids to
start fooling around with any of this gear - it’s fragile, dangerous and bloody expensive!”
Bob scratched his head a moment then he nodded. “Yair, You can stow all your stuff in the
store room behind my office, Drew. The door’s got a lock and it’s reasonably clean.
Should be safe as a bank in there!”
Within a few minutes they had carted all the various boxes and packages through
Bob’s office and into a fairly roomy storage area behind it, partitioned and ceilinged with
white undercoated hardboard paneling. It even had a sliding window at one end which
admitted plenty of light. There was also a long bench and a couple of cupboards on the
wall behind it. Just as they were dumping the packages beside the bench, Errol came in,
having finished unsaddling the horses, watering them down and turning them loose in
the shady orchard paddock.
“Hey, fellers! What gives? “ then he noticed the labels on the boxes, marked “Air
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Cargo”, and also caught a glimpse of a Scuba face-mask in the opened box. “Oh, great!”
he said, rubbing his hands together happily. “So the wetsuits and breathing gear have
arrived, eh! This mean we might be able to make a start today, Drew?” he asked eagerly.
Drew glanced at his wristwatch.
“Mmmmh…” he murmured, shrugging negatively. “It’s not all that far off lunchtime,
mate, it might be a bit of a waste of time just for a couple or three hours, today, And we
need to check all this gear out properly first before we start using it, Errol, in case there
are any problems.…”
Errol looked a little deflated at this, but it made sense, no experienced cave-diver
would ever use new gear without testing it first, so he brightened up. “OK, then! What say
we check it out in the dam this afternoon!” he grinned.
Drew thought this was a good idea, not to mention a nice refreshing one. “Right you
are, cobber!” he said cheerfully, “You’re bloody well on!”
* * *
By mid afternoon after a great deal of raucous laughter and splashing, that brought
first the kids giggling excitedly and then an inquisitive Joan down from the house, they
agreed that their new diving-gear was first-class and in tip-top working order. They
emerged from the now muddy waters of the dam looking like a pair of frolicking seals, in
their black shining wetsuits, masks and flippers. As they unlocked their harnesses and
lowered their air-cylinders to the ground, Charlie asked them if he could have a go. Drew
had no alternative but to rebuff him, with the admonition that this definitely wasn’t kid’s
stuff, and it could be very dangerous in inexperienced hands.
Charlie just scowled and walked away. As he went, he looked back over his shoulder
and called back angrily that he wasn’t a little kid any more, he was nearly fifteen, and he
could have been very useful in their expedition. But now they could keep their rotten
helicopter and their lousy diving outfits. He ambled away, his shoulders hunched in deep
disappointment.
“Don’t worry about Charlie!” said Joan, as Drew rather concerned watched the boy
walk away, irritably kicking stones out of his path, his clenched fists thrust deep into his
trouser pockets. “He’ll get over it! He’s got to learn that he can’t follow you everywhere
– and certainly not underground!”
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“Hmmm..” pondered Drew, as he helped Errol peel himself out of his wetsuit, “I still
feel a bit lousy about not letting him do more with us, Mum! Still I suppose you’re right.
This is no game for young blokes like him. I’ll try to get him interested in doing things for
us on the computer instead… Maybe then he won’t feel so left out of things, eh?”
Then they all walked back from the dam, Drew and Errol back to their gear-room
behind Bob’s office to ready their diving tackle for the morrow, and Joan and the girls back
to the house, to get the evening meal started. As the two young men were drying out the
wet suits and powdering them inside with French chalk. Bob poked his head round the
door.
“All OK?” he asked. “The gear work all right, did it? I was just thinkin’. If you need
a bit of a hand tomorrow up at Undara, you can borrow Jimmy if you want. Neither of ‘em
have much to do around here that won’t wait, so if Jimmy comes with you, he could
maybe help fix up the block an’tackle for you, an, so forth….That’s if the chopper’ll hold
four fellers, of course!”
“Oh, thanks, Bob!” said Drew with a perplexed grin. “ If she’ll hold four, did you say?
But there’d only be three of us…? ”
“Ahah!” said Bob, “You’re forgettin’ me, Drew! Yer don’t think I’m goin’ to dip out on
this, do you? Not bloody likely, mate! Not after what Errol told me the other day on the
way to Brisbane, I’ve started to get real interested in this idea of yours! Must admit it all
sounds a bit bloody farfetched, but! Still, he definitely got me in with all this talk of a
hollow earth! I mean, when you think about it a bit deep, like - nobody’s ever been down
there beyond the odd coal-mine, or places like Mount Isa mine, have they?”
He stared out of the window, rubbing his chin wistfully. “Gee! I wish I was your age
again! I’d be down there with you like a rat down a bloody drain!” He grinned at them
both. “Don’t worry!” he said. “I’m only dreamin’ out loud!” Then he left them to it, and
went off to arrange with Stan about bringing the hired trailer-caravan up from Longreach
the next morning.
“Gee! Buddy!” said Errol. “Old Bob’s really caught the bug, hasn’t he! Pity he can’t
come with us, but as he says, he’s probably a bit over the hill for all that, now.”
Drew grinned at him. “Don’t write him off just yet, mate! He’ll probably be out here
trying on one of the wetsuits as soon as we go indoors! He’s as game as Ned Kelly, is our
Bob! You should know that by now, mate, after his chopper-flying capers! Next thing,
he’ll be asking us to let him have a shot at Scuba-diving!”
Errol stared at him. “Wouldn’t surprise me, either!” he said. Then he went on, “By
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the way, Drew -who’s this goddamn “Ned Kelly” guy everybody talks about?”
CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 9 CHAPTER 9
At first light next morning, they were already on their way to up to Undara again, but
this time at a much reduced speed compared to their first trip in the Cessna. The helicopter’s
cruising speed was only a half of the plane’s, and they had to make a diversion to Hugh-
enden to top up the fuel-tank en route. This was the major drawback with small choppers
– their range was very limited on a single tank of gas, and Errol silently cursed himself for
not inquiring about getting an extra tank fitted. But the only problem with that was the
extra weight. The extra fuel supply would have really tended to cancel itself out through
the additional load it would make!
He could only hope that there was a chopper fuel-supply depot at Undara, in the
unlucky event of them not having enough to get back! His main worry was the extra
weight of gear they had on board. In addition to the four passengers, and the stack of
stuff they had with them, they had stowed a large coil of light, but extremely tough nylon
climbing-rope, as well as the heavy block and tackle under one of the seats. And the three
wooden tripod poles were lashed across the helicopter’s landing skids. However, if he
took it easy, and didn’t flog the engine too hard, they should be OK. The other thing that
nagged him about having to conserve fuel was that they’d have to greatly curtail their
proposed quick low-altitude search for any other vents or fumaroles. However, they’d
have to live in hope! If he could top her up again at Undara before returning home, there
would be no problem.
This kept Errol’s mind fully occupied, whilst the other three – especially Jimmy,
who’d never flown in anything in his life before – were taking in the great view as they flew
leisurely over the savannah bush country. In a plane one tended to zoom past everything
at warp-speed, with little opportunity to check out the land passing directly beneath one.
However, from the chopper, the view was infinitely better and they were able to see things
in far greater close-up due to their much lower altitude. The flight, apart from their brief
landing at Hughenden for fuel, was much more relaxing even though twice as long. By
nine o’clock they were circling over Undara, looking for the bright red square of the ban-
dana that Drew has left tied on top of a tree to mark the fumarole.
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At first it eluded them until Jimmy’s sharp eyes spotted a flash of crimson among the
low foliage. “There!” he cried, pointing away to one side of the old volcano crater’s
vegetated slope, “I see him!” Drew followed Jimmy’s pointing black finger, and after
staring hard for a second or two, as Errol banked around to the indicated direction, he
saw it for himself. A minute speck of bright red against a vast carpet of sparse grey-green
foliage and sand. He thanked his lucky stars that Errol had just chanced to be wearing the
rather flashy bandana last time they were here!
By this time Errol had spotted it too, so within a couple of minutes they had located
an area relatively free from the stunted trees, and had landed. They could even see the
fumarole quite clearly as they descended. It was only a hundred feet or so, away from
their landing-site. They climbed out and wasted little time unloading all the gear they’d
brought, and unlashing the tripod poles from the skids.
Bob surprised them when he produced a neatly-packed lightweight nylon tent com-
plete with groundsheet, second outer cover and fly-screened side panels, that he’d smuggled
aboard. At least they now had a shady and fly-free place to eat and rest!
Drew congratulated Bob for thinking of one of the many items he was sure he’d
overlooked. As he did so, Errol joined them and asked Drew if he thought they should let
the Park people know they were there. Drew grinned wryly, looking over Errol’s shoulder.
“Don’t think you need to, old son!” he said. “Looks to me like they already bloody know!”
Errol swiveled around in time to see a four-wheel drive bouncing along between the trees
toward them. It was their friendly Guide, Leo, and he had the lady supervisor with him
who had welcomed them on their previous visit.
“Oh, Hell!” groaned Errol in consternation, “I suppose she’s gonna read us the god-
damn Riot Act, for pitching camp without letting her know!” But happily, he was wrong.
As the lady supervisor and Les climbed out of the vehicle, she greeted them all pleasantly
and she gave Drew a particularly big smile.
“Good morning! “she beamed at him, casting her gaze around the others. “Leo here
was remarking only yesterday that you hadn’t been back, and that we might have some-
how sent you the wrong vibes about your research, or something! I’m glad to see he was
wrong!” Then she went on to tell Drew that she’d spoken to her superiors and that, as
long as they weren’t going to start any excavations, fires or explosions or anything like
that, they were welcome to carry out their investigations. Particularly since they were well
away from anyplace where visitors might venture. She’d only been concerned in case
they were working for a mining corporation or something, and might want to start setting
up drilling towers and suchlike eyesores.
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Drew and Errol exchanged relieved glances at this. If only she knew! Then he told
her that he was quite happy to reassure her that they weren’t doing anything for any
mining company, and that all this was entirely a private affair for their own geological
edification. There was absolutely no commercial interest involved at all.
“If anything,” he added, “the results of our exploration might very well end up
making Undara an even more world-famous geological site that ever!” He smiled down at
her in a mysterious fashion. “We’re looking for something pretty astounding, but I don’t
want to spill the beans just yet, in case it all leads us nowhere, but – well… we’ll see what
happens!” Again he gave her an enigmatic smile. “Let’s just put it this way,” he said,
seeing the puzzlement on her face. “If we find what we’re hoping down there,” he pointed
to the fumarole. “You’ll be one of the first to know, OK?”
“You’re not searching for diamonds, or anything like that, are you? Only if…..” Her
voice trailed away from such an idea before Drew’s wide smile.
“No, No!” he laughed, shaking his blond locks from side to side. “This is something
far more important, and way beyond any matter of commercial interest! We’re not inter-
ested in gems or gold! It’s a purely scientific thing! If I told you what it was, you’d
probably send for the men in the white coats!”
She seemed to accept then that he wasn’t going to divulge their secret quest, but,
like all of her gender, she was just itching to know what exactly they were looking for.
However, after staring at him uncertainly for a moment, she finally gave up, smiled know-
ingly at him and with a bemused shake of her head, turned back toward their vehicle.
Behind her back, Drew exchanged a slow wink with Leo.
As they prepared to leave, Errol suddenly recalled something he’d been wanting to
ask. “Oh, before you go,” he called, addressing Leo,” I was wondering if you know of any
chopper refueling facilities around this area? We have to watch our usage pretty….” The
supervisor answered him obliquely by turning toward Leo saying: “We should be able to
accommodate them with that, shouldn’t we, Leo?”
Leo, nodded at Errol. “Yair! No worries there, mate, but you’ll have to pay the going
rate of course! Just drop over to the shed by the landing-strip, and give us a buzz as you
go over! Somebody’ll nip out and fix you up!” Then they both gave the two a cheery
wave and drove bumpily away in the direction of the Tourist Center.
“Well! That’s a bloody relief!” sighed Drew, after the four wheel drive car had
vanished bouncily among the trees. “I thought we were going to be told to nick off, for
a moment there!”
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Errol was also grinning in relief, too, now that his fuel crisis was solved. “All we have
to do now,” he grinned, “is to get this goddamn show on the road!”
They all went across to the fumarole, and flashed a couple of torches down inside. It
still looked the same as the last time they’d looked. Bob peered down the throat of the
tube with great interest. “Ah, I can see now why you wanted the wetsuits and breathing
apparatus! I expect you’re worried about bad air or sulfur gas, eh? Hope you’ve got
gloves with you, ‘cause that sulfur can sometimes give you a fair old burn if you get it on
your bare skin!”
Drew assured him that they’d already thought about that, hence all the underwater
gear. “ I think we need to check out the air down there first, anyhow. No point wasting
tank-oxygen if we don’t need it. Pass me a couple of sheets of that old newspaper-
packing - and the matches too, will you, Errol?”
Errol did as he was asked, and Drew, warning everyone to step away from the hole,
lit a piece of crumpled paper. When it blazed, he dropped it down the fumarole shaft,
fervently hoping it wouldn’t explode and bring the rangers racing back
They all expected some sort of flash or muffled explosion, but none came. A curl of
bluish smoke was all that arose from the hole as the paper burned away. Now Drew
crumpled up a much larger ball of newsprint and set light to it. This time when he
dropped it down the hole, he and Errol stayed to watch it tumble down the shaft burning
brightly until it vanished around the bend in the vent-tube. They could still smell the
smoke of its burning – and that was all they smelt. This could only mean one thing! The
air down there was clean and fresh!
If it had been foul with carbon dioxide, the flames would have gone out immedi-
ately; and had there been any sulphurous gas present it, would probably have exploded in
a large outburst of evil “rotten-eggs smelling, yellowish smoke! The fumarole was obvi-
ously clear of noxious vapors. This was indeed heartening news!
“Great!” exclaimed Drew, shaking Errol by the hand in his enthusiasm. “We’re clear
to GO, old mate! Let’s get suited up, pronto!”
Within a quarter of an hour or so, they were garbed in their underwater gear, but
wearing climbing boots instead of fins. However, in view of the obvious clearness of the
air in the fumarole, they decided to let Bob and Jimmy lower their breathing apparatus
and oxygen tanks down after them. Both pairs had walkie-talkies so there was no need for
any rigmarole with using tugs on ropes as signals.
They tied ropes to their rappelling harnesses, and then began to clamber down into
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the gaping mouth of the fumarole. In addition to their wetsuits, goggles and gloves, they
both wore cave-diving safety-helmets. Each was fitted with two lights – an electrical lamp
connected to a battery pack attached to the harness, and a carbide lamp. These latter
produced their own acetylene gas by dripping water on to grains of carbide and could
operate for many hours before requiring more water to be added
The ropes during this preliminary “look-see” were purely an additional safety-mea-
sure in case of one of them losing his handgrip on the way down. A broken leg during this
initial test stage would have ended the expedition before it even began.
“No accidents, please!” shouted Drew with grin as he switched on his helmet lights
and climbed down into the vent pipe.
Errol followed him after a few moments, giving the thumbs-up salute to Bob and
Jimmy who were holding the thin static ropes taut, as instructed. Jimmy flashed his great
white-toothed dusky grin as Errol began his descent.
“Hey, Mister Errol! You watch out them big Yow fellers don’t getcha down there!
Might wanna eatcha for their “Smoko!” Then both he and Bob laughed uproariously.
Errol just waved back and scowled. He wasn’t all that sure that Jimmy might not be
speaking the truth without knowing it!
He’d read a lot of weird tales about humanoid reptilians and Gray aliens living in
subterranean tunnels in the USA, and that they worked in cahoots with the Government in
some nefarious unholy alliance. But, although he’d poured ribald scorn upon such crazy
“New World Order crap”, now that he was actually going underground himself, he wasn’t
quite so sure the tales were without actual foundation. However, he put it out of his mind
and concentrated upon climbing carefully down the tube.
As he looked down for places to put his feet, he could see the glow of Drew’s lamps
lighting up the vent down below him. The climb wasn’t too difficult as long as one
carefully tested each foot and handhold as one went. The thing he was most concerned
about was that he might inadvertently dislodge one of the slippery sulfur-stained rocks,
and send it crashing down onto Drew’s head. Better give him a call!
“Hey! Drew! How’s it going down there?’ he called. “Any probs yet? Seems to be
plenty of room so far!”
Drew’s voice echoed back up the tube. “Now worries, mate! It’s a blooming doddle!
You’ll just have to watch yourself around that kinky bit, but it seems to be straight down,
now. I still can’t see any floor yet, but! Could be a hell of a bloody drop if we were to slip
- so for Pete’s Sake, take it easy, Errol!”
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Errol suddenly found himself having to negotiate the bend in the vent-pipe, but he
got around it safely enough. The only impediment he encountered was Drew’s safety
static-line which tended to get in his way a little. Maybe he should have waited until Drew
had struck bottom first, so that his line would have been slackened off. Still, it saved a bit
of time following reasonable closely.
They kept up their conversation as they went on down the tube, and occasionally
they heard Bob yelling down from the top of the fumarole to see how they were getting
on. The vent tube turned out to be an excellent conductor of sound, and they could hear
each other clearly, but gradually Bob’s voice became steadily fainter as they continued to
descend. There was also quite a draught of warm air being sucked down the tube, which
made an eerie sighing sound as it blew around them. However, it was definitely becom-
ing quite cool now the deeper they went, so the warmth of the indrawn outer air was
welcome.
Suddenly, Errol heard a muffled oath from Drew beneath his feet, and a noisy clat-
tering racket echoed up the shaft, followed by the sound of a distant impact of stone upon
stone. Errol found himself almost paralyzed with a sudden dread that Drew might have
fulfilled his own earlier warning.
For an interminable moment, Errol remained frozen in situ, as his imagination ran
riot. Then, he heard a groaned curse from below him. He would have clapped for sheer
joy had his claw-like fingers not been locked in a vice-like grip of iron upon the jutting
rocks of the vent wall.
“Bloody hell!” Drew’s voice echoed up to him. “Thought I’d gone for a proper bloody
necker, that time, old mate!” he called in a relieved tone. “Just put my foot on a rock and
it fell from under me! I’ve been hanging here like a crippled bloody spider reaching about
with my boot, trying to find another foothold!”
He exhaled a great sigh of relief. “But I’m right now, Erb! I had to dangle myself at
arm’s length till I found another safe possie! I’m going down again now, so just watch out
for that treacherous bit, mate! Anyhow. From the sound of the rock falling I reckon about
another thirty forty feet should see me down on solid ground.”
“Got you, Drew!” Errol replied. “Give me a holler when you touch bottom!” ”
“Roger that, Houston!” came Drew’s now-confident response.
Then Errol heard a faint cry from far above them. It was Bob wanting to know what
had happened and were they all right? “Everything’s just dandy!” yelled Errol leaning
back against the rear wall to shout upwards. “Drew just tried to widen the shaft a little is
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all!” then, as an after thought, he added, “Send us a couple of nice cold beers down, will
ya!” Then he returned to his descent. He negotiated the dodgy area that had nearly
brought Drew to grief, and continued his climb. A few minutes passed with no verbal
exchange. All that could be heard was the sighing of the air as it was sucked down the
tube around him, then a triumphant shout came up from below him.
“I’m down now, mate! And it’s like a bloody wind-tunnel down here!” This gave
Drew a big lift, and he covered the last stretch as smoothly and speedily as an elevator in
a lift-shaft. Just before he reached the bottom of the descent, he looked down and saw
Drew’s face grinning up in the light of his own helmet-lamps. It was like an instant
snapshot recorded on the film of his memory. There were to be many more of such
freeze-frame photographs added to his mental picture-album over the weeks to come!
As he finally dropped the last two or three feet to stand beside him, he felt a sense of great
elation. The two chums gripped each other firmly by the hand, and Drew summed it all
up neatly by deliberately misquoting Neil Armstrong’s famous: “That’s one small step for
man… One giant leap forward for the Hollow Earthers!” Not to be out done, Errol added:
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single clumsy slip!”
Their two safety-ropes which had now gone slack, suddenly performed a wiggling
dance down the shaft, as Bob and Jimmy, up above, feeling a relaxation of the tension
upon them, realized that they must now be safely down. So Drew gave both ropes a
series of sharp jerks in reply: “Tug-tugetty-tug-tug - Tug-tug!”
“Hey! Hey!” protested Errol, ”Not so goddamn hard, buddy! You might yank ‘em out
of their hands, then how do we get back up again?” Drew just grinned at him.
Errol now looked around, and found that they were standing in what must have
once been a large gas tunnel or chamber. By the lamps on his helmet, he saw that the
walls and ceiling were smoothed and heavily stained with sulphurous-yellow streaks and
he felt the wind rushing through the place with a fairly strong pressure. It was obviously
a draught being sucked in through an external opening somewhere, but not just from the
shaft they had descended. It was far too strong for that. Where could it be going to and
what could be causing such a powerful suction effect?
“Well,” said Drew beside him, “Now were we’ve proved that the fumarole is acces-
sible, and we’re down here, we might as well take a bit of a look around, eh?”
Then he took his walkie-talkie out of its pouch on his belt, and clicked it on. A second
or two later he heard a click and Bob’s voice answering. “That you, Drew? Sounds like
you got down in one piece then, eh! Good on you, son! What do you want to do now?
Come up again, or are you taking a gander around?” then following the best traditions of
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proper radio procedure, he added “Er …Over!”
Drew grinned, wondering if Bob was just having a shot at him. Then he dryly
replied “Drew calling Base. Come in Base!” Bob’s voice replied with equal sarcasm, in his
best posh Pommy accent: “Drew! This is Base calling! Receiving you loud and clear. Are
you receiving me? Over.” His mock-message ended in a stifled chuckle .
Drew could see that this could go on ad nauseam if he kept it up, so he replied
“Course I’m bloody receiving you, Bob! Knock it off will you – this is serious! Listen! Could
you get Jimmy to grab that roll of orange roadwork tape out of the chopper, and drop it
down here. We’re going to poke around a bit, while we’re here, and we’d better start as
we intend to go on – by leaving a proper trail-marker, OK?”
“OK, Drew!” Bob replied. “Send it down in a minute! Hang on!” A few moments
later, as they stood away from the vent-pipe, the roll of fluorescent tape came tumbling
down amid a shower of small stones, and hit the chamber floor with a soft thump. “Thanks,
Bob!” said Drew into the mouthpiece, “I’ll give you a buzz when we want to come up. Over
and Out!” Then he put the radiophone away, and picked up the plastic–wrapped coil of
tape. “Right, mate!” he said to Errol, as he removed the packaging and tie-strings.“ Let’s
get going and see where this leads to!”
* * *
The first thing they had to decide was which way to go, toward the draught of air or
to follow it. Errol pointed out that if they went toward the draught, it might only lead
them to another, possibly larger opening closer in toward the crater, in which case, they
must eventually encounter the lava plug that had formed after it stopped erupting. On
the other hand, the air-current might be venting out to the surface somewhere in the
other direction. It was really six of one and half a dozen of the other! Drew was equally
puzzled, but he finally elected to go toward the volcano cone into the breeze. Errol
agreed. If it did lead them out to the surface again, maybe it might bring them to a larger
entrance.
And so they set off, Drew leading the way, and Errol, having trapped the end of the
tape under a fallen lump of rock below the fumarole tube, allowing it to unroll behind
them. Drew said he reckoned they were about a hundred feet below the surface, when
they left their point of entry, so it’d be interesting to see which way the floor sloped. But
after around seventy or eighty yards, there was little doubt that they were going downhill.
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Noticing a shiny reflection on the wall of the long passage, Errol paused to look at it more
closely. It looked as though it had actually been smoothed by water action, rather than
any sulfuric gas. Drew didn’t think it made a lot of difference. Maybe the volcano had
vented both sulfur dioxide and steam in its lifetime, along this same system of ducts?
They walked on a little further along the inky black gallery with Drew still in the lead and
Errol trailing the roll of tape behind.
Suddenly Drew jumped backwards, colliding heavily with Errol as he did so. “By
Cripes!” he shouted. “I nearly came a bloody gutser there, mate!” He bowed his head
forward, to point his helmet-lamps toward the floor. Their joint beams revealed a large,
gaping black pit about eighteen inches in front of his feet! It was easily ten feet across
and, at first glance, appeared to vanish vertically down. However, as they both leaned
closer toward it, they were able to see that it was actually a rather steeply inclined tube
that sloped away downhill somewhere. Underneath the cone of the volcano - as far as
could be judged by sense of direction and memory of the above- ground layout. Drew
cursed himself for not having brought his newly-acquired ex-Army compass with him. It
was still in his bag in the chopper.
Errol ventured forward carefully, and lowered his foot down into the sloping pit. “Not
too steep,” he commented. “I guess we could walk down it OK - as long as we didn’t break
into a goddamn gallop - and there’s plenty of headroom.” He stepped back up out of the
hole. “Waddaya think, Drew? At least it’s heading in the right direction – DOWN!” Drew
looked back at the remaining less-than-half roll of fluorescent tape, which he knew had
held two hundred yards. They must be over three hundred feet from their point of entry.
Then he realized something else. The air-current was blowing up out of the sloping
tunnel! He looked around beyond the circumference of the pit to see where their present
gallery went beyond it.
To his surprise, after a few paces it came to a blind rounded end. In fact the gallery
above and around the top of the sloping pit, seemed to have a bottle-like shape as far as
his lamp-beams could illuminate. So they had no other alternative but to follow the
sloping tunnel if they were to proceed. It seemed to him that this ballooned effect
around the end of the gallery must have been caused by a constant and violent upblasting
of superheated steam issuing from the mouth of this steeply-sloping tube. The pressure
must have been really enormous!
Drew decided it was time for a pause and a think. “What do you reckon, Erb, old
son?” he asked Errol. “Do we carry on down this new tunnel a bit further right now, or do
we go back, contact Bob and get some more gear sent down, then check it out a bit
further? Or, alternatively, do we wait till we have old Din-Dins with us? He’ll be here in
two days’ time… or had you forgotten?”
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Errol hadn’t forgotten. He’d been worrying about the fuel situation for the chopper
precisely because of having to go to pick up the Professor in Brisbane. But now that
problem was largely solved, he’d ceased worrying. But the idea of having to wait another
couple of days – probably another week – to see what lay down the tunnel was more than
he could stand. “No! The hell with it! Let’s go a bit further while we have the chance,
Drew!” he said. “We might have a heap more to tell old Din-Dins when he arrives!”
Drew looked at his watch. It was close to noon. “OK!” he said, “Spoken like a true
adventurer! We’ll nip back to the shaft and get Bob to drop us a few extras down – and
maybe some eats, too! Then we’ll have a lash at this next bit! We still have around three
or four hours left yet….”
“Yeah! Including at least one of those goddamn hours climbing back out of here!”
groaned Errol, unhappy at the prospect.
But Drew just smiled at him. “Forgotten something else, haven’t you!” And when
Errol peered at him with a puzzled face, Drew said “Why d’you think we brought the block
and tackle, you idiot! Bob and Jimmy should be able to haul us up like corks out of a
bloody bottle!” He shook his head pityingly at Errol and grinned.
“Let’s get a bite of lunch then come back to this afterwards.” he said, heading back
along the bright orange line of the tape, with a now-ravenous Errol close behind.
Joan had prepared a packed lunch of bully-beef “sammos” (or sandwiches) for
them all before they had left the homestead. So they had Bob lower some down the
fumarole shaft in a canvas bag on a spare line, together with a flask of hot coffee and
Drew’s compass, a note pad and pen and another roll of the orange tape. Drew had called
for these over the intercom, and he had also asked Bob to check the bearing of the hole in
relation to the volcano crater. He was now able to verify his guess as correct, in that the
sloping shaft they’d discovered actually did dive down into the deeper reaches below of
the volcano.
They could only hope now that they didn’t eventually run into the solid lava plug
that must have been left after it had ceased to erupt! However, the curious draught of air
seemed to indicate that there had to be an ongoing passage or chamber further on.
As they sat beneath the shaft eating and drinking, Drew quizzed Bob over the inter-
com how things were going up top.
“Aw, not too bad, Drew,” replied Bob, “apart from the bloody heat, flies, and the
waitin’ around. Otherwise, we’re havin’ a bloody ripper time of it up here!” His bored
irony came through loud and clear. “I should’ve brought my radio and the racing-pages!
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Jimmy’s OK, he’s takin’ a nice kip now! Only wish I could, mate!”
“Don’t even think about it!” returned Drew. “If we get into any strife we need
somebody to be wide awake and on the ball up there! Have you rigged up the block and
tackle yet, Bob - just in case we need to get out of here in a bloody hurry?”
“All fixed, son!” Bob replied. “We might be bored out of our skulls, mate, but we’re
not bludging up here!” Then he corrected himself. “Well, I’m not anyhow!”
Then, Drew heard Jimmy faintly remonstrating in the background, and Bob’s muffled
“hand-over-mouthpiece” profane response to his protest. Bob must have removed his
covering hand as his voice came back clearly again. “By Cripes! Jimmy sleeps with one
eye an’ both his bloody ears wide open! Didn’t half go off at me just then! Reckons I
called him a bludger!” He laughed so loudly down the phone that Drew had to quickly
hold his receiver away from his ear. “Anyhow, son. What’s the story? Is there a way
through down there? What’s it like – bloody dark, I suppose?”
Drew quickly filled him in on what they’d found and that they wanted to check this
new tunnel a bit further before they came up to the surface again.
“OK,” said Bob. “But don’t do anything silly, will you? And don’t forget to come up in
plenty of time for us to get back to Glengarry! I dunno if Errol can fly a chopper after
dark!”
By this time, Errol had already put his own ear close to Drew’s receiver, and had
listened in on most of the exchange. He grinned and yelled down Drew’s mouthpiece,
“Oh yes, I have, buddy! And I’ve got a goddamn license and certificate to prove it, too!
Unlike some moonlighting pilots I could name!”
Bob’s good-natured laughter rang tinnily back. “well, get back up here before dark,
or you’ll be a bloody moonlightin’ pilot yourself, mate! Over and Out!” Then he clicked off
his receiver.
“Thank God, all that’s over!” sighed Drew. “I thought we were going to spend the
afternoon in idle chitchat – instead of getting back to the job at hand!”
He glanced at his watch in the light of his helmet lamps. “Nearly one o’clock –
hmmm! We need to be up top by, say, around four-thirty, tops. So we’ve got three hours
or so to check out a bit more of that sloping passage. Anyhow, if you’ve finished gorging
yourself on those bully sandwiches, I vote we get going!” And with that, he picked up his
compass and a coiled safety-line he’d asked Bob to release down the shaft, and they both
set off toward the pit, with Errol bringing up the new roll of fluorescent tape.
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Before they entered the mouth of the sloping tunnel, Drew hitched the safely-line
very securely around a solid knob of stone that protruded from the chamber wall. Then,
after sliding it though the rappelling friction-racks on his and Errol’s body harnesses, he
threw the rest of the coil down the steeply slanting, gaping black maw before them. At
first, the descent was fairly hair-raising as the slope seemed to become more marked as
they proceeded, but after a few minutes, they got used to the acute floor angle and the
going became easier.
To some extent, the stiffish breeze blowing into their faces, helped them to feel
more secure, even if only psychologically. But they were still greatly puzzled as to its
origin. However, the mental stress of concentration on what they were doing, and the
difficulty of maintaining a firm footing forbade them any unnecessary talk.
They had traveled beyond the end of the first roll of tape – which Errol was still
unrolling behind them, and which he had paused to connect to the beginning of the new
roll – when Drew, who was in the lead, suddenly came to a dead stop. “WHOA!” he cried
hoarsely. Backing into Errol. “There’s a sheer bloody drop ahead of us, and I can’t see a
damn thing with these bloody feeble headlamps! For God’s sake, don’t come any further,
mate! We’ll have to get a far more powerful torch before we try going on!” He paused for
a moment while he recovered his mental poise. Then he told Errol he’d almost repeated
the same trick he’d done climbing down the vent – by planting his foot down on nothing
but thin air!
“My flaming oath!” he gasped. “Talk about “Watch that First Step – It’s a bloody
Doozy!” I only just realized in the nick of time, and pulled my foot back, other wise…!” He
left Errol to imagine for himself what might have followed.
However, Errol wasn’t quite so easily put off. “Listen, Drew,” he said. “I got an idea!
I want you to lie flat on the floor beside the wall there, and jam your right boot into a
crevice if you can, and your right hand, too if you can find a handgrip. I just wanna try
something.”
Drew stared at him as if he’d gone mad.
“Trust me!” said Errol with more confidence than he really felt. Then when Drew
had reluctantly done as he asked, and got himself firmly set. Errol asked him to feed
back a couple of yards of spare rope through his harness-rack. The rest, of course, still
dangled down over the unseen brink just ahead of them. Errol now having some spare
rope-space for free movement, then spread-eagled himself face down upon the chilly
sloping stone floor, and asked Drew to grab a firm hold of his right ankle.
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“What the hell are you trying to do, you mad bastard!” cried Drew, in a voice hoarse
with stress, as Errol began to inch himself forward using his knees and elbows. “Slide
headfirst over the bloody edge?” but Errol said nothing. His questing hands found a
sharp edge of rock and he very carefully eased himself forward until his head protruded
over the edge and he was able to look down, with the helmet lamps shedding their light
below him. He stared down for a while as his eyes adapted to the fairly pallid light cast by
the lamps. Then he sighed loudly, and Drew could feel through Errol’s ankle that he was
shuddering uncontrollably.
“What is it, mate?” he cried, his imagination running riot.. “What can you see down
there?” Whatever it was, it had surely put the wind right up poor old Errol!
Then Errol turned his face sideways in order to look back over his shoulder at Drew.
It was then that Drew realized that Errol wasn’t shuddering with fear or terror – he was
shaking with silent laughter! His face was one big red grin.
“What the hell’s got into you, cobber!” Drew yelled, craning his face forward, from
his supine position, and thinking Errol was becoming hysterical. But after a second or two
of grinning back like a madman, Errol answered his startled friend.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” he asked, still stifling his laughter.
And when Drew irascibly told him to just give him the good news, he said: “Well, the good
news is that the precipice is only around three feet deep! The whole section must have
faulted sometime, and got displaced a little!”
Drew now pulled himself up into a sitting position. “Well, I’ll be blowed!” he gasped
in astonishment. “But what’s the bad news, Errol?” He was still unsure of the situation.
He waited for Errol to reveal the hidden snag.
Errol put him swiftly out of his misery. “The bad news, old buddy, is that we will
have to get going again, now!”
Drew stood up and looked down over the edge. Errol was right, of course, there had
been a fault slip and the tunnel floor although slightly crumpled for the first few yards,
continued on, a yard lower, into the blackness. Errol scrambled forward and dropped
down into the new section, clutching his reel of orange tape, and grinned up at Drew.
“Coming?” he asked.
But Drew paused for a reflective moment, looking down at his watch.. “You realize,
mate, ”he said, with a fiendish smile, “that we’re going to have to climb back up out of all
this again, in about an hours’ time? Otherwise, we’ll be testing out your night-flying
abilities - with Bob doing some of his renowned “back-seat driving” right behind you!”
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This remark had the desired sobering effect on Errol, and wiped the smug grin off his face
instantly. Drew had hit him right on his Achille’s Heel. The only thing that Errol really
feared was making a fool of himself!
Within twenty minutes or so, the “wind-tunnel” as Drew had christened it, debouched
suddenly into a great echoing chamber; a huge cavernous amphitheatre roofed with stygian
blackness, that magnified every sound they made by at least fifty times and threw it
deafeningly back at them. Their combined helmet-lamps could only penetrate a few
dozen feet in any direction, and the only clue they had to its vastness was the astounding
echoes that reverberated from all sides when ever they made the slightest sound. It was
clearly the end of the road, for them, as even another dozen steps would have left them
completely lost. Errol also pointed out to Drew that their second two-hundred yards of
tape was almost run out.
“I guess this is the end of the trail for us, pardner!” he quipped in a creditable John
Wayne Texan accent. “Ah reckon it’s time fer us to mosey on back to the ol’ corral!” Drew
nodded dully. The rest would have to wait till they returned, this time with the Professor
– hopefully. As they began the return journey, he remarked to Errol that he hoped old
Din-Dins hadn’t been overeating since they’d last seen him. The shaft should just about
accommodate him as they remembered him, but any increase in girth would rule him out
of the event altogether!
Errol just beat Drew to his next thought – the need for a far better light source.
Maybe they’d have to bring a portable generator and a floodlight with a very long cable!
Maybe two or three miles might see them on their way! It occurred to Drew that what
they really needed was a team of bloody Sherpas to lug all the necessary gear down after
them. One thing was blindingly clear. Errol remarked that they definitely had to extend
their team to at least a dozen people – for starters - with relay-stations all along the way,
so that fresh supplies could be sent on down the line.
They soon came to the fault step, but negotiated it with relatively surprising ease.
Drew felt ashamed of his fit of the heeby-jeebies at this point earlier, but, he supposed, it
was all part of the learning-curve. The climb up the sloping section of the wind-tunnel
was quite fatiguing, and they resolved to make sure they brought plenty of candy-bars
with them next time! It was surprising how fast one used up a ton of energy! Also they
were both extremely cold. Something else worth remembering!
It was getting close to four in the afternoon by the time they got back to the bottom
of the vent-pipe, and Drew wasted no time calling Bob on the intercom to tell him that
they were back, and to get ready to haul them up. Bob was naturally delighted to hear
from him and told him everything was all set.
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Errol was the first to ascend. Drew tied the dangling rope to his harness with a
secure knot and then told Bob over the intercom to haul away. The rope tightened and
Errol slowly began to ascend into the rock chimney. Soon, drew could hear him exchang-
ing shouted pleasantries with Bob and Jimmy as he vanished up the tube. It seemed only
a matter of minutes before the end of the rope, weighted with a small lump of rock came
rattling down again. And Drew wasted little time attaching the rope to his own harness.
Then he called Bob to haul away, and soon found himself being drawn up off his feet,
spinning slightly.
As he spun slowly around, on the rope, and before his head entered the chimney,
he though he saw something flitting briefly across the passage – just at the limit of the
dimming light of his electric head-lamp. What the hell was that? He thought. It must
have been a shadow caused by his revolving lamp - or maybe an animal of some kind?
Then he was up inside the vent tube and whatever he’s seen – or thought he’d seen – was
history. His focus now was getting up out of this benighted place, and back into God’s
good fresh, warm air!
Within minutes, he was rising from the hole like Dracula from the grave, and Bob
grabbed him by the harness to pull him on to terra firma. By the time Drew had unfas-
tened the rope, Errol was already peeling off his Lycra wetsuit, over by the tent, and
Jimmy was starting to unshackle the block and tackle. The searing heat of the late
afternoon hit Drew like a physical blow as he began to divest himself of his own wetsuit.
He smiled to himself wryly. Only a few minutes ago they’d both been complaining about
the dank chill of the tunnels! As he was rolling up the wetsuit, Bob came over and asked
him how it had all gone. “I’ll tell you later, mate!” said Drew, “After we’ve had some
decent tucker and a nice cold beer!”
CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 10 CHAPTER 10
When they all awoke the next morning, the sky was a little cloudy, and, although it
didn’t appear to be threatening any immediate rain, at least it made the temperature
much more bearable outside. The homestead had long ago been air-conditioned by a
fine ducting system in the ceiling for the benefit of Alasdair, who had been accustomed to
such luxuriant comforts in his Home and office in Sydney.
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Whilst he‘d been as hardy as the next man when it came to bearing up to the
tropical heat of Central Queensland, Alasdair had seen no reason to tolerate the sweaty
discomfort most locals philosophically accepted as part of their lot as outback dwellers,
when he managed to escape from his onerous duties. Sitting manacled to his plush
leather-topped desk by an incessantly-ringing telephone, in his seventeenth floor luxuri-
ously-appointed “prison-cell” office, wasn’t the sinecure many ordinary workers believed it
to be.
Not that Bob and Joan had raised the slightest objection when a couple of refrigera-
tion engineers arrived from Brisbane to install the system. Though Bob had often
claimed in the past that air-conditioning was strictly for “weak city poofters”, he now
wondered how the hell they’d ever survived without it! Drew was constantly being
roared at by Joan for sleeping with his bedroom window wide open at night – even though
it was Clanranald Corporation who footed the power-bill. She was just naturally thrifty,
being born of an old Queensland farming family who’d usually barely scraped by, living
from one long-awaited wool or livestock cheque to another.
Drew arose early, and, after a quick shower, he brewed himself a cup of strong
coffee and went out onto the verandah clad only in his jeans, to sit and watch the muted
sunrise behind the gold-rimmed clouds. The cool wind blew in fresh off the desert
country, and he enjoyed its chill caress as it fanned over his bronzed torso. This was the
time of day that he liked to sit back and think. After a deep and dreamless sleep, his mind
was renewed and sharpened. He mentally reviewed all the planned activities of the day
ahead.
It was now nearly five a.m. and Errol, who had already risen, showered and had a
light breakfast, was getting ready to fly the chopper down to Brisbane and collect the
Professor, so he’d be away for most of the day. Din-Din’s plane got in at around nine a.m.,
so, allowing for Customs and so forth, they would be heading back around eleven. Always
hoping, of course, that the old greedy-guts didn’t want a proper, full Scottish breakfast
before leaving! He’d no doubt have a few choice words to say about the in-flight meals!
At least he’d be here in heaps of time for the evening meal at around five p.m.!
Their trip back from Undara the previous evening had been much faster than the
flight out. They’d decided to leave most of their heavier gear at the site, inside the
zipped-up tent. There was very little chance of anyone stealing anything, as the area was
totally deserted at night, being so far away from the Tourist Center. They hadn’t needed
to fill up the chopper’s tank, as Errol would do that at Longreach Airport on his way down
to Brisbane. It had certainly been a very promising day yesterday, and they looked
forward with eagerness to hear the Professor’s input as to what might or might not lie
beneath the volcano. It certainly wasn’t blocked solid with solidified lava – which was one
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of the things that had rather worried them previously.
Errol and he had discussed this at length last evening and had decided that some-
how, the main body of solidified lave had fallen away from the vent plug, in some much
later violent convulsion of the earth. They’d figured out that this may well have opened up
many other clefts and shafts that could conceivable open up the way far down beneath
the volcano.
They had also further contemplated the need for “more hands to the pumps” by way
of some sort of relay-team which could follow then up with supplies, rappelling ropes, and
so forth, as well as food, fresh batteries, and most important of all, moral support!
In view of this, and the fact that they already had a fairly easy access well under the
edge of the dormant volcano (“dormant” because no volcano can ever genuinely be said
to be extinct!). They were now just about ready to call the two girls into the expedition.
They would discuss that with dear old Din-Dins this very evening - if he wasn’t too jet-
lagged!
Errol had said: “We mustn’t expect the poor old guy to be all full of bounce and zing,
Drew! He’ll have had a fairly grueling trip for a guy of his advanced years, remember!”
Drew did remember! It had taken days for his brain to catch up with him, and his “body-
clock” had been out of whack for almost a week when he himself had returned from
Scotland. However, he also realized for the first time that the Professor, at fifty, wasn’t
all that much older than Bob – and Bob still had plenty of life and stamina!
As he sat mulling these things over, he heard the fly-screen door creak open and
slam shut again as Errol issued forth looking very sharp in a nice clean shirt and slacks,
with snow white tennis shoes! He even wore a rather smart gold and white necktie!
Drew gave him a mock wolf-whistle. “Wowee!” he shouted. “Sure you’re not picking up
some nice little dolly-bird in Longreach, mate? What’s with all the flash-clobber? Want to
make a big impression with the old Prof, I suppose, eh? Teacher’s bloody Pet – as always!”
Errol just grinned back, and pulled down his up-tilted sunglasses, making his white flash-
ing teeth look even whiter.
“Ok! Buddy! So I like to look a tad neat occasionally? Wouldn’t do you any harm
once in a while, Bro’, instead of sitting there half buck-naked – and in bare feet, too! I can
smell ‘em from here! Phewww! ” Then as Drew began to remonstrate, he added : “Yeah!
I heard you running the shower, buddy….but were you under it?”
Drew looked around for something to throw, but Errol was already darting off to-
ward the waiting helicopter, laughing as he went. “See you tomorrow, maybe, Drew!” he
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called back mockingly over his shoulder, with a cheery wave of his hand “I mustn’t be late
getting down to Longreach - or she’ll think I stood her up! Bye!”
Drew leaned on the verandah rail watching as Errol started the engine and the
rotors began slowly whirling and threshing, steadily picking up revolutions as Errol checked
out and adjusted the controls. Then with another quick wave of the hand and a big final
“Thumbs-Up”, he gunned the engine to full pitch, and it quickly rose up into the air.
As Drew watched, the helicopter began swooping forward, just as Joan came out of
the house with the Charlie and his two sisters, to wave Errol a belated “Hooroo!”. “He’s
off, then?” she said worriedly. “Oh! I do hope he’ll be careful, Drew! He seemed a bit too
excited to me, to go flying off in that thing!”
“You don’t need to worry about old Errol, Mum.” said Drew. “He’s not lacking in
brains - or blooming guts, either…!” He nearly blurted out to her then about their
escapade with the sudden tunnel drop-off, the day before, but he stopped himself in the
nick of time. Instead he wisely decided that what doting mothers – even proxy ones -
didn’t know, they wouldn’t fret about. His Mum had already taken Errol fondly under her
matronly wing as one of her own little brood of chicks – albeit another rather oversize
one!
As the chopper dwindled in size and noise toward the southeast, Drew followed
them all indoors, and sat to the table whilst Joan prepared his breakfast. Well, Mum, ”he
said, conversationally, “you’ll have another guest to feed tonight, so I hope you’ve stocked
up big on the haggis, kippers and porridge! He’s a Scotsman, you know, and they really
love their tucker!”
“Och, Aye!” chimed in Bob’s voice suddenly, as he stepped in through the back
doorway, after checking up on the horses, and having just caught the tail-end of the
conversation. “An’ that reminds me! I’d better hide me bottle of bloody “Glen Fiddich”!
Them bloody Scotchmen love their wee bloody dram, too!”
“Yes! And not only Scotsmen, either!” put in Joan, pointing a critical fry pan spatula
at Bob’s carefully nurtured little potbelly. “You didn’t get that beer-gut from drinking cups
of tea, love!” this aroused great merriment from their youngsters.
Then she continued weaving her amazing spell of kitchen-magic, filling the large
kitchen with the delicious aroma of sausages, bacon and eggs, plus fried bubble and
squeak. They were soon all far too deeply engaged in tucking away a magnificent break-
fast to waste a second of the mealtime in idle chatter.
After the meal, Drew went into his room and switched on his computer. There was
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mail. Apart from the daily digests of messages on his two principal group lists, there were
messages from their female friends, Marianne and Hazel.
Both of them expressing delight at the prospect of joining Errol and himself on the
proposed expedition. “Had they done a recce yet of the tube? If so, did the route look
promising?” asked Marianne. “Please keep in close touch, and as soon as he had any
indication that it might be negotiable for any distance underground. ‘Please, PLEASE, let
her know, and she’d be on the next available flight out of Vancouver!’
She’d been in touch with Hazel, regarding his earlier message and they were both
prepared to sleep in a barn if need be, just as long as they could be “in on the ground
floor!” with the expedition. This was just what Drew had been hoping for, especially after
his discussion with Errol the previous night.
Hazel’s message was almost a carbon-copy of Marianne’s. She was equally, if not
even more, keen to get in among the action, and also had no reservations about where
she was accommodated, just as long as Drew and Errol were dinkum about going right
through with the project! She had all the experience necessary in caving and climbing, so
she was ready at the drop of a hat.
She’d already made a few inquiries regarding flights to Brisbane, which fortunately
at this early part of the season, were fairly lightly booked. She was patiently awaiting the
call, and had organized with her folks to take the time off. In any case, they were used
to her globe-trotting, so a little hop across the Tasman wasn’t any worry to them. Espe-
cially since she’d taught them to use her computer, and could email them anytime and
they her. She’d concluded her message with: “Ready when you are, fellers - Just say the
word! Excitedly yours, Hazel”
Drew was like a dog with two tails that they were so enthusiastic, and he had to
struggle hard with himself not to reply at once telling them to grab the next available
flight. But he must send them some sort of acknowledgment! Then an idea struck him,
one that would get the show on the road anyhow, but allow Errol and himself a bit of time
to get the Professor settled in before they arrived.
He first emailed Hazel with the suggestion that he would book an airline flight for
Marianne from Vancouver to Auckland, and that she should contact Marianne regarding
her ETA there, and let her stay with her for a couple of days until he sent for them both
to fly over together from New Zealand. That way, they would both be close to hand, and
would also have a little time to get personally acquainted. Also, it would make enor-
mously better logistical sense if he could bring them both up to Longreach in one single
trip from Brisbane, via a local Queensland bush airline! Then he emailed Marianne with
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a basically similar message, telling her to mail him straight back with the flight-details
from Vancouver to Auckland so he could contact the airline’s branch in Brisbane and pay
for her fare by AmEx.
He felt rather pleased with himself that he’d thought of this arrangement, and wasted
no time sending off the replies. After this, he sat and racked his brains for anything else
he might have overlooked. There were so many bits and pieces he’d thought of while
they’d been underground. The need for more lightweight rope, for a start - plus as many
AA torch-batteries as they could carry upon their persons! Good God! They would need
to tote thousands of them on a journey such as they were contemplating! How else could
they get supplies of the smaller items like batteries, candy-bars, maybe even matches and
candles as a back-up lighting system?
Drew had a sudden blinding flash of inspiration! How about if they used a very
flexible tube – something like a bicycle inner tube, but miles and miles long - and let their
back-up party simply slide such small objects down to them as needed! After all, it would
all be basically downhill, so it should work quite easily by pure gravity alone! It would take
a lot of dead weight off their backs. But the only problem was where the hell would one
get hold of such a length of flexible tubing? Sections of air-hose from a deep-sea diving
supply outfit? Maybe the support group could joint it on in sections as they descended
steadily further?
Then it occurred to him that such flexible lightweight hose would surely also be used
in mines for air-supply and water. ‘That’s it!’ he thought. ‘I’ll give Doug Edwards a yell!
After all, he runs half a dozen assorted coal and mineral mines!’
He sat there for a few minutes more pondering the idea, his mind seething with
further elaboration’s on it. What about the level areas where the tube would just lie flat?
How could you keep things moving along then? Maybe a deep-sea diver’s compressed
air-pump at the input-end, and some way of tightly encapsulating the items - like a bullet
in a rifle-barrel - for the air to push them along. ‘Yeah! That’s the answer, Drew old son!’
he thought, brightly, ‘Way to bloody go!’ But then it occurred to him that there was the
possibility of the pipe getting trapped around a corner, or - worse still – under a minor rock
fall! He sat for half an hour furiously thinking in this seesaw fashion, until he finally
sprang to his feet shaking his head vigorously, as if ridding himself of some pestering fly.
“Come on, Drew, mate, get a bloody grip!” He must have shouted this last remark out
loud, for Joan poked her worried face around his door and asked him if he was all right.
“Yeah, no worries, Mum! I was just talking things over with myself! ” He grinned at
her with a cheery humour he didn’t really feel.
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“Hmmmmm!” she said shaking her head dubiously, “They lock people away for that,
you know!” Then she went on, “I was just coming to shout you for your lunch – maybe
you’d be better off talking to Bob than yourself!”
After a pleasant and plentiful lunch, plus a cheerful yarn with Bob and Joan, Drew
decided to go for a ride to loosen up his mind and shake down the meal. He had no
particular objective in mind so he gave Daemon his head. Once again, his father’s mount
took him at a brisk canter straight out to the jagged outcrop where the caves lay. It was as
if the horse was obeying some inner command. Once again. Drew dismounted and went
for a stroll around the lowering red rocks. Somehow, he found himself standing staring
down that same dark passage that he and Errol had so recently explored. But without a
torch, he had no intention of setting foot inside it. As he stared in curious fascination at the
black gap before him, he noticed something unusual. He could faintly discern a darkish
object lying just within the entrance, upon the cave floor. With its dark protrusions, it
looked at once strangely familiar but outlandish. He edged down the narrow gap in the
rocks to get a closer look. Then as he stuck his head inside the gloomy portal, he
suddenly realized what it was.
It was a steer’s head! He drew back in cold dread with a sharp intake of breath, as
a small cloud of blowflies arose from the head’s eyeless sockets and out of its gaping,
tongueless mouth! There was no sign of its body, nor had the head been neatly severed
by some cattle-duffer. Instead, there was a ragged fringe of chewed hide and a tangle of
torn windpipe and sinews where its neck should have been. As far as he could tell, the
poor creature’s head had been literally torn off its body!
As his horrified eyes adjusted better to the gloom within the cave entrance, he was
able to see a dark stain in the sand, trailing backwards into the black depths. It was
blood, and it meant that the animal had somehow been dragged backwards into the cave
by something large and powerful. He had automatically thought of dingoes, but he had
never seen any dingoes with the sort of brute force that could pull a live steer backward
into a hole and literally tear its head off its body!
But he had heard wild tales bandied around among some of the drunks in the
Winton pub, claiming that there were big cats – panthers or leopards or something -
roaming the outback. They were said to be the descendants of “big cats” that had es-
caped from a large lion-park near Brisbane, years before. Bob had dismissed this as a
ridiculous furphy, but Drew saw no reason why such a thing couldn’t actually have hap-
pened.
Australia was fast becoming overrun with a whole array of assorted alien wildlife –
such as wild pigs, water-buffaloes, goats, camels, and llamas – not to mention packs of
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now-feral dogs, and house-cats that had been dumped and gone wild. They were all
playing havoc with the natural native wildlife of Australia, which, apart from the odd dingo
or two, had virtually no natural predators. Other than Man, of course! The native aborigi-
nes only killed what they needed to eat to survive. But it was the big “macho” city-bred
white Australian bully-boys, out for a bit of weekend fun with rifles and booze, in their
four-wheel drives equipped with blinding searchlights, who were the greatest human
menace to the gentle and harmless native fauna of the outback.
However, Drew dismissed all these flitting thoughts from his mind, and peered fur-
ther into the cavern’s interior. Now his eyes had fully adjusted, he could see the tracks of
blood trailing away into the darkness, and here and there he could just discern lumps and
gobbets of viscera and bloody hide, lying like trail-markers, leading back into the stygian
gloom.
Obviously, whatever had killed the steer must right now be crouching over its re-
mains back in there – probably watching him right then, as he stood silhouetted against
the sunlit sky! He hastily reversed out of the narrow defile, half-expecting to hear a
padding of paws and a ferocious roar as the big cat leapt up towards his unprotected back!
Within seconds he was back at the cave where Daemon awaited him. The big horse
at once seemed to sense his fear, and perhaps even scented the bloody aroma of the
slaughtered steer about him, for he had a difficult job wrangling with the big rearing
stallion. But he finally managed to get up into the saddle and, without further ado, set
Daemon off at a fast gallop homeward. At a safe distance, he risked a glance backwards,
but there was nothing following them. He slowed Daemon to a gentle trot and pondered
heavily upon what he had just seen, and how he should report this frightful business to
Bob.
As he rode back toward the homestead, Drew experienced a sudden, unbidden
mental flashback – no doubt generated by this recent gruesome discovery and its associ-
ated thoughts and fears – of that strange “something” which he had caught such a fleet-
ing glimpse as Bob and Jimmy hauled him up the fumarole. It now came up on the
monitor of inner eye as a blurred image. A minute file on the hard-drive of his mind,
clicked upon by some random thought. Not of anything very clear or distinct, but of
something vaguely pallid and humanoid in form, caught by his moving helmet lamp-beam
flitting as swiftly as thought itself between the gloomy rocks of the underground gallery!
He shrugged himself free of these dark thoughts, and looked up forward toward the
distant humped shape of the homestead nestled among its huge fig trees. It was still a
couple of miles away, but he could just make out the flickering glint of a tiny object moving
in the sky above it. Was it an eagle, hovering in search of a rabbit or rat? He stopped
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Daemon in his tracks and leaned forward to stare more closely. No, by Jingo! It was the
chopper! Errol had just returned from Brisbane with his long-awaited cargo! The dear
old Professor had finally arrived!
“GIDDAPP, you lazy bastard!” he yelled sharply at Daemon, and the great stallion
reared up on his hind legs, whinnied as if protesting at the unwarranted insult, then shot
away with him at a thundering gallop toward Glengarry.
Within minutes, Drew had rounded the big shed into the home yard, where the
chopper sat, its rotors still slowly winding down. A knot of people were mounting the
steps to the back verandah, and amid them, he saw the large, bulky figure he had known
so well back in Edinburgh.
Errol glancing back just as Drew rode in and grabbed the Professor’s arm. The
Professor turned his great shaggy head, and seeing Drew, his bespectacled and bearded
features lit up in a brilliant beaming smile.
Drew barely had time to dismount from Daemon before the professor had dropped
his Qantas airline bag, and hurried back down the steps to meet him. Errol followed him
grinning from ear to ear, and taking the reins from Drew, led Daemon away to the big
shed.
“Och, Andrew, mah bonnie wee laddie!” cried the delighted scholar, with his twin-
kling blue eyes dewed with tears of joy. “Man! Ye ‘re lookin’ verra weel – and ye seem to
have filled oot, an’ all! Just look at the size of ye! You and yon Harold are like twa peas in
a pod – and giants, tae boot!” He grabbed Drew in a lung-crushing bear hug, for the
professor was no midget himself. Nor was he exactly a lightweight either. Then he held
Drew by the shoulders away from himself at arm’s length. “Man! Ye Canna ken the guid
it does mah old hart tae see ye again! And a Canna tell ye just how Ah’m indebted tae ye
for fetchin’ a crankie auld sod such as mahself on such a splaindid hooliday!”
Drew, who was totally bowled over by the sheer enthusiasm of the professor’s over-
whelming greeting, grinned delightedly and tried to pooh-pooh his generosity in bringing
old Did-Dins out for a hopefully-protracted overseas trip. “It’s really terrific to see you
again, sir!” he smiled, not entirely untearful himself. “and might I say that you’re looking
very well yourself, after such a long, wearying flight!” Then he laughed aloud. “But you
have to remember, sir, that you brought it all on yourself, by rubbishing Errol and I about
looking for the Inner Earth!”
The professor grinned back at him craftily. “Weel, now, Andrew! Ah dinna feel sae
bad after yonder grand aeroplane ride! It was a sheer plaisure and a verra weelcome rest
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after a bluidy haird tairm and Ah slept like a wee babby most of the time! This last lot o’
graduates were nae easier than ye’r ain gaggle of idiots! Aye! An’ there was a fair
sprinklin’of “Hollow Airth” loons among them, too! Ah dinna know if mebbe ah shouldna
have include a series of laictures on the subjaict, maself, after all that Ah’ve lairnt from
fellers such as ye’rself and yon Harold!”
Drew could not resist correcting the dear old fellow. “Errol, sir, “Errol” – not “Harold”!”
he said with a saintly smile.
Din-Dins stared at him incredulously. “D’ye mean as in “Errol Flynn?”” he asked,
flabbergasted. “Weel, Ah’ll be damned! An’ here’s mahsailf been callin’ Harold “Harold”
all these bluidy years! Ah’ll have tae apologize tae him! Where in the name o’ Thunder is
Harold, anyhoo? He was here ainly a wee moment ago….”
Drew threw out his open hands sideways in surrender. The old codger was totally
incorrigible. It looked like Errol was going to remain “Harold” for the duration! “He’ll be
with us in a moment. He’s just seeing to my horse for me! But let’s get up to the house,
sir, instead of frying out here in the sun!”
The professor allowed himself to be led up the verandah steps, then he paused for
a moment, and grasping Drew by a bulging brown bicep, he said: “ Och, aye! And that
reminds me! Whilst we’re on the subjaict o’names – mah own name is “Chairles” as in the
Bonnie Prince! Ah’d be obleeged tae ye if ye’d drop the “Sair” if ye don’t mind, Andrew,
Ah’m no ye’r tutor any more! The same applies tae Harold – er – “Errol”! Ah’ve taught ye
both all Ah know, an’ still ye know naithing!” Then he laughed uproariously at his own pet
joke.
At that point in the proceedings, Errol came bounding up the steps behind them.
“Sorry, about that Professor!” he grinned. Then to Drew, he added “What’s going down,
bro’? Did I just miss something funny?”
Drew gave him a long keen look and rolled up his eyes in mock despair.
Indoors, Joan and Bob welcomed the professor into their home, and then took him
off to the bedroom he’d been allocated, whilst Drew and Errol followed carrying his collec-
tion of suitcases from the helicopter. “good job I didn’t come with you, mate!” said Drew,
soto voce, “There wouldn’t have been any bloody room for me with this lot!” Errol
nodded his agreement. He’d had the unenviable task of lugging it all over on a trolley to
where the chopper had been parked on the Helipad at Brisbane Airport.
Once ensconced in his room, after being shown the location of the bathroom en
route, the professor was left to unpack his vast array of gear and freshen up after his long
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trip. The others returned to the big kitchen where Joan had prepared the afternoon
“Smoko”, which, in honor of their august guest, was today more of a lavish banquet.
“Smoked salmon sammos?” gasped Bob, in astonishment. “Hey, Joan, he’s only a
bloody schoolmaster you know – not bloody Royalty!”
But Joan simply ignored her husband and his rough peasant-like attitude. She
herself had been brought up to a far more civilized station in life and had learned all the
rules of correct etiquette in a boarding school “For the Daughters of Country Gentlefolk”
somewhere close to Toowoomba in the southeast of the state. At least until her parents
fell upon hard times and she had to go home and help out on their farm.
It was about twenty minutes later that the great man appeared in the doorway,
freshly showered, and clad in a large yellow tee-shirt embellished with a rampant Scottish
lion, blue walk-shorts and navy-blue plimsolls over white ankle socks. As he appeared,
the cool conditioned air became suddenly redolent with a combination of roll-on deodor-
ant, hair-shampoo and spray-on insect-repellent.
“Ah thought ah’d better wear the appropriate garb for my fairst encounter wi’ the
tropics!” he greeted them all affably. “I understood frae ye’r messages, Drew, that mah
tweeds wouldna do in this heat! So Ah’ve only braucht some light clothing!”
Drew, Joan and Bob gaped at this colourful apparition in patent disbelief as he
walked into the room. He resembled a walking carnival. But Errol simply heaved a great
sigh. He was wondering what else was in the old guy’s luggage, if he’d only brought
summery clothes. The cases had weighed a ton!
Joan invited Din-Dins to sit down and have a cup of tea and a bite to eat. “You must
be famished after that long flight, Professor!” she said sympathetically. “I hope they gave
you something to eat on the way?”
“Och, Aye! They kept on waking me up aboot every quarter hour a’ the way over, wi’
wee trays o’ twinkie bairn’s food, and piddlin’ drinks of fruit-juice! Ah was fair stairvin’ tae
deith by the time we got tae Brisbane, an’ that’s the truith, ma’am! Thank God, yon wee
mannie,” here he indicated Errol, who sat with his face buried in his hands, and his shoul-
ders visibly shaking, “had the guid sense tae tak me for a decent meal before we left the
airport! Else, Ah wouldna be here tae tell the tale!”
All the time the professor was holding forth about the airline-food, he was industri-
ously demolishing a great plateful of smoked-salmon sandwiches, alternating each one
with a gulp of scalding tea from Bob’s very own favorite and sacrosanct pint- mug (which
he had picked up in error), as well as liberally showering his audience with moist bread
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crumbs. Even the children, who had been specially allowed to join them at the great
table, gazed in awestricken fascination at this great bearded eating-machine! To them he
was a red-faced ogre who spoke in a weirdly-outlandish accent, and accompanied every
word with a wildly-sweeping gesture of his great hairy hands. Drew and Errol were now
steadily losing the fight to control their mirth, particularly at the thunderous frown that
creased Bob’s brow every time Din-Dins took another noisy slurp from his beloved mug!
Joan left the table to hurriedly cut some more smoked-salmon sandwiches. Her face was
a veritable picture of frozen horror at the sheer greed this alleged pillar of civilized wisdom
was displaying. The others had hardly eaten a thing!
Drew pushed back his chair and rose to his feet, muttering something about ‘helping
Mum with the tucker’. As he bent beside Joan to place the fresh sandwiches on a plate, he
murmured quietly in her ear: “Now you see why we call him “Din-Dins”, Mum! Eating’s his
favorite pastime!”
She looked up at him then, her previous frosty glare replaced with a roguish grin,
and whispered, “I do hope he’s not like this all the time! And he’s got Bob’s tea-mug, too!”
Drew who had a pacifying hand on her shoulder felt her body shaking with pent-up laugh-
ter. He glanced round at Errol who had managed to dummy up his expression like a
constipated owl as he stiffly watched Bob trying to yarn with the professor in his usual
easygoing way. “So waddaya reckon of Aussie, then, eh, from what you’ve seen of it so
far, mate ….” Bob was saying to the still-gormandizing don, his face a mask of stony
amazement.
Drew realized that he had to do something to rescue the situation.
“Hey, Errol!” he called, urgently pointing out through the kitchen window. “Some of
the hands are messing around the chopper…!” Then he headed for the back door with
Errol following rapidly on his heels. Once safely outside and around the corner of the
verandah, they leaned against the wall and burst into gales of laughter.
Errol was the first to recover his powers of coherent speech. “Holy Toledo!” he
gasped,” The old guy hasn’t changed one single iota! Didya see the way he was packing
away the grub! Wadding out his cheek-pouches like a starving chipmunk! He’s still the
same old Din-Dins, that’s for goddamn sure!” Tears of laughter rolled down his cheeks.
“Yeah!” choked Drew, between snorts of merriment. “And did you see old Bob tryin’
to keep a poker face while he watched all that bloody smoked salmon vanishing into the
gaping maw! Holy Hell! It was so bloody funny!” They both had to give way again to the
paroxysms of laughter they’d been bottling up.
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However, eventually they sobered up enough to ponder the problem of Din- Din’s
quite unwitting bad table manners. It couldn’t be allowed to continue or either Joan or
Bob would give the rough side of their tongues, and the touchy old professor would
probably be off like a shot on the next flight home. Drew finally came up with a reason-
able solution.
“Look” he said seriously. “Why don’t I get Joan to serve him his meals in his room –
you know – like giving him the “Royal” treatment? That way he won’t make such an
exhibition of himself or get up anyone’s noses? What d’you reckon, Erb?”
“Sounds fair enough to me!” said Errol. “After all he’s not going to be around the
homestead for long is he? Hopefully, he’ll be out at Undara with us underground in a day
or two, so the pressure will be your Mum. I know she doesn’t like bad mannered people,
and one can hardly describe Din-Dins as a brilliant socialite!”
Drew nodded his assent. “Yeah! You’re right, mate!” he agreed. “We’ll just have to
try and keep him out of Mum’s way, as much as possible while he’s around the homestead.
In the meantime I’ll have a quiet word with Bob! Don’t want any bloody domestic upheav-
als at this stage, do we?”
Just at that point, Bob appeared around the side of the house. “What happened,
fellers?” he asked. “Who was hangin’ around the chopper? I’ll…. ”
“It’s OK, Bob!” said Drew quickly. “We just had to get out of there for a minute or
two! We’d forgotten what a rough and ready old bird the Prof was at the table….Sorry
about all that, Bob! But now you know why we call him “Din-Dins”!”
Bob grinned good-naturedly. “Don’t worry about it, Drew! He just ended up spilling
his tea all over the bloody table and I left Joan giving him the bollocking off his bloody life!
He was practically crawlin’ on the bloody floor beggin’ her forgiveness…. An’ I had to
escape before I bloody cracked up laughing!” He gave them both a big grin. “He’s
certainly a bloody character an’ a half, all right! Still there’s somethin’ likeable about the
bastard – in spite of his poofy taste in clobber!”
They leaned there in a row for a minute or two, each smiling to himself, at the
professor’s disastrous first impression. Then Drew suddenly remembered the strange
incident of the steer’s head in the outcrop cave. He quickly told Bob and Errol the full
story, and would up airing his feelings regarding the “Big Cat” theory that was going the
rounds. “It was definitely a bloody weird situation!” he concluded, as they heard him out
in silence, “And to be quite honest, I felt pretty windy myself, when I thought what might
be lurking down there! So in the end I just shot through and left it strictly alone!”
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Bob stood scratching his chin and frowning in puzzlement. “Yair, I’ve heard that
same yarn meself, Drew. But I reckoned it was a load of garbage. Tell you what! I’ll get
some of the fellers together and go down there with torches an’ a couple of rifles… see
what’s goin’ on, right? You don’t need to come. You’d be better off up here talkin’ to your
professor mate! I reckon he’ll be needin’ a bit of moral support about now! No. Just leave
this to me, fellers….I’ll get to the bottom of it. It’s not the first bloody time we’ve had
stock slaughtered like this. Could just be feral dogs, you know!” Then he left them and
went to rustle up some of the men and a gun or two.
Back indoors, and feeling much more sober, the two friends went in search of the
Professor. As they passed his bedroom door they found him sitting gloomily on the edge
of his bed in a fit of depression. He reacted rather churlishly to their first approach by
getting up and standing looking out of the window with is back to them.
“If there’s one thing Ah canna stand, it’s a shrewish bluidy woman.” he muttered.
“All Ah did, was tae accidentally catch mah hand on the edge of mah cup, and that was it!
Ah’ve never benn scolded sae much or sae roondly since Ah was a wee bairn, an’ that’s a
bluidy fact! Drew, Ah ken that’s ye’r Mam oot there, but….”
“Not to worry, Professor!” put in Drew quickly, before the professor had a chance to
say something regrettable about Joan. “She was only treating you like all the rest of us!
We all get roared at if we do anything stupid… She’s just showing you that your already
part of the family in her own way, that’s all! Don’t worry about it! Even Errol’s had a few
prize rollockings since he came, haven’t you mate?” Here he winked heavily at Errol, who
hadn’t, and couldn’t do any wrong in her sight.
“Eh? Oh yeah! Right!” Errol replied hurriedly. “Happens all the goddamn time, old
Prof! But I guess that’s the Female of the Species for you! You just accept it as such and
move right along!” This seemed to mollify the professor, and at last he turned back
toward them with the well-remembered old flinty gleam in his eye.
“Aye, weel,” he said, with a sigh, “Ah suppose ye’r right, lads! Ah shouldna made
such a fool of maself, trying tae be ower familiar! Pairhaps we ought tae get doon to what
Ah’m here for, anyhow, concairning this wee tunnel ye descovaired? Did ye say it was a
fumarole, Andrew? Ah’ve never haird of one that was big enough for a man tae climb
intae - espaicially a pair of great hulking lummocks such as ye’rselves! Are ye sure it’s not
Alice’s rabbit-hole tae Wonderland that ye’ve stumbled across?”
Drew grinned and winked at Errol, who beamed happily back. This was the Dinwiddie
of old, whom they’d both come to respect and admire! Cynical, ebullient and full of witty,
barbed sarcasm!
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“Oh, aye! An’ that reminds me, the pair of ye!” added the professor, as an after-
thought.. “When A’h told tae call me “Charlie”, Ah meant it! After all, we’re no tutor an’
students, any more, are we? So Ah’d be greatly obliged if ye’d be a wee bit less formal wi’
me, in future. D’ye ken mah meaning?”
At once Errol stepped forward with an outstretched hand. “Be my pleasure, Prof –
er, sorry – er - Charlie!” Drew followed suit and did the same, then they all stood around
grinning like fools, in a red-faced silence, wondering what to say next.
Finally, it was Drew who broke it, by mentioning the two young women who were to
join them in their quest.
“Charlie” was a little taken aback by this. Being something of a misogynist, he was
very wary of intellectual females, despite the fact that he himself had been so instrumen-
tal in helping many of their gender to achieve their diplomas in geology and geophysics,
and to go out into the world as successful field researchers.
The fact that they were also “Hollow Earth” enthusiasts did little to dispel his un-
ease. However, since this was Andrew’s show, he would have to make the best of it all. In
any event, he was only here in an advisory capacity to help them with the geophysical
aspects of their undertaking – and, of course, as a fully-qualified witness to their success
or failure. (Of which, he felt sadly, the latter would be by far the likelier outcome!) Not
that he actually wanted them to fail!
Charlie Dinwiddie was one of those rare birds in the scientific community who was
always ready to accept any new and clearly-verifiable discoveries in his chosen field of
science, and to include them in his lectures forthwith. Despite his façade of mockery and
cynicism toward newly-conceived but unproven theories, he was nevertheless a dedicated
seeker after scientific truth.
He was painfully aware that most modern science was founded insecurely upon
hoary old theories. Theories which some so-called “scholars” had miraculously trans-
muted into rock-hard “facts” by the simple stratagem of reiterating them over and over
until they eventually took root in their own minds and blossomed forth into obvious “truths”.
It was this remarkable aspect of Professor Dinwiddie’s character that had so en-
deared him to them – and why he was now there with them, at the very start of their
great adventure of discovery. Alas, he little knew at that stage, exactly what he had let
himself in for by teaming up with Drew and Errol. Or to just what astounding adventures,
privations and horrors his office as their “Official Witness and Recorder” would eventually
carry him. Otherwise, he would have instantly fled homeward!
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They sat talking until around midday. Drew and Errol taking it in turns to fill in the
entire story of what had transpired thus far regarding their search and their inquiries.
They told Charlie of their discovery of a long chamber beneath the fumarole and of their
imagined “narrow squeak” with the sudden drop-away, where the tunnel had been bro-
ken by a fault, and of the large, echoing chamber into which it had led them. This
information seemed to fascinate Charlie, as he had always understood that all one was
likely to encounter underneath a volcano – however long extinct – would be a downward
continuation of its central solidified lava-plug.
This in itself was something he was keen to see for himself. He felt that it might
conceivably be that the fault had created a means of access for underground water to
filter into the volcano’s dead heart and begin its slow but steady, aeons-long work of
gouging out caverns and passages in the igneous basaltic and granitic rock of the plug. It
would be interesting indeed to see such an unusual sight!
He had once been delighted to see some excellent color-slides of an extinct volcano
that had been split completely in two by such a tectonic upheaval, so that whilst one half
had been almost been totally broken down and eroded away, the other half had remained
virtually intact. Thus Nature had creating am excellent cross-section view not only through
its cone and its solid lava plug, but through many lesser solid lava-tubes and fumaroles
which had exited around its outer walls.
For all he, or any other expert, knew, this phenomenon they had discovered might
even be more the norm than the exception. However, the granite plug usually barred the
way to any exploration beneath an extinct or long-dormant volcano. Not, of course, to say
that there was necessarily any such thing as an extinct volcano! They might go for many
thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years between eruptions, so that for all
intents and purposes, they had never erupted during the tenancy of intelligent life on the
Earth!
The big question one should always consider when contemplating fooling about
around upon or within a volcano, was this. How long ago has it been since its last outburst,
as compared to how imminent is its next! This would be a point they should bear in mind
if they decided to take the plunge and try to go down beneath the plug! Drew asked him
if they would be likely to strike a lake of still-molten lava under the plug of their volcano?
The professor was unsure of this, since its last outburst might conceivably have exhausted
any localized subterranean molten lava-reservoir completely – this was especially possible
in view of the enormously long lava-tubes at Undara, not to mention the vast lava-field
now become basaltic rock, that underlay all the rich surrounding savannah grasslands.
He had read all the available literature he could discover, both on the Internet as
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well as in the geological textbooks on shield-volcanoes like Undara, and in the Hawaiian
Islands. It was a vexing question, since shield-volcanoes were, by their very configura-
tion, more likely to empty their contents completely than would strata-volcanoes, or lava-
dome and cinder-cone types. However, there were no hard and fast “rules” about this,
nor could there be. Homo Sapiens had simply not been around long enough to perceive
any regularity of eruptive cycles in any of them.
By this time, however, judging by his drooping eyelids and slurred speech, the pro-
fessor was clearly succumbing to jet-lag, so the two decided to leave him to just lie back
and sleep it off. He was already snoring heartily before they left his bedroom.
Joan was mildly relieved when they told her that their visitor was asleep and would
probably remain so till the next day. She was also very relieved to hear of his contrition
for his thoughtless greediness at her special morning “Smoko”.
She had apparently always kept a small supply of the expensive smoked salmon set
aside in the freezer-chest, for Alasdair’s periodical, unannounced visits. It had been a
particularly great favorite of his and, since she still had a stock left, she had thought it
would be like manna from Heaven to such an obviously highly-civilized personage as a
University Professor. Especially one from so august an educational establishment as
Edinburgh University – of which Drew’s own father, Alasdair, had so often spoken to her
proudly and fondly. Thus she had been appalled at the way in which the professor had
greedily gorged himself upon her daintily and delicately prepared sandwiches.
Drew carefully explained that the poor old chap had only been trying to show his
great appreciation of her efforts. But, having been offered totally alien food on the plane,
he had probably turned his nose up at it. He would rather have gone hungry for thirty
hours than eat such rubbish. In addition, it was a fact that Scotsmen dearly loved salmon,
since most of their rivers were full of the fish, regarding it as one of their own unique
staple foods. Most of what he said was pure “flannel”, but it was sufficient to put Joan at
her ease again – which was all that mattered. Drew then went in search of Errol.
He found him in his room, studying some of the large blowup maps and charts he
had brought with him. Errol looked up at him as he knocked then entered. “Just having a
look at some of these other possible areas for a portal, buddy, just in case Charlie’s right,
and we either run into a stone wall – or worse still fall into a lake of lava!. We never did
arrange for a contingency “Plan B”, did we?” He pointed at a large map of the Kimberley
region over in the extreme northwest of Western Australia. “Now there’s a place that
looks like it could hide a thousand portals – and no goddamn volcanoes to worry about,
either!”
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Drew leaned over Errol’s shoulder, and ran a finger over the map where all the many
inlets of the Indian Ocean and the Timor Sea gouged into the Kimberley’s coastline, and
then indicated all the deep seawater-eroded ravines, and the myriad watercourses that
crisscrossed the region. “That’s why I eventually had to rule it out, old mate!” he said.
“The sea and all this other freshwater seems to make it pretty clear that we’d have to
scuba-dive our way down through the upper crust at least! I’ll bet you London to a brick
that most of the Kimberley has a high water-table underneath it. That’s why I finally
settled on Undara! At least an old volcanic region like that is more likely to have long ago
blasted out its water-table as steam! The same thing goes for Mount Gambier down in
South Aussie, the old volcanic region seems to have been invaded underneath by the
Southern Ocean, so you’d run into the same effect as in the Kimberley. As for the rest of
the main ancient slab of the continent, from Broome right across to the Great Dividing
Range – well a hell of a lot of it’s Archean and Protozoic Gondwana territory , so it will be
pretty solid! That’s why I picked a fairly tectonic area, Errol, it’s more likely to be well
broken up down below – which will hopefully mean heaps of really deep caves and
tunnels for us!”
“Hmmm..” mused Errol pensively. “I guess what you say makes geological sense,
but I still feel we could be going off half-cocked, buddy!” Then he yawned and stretched
his arms and neck boredly. “ Anyhow, Drew. I‘ll be real glad when we get started in on
this! It’s all this goddamn hanging around that’s getting to me! When are the girls coming
over? The sooner we get them over here the sooner we’ll be able to get started! I know
the old Prof –er – Charlie - isn’t exactly doing handsprings about them coming with us, but
maybe when he meets them he might have a change of heart!” then he thought a little
more. “ what do you think about old Chas, by the way, Drew? D’you think he’s up to it?
Physically, I mean?”
Drew grinned and recollected the giant rib-crushing bear hug he’d received by way
of greeting from the professor, earlier that morning. He massaged his still-aching rib cage
thoughtfully. “ I somehow don’t think that’s going to be a problem!” he smiled. “ I reckon
he could still toss a pretty mean caber, if he wanted to!”
This latter comment referred to the fact that the professor had been in the habit of
entering the caber-tossing competition at the Braemar Highland Games – and had won it
on several occasions – well into his forties. And he still carried plenty of muscle under-
neath his moderate padding of body fat.
“Yeah!” agreed Errol, “Any guy who can throw electric light poles around just for the
hell of it has got to be in pretty good shape, I guess!”
“I reckon he’s as fit as a mallee bull, Errol!” laughed Drew. “He’ll probably need a
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few days to get himself back in trim, but I think he might make us look like a pair of bloody
wimps later on!
“Anyhow, old mate, I think it’s about time we emailed the girls to come on over –
what do you reckon? Their carriage awaits them out there,” he pointed through the
window at the sleek twenty-five foot trailer-van out on the side lawn, “so I don’t see any
point in putting off the evil day any longer!”
Errol followed him Drew to his room and sat beside him as he clicked through to the
Outlook Express. Before opening out a “New Message” panel, Drew made a quick check
through his mail. They were both surprised and delighted to see a new message from
Hazel waiting there among the various egroup-digests. She told them that Marianne had
decided not to wait any longer for Drew’s reply, and had gone ahead and taken the next
available flight to Auckland at her own expense. So she was there with Hazel now, and
they had decided to head for Brisbane the following day. They would stay in a motel there
overnight and get onto a domestic flight to Longreach the next day. She would ring him
from Longreach Airport.
Drew anxiously checked the date and time of her message. It had been sent early
the previous evening! They had obviously missed the message he’d sent earlier that very
morning.
“Wowee!” cried Errol, who had been reading the message over Drew’s shoulder.
“That means they’re probably already in the air as we speak, buddy! They must’ve gotten
tired of waiting! When do you reckon they’ll get into Longreach?”
“Blowed if I know, mate,” said Drew, “but a least it won’t be until sometime tomor-
row if they’re staying in Brisbane overnight. Anyhow, you’ll have to be ready to go and
fetch them in the chopper, as soon as they let us know they’ve arrived!” He frowned,
then. “Damn! I told Hazel I’d be paying their fares by credit card! Still, I can simply
reimburse them by cheque when they get here!”
“You mean we both will, buddy!” insisted Errol. “This is going to be a fifty-fifty
operation, isn’t it? I guess we can tally it all up at the end and split the expenses two ways
- not that it really matters a damn! Aw, the hell with it, Drew, I’m not keeping book!
Anything! Just so we GO!” Drew quietly grinned his agreement.
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CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 11 CHAPTER 11
The next morning the whole house was astir early. Professor Dinwiddie was up and
about – this time clad in a pair of light slacks, and a pullover, because of the still-lingering
night chill. He was halfway through a hearty breakfast with Bob, and two of the kids when
the two young giants entered the kitchen, and Joan was busy at the huge kitchen range,
ably assisted by her elder daughter, Karen, preparing a second-sitting breakfast for Drew
and Errol.
As they sat to the table, Bob looked up at Drew. I was just tellin’ old Chas, here
about that nasty business up at the outcrop!” he said. “ It looks like your hunch might be
right, Drew! Looked like the work of no bloody animal I’ve ever struck, around here, mate!
In fact the fellers reckon there was more than one animal involved! But they must have
been bloody savage!”
Drew nodded back vaguely. He was more amazed at Bob’s familiar reference to the
professor as “Old Chas”! Then it dawned on him that there were TWO Charlies in the
house now – one young and one not so young! He was amazed that he hadn’t realized it
himself. There would have to be a distinction made in future! He wondered if Errol had
twigged this yet? One thing was for sure, Errol would love the ring of “Chas” as a
nickname for the Prof! Then he realized he hadn’t answered Bob’s remark. “What’s the
drill, then, Bob?” he asked. “Did anybody go down the tunnels at all? Any pad-marks on
the floor?”
“Yair!” said Bob. “We found some sort of spoor, but it looked more like bloody kids’
footmarks than any sort of animal tracks, Drew! An’ I do mean “bloody” footmarks! It was
like some kids had been in there and trodden in the steer’s blood, ‘cause there was a trail
leaden’ down one of those two passages a bit deeper in! We shouted to ‘em, but nobody
answered, so we gave up after a while. They must’ve come out again an’ shot through!
Funny thing is but, there was no feet marks leaden’ back out. Stan reckoned they might
have been black kids – but we don’t have any on the property! I tell yer, it’s got me
bloody well buggered, son!”
Here Joan suddenly interrupted him, waving a threatening spatula in his face. “Bob
Jackson! How many times do I have to ask you not to talk about such nasty things at the
meal table! And I do wish you’d moderate your language in front of the children - and our
guest!”
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She smiled apologetically at the professor.
“Och, ye Dina need worry aboot me, ma-am!” he smiled back, waving a dismissive
hand. “Ah’ve herd a lot worse from mah ain students, Ah can assure ye! And Ah’ve yet tae
meet any red-blooded Scotsman who dense swear when the mood’s upon him!”
“Including himself !” Errol quietly murmured into Drew’s ear. The meal was finished
in comparative silence after that, and it wasn’t until they had gone outside for a breath of
fresh air that Bob again broached the grisly subject with Drew and Errol.
“I don’t think any of the blokes were really up to following the trail down that bloody
tunnel. They all had the wind up - and I don’t mind admittin’ that includes me, too!
Never saw a beast so badly mauled – well - what there was left of it! I’m inclined to go
along with the bloody panther idea, after seein’ that lot! An’ so are the bloody fellers!
“Course, little Jimmy had to start on about bloody yowies an’ such, which didn’t help a
whole bloody lot!”
“Have you contacted the cops yet, Bob?” asked Errol. “Or don’t you guys want them
involved?” Bob turned a cynical “Are You For Real?” gaze upon Errol. “What use would
the bloody Johns be in a thing like this?” he asked. “ They’d only put it in their little
notebooks, then file it under “F” for bloody “Forget It”! They’re more at home behind a
bloody radar-gun!” His attitude toward the police was far from one of trust and faith.
He’d been nailed once for speeding between Winton and Longreach and he’d never for-
given them.
“Well!” said Drew, leaning against the helicopter. “I guess we’d better start sorting
our gear out, ready for going back up to Undara, Errol! If the girls get here today we’d
better be ready to make some sort of a move tomorrow. We’ve wasted enough time
already hanging around here. The Prof – er – Chas seems to be fit for the off, and I expect
the girls will be itching to go down below, too. So that’ll be five of us to go underground.
Looks like you’ll have to make two trips, mate! I presume you won’t mind lending us Stan
and Jimmy again will you, Bob? To work the block and tackle, and so forth, eh?”
Bob nodded his assent, and said that he’d like to come along too, if they wanted
him. Drew told him it was entirely up to him, but he didn’t want Joan to become a sort of
“grass-widow” just because of their harebrained expedition.
“No worries!” said Bob. “She’s only too bloody glad to get me out from under her
feet , son! Besides, she’s got young Charlie to look after her, as well as the two girls! No!
I’ll be there with bloody bells on if you can use me!”
Drew was very relieved to hear this – as he had a rather nefarious plan in mind
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which required Bob being in the above-ground support team!
Just then, he heard Joan calling him from the house. “Hi! Drew! There’s a young
lady on the phone from Longreach. She wants to talk to you!” Both Drew and Errol shot
off into the house as if fired from a cannon. It had to be Hazel and Marianne!
It was, too! Drew knew as soon as he heard her Kiwi accent on the other end of the
line. She said they’d had a great flight over from Auckland, and there’d been a no trouble
booking on a Qantas flight to Longreach for the next morning. So, after a good night’s
sleep in the airport motel, here they both were! Drew told them to go and wait at the
office near the Helipad area, and Errol would be there inside half an hour, to collect them.
He would stay home as they’d need the extra cabin-space for their luggage. This set
Hazel off laughing heartily.
“What luggage?” she asked “Heven’t you heard the ixprission: “Who trevels fast,
trevels loight?” she misquoted. “Just till Irrol to look out for a Canadian fleg!” she said,
“See you soon, Drew! We’re doying to meet you both!” Then she hung up.
Errol had been listening to the earpiece. “Canadian flag, eh?” said he, rubbing his
chin in puzzlement. “Mmm.. Let’s see now…Is that the one with a red leaf…?”
Drew pivoted him around towards the back door and the waiting chopper. Pointing
a stern finger, he commanded in stentorian tones: “Go get ‘em, Tiger!” Then he propelling
Errol outside and down the steps with a gentle boot in the backside.
An hour and a half later, Drew heard the helicopter returning. With a loud call to
Joan, that they were here, he hurried out to the back verandah steps in time to see it
slowly descending upon the homestead’s level yard, and, as it landed, he saw the two
young women waving excitedly at him through the domed plexiglass of its cabin. I touched
down with barely a jolt, and Drew saw Errol’s red-shining face peering at him from beyond
the girls. He was grinning lecherously over their shoulders and giving Drew the “Thumbs-
Up” in delighted approval of his charming passengers!
Drew made his way down the steps toward the chopper, and, as the engine stopped
and the side-door swung open, he saw that Errol’s enthusiastic display of pleasure hadn’t
been overdone. They were both real knockouts! Helping them down amid giggles and
cries of delight to see him, Drew realized that they really had struck exceptionally lucky in
their choice of female companions. Errol descended swiftly from his cockpit and per-
formed the honours of introducing them to Drew.
“Hi, buddy! Here they are, safe and sound!” he laughed breezily. He put a familiar
arm around the first girl’s waist and said: “Hazel, I’d like to introduce you to my buddy and
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partner in crime, Drew!” Hazel, a very pretty blue-eyed blonde of medium-height,
beamed vivaciously up at Drew, greeted him with a dazzling smile, then, as he stooped
slightly to take her cool strong hand in his great and now rather sweaty paw, she impul-
sively kissed him on the cheek. Drew, as was his usual wont when meeting pretty young
ladies for the first time, blushed violently to the roots of his own blond locks and mumbled
out some strangled words of welcome.
Then it was the turn of the second girl to be introduced to him. Errol asked Mari-
anne to meet Drew, which she did with a rather more subdued air than her friend. She
was as dark as Hazel was fair. Her skin was rather more tanned than Hazel’s, and her raven
blue-black, shining hair framed a lovely serene face, which was now lit up by a pair of the
most brilliant smiling green eyes, he’d ever seen. Her even teeth flashed whitely as she
smiled boldly up at him, and shook him firmly by the hand with a strong sure grip. Her
American Indian heritage shone proudly forth from her, and Drew was quite bowled over
by her almost regal beauty. “G’day! How’re you going!” hardly seemed a fitting greeting
for such a lovely woman, but it was the best Drew could come up in such a moment of
pure bewitched enchantment.
For a moment they all stood around rather awkwardly in a little group, until Joan’s
voice rang out from the back door. “Well? Are you two idiots going to make the poor girls
stand out there all day in the hot sun – or are you bringing them inside?” she asked
jovially. That broke the spell that had momentarily bound them all, and Drew steered
them up the steps and into the house.
Once inside, and shooed by Joan, in her best “Mother-Hen” role, into the large
lounge-room, Drew this time introduced them to his Mum – and to Bob, who had followed
them in from his office across the yard. Then they were soon seated on a couple of Joan’s
comfortable large English-style chintz-covered settees, Errol beside Hazel, and Drew with
Marianne, drinking tea from Joan’s best china cups and saucers.
Bob sat in his own favorite chair, smiling and nodding, whilst Joan perched upon the
arm of it, in between plying them all with a Devonshire tea of scones, thickened cream
and strawberries. Bob did most of the talking at first, as the two young men were still
recovering from being smitten almost dumb by the unexpected beauty of the two girls.
“What sort of trip over did you have?” he asked laconically, as though he were a regular
commuter between Australia and New Zealand. “Weather OK, for you?” Hazel assured
him it had been great, but that Longreach was a lot warmer than Auckland. “Soon get
used to that,” he said, “as long as you keep out of the bloody sun!”
Joan frowned furiously at him from the dining table where she was replenishing
Marianne’s teacup, but the girls just grinned at his honest candor. “We’d hev a job doing
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thet!” laughed Hazel speaking in a broad Kiwi accent, “Unliss we lived endoors! Love the
air-condutioning, by the way,” she added. “We dudn’t uxpect thet in a kettle-station. We
always thought you outbeck Aussies were all burned to a crusp end us hard us nails!”
Drew laughed at this. “Ah, you must’ve been watching to many “Crocodile Dundee”
movies!” he said. “We’re a lot more civilized out here than they are on the coast! Ask Errol
if you don’t believe me, he’s a Yank, so he should know!”
Here Marianne looked up from her teacup. “What State did you say you were from
again, Errol? – Illinois or Michigan? I remember you telling me aboot it once, but it slipped
my mind! Sorry!” Her Canadian accent was pure music to Drew’s ear.
“Errol smiled back at her cheerfully. “No need to be!” he said. “Actually I’m from
Detroit – only about a half-hour drive from Canada!” Then he added hastily, “well the
Ontario end, anyhow. It’s a long hike to Vancouver from there, isn’t it!”
Marianne smiled back sweetly. “I’ve an uncle and aunt in Toronto, and they took me
to Niagara Falls a couple of times! Man! That was really something else!”
Drew felt it was time he put in his two cents’ worth. “Did you get a chance at all to
show Marianne the thermal springs at Rotorua, Hazel?” he asked the New Zealand girl. “I
went over there once on a school charter-air trip from Townsville when I was a kid. It was
supposed to be a kind of field-trip, but one of the boys fell into a hot mud pool and got
badly scalded, so that stuffed it up for all the rest of us!”
Hazel winced. “Poor luttle sod!” she said, then she went on. “No, we dudn’t hev
toime for eny soight-seeung, unfortunately. Rotorua’s a hundred klecks away from Auck-
land, and Marianne was only et our place a couple of diys bufore we ducided to hid on
over here! Anyhow, the mine thung is that we ARE here! So I giss we’d bitter unpeck our
gear and git ourselves frishened up a but!” She stood up and handed her cup and plate to
Joan, and Marianne did likewise. “Now, whire’s thus trailer, you told us about?”
The two young giants escorted the girls out to the helicopter to haul out their
“baggage”, which was comprised of only a pair of capacious hikers’ rucksacks and couple
of airline bags. Then they carried the rucksacks and showed the girls over to their large
trailer-home. Fortunately Joan had had the foresight to plug in the trailer’s power cable
to the house-supply, so it was lovely and cool inside and a compact but well-stocked
refrigerator was humming away quietly in the kitchen.
“Croikey Deck! Thus us rully FLESH!” cried Hazel, in astonishment, letting her Kiwi
twang get the better of her in her excitement “We thaught we’d heve to doss down un
the barn – going by what you sid in your emial, Drew!” She gave him a playful punch in the
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shoulder. “You old kudder, you!” Drew gave a pretend-wince.
“Happy with it, then?” asked Errol, anxious not to be excluded, as he’d taken more
than a shine to the vivacious New Zealander. “Nothing like the ones we have Back Home
in the States, of course….”
“Heppy?” grinned Hazel. “Wu’re us heppy as a box of blooming budgies, aren’t we,
Marianne! Thenks, fillers!” Marianne silently smiled her thanks at Drew.
Before leaving the girls to get themselves sorted out, Drew mentioned to them that
their old Professor from Edinburgh University had also arrived, and that he was still sleep-
ing off the jet-lag from his long plane trip from Britain.
“You remember, us mentioning him in our list-messages - old “Din-Dins”?” They
both grinned and nodded, and he continued, “Well, you’ll finally get to meet him at dinner
tonight!”
“But be warned,” chipped in Errol, “You’d better grab your share of the eats before
he gets to ‘em!” said Errol, “Mighty fond of his chow is old Din-Dins!”
“And for God’s Sake, don’t get up his nose, whatever you do!” added Drew, “He can
be a really cranky old so-and-so – and he’s not overly rapt in the feminine gender, either!”
Hazel drew back in mock-horror at this intelligence. “You don’t mean he’s a woofter,
do you? Oh, how…”
“No, no!” grinned Drew “Chas is as straight as a gun-barrel, he’s – well - er..” “Asexual?”
asked Marianne, rather surprisingly. “A misogynist, then? Is that the word you’re groping
for, Drew?”
Drew blushed again for the second time since he’d met the girls. The girls noticed
it, and so did Errol, he was rather amazed at this sudden strange phenomenon in a guy
who’d been chased by half the females in Edinburgh, but he rushed to his aid.
“Pay no heed to him, ladies!” he chaffed. “This is Drew’s famous party-trick! You’d
be amazed how many chicks used to fall for his “Shy Little Boy” blushing- routine! Beats
me how the hell he does it!”
Drew scowled a tad angrily at his pal.
“Well he’s won me!” laughed Hazel. “I dudn’t know men blushed iny more!”
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But Drew noticed that Marianne was regarding him with a deeper interest than he’d
noticed before. There was definitely something quite disturbingly attractive about her –
and he felt quite taken with her. Come on, mate! get a bloody grip! he told himself
silently. It’s a bit too early to start falling for the first bird who crosses your path! But she
was still looking across at him with that knowing little Mona Lisa smile as though she could
read his mind like an open book.
He clapped his hands together briskly. “Come on, Errol!” he said. “We’re holding
these young ladies up from their unpacking and what-have-you!” He gave them a mock-
cavalier bow, and grasping Errol by a firm bicep, he hauled him out through the door.
“See you later!” yelled Errol as Drew towed him away up to the house.
Dinner – (or “tea”, as Bob insisted on calling it) turned out to be a great success.
Joan had once again excelled herself with her amazing culinary skills, ably assisted by her
two daughters, and between Bob and herself they had literally killed the fatted calf, with
a wonderful British-style baked dinner, consisting of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding,
with lashings of succulent gravy, roast potatoes and all the trimmings, including roast
sweet potato, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli and peas. This was followed by a tasty sultana
pudding liberally dowsed in rich white sauce.
The sumptuous meal was assisted down by a couple of bottles of red wine courtesy
of Errol, and a bottle of nonalcoholic wine for Joan - and for Marianne - who, it turned out,
was also a teetotaler. The men, of course, drank cold beer. However, Drew was greatly
amazed to note that Bob had finally produced his much-treasured bottle of Glenfiddich,
which he now proceeded to share with the professor. Chas, to give the devil his due - had
conducted himself with impeccable good manners and decorum throughout the meal,
and had shown every courtesy towards Hazel and Marianne, whom he chatted away to
quite happily about the role played by the Scots in the development of all three of those
once-British colonies - Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Drew and Errol were frankly astounded. It was as though their world had been
stood upon its head, with everybody acting strangely out of character! Even Errol himself
had, in Drew’s view, been virtually the very model of gentility, and had kept the party
enlivened with his scintillating witty comments and asides, without once putting his foot in
his mouth - as would have been the expected norm!
Joan, however, surveyed the proceedings with great joy and satisfaction. It had
been quite some time since they had had occasion to use the big lounge-cum-dining room
for such a respectable and semiformal purpose! Even the late, great Alsadair himself had
always preferred to eat his meals with the family in the roomy kitchen on his escape-trips
up to the homestead. However, it wasn’t every day - or even every decade come to that
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- that they had four overseas guests, all from different countries, over to stay, so it made
a lovely refreshing change for Bob and herself to roll out the red carpet and live it up a
little!
In short, the evening had been a roaring success; quite literally “a night to remem-
ber”, and the party – for such it had now really become - went on until well after ten
o’clock. Very late for an outback cattle-property, where the usual getting-up time was
around four to five a.m.!
However, all good things must come to an end, and so they did on this occasion, too.
The girls began to yawn uncontrollably, since they had had a hectic couple of days, and
Drew pointed out to Errol quietly that it was time they packed it in, if they were to make
an early start up to Undara the next morning.
He was especially keen to get the professor down below ground and hear his assess-
ment of their chances of continuing along the course they had covered thus far. Also, it
would be a good opportunity to see how the girls handled themselves in the actual set-
ting, under real conditions. He had already discussed the transport arrangements with
Errol and Bob. Errol was to fly the professor, Bob and himself up there first, and then Bob
was to bring the chopper back and pick up the two girls and Jimmy - as well as some other
items they needed up at the site. He still didn’t feel too certain about letting Bob fly the
craft, but it was really a case of “Needs must when the devil drives!” And Errol had
already reassured Drew in private of Bob’s capability to handle the chopper in perfect
safety. Bob had actually flown it almost all the way back from Brisbane, Errol rather
ruefully admitted, after Drew pinned him down to the real brass-tacks truth of the matter!
Anyhow, all would be revealed in the morning. Right now, they all needed to go
and get some shut eye! The two girls offered to help Joan with clearing the table and
washing the dishes, but Joan simply wouldn’t hear of it. She’d manage perfectly well,
thank you, and they must go and catch up on some beauty-sleep . The large room was
soon deserted except for the professor, who had well and truly caught up with his circa-
dian rhythms after spending most of the day asleep, and Bob, who seldom needed more
than four or five hours. They talked on well into the wee hours. Thanks to the Glen
Fiddich, each had suddenly discovered a new friend in the other.
Barely an hour and a half after sunup the next morning, Drew, Errol and the profes-
sor were standing beside the fumarole near the Undara site, peering down into its depths.
The professor was suitably impressed by their find, and admitted that he’d never heard of
such a large fumarole being found this far away from an actual volcano cone. Often the
larger fumaroles and vents were only found upon the slopes of the actual cone itself, so he
was immediately interested in its origin.
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He remarked upon the traces of sulfur inside its interior and mouth, but he said that
they looked rather faint, which seemed to indicate to him that the hole must have also
vented steam and probably a great deal of boiling water under high pressure. However,
there were no signs of it ever having emitted molten lava, and this, coupled with the fact
that a myriad generations of bats – that usually frequented such apertures as nesting-sites
- accounted for it remaining open for hundreds of thousands of years. He would be only
too happy to accompany them below ground, even though twenty years had passed since
his last such field-foray. Unobtrusively, Drew visually assessed Chas’s girth in relation to
the tube, but finally he decided the hefty Scot should be able to pass down it with reason-
able comfort.
Bob had already set out on the return trip with the chopper to collect the two girls
and Jimmy, plus a few other items he’d had Stan pick up in Winton the previous day. To
their relief, the tent still remained just as they had left it a few days earlier, its door-flaps
firmly zipped and locked. All the gear they’d left behind was still inside and intact.
Before taking off, Bob had shown Drew how to reassemble the tripod and hooked the
block and tackle upon it, so that they could make some sort of start on descending, at
least to the transverse passage at the bottom of the fumarole vent-tube. It was agreed
that Drew would descend first, then the professor, leaving Errol up on the surface in case
of any accident or emergency.
Once Drew had donned his own suit and gear, he and Errol had to assist the profes-
sor to squeeze into one of the extra lycra wetsuits from the tent, and tog him out with the
necessary harness, helmet, and other items of equipment. It was a bit of a struggle
getting Chas zipped up but they finally succeeded, despite his many bitter complaints.
Drew selected a body-line twice as long as the one used previously to haul them out
of the tube, and, after fastening one end securely to his rappelling harness, he threaded
the other end through the block and tackle and threw the spare slack of the rope down the
hole. Now they were ready to make the descent, one at a time.
Where before, Drew had climbed down the hole using his hands and feet in monkeylike
fashion, this time he took a firm grip on the other half of the rope and allowed himself to
swing out into the opening, using his feet to fend himself away from the tube’s stony
sides. Having already used this method before when rappelling down cliff faces, he found
it a much easier method of descent than actually climbing from one foothold to another.
The little friction-mechanism attached to the breastplate of his harness allowed him
full control of his rate of descent. As he went down, Drew looked up at the professor’s
face calling to him every move he was making, so that he would have some idea of the
principle involved. Fortunately, Chas was no slouch at grasping such elementary mechani-
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cal matters. He hadn’t attained his exalted status as a professor without possessing and
using his keen powers of observation and logic, and these didn’t fail him now. “Ah, yes!
Ah ken fine noo how it works, Andrew, mah laddie!” he hooted down as Drew slowly
vanished from view. “A mon only needs tae use his eyes and his common sense! Dinna
fash yeresel’! Ah’ll no make a hash of it, ye can depend on that!”
However, he still had to wait until Drew reached the bottom of the shaft and then
wiggled the rope around vigorously a few times so that Errol would know that he had
unfastened it from his harness. Errol then quickly pulled the rope back up through the
pulley-block until the end reappeared. Then he attached it firmly to Chas’s harness.
“OK, Prof!” Errol told him. “Here we go! I want you to climb down into the top of the
hole, find a place to put each foot on a wall-rock on either side, hold your body upright,
then grab hold of the loose side of the rope and gently pull yourself up a tad with it. Got
that?”
The professor nodded and did as he was bidden. Suddenly, as he pulled down upon
the free rope, he found himself hoisted off his foot-holds and hanging freely suspended.
His grip on the rope instantly tightened so that his knuckles showed whitely. He stared in
horror downward as his body slowly rotated on the rope above the dark hole. Errol
hastened to reassure him he was perfectly safe, as long as he did what he told him. Chas
stared back at him uncertainly.
“Right!” said Errol confidently. “now I want you to start slowly letting the rope slip
through your fists a little at a time and you’ll see that this way, you can lower yourself
down into the tube as slowly or quickly as you like! You can arrest your descent anytime
by just hold the rope still. Go on, try it, Chas!”
Chas again glared back suspiciously, as if he thought Errol was trying to trick him
into plunging himself to his death. Then he very carefully began to let the rope slide
upwards, millimetre by millimetre, through his trembling hands, and, much to his amaze-
ment, he found that he was able to control his descent quite simply by clenching or
unclenching his fingers around the rope.
“Weel, Ah’ll be damned!” he cried in surprise. “It actually works! Och! This is nae
problem at a’! It’s a doddle! A wee bairn could dae this wi’ nae…OOOPS!..”
As he spoke, Chas had relaxed his grip a little too far and almost fulfilled his own
original fear. However, he recovered his grip just in the nick of time as the top of his bright
red helmet was just vanishing at speed down the tube, and from thereon he handled the
rest of his descent with a lot more caution.
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Errol was still shaking his head in incredulity, when both halves of the rope eventu-
ally waggled vigorously and loosely below the block and tackle - a signal from Drew that
Din-Dins had reached bottom safely. So, as he and Drew had previously agreed, he now
put on his wide-brimmed Akubra and sat down to watch and wait patiently for the chopper
to return, but with his radiophone switched on at his side in case of any problem below.
Below ground, Drew and the professor stood for a moment or two whilst their eyes
became accustomed to the gloom, their helmet lamps swiveling around, slashing across
the inky darkness with white swathes of light as they looked this way and that all around
them. Chas was totally astounded at the existence of the almost level gallery that stretched
out before them, and at the smoothness of its walls.
“But, man!” he cried at last, “This is against a’ the rules o’ vulcanism! Ah was ready
tae accept the fumarole bein’sae big, but Ah didna really believe it could be sichan a
conpleecated arrangement as a’ this!” He stared about in total disbelief.
Drew now guided him along the gallery, pointing out the orange tape stretched
along the stone floor. “Would you believe that this was one of young Charlie’s ideas,
Chas?”
“Och, ye mean auld Bob’s wee lad?” asked the professor. “Aye, weel. He struck me
as bein’ a bit o’ a bright spark.” Then he added with a chuckle. “Most of us Chairlies tend
tae be fairly wick fellers, ye ken! Tak’ the Bonnie Prince himself, noo…” He started to
elaborate upon Bonnie Charlie Stuart’s cunning stratagems during his attempt to regain
the throne of Scotland….But Drew wasn’t listening.
He suddenly stopped in his tracks. Flashing his helmet lamps around from side to
side. The orange tape had suddenly vanished from before his feet! At once he was on
his guard. Had some bunch of young hoons been down the fumarole causing mischief?
But that was impossible, surely! Only themselves and the two people from the tourist
center knew it existed. And he was sure that neither of them would have torn up the tape,
even if they had taken the trouble to climb down the tube.
As he slowly moved forward, he spotted a flash of orange off to one side, and when
he investigated it found it was a strip of the tape. But it hadn’t been cut off, as one might
have expected from a vandalizing lout. It had all the appearance of having been chewed
or worried off the long length by teeth! But what the hell sort of animal could there be
down here that would even bother chewing a tasteless piece of nylon tape?
Urgently he tried to do a quick inventory of the type of animals to be found in caves
such as this. Snakes? Lizards? Bats? Sundry cave insects and other similar nasties, such
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as spiders? But none of these could have chewed through the strong nylon tape, nor
would they have wanted to. They would have been hunting live tucker! Nor could it have
been a dingo. After all, how the hell would a dingo get down here in the first place!
Unless it had fallen down the fumarole, of course. Or unless it knew of another entrance
that was much easier! That was one possibility he couldn’t rule out – especially given this
inexplicable strong current of air that blew through the passages. Maybe it could be a
dingo – or some other mammal or even a marsupial . If it was badly injured it would
probably try to eat anything it could find.
He’d read a series of caving books, when he was a boy, written by some French
speleologist – what was his name? Norman? Norbert – Norbert! That was him! Norbet
Casteret! It was his wonderfully graphic writing about his beloved caves in the French
Pyranees that had first fired Drew’s interest in caves.
He recalled now how Casteret had described descending into a deep gulf and find-
ing the almost fossilized droppings of some unfortunate dog that had clearly fallen into the
three-hundred metre pit and had actually survived the fall! Casteret had found the broken
skeleton of the dog with its severely-fractured limbs and spine. The amount of dung
attested to weeks or months of intense suffering the poor animal had borne before it
finally died. Small broken animal skeletons revealed its food-source.
The poor dog had somehow subsisted upon rabbits and other rodents that had also
inadvertently stumbled to their death down the deep chasm. A pool of stagnant rusty-
coloured water at the base of the smooth, vertical cliff face had supplied its fluid intake.
He remembered only too clearly how the tears had involuntarily rolled down his cheeks as
he had lain in bed reading that particularly pathetic chapter.
He thrust the sad vision out of his mind, and concentrated on the problem at hand.
As he cast about searching his eyes finally alighted upon the remainder of the tape.
During the ferocious chewing and ripping activity, the animal, or whatever creature had
attacked the tape had dragged it around quite a lot, but the residue of the tape appeared
to eventually revert to its original tidy orange line again. The trail then continued on
apparently unbroken as far as his headlights permitted him to see into the darkness up
ahead.
They resumed their walk along the gallery until they came to the downward-sloping
pit. Drew cautioned the professor to descend it slowly and cautiously. Even though he
himself knew now that the drop off the end of it was only a metre or so, the older man
could easily hurt himself badly if he broke into a helpless canter and fell down on to the
main cavern’s stony floor. They both crouched side by side peering into the great black
chamber. After much careful study of what he could descry with his helmet lights, the
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professor finally asked Drew what he thought the great chamber might possibly be.
Drew turned his helmet and lamps upon Chas’ face. “Well, sir – er- Charlie,”
He replied. “That’s really what we hoped you would be able to tell us ! This is just
about where the edge of the main magma-chamber of the volcano should have been, but
as you can see it’s all wide open, instead of the solid plug we’d expected to find!”
The older man “tut-tutted” at Drew in a chiding, impatient fashion. “Laddie! Did ye
no listen tae anythin’ Ah told ye in mah laictures? Any peely-wally, hairf-witted pap-
suckin’ babbie in the Univairsity could a’ told ye! It’s obvious that a lairge part of the
plug’s collapsed! Man! If it’s been stood here for mebbe a couple o’ hundred-thousand
years, Goad alone knows how many airth-tremors have ben an’ gone since then! Could
ye no see that there’s been a awfu’ big fault in this very tube we’re stondin’ in right noo?”
He leaned into the great cavernous chamber twisting his head around in an effort to
see the ceiling by training his helmet lights on it, but all he saw was darkness.
“It must have well nigh brocht the hoose doon!” Then he drew back into the sloping
entry pit. “It’s nae use, Andrew, we’ll need a gey grand whopper o’a sairch-licht for tae
see a’ this! Can ye no contact yer Daddie, an tell him tae faitch a floodlicht wi’ a genera-
tor?”
Drew slapped his thigh in self-chastisement. “Why the hell didn’t I think of that! I
knew there was still something missing off my shopping-list!” Then it occurred to him that
the nearby tourist-center might have just the very thing to solve their immediate need.
He fished the radiophone out of its belt-holster and called up Errol.
“Base here, Drew, receiving you five by five!” came back Errol’s cheerful voice.
“What’s up, buddy? The old guy break a goddamn leg or something?” The professor,
crouching beside Drew, heard this all too clearly and made a grab for the phone. But
Drew held it away from him and shouted back: “Chas heard that, mate, so you’ll be hauled
up before the Dean tomorrow!” Errol’s merry chortles came echoing back. “Tell the dear
old Prof that I apologize abjectly!” came his mirthful reply. Then on a more serious note,
he went on “Now, what seems to be the prob, buddy. Over?”
Drew asked him if the chopper carried any distress-flares. But Errol didn’t know:
“Can’t say I that I saw any, Drew. Why? You in distress or something, Over?”
“No,” said Drew,” but Chas just gave me a brainwave! We could light this big cavern
up like the bloody Opera House if we had a handful of flares! Over.”
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“Hey! Nice One, Drew! Give that guy a ceegar! What say I try and raise the ranger-
station and see if they have few flares we could borrow? They must keep a supply for any
emergency-landings of airplanes in a fog, or if there’s a power-outage! Over.” Then before
Drew could reply he came back with a further idea. “Lemme see if I can raise Bob! He
should be well on his way back here by now, so I could get him go see them on his way
here! Just hang on a tick or two. Over!”
Drew and the professor decided to clamber back up out of the draughty tunnel to
await Errol’s reply, seating themselves in a modicum of comfort upon a large chunk of
fallen rock in a little alcove out of the breeze. The professor held out his hand for a
moment , then withdrew it, obviously puzzled. “Whare’s a’ this draught blowing from, Ah
wonder? Is there another entrance somwhere hereaboots?”
Drew shook his head. “It had us puzzled, too, Charlie. It seems to be coming right
out of the big collapse-cavern, but we couldn’t figure how or where from! Seems to me as
if it’s coming up from somewhere below us! But that’s impossible – isn’t it?”
Chas shook his grizzled head. “Ye should ken weel be now, laddie, that nathing’s
imposseeble in geology, laddie! Ye canna rule anything in or oot! We’re all still lairning,
an’ if ye ever meet anybody wha’ says he ken’s it a’, tell him tae get in touch wi’ masailf!
What we dinna know aboot the Airth, would fill a dozen sets o’ encyclopedias! So, ye tak
a word of advice, Andrew, and a’ways keep ye’r mind open! Once a mannie thinks he’s
discovered all there is tae ken, nae matter hoo claiver he mebbe, he might as weel gang
awa’ and hang himsel’!”
They sat and discussed this and various other matters – particularly the Hollow earth
theory – Drew was not a man to pass up the opportunity to preach to a captive audience!
However, the professor still stuck to his guns that the earth would prove to be a mass of
molten magma - if ever they were to try to penetrate the Mohorovicic discontinuity - the
boundary between the crust proper and the upper part of the outer mantle. Which they
would never do, anyhow, since the Earth’s geothermal gradient would cause the rock and
air temperature to increase at the rate of 30 degrees C for every kilometer traveled toward
its center.
One degree centigrade for every 33.5 metres! Thus they would all be roasted to a
turn long before they had gone even four or five kilometres into the crust!
But Drew argued with him, disputing this as pure theory. “How do you know?” he
asked. “ Has anybody ever actually been any deeper than the Western Deep gold-mine in
South Africa? That’s now over twelve thousand six hundred feet deep – or if you insist –
close to four kilometres! So, assuming you start at the surface with, say, a 30ºC day-
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temperature. After the first “klick” you’ll be up to 60ºC and by the time you reach four
klicks down the temp will be up to 150ºC ! That’s 50ºC higher than the boiling point of
water – or human blood! Who could withstand that? Yet it seems those south African gold
miners cope with it reasonably well! How do you explain that, Chas? Air-conditioning, or
refrigerated suits?
“Oh, Yeah!” he went on, “And while we’re on the subject, how do you explain the
ocean deeps being so freezing cold even though they’re a lot closer the base of the
lithosphere, and the alleged mantle beneath, than those deep South African mines are?”
He stared hard at the professor’s suddenly puzzled face, with a slightly triumphant glint in
his eye. “I’ll bet that’s got you a tad flummoxed, hasn’t it, sir!”
“NO! It hasnae!” cried the professor angrily. “What has got me flummoxed is how
the heill ye managed tae miss the fac’ that the deepest gold-mine in Sooth Africa IS air-
condeeshoned – AND water-cooled an’a’! Ah cannae believe ye’d ever hae missed such
an ailementary fact as that!” He glared ferociously at Drew, who was still smiling back at
him in a most infuriating manner. “As for the ocean deeps bein’ sae cauld – “He went on,
in the same fevered fury, “Man, hae ye never haird that cold water always sinks tae the
bottom, and that the hot rises tae the top? Hae ye never haird me speak aboot bluidy
convection-currents? And then there’s the…” He would have ranted on at much greater
length had Drew not cut him short.
“It’s all right, professor!” he laughed. “I give in! You can come down off your high-
horse now! I recall every bloody thing you ever taught me, Chas. I was only checking you
out to see if you were still just as firmly entrenched as ever in your orthodox geological
views! Obviously nothing’s changed! I can see that Errol and I are going to have our
work cut out for us to prove that the Earth might just be otherwise than you believe!”
The professor continued to glare at Drew in disbelief. “Ah! That’s what ye say noo,
laddie! After Ah’ve caucht ye oot in ye’r ignorance?” he leered triumphantly back at Drew,
and cackled in his face. “In one ear an’oot the ither! Ah always suspected ye and ye’r pal
must hae fluked ye’r finals by sheer guid luck! A’ yon “Hollow Airth” rubbish has sapped
ye’r brains awa’!” He was still chuckling to himself when Drew’s radiophone buzzed
urgently
It was Errol to cheerfully inform him that he’d managed to raise Bob in the helicop-
ter, and that Bob had found a box of hand-held lighting-flares in one of its cabin-stowage
compartments – or at least one of the girls had - after a quick search. However, he
believed that it would still be worth buying a proper searchlight and a portable generator
when they went back to the station. If they did go back, of course!
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Drew felt like asking him if they’d also be able to buy eight hundred miles’ worth of
cable to go with it! But since they had to keep their radio-conversations brief to conserve
batteries, he let it go at that. “Thanks, mate! We’ll wait for you to join us with the girls
– and the flares, too! Oh, and something to EAT as well - if you don’t mind! We’re bloody
starving down here! Over!”
Errol came back on and said: “Base here! Roger that, Number One. Chopper now
in sight! See you soon, buddy, complete with flares and chow as requested. Wilco, Over
and Out!”
Drew wrestled with himself not to call him back and tell him to quit all the NASA-Air
Force type communications-garbage, but he thought better of it ‘I’ll leave all the leg-
pulling for later!’ he thought silently. Now back to the Prof !
He turned back toward the professor, but he had vanished! There was no sign of
him at all! At once he had a vision of the old boy fumbling about in the gloom and falling
down some hole or – or worse still - his imagination instantly shot into overdrive - some-
thing big, black and nasty creeping up, grabbed him in its steely jaws, and…
Whoa! Drew had to physically shake his head to clear the notion from his thoughts.
The verbal image of Bob’s “panther” had suddenly loomed large in his mind’s eye! But
nevertheless, the old chap had definitely disappeared! Where the heck could he have
gone? Back to the fumarole tube or into the big collapse-chamber? He stood out in the
passageway of the long chamber and cupped his hands round his mouth. “Coo-ee! Pro-
fessor! Coo-ee! Where are you?” he yelled at the top of his lungs. His eyes urgently
scanned what range of vision was permitted by his helmet-lamps, but there was no sign
of Chas, he listened carefully for an answer, but none came. Instead, he heard a stealthy
shuffling sound right behind him! He spun around on his heels, fists and teeth clenched
tightly, ready to face the unknown – only to find himself confronted by the missing man!
“Were ye callin’me, then?” asked Chas, adjusting his shorts. “What’s the maitter,
man! Ye’r as white as a sheet! Did ye no hear me telling ye that Ah had an airgent Call o’
Nature?” He nodded to the phone. “Och, aye! Ah mind noo! Ye were sae busy playin’
games wi’yon telephone tae Harold, that ye obviously didnae hear me!” He chuckled at
Drew, whose expression of worried alarm still lingered on his face. “Ah’m sorry, Andrew,
but Ah had tae gang aroond the corner there tae relieve mahself. Nae doot ye’ll forgi’e me
in the foollness of time?”
Drew relaxed then and realized that he’d made a bit of an idiot of himself getting his
bowels in such an uproar. Then something amusing struck him. “Oh, and by the way,
Chas, it’s ERROL - not HAROLD! I told you that a couple of days ago, if you recall? And
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seeing we’re all on a first-name footing, call me “Drew”, will you? “Andrew” is my Sunday
name, and today’s only Tuesday! ”
The professor beamed at him jovially. “Aye, Ah’ll try tae remember that – DREW!
Anythin’ for a quiet life, ye ken!” He scratched his bewhiskered chin. “Noo, then, where
were we up tae in oor discussion before a’ this nonsense stairted …?”
However – mercifully for Drew – they were once again interrupted. This time by the
sound of a voice along the passage toward the vent-pipe. A second later, Errol appeared,
feet first out of the overhead tube. As he touched down he unfastened the rope and
shook it around vigorously. “OK, I’m down!” he shouted up the tube. The detached end
vanished swiftly upward, and he turned toward Drew and the professor. Unhitching a
small haversack from his shoulders, he handed it to Drew. “There you are, old buddy!
The flares and some chow for you guys! Oh, Yeah! And there’s a thermos of hot java in
there, too! Save some for me!” Then he turned back to look up the vent, waiting for the
first of the girls.
Drew and the professor retired a little distance away and perched on a rock slab to
unwrap separate packs of sandwiches. As they munched away hungrily, Drew found some
paper cups in the haversack and poured out coffee for himself and Chas.
“Hope you like it without milk, Prof!” he said around a mouthful of ham and cheese
on rye, then cursed as he scalded his lips slurping the hot sweet beverage.
“Sairves ye bluidy richt!” laughed Chas, between dainty sips at his own drink. “Pity
Ah didnae tack the time tae teach ye table-manners as weel as geophyseecs!”
Soon they were all gathered together in the first gallery whilst Drew outlined what
they had found and that they were going to have a preliminary scout around the big
chamber for a way through it into a further reach of the system. Even Bob himself had
lowered himself down to have a look around.
Drew briefly ran through the primary aims of the exercise. The main objective to
begin with, was to try to find a reasonable negotiable tunnel or shaft that would lead them
downward. No doubt there would be times when they would have to follow horizontal
passages along the way, but the whole objective of the exercise was to descend into the
crust. Just as long as it wasn’t into a reservoir of magma, of course! However, they should
have some plenty of early warning if their route was taking them toward one of these
subterranean “Lakes of Fire”!
However, he had a gut-feeling that the one which had fired this particular volcano
had emptied itself when it created that incredible 160 kilometer-long lava-tube. Not to
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mention its generous contribution to the surrounding lava-fields! All they could do was
to keep on heading downwards, if they could find a passable route, and hope for the best!
“Now for the hard part!” said Drew with a grin. “Has anybody got any questions?”
Hazel shot her hand up immediately. “Whut heppens uf we strike an impessable lava
lake? Do we try to find a way around ut, or do we just peck up end go somewhure else?”
The others all laughed nervously, except for the professor who had anticipated that this
would be precisely the case.
Well,” said Drew, “since we couldn’t go through it, I guess we’d have to try some-
where else. We could spend forever trying to get around it, since we’d have no idea of its
extent. So why waste the energy? No. We’d just have to look for some other promising
site.”
Now it was Marianne’s turn . “how aboat the raise in temperature as we go lower?”
she asked. “I did a lot of serious study in academic geophysics when I started getting into
Hollow Earth theory – kinda “Know Thine Enemy” stuff – you know? And I read that the
temperature goes up at around 25-30º Centigrade for every klick you go down, and the air
pressure rises too, so how will that affect us? I mean are we gonna get cooked on the
bone as we go – or what? Wouldn’t we have been better maybe trying somewhere out in
the center of the old original plateau part of OZ?”
Drew stroked his chin thoughtfully before answering. “Well to be honest, I thought
about somewhere like the Kimberley or the Nullarbor to start with. But the big problem
there is that the Kimberley probably has a very widespread water-table below the plateau.
The Nullarbor caves are pretty well all limestone, water-worn ones, which means it’s all
old coral reef. And while the caves are very plentiful and extensive, they don’t go very
deep - not for our purposes, anyway!” Then he laughed. However, we could dig our own
way down a lot easier, of course!” Then he noticed Errol thumbing himself in the chest.
“Did you want to say something, Errol? The stage is yours, mate!” He stepped back as
Errol came forward.
“Lookit, folks!” he smiled. “This whole thing is one of those “Go For Broke” exercises.
We looked at a whole raft of maps and charts. I know I spent many hours back home
studying cave-systems all around the globe. I also studied a lot of those satellite ground-
penetrating radar topographical charts of the Earth. But wherever I looked, the likeliest
regions and cave-systems had already been thoroughly examined and checked out by top
speleologists and geologists. They all wound up in blind ends.
“Sure, there’s plenty of deep ones in places like Yugoslavia, China, India and South
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America, but they’ve all been checked. So I thought, “Hey! Why do we always look in the
most obvious places? Maybe we should take a peek in some of the places nobody ever
thought of trying?” Like in a volcanic region, for example! Who Knows? Mebbe old Jules
Verne had the right idea in the first place? I sure hope he won’t mind us borrowing his
basic idea! But the big question was where in the world has the least surveying been
done into subterranean tunnel and cave systems? We wanted somewhere totally different
and off the beaten path.. Let’s face it, folks, the goddamn Mammoth Caves have been
examined by everybody and his dog!”
This brought a laugh from them all.
“Anyhow,” Errol continued, warming to his subject, “Drew here got this bug about
an old – a really ancient old – volcanic area, here in Australia, where nothing has hap-
pened for a hundred or even two hundred thousand years! In my book, people, any
volcanoes that last went off that far back in time, have gotta be cold-stone dead! And
they just might have left a whole heap of empty vents, pipes and passages that could
mebbe take us straight down to where we wanna go!”
He paused and waved his arms out wide in a theatrical sweeping gesture toward the
chamber in general.
“So here we all are, folks, in a province that once held a hundred and sixty-plus
shield-volcanoes! The nicest kind! And this one was the last to go off, a hundred and
ninety thousand years ago! But wait! There’s more! The big plus is that it’s right on the
edge of the volcanic field! And it’s the one that emptied itself out the most completely,
too! It’s gotta be the best bet! That’s why we’re here, folks!”
Errol concluded his input with a very passable impersonation of Warner Brothers
famous cartoon character, “Bugs Bunny” saying “Er-be-der-be-derb-That’s All folks!”. Then
he said: “I return you now, ladies and gentlemen, to our Host, Mr. Drew MacDonnell, for
some concluding remarks!” and he pretended to hand an imaginary microphone back over
to Drew, with a low sweeping bow.
Everybody laughed heartily and the girls gave Errol a big round of applause .
Drew was grinning too, when he said: “Well! How can a bloke follow an act like that!
What more can I really say? Maybe the best trick is for us to go on into the main lava-
chamber and see what we can with the aid of a couple of the flares. I want you all to keep
your eyes peeled while the flares are burning, as they only last around a minute at a time.
We’ll be looking for any sort of exit-tunnels or shafts that will lead us down from there,
OK?” Everybody nodded, and Bob went off to fetch Drew’s haversack which contained
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the flares, from back up the gallery..
While Bob was away, Drew foolishly asked if anyone had any further questions. One
hand shot up. It was the professor’s, and he was frowning furiously!
CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 12 CHAPTER 12
Drew’s heart sank within him. “The old sod’s going to torpedo the whole thing!” he
thought glumly. A quick glance toward Errol confirmed that he, too, was thinking exactly
the same thing. The professor struck his customary arrogant pose that Drew and Errol
recalled all too well from his Edinburgh lectures. His thumbs were in his armpits and his
bewhiskered jaw protruded at a highly aggressive angle.
“Ah just want tae tak ye back to ye’r comments consairning the increase in tempera-
ture as ye go doon in the Aith’s crust!” he said. “For some reason, ye all seem tae have the
eempression that the heat is rising from the mantle. Weel, Ah can see Ah’ll hae tae set ye
straight on that idea!” He paced back and forth waving a descriptive hand as he spoke,
and Drew sighed, in anticipation of a lengthy diatribe, rolling his eyes Heavenward as Errol
stared beseechingly in his direction. Nobody could stop Din-Dins when he was in full
verbal flight!
But the professor was speaking again.
“Ah’ve heerd a’ sorts of rubbish talked aboot this heat-depth business, but naebody
seems tae ken the truth o’ the maitter! The heat that comes from deep rocks is due to
naithing but praissure from the rock-layers above! When yo go doon a coalmine, most of
the heat ye feel is being released frae the rocks by the miners an’ their excavators as they
dig oot the coal!” He glared around his listeners as if daring any of them to argue the
point with him.
“It’s exactly the same wi’ yon Western Deep gold mine in Sooth Afreeca! The
deeper ye go wi’ ye’r excavations, the mair heat-energy ye release frae the rocks – and
mind ye weel that some sort o’rocks hauld it better than others! Also, ye can add tae that
a’ the heat that’s bein’ produced by the macheenery an’ the swaitin’bodies o’ the workers!
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A mine shaft is naithing more than a grand ‘heat–trap’, pure an’ semple, and the deeper ye
drive it, the mair heat it will trap – and hauld!”
He smiled benignly upon what was now his lecture-class. “So there ye hae the
solution – at least in some great pairt – to yon riddle o’ “The Deeper the Hoatter”! Ye
naiver hear yon pot-holers an’ speleologists complainin’ aboot the heat, dae ye, noo? No!
Because the hauls have already been dug oot by Nature Hairself, meellions of years ago!”
He positively beamed at the group. Then, to Drew and Errol’s amazement, he inclined his
leonine head slightly, as if acknowledging thunderous roars of applause and concluded his
dissertation by remarking: “An’ that’s all Ah’ve goat tae say upon the subjaict! Dinna say
Ah never taucht ye anything!”
He then turned to Drew, smiled, and handed back the metaphorical reigns. “Noo
then, for Pity’s Sake, Andrae, let’s get on wi’ the sairch, mah wee mannie!” he grinned, as
Bob returned with Drew’s haversack.
Drew, his head still swimming with this sudden revelation of the professor’s “other
side” lead the way, following the damaged orange fluorescent tape-line on the gallery
floor into the sloping tunnel and thence down into the ancient ruinous magma chamber.
Eroll gallantly clambered down after Drew, and assisted the two girls down over the three-
foot drop to the floor of the chamber. They both enjoyed being lifted down by the Hand-
some young American. But when he offered his hand to the professor, Chas brusquely
waved him away, saying that he was “no’ ower the bluidy hill yet!”. To prove the point, he
jumped down agilely to the chamber floor below, surprisingly without mishap. Bob also
followed, but he climbed down carefully.
His early life as a station hand, often alone in the outback, had taught him to be
wary of taking any chances of injury, far from help and medical treatment. Meanwhile,
Drew had opened up the pack of illumination flares and had passed two to Errol, who
needed no instruction on how to use it. “Plant one of yours over there somewhere,
mate,” said Drew and I’ll place mine over the other side here, that way we ought to cover
most of the area! But don’t ignite it till I give you the word, and save the second one ready
for a back-up, OK?”
Errol nodded, then cautiously picked his way over fallen rocks away into the looming
inky darkness.
Then Drew, after finding the opposite wall of the wide chamber with equal difficulty,
called out to the others, who had remained close to the entry hole. “Now, listen up,
people! “he called, his voice echoing around some large open space hidden by the black-
ness. “We’re just about to floodlight the chamber, and when we do, we’ll have around a
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minute to look around for any signs of likely-looking exits from this place. Look around the
walls and the floor, too. Any sign of a tunnel-mouth or a passage, go and stand beside it,
and stay put. All right?” A chorus of “OKs” came echoing back.
Then, grasping the first flare firmly in his left hand, Drew, shouted “RIGHT, ERROL!”
and twisted the cap off the top of the cylinder. At once a blinding pinkish light blossomed
forth to illuminate the chamber, followed at once by another from the opposite side.
Fortunately, Drew had closed his eyes tightly as he ignited the flare so he was saved from
wasting several seconds in dazzled blindness. The glare even penetrated his closed eye-
lids, but as he opened his eyes carefully, he found the chamber to be brilliantly illuminated
in stark pink and black detail.
Above his head was a rough jagged ceiling that sloped down almost to the rock-
strewn “floor”, which was really little more than a jumbled mass of broken rock slabs and
chunks. He was amazed that nobody had fallen over them and broken an ankle. What
walls could be seen appeared to be fairly smooth, the original portions of the collapsed
lava plug that had been molded against them having broken away cleanly toppling down
to become the flattish slabs upon which they were standing.
Near the center was a dark depression, or pit, whilst around the walls there were
several black holes which were probably the mouths of secondary lava-tubes and fuma-
roles. The rest of the crew clambered rapidly across the rocky chamber floor to stand by
those holes they had particularly noticed. Then Drew’s flare began to fizzle out rapidly
into a faint pink glow, followed a second or two later by Errol’s.
The ensuing blackness was quite stygian, but for the comparatively feeble glow of
the helmet lamps of the others, now scattered around the chamber.
“Is everyone OK?” called Drew. “Nobody hurt or stuck anywhere?” There came a
second chorus of “OKs”, and just to be certain, Drew counted the pairs of headlamps.
There were five, so, including himself, all were accounted for, thankfully! “Right!” he
called again, “What I want you to do now, is look carefully into the aperture or hole you
have picked, then sing out if it looks passable – Oh! And tell me if you feel any draught
coming out of it! I’m going over to the middle of the floor now!” By the light of his
helmet lamps, he carefully made his way over toward where he’s seen the deep shadowed
depression. As he cautiously approached it, he went down on all fours until he reached
its location. Then, as he peered downwards Drew saw a deep black pit yawning away
below him! It appeared to be around twenty or more feet across, and to his astonish-
ment, he felt an upward rushing current of warmish air upon his face! He was staggered
by his find, for it could only be one thing – and something he would never have believed
possible in a million years! It had to be the original central throat of the volcano, up which
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all that incredibly vast flow of magma had been violently vomited two hundred thousand
years before!
As he crouched there staring in incredulity down into the inky-black well, he heard
the others calling out the results of their own finds. They had all found passages of
varying dimensions between two to six feet in diameter, but none reported any noticeable
air-currents blowing from their tunnels and tubes. The draught was coming solely from
the volcano’s long dead gaping maw!
Suddenly as he sat with his mind in a turmoil, a loud yell rang out across the cham-
ber. “Arrghh! Get off, you goddamn brute! HELP! OUCH! Leggo, you little bastard!
URGHHHH…!” cried Errol’s horrified voice, ending in a yell of pain and disgust. Drew
gaped across to where Errol’s helmet-lamps were bobbing frantically about in the dark-
ness, as he apparently fought off some unseen animal assailant!
In a flash, Drew stood upright and fumbled in his pocket for the other hand-flare.
He wrenched of the cap and held the flare high above his head. As it burst into a blinding
glare of pink radiance, he saw Errol kicking wildly at something with his boots and punch-
ing at it with his gloved hands. Drew stared hard but at first the attacking creature was
hidden from his view by the intervening jumble of rocks, then it gave vent to a tremen-
dous shriek of agony, and he saw a glistening brownish, reptilian form leap away from
Errol into the dark shadows of the rocks. Within seconds Drew had scrambled across to
Errol’s side, as also had Bob, who was the nearest to him.
Errol was staring wildly about him, his eyes bulging in terror. For a moment he
remained utterly speechless, then, realizing he was safe. He slumped down against the
chamber wall, almost in tears. “Holy Hell, Drew!” he gasped. “W-w-what in God’s Name
was THAT? It was trying to goddamn EAT me!” Then he clutched is thigh with a pained
groan. And at that second the flare in Drew’s hand went out. Fortunately, the combina-
tion of Bob’s headlamps and his own couple with those on Errol’s helmet, proved adequate
to examine Errol’s leg. It had definitely been bitten, and some blood was seeping through
the tough material of his coverall pants-leg. But, thankfully it didn’t look too serious.
From inside his own coveralls, Bob produced a miraculously clean and still folded
handkerchief, which he padded over the bite-wound, binding it in position with one of
Drew’s own less pristine handkerchiefs. “I don’t think it’s too serious, mate.” Bob said to
Errol, “But I reckon we should wash it off with somethin’ in case that bloody goanna – or
whatever- was poisonous! I think I’ve got the very stuff up in the chopper! But we’ll have
to get you up there first.” By now, Errol had recovered from the shock of the attack, and
was calming down. He stood up gingerly and tested his weight on the bitten thigh. Apart
from a couple of winces as he flexed the muscles, he found he could use the leg, so with
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an apology to Drew for making a fool of himself, he allowed Bob to help him across to the
sloping entrance tunnel. Chas was there to help Bob get him up onto its ledge and then
Bob lead him off up the corridor.
As he went, Errol called back to Drew, “Don’t stop what you’re doing on my account,
bro’, I’ll be fine with Bob.”
Drew suddenly realizing that he had no flares left, shouted after Bob to toss his
haversack down to him before going up with Errol. Within a couple of seconds Bob
reappeared with the bag, and slid it down the steep sloping tube where Drew was able to
catch it. “Don’t worry about Errol, mate,” he said. “Jimmy will haul him up on the block
an’ tackle and Dr. John Walker should be able to fix him up! Inside and out!” then with
a big grin at Drew, he turned and went back to see to Errol’s hookup to the hauling-line
dangling down the fumarole. It took Drew a few seconds to realize who the hell this
“Doctor John Walker” was. Bob must have a bottle of Scotch stashed in the chopper!
“Weel!” said a familiar voice over his shoulder, “Yon was a fine auld “carry-on”,
wasnae it?” The professor had found his way over from the far side of the chamber. “What
in the name of Gaud was yon beastie, Andrew? Ah thoucht Harold was bein’ killed! Ah
hope there’s nae more o’its kin hangin’ aroond the veceenity! Will Harold be all richt, d’ye
think?”
Drew turned towards his mentor with a deep sigh. “Oh, I think he’ll be in good
hands, Chas! Bob’s taken him to see Doctor Walker – “Johnny Walker” - that is! I daresay
you’ll be acquainted with him? Oh, yes! And his name is ERROL, not HAROLD, by the
way - I think I might have mentioned that before!”
The professor’s eyes lit up at this. “ Aye, laddie, ye did, an’ Ahm sorry. Ah must be
stairtin’ intae mah dotage! But as for yon other fellah, “Johnny Walker”, Ahm enclined tae
agree wi’ Bob’s choice o’ “healers”! Though Ah must admit, “Doctor Grant” fills oot a’
mah ain prescriptions! Och, aye, and ye’ll no forget yon young lassies, will ye? Ah raither
imagine they’re scared hairf witless by noo!”
Drew suddenly remembered, with instant self-reproach, that he’d been so con-
cerned about Errol that he’d completely forgotten Hazel and Marianne, who were, accord-
ing to the positions of their helmet lights, now sitting perched closely together upon the
highest rock in the cave, in fear of the creature that must still be lurking among the jagged
slabs and boulders. He called out some words of comfort to them both, and that he’d be
over directly to guide them back to safety. They both called back that they were OK, but
would he please hurry, as they were getting a tad cold and the rock was getting pretty
hard to sit on! They certainly didn’t sound particularly scared, which was another pleas-
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ant surprise!
For some reason it also struck him then that there was another, waggishly witty side
to the professor. As well as an unflappable strength of character he had never even sus-
pected in this pedantic, middle-aged scholar who had spent most of his sheltered life in
the cloistered calm of Edinburgh’s hallowed halls of learning! Then he suddenly remem-
bered something else! The SHAFT!
“Come on, professor!” he said grabbing Chas’s elbow and steering him back into the
chamber. “We’ll both go and rescue the damsels in distress, and then I’ll show you
something that’ll really make your eyes pop!” He slung the haversack over his shoulder
and led the way, over and around the jumble of dark rocks that strewed the uneven floor
of the chamber. In a few moments they reached the two young women, who despite their
seeming bravado, were really only too relieved to see them again.
“I thunk one of my lemps is just storting to run down.” said Hazel, as Drew helped
her down off the high rock. “We were begunning to gut worried about beung stuck in the
dork! Wuth thet “thung” thet ettecked Errol, whatuver ut was!” Her sudden lapse back
into her native Kiwi accent spoke volumes for her concealed fear.
But Marianne didn’t seem half so perturbed as her friend. Her face was calm and
serene as Drew looked up at her, and he had to manfully resist the urge to kiss her on her
full on the lips as he lifted her down from her rocky seat.
“Weel,” said Chas, as Drew fitted two new batteries into Hazel’s battery lamp. “Sae
much for the lassies in distress, mannie! Noo what aboot the bluidy draigon?”
Drew handed Hazel’s once-more brightly-lit helmet back to her, then turned to Chas.
“Patience! Patience!” he said. “Before we go hunting for goannas, Chas, I’ve got some-
thing to show you that’ll knock your socks off!”
Then he turned and led them all carefully across to where he had found the great
pit, cautioning them to keep well behind him. He groped in his haversack and produced
another couple of flares. “Shut your eyes everybody, I don’t want you to be blinded when
I strike the flare - I want you to be able to see this properly!” Then he closed his own eyes
for a moment and twisted off the flare canister cap. Once the initial blaze had steadied he
told them to take a look
A second later they were all staring in astounded wonder down into the brilliantly-lit
shaft of the volcano. The girls gasped in astonishment as they peered over the edge of
the great gaping pit, and the sudden intake of breath by the professor spoke volumes to
Drew. At last he had been able to impress him!
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“I canna BELIEVE it!” cried Chas in an awed voice. “Yon’s got tae be the actual MAIN
CONDUIT o’ the volcano, and yet it’s as CLEAN as a wheestle! Ah’d never ha’e believed it.
Posseeble, but noo Ah’ve seen it for mahsel’ – Weel, what mair can Ah say? It’s utterly
MAIRVELLOUS!” He stared downward in wonder until the flare died and he could see no
more than its rim.
Then Drew had a great idea. “Professor!” he announced, “I’m going to try some-
thing out that should be even more spectacular! Hang onto your hats everyone!”
He withdrew another flare from his haversack and after warning the others, he
screwed off its cap and, as it started to burst into a pink glare of blinding light, he tossed
it into the deep pit. They all lay peering down as the brilliant blossom of rosy light plunged
down the conduit. It seemed to fall straight down forever, gradually dwindling in its
intensity as it went on descending into the pit. They lay and crouched still watching its
diminishing glow for almost a full minute, until it suddenly winked out.
Man! It must be miles and miles deep!” cried Chas. “If yon wee flare fell for sexty
saiconds at thairty-two feet pair saicond pair second – it must ha’e fallen ower two miles,
before it went oot! Aye, an’ nae doobt it’s probably stell fallin’! An’ no a blockage in
sight!” Then he extended a hand palm downward over the shaft, feeling the gentle
updrafting of mildly warm but clean air. “But what Ah canna comprehend is whiere on
Airth – or mebbe whiere in the Airth - this air-current can be blawing from? If it was hot
gas, such as sulfur dioxide, Ah could onderstaind it weel, but this is pairfectly clean fraish
air – or Ah’m a bluidy Dutchman!”
Drew laughed at this last remark. “Somehow, Chas, I can’t imagine anybody mistak-
ing you for a bloody Dutchman! But it’s certainly a weird phenomenon all right! And so
is this perfectly clear conduit, too!” Then he fell silent for a few moments as an absolutely
crazy idea began to unfold itself within his agile mind.
The silence was suddenly broken by a rapid scuttling and rustling noise close behind
them, followed by the awful sensation of taloned feet scrabbling and pattering across their
exposed backs as they lay prone beside the pit. They felt a final sudden push upon their
helmets and, by the light of their collective headlamps, they saw a spreadeagled shape
like that of a small child leaping down past their horrified faces to plunge headlong into
the pit! The whole strange business all happened with such surprising speed, that the
thing was gone in a couple of seconds, but Drew seemed to gain the fleeting impression,
by the dimming light of their helmet-lamps, that the creature possessed outstretched
wings of some kind! They could only assume that, whatever it was, the creature must
have been the same animal that had attacked Errol earlier. As if right upon cue, all this
was followed before they had time to gather their wits, by a ruckus of noisy activity and
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laughing voices over in the direction of the entrance passage. As they rose up onto their
knees, Drew and Chas saw two bobbing serts of helmet-lamps heading in their direction,
still accompanied by a good deal of loud chatter and laughter.
Drew needed no telling that it was Errol and Bob, and judging by the cheerfulness of
their dispositions, Dr. “Johnny Walker” had ministered his antiseptic (if alcoholic) services
as liberally internally as externally!
Soon the happy pair had joined the other four around the shaft. “How’s it goin’,
fellers?” cried Bob, grinning from ear to ear. “Errol here’s as right as rain, again! Nothing
a bloody Scotch compress can’t cure, eh, Errol?” He nudged the equally cheerful Errol in
the ribs.
“Oh, dead right, old buddy!” he replied. “Especially when you suck the poison out
through one! And there’s no need to spit it out, either!” Then he caught Drew’s frown of
disapproval, and assumed a more sober mien. “What’s been happening, guys? Did you
catch the nasty little bugger?”
“No!” said Drew, pointing to the black pit. “He went down there!”
That had an immediate sobering effect upon them both – especially when Drew
squandered another of their dwindling supply of flares by lobbing it down into the hole to
give Errol and Bob a real tonsils-view of the depth of the volcano’s deep conduit throat.
Errol reeled backward as though he’d been shot.
“Well, I’ll be goddamned!” he cried after he had recovered somewhat from his
initial amazement. “That’s got to be our way down, Drew! Wowee!” he shouted as the
pink flare finally flickered and die far below. “Who’d have ever thought of it, guys! A
volcano with an open gullet after thousands of years of extinction!” then he paused a
moment to reflect. “All we gotta do now is think of a way to climb down there! But I’ll
tell you what, buddy! It’s gonna be one hell of a rappell!”
Drew smiled back at him smugly. “Already cracked it, old mate!” he said, ”We don’t
rappel or climb – we FLOAT down !”
Everybody stared at him then as if he’d finally gone crazy. Bob was the first to
speak. “What d’yer mean, son, FLOAT down? Are yer goin’ to fill it with bloody water an’
sit in a rubber duckie while the water gurgles away down the plug hole?”
“Hey! That’s not such a bad idea!” laughed Drew. Then he turned to Errol and the
professor. “Fellers, what I’m proposing is that - since both Errol and I have done a bit of
base-jumping in our time – we both parachute down the conduit! It’d be as safe as a
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bloody bank! There’s a nice rising air-current to keep us reasonably slow and steady, and
there’s heaps of room if we go down on above the other!” He stared hard at Errol. “What
do you reckon, mate? Are you game? D’you reckon you could do it if I went first?”
The two stalwart young men stared each other squarely in the eye. They‘d enjoyed
many harebrained dangerous adventures together during their pot-holing and scuba-
diving in the perilous jagged mountains and Hebridean seaways of northwestern Scotland
– and they had rapelled the high cliffs of its northern coastline. And they had base-
jumped from many an ancient rocky pinnacle and stack around the Orkney isles - includ-
ing the 500-foot “Old Man of Hoy”.
“Well?” said Drew after allowing Errol a moment or two for reflection. “Are you in or
are you out?” He smiled mesmerizing at the young American, who smiled back. “OK, you
persuasive Aussie bastard!” drawled Errol at last,. “Count me IN!” Then they gripped
each other by the forearm - an almost Biblical, brotherly gesture they had often made
during their University days to signify their total and binding agreement on any and all
matters.
The others stared at them in blank disbelief. Chas was the first to give voice to his
views upon this madness. “Laddies! Ye must be utterly mad! Ye’d be jumping tae ye’re
sairtain deaths doon there! Hoo the heill would ye ever get back again, d’ye think? Fly,
pairhaps? Always supposing that ye didnae get burned tae a tatty cresp once ye hit the
molten magma at the bottom, that is!”
“Yair! Bugger that for a game of soldiers, Sonny Jim!” put in Bob. “Your Mum’d never
allow it, Drew, an’ you bloody well know it!” he yelled. “But knowin’ you, my lad, you’d go
an’do it, anyhow!” Bob scowled at Drew, then he added. “What the hell would I tell your
Mum if anything happened to you? Have you thought about that, Drew?”
Drew just stared back at him with a patient “Have-You-Finished?” look on his face.
“Bob,” he said quietly, “All you need to do is tell Mum we went on an expedition and that
we didn’t know quite how long it’ll take us to find what we’re looking for. Tell her that
she’ll be the first to know we’re back - when we all front up again on the verandah steps,
starving hungry and hollering for a decent feed, OK? Tell her to enjoy the peace and
quiet while she has the chance! We will be back, you know! You can bet your bottom
dollar on it, Bob! And that’s a solemn promise!”
Then he turned to Errol. “What do you say, old mate? Aren’t I right?”
Errol grinned and nodded. “It’s what we both wanted to do for years, Drew, so
nothing is gonna stop us now! But if we can make it there, we can sure as heck make it
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back again! Getting there is only half the fun! The other half is getting back, so we’re hot
to trot, an’rarin’ to go! Yes, Sirree, Bub! In any case,” he continued, ”we haven’t even
gone yet, Bob! We’ve still got to get ourselves a couple of parachutes and perhaps
something to defend ourselves with – in case we meet any more of those goddamn lizard
things! Yeah! A couple of six-shooters and a bunch of ammo would definitely be worth
lugging along! I know I’d feel a whole heap easier with one of those in my belt!”
Drew immediately agreed with Errol. “Have to go along with that, mate! D’you
know where we could get our mitts on a couple of handguns, Bob? And a wad of ammo,
too? I think Errol’s dead right, we….”
“Ye’d better mak’ that THREE!” boomed the professor. “And ye’d better buy three
bluidy parachutes, an’ three pestols too, while ye’re aboot it! Ah’m coming along wi’ ye,
like it or lump it! An’ before ye stairt wittering aboot mah age, Ah’ll ha’e ye ken that Ah’m
nae a peely-wally weakling, an’Ah can steell toass a fair auld caber when Ah’ve a mind tae
do so! And, what’s more, Ah’m nae a mean shot wi’ a Smith an’Wesson, either!”
Here both Drew and Errol began to speak at the same time, but the professor would
not be stopped. “No! NO!” he cried, in red-faced anger, before his two ex-pupils could
began voicing their objections. “Ah’ll no’ be talked oot of it! Ah’m dammed if Ah weel! A
pair o’hairf-wetted reckless eejots like ye’rsel’s will need a steady haund tae steer ye, so
Ah’m coming with ye, and that’s it, an’ all aboot it!”
There followed a stony silence among the four men as they stood, each glaring at
the others. The two girls stood behind them fuming silently together. Nobody had asked
them if they wanted to take part in the terrifying exercise that was being contemplated,
and it grated hard upon their sense of feminine equality. Good old male chauvinism
appeared to be raising its ugly head even here in the heart of an extinct volcano! How-
ever, in the atmosphere of heightened tension that already prevailed among the men,
they wisely decided to refrain from adding fuel to an already smouldering fire. They
would wait for a more opportune moment.
Drew decided that a change of subject would perhaps divert the situation before it
reached a complete impasse. “What about this lizard thing that bit Errol?’ he said, “Has
anybody got any ideas about it? I mean it was a pretty ferocious creature, and four of us
actually saw it jump into the conduit and kind of glide down, as if it had some sort of
wings! Gee! We even felt it run across our backs, before it leapt over our heads, so we
couldn’t have imagined it!”
“Perhaps it might’ve been a frilly lizard?” suggested Bob. “They’ll bite if you get ‘em
cornered, and they have that big flappy frill that they can raise around their heads, too.
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Are you sure it wasn’t one of them, Drew?”
But Drew had seen too many frilled lizards in his youth on the station property to
know that it wasn’t. And he told them as much. This thing had been twice as big – if not
three times bigger – than any frilly lizard he’d ever seen, and it had appeared, from what
brief glimpses he’d had of it, to be somehow more hominid in its shape and its two-legged
gait. In other words, it had seemed to him to carry itself like a little manlike animal! Sure,
he added, when Bob raised the point, he too had seen frilly lizards running on their two
back limbs like bandy-legged little dragons, but this thing had seemed very different.
Errol interjected here to suggest that the creature might have been some type of
pterodactyl. It had certainly had a projecting horny mouth or beak full of sharp teeth, as
his leg bore witness! But Drew didn’t recall it as the image of a pterodactyl.
It suddenly occurred to him, as the fleeting image focussed more sharply in his
memory, that it had borne flaps of loose skin similar to a frilly lizard, but that they had
been stretched between its forelimbs and hind feet like the membranes of the glider
possums, and which they used so cleverly in their gargantuan hundred-yard leaps from
tree to tree! This would also work like a parachute as it dropped down the gullet of the
volcano, since the rising air-current was easily strong enough to slow its rate of descent
and prevent it from gaining any acceleration! What if the bloody things had become
adapted for exactly that purpose!
Then as he warmed to his theme, and his memory shifted into overdrive, he re-
called more sharply the fleeting glimpse of something he had seen as he and Errol were
beginning to ascend the fumarole after their first quick trip underground. It had been
something very similar in general appearance and size, he was sure, and it had been
darting about the rocks – watching them! It might have been the same one they encoun-
tered here in the lava chamber – but he had his doubts. If they’d spotted one, then it was
London to a brick that there must be others around, too!
These verbal musings obviously registered with his companions as they began to
peer around them among the tumbled rocks. Every time a helmet lamp flicked across a
rocky aperture, it created the illusion of furtive movement, and before long, Hazel stood
up staring around herself apprehensively.
“Hey, look, you fillers!” she said. “I thunk ut’s about time we got out of here! Ut’s
begunning to guv me the blooming creeps! All thus talk about luzards watching us is
gitting a bet hard to take! Anybody coming wuth me?”
Marianne stood up then, and Drew, who had realized that they were simply wasting
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battery-power in their helmet lights, also arose to his feet.
“I guess Hazel’s probably right, folks.” he said reluctantly. “There’s not a lot we can
really do around here right now anyhow, since we’ve found the way down, and where the
draught’s coming from. We’ve done really well today! So let’s get up top and have a
breath of fresh air and a bit of a “Smoko”, eh?”
Bob glanced at his watch in the dimming light of his headlamps. “Bloody Hell,
Drew!” he ejaculated. “Have you consulted your bloody watch lately, mate? It’s nearly four
in the bloody afternoon! I dunno about “Smoko”, but I reckon we should be heading
home for our bloody dinner!”
They were all astonished at the rapid passage of time, so Errol led the way across
the treacherous rocks, pausing here and there to help the girls over the more tricky bits in
his usual gallant way. The two older men had to fend for themselves, whilst Drew brought
up the rear, glancing carefully around him as he went. However there were no more
incidents and soon they were congregated below the fumarole tube.
Bob hollered up the tube to arouse Jimmy, and was surprised to hear his instant
reply. “You comin’ up now, boss? OK, I’m all ready up here!”
Drew tied the rope to Hazel’s harness first, then shouted up to Jimmy to haul away.
As Hazel’s boots vanished steadily up the tube, he beckoned next to Marianne. “You OK?”
he murmured. She looked up at his face and said “Yes, Drew! You don’t need to worry
about me!” Then the rope came dangling down toward them again and soon she, too,
had disappeared upwards. Within another ten or fifteen minutes they were all safely
above ground and standing around the helicopter, whilst Bob and Jimmy packed up the
loose gear that was lying around.
As before, Bob flew off with the two girls and this time Chas, leaving Jimmy to finish
packing their stuff into the tent. The fuel-gauge was reading half full, but he wasn’t
worried as he’d already had half a dozen forty-four gallon drums of chopper-fuel delivered
the day before and he already had a portable gas-pump to hand to top the machine up
before returning..
The chopper was dwindling away to a tiny gleaming speck in the sky as Drew and
Errol sat down in the shade to talk over the day’s amazing discoveries and events. “Well,
old buddy!” said Errol, leaning back and wincing more than a trifle painfully against a tree
trunk. “What a goddamn day this has been, eh, Drew!”
This reminded Drew suddenly of the bite his friend had received from the lizard, and
he realized that he’d never asked him since if the wound was getting any easier. He did so
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now rather red-faced.
“Is your leg still very sore, Erb?” he asked. “Sorry I forgot to ask earlier in all the
excitement, old son!”
Errol grinned back at him clenching his even white teeth in mock stoicism. “Only
when I laugh!” he answered jokingly. “No it’s not too bad really, buddy, but I won’t be
sorry to get a shot of some antitoxin of some kind, just in case!”
Drew was a little concerned at this, as he’d been thinking the same thing since most
lizard bites could turn nasty – even quite small ones. “Here, mate,” he said, “Let’s have a
gander at it! We don’t want you to be laid up with blood-poisoning at this stage of the
game, do we? You’d better just drop your daks and let me have a gig at it!” And as Errol
pretended to be alarmed at the idea, he added “Come on now, don’t start going bloody
shy on me after all this time, you silly sod!”
Errol did has he was told and revealed the bite-marks. They were certainly quite
deep and the skin around the wound was quite puffy and reddened. It was obviously very
sore, but Drew could see no sign of any effects of poison or venom. With a bit of proper
treatment and some bed-rest with the leg elevated, he felt it should be well on the mend
within a day or so. However, when he told Errol this, he got quite angry.
“No goddamn way, buddy!” he cried. “I’m not gonna hold up this operation a day
longer than we need! It’ll be fine by morning - even if I have to bath in whisky!”
But Drew was adamant. “Listen, mate! We have to get some parachutes anyhow,
so that’s tomorrow spoken for…..and don’t forget that Bob will be chasing up some artillery
for us, too! I doubt if we’ll be kited out until at least the day after tomorrow – if then! So
you can stay home and relax that bloody leg while Bob and I go out and do a bit of
shopping – OK? Maybe we should get the Flying Doctor to come and have a look at you,
tomorrow, anyhow! He might be able to hurry things along a bit with the healing-pro-
cess?”
Errol finally saw reason and caved in. Drew was talking sense as usual. It wouldn’t
help if he went underground again carrying a suppurating injury. Common sense had to
be allowed to prevail in such a situation. “Oh, hell! OK, Drew, you win!” he agreed. “I just
feel like I’m letting the goddamn side down, just when it’s all starting to happen, and ….”
“Drew’s instant reply to all this was crude but to the point. “Bullshit!” he said.
After a long silence, Errol spoke again. This time about the professor’s insistence on
coming with them on their marathon dive down the volcano’s conduit “What do you think
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about old Din-Dins, Drew? Do you think he’s up to it? I’d hate to go through life knowing
I’d allowed the dear old guy to jump to his death! I mean, what if the Prof has a goddamn
heart-attack on the way down? How’re we gonna feel, buddy? He might …..”
“Oh, for Pete’s Sake, Errol!” yelled Drew, in an unusual flash of annoyance. “Give it
a bloody rest, will you? If Chas doesn’t come back, the chances are that we won’t either,
so I don’t think the concept of blame really applies, does it? He’s elected publicly to
come with us, regardless of what we wanted him to do, so I guess he’s responsible for
whatever happens to him. Not you, or me – HE, himself! If he gets himself killed, in
whatever way, on this trip, it’s his own doing, so there’s no sense in blaming yourself,
mate! People make their own life or death choices every day of their lives – and the Prof
has made his! So let’s forget about the gloomy thoughts and hope for the best. OK?”
Then he turned to moodily scan the darkling evening sky.
Errol stared at Drew moodily. This was the first time Drew had jumped on him in
this way, and it didn’t sit too well. Then he thought about it all a little further, and began
to realize that Drew was under an enormous strain. First Bob had given him a verbal
hiding, then the professor, and now he himself was beginning to air his own doubts and
worries! No wonder Drew had rounded on him! “Et tu, Brute?”
Drew sensed Errol’s gaze upon him and turned back toward him. “Look, Errol, old
son,” he said. “Sorry if I bit your head off, but I’ve had it up to here with bloody “Nay-
sayers” for one day! So let’s forget about it, eh! OK?”
“OK!” said Errol, only too happy that Drew had relented in his anger. “How long
d’you reckon it is since Bob left? I’m hungry enough to eat a goddamn horse!”
Jimmy, who had been listening to their discussion from under the tent flap, now
chimed in by offering to go and catch Errol a nice fat python. “He’s bloody good tucker!”
he affirmed, flashing his big white teeth. “You jus’ ask Mister Drew, he knows - eh, Mister
Drew?” then he fell back and rolled around cackling with mirth.
Errol stared at Jimmy in amazement. Then he turned to Drew, “What the hell was
all that about, bro’?” he asked.
But Drew just grinned at him and said, “Maybe you’ll find out for yourself someday
soon, mate!” He recalled his thoughts about getting Jimmy to treat Errol to a “Bush-
Barbecue” sometime, as Bob and his Dad had once done with him!
It was nearly an hour later before Bob finally returned with the chopper. He’d had a
bit of trouble with the hand-pump whilst refueling the tank, but it was all right now.
However, the dark would be upon them soon so he wanted to get them aboard and away
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with all speed, having had no experience of night-flying a chopper.
“That’s OK, Bob!” said Errol, “I'll fly her home, so don’t worry! You can learn from
me as we go. I won’t be using my leg much, so we’ll be just dandy! Really!” he added
when he saw the doubt creeping in Bob’s weary eyes.
It was quite dark by the time they arrived back in the vicinity of the homestead, and
Errol had to use the large searchlight underneath the fuselage to first locate the house
itself and then a landing spot in the yard. However, they got down in perfect safety, even
though Errol himself had only flown a helicopter a couple of times before in the dark. By
now however, despite his claims of being fine, his leg had stiffed up quite painfully and he
had to be helped down from the chopper, and assisted by Drew and Jimmy to the house,
whilst Bob secured the helicopter for the night.
Once indoors, Joan, who had already been told by the girls and Chas of Errol’s
encounter with some sort of savage reptile, insisted on inspecting the bite for herself. She
had been a nurse before a much younger Bob Jackson came into her life as a patient in the
Mackay Base hospital, and when he finally left, after recovering from a severely-fractured
leg, he had taken her away with him - to become his wife! Thus, having worked in a
tropical hospital, she knew something about poisonous bites from reptiles.
Errol tried to downplay the injury, but he was obviously in severe pain, so, after
closely inspecting the inflamed wound, which had also turned rather purplish around the
puncture-marks, Joan at once called up the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Cloncurry. As
luck would have it, one of their pilot-doctors was attending a patient on another property
toward Longreach direction, so he would drop in on his way back from there within a half
an hour. Bob and Jimmy hurried out in the ute to light up the airstrip with bitumen flares.
Errol was quite cranky about all the fuss, but he was even more concerned about
what he should tell the doctor regarding how he’d come by the bite! Drew came to his
rescue. We’ll just tell him that we were inspecting that cave up in the outcrop – you know
– the one where we went into that time, just after you arrived, and where I found that
steer’s head? I can back you up then and tell him it was some sort of overgrown frilled
lizard or goanna that had a go at you. OK?”
Bob, who had been standing beside Drew, nodded and stared at the wound on
Errol’s thigh. “Mightn’t be all that far from the bloody truth, either, Drew!” he hissed in a
hoarse whisper, so Joan couldn’t hear him. “What if them same savage little sods have a
nest down here, too? I mean, for all we know, the bloody things might have spread south
through underground tunnels from Undara - just like the bloody cane-toads have spread
out all over the bloody east coast from the cane-fields round Mackay!”
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Bob was referring to an unfortunate environmental catastrophe that had followed
the importation of a few poisonous Caribbean cane-toads in an effort to eliminate huge
swarms of cactoblastis-beetles that were devastating the Queensland sugar cane-crops.
The toads proved more than efficient in killing of the beetles, which were their favorite
food. So much so that, in the end, the cane-toads began to multiply at a terrific rate and
had now become a dangerous and hideous pest, that had bred and spread in multitudes
right down the eastern seaboard of Queensland and Northern New South Wales! Not
only were they decimating several small and rare species of native frogs and other small
Australian wildlife, but the poison they carried inside twin sacs on the back of the neck just
behind the eyes, was appallingly deadly to any domestic dogs that attempted to bite
them. No means has yet been found to control the spread of the cane toads beyond direct
culling by humans!
Bob stared grimly at Drew, and added: “Could’ve been them lizard-things that got
that poor bloody steer up at the outcrop! What d’yer reckon, Drew?” Drew was already
way ahead of him. He’d wondered what might lie down that second, unexplored tunnel
which Errol and he had not had time to investigate. Now Bob had put his own worst fears
into words! It was entirely possible, and he dreaded to think of the implications such a
possibility might carry regarding their investigations up at Undara! However, he wasn’t
about to let his concerns show – or to allow them to put him off his chosen expedition.
The creatures most likely hung around the subsurface cave and tunnel levels where the
edible pickings were easy among the geckos, skinks, bats and even snakes that inhabited
the caves. But their expedition was intended to go infinitely deeper than any such
creatures could reach. Once they had base-jumped down that great shaft, they would be
in another realm entirely!
Suddenly his idle thoughts were interrupted by the sound of an approaching low-
flying aircraft, and, as the pilot intermittently “buzzed” the house overhead, Bob dashed
off again with Jimmy to help guide in the Flying Doctor’s twin-engine Beechcraft King Air.
Soon the breezy young doctor and his charming young nurse were examining Errol’s
leg-wound. He quizzed Errol and Drew as to its origin, and seemed satisfied that it was a
lizard or goanna bite. “I doubt that the bite’ll be poisonous in itself, ” he finally opined,
“but the big risk is from the foul, rotting carrion that might have been on its teeth and in
its saliva, so I’d best give you a couple of shots – sorry, old mate!” he grinned as Errol
cringed at the news. “ I reckon a quick anti-tet shot and a little jab of cortisone should do
the trick, cobber!” Then, after the nurse swabbed the wound thoroughly with antiseptic,
applied a dressing and bandaged his thigh, apart from a couple of loud yells as the needles
went in, Errol’s medical ordeal was over.
The doctor also left him a supply of mild antibiotic capsules and told him that the leg
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should start feeling better in a day or so, but if he could rest it up for a week it would heal
that much faster. Then, after enjoying a quick cup of tea with Bob and Joan in the kitchen,
he and his pretty nurse were gone, driven back to their plane in Bob’s utility.
As he listened to the plane taking off, Errol told Drew that he might just “take turn
for the worse” during the night - if only he could be sure the doctor would bring his
luscious-looking nurse along to hold his hand! Upon overhearing this wisecrack, Joan
laughed and told him that he was too late. The pretty young nurse was already spoken
for. She was engaged – to the doctor!
However, Drew couldn’t help but notice that Hazel didn’t appear too pleased with
Errol’s banter about the nurse! ‘Aha!’ He thought. ‘So that’s the way the land lies, eh!’ Of
course, his selectively fickle memory had temporarily chosen to overlook his own secret
infatuation with Marianne! The biggest problem however, was the holdup with Errol’s
leg, He’d rather hoped that they might be on their way within a couple of days, but now
it looked like they’d be kicking their heels for a whole week! Errol could see the disap-
pointment on Drew’s face, and wondered what the heck he could do about it. Drew, alas,
was one of those totally transparent people whose every thought was immediately re-
flected upon his expressive features.
Then an idea came to him. “Hey, Drew!” he said, jovially. “seeing I’m “hors-de-
godamn-combat” for a day or two, why don’t you give dear old Chas a few “flying-lessons”,
up near the outcrop?” Drew stared at him for a moment until the penny finally dropped.
Errol was suggesting that Drew might take the opportunity to introduce the Prof to the
gentle art of base-jumping! “Hey, Good One, Errol!” Drew grinned. But Chas had
overheard Errol’s remark from the next room and appeared in the doorway, puffed out
with indignation. “ Och, nae ye don’t, laddies!” he cried, “Ye’ll no get me at the controols
o’ yon contraption! Man, de ye no ken that a canna even drive a bluidy motor-car, let
aloone a…..”
But Drew headed him off quickly before he got into his verbal stride. “No, No!
professor! What Errol’s talking about is me teaching you to use the parachute! Not how to
fly a chopper!” But this only seemed to upset the middle-aged Scot even further still.
“WHAT!” he almost screeched. “Ye mean tae tak me aloft in yon choapper and push
me oot wi’ nathing but a flimsy wee bit silk between maself an’ Etairnity? Mannie, a dinna
think so! Ah never had a heid for heights at the best o’times – an’ these are far frae the
best just noo!”
Drew saw that he had his work before him, and began laboriously to explain that he
had no such intention and that they would simply jump together from a low cliff a few
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times until Chas got used to the idea. Surely Chas, who’d only yesterday volunteered to
jump with them, wasn’t suddenly afraid of a tiny wee drop with a big parachute lowering
him gentle as thistle-down? Some of the bravest men in the Parachute Regiment and the
SAS had been Scotsmen! Specially selected for their fearlessness – not that there was
anything to fear in simply base-jumping, of course!
Gradually he managed to coax and wheedle the stubborn professor, who was inordi-
nately proud of his Scottish heritage, to display a bit of courage, and give it a shot. In
the end, with Drew’s silver-tongued aid, Chas began to see himself as something of an
heroic figure - a latter-day “Braveheart” or “Rob Roy MacGregor!”
CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 13 CHAPTER 13
Early the next day, Drew borrowed the station ute, and drove down to see a friend
of his who ran one of the workshops adjacent to the airport in Longreach. He was into
practically every dangerous “extreme-sport” activity imaginable, but it was his skydiving
and base-jumping interests which concerned Drew. If anybody around Central Queen-
sland knew where to lay hands on some base-jump chutes in a hurry it would have to be
Gabriel Evans! Because of his surname and his favorite sport of skydiving, not to mention
its probable eventually grim outcome, Mike was known to all his pals as “Gabe” or “The
Angel”! Mike liked the appellation as he thought that in some way it helped preserve him
from coming to any harm in the air – or far more importantly, upon returning to Terra
Firma!
The “Angel” was actually busy packing a ‘chute on a long, smooth bench when Drew
strode into his workshop, and Drew knew instantly that it was Gabriel’s own. All fair-
dinkum serious sky-divers repacked their own parachutes personally as a matter of prin-
ciple, it saved a lot of finger-pointing later on, if one were unlucky enough to have an
opening malfunction, or, in the case of old-style chutes, simply do a “Roman Candle”.
Either way the result was usually pretty final!
After their usual exchange of badinage, beginning with Gabriel clutching his chest
and crying: “God, Drew! You made me bloody jump!” To which Drew replied with the
stock response, “No I don’t, Gabe! You do it entirely of your own free will!”, Drew cut
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quickly to the chase. “Look, mate, would you have – or can you get for me, in a hell of
a hurry, three base-jumping chutes? I need them ASAP, as we have a visitor over from
the Old Dart, and he wants me to teach him the finer points of leaping off cliff tops! Have
you got any, Gabe? I’ll pay you twice the going rate if you can rustle them up for me
pronto!”
Gabriel gave him a look of mock-despair. “Aw, come on, Drew! What are cobbers
for? You know that bribery and corruption will get you anywhere with me!” Then he
pretended to pause and reflect frowningly, gazing heavenward with a finger crooked over
his chin. “Seem to recollect some poor sod offering me half a dozen used ones from a
deceased estate just the other day. A couple of ‘em are a bit bloodstained, but it’ll wash
out easy enough! Hang on a tick while I go an’ check in the back!” He vanished, grinning,
through a rear door, before Drew had the chance to tell him to quit jerking him around.
A couple of minutes later he returned carrying three neatly-packaged brand-new
chutes, and thumped them onto a nearby workbench . “There you go, me old whacker!”
he grinned. “Just like I said! Now let’s see - three hundred bucks apiece - times three –
plus GST - comes to around a grand even. Card or cash, sir?”
Drew stared at him hard, “Hey, hang on, Gabe! These are brand-new! Either they
fell off the back of a truck, or you’re robbing yourself blind! Make it a grand apiece and I’ll
take ‘em! OK?”
But Gabriel was adamant. “No, mate, one grand’s my final offer – take it or leave it!
I got ‘em cheap at a Run-Out, End-of-Line sale, so I’m passing the favor on to you !
They’re OK, but! This is one that I’m repacking right here! “ He indicated the one he’d
been packing when Drew walked in. “I just used it myself this very morning as a skydiving
chute! So what more can I tell you?”
Drew had little choice but to capitulate gracefully, and hand Gabriel his AmEx card.
“You drive a hard bloody bargain, mate!” he grinned. And so also did Gabriel!
As Drew placed the three packages in the back of the ute, it suddenly occurred to
him that Gabe might conceivably know where he could lay hands on three revolvers and
some ammo. He certainly had a number of shady cobbers, even though he was regarded
as an Angel! It was worth a try. So he went back inside the workshop again.
Gabe raised his eyebrows at Drew’s sudden return. “Well! That was bloody fast,
Drew!” he said. “Sorry, mate, but I don’t do any refunds. It’s bad for business!”
But Drew’s sober and conspiratorial expression soon wiped the grin of his face.
“what’s up now, Drew - Something else you need?”
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Drew nodded and glanced over his shoulder as if he expected to kind a couple of
policemen standing behind him. “Listen, Gabe. I don’t want to put you on the spot or
anything, mate, but you wouldn’t happen to know where a man might be able to pick up
a bit of light artillery do you? And something to shoot out of it?”
Gabriel‘s face became a mask of mock-horror. “Who? ME?” he gasped. “Whatever
do you take me for, Mister MacDonnell? Are you implying that I consort with the criminal
classes around these here parts? Lawks a’ mussy, Master Drew! You’ll be inviting me to
join your bloody gang next!” He went very quiet then, eyeing Drew in a highly speculative
fashion. “I might just possibly know of such a supplier, mate.” he murmured at length..
“But such merchandise doesn’t come cheap, you know! What you got in mind? Auto-
matic? Revolver? Uzzi? Shanghai?”
“I was thinking something like service-revolvers, Gabe,” whispered Drew with an-
other glance over his shoulder. “Three of ‘em! Plus about a hundred rounds of ammo
apiece”
Again, Gabe looked at him thoughtfully.
“Not thinkin’ of stickin’up the bank, are you, mate?” he said. “If so, do me a favor
and give me time to draw out my savings, will you!” Then he stopped playing games.
“OK, Drew, I know you well enough to know it’s not a crime-thing. Nor will I ask you what
you really want ‘em for! Better I don’t know, eh? Anyhow, all I can say now is that I’ll
give it my best shot for you – forgive the bloody pun! – and I’ll give you a bell in the
morning, OK? But I’m warning you now that I’d have to get ‘em from Brissie, and they
won’t be cheap, either! If there’s any going, that is!”
Drew sighed with relief. “Thanks for that, Gabe! And, No! They’re simply for
defence against wild animals! Couple of mates I and are going on a sort of safari, and we
just might need some protection along the way! As for the cost – well - whatever it takes,
Gabe! - And don’t forget to add on a bit for your own trouble, too!”
“Oh, don’t worry, Drew, I bloody well will!” he grinned wolfishly.
But as Drew left the workshop, Gabriel stared after him in puzzlement. Three base-
jumping chutes and three revolvers? What the hell was Drew up to? Bailing up the QEII
as she passed under Sydney Harbour Bridge? He scratched his head in perplexity as he
picked up the telephone and dialed a Brisbane number.
Drew drove back home feeling as though he’d actually achieved something at last.
It was no fun constantly running into stumbling-blocks every time he tried to get the
Undara show on the road! Now he had a sizeable new challenge in front of him. He had
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to try and make some sort of a base-jumper out of Chas within the next day or two! It
was a hell of an ask, really! One needed at least a hundred practice-jumps to qualify as
a base-jumper – not to mention a fair bit of experience as a sky-diver too. Somehow,
he’d be pushing his luck to get Din-Dins to leap out of an aircraft once!
However, when he got back to the homestead, the first person he saw was Chas,
leaning on the verandah rail, and taking the pleasant morning air. He greeted Drew
cheerfully, and asked him quite un-worriedly when he intended to start giving him his
“Flying Lessons”! Drew was quite astounded at this about-face, but nonetheless he wel-
comed it. Chas had obviously managed to convince himself that he was up to the chal-
lenge, so he wasn’t about to do anything to dissuade him.
“Well, Chas,” said Drew, hefting the three parachute packs out of the ute’s tray, “ It’s
up to you, mate! I’ve got the gear right here so anytime you feel like making a start is fine
with me!” He glanced at his watch which told him it was around eleven am. “Maybe we’d
better go and have our “Smoko” first, and I can start explaining a few of the rules and regs
about base-jumping to you while we’re at it. You should really have a whole heap of
training really both instructive and practical, but since we’re only going to make the one
jump – I reckon Errol and I ought to be able to teach you enough of the fundament theory
between us to make you aware enough of what’s what.”
“You mean that ye’re going tae teach me some theory?” grinned Chas. “Weel, noo!
There’s a fine tairn up for the books! The tutor become pupil, eh?” He opened the back
screen-door to allow Drew to carry his purchases into the house. Joan, was happy to see
him back so soon. “Just in nice time for “Smoko”, Drew! The tea’ll be brewed in a minute!
Errol’s lying in state in the lounge-room. I’ll fetch it in there for you all!”
Errol was sitting on a long sofa with his leg elevated on a couple of pillows. He
looked a lot happier than he had last night, and he told them his leg was already feeling a
lot easier. “Must be the doctor’s pills, buddy - plus his godamn shots! But the only place
that’s sore now is where he jabbed my backside!” Then he looked at Drew’s latest
purchases. “Yippee!” he grinned. “Looks like were nearly ready to Rock and Roll, Buddy!”
Drew lent over him and whispered hoarsely into his ear, “Yair! And we’re nearly ready to
“Lock and Load”, too, if a certain mate of mine comes up with the goods!” He tapped the
side of his nose and winked broadly.
Then, before Errol could quiz him further on the weapons, Joan came in with a tray
loaded with three large mugs of steaming tea and a big plate of buttered damper straight
out of the wood stove, which she still kept in her otherwise modern kitchen for the sake of
such traditional outback country fare. She also used it for baking her own wonderfully
crusty and scrumptious farmhouse bread. The gleaming stainless steel electric range
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that Alasdair had bought for them only a couple of years back, was relegated to the more
mundane culinary tasks. She looked on appreciatively as the three hungry men attacked
her tucker with gusto.
“There!” she smiled. “That should stick to your ribs till lunchtime!” As she turned to
go, she noticed Drew’s new purchases stacked beside his chair. “what on earth have you
been buying now, Drew?” she asked, unable to hide her feminine inquisitiveness. “Oh,
just some extra diving-gear Errol and I want to try out, Mum!” he lied. She seemed
content with this, and said “Ah, well! I suppose it’s your own money you’re wasting, son,
so it’s no business of mine! Just mind that nobody trips over it all!” Then she left them to
it.
“Some goddamn DIVE, Drew!” snorted Errol merrily, showering the settee with crumbs
of fresh damper. “And hopefully we won’t get too wet doing it, either!”
Then, with Drew he began to unpack and examine the contents of one of the packs.
“Hey! Hey!” he cried. “This is good gear, buddy! It must have set you back a hell of a
bundle! Remind me to chip in half the expense! These chutes go for around at least a
grand and a half back Home! Waddya pay for them?”
“Ah! That’s for me to know and for you to find out, mate!” answered Drew with an
air of mystery. “You can pay for the “hardware”, Erb – if we get any!”
Chas had been busy feeding his face during this exchange, but he had been listen-
ing to their conversation and he secretly marveled at the great expense these two young
ex-students of his were prepared to go to in their quest to prove such a harebrained myth
as the existence of an Inner Hollow Earth! After the astounding revelations of the interior
of the volcano, he had suddenly begun to realize how much Science in general took for
granted as being actually true or even possible! He himself knew of no one who had
actually ventured inside a volcano, extinct or dormant! Most of what was alleged to be
discoverable inside a volcano was based entirely upon supposition and educated guess-
work!
True there had been some damn-fool vulcanologist - a Frenchman or an Algerian he
thought, named Tazzieff, who had been involved in a great many rather lunatic escapades
with them, but he could recall reading anything about him ever actually going inside the
actual vents and tubes of one. As far as he could recall, the man had been a daredevil
dabbler, who climbed into the craters of live volcanoes to test their lava and obtain samples
of their gases, at great risk of life and limb!
Dinwiddie had not always been a stuffy old geophysics professor. He recalled the
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days of his more youthful field trips down tunnels and caves and pot-holes in search of
veins and strata of interesting rock, and had often got his hands dirty in the process of
hunting out unusual rock specimens, had gone back to the University filthy sweating and
often bleeding too! That was in the days when he himself had often clambered and
crawled in highly-dangerous places in search of backup proof for some of the often argu-
mentative assertions he was writing in his doctorate thesis.
His younger years had been full of such blood-racing activities, and he often thought
in retrospect that he had gained his doctorate more by sheer cheek and nerve than by
writing what he felt his professors wanted to read. In short, Charles Archibald Dinwiddie
had himself begun his career in the Edinburgh University faculty as a secret rebel against
any form of conformity.
This was probably why he had taken such a shine to these two sturdy young men
from far over the seas, who brought the independence of their native lands into Edinburgh’s
stately halls like a breath of fresh and invigorating air! He saw himself – or rather the
man he might have been – in these two brawny and fearless, lanky young giants. He
found them a pleasure to teach, not merely because of their agile minds and ready wit,
but because they both also possessed the moral courage to stand up and challenge some
of the more preposterous assumptions that the textbooks claimed to be unassailable truths,
before their peers, and to his own face!
He had even admired their nerve in covertly studying alternate theories on the
Internet at nights, when they thought their nefarious studies and extramural activities
were unknown to any of their tutors. Yet when discovered and challenged, they had
refused to crumble and repent – even in the face of possibly being “sent down”. They had
stood their moral ground and argued him back – much to his secret delight!
And now, here he was actually helping them to try and prove that all the edicts of
the very science he had taught them were fundamentally wrong! And over the past few
days he had begun to recapture some of his own youthful fervour and exhilaration that
had made his heart pound with sheer joy in the search for the proof of his own theories
and concepts!
His introspective, reflective mood carried him back to other, fonder memories. In a
sense, because of these two often foolhardy and inane young fellows, he had somehow
been reborn into the Archie Dinwiddie he had started out in life being. His later years
had been spent in the cloistered calm and academic halls of Edinburgh University as a
respected member of the faculty, but he had often looked back wistfully to the man he
might have been, had he not chosen to take the easier course and “go with the flow”!
However, having always been a great lover of Burns and Scott, he still loved to hear or
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read the English they had spoken or written. Although he had the Gaelic, as a University
Science professor, he couldn’t use it, but he had never joined the many others among his
fellow-Scots academicians who adopted an affected English air and accent. He was a Scot
to the bone and he saw no reason to abase himself by speaking English in the haughty
upper-class Sassenach manner.
His father had named him “Charles”, but he had always been “Archie” to his fellow-
students in his youth, and it was only after marrying his late lamented wife, Fiona, that he
had become “Charles” again. She, being of Stewart blood and of lofty aspirations, had
much preferred his first name above his middle one, which she regarded as too common
among the lower orders. However, he knew that this was simply a wishful affectation
relating to her imagined illustrious kinsman, the “Bonnie Prince” himself. Thus, after her
sudden death from a familial heart-complaint after only seven years of marriage, he hap-
pily allowed his friends and colleagues to curtail his name to “Charlie” – thus still paying
due honor to his dead wife’s wishes.
Possibly it was this defiant trait and his refusal to moderate his dialect that had
prevented Charlie from being considered for a deanship. But he was proud of his Scots
heritage and, if the English students attending his lectures had some difficulty in constru-
ing his strong Highland dialect and idiom, then let them hasten to learn it! “When in
Rome, do as the Romans do!” was an excellent philosophy in his view.
Bob had told Chas much about Drew’s family history, and he felt much happier for
being told it. He had realized long ago that Andrew MacDonnell was obviously of Scots
ancestry, but he hadn’t known anything about the lad’s grandfather’s hard struggle to
make his way in a new land. Nor of Andrew’s father, Alasdair, having graduated with
honours from Edinburgh, and then gone on, under his own steam, to attain a meteoric
rise to fame and fortune. Unfortunately their paths had never crossed during their over-
lapping student days at the great University.
Chas had hitherto seen Drew simply as a brash young Australian with a Scots name,
but many others of his overseas students had also borne Scottish names, but they were
English, Australian, Canadian or American, through and through, being several genera-
tions removed from their ancestral forebears. But now he saw Drew in a new light. Bob
had even taken Chas to the little white-fenced burial-plot that was now forever a tiny
square of Scottish soil in a strange land. There Chas had stood with bowed head beside
Bob in silent contemplation of the strange vicissitudes of life.
As the professor considered all these things, he realized that despite his inner rebel-
lion, he had still spent most of his academic life paying lip-service to scientific orthodoxy,
and had even helped in stuffing it like babbies’ pap into the wide-open, ingenuous minds
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of those young innocents placed under his scientific tutelage.
And now, he had been given the opportunity to redeem himself, and he was pre-
pared to grasp it with both hands. It was an opportunity too grand to miss, and he would
walk through fire if necessary to become his own true man again! (However, let it be said
that, had he known in advance that he might be called upon to actually do so, in the most
literal sense of the term, it might have cooled down his “born-again” fervour quite consid-
erably!) He mused on contentedly down Memory Lane staring blankly out through the
wide sunlit window.
Suddenly the professor realized that Drew was speaking to him, and he came awoke
from his daydream reluctantly and slightly bemused. “EH? WHAT?” he asked with a slight
start, staring bewilderedly at the two figures seated before him.
“Sorry to fetch you back to earth, Chas!“ grinned Drew apologetically. “But I was
wondering if you feel up to your first lesson in base-jumping this afternoon? Mum’s
making us up a snack-lunch, and afterwards I could take you down to the bluff and start
showing you the basic ropes. Nothing too dramatic to begin with, you understand - you’ll
mostly be watching me jumping for the first hour or so. OK?”
The professor nodded his head willingly. He had every confidence in Andrew after
the leadership he’d displayed up at the volcano, so he felt safe in his hands. After all, even
a teacher has to be taught! So who better than someone he’d tutored himself! Aye! he
smiled to himself. It was quite poetic justice in a way!
As Joan marched in bearing a large plate of assorted sandwiches and a jug of her
own homemade fresh lemonade, Errol chimed in from the settee. “Hey! While we’re scoff-
ing our chow, Prof, I believe it might be a good idea if we told you a few things about the
subject. So you’ll know what to expect! Waddaya say?”
The professor nodded again, and pulled his chair a little closer as Drew opened up
one of the packages, and began pulling out a miscellany of assorted bits and pieces, but
the primary item was a body harness with a pendant backpack containing a folded bundle
of brightly-coloured, fine nylon-silk material which was attached to the harness straps by
a folded bunch of thin nylon-rope lines. Chas recognized it as a parachute. But he nearly
choked on his ham and cheese sandwich when Drew spread the canopy out upon the
lounge room floor, for it was in the shape of a rectangle, at least 15 feet across by 6 feet
wide, and it had been sewn from front to back into a number of separate cell-like compart-
ments, each around 15 or 18 inches across! He had been expecting a circular parachute,
but this was more like a wing!
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“Right, Chas!” said Drew. “this is your canopy, and for base-jumping you have to
start with the chute already opened, because normally you’d would have a long enough
fall for it to open in the usual way, as you’d already have bitten the dust before it had time
to deploy!” He grinned at the Prof’s horrified expression upon hearing this, and waved
his hands in a smoothing calming gesture. “No, no, Chas! Before you get into a flap!
Let’s not forget that we’ll have a hell of a lot further to descend than any ordinary – or
even extraordinary - base-jump! So that you can put that thought out of your head!
However, we do need to start going down in a buoyant state right from the start, so we’ll
let the updraught start fill out our canopies as we jump off. That way we’ll just sort of drift
down the conduit nice and easily, without swing back and forth, for as long as it takes!”
“Hoo fair doon d’ye reckon we’ll be likely tae drop, before we reach the bottom,
Andrae?” Chas asked, striving desperately to keep a quaver of anxiety out of his voice. “It
looked like a guid mile or twa, tae me, before yon flare went oot - at the verra least!”
Drew eyed him carefully. “Well, professor,” he said warily, “we were rather hoping
that you might be able to tell us that! As far as I can remember from my volcanology,
there should be a magma reservoir-chamber within perhaps a mile or so down, and I
would expect it to have other inflowing tubes and tunnels where the magma used to be
fed into it. If we’re very lucky we might just find that they aren’t all blocked off by
solidified magma. I’m banking on finding the odd one or two that are still open, and which
will take us lower! Does that make any sense to you, sir?”
Drew didn’t even realize that he’d lapsed back into his old style of deferential ap-
proach to his erstwhile tutor, nor did the professor. He was back in the classroom again,
holding a technical debate with his pupils.
“Laddie!” he said. “Hoo many times have Ah told ye that all thengs are posseeble in
Nature! Ye canna tak’ annything for granted! Always remember that we scientists didnae
mak’ the rules! Goad and Mother Nature deid that between them! So, ye might weel be
richt – or wrong – as the case mebbe. Ah’d be enclined tae say we’ll just hae tae wait
an’see!” Then, after a moment of further reflection, he added: “But there’s mair than a
fair poseebility that there might pairhaps be the odd open tube goin’ upwards frae that
reservoir chamber! Sae there’s some faint hope o’ us findin’oor way back up again - at
least Ah’d hope sae, anyhoo!”
Errol butted in here, in his usual crass, lighthearted way. “So there might be some
light at the end of the tunnel for us then, hey, Prof?”
Chas gave him a glowering stare. “Ah’m saddened tae see that ye’r sense o’ humour
hasnae emproved ower much since ye were at the Univairsity, Burroughs! Ah raither
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fancy ye’ll steell be gropin’ in the dairk a fair wee while yet, tell ye’ve feneeshed growing
up, mah pettiful wee mannie!”
Errol grinned widely at this. He was glad to see that the old guy could still hand out
a king-sized rebuke when he was peeved!
However, drew realized that they were getting well off the topic. So he returned to
discussing the parachute-descent that faced them all. “In a few minutes, Chas, you and I
will be heading over to the outcrop, so that I can show you how it’s done, and who knows
, we might even have you try the odd jump before teatime!” he treated Chas to a big
hopeful smile of confidence. A confidence that Chas had not yet keyed himself sufficiently
up to share. “But before we do that, I just want to say that when we do finally go down
the volcano conduit, I’ll be going first, then yourself, Chas, and then Errol will follow above
you, OK? That way, if anything should go amiss at all, at least you’ll be in between us, so
one or other should be able to help you. Is that OK with you, Errol?”
Errol nodded happily, and said “Yeah! At least, if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll
have you two guys to break my goddamn fall!” Before the professor could have a piece of
Errol again, Drew asked him if he had any decent boots with him.
Sadly, that was something that Chas hadn’t foreseen. He had a reasonable pair of
Adidas joggers, but Drew wasn’t keen on those. He didn’t want to try coping with a
broken ankle at such a far-gone stage of the proceedings! “Just hang on a tick! I’ll see
if Bob has a decent pair you could borrow. What size do you take?” Chas said he wore size
nines, so Drew went into the kitchen to check with Joan on Bob’s shoe-size. They were in
luck, and soon Chas was walking back and forth around the yard testing out a pair of Bob’s
best Army Surplus, high-sided boots . They were an excellent fit. And soon he and Drew
were dressed for their task in coveralls, helmets and boots.
Since the professor didn’t ride horses, Drew drove them out the twenty miles to the
bluff in an elderly Land Rover, which bumped and bounced them around quite sicken-
ingly. They were both relieved to climb painfully out of it when they reached the outcrop
half an hour later. This time, instead of going anywhere near the caves, Drew hefted the
harness bags and canopy-packs around to the edge of a vertical cliff, which was nearly
three hundred and fifty feet tall at its highest point.
Chas quailed at the sight of this fearsome drop, but Drew led the way down to a
place that was a little less than that height. Even this seemed to Chas a terribly long way
to plummet, but he tried to hide his terror. Heights had never really troubled him much
until now, but the idea of cold-bloodedly leaping off a precipice into space, with a very
flimsy-looking rectangle of nylon-silk between himself and certain death, almost froze the
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blood in his veins!
He had experienced no qualms about flying six or seven miles high in a jumbo-jet for
twenty-eight hours, because he had at least felt a solid floor beneath his feet. And even if
the plane had run into trouble, he would at least have had time to say a quick prayer or
two – in between screams! But, having come thus far, he had no choice but to see it
through. A true Scot never fled from danger! Or so his father had always dinned into
him. Chas wished fervently that his long-dead father could be resurrected there and then,
to make the jump with him!
“Right, Chas!” cried Drew, dumping the parachutes and bag holding a coil of rope
and a climbing-harness on the ground. “I’m going to help you put your gear on first, then
I’ll put on my own. Then I want you to watch carefully everything I do! But first I’m going
to throw down a rappelling line so that I can pull myself back up without walking a couple
of miles around the side of the bluff!” After strapping on a climbing-harness and chest-
box, and he looping one end of the long high-strength nylon rope around a nearby rock-
pinnacle, he then dropped the rest of it down the cliff face, carefully padding the sharp
cliff edge beneath it with the folded rope-bag.
Now he picked up another climbing-harness and a parachute-harness and helped
Chas into them, checking all the fastenings and tightening the straps. This done, Drew,
did the same for himself with the second harness. Next, he attached the bridle-apparatus
that connected Chas’s canopy lines to the shoulder-straps of his harness, and repeated all
the same procedure with his own canopy and harness with Chas’s fumbling help. And
finally, he produced two sets of knee and elbow pads, and again helped his pupil with his,
before putting on his own.
“”Right!” he said at last. “Now we’re “ready to rumble”! I’m going to do a few jumps
now, and I want you to watch everything I do. And I mean everything, OK? Are you
right?” he grinned, patting Chas on the back. “D’you trust me, mate?”
“Ah’ve every faith in ye, Andrae!” said Chas. “Even WI’ a crazy leap like this!”
“Then call it a “Leap of Faith!”” replied Drew, with another confident smile.
Taking the pilot chute and line in his gloved hands, Drew stepped up to the edge of
the cliff. “OK, Chas! Watch closely now, here I go!” In a quick practiced movement he
threw the pilot-chute high and outwards away from him, and with his body held erect and
his chin held high, he jumped from the cliff edge, pushing himself up and out with both
feet. As he fell feet first, the tether-line tugged the pilot-chute opened almost instantly
into a metre-wide canopy, and this in turn pulled his canopy free from its velcro backpack
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to blossom like a large rectangular flower nine feet above his head. This instantly arrested
his downward plunge and the harness straps jerked him almost to a momentary standstill.
The rest of the descent was so gentle that he landed easily on both feet, and immediately
pulled the canopy down toward him and rolled it into a bundle.
“How about that, mate? Wasn’t too bloody difficult, was it?” he shouted up to Chas,
who had watched the whole procedure in astonishment from the cliff-edge. “I’m coming
back up again now. You’d better watch this, too!”
This time he took the rope and fed it through the rack-like device strapped to his
chest, and with this he was able to haul himself up the rope and pause at any time without
fear of sliding backwards. He could have employed a more complex system which would
have enabled him to virtually “walk” up the rope, lifting one foot and then the other. But
it would only have been an added complication to all the parachute-harness, and, since he
could rest at any time, he could handle this simpler hand-over-hand rope-hauling method
quite comfortably. He hoped the professor would find it so, too - particularly since he was
already built like an orangutan! Complete with red hair, whiskers, and long powerful
arms!
Finally he reached the top, and the professor was surprised to note that Drew was
barely panting after the 250-foot climb! ‘Thengs dinna look sae bad, after a’!’ Chas thought
to himself. In fact it looked almost like child’s play – though he was not fooled by Drew’s
almost casual, practiced ease. Obviously there was a knack to it all that could only come
by a great deal of experience! However, he felt confident that he could give a respectable
account of himself!
Drew explained all that he had done in detail and answered all Chas’s questions
simply and succinctly. Then, just to run Chas through it all again, a made a second
descent and ascent, followed by a third. By this time the repeated climbs back up were
beginning to weary him, so he decided that it was now time for Chas to give it a go.
“Now it’s your turn, professor!” he gasped, when he finally dragged himself up over
the ledge for the third time, panting and sweating. “If you can just do it once or twice
successfully, you can jump with us down the shaft.
“However, if you don’t want to do it –at any time – please don’t be afraid to say so!
That’s the Number One Rule about this caper. Nobody has to do it if they don’t feel
confident! We won’t think any the worse of you if you do decide to back off, sir!” he said
with more than a hint of respect creeping into his tone. “The very fact that you’ve come
this far with us, speaks volumes for your courage, sir, so it’s entirely your call!”
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Chas said nothing immediately. Instead he eyed Drew gravely, then he walked to
the edge of the cliff and looked down thoughtfully. After a moment of pondering and
stroking his red and gray beard, he came to a decision. “Ah’ll bluidy do it, Andrae!” he
said, drawing himself up to his full height and sticking out his chin. “What kind of a
Scotsman wad ever walk awa’ from sech a challenge! Ah’ll no mak a craven cooward o’
masel’ – in front o’masel’! That’s the pairt that coonts wi’ a mon! Can he live wi’himsel’
after turnin’ his back on a wee bit danger?” He grinned then, his flinty blue eyes twinkling.
“Ah’ll no let mahsel’ be bettered by a pair o’ loony young bairns such as yersel’ and yon
Harold!”
And so saying, he stepped boldly up to the cliff-edge with his pilot–chute clutched in
his hand. “Richt!” he boomed. “What dae ah do noo? – Ah! Dinna bother, Ah recall just
fine!” And before Drew had the chance to advise him he flung the pilot-chute up and
away and, with his chin pointing arrogantly heavenward, he launched himself forward in
an single agile bound! Drew was astounded at the sheer guts of the older man. He
rushed to the side of the cliff in time to see the professor’s canopy unfurling gracefully into
a fluted and colourful rectangle, and then he heard the professor’s voice bellowing out the
famous words of the Skye Boat-Song: “Bonnie Charlie’s noo awa’… Safely ow’er the
friendly main…!”
“Well, I’ll be blowed!” he laughed aloud to himself. “Just wait till Errol hears about
this! He’ll never believe me!”
And later that afternoon, whilst the professor enjoyed a well-deserved shower, Errol
did hear about it - in full detail - and with his jaw hanging slackly in stupefaction, as Drew
told him of the professor’s amazing base-jumping efforts. Not just the once, but three
consecutive times, and each time hauling himself back up the cliff, seemingly without any
great effort, by means of the rope and chest-box.
“Mate!” said Drew his face aglow with admiration. “That dear old bloke is a blooming
marvel! I would have put him down as a perfect candidate for a bloody coronary, if
nothing else, but he just sailed through it all like a bloody champ! Chas is as game as
bloody Ned Kelly, old son, and we couldn’t have picked a better cobber to go with us in a
million years!”
Errol sat there on the settee marveling at Drew’s enthusiasm. “Wow! He sure
seems to have passed through Boot Camp with flying colours, buddy! I only wish I could
have been there to see it for myself! Gee! That’s the greatest piece of news I heard all
week!
Anyhow,” he continued, “I’m getting up tomorrow, Drew, regardless of any god-
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damn thing the medic says. My leg feels just fine now, so I’m not gonna let this fleabite
hold us back any longer!”
Drew stared at him hard. “Are you really sure, mate?” he asked. “We don’t want you
to come down sick once we’re heading down below! If you’ll just…..”
But Errol wouldn’t listen to any arguments. “No way, old buddy! I made up my
mind, and nobody – but NOBODY – is about to change it for me!” he said firmly. “We
Dive at Dawn!” and all that jazz! End of goddamn story!”
Drew gazed at his friend hard and long. “Well, not at dawn, old mate.” he said
finally, with a smile. “Give us a bloody break, you stubborn bastard!”
They heard the phone ring and Joan appeared with the walk-around phone. “It’s
some chap for you, Drew.” She said. “I think he said he was from the airport at Lon-
greach….” Drew thanked her and quickly took the phone. It was Gabriel from the chute-
packing workshop.
“Hey, Drew!” Gabe’s voice sounded pretty cheerful. “Just thought you’d like to know
that I got hold of those hardware guys you asked about! I struck it lucky, and they just
arrived on the afternoon freight-flight from Brissie! Ex-army types – Mr. Smith and Mr.
Wesson! How’s that grab you for service, eh, mate!”
Before Drew could express his amazement and delight, Gabe went on: “Listen,
Drew. I can save you a trip, mate. I’ve gotta go up to Winton in around half an hour’s
time, so if it’s any help, I can run them up to meet you, while I’m out that way? Suit you?”
He spoke in this cryptic manner in case anyone was listening in
It suited Drew fine. “What’s the damage incidentally, Gabe? If it’s within reason, I
can fix you up when you call! Cash on the barrel suit you?”
Gabe said that’d be just the shot, and that the damage came to six-hundred bucks
even. And for C.O.D. he’d pay the Goods and Service Tax himself.
Drew chuckled at that. “Pig’s bum you would!” he laughed. “OK, mate, I’ll have the
brass ready when you and our friends get here! Nice doing business with you. See you
later, old chum!”
As he rang off he noticed Errol’s inquiring stare. “That was the Artilleryman!” he
said, with a broad wink behind Chas’s back. “Mission accomplished!”
Errol beamed back at him. “What?” he cried. “Already? A guy like you is wasted
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around here, buddy! You could make a goddamn fortune in Detroit!”
“Yair?” asked Drew with a wide grin. “But not as bloody“ Hit-Man” I hope!”
It was around this point in time that Drew suddenly realized that thanks to all the
rigmarole about Errol’s leg injury, and initiating Chas into the thrills of base-jumping, they
had all apparently overlooked a couple of rather important absences from their midst! “
Hey! Errol! Where the hell have the girls vanished to? I haven’t clapped eyes on them all
day! I hope they haven’t upped and left, because of all the boredom, have they?”
Errol looked equally alarmed for a moment. “Hey! Yeah, Drew! You’re right, buddy!
Where the blue blazes can they be ?” Then his face creased into an impish smile. “Only
kidding, buddy! Actually they went off to Longreach with Bob and his two young girls in
the family car, while you were out earlier this morning, to do a bit of shopping! Bob was
going anyhow to do a spot of business, and his daughters had to do some shopping for
Joan, so Hazel and Marianne bummed a lift with them to do a tad of personal shopping of
their own! Surprised you didn’t run into them along the way, bro’?”
“No, didn’t see em at all,” Drew replied a little abstracted, “I only went to the sheds
up by the airport! But, speaking of the girls makes me wonder about what their expec-
tations are regarding this little expedition of ours! Know what I mean? Do they expect to
come down below with us, or will they be happy enough looking out for us from the big
chamber? Have they mentioned anything about it to you, Errol?”
Errol pondered this. “Now you come to mention it, buddy - no they haven’t, but I
guess it’s something we’re gonna have to clear up with them, pronto! We don’t want
everybody down the hole, then find there’s no way we can get back up if it’s a blind alley!
We have to have a base-crew up top to keep us supplied, or to raise the alarm if we get
into a jam! I feel that’s one pretty important job, and it should be given to them! Let’s
face it, Drew, with the best will in the world, Bob isn’t going to be able to spend all his time
hanging around that chamber. He’s got this ranch to operate, not to mention a family to
look after!”
““Property”! “Station”! Anything but bloody “Ranch”, mate!” corrected Drew, a
touch curtly. Then he went on, “No, you’re right about Bob, Errol, we can’t keep on
hogging him to ourselves, worst luck! Who’s gonna fly the chopper if you’re down below
and we need something from here – or wherever - in a hell of a hurry? It looks like it could
present a bit of a problem, couldn’t it?”
“Hmmm,” mused Errol, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “It’s beginning to sound like
we need a third chopper pilot, buddy! Any bright ideas? We don’t have the time to waste
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trying to teach one of the girls to fly the goddamn thing, and we’re bound to need stuff
ferried in fairly regularly…. Oh, and that reminds me, Drew! I was thinking that mebbe we
could use a small lighting-generator down there in the chamber – plus a whole enormous
heap of rope and some easy method of lowering stuff down the shaft - a hand-windlass,
or mebbe a power-winch? Waddaya think?”
Drew was suddenly filled with wild enthusiasm. “Yair! I think you’re on to something
there, Errol, old son! Perhaps we don’t really need the chutes after all! The girls could
lower us down on a long rope! Though it wouldn’t be as fast to get down, would it? Still,
it would be just the shot for getting our gear down to us! But where the hell are we going
to find miles of strong, thin rope?” He too rubbed his chin in puzzlement. Then after
another long pause, he suddenly slapped his forehead with a painful smack. “Bloody
idiot!” he cried in self-reproach. “How could a man be so blooming thick!”
“Why?” asked Errol in surprise, ”What’s happened?”
“Oh, I only forgot completely who I am, and what the family business is all about!”
grinned Drew. Then, when Errol and Chas still stared at him blankly, he said,
“Mining, you dummies, MINING! You know! Digging bloody big shafts down into
the earth, and using cables and ropes to operate the elevators, and air and water-hoses to
ventilate and cool them! Just think of the Western Deep mine in South Africa! Four
kilometres down! What sort of lines, cables and hoses must they use? Our own Clan-
Ranald mines are nearly half that depth and still going down! But the big thing is that they
have all the same gear - in abundance! And get this!” he laughed, thumbing his chest.
“I’m the major shareholder of the whole bloody box and dice!”
His companions stared at him in amazement.
Errol was first to reply. “Why the heck didn’t we think about that before?” he asked.
“We could’ve been halfway down to the interior by now! Hell! This is just what the doctor
ordered! Why are you still sitting there, Drew! Get on the goddamn horn to your CEO or
whoever’s in charge, buddy, and order up - BIGTIME! Why, man, we could have.…”
But here Chas interrupted him. “Er, may Ah put in a wee word before ye get too
carried awa’ wi’ yeresel’s! Ye’ll ken o’ course that any such help frae ye’r mining company,
Drew, will mean that ye’ll hae tae tell them what ye’r up tae? The whaule thing will nae
be a secret ony mair once ye eenvolve big business in it! They’ll be wantin’tae send doon
their ain geologists an’ surveyors wi’ us tae see what’s doon below…. An’ also there’s the
wee maitter of it bein’ a National Pairk, too, that ye might want tae bear in mind! Ah’m
sure ye wouldnae want the bluidy Government tae come snoopin’ aroond, would ye!” He
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stared at them both earnestly. “Ah’m no throwin’ cauld water on ye’r scheme, but ye might
conseedair approoching it wi’ a bit of canny circumspaiction! That’s all Ah’m tryin’ tae
point oot tae ye!”
“You’re absolutely right, sir!” said Drew, his eyes shining with an even greater re-
spect for his erstwhile tutor. “I guess we still have lot to learn from you! I’ll take every bit
of advice you can offer from now on, professor! Now! The big problem is how I can
wheedle Doug Edwards into kitting us out with what we need, without arousing undue
attention around the rest of the firm as to what we’re up to? Doug already knows about
the adventure side of this, so I’ll see that he keeps it quiet – he owes me a few favours
anyhow!” He wrapped himself in a cloak of silent thought for a while, then he asked Errol
to make up a list of everything they might need.
“I’ll try to get the whole lot delivered in one hit if possible.” he said, “Then we won’t
have too many outsiders sticky-beaking into our affairs!”
“What on airth is a “stickybeak”?” interrupted Chas, with a rare grin. “Man, Ah’ve
obviously got an awful lot tae lairn aboot ye’r bluidy lingo!” Drew grinned at him and said
that it simply meant a “Nosey-Parker” in Aussie slang-jargon.
“Oh, aye!” said Chas. “Ah see ye’r meaning noo, clear enough! Ah’ll hae tae mind
mahsel’ of yon expraission for mah students next tairm!”
Then, suddenly there was a great hullaballoo from the direction of the yard, and a
moment or two later, the two young women burst into the room, whilst Bob and his
daughters humped a couple of dozen white plastic supermarket-bags into the kitchen
behind them from a big late-model four-wheel drive parked at the foot of the verandah
steps. Hazel and Marianne were also burdened with, which they dumped on the floor
before throwing themselves into the spare settee.
“Whooee!” gasped Hazel. “ Boy! Ut’s has hot as Haides out there! Dunno how you
Queenslenders c’n stend ut! Thenk God for air-c’nditioning! Croikey Deck! Hev we hed a
busy day!”
Marianne nodded in silent agreement and fanned herself vigorously with a maga-
zine. “At least your stores and cars are all air-conditioned, so it could have been worse!”
she said. “But we had to ask Bob to switch it on in the car for us! It was like driving
through a furnace with all the car-windows down! He doesn’t seem to feel the heat! Still
I don’t suppose you get too many blizzards oot here, so I guess that’s something to be
grateful aboot!”
“Looks like you just about bought out the godamn town!” Said Errol, looking at the
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array of bags and packages by the door. “Hope you haven’t got any frozen stuff in that
lot!”
Hazel suddenly sat up. “Oh, yeah! We hev, too! Thenks for remoinding me!” She
went to grab up some of the shopping bags, but Errol leapt up off the settee to her aid.
“Hey! Hey! Allow me, maam!” he cried. Then between them, he and Hazel jovially humped
the perishables down to the trailer for stowage into its fridge. As they vanished through
the door, Drew and Chas gaped at each other.
“Well! Blow me down!” exclaimed Drew, in frank astonishment. “The bloke’s been
swinging the bloody lead on us, Chas! Right! Errol comes off the “Sick-List” as from this
moment! No more skiving off and holding us all up! The show gets back on the road
tomorrow!”
“Aye,” opined Chas, philosophically. “It’s amazing hoo fast an ailin’ mannie can come
back frae Deith’s Door when a bonnie lass crooks heir wee pinkie at him!”
Marianne and Drew burst into a unanimous gale of laughter together at the professor’s
latest pearl of Gaelic wisdom. And when Errol eventually reappeared, looking rather red-
faced and slightly disheveled, he caught the heaviest earful of mockery he’d ever received
in his young life.
Later, when they all sat together with Bob and the kids, whilst Joan and her elder girl
once again did their “feeding the five-thousand” culinary miracle, Drew heard a vehicle
drive into the yard outside. “It’s for me!” he told Bob, who was just rising to his feet to
check who might be visiting them. Then he went outside into the gathering gloom and
found Gabe halfway up the back steps bearing a package under his arm. “Ah! Good on
you, mate!” he said as Gabe placed the parcel on the top step. “I’ve got the cash here for
you, Gabe! Six hundred, you said, right?” he pulled his thick wallet out of the back-pocket
of his jeans. He quickly counted out three $100 and six $50 bills, then added another one
on top of the pile.
“Hey! Hang about, Drew!” said Gabe. “You’ve given me fifty too much, mate! You
know I always stick to the quote!”
“Pipe down!” hissed Drew, waving his hands downward. “I don’t want Bob or Joan
to know anything about this about this! The extra’s for the delivery, you idiot!”
Gabe grinned. “OK, mate! You win! Anytime I can help again, you only have to sing
out!”
Then, as Gabe turned back to his ute, a sudden idea struck Drew. “You wouldn’t
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know where I could get hold of some meteorological balloons, by any chance, would you,
Gabe?” he called softly. “You know the sort I mean. They’re about six feet or so across,
and they use ‘em for sending instruments and radios up into the upper atmosphere to
check out the temperature and wind-velocity?”
“Oh, them! Yair!” said Gabe. “I think I could dig some up for you, mate! How many
d’you reckon you’ll need?”
Drew pondered. “Hmmmm… about a dozen, maybe? How would that be? Could you
raise that many, do you think?”
“See how I go, Drew!” said Gabe. “I’ll give you a bell tomorrow arvo, mate!”
“Okay!” said Drew, “Tomorrow afternoon’ll do fine! But no later if you can avoid it, I
might be away for a fair while after that!”
Gabe grinned up at him and wished him a ripper of a holiday. “Might even have one
meself, too, thanks to you, mate!” Then he walked down the steps, got into his ute, and
with a cheery wave, he zoomed off down the driveway into the night.
Neither Joan or Bob quizzed Drew about his visitor or what was in the parcel under
his arm, when he went back inside and headed for his room. He was back in his seat just
in time for the dessert Joan was serving. It was his favorite - sliced strawberries covered
with vanilla ice-cream, liberally doused with chocolate topping!
Later, in the privacy of his bedroom, Drew and Errol examined the three brand-new
police-special revolvers, still covered in protective red grease. There was also several
boxes of ammunition. “Very nice work, buddy!” said Errol, hefting one of the revolvers
thoughtfully. “Let’s just hope that we never need to use ‘em, eh?”
CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 14 CHAPTER 14
The following morning, after burning the midnight oil deep in intensive thought,
and sending a great deal of time composing a lengthy, carefully-worded email letter to
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Doug Edward’s private email address, Drew arose rather later than usual. After apologiz-
ing abjectly to Joan, who then prepared him a belated breakfast, which he ate ravenously,
he called the others into the lounge room for a final round table discussion. He asked
them all to bring note pads and pens with them as there would be a good deal to remem-
ber.
Soon they were all seated around Joan’s huge pullout dining table, including Bob
whose involvement would still be highly necessary, even if in a fairly minor role. Those
present were Drew, Errol, Chas, Hazel, Marianne, Bob, and for once, even Joan, herself.
Young Charlie would also be called in from his radio-schooling, when his role was to be
discussed.
When everyone was present and settled down, Drew opened the proceedings by
informing them that he had finally decided it was time for them to begin the expedition,
but before they turned a wheel, there were many points to be hammered out which would
occupy them for most of the day. Therefore, the expedition would be launched first thing
the next morning. Regardless of the state of the weather or any other considerations.
“It really is a case of “Sydney or the Bush” now!” he announced seriously, “Other-
wise we could all be pussyfooting around here for evermore, with all sorts of delays and
raising all kinds of excuses for not getting on with it!” He stared around at their expectant
faces. “Well, folks all that’s finished now! We’re off tomorrow, come Hell or High Water!
Now then, to get down to cases. Let’s get a few things straight, right here at the outset!
The actual team who will be going down the shaft, are myself, Errol and the Professor!
Anybody got any questions about that?” He paused a moment while this sank in.
Then sure enough, Hazel’s hand shot up almost furiously. “Hi! Whut about us,
Drew? “ she waved at Marianne beside her. “We wure koind of ixpicting to be going down
wuth you! You pulling the old miale-chauvinist stunt on us? Ef so, you can go and….”
But Drew headed her of before she could blurt out something she might later regret
He risked a quick glance at Errol and saw he was glaring quite angrily at her
Don’t worry, ladies! We aren’t leaving you out of the picture! You two are going to
be the backbone of the whole operation! We’re relying on you girls to keep us going and
supplied – as well as in touch with the world up here. You’re both going to have your work
cut out for you, ladies, you mark my words!
“As to not coming down with us - I never said you would be, did I? No! We wanted
you to be in on the expedition, but if we don’t have somebody up above to maintain
communications and call out the search-party if necessary, none of us would be going in
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the first place! So, before you start feeling shirty about it all, I’d like you to think about
that for a while!” He glanced at Marianne, who hadn’t expressed any emotion at all about
this news. “What d’you think, Marianne? Are you upset, too?” He gave her his best
innocently wounded smile.
Much to his relief, she smiled quietly and shook her head. “No, Drew,” she said. “It
doesn’t worry me either way. Just so long as I can be involved and useful, that’ll be fine!
You don’t have to worry aboot me!”
Drew noticed the irritated look that Hazel threw at her friend on hearing this. He’d
have to have a private yarn with her after the meeting!
However, before getting back to the main topic, he now turned his attention to Bob
and Joan. He thanked Bob profusely for his assistance thus far, and for that of his two
yardmen, then he told him that the girls would now be taking over his function, except for
the occasional chopper flights when necessary, but only in emergencies. He realized that
Bob had a cattle property to run, as well as a wife and family to look after, and it was unfair
of them to expect any more of him than he had already done. However, if Joan didn’t
mind just a tad more slight inconvenience, maybe she’d let him help them to finally get off
on the first leg of the expedition? Then he was a more or less free agent again!
Joan seemed much relieved by this, and it suddenly occurred to him that she’d
probably assumed that Bob would be expected to accompany them down the shaft! God
alone knew what Bob had let on to her in the privacy of their bedroom!
Bob himself looked a trifle downcast at the news, but Drew knew the mood wouldn’t
last long. Bob was like a rubber ball – he soon bounced back into shape. But what Drew
didn’t know was that Bob was already contemplating a little expedition of his own, but he
was hiding this from Joan behind his façade of disappointment! He intended to round up
some of the fellers and give the outcrop a thorough going over! He’d already seen the
creature in the volcano-chamber at close quarters, and had expressed his views about
others of the same ilk dwelling in the outcrop tunnels to Drew himself. So once Drew was
out of the way, he would be free to follow up his own little project! He’d even invested in
an ex-US Army flame-thrower for the purpose. Something he’d seen in a WW2 “Pacific
War” documentary on TV, had given him the idea and he was keen to give it a lash!
However, Drew, blissfully unaware of all this, continued on with the meeting. He
now told them of the secret arrangements he’d set on foot regarding the involvement of
Clanranald Corporation! He’d found an early response to his late night message to Doug
Edwards whilst checking his computer mail prior to starting the meeting, and Doug was
perfectly happy to render any assistance he could in the way of materials and equipment,
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without disclosing the matter to any of his managers.
He’d figured out a way to account for any unusual store requisitions by creating a
fictitious secret mineral ore-body research project in North Queensland, which would ac-
tually be a cover for the Inner Earth quest! As long as Drew was prepared to append his
signature to certain secret papers, thus giving the whole thing legitimacy should their
cover ever be blown, both he and the firm were covered. And since Drew was, in effect,
still the ex-officio controlling stockholder, and thereby the legitimate owner, nobody would
dare question his role in it.
Thus all their needs by way of materials, equipment, plant, and even manpower
could and would be furnished as of immediately!
This was greeted by a big cheer from all present, but Drew wasn’t through yet!
“I’ve also got another bit of news from Doug that’ll cheer you up even further!
Especially you, Errol and Bob! He also says they’ve bought the chopper from the
Brisbane hire company, lock stock and barrel, and now he’s organized to upgrade it! A
near-new six-seater job, with a long-range fuel tank, is on it’s way up here - even as we
speak! How does that bloody grab you all?” Then, noting Joan’s frown, he realized he’d
sworn in front of her, and that it had upset her.
“Sorry, Mum!” he said, looking mournfully sheepish. “Slip of the tongue!”
But Bob had no such scruples. “You bloody little trimmer, Drew!” he cried, “”I was
wondering when you were going to pull your bloody finger out and start showing some of
that famous bloody MacDonnell brain and drive!”
This drew another deprecating scowl from Joan, and Bob wilted visibly before her
basilisk glare of disapproval at his outburst of enthusiastic bad language.
Then they resumed their round table conference – or rather Drew did. “OK,” he said
briskly. “Let’s get everything sorted out now, folks, so everybody knows what they’re
supposed to do tomorrow! The new chopper will probably be arriving tomorrow morning
sometime – Doug is going to give me a call when he’s organized everything – and we’ll
have a new pilot to help us ferry the stuff up to Undara!
“It’s all right, Errol!” He grinned reassuringly, when he saw his friend’s look of
dismay. “This bloke is someone we can trust – he used to be my Dad’s private pilot and
chauffeur. Is name’s Mike Butcher, and he’s also an old pal of mine, too, so he won’t go
shooting his mouth off to all and sundry! Doug’s given him a nice easy number now
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ferrying V.I.P’s around, and generally making himself useful, so he’ll be sort on loan to me
for a few days – or however long it takes - while we get ourselves and our gear up to the
volcano.”
He paused for a moment, then he said: “Oh, yeah! And that reminds me! He’ll have
a tidy little load of rope and hose aboard, and a few other odds and sods I asked Doug to
send us, so the first trip will be just you and me, Bob! We’ll have to keep the weight
down to a reasonable level! Then once we’ve got all that “heavy haulage” over with,
Mike can come back and collect the rest of you! OK?”
Everyone nodded, except Errol, who was looking a bit puzzled. “Hey! What about
me, Drew! I thought we were a team! Why aren’t you taking me to help with the hard
work? I thought that ….”
But before he could get into his verbal stride, Drew replied, “Because I don’t want
you to strain that leg any more than you have to, mate! I want you as fresh and fit as
possible when we take the plunge! You could easily undo all that good work of healing it
if you start hauling stuff down that fumarole tube, so I’d rather not have you putting
yourself in harm’s way – not just yet, anyhow! Got that, Errol?”
He leaned across the table and gave Errol a long keen look. “If you open your
wound up again before we take the dive – we’ll just have to leave you behind! Sorry, old
mate, but I guess I’m in command of this particular outfit, and you’ll have to get used to
the idea that what I say goes! Right?”
Errol stared back at him, seeing Drew in a totally new light. But he knew Drew was
right. This sort of dangerous undertaking could only have one leader, and Drew was very
definitely it! Nor were Errol and Bob the only ones who had noticed a new air of
confidence about Drew. They had all watched him rapidly maturing, almost before their
eyes, from a callow fresh-faced young buck straight out of university into a strong and
resolutely firm and determined young man. Drew would need all these qualities and
even more strength of character in the grim and unimaginably fearsome days and months
that lay, as yet unforeseen, before them!
He now looked over at Hazel. “How do you feel about things now, Hazel?” he asked.
“Are you still unhappy about us not taking you with us? I don’t want you to be mopsing
around up here feeling teed off with me! I want you and Marianne to be right on the ball
and ready for any emergency, once we’re down that hole! I hate to have to say this in
such a blunt way, but If you don’t think you can hack it without feeling crapped off, I’d
rather you didn’t come at all! It’s your call, Hazel, I don’t want to…..”
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“Oh, forgit about my stupidity, Drew!” she said. “I reulize now thet you hed ut all
plenned out ahead. I’ll be heppy to do what I can from up here with Marianne. So don’t
geve ut a sicond thought! Wu’ll be roight behoind you, won’t we, Marianne?”
“Sure we will!” said the Canadian girl. “Only to glad to be of use! We won’t let you
doon, Drew!”
Drew was glad that Hazel seemed to have come around. It would have been a pity
to have left her kicking her heels in boredom and antipathy around the homestead. Joan
wouldn’t have enjoyed it much either. But the problem had needed to be solved –one way
or the other – before things went any further.
“Great stuff!” he said, giving them both a big smile apiece. I’m glad we got that
sorted! Now for the more technical details….”
He then went into all the ideas he’d had regarding the maintenance of their group
for as long and far as possible after they reached the reservoir chamber. They would first
need to build up some kind of supply-base there, to keep them going whilst they found
the next downward path or shaft. It might mean that one of the three would have to stay
there for a while until the next leg had been decided upon. But it would also be their fall-
back position in the event they found themselves unable to go any further.
They would hopefully have power down there for lighting and any electrical gear.
Mike would have a portable diesel generator on the chopper tomorrow as well as a por-
table air-compressor. The flexible rubber tubing would be used to supply both air and
water from the big chamber as far as they could take it into the depths. Hopefully, there
would be at least a couple of miles of it in the chopper, as well as a similar length of electric
cable, and rope, too. And he would be bringing even more within a couple of days. They
would also need to get some color-gas containers for heating and cooking purposes, as
cold food would soon become very morale-sapping in such alien surroundings!
Here the professor had a couple of questions. “Hoo d’ye ken that it’ll be cauld doon
thiere at only two miles, Drew – if Ah may mak’ sae bold as tae ask? As fair as Ah ken, it’ll
be maire likely as hoat as Hades – though Ah weel admeet, Ah have heird that the
temperature may weel stairt tae gae doon again after aboot twenty miles or so – accordin’
tae the latest theory that’s gangin’ the roonds, just noo! Och Ay! And what aboot the
praissure doon there, too? Surely as ye get closer tae the center o’ graveety, the praissure
is boond tae encrease, baith in the roacks and in the air itsel’ – always proveeding there is
any air doon thiere!”
“Ah, Professor!” said Drew, “You’re only assuming all that! Just as we’re assuming
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that the gravitational field will decrease as we approach it’s center! We’re firmly con-
vinced that the center of gravity in a hollow planet or shell will be midway through the
spherical crust – a sphere of gravitation within the thickness of the shell rather than a
single central point of gravity at the globe’s exact center! Our theory is that the gravity of
the hollow inner space within the Earth’s shell will dwindle away to zero by the time one
comes to the central vacuum of the sphere! In other words you could say: ”As above, so
below”!”
“But, man!” cried Chas.“ You’re workin’ enteerely upon surmise and …”
However, Drew continued on, coolly ignoring the professor’s attempts to interject.
“And as for the temperature–depth increase, I feel confident that it’ll begin to fall again a
lot sooner than you apparently do. I believe that most of the world’s “hot-spots” and
magma lakes are probably much shallower than is currently assumed by geological sci-
ence! The orthodox academics place it a lot deeper simply because they are convinced
that the Earth’s interior is filled with molten magma, and therefore it is constantly seeping
upward into the crust and forming these deep reservoirs. But if you look at it from the
hollow planet aspect, this no longer applies at all! The only source of magma and lava is
from inter-plate tectonic friction within the crustal shell! So my own prediction is that it will
be localized to those tectonic areas and not very far below the surface!”
Again the professor made an abortive attempt to interject, but again he was over-
ridden by Drew.
“My view is that volcanoes are like pimples on the Earth’s outer skin and that the
tectonic areas can be likened to patches of inflammation in that skin. Thus the lava
represents the pus that is created by this “inflammation” or friction-heat, and is exuded or
vented by means of eruption of the volcano-pimples, just like a boil might grow and burst
on your skin to release the pent-up heat and matter! Now can you see my point, Chas?
We could just as easily be correct as you and the geological establishment! Let’s face it!
Neither side has ever yet been down deep enough to observe the actually true state of
affairs. We’re all guessing and theorizing, wouldn’t you agree? Which is precisely why
we’re going down there ourselves! We’ll soon know whose right and whose wrong, pro-
fessor! Then you can go home to Edinburgh and write a great tome on the subject and
give lectures about it from personal, eye-witness experience! Imagine it, Chas! You could
become the world’s leading authority on the brand-new, absolutely- proven, geological
truth!”
Chas was obviously shaken by this and found Drew’s argument hard to refute. He’d
heard suggestions and hypotheses to this general effect before, but so poorly-presented
that he’d been able to easily trample them underfoot with his well-rehearsed didactic,
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pedagogical omniscience. But Drew’s plain and unvarnished bluntness regarding guess-
work and theory had hit him hard right where he lived. He once again found himself
filled with admiration for this arrogant young upstart whom he had somehow managed to
fashion in his own stubborn image. But Drew was a mirror image! Everything in his
philosophy was the reverse of Chas’s own. However, being the older and hopefully wiser
of the two, Chas now looked forward eagerly to seeing who would emerge the victor. The
tutor or the pupil? Secretly, and much to his own surprise, in a paternal way he found
himself hoping that it would be Drew!
Errol, alas, in the professor’s view, was merely a dilettante, a dabbler around the
fringes. He absorbed knowledge readily enough, but in a sponge-like fashion. It had to be
squeezed out of him to be usefully applied. True, he’d been an excellent scholar at the
university, and possessed a fine brain, but he didn’t seem to employ it to anything like the
extent that Drew did his own. But Chas didn’t dismiss him. Though Errol was essentially
an adventurer who was in this enterprise purely for the thrill and excitement of discovery,
he did have the qualities of “devil-may-care” courage and loyalty, and he seemed happy to
follow and support Drew wherever he led him.
Errol’s other major asset was his undoubted skill with mechanics and other practical
things. In all, he made a very fitting and valuable lieutenant to Drew’s captaincy! Even
though Chas did find his witty chaff and banter extremely irritating at times, particularly
when he called him “Prof”! Chas regarded himself as being a sort of “Darwinian” figure,
accompanying them upon their truly “Beagle”-like voyage of discovery to seek verification
for his own personal beliefs.
But he wouldn’t be a passenger! He intended to pull his weight during the journey
that lay ahead. At fifty-three, Professor Dinwiddie felt fit and healthy and was still in the
prime of his life. He knew that the two young men, who were still in their early twenties,
regarded him as an old man, stuck in his ways and out of condition through years of
academic life, but he had hidden reserves of hereditary highland strength and tenacity
which they had never yet seen him display – unless they had secretly watched him prac-
ticing with his shot-putting and caber-tossing, or had attended the annual September
Braemar Gathering of the clans to vie with each other in tests of physical strength and
endurance, dancing, and musical ability!
Suddenly Chas realized that the others were all looking at him expectantly, Drew
especially, since he was anticipating a fierce rebuttal of all he had said. But the wise
middle-aged sage elected to keep his own counsel on this occasion. Instead, he re-
sponded agreeably to everything Drew had said, and added that he, like themselves,
would wait and see with his own eyes what lay many miles beneath their feet.
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When Chas had said his rather astonishing piece, Drew looked around the table and
asked if anyone else had anything to add or to ask. Only one hand was raised. It was
Joan. She wanted to know if she could be excused since it was close to “Smoko” time,
and she had work to do in the kitchen, and also wished to look in on her two daughters
who were supposed to be studying hard in the schoolroom. She also wanted to know if
Drew was ready to talk to young Charlie yet, since he had stayed home today from his
jackeroo-training to be on hand when needed.
“Oh, sure, Mum!” cried Drew, slapping a chiding hand to his forehead for his forget-
fulness. “ Sorry, I almost forgot poor Charlie! Wheel him straight in, will you!”
Joan went out and a moment later Charlie’s eager face appeared around the door-
way. “Mum says you wanna talk to me, Drew? Can I come in now?”
Drew grinned at him, and waved him to his Mum’s recently-vacated chair. “Charlie,
I must apologize to you if we’ve neglected you a bit just lately, but we’ve been flat out like
a lizard drinking, trying to get this show off – or rather – UNDER - the ground! I guess you
can understand that, can’t you? Anyhow, we intend to start off tomorrow, and I’ve got a
special duty for you to do while we’re gone! I wan’t you to be our contact with the outside
world! I want you to use my computer as a sort of “extra brain” for us, and to keep an eye
on my email-inbox - and from time to time, I’ll want you to send out emails for me, too!
Can you do that?”
Charlie was elated at the idea. “You mean I can use your brand-new computer,
Drew? Wowee! That’s terrific! Gee, thanks Drew, it’ll be fantastic!”
Drew had to hasten to point out that Charlie hadn’t been granted an open license to
go mad with his computer. On the contrary, he wanted him to take it all as seriously as he
knew how. He’d probably be asking Charlie to carry out a few pretty difficult searches and
assignments relating to Geology and such-like subjects, so he’d need to keep his wits
about him, and concentrate hard on anything he was asked to do.
Charlie promised that he would, and that he’d do his very best. Then something
occurred to him that most of the others present hadn’t even considered. How would Drew
be able to contact him if he was miles under the ground, and why didn’t Drew simply take
a portable computer down with him?
This question pleased Drew, and reinforced his faith in the youngster’s common-
sense. “Well, if we did that, Charlie, I doubt if we’d be able to plug it into any phone-lines
down there, nor would we be able to bounce signals off a satellite either! D’you get me,
mate?”
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Then when he saw that Charlie understood perfectly, he went on, “So what we’ll
have to do is use our radiophones up the shaft to tell Hazel and Marianne what we want to
know, or what message we want to send, and then they can call you by radio on the
schoolroom-set, and you can send them the replies back the same way. Do you savvy
what I’m getting at, now, Chuck?” he asked, using Joan’s own pet name for Charlie. “It
means that you’ll have to be the main link for us by both radio and the computer! OK?
D’you think you’ll be able to handle all that?”
Charlie’s chest visibly swelled with pride and importance at the big job Drew had
given him. Now he would really be a part of the expedition! “My word, I will!” he said,
“I’ll really give it my best shot, Drew, honest! When do I start?”
Drew grinned at his eager enthusiasm. “You can begin tomorrow, Chuck, but if
you’re out for any reason – or you have to go off on a station-errand or message for your
Dad, you’ll have to show Karen or Tracy how to note down the messages correctly so you
can read them when you get back. OK?” Drew felt that Charlie’s sisters, Karen who was
nearly thirteen, and Tracy, who was eleven, were both bright young girls and could be
trusted with such a fairly simple task.
However, Bob spoke up at this juncture. “Don’t worry about that side of things,
Drew. I’ll let Charlie off his jackeroo chores while your down there, just as long as he
doesn’t take too much advantage of the situation an’ start playin’ silly buggers!” he said,
looking meaningfully at young Charlie. Unfortunately, this latter common Aussie expres-
sion drew another dark and even more meaningful glare from Joan, who had just brought
in a large tray loaded with mugs of hot tea and buttered pikelets – small Australian sweet
pancakes – topped off with strawberry jam.
The professor rubbed his hands together appreciatively when he saw the refresh-
ments, but he was careful not to make an exhibition of himself as he nibbled at one of the
tasty little treats. Nor did his restraint go unnoticed. Drew and Errol exchanged furtive
smiling glances, whilst Joan looked on happily as Chas waited politely to be offered an-
other pikelet.
Drew decided that they could all afford to relax now as there wasn’t a great deal
more to say. The time for talking was really finished. From hereon in it would all be
action, instead of words! At least they were all on the same side now, and even the
professor at last appeared to be academically with them instead of against them! He’d
never imagined this situation could ever have come to pass in all the past four or so years
he’d known dear old Din-Dins! Who would have thought it? As Drew sat sipping his tea,
Errol grinned across at him, giving a “Thumbs-Up” sign.
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They all rambled off to follow their own pursuits; Drew and Errol to check on the
egroups they belonged to on the Internet; the professor to wander around the yard and
buildings and glean a little knowledge of outback station life from Bob; the two young
women to their trailer to watch a little TV and listen to some music – and to discuss their
own feelings about all that had happened and was still to happen – and also to discuss
their private feelings about Drew and Errol! Joan had returned to her home duties as a
housewife and a mother, and was currently busy preparing lunch and her daughters,
having finished their morning studies, were helping her. Thus, an air of peace and relative
quiet had descended upon the homestead
Out of doors, the temperature had once again soared to a furnace heat, and the
horizon, as seen from the slightly cooler shade of the big barn by Chas and Bob, had
become a shimmering mirage of dancing, heated air. What breeze there was like the
draught from a newly-opened furnace-door, and the swirling convection currents of desert
air caused dust-devils to swirl and dance across the sere dry landscape.
This was the first time the professor had seen a “willy-willy” although he’d read of
them in the outback-detective novels of Arthur Upfield, a famous and prolific Australian
author. Upfield’s central character was a half-caste aboriginal detective-inspector in the
South Australian police, who had been curiously named “Napoleon Bonaparte”, but was
generally called “Boney”. Chas had expected to see the large white salt pans and the
mountain ranges Upfield had described in his novels, but that was a thousand miles away
to the southwest. All he saw was a vast plain, its flat, shimmering horizon broken only by
occasional outcrops or buttes of red sandstone, patches of scubby bushes and a few
thinly-leafed eucalyptus. He marveled that the cattle that were the station’s livelihood
could find any sustenance in the dead-looking tufts of sun-scorched grass and spinifex
that covered this virtual desert. But Bob assured him that they did. It was very quiet out
there, the great silence only broken by the cawing of sleek, well-fed carrion crows. There
was no shortage of carrion in such an arid and desolate place!
When he asked if it was always as arid and lifeless as this, Bob told him that he
should come back when the “Wet” arrived to overflow the creeks and rivers and turn the
plain into a virtual inland sea! Floods were the only alternative to drought – unless there
was a bush or grassfire ranging across the landscape! There never seemed to be any
“happy medium”! However, after the floods, the back-country bloomed forth lush and
green and the cattle gorged themselves.
He surprisingly recommended Chas to read “My Country”, a famous poem by Dorothea
MacKellor, which compared Australia’s rough and harsh outback to Britain’s green and
pleasant land. There were several anthologies of Australian verse in the lounge-room
bookcase, and Joan would be glad to find them for him if he wanted to read them. He’d
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learn a lot more about Australia from its great wealth of amazing poetry than he could ever
teach him!
This astonished Chas, who had Bob down as a plain down-to-earth cattleman, who
rarely opened a book or read a newspaper, except to check the prices of livestock and
perhaps the sports-page. Clearly, one shouldn’t make snap-judgements of people!
Then they both heard the roar of a souped-up engine, and by the time they got to
the homestead yard, they were just in time to see a battered Holden utility, bearing a
peeling decal of an angelic sky-diver on the door and part of a name – “Gabe’s Skypack -
” something or other. Drew had already spotted Gabe’s ute as he revved up the homestead’s
cinder driveway, and was already out on the back steps – wallet in hand, by the time he’d
climbed out of the vehicle.
“G’day, mate! How’d you go?” called Drew as Gabe went round to the back of his
ute. “Thought you were going to give me a yell?” By way of an answer, Gabe lifted out a
long cardboard case, and toted it up the steps. “There you go, Drew!” he said dumping
the case against the verandah post. “Twelve of the best – as my old headmaster used to
say! Bought ‘em off the met-guys at the airport! They’ve got a shed full of interestin’ stuff
there, if you’re ever interested!” Drew pulled out one of the large silver coloured bal-
loons, folded up in its plastic package, and checked the details on the label. “Yep, Gabe!
Right on the money, mate – you’ve done it again! So what’s this lot going to set me back?”
Gabe nominated a sum far below Drew’s expectations, and added with a sly grin,
that it included delivery and GST.
Drew happily paid him there and then. “Pleasure to do business with you, mate!” he
smiled. Then he noticed Gabe was looking at him expectantly. “What’s up, mate? Didn’t
I give you enough dough?”
“No, that’s all fine, Drew! I was just waitin’ to see what else you wanted me to get
you!” he said staring at him mischievously.
Drew laughed out loud. “Oh, no you don’t, pal! I’m all fixed up now, thanks. You
can buzz off and take that bloody holiday you were talking about, now – I’ll be away
tomorrow and probably won’t be back for a fair while to come!” As things were to turn
out, that parting remark was to be the understatement of the year.
With a loud roar, Gabe’s ute engine sprang into throbbing life, and his car-stereo
belted out a torrent of strident rock-music. As he fastened his seatbelt, Gabe yelled out
above the racket: “See you in Las Vegas then, mate! Ciao!” and, with a final backward
wave of his hand, he rocketed away down the driveway at what might well have been
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approaching warp-speed.
Drew shook his head pityingly and replaced the weather-balloon pack in the carton.
“I wonder where the hell he really found you lot?” he said, absently addressing the card-
board case. Then he heard the screen-door creak open behind him and Joan’s voice
complaining “I do wish you’d ask that friend of yours to do something to that engine of his,
Drew!”
Drew shook his head again and turned around, “I think that’s the trouble, Mum! He
already did! Anyhow, not to worry, Mum, he won’t be round here again for a long time to
come!”
Joan came over to where drew was leaning against the verandah-rails. “Tell me
something, son.” she said very seriously, “Just how dangerous is this expedition going to
be, love? I’m worried for you all. Bob hasn’t told me much except that you’re going down
to see what’s underneath an extinct volcano with Errol and the professor. And I saw those
parachutes that chap brought you, last time he came! But what will happen to you if the
volcano goes off while you’re down there? It really frightens me to think about you all
crawling about in the dark among all that red hot lava and stuff!” Drew had to smile at her
imagination, and had to fight himself not to tell her that he was just as frightened as she
was if the truth were told. Instead he pulled her leg a little.
“Well, yes, it will be a bit dodgy I expect - but not half as dangerous as flying in a jet-
plane six or seven miles up, or even driving the car from here to Longreach, come to that!
And as for what happens if the volcano goes off – well, we’ll probably be fired out of there
before the lava can even catch up with us! That why I got those parachutes! You’ve seen
those fighter pilots on TV who have those special ejector-seats with parachutes attached
to them, haven’t you? Well, it’ll be like that! So you’ve no need to worry!” He grinned at
her reassuringly. But just then Bob and Chas came up the steps. They’d heard his last
remarks to Joan, and Bob bent down and pulled out one of the weather-balloon packs
which, after reading the label, he waved under Drew’s nose.
“Oh, yair?” he said, laconically. “An’ I suppose these bloody balloons are a back-up
just in case the bloody parachutes don’t open, eh?” Even the professor had to grin at
Bob’s clever quip, as they both ambled away inside chuckling, to enjoy a nice cold beer.
Joan looked nonplussed at Drew and the carton of weather-balloons. “I dunno, she
said, “I still don’t think I’m being told the complete truth! However, you’re a grown man,
now, and we’ve done our best for you, so I can only hope that God will look out for you! I
know He will, because Bob and I had you baptized at the chapel in Winton after your dear
Dad, Alasdair, first brought you to us! Do you remember that, Drew?” When she saw him
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shake his head in puzzlement, she added, “Well, we did! Your Dad told us to bring you up
as our own child, so, whether you like it or not, you’re a baptized Christian!”
Drew was astonished as well as puzzled. “But I’ve never been near a church since I
was at Charters Towers….” Then it dawned on him that he’d been a boarder at a church
college, and he suddenly recalled having to attend services every Sunday there, as well
as taking religious instruction as part of the syllabus!
“But surely that’s all finished and done with now, Mum?” he asked. “I mean I’ve
been no angel since then …and…and I swear, and ….”
But Joan wouldn’t hear of his excuses. “It don’t matter what you’ve done, Drew!
You’re still a baptized Christian! It’s not like joining the Cub Scouts or anything like that!
You can’t just leave Christianity, and move on to the next thing that takes your fancy! And
as long as I’m alive I’m going to see to it that God looks after you – even if I have to pray
for you five times a day like those Indians do on their little prayer mats, kneeling down all
bent double in their nightshirts!”
“Muslims.” said Drew, with a sudden grin as he mentally pictured his Mum’s verbal
description.
Joan stared at him thunderstruck. “ but you can’t join the Muslims!” she cried, “You
have to be born one! I don’t know what’s to become of you, Drew MacDonnell, I really
don’t! But you can take it from me my lad, you’re a Christian! And that’s it and all about
it!”
Drew threw up his hands in surrender. “OK, Mum, you win! I am a Christian! Fair
dinkum! I’ll be whatever you want, Mum, if it makes you happy. All right?”
Joan looked much happier then. “Thank God for that!” she said piously. “I’ve actu-
ally heard you confess your faith after all these years!” She hugged him and kissed him on
the cheek, and Drew hugged her back. He’d had no idea about any of this, but he knew
that he’d walk through the fires of Hell itself to make Joan happy.
There and then, at Joan’s insistence, Drew solemnly promised to trust in God what-
ever happened, and never to forget that He was one of God’s children, and, if he or his
friends were in trouble, to pray to Him for help. Finally satisfied, Joan gave him another
tearfully happy hug before going inside to get the evening meal started.
Everybody decided to have an early night that night, in view of the likelihood of an
early start the next morning as Drew expected Mike to arrive fairly early in order to get up
to Undara and unloaded the heavy stuff before things got too hot.
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However, the anticipation of them final commencing the expedition the next day
kept Drew tossing and turning as he ran over a million things in his mind. Had they got
everything they’d require? Would the chopper arrive on schedule, and would Mike have
everything they’d requested on board? Was he doing the right thing by causing so many
people to sacrifice so much of their time and effort to help fulfill his own personal dream?
What if someone got badly injured or lost – or even worse - what if Errol or the professor
got killed in the chute-jump down the shaft? The professor had only done three jumps –
shouldn’t he have coached him a lot harder? What would they find down below? A
blockage? A lake of molten magma?
What if they did strike any of these things, and couldn’t get back up the shaft again?
All of these terrors and doubts hovered around him like unseen ghastly spirits, and
he could picture them in his mind’s eye pointing accusing bony fingers at him in gleeful,
triumphant malevolence! His conscience almost overcame his resolution, and he had to
grapple with himself not to run wildly around the house shouting that he’d decided to
scrap the whole idea, because it was far too dangerous! Then he suddenly thought of
Joan’s revelation that he was a child of God, and of his promise to ask God’s help when he
was troubled.
Suddenly, acting on an overwhelming impulse, he climbed out of bed and knelt
beside it with his head bowed and his hands pressed together before his face. He hadn’t
done this since he was a boy, but as he began stumblingly to pray, he found himself
recalling all the prayers he’d learned both from Joan and from the minister at his first
college. As he began to intone the freshly-recalled words – “Our Father, which art in
Heaven….” Drew felt a wonderful calmness begin to descend upon his troubled mind and
spirit, and his hesitant words became rapidly more confident and meaningful. Then as the
prayers began flowing freely from his lips and from his heart, he knew deep within his soul
that Joan was absolutely right – he WAS a child of God, and he needn’t fear anything evil
or dangerous – either for himself of for his friends! They would all be under God’s
Protection!
Within an hour Drew was fast asleep, deep in that dreamless slumber that comes
with a clear conscience and a contrite, peace-filled heart. What he didn’t know was that
Joan had also been praying hard for him and his companions, too.
However, down in the trailer, things were not so peaceful, for either Hazel or Mari-
anne. They too, had retired to their bunks and snuggled under the warm blankets
against the comparatively freezing chill of night. A chill which always follows the hottest of
days in the western outback, just as it does in any other desert region of the world. But
suddenly Hazel had been woken just after midnight by her friend’s muffled cries of terror.
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As she switched on her bunk bed light, she glanced across and saw Marianne threshing
about violently under her blankets as if fighting off some unseen assailant.
Not knowing if it was a nightmare or a real attack by some kind of nocturnal animal
that had somehow crept into the trailer, Hazel leapt out of bed and flung herself across her
friend’s writhing body. She couldn’t feel any hidden form under the sheets except for
Marianne herself, so she was able to relax on that score, but as Marianne continued to
squirm and struggle, Hazel realized it must be a terrible dream.
However, hard as she tried to waken her friend by shaking her shoulders and calling
her name, Hazel was unable to rouse her from the nightmare. There was only one course
open to her. She ran down to the trailer’s refrigerator, and opened it. A plastic jug of ice-
cold water stood on the top shelf, so she seized it and raced back to Marianne’s bed and
after ripping back the bedclothes, in one single coordinated sweep she snatched the top
off the pitcher and flung its contents straight into Marianne’s terrified, perspiring face.
The result was instant and traumatic for Marianne, as she sat bolt upright up with a
loud shriek, and her eyes snapped open so wide with the shock that the whites of them
showed starkly all around her pupils in a wild stare of total horror. For a moment she sat
there in her bed staring at Hazel as though she was paralyzed. Then, as her senses
recovered and she saw where she was, she clapped her hands to her face and burst into
tears. Hazel quickly snatched up a towel from the foot of her own bed and began
mopping the water from her friend’s face, arms, and upper body, then pulling up the still-
dry blankets she wrapped them around Marianne’s shuddering shoulders and held her
tightly in her arms.
Marianne huddled against her sobbing deeply for some time until finally she began
to calm down. The sobbing gradually diminished and her breathing became normal again.
Hazel then held Marianne away from herself so that she could see her face. Marianne
now looked tear stained but normal, and the sobbing had stopped.
“Croikey Deck!” exclaimed Hazel. “ You gaive me a rual turn! Though somethen’d
got ento the triler, en was ettecking you, love! Whut was ut, hon? Some koind of noightmare?
Uf ut wus, ut must’ve been a rual haircurler! Sorry about the water, but I couldn’t wike
you up iny other wiy! Aire you OK, now?”
Marianne sniffed and slipped out of the damp bed. “Not your fault, Hazel.” She said
with the ghost of a grateful smile. “I’m only glad that you did wake me! If it had gone on
any longer I might’ve died in my sleep!” And, as Hazel remade her bunk for her with dry
bedding over a plastic tablecloth, she went on to tell her how she’d had a terrible vision
about Drew, Errol and the professor being trapped in a sort of big, redly-illuminated
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cavern by a horde of large, slimy lizards.
“Just like the one we saw the other day that bit Errol!” she said, with a look of horror
returning to her face.
Then she went on to describe how she and Hazel had somehow entered the cave
whilst this was going on, and the lizards had then turned upon them. She said that there
were also some other, bigger creatures with them that seemed to be their leaders, and
that one of them had grabbed hold of her. It had been all scaly, and had smelled really
bad, but it was shaped just like a man, only bigger! Then it had spoken to her in some
strange language, as if telling her to keep still, but she wouldn’t, and….
There Hazel stopped her with a finger across her lips. “Sounds to me loike you jest
got all the whole theng jumbled up in your subconscious, hon. What weth thim going
down tomorrow, and Irrol being ettecked, an’ all thet! I rickon it wus just a noightmare,
kiddo!” She put a sisterly arm around Marianne’s shoulders. “Don’t worry about ut, gel!
Ut’ll niver heppen! You‘ll soon see Oi’m right! And so wull the fillers be, too! So jest git
beck ento your bid, end git some sleep now. Right?”
Marianne nodded and lay down wearily in her bed. She hoped Hazel was right. But
Hazel didn’t know that Marianne’s mother and grandmother had been tribal shamans,
gifted with the awesome, proven ability to see real visions of actual future events! How-
ever she finally fell into a deep sleep, undisturbed by further visions.
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PART II
The Pit
“Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate”
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”
Dante Alighieri, Inferno, 3
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CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 15 CHAPTER 15
The sun had risen well above the horizon when the large red and white helicopter
approached the Undara Volcanic Province. The three men aboard it scanned the savanna
woodland country half blinded by its already brilliant light, in spite of the strong sun-
glasses they all wore. Their heads swiveled about from side to side as they peered across
the seemingly endless vista of dry pallid grass and low scrubby trees that hid the parched
red earth of the drought-ridden plateau.
Suddenly the older man seated beside the pilot pointed vigorously earthward to-
ward the sunward side of the wide plexiglass windscreen. “I think I see it, Mike!” he yelled
to the pilot, above the noise of the big Allison 250-C47 engine. Over there, about a
quarter-mile to starboard! See?” He leaned across toward the pilot’s side, jabbing his
right index finger against the semi-domed glass. “That patch of red on top of that tree?
Just above the instrument panel – THERE!” he cried, triumphantly, as the pilot, Mike
Butcher, nodded his head in acknowledgment.
“Got it, Bob!” he replied banking the heavily-laden chopper smoothly around to the
right in a descending arc. “Even Blind Freddie could pick that! What is it? A tablecloth or
a handkerchief? Hard to tell at this distance.”
“Neither.” boomed a deep Australian voice from behind them. “It’s Errol’s treasured
cowboy bandana! He nicked off John Wayne once when he was playin a bit-part in a
Yankee western flick!” Two hands like bears’ paws gripped the backs of their seats as
Drew MacDonnell hunched his head forward between them to peer out through the wind-
screen.
“Pay no heed to him, Mike, he’s only kidding!” grinned Bob, still scanning the ground
in front of the aircraft, his eyes searching for the landing-site. “There it is, fellers. Right
ahead, in that little clearing.” Again he stabbed his finger at the glass. “Right beside that
hummock of rock there. Can you put here down in there, Mike? the Jet Ranger fitted in
nicely, but these rotors are a fair bit wider.”
The pilot flashed him a white-toothed grin from beneath his bushy greying mous-
tache. “Mate, I could land this crate on the head of a bloody pin!” He brought the helicop-
ter to a hovering standstill at about thirty feet above the treetops, then, glancing from side
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to side he let gently let her drift steadily down, foot by foot.
A gentle bump and a slight momentary rocking motion told them of a safe and
smooth landing. Bob stared out at the nearest tree branches on either side which hadn’t
even lost a single leaf. “Well, I take my bloody hat off to you, mate!” he gasped with a
touch of awe. “The hands of a bloody master!”
“And I’ll second that, Bob!” said Drew, as Mike cut the motor then sat back and
yawned, whilst the rotors swished around steadily slower and slower to a final stop.
Mike then stretched his arms and flexed his shoulders for a moment. “These bloody
early starts are no good at all for me these days, Drew. Must be gettin’a bit over the hill,
mate! Where the hell are we anyhow, out here in bloody Woop Woop, with nothin’ to see
but miles an’miles of bugger all? I know it’s near Undara, but what’s so bloody interestin’
about this godforsaken place? ‘Cept a lot of clapped-out old volcanoes and lava tubes? All
I can see is a bloody hole in the ground!”
He leaned backward, unbuckling his seat harness and squinting out at the humped
heap of rocks in front of them. “And from here it looks pretty much like the arsehole of the
bloody Empire, come to think of it!”
Drew chuckled at this remark. “You could very well be right, old mate! But you
might decided to change your tune when you see what’s really down there!”
Outside the chopper’s air-conditioned interior, the heat was already quite intense. It
was going to be a real scorcher – despite them being on an elevated plateau 2000 feet
above sea-level. The first place Drew made for was the tent that had been left there
since their last memorable visit to the Undara volcano. Rather to his surprise it was still
quite intact and when he unzipped the flaps and looked inside, the heavy gear that had
been left behind still lay where it had been placed, although a few skinks and other small
specimens of local wildlife, had taken up their abode inside its shady shelter. Fortunately
there were no snakes around – although that wasn’t to say they hadn’t been in there,
perhaps during the night hours. Snakes abhorred the cold of night so they naturally
sought shelter as the sun went down.
Meanwhile, Bob and Mike had already begun to haul the gear out of the helicopter’s
passenger compartment. Soon, great coils of tough but soft, flattened plastic hose began
to pile up beside the fumarole hummock, together with large bundles of high tensile
climbing rope and many other assorted items, such as small helium-cylinders and calor-
gas bottles, plastic car-cover sheets and blue tarps with brass eyelets at the sides and
corners. The bigger items, that required careful handling by all three of them, were a
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compact portable electricity-generator and a small air-compressor, which both ran on
diesel fuel. There were also a couple of jerrycans of diesel fuel, too. In addition there
were several other, lighter items such as the parachute packs and several cartons of canned,
dried, and perishable foods.
“Bloody Hell!” exclaimed Mike when he saw the still-growing heap stacking up on
the rocks outside the chopper. “No bloody wonder she was playing up a bit when I tried
to gain some decent altitude! If I’d only watched everything you lot were stacking in
here a bit more closely, I’d have made you toss it out again! Her total payload’s only
supposed to be 1100-odd pounds, including fuel! You’ve got more than that here - and
that’s without counting you two jokers as well!” He patted the smooth painted aluminum
of the chopper’s hull. “Never mind, you’re a still a sweet old bird, ain’t you, Belle!” he
murmured fondly stroking the machine. “Always ready to give that extra fifty percent
over the odds, and go that extra bloody mile! Then he gave the chopper a big sloppy kiss,
and said “Whose Daddy’s bloody little trimmer, then, eh?”
Bob and Drew stood watching this exhibition in amazement. Then Drew turned to
Bob with a grin, and put his hands over his eyes “I don’t think we ought to watch any
more of this, Bob,” he said, in a hoarse stage-whisper. “I shudder to even imagine what
old Mike’s likely to get up to next with that chopper!”
Hearing this, Mike turned around and leered at them. “At least old Belle’s not like
my missus! I don’t get any backchat from her, and she always does what I bloody tell her
to do! Anyhow, what’s bloody wrong with a feller bein’ fond of his machine? Didn’t you
fellers ever fall in love with your first car when you were teenage kids?”
Bob stared at him in admiration, and said to Drew, “You know, mate, he’s got that
right! I remember my old FJ Holden! First car I ever owned when I was just a young
shaver! I painted her fire-engine red, an’ she looked real crash-hot with all the chrome
trim, and I even painted dummy white sidewalls on her tyres! Why she … ”
“Yair, right!” said Drew. “One mad sod I can handle, but not two of you! Come on
fellers, give me a bloody break and help me to set up the tripod and the block and tackle,
or we’ll still be here magging away at sundown! Now, where the hell are those rapelling-
harnesses? Hope you remembered to toss ‘em in the chopper, Bob!” Then, observing the
doubtful look on Bob’s face, he cried, “Oh, bloody NO! Don’t tell me their still lying with
all our scuba-gear and wet suits in your back office, Bob! I couldn’t stand it!”
Bob looked around the heap, puzzled, then he climbed back inside the helicopter’s
passenger compartment and fumbled about behind the seats. After a few seconds, he
emerged, beaming triumphantly, holding a cotton sack, and pulled out one of the missing
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items like a stage-conjurer might produce a white rabbit. “See, Drew! Nothing wrong
with my bloody brain! I’ll be lookin’ forward to a public apology on the Brisbane City Hall
steps, mate, after this little jaunt of yours!”
“Well, all right, then.” said Drew, with a thankful grin. “I’ll let you off this time, Bob.
Just don’t let it happen again, eh? Errol and I will still need our scuba-gear. What if we
strike a syphon down one of the tunnels and can’t get through?
The sort of syphon that Drew referred to was an irritating handicap often encoun-
tered by cavers and pot-holers. Usually it was simply a sudden sharp water-filled dip in a
passage where it passed underneath a section of impermeable rock. Something like the S-
bend in a toilet bowl or under a kitchen sink. The problem was that they could be of
indeterminate length, which made them dangerous to attempt to swim through on a
single lungful of air.
Bob nodded his agreement. “Yeah, guess you’re right, Drew. Better give Mike a
note for Errol to sling the aqua-gear in, too, when he brings the others up. And your
backpacks, too! I don’t see them here, either!”
Mike wasn’t overly impressed at the thought of having to fetch even more gear up -
along with the five remaining passengers. “Aw, come on, fellers!” he groaned impatiently.
“Give us a bloody break! I can see this is going to end up taking three trips instead of just
the two you told me it’d take! All right, then.” he grunted, rather crankily, leaning into the
cockpit for a note pad and a pen, and thrusting them into Drew’s hands. “Scribble the
bloody note! But for Pete’s Sake make sure this is all you need, ‘cause I won’t be doing a
third trip!”
Drew was a little surprised at Mike’s shortness of patience, but he duly penned a
quick memo to Errol and handed it back to Mike, without further comment. Then they
hauled the tripod poles and the block and tackle with its long rope, out of the tent, and
began assembling them together above the fumarole opening.
Mike leaned out over the hole as they did so. “How far down does it go, Drew?” he
asked interestedly, his sudden fit of pique evaporating as if by magic. “Where does it
actually lead to?”
But when Drew told him about the interior of the volcano, and that this vent had
once blasted out hot sulfur dioxide gas, as well as superheated steam, the pilot took a step
backwards.
“Bloody Hell!” he exclaimed. “And you and Bob are goin’ back down inside it?” He
looked at them in open admiration now. “You’re either as mad as a two-bob watch, or
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you’re a pair of bloody heroes! You wouldn’t get me down there for all the rice in China!
What if the bugger goes off again? No thanks, cobbers! You can have that little lot all on
your own! I’ll stick to the wild blue yonder where I know I’m as safe as a bloody bank!”
By this time they had the tripod set up and the block and tackle hanging over the
hole, with the rope threaded around it. Drew stood back and studied the larger items,
wondering if they’d go down it without too much trouble.
“Tell, you what, Bob, let’s try the generator first. It’s the biggest, so if it goes down
all right, everything else should be a doddle. OK? I’ll help you to carry it over, then I’ll go
down on my own first, so that I can guide it from below as you and Mike lower it down, all
right? It’s that bent bit in the vent-tube that bugs me a little. If we can get it around that,
she’ll be right for everything else!”
He now put on his climbing harness and ran the rope through the braking-rack on
his chest. Then, straddling the hole, he hauled himself clear of the rocks and began to
lower himself down into the black depths beneath. But he hadn’t descended more that a
couple of feet before he suddenly felt someone thrusting something over his head. It was
Bob who had just realized that they hadn’t donned their safety helmets. He waited,
gripping the rope with both hands, while Bob tightened the strap under his chin and
switched on the helmet-lamps, then, with a rueful grin of thanks, he continued his de-
scent uneventfully until he was past the kinked part of the vent-pipe.
Now came the tricky bit. He had to find a really solid foothold for each foot, before
unhitching the strong nylon rope, from his harness. “Right!” he shouted. “I’m unhooked!”
Then as the rope vanished upwards, he called up to them to send down the generator.
“But for the love of Mike,” he yelled, “don’t rush it! And try to prevent it from dislodging
any stones! Remember I’M down here, looking UP!”
Bob’s voice echoed back down to him. “Well, bloody look downward, Drew, you
idiot! You’ll soon know when the genny gets to your level, when it thumps you on the
helmet! Oh, and Mike says to tell you he loves you, too!” Drew heard them both laughing
heartily. Then Bob boomed down: “OK! Drew, here it comes now!”
Fortunately, the generator was narrower in its depth than in its width, so that it was
rectangular in cross-section rather than square. This made things a lot easier once Drew
was able to reach upward and turn it to suit the space, and in the end, he was able to
clamber down slowly backward, foothold by foothold, whilst still steadying the unit with
one hand. Then suddenly, his foot could find no further purchase and he knew he was
now right above the horizontal gallery. “HOLD IT!” he yelled, then he carefully lowered
himself by his hands and dropped, catlike, to the even floor of the passage.
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“OKl LOWER AWAY NOW!” He bawled up the vent, and as the generator de-
scended, he steered it carefully down to the floor, but a little to one side of the opening
above him. “RIGHT!” he yelled, and at once he unfastened the rope and gave it couple
of sharp tugs. It then vanished jerkily up the tube again.
“Compressor next!” came Bob’s voice faintly from above. This was a bit smaller than
the generator, and Drew didn’t need to climb up to guide it. It came down quite freely,
the only problem being that someone had left its fuel tank partly full, so Drew found
himself being showered with diesel fuel. However, it too, was soon standing upright
beside the generator. And so it went on, the cylinders of helium and calor-gas, cartons
and other similar items followed in reasonably quick succession, and the gear began to
stack up around the walls of the gallery.
Then there came a pause. Drew heard Bob’s voice again echoing down the vent.
“Mike’s taken off now to fetch the others, Drew! I can manage the rest, straight down the
vent – So watch out below there, lad – and STAND CLEAR!”
Then bundles of rope came sliding down one after another to flop dustily upon the
gallery floor, and no sooner had Drew dragged these aside, than the long parcelled pack-
ages of plastic hose came thudding down in their place. Drew was surprised at just how
much rope and hose there was! He could only guess, but there must literally be miles of
both! Finally an assortment of bits and pieces were sent down tied together in bunches or
as single cartons, via the block and tackle, which Drew had to painstakingly unfasten each
time. Then, after a slight hiatus, the gear was finally followed at last by Bob himself. By
this time, Drew had located the big waterproof hand-torches, so the gallery was brightly lit
by the time Bob touched down.
“By Gee!” cried Bob, reeling about in a show of mock-exhaustion. “Glad I don’t
have to do that every day, son! I’m just about bloody shot! Phew!” he sank down on
the stack of rope and hose-bundles, mopping his freely-perspiring brow with a corner of
his tee-shirt, which was already soaked in sweat. “Bloody Hell! It’s getting’ really HOT up
top now, Drew!”
Drew nodded, smiling at him sideways. “Yeah! I know! The scientists reckon it’s the
bloody SUN that causes it, Bob!” he remarked with heavy Australian irony. Then he
searched around among the cartons until he located a couple of cans of light ale. “Here
you go, mate!” he said, tossing one to his parched stepfather. “I smuggled these into the
food cartons, as a special treat! Pity they’re a bit on the warm side – but it’s better than
a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, any day!” Then he raised his opened can. “Here’s to
the Hollow Earth, Bob!” A toast Bob readily seconded, even though he wasn’t going.
They downed their lukewarm beers with great enthusiasm.
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“Well, now!” said Drew, “I reckon we’ll leave this lot lie for a while, and take a bit of
a wander down to the chamber. What say, Bob?” Bob nodded and got to his feet, but his
cheerfulness had faded somewhat. Drew guessed, rightly, that he was recalling Errol’s
unpleasant encounter with the goanna-like thing that had bitten him.
“I know what you’re thinking, mate,” he said, “but Errol will have to look on it as like
falling off a motorbike, Bob. The only way he’ll get over a shock like that is to get straight
back into it again!” He went and rummaged in a black airline-bag, that he’d brought
along personally on the flight, separate from the rest of the cargo. From it he produced
one of the revolvers, and proceeded to load it. Bob stared in wonder.
“How about that, then, Bob?” Drew grinned, flourishing the weapon. “Does that
make you feel any better?” Then, picking up one of the torches, he led the way, torch in
one hand and revolver in the other, down towards the far end of the tunnel. Bob followed
close upon his heels, flashing his torch cautiously into every crevice along the long gallery
to make sure there were none of the weird lizards about.
The large chamber was exactly as they had left it several days earlier, and after they
had clambered down into it, they both moved cautiously forward towards its center, slowly
flashing their powerful torch-beams in every direction. As far as could be seen, the great
chamber appeared to be free of any life-forms other than themselves. However, as they
neared the entrance to the lava-chamber, Drew halted in mid-stride. “It’s a bit too dan-
gerous messing about in here, Bob, without proper lights, what say we try getting some
power on so we can light this place up a bit? Reckon we might be better off getting the
generator going where it is, don’t you? At least that way, we won’t cop all the diesel fumes
down here! Do you know where the floodlights are, by the way, Bob? I hope I didn’t
forget to load ‘em!”
But Bob reassured him they were in one of the cartons he’d sent down, and that the
jerrycans of diesel fuel were also up the gallery. Drew breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Things had been so hectic over the past day or two anything could have slipped his mind.
‘Must be getting absentminded in my old age!’ he mused.
Nonetheless, within another hour, they had the generator going, and had set up the
floodlights in the huge gloomy chamber. It now resembled one of those show-caves that
are seen in tourism pictures of the Mammoth caves, only even brighter.
“A man could read a bloody newspaper down here! “Bob opined cheerfully “Even
the bloody classifieds and the bloody racing-guide! Just wait till the others get here,
Drew, they’ll think it’s the bloody Sydney Opera House!” Then they set about rigging up
the first of three floodlights to be positioned directly over the great shaft, and by the time
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that was done, they heard the distant but unmistakable chattering drone of the chopper
returning, and very soon its roaring engine and swishing rotors could be clearly heard
even that far underground from the fumarole vent.
They went up out of the chamber and stood listening attentively to the noisy hulla-
baloo echoing down the vent-pipe. It was better when the chopper’s engine was finally
cut and they could hear the sliding of fuselage doors and the chatter and laughter of its
passengers. Then suddenly Errol’s unmistakable Detroit accent echoed down to them.
“HEYl BELOW THEREl ANYBODY HOME?”
Drew grinned at Bob and responded at once cupping his hands around his mouth.
“Too bloody right we’re home, you bone-idle sod!” he bellowed with a chuckle “Get your
lazy arse down here, Errol - there’s work to be done!” They heard a muffled cackle from
up the tube, then, after some sort of a brief, querulous argument, a small shower of debris
indicated that Errol was already starting to descend. Within a couple of minutes, he was
standing between them, his face bright pink with the heat up top and the effort of his
descent, and his lank red hair hanging in wet strands from beneath the edges of his caving
helmet.
“Howdy, people!” he grinned breezily, as he detached the rope from the chest-box
of his rappelling-harness, and sending it back up for his rucksack. “My God!” He ex-
claimed, “It’s hotter than the goddamn hobs of Hell up there!” Then he unstrapped his
caving helmet and shook his sweat-saturated head and long red hair free of the rivulets of
perspiration, liberally showering Drew and Bob as he did so. “Hey! Nice one, guys!” he
said in mild awe at the brilliant lighting that flooded the gallery from the lava chamber.
“Glad to see you guy’s been occupying your time usefully whilst awaiting our arrival!”
Drew, although delighted to have Errol back at his side, was just about to snap
Errol’s head off, but Bob quietly tapped his arm with a cautioning knuckle, so he refrained.
It was enough that Errol had shown the guts to return to the scene of his trauma, so he let
his witty banter go straight on by. “Yair!” he replied sarcastically. “We got pretty bored
sitting around chewing the fat, so we decided to while a bit of time away by getting the
genny going and setting up a few lights! Glad you like it, mate! We’ve striven to do our
humble bloody best in your esteemed absence, oh mighty master!” then, seeing that his
irony left Errol completely unmoved, Drew went on. “Did Mike pass on the message,
mate? And have you brought the scuba-gear and our backpacks - which some half-witted
ningnong forgot to load up last trip?” he added sarcastically.
Errol smiled apologetically. “Yeah! All being off-loaded now, Drew. But don’t blame
me, if they got overlooked! You were in goddamn charge of….”
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But here Bob intervened. “Now, now, boys! That’ll bloody do! I never saw such a
pair of arguing sods in me bloody life! Let’s get on with finishing this lighting job, Drew,
before I have to go up top and leave you with it, eh? Come on Errol, you can bloody well
help, too! Hey, and that reminds me. Did you fetch Jimmy along, too? He’s going to
“Keep Cocky” up top while you’re all down here enjoyin’ your bloody selves, so you’ll at
least have some connection with the outside world!”
Errol looked a bit mystified at Bob. “What’s he brought a cockatoo for, Bob?”
Bob stared at Errol pityingly. ““Keepin’ Cocky” means watchin’out for nosey bas-
tards! They used to watch out for the bloody Johns durin’ a Two-Up game! Jeeze, mate!
Hasn’t Drew taught you anythin’ about Oz over the past four years?”
“Don’t worry about it, Bob!” laughed Drew. “I’ll explain it all to him later, mate! Let’s
get back to the job!”
The lighting work went much faster with Errol involved, and just as they finished
rigging the third and final floodlight over the shaft – the three now brilliantly illuminating
its depths with their combined light as far as could be seen – the rest of the group arrived
from the surface, lugging their own and Errol’s baggage and gear with them. The only
ones who were missing were Jimmy and Mike, and as they climbed down into the cham-
ber, the sound of Mike’s chopper engine echoed down the tube and the gallery, and Bob
looked alarmed, fearing he was being marooned.
The professor lead the way, with the two girls following close behind him. “Ye dinna
need tae fret yersel’, Boab!” he shouted. “Yon Mike ‘s just doin’ a wee bit feedlin’ wi’ the
engine o’yon contraption. But he did ask me tae tell ye noat tae dawdle ower long, as he’s
raedy tae go when ye are!” Then as Bob hurried off to pick up his gear, Chas descended
from the tunnel ledge and looked around the floodlit cavern.
“Weel! This is a rare treat! A mon can see whar’he’s planting his feet, the noo! Aye,
ye’ve done a grand job, Andrae!” Then he ventured over toward the great shaft and
peered over its edge for a long, thought full moment. “Aye, it’s a bonny wee leap o’ faith,
alright, is yon. But If ye and Harold can dae it, Ah’ll no be far behind ye!”
Both Drew and Errol were pleasantly surprised by the professor’s sudden show of
blithe sang-froid in the face of the terrifying abyss before him. Obviously he was made of
far sterner stuff than either of them had ever imagined! Drew was so amazed, he even
forgot to correct the dear old bloke about “Harold” being “Errol”.
Bob now reappeared at the cavern opening. “OK, you fellers! I’m on me way home
now – old Mike’s getting’ a bit toey again! So I’ll love you all and leave you now – and I
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hope that God will take great care of you all. Joan asked me to remind you, Drew, about
what she said to you last night – whatever it was! Anyhow, I hope you’ll be able to keep
in touch all right, and young Charlie’ll be listenin’ out for your messages. So I’ll see you
later, folks! God Bless you all and keep you safe!”
Then with a quick wave of his hand, he turned and left, but not without Drew seeing
the hard-fought tears shining in his eyes. He almost felt like running after Bob and hug-
ging him farewell, but he forbore from doing so because he knew that Bob wasn’t a
demonstrative man when it came to showing his true feelings.
They all yelled after him to have a safe trip Home, and, in the silence that followed,
they heard the chopper’s engine burst into clacking life, and then grow into a roar as it
took off. A roar that soon faded into a whisper as it headed away southward to Glengarry
– and Home.
The silent minutes of introspection that followed would have grown into an hour if
Drew hadn’t suddenly slapped his large hands together, and asked Chas to take the girls
and start fetching the rest of the stuff from the gallery along into the chamber. Then, as
they went off, he turned to Errol.
“Right, mate! While they’re away, there’s something I want to get resolved urgently
regarding the shaft. It’s something that’s been bugging me for days, so bear with me, old
son!” He then led Errol over toward the edge of the shaft.
There he paused and produced a carpenter’s roll-up steel tape measure from his
bush-jacket pocket. It was one of those that has feet and inches on one side and metric
divisions on the other. He asked Errol to grab hold of one end, then, holding the chromed
tape-case, he sidled very cautiously between the fallen rocks, around to the opposite side
of the shaft mouth, keeping well clear of the edge, and allowing the tape to extend itself
as he went.
“Right, Errol!” he called toward his friend opposite. “I want you to crawl carefully to
the edge of the shaft and hold the end of the tape against it. OK?”
Errol did as he was asked, watching out closely for any rocks that might make him
stumble as he edged forward on all fours. “Okeydoke!” he called. “It’s there, Drew!” he
sang out as he felt for the sharp rocky rim of the pit, and held the yellow tape firmly up
against it. “So what’s the diameter, then ?”
There was a momentary pause as Drew peered down at the tape measure in his
hand. It crossed the edge of the shaft at just over twenty-eight feet, ten inches. He
turned the tape over and found it was eight point seven eight-eight metres. “That’s close
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enough to twenty-nine feet, Errol, or around eight point eight metres - if you’re a bloody
foreigner!” Then he added, “Anyhow, Errol I reckon that should give us plenty of clear-
ance for the skydiving chutes!” – wouldn’t you reckon?”
“Hmmm…” mused Errol. “ So that’s what’s been bugging you? Waal, I’d say “just
about”, buddy….as long as we don’t veer around too much on the way down. Still, there
is this rising air-current in our favor.” He held out his other hand to feel the warm updraught
against its palm. “We’ll probably descend fairly slowly, so that should allow us plenty of
time to make corrections or adjustments as we go.”
Drew assimilated this intelligence for a moment. Then he edged forward flat on his
stomach and directed his gaze down the shaft wall. It looked quite astonishingly smooth
and even, considering its turbulent and explosive creation.
“Can’t really see anything that would snag the ‘chutes - can you, mate?” he called
out across the wide, gaping mouth of the pit
Errol couldn’t either, and said so. “I do believe we might have really struck the
goddamn jackpot, Drew! It’s as smooth as a baby’s backside from here!”
Drew was relieved. “Goodo, mate! Oh! And you can let go of the tape now!”
Errol did so, and heard it “zzippp” back like lightning across the yawning gulf into its
case in Drew’s hand. Then Drew backed up and rose to his feet.
“Well, at least that’s one more damn “bogey-man” laid to rest!” he said, making his
way round to Errol’s side.. “It’s been bothering me for the last couple of days – whether
we really did have enough room for the chutes! It certain looks a far happier prospect
now, mate. You’ve no idea how things can bloody gnaw at you!”
At this, Errol gave him a cynical look. “Oh, yeah? “No idea”, hey? Tell me about it,
Drew!” He said, rubbed his still-tender thigh, pointedly. “Wait till you’ve been gnawed on,
buddy, then mebbe we can compare notes about how it feels!” Drew stared at him in
puzzlement for a moment until the coin finally dropped. “Oh, Gee, Errol! I didn’t mean
that the way it bloody came out! Sorry, old son!”
“Apology gracefully accepted!” grinned Errol, mischievously. “ Just couldn’t resist
kidding you along a little, bro’!”
They were still laughing as Chas came back, loaded up with assorted gear, followed
by Hazel and Marianne, similarly burdened. “Hey, theire, you two!” cried Chas in mock-
anger. “What’s a’ this standin’ aboot grennin’ an’ leerin’ while ither bodies are weirkin’ like
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slaves at ye’r bluidy beck an’ call? If ye’ve naithing baitter tae dae, why don’t ye gie us a
hand, ye great lazy pair o’ lummocks!”
But they did have something better to do. Their first priority was to set up a line of
communication with young Charlie back at Glengarry. Fortunately, Drew found the radio-
gear neatly packed in the second carton he opened, and he forthwith sent Errol back up
the vent-pipe with the telescoping aerial rod, which he was to fasten as high as he could
upon the tallest tree he could find near the fumarole. From the aerial, a considerable
length of cable trailed behind, down the vent-pipe, along the gallery and into the cham-
ber, where it plugged into the radio transceiver unit.
Within half an hour Errol returned, having been assisted by Jimmy - who had done
all the tree-climbing for him, as well as winching him up and down the tube - and had
been suitably rewarded for his help by the promise of a free night-out at the Winton pub!
(But it’d have to wait till they got back from their mission.) No one noticed the long
bundle he carried, that Jimmy had hidden for him in the tent.
Another ten or fifteen minutes of fiddling and adjustment by Drew, had them in
clear communication with Charlie – not to mention his excited Mum and his sisters.
Bob hadn’t yet returned but Joan expected him momentarily. Drew would have
loved to have chatted with his Mum for an hour, but there was still a great deal to be done
so, having established their line of communication, he reluctantly had to sign off. But not
before he’d given Charlie the radio-wavelength and a call-sign, Sierra Hector Echo triple
Three - and a strict warning against making any silly nuisance calls. This was a serious
business and he was to treat it as such. Now all that was needed was too give the girls
a crash-course in using the radio.
Fortunately, when Drew started to explain its workings to the girls, Hazel revealed
that she had acquired a good working knowledge of radio during her globe-trotting days,
so she was immediately appointed Chief Operator, but with strict instructions to show
Marianne how to work it. Marianne however, being a powerful psychic, had her own
means of communication. But she nevertheless agreed to give Hazel’s radio-instruction
her best shot. Drew told her that he asked for nothing more.
Their next move was to prepare the assumed-empty magma reservoir at the base of
the shaft ready for their descent. This meant first sending down supplies and equipment
for them to set up and stock a base-camp some two miles (or more) beneath the lava
chamber in which they presently stood.
However, before doing this, Drew decided to connect up the air-pipe to the com-
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pressor, then slide it down the shaft in case there should turn out to be any lack of
breathable air down below. The air current that rose up the shaft seemed to indicate that
this would prove unnecessary, but one needed to err on the side of caution! He also
intended lowering a couple of the extra long ropes, so that, if all else failed they would,
have some means of possibly climbing or being hauled back up to safety.
This was despite the fact that he had already conceived a method by which they
could float up the shaft using the balloons he’d got from Gabe. The idea was simplicity
itself, as he set about confirming by means of a trial. He first got three of the small calor
gas-lighting bottles, with their mantles carefully-protected, which altogether weighed around
eighty to a hundred pounds, and tied them securely together. Then, taking one of the thin
plastic car-covers, he turned it into a sort of parachute, by tying half a dozen longish
lengths of light rope to its securing eyelets.
He next retrieved the roll of orange safety-tape they had left behind after their
earlier visit, and which was still lying intact in the chamber. From this useful stuff, he
fashioned a cargo-net of sorts and placed the cylinders in it. Now, he attached the lines
of the car-cover securely to top of the netted bundle. The others stood around watching
this mysterious work with growing curiosity. Even Errol was mystified by it all. Drew had
simply not told anyone of his idea in case it turned out to be a flop. However, the professor
was soon onto him.
“Ah can see noo what Andrae’s aboot!” he beamed, knowingly at Errol.” He’s going
tae parachute yon cylinders doon the shaft! Am Ah not right, Andrae, eh?” he said trium-
phantly.
“Well, no, Chas,” replied Drew “not exactly. But if you’ll just bear with me a while
longer, you’ll see precisely what I’m trying to do!” then he glanced at Errol. “would you
bring me one of those weather-balloons, mate, and a cylinder of helium, plus the brass
pressure-valve and spanner that’s with them?”
“Sure thing, bro’.” Said Errol darting away to find the requested items. He was back
with them after a couple of minutes of searching through the stacked gear.
“What’s the plan, Drew?” he asked, puzzled. “I’d kinda figured you were going to
send those other gas bottles down the shaft – not up in the sky!”
“They are going down the shaft. Chas is right about that.” said Drew. “But I want to
test out an idea before I do that. We have the space up here to try it out, but there
mightn’t be the same room down below, mate! If you must know, Errol, I want to find out
just how much lifting-power these balloons actually have. They could be very useful to us
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when it comes to getting back up the shaft – especially if we find it’s a “blind alley” down
there! Get the idea?”
Errol understood then - and so did the professor. “Aye, Ah’m beginnin’ tae see what
ye’r aboot, now, Andrae,” he cried, “but d’ye think one of yon “met” balloons has the
capacity tae lift a mon such as ye’rself? What weight are ye? Aroond a hoondred an’
seventy poonds? Ah’d say that, from what wee bit physeecs Ah recall, ye’d need at least
a guid couple o’ thoosand cubic feet or so tae lift ye – and that’s at sea-laivel ! So Goad
alone knows what it’ll tak’ doon at the bottom o’ the shaft!”
Drew pondered Chas’s statement with growing gloom. If what Chas said was cor-
rect, it meant that the twelve-foot diameter balloons he’d obtained through Gabe were no
use. He had badly miscalculated the quantities he’d need, having fondly deluded himself
that a twelve-foot balloon would easily lift any of them, and had therefore set about his
making his “jury-rigged” car-cover balloon-holder, in full expectation that the balloon could
have been filled from one cylinder and would have easily lift the netful of steel gas-bottles.
And, as if that weren’t enough, he hadn’t brought anything like sufficient gas along
in the fairly small cylinders he’d purchased, for all three of them to fill one balloon apiece!
He had only brought three smallish cylinders that each held about 1500 cubic feet. He
crestfallen said as much to his colleagues, and they all fell to pondering the problem.
The professor did a couple of quick calculations in his head and said that two thou-
sand five hundred cubic feet should just comfortably lift either Drew or “Harold” – who
were both largish young men - or of course, himself, being smaller, with ease.
Finally, Errol suggested that they could perhaps use a pair of the balloons in tandem,
one fastened above the other, to lift one man up the shaft. Then he could tie a large rock
- somewhat heavier than himself, onto the harness so that it would sink back down the
shaft again It could then be used by the next man, who would simply repeat the exer-
cise, and so on. “A kind of gas elevator!” he said with a hopeful grin. Then, soto voce, he
added: “Always trusting the damn thing didn’t snag on anything!”
Here Chas spoke up again. This time rather irascibly. “What the Heill are ye baith
worryin’ aboot comin’ up again for, just noo, anyhoo’? We have’nae even goane doon yet,
mon! There’ll be plenty of time tae solve yon problem when we get back from oor subter-
ranean ramblings – if we ever dae, o’course!”
This last comment had the desired effect of lifting Drew out of the brooding brown
study he’d fallen into. “You’re absolutely bloody right, as usual, Chas! Let’s get on with
humping our gear down the shaft!”
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They then finished dropping the long hose-tube and the ropes down the shaft,
taking care to join the separate segments very securely together as they came to the end
of a length. It would be a pity if the pipe’s own lower weight were to pull it apart at the
joints, as they’d have no way of retrieving it and jointing it back together again. The long
lengths of rope were simply knotted together, and the top parts of each were securely tied
and bound in place to a couple of sturdy rocks so that the whole lot didn’t inadvertently
vanish over the brink! Lastly, a long length of radio cable was lowered, in case their hand-
set signals didn’t carry up from the depths
The end of the hose was finally connected to the compressor, located just outside
the chamber entrance, then it was fuelled up and tested. The motor started after a couple
of attempts, and it was rewarding to see the flaccid hose fill out under the air-pressure
and to know it was pumping fresh air down and out of its farther end (Though whether
this was now coiled down in the magma reservoir, or not, still remained to be discovered!)
Thankfully, Drew was glad to notice that the fumes from both engines were being sucked
out of the gallery, so the girls wouldn’t be breathing polluted air.
Then they set about making up some more of the car-cover parachutes. This task
completed, without any further ado, they then dropped on of the lesser important para-
chuted bundles down the shaft. Thankfully, the rising air-current immediately filled the
baglike silver plastic car-cover, and it drifted down slowly and gracefully, with scarcely a
hint of a swing. They all stood round the pit watching it descending until it vanished into
the dark hazy depths below, almost seven or eight minutes later! Chas had timed it on his
wristwatch. The improvised chute worked wonderfully well and Drew was like a dog with
two tails. “Bloody ripper!” he laughed. “My Word, Errol! We could have used these
bloody things ourselves -instead of the chutes!”
They then continued to dispatch further bundles and packages of gear and supplies
in the same manner until eventually, all that was left were their personal backpacks. Drew
called a halt at that point for their final “Smoko” break, before they dropped their personal
gear and took the final plunge themselves.
The girls in the meantime had been rigging up a tent-like shelter from the blue
tarps, amid the taller stones, and had made all the sides secure from intrusion by weight-
ing them with large stones. They had almost completed it and had already put all their
own gear inside, including two folding camp beds, blankets and even a small fold-up
calor-gas stove and a stock of water and food that they had brought with them, plus the
radio. It was like a home away from home! A large billycan of water was already boiling
on the stove and the teabags waiting in six enamel mugs! The men were astonished at all
this work that had gone on unnoticed behind their backs!
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While the other two chatted with Hazel and Marianne over a well-earned and pos-
sible final mug of hot tea and sandwiches, Drew took the opportunity of stowing two of the
three revolvers and the ammunition in his own backpack. The other revolver he kept
upon his person in his bush jacket pocket. Better safe than sorry! You never knew what
sort of trouble you might drop into! Then he strolled over and sat beside Marianne, who
was looking rather strained and nervous. Unlike Hazel, who was joking and laughing with
Errol and the professor, as though they were on some sort of jolly picnic outing, instead of
a perilous adventure into the unknown!
As they sat quietly together, Drew suddenly felt a slim, cool hand steal into his own,
and as he turned his head, she looked up into his eyes, adoringly. But beside the deep
love he could at last see there, which thrilled him to the core of his being, Drew also saw
the worried look of foreboding she had carried on her mind since the awful night vision
she had experienced.
“No need to trouble yourself, Marianne!” said he, trying to brighten her up a little.
“Nothing can harm us down there! If you don’t believe me, just ask Joan! She’s probably
asking God to watch over us all right now, if I know her!” Then he quietly told her
something of what had passed between him and his Mum. “So there you go, love! I
reckon I’ll be watched over pretty closely from now on!”
Marianne at last gave him a beautiful, loving smile. “I’ll be doing just the same as
Joan. I have a special arrangement with the Great Spirit, too! He’s the same Person who
protects all of us – we just call Him by different names, that’s all!”
Then they sat for just a moment or two longer, with hands tightly gripped, before
Chas rose to his feet, and made a brisk announcement: “Weel,” He said loudly, “if ye’re
going to just sit there canoodlin’all day, Ah’ll just have tae gae doon yonder haule on mah
ain! Ah canna hang aroond chit-chattin’ much longer!”
That broke the spell, and the others got to their feet reluctant to leave each other.
Suddenly, Errol surprised them all when he cried, “Oh the heck with it!”, flung his arms
around Hazel, and planted a passionate, long drawn-out kiss right on her lips.
Drew needed no further hint. He clutched Marianne to himself and gave her a
wonderfully tender kiss that she would remember forever. “Don’t worry, sweetheart!” he
whispered to her as they parted. “I will be back! You’d better believe it, honey! There’s
far too much unfinished business we need to attend to!”
Behind there backs, and whilst the professor was busying himself with tying their
bulky rucksacks onto another of the car-cover parachutes, Errol let go of Hazel and reached
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down the long bundle he’d placed on top of one of the rocks. Hazel was astounded when
he opened the wrappings to reveal its contents – a brand-new 12-bore double-barreled
shotgun, together with some packs of cartridges. He thrust the bundle into her hands and
told her to put it away inside their shelter. “It’ll sure make me feel a lot happier, honey, if
I know that you and Marianne are able to protect yourselves from – well – anything that
might show up!” he told her. “Just be goddamn careful you don’t shoot Marianne, or
Drew’ll probably kill me with his bare hands! You do know how to use one of these, don’t
you?”
“Oh, git off the grass, Irrol! Oi know my way around guns all roight!” she replied.
“My old men used to be a shooting fenetuc beck in the Old Dart, before they came out to
InZid. En’ he wus a top marksmen in the Bretesh Army whin he wes a young chep, so
sunce thaiy niver hed any sons, he taught me to shoot, unstid! So you don’t need to worry
iny about us, love! Oi thunk Marianne c’n use a roifle too, so wu’ll be roight es roin! Jest
you look efter yousilves down there! OK?”
Errol felt greatly reassured on hearing this as well as tickled pink by her quaint Kiwi
accent. It was very akin to the Aussie dialect yet oddly different. But in his heart of hearts
it was music to his ears. He loved Hazel dearly, and would gladly die for her if necessary.
Now he had to leave her here in this desolate hole of a place. But, thank the Lord, she
had a great companion to keep her company! Holy Smoke! Drew had made a fantasti-
cally inspired choice when he invited these two great girls over! He glanced over toward
Drew and Marianne who were wrapped in a final embrace, and he caught Drew’s eye over
Marianne’s shoulder. He threw him a quick wink, and Drew grinned and gave him the
“Thumbs Up” signal behind her back.
It was then that the professor again uttered his clarion call to arms. “Weel! Are ye
young lovebirds raedy or not? Ah’ll gie ye thairty saiconds tae get auver here an’ hailp me
with these rucksacks, or Ah’ll jump doon on mah own!”
He stood there by the side of the pit making a big show of staring at his wristwatch,
until his two young companions finally tore themselves away from their new-found
lovers, and reluctantly strode over to his side. Then it was but the work of a few minutes
to dispatch the heavy backpacks down the shaft all tied beneath a single car-cover “para-
chute”. They still drifted down quite gently, and again Drew wondered if they might as
well have tried them instead of the more complicated skydiving chutes. However, the die
was well and truly cast, and there was no turning back now. They donned their chute
harnesses and checked each other out. All was fine. The Moment of Truth was at hand!
The two girls held each other nervously as the trio readied themselves. The men shook
hands firmly, hiding their fear behind bold grins.
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“Break a bloody leg!” laughed Errol. “Yeah, and up yours, too!” grinned Drew. Chas
said nothing, he was fervently racing through the Lord’s Prayer under his breath.
Then Drew said “Right, me first, then after a count of ten you, Chas! Then likewise,
yourself, Errol! God speed us all!” He turned and bowed to Marianne and Hazel like a
bold cavalier. Then in one coordinated move he pivoted around and flinging his pilot-
chute up before him, leapt out and upwards, then disappeared down the shaft. Marianne
turned and buried her face into Hazel’s shoulder, as Errol leaned over the edge watching
Drew’s chute blossom forth He was counting out loud. “….Seven eight, nine, TEN!”
Then the fearless old professor, in his turn, leapt unhesitating outward after Drew, with a
wild cry of “SCOTS WA' HAE.. !” His voice was still trailing away down the shaft as Errol
was finishing his own countdown ….“five, six, seven, eight, nine….GERONIMOl” he
yelled bravely, as he launched himself after his companions.
There followed a long silence, and Hazel gripped Marianne in a vice-like tremulous
hold and burst into tears herself. Then, suddenly, as one, they both hurried forward to
peer terrified, down the gaping throat of the great pit. Thankfully, they were rewarded by
the wonderful, truly glorious sight of three gaily-coloured rectangular canopies slowly
drifting downward, one above the other, swaying lightly from side to side as they sank
steadily further below them.
The two young women stood and watched together for a long time until the last
vestige of a tint of color finally vanished into the gloomy obscurity of the depths of the
chasm. At length, sighing with relief, they slowly turned and walked away from the edge
of the pit, each of them wrapped in deep contemplation of the astonishing display of cool-
headed bravery they had just been privileged to witness.
“Wull! Thaive gone down now, kuddo!” said Hazel, patting Marianne gently on the
shoulder. “we c’n only hope thaiy lend saifly, and thet there’s no lava or ges down there!
But Oi’m sure thaiy’ll be foine, don’t you rickon, love?”
Marianne nodded quickly and with assurance. “Sure! They’ll be just fine! I’m just
going to hit the sack now, Hazel, and see if I can get down there in the astral and check
the guys out – you don’t mind, do you?” Then, seeing a slight look of doubt in her friend’s
eyes as they entered their yurt-like tarpaulin tent, she said “I’m not kidding you, Hazel!
Astral-travel is a very real thing, and you can go places in the spirit that you’d never reach
in the body! I’ll soon find them and see how they got on! Now I gotta relax! I’ll be back
soon, honey - Honest Indian!” She smiled wanly at her little joke as she lay down on her
camp-bed and closed her eyes.
Hazel sat beside her hand resting upon Marianne’s lightly-clasped ones. “Plisent
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dreams, kuddo!” she whispered. ”Oi’ll just sut here end watch over you. Come beck weth
some good news, gurl, end God bliss you!” She gave her sleeping friend a gentle, sisterly
kiss on the brow, then she leant back to reflect upon all the amazing events of the past few
days.
She was now essentially alone in this large underground chamber – or at least she
hoped so. She didn’t expect any unwelcome visitors with so much light around. But she
felt greatly reassured when her wandering eyes caught the glint of blue steel as the calor-
lantern’s light reflected off the barrels of Errol’s shotgun propped in the corner of the tent.
‘Come back to me safely, my love!’ she murmured silently in her heart.
CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 16 CHAPTER 16
As they drifted down the great pit as gently as thistledown, Drew peered down into
the looming darkness beneath his dangling feet. The shaft just seemed to go on and on,
ever deeper into the bowels of the earth. He had glanced at his wristwatch just prior to
jumping, simply to mentally record the actual time of their departure in his mind for the
sake of keeping a rough log of their adventures later, as he found the time. Curiously, it
had been just on six-thirty p.m., or rather 18.30 hours – must start thinking in an orderly,
military way, he mentally told himself – and now, as he strained his eyes in the growing
gloom, his barely discerned watch told him it was almost 18.50 hours! Good God! They’d
been descending slowly for twenty minutes!
By twisting his head awkwardly backward, he attempted to see if Chas and Errol
were visible above him, but his canopy blocked his view of them. However, he could see
the walls of the shaft above were still quite brightly lit by the distant floodlights, even
though they were growing rapidly darker at his present level. Then it occurred to him
that even though they couldn’t see each other because of their canopies, that was no
reason for them to be silent. He leant his head back and shouted up to them. “How’s it
going, you blokes? Everything OK?” His voice boomed loudly as if through a micro-
phone, and he realized that the shaft was acting like a megaphone. Obviously, they
wouldn’t have any difficulty hearing each other!
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This was borne out when Chas’s Scots accented voice boomed back at him of the
shaft walls. “Ach! Ah’m doing real fine, Andrae, thank ye! Mon! This is a grand way tae
traivel, d’ye not think sae! Floatin’ doon as light as a faither! It was sae quiet and
peaceful, Ah was just begeenin’ tae fancy Ah must hae deed an goane tae Heaven….”
Then Errol’s voice loudly interrupted Chas from above. “Gee whizz, Drew! This is
the only way to fly, buddy!” He paused for a moment then called out again “Hey, buddy!
How far do you figure we came? Seem’s like we been drifting down forever! Wonder how
much further we gotta go yet? Any sign of anything?”
They were both astounded when Drew hailed them back and told them they’d been
descending for around twenty minutes or so.
“Ye don’t say?” cried the professor incredulously. “Man! Ye canna be serious!
At this rate we must hae traveled ten miles or more, surely?” But Drew pointed out
that the ropes and the air-hose were still dangling down against the wall beside them.
“I’m sure we didn’t have more than a couple of miles of hose, at the very most! No, I
reckon it’s this rising draught of air that’s slowing us right down! I’m beginning to wonder
if we might have been OK with the balloon idea after all! I’d forgotten to take this uplift of
air into account!”
“Yep, you could be right about that, Drew!” answered Errol. “Hey! And speaking of
this air-current. Have either of you noticed any increase in its temperature at all? Still
feels the same to me, bro’!”
Drew hadn’t noticed, but he now stretched out a hand palm downwards and felt its
lukewarm breath blowing lightly up against his skin. It was the same as when he first
checked it up in the chamber. “Your dead right, Errol!” he called, “I can’t detect any
difference at all! So much for the old idea of “temperature rising with depth”, eh! What
d’you reckon about that, Chas?”
“Weel Ah call tae mind that Ah’ve alraidy given mah opeenion aboot that when ye
fairst asked me, Andrae, and Ah see no reason tae change it noo. This only confairms
what Ah said then. This is a naturally-formed hole, sae the praissure-heating o’ the roack-
layers doesnae apply. In ony case, the air-current will hae carried awa’ any heat theere
ever was, lang since! It’s seems tae me seemply a maitter o’ “Saircumstainces alterin’
Cases”, nae more an’ nae less.” And with this ambiguous answer Drew and Errol had to
be content – at least for the time being.
During the course of this fog-horned conversation, Drew had been taking note of
the smooth rock of the shaft wall. It didn’t seem to have changed in its composition at all,
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considering the great depth they must have fallen. There were no signs of changing
strata or colouration, at least as far as he could detect by the headlamps on his helmet. He
drew this to the professor’s attention. “Did you ever see a deep rock stratum this thick in
your life, sir?” he asked, unconsciously paying respect to his old tutor’s knowledge and
experience in geological matters.
The professor, however displayed no surprise at this revelation. “Ah’d probably be
able tae answer ye baitter if Ah could see the rock layers themsailves, Andrae,” he said, in
his best lecturing voice. “But Ah’m afraid that what ye’re looking at is seemply the smoothed
an’ steam-blaisted surface o’ the magma that once blew up this conduit! It’s left a smooth
coatin’ right from bottom tae top. Ah can only surmise that it’s yon superheated-steam
blaist that poleeshed it sae fine as tae siut oor pairpose! And, before ye aisk me - Ah’ll tell
ye that it was probably an aquifer fooll o’ undergroond water that ruptured during the
volcano’s eruption, and its resultant water-run-oot that caused the beg final blaist!” He
paused then asked, “Do ye onderstand hoo it could hae haippened, boys? There seemply
couldnae be ony other explanation – unless the sea mebbe foond its way in frae the
Carpentaria Gulf!”
Drew mulled this response over in his mind. Geologically, it all fitted. He knew all
about the huge subterranean aquifers vast layers of porous rock that underlay more than
a third of the entire Australian continent. If it weren’t for these, there would be no cattle-
stations at all in the semi-arid desert lands of the Australian outback! In the absence of
adequate rainfall, most had to depend entirely upon the brackish, semi-saline bore-water.
It was either forced up boreholes by underground-pressure, or it was pumped up them
from the porous sub-artesian rock layers deeper underground by the myriad galvanized
steel windmill-pumps that were almost a natural feature of the outback cattle and sheep
properties! As it was drawn up, the water ran into long drinking-troughs or shallow circu-
lar corrugated-iron tanks, where the livestock could easily reach it.
The largest, the Great Artesian Basin ran inland almost to Alice Springs, south al-
most to the head of the Spencer Gulf across almost to the sea around SE Queensland and
northern New South Wales and right up through outback Queensland to Cape York and
the gulf of Carpentaria, and its northeastern edge skirted around the Undara Volcanic
Province. This could well have been be the source of the blast!
It was at this point that Drew glanced down between his feet and discovered that
the end of their marathon-drop was approaching. In the near-darkness, he saw the
reflection of his helmet lamps strike something silvery, some way beneath him. It could
only mean one thing. The silvery object could only be one of the car-covers they’d used
as “parachutes” for their baggage and other items earlier that afternoon. But as his pupils
adjusted to the dark, he saw vague shapes moving below him, too!
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What should he do? If he shouted his discovery to the others, whatever was down
there would be alerted at once by the alarm in his voice. They - whatever they were -
must have been aware of their voices up the shaft for some time, but apparently hadn’t
been frightened off by them. Perhaps if he spoke in normal tones they would continue to
ignore him? He drew his revolver out of his bush-jacket pocket, cocked it at the ready,
then in as “matter-of-fact” a voice he could muster under the circumstances, he spoke.
“By the way, fellers. I don’t want to alarm you but we’re nearly there, and there’s
some sort of reception-committee waiting for us. For Pete’s Sake don’t start shouting or
anything – I’ve got a bloody revolver in my hand! Just acknowledge that you’ve heard
me, but please speak quietly! We don’t want them to know were onto them until we
land!”
“Aye, Ah heard ye an’Ah ken fine, too, mah bonnie laddie!” came back the professor’s
pleasantly modulated voice, as if welcoming the Dean’s wife at a tea-party.
“Roger that, Houston.” Called Errol equally softly from above. ”Are they like my
gnashing friend of the other day? Pity we didn’t bring the balloons! Over”
“Cut the bloody cackle now, fellers!” replied Drew in dulcet tones. “I’m nearly bloody
down!”
Then his feet touched down gently right in the midst of a pile of slippery plastic, and
his helmet lamps revealed an assortment of reptilian shapes slithering out from beneath
the car-covers, and retiring, hissing into the surrounding gloom. Quickly, Drew pocketed
his pistol, and hauled down his canopy, bundling it between his feet. He had to move fast
to make way for Chas who was almost on top of him now. As Chas landed and pulled his
parachute down, Drew again produced the revolver and peered quickly about, his helmet-
lamps flashing wildly across rocks and lava stalactites that lay and hung everywhere.
Here and there pairs of slanted eyes glinted yellowly in their twin beams. And he
fought back the urge to fire at them. Another soft, slippery thump behind him told of
Errol’s arrival, almost right on top of Chas, who had lingered a little too long in clearing his
canopy. But within seconds they had rolled up their canopies and shrugged off their
harnesses. Now all of them were able to straighten up and look around - and see the
malevolent eyes that watched them from all angles.
“Ye Gods!” gasped Errol. “The goddamn things are everywhere! What the hell can
we do, Drew? They’ll rush us once they realize we’re harmless!”
Drew stumbled against something, and fearing it was one of the dragon-like lizards,
he stepped back smartly, but it was only one of their backpacks. He looked at it again in
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wonderment. It was his own! Hastily he crouched and opened the top flap then felt
around for the other revolvers, he found them, and he found something else he’d com-
pletely forgotten. Flares! Swiftly he pulled one out and with a quickly hissed warning of
“Flare! Shut your eyes!” he tore of the top of the canister.
At once the cavern was filled with a blinding pink light and there was a sudden
commotion among the gathered scaly horrors that had been creeping toward them. To
add to the commotion, Drew blazed away a couple of rounds into their midst. Immedi-
ately panic set in and the temporarily-blinded creatures scurried away in all directions.
This gave Drew time to hand out the two revolvers to Chas and Errol together with a
pocketful of ammunition apiece. He also extracted half a dozen more of the flares, giving
two to each of his companions. Now they were ready to take the fight to the enemy,
should they return in the immediate future!
However, the reptilians seemed to have been routed, for the time being at least, so
Drew searched for the orange webbing cradle he’d first used to send down the calor-gas
bottles. Of course, being the first items dropped, they had to be at the bottom of the
pile. However, as they lifted off all the other supplies and stacked them off to one side in
a side-cavern that looked as if it could be made defensible, they finally found the webbing
net of gas-bottles.
A quick check by the slowly-ebbing light of their helmet lamps revealed that they
were apparently all intact, so Drew wasted no time in selecting a couple of them and
removing the protective caps that covered their gas-mantles. Then he groped in one of
the pouches of his backpack and produced a cigarette-lighter. He then turned on the gas
in both bottles and ignited their lighting-mantles. Immediately, the long magma reser-
voir-chamber was filled with bright light, which revealed a curious sight to their aston-
ished gaze.
The chamber, whilst in many respects resembling the one they had left two miles
above, also displayed some of the characteristics of the limestone caves they had visited in
their pot-holing days in Britain! There were magma stalagmites, stalactites, and even
tubular helictites which resembled grey-blue tree-roots dangling from the arched roof, as
well as many other features that were quite foreign to them.
The professor was all for examining these things in great detail there and then, but
Drew suggested that they should concentrate on securing their position first, in case the
strange reptilian creatures returned to attack them in force. He had noticed that even in
their panic during the route, they had seemed to possess a high level of intelligence not
normally found in lizards, and that they were also able to communicate among themselves
at an almost speech-like level. Thus they all fell to work in improving their side-cave into
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a mini-fortress. There were plenty of chunks of rock that had obviously fallen down the
shaft when the volcano’s plug had collapsed up above, so they were able to use some of
these to wall off the cave entrance, leaving only enough room for one man (or “creature”)
to enter at a time. They had, of course, carried all their gear and supplies into the cave
first, including the silver car-cover parachutes.
This done, Drew next turned his attention to the ropes and the air-hose. There
were still substantial lengths of both lying haphazardly coiled around on the floor beneath
the shaft, so he and the others dragged them over to their redoubt and, after cutting off
the residue which they coiled inside their “fortress”, they pulled in the remaining few yards
over the top of their slab wall, so that they now came down the shaft and pulled around
sharply against the ceiling of the chamber instead of lying on the stone floor. At least this
would hopefully prevent the reptilians from using them to climb up the shaft and attack
the girls! The radio power-cable was also looped in over the hose. Drew asked Errol to
see if he could sort out a connection to their own secondary radio-transceiver.
But first, with Errol covering him with his revolver, Drew hefted one of the heavy
calor-lanterns up to the farther end of the main reservoir chamber, which appeared to run
back for some unknown distance away from the bottom of the shaft. Now they had
sufficient light along the chamber to see any approaching intruders for quite some consid-
erable distance! The professor, meantime, spent his time in keenly studying the geology
of the chamber, and peering into all its nooks and crannies quite casually and without any
apparent thought of the dangers they might hide.
Drew noticed this and warned Chas to be a lot more cautious, in case any of the
creatures was lurking behind some rock or column – for columns there were aplenty.
They appeared to have been formed where separate tubes and tunnels had connected
and conjoined with each other as they entered the chamber from lower levels. In fact,
these magma tubes formed a sort of maze or labyrinth, which became more complex the
further one peered into it. It wouldn’t be hard to get inextricably lost within their black
depths, and Heaven alone knew to what further and even greater labyrinthine mazes they
might lead! Or what further horrors they might conceal in their stygian crisscrossing
tunnels and corridors!
Drew looked down at his watch and saw that it was now close to four in the morning.
It was amazing to think that nine or ten hours had already passed since they had jumped
down into the pit. Small wonder he was feeling faint for lack of nourishment! The others
must be in a similar plight. It seemed like as good a time as any to knock off for a break,
and also to take a well-earned rest, too! They must have been on the go for over twenty
hours or more, with barely a moment’s relaxation!
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He headed back to their newly-fashioned “redoubt” and called the professor inside
too. They could certainly manage without launching a search for Chas at this time - or any
other, come to that! He would have to give him a real “Talking-To” about rambling around
like Brown’s Cows in such a dangerous and unforgiving place!
As they both entered their cave-fortress, Errol was just putting the final touches to
connecting up the radio-transceiver. “There!” he announced triumphantly. “I think that
should do the job, Drew! Who’s going to be first to give it a whirl, buddy?” Drew grinned
at Errol gratefully as he offered him the handset. “Good on you, mate!” he said, “but
seeing that you’ve set it up, the honor goes to you! I’ll get some water boiling for a cuppa,
while you have a yarn with Hazel!” He looked in one of the supply cartons and found a
small gas-ring attachment and screwed it onto the top of one of the extra gas-bottles, and
then produced a billy-can from the same box. Another of the cartons contained a dozen
three-litre plastic bottles of drinking water. As Drew filled the billy-can from one of these,
he reminded himself that they must carefully check around for any signs of water lying in
the caverns and tunnels, as their present supply wouldn’t take them very far!
As he lighted the calor-gas ring and placed the billycan on top of it to boil, he heard
Errol delightedly greeting Hazel over the radio. “HIl This is ME, honey!” Errol called out
to her, as she finally answered his signal. “Oh! Did I wake you from your beauty-sleep?
Sorry, hon! Just though we’d better let you know that we got down OK, and that we’re all
set up now in our own little hidey-hole, and Drew’s just making us a hot drink…and … Eh?
Is it really? Yeah, right! I’ll tell him! Hang on a tick…”
Here he turned to Drew: “Would you believe its goddamn storming up top, Drew?
Jimmy came down the fumarole a while back and told ‘em - just in case they get any
flooding. He’s gonna stay with a while. How about that, eh!” He left Drew to chew over
this new piece of information, and returned to his pleasant chat with Hazel.
Drew was both glad and sorry to here about the rainstorm up on the surface. Glad,
because it would – or should - solve their immediate water concerns, since some of the
rainwater must inevitably find its way down into the strata both above and below them,
and leave plenty of useful pools along the way. Sorry, because it might cause the girls
some degree of inconvenience if it flooded the upper chamber and galleries. However, he
had no fears for their safety in such an event, as any excess water seeping into the upper
chamber would simply overflow down the shaft, and run off down through the long reser-
voir cavern into the depths below. Or so he fondly hoped, anyhow. Either way, it would
inevitably leave them some reserve drinking-pools, which was the main thing!
As he thought on these things, the billy began to seethe noisily, so he dug out their
aluminum dixies from the supply-case, along with a jar of coffee granules and a pack of
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UHT milk. then he recalled the military “C-Ration” packs in his backpack, and, deciding
that they might as well begin as they intended to go on, he broke out three of these too.
As Drew brewed the coffee, Errol started sniffing the air like a bloodhound. “Ah!
Java!” he cried delightedly. “No, no! Not the island, hon…I didn’t say we were going
anywhere… No! JAVA! The goddamn coffee! Drew just brewed us some … Eh? Oh!
Right, I’ll tell him! Catch you later, honey, we gotta eat now! Yeah! Drew’ll call her right
back when we’ve eaten. OK? See yah!” Then after mumbled some quiet, syrupy parting
words to Hazel, he said “Roger, Over and Out!” This last bit left Drew staring at him in
incredulous anger.
But Errol didn’t notice his darkening frown. “Marianne says she’ll let you have your
breakfast in peace, but could you give her a call afterwards?” he told Drew. “Oh! Right!”
said Drew a trifle bitterly. “Thanks a heap, mate! For a minute there I thought you were
just leaving me out in the bloody cold after your cozy little yarn! I was just about to
strangle you with the bloody radio cable!”
Errol stared across at him rather quizzically. “But I offered you the first go, buddy!
You told me to call first! Chas’ll bear me out – won’t you, eh, Chas?”
But the professor wasn’t having any part of it. “Oh, no ye don’t, mah wee laddie!
Ah’ve told ye before, Harold, Ah dinna want to get embroiled in ye’r pettyfoggin’ argu-
ments - espaicially when they concairn ye’r lady-friends! Ah’ll thank ye tae leave me oot
of ye’r triflin’ squabbles! Goad save us! Ye’r like pair o’squallin’ bairns, the pair of ye!”
Both Errol and Drew nodded their heads sheepishly, before the professor’s mini-
tirade. “Your quite right, sir!” said Drew, “This is definitely not a time or place for bicker-
ing about trivialities, and I thank you, sir, for reminding us of our situation and our youthful
immaturity!”
The professor stared rather pensively at the ground for a moment, stroking his
moustache, and began to say something in reply, but Drew hadn’t finished yet.
Tipping a large knowing wink at Errol, he went on: “But I must humbly request you,
sir, to try and remember that Errol’s name is not “HAROLD”! As I’ve already informed
you on three distinct occasions, it’s “ERROL” – E-R-R-O-L ! and we’ll both thank you to
remember that in future, sir!”
For a long moment, Chas stared in amazement at Drew, then he began to go bright
red in the face as if an apoplectic fit were imminent and a curious rumbling sound ema-
nated from his throat, then he suddenly burst forth into a roar of laughter. “Man!” he
cried, with tears of merriment rolling down his cheeks. “Ah’ll say this for ye, ye’re a proper
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caution, and ye’ve a fine way wi’ words, too! Pairhaps ye’r studies might have been baitter
directed toward the English language, as Ah’m sure ye’d hae made a fine bluidy lawyer,
Andrae! Pairhaps a finer lawyer than a geeologist, mebbe?” As usual, Drew noticed, the
sting was hidden there in the tail of the professor’s backhanded compliment. ‘Cynical old
sod!’ he thought, with a smile of Aussie good humour hovering about the corners of his
lips. ‘Nothing like getting a decent serve straight back in the old dial!’
Their “C-Rations” breakfast turned out to be quite a pleasant repast. Not at all what
Drew had been led to believe by ex-soldiers’ derogatory remarks. And even Errol com-
mented that he could happily eat them all over again. “Don’t worry, mate!” replied Drew,
“I rather suspect that you’ll bloody well HAVE to!”
However, when Drew later picked up one of the actual can-packs he had been sold
as “C Rations” and read the package label, he discovered that they were actually de-
scribed on the wrapper as “Food Packet, Survival, Arctic” and the contents were listed
as containing “Fruit Cake, Chocolate Fudge, Cornflakes, Instant Coffee and Tea, Soup and
Gravy (chicken–flavored) and Cheese-Potato” - not to mention a can-opening key taped to
the bottom of each can! The calorific value of each packet being 2000! No wonder the
curious but tasty meal had been so filling! From then on, he decided, they would have to
make do with one each per day - plus whatever else they could scrounge or catch along
the way.
Errol interrupted his thoughts. “Hey, Drew. Just thought I’d better remind you that
you were to give Marianne a call directly you finished chow? Oh, yeah! And it also strikes
me that we’re mebbe wasting fuel running the compressor up there – the air still seems
fresh enough down here without it. Waddaya think?”
Drew agreed. The air was still surprisingly fresh and they still hadn’t located the
source of the current. Maybe they’d have look further along the great cavern later on.
Anyhow in the meantime, he’d better call Marianne, and he’d ask her to turn off the
compressor while he was doing so. He was just about to pick up the handset and flick the
“On” switch, when Chas appeared in the narrow entrance of their redoubt. His features
were quite pale – almost ashen - and he appeared to have undergone some sort of shock.
He pointed back toward the bottom of the shaft with a trembling hand and his voice
quavered a little when he spoke.
“Andrae, Errol! Ye’d baitter come quick an’ see for ye’r sailves! It’s – it’s one o’ them
beasties we encoontered airlier. Ah joost foond one o’ them traipped under the stuff we
sent doon. Och! Dinna fret ye’rsel’, Errol, it’s DAID!” he added quickly we he saw the
colour drain suddenly out of Errol’s face. “But there’s somethin’ aboot the look o’ the
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creature Ah dinna like ower much!”
Drew immediately put down the radiophone and followed Chas back to their landing
site, with Errol following a step or two behind. Chas halted at the shaft floor.
“It’s ower there, traipped under yonder ceelinders. They must hae braeken its
baick!” His pointing finger still trembled with the contagious ague of dread, and Errol kept
his distance as Drew clambered over the fallen rocks toward the dead beast.
When he finally stared down at the creature’s remains, he saw why the professor
had been so frightened. It was obviously one of the reptilian animals he’d seen as he
landed, but it wasn’t a lizard or a goanna. What he saw was a creature of distinctly
hominid appearance. Its head, body and limbs were very similar to their own, and its
features were arranged similarly to those of the human or apelike physiognomy except its
eyes were quite large and slanted like those of a cat, and although glazed in death, they
were open and he could see that the pupils were enormously large compared to those of
humans. However, its pallid grey skin, which resembled that of a rather grimy albino, was
actually composed of very fine reptilian - - or rather fishlike – scales. But they were much
finer than those associated with snakes and lizards. Its arms and legs, whilst long and thin
in relation to its general physique, terminated in three-didgit fingers and toes, all of which
were armed with sharp talons – like those of a large bird of prey – or a miniature velociraptor.
However, it was the oversized head of the creature that inspired a sense of horror
even in Drew’s heart. The braincase was something akin to those few illustrations and
allegedly true photographs he’d seen in magazines and on the Web, of the Gray aliens that
had allegedly been retrieved from the crash site near the mysterious US Government
installation called Area 51 at Groom Lake in Nevada.
Drew, like millions of Americans, Australians and people of other Western nations
had simply dismissed them as either deliberate figments of Government disinformation to
draw attention away from some hidden agenda of its own, or some kind of elaborate
hoax, by a world-power group, intended to heighten humanity’s xenophobic attitude to-
ward possible alien visitors. But now, here he was, confronted by something that was
quite tangibly real. However, far from the expressionless and noseless, tiny-mouthed
face the Greys were supposed to have, this creature had the face of a demon incarnate!
It had beetling, bony browridges covering its large black-pupil-ed eyes, and a nose
that was more reminiscent of a baboon’s muzzle, ending in flared mucus-filled nostrils,
beneath which gaped a snarling, prognathous set of jaws. These were filled with sharply-
pointed, carnivorous teeth, and, worst of all, a long, pointed purple-looking tongue which
lolled out of one side in its final grimace of death. The sum total effect of all these features
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was a visage of intensely hideous ferocity such as one generally associates with the gar-
goyles which decorate rainwater spouts on mediaeval cathedrals and churches.
Drew’s first impression of the creature was one of evil incarnate, and that if there
had ever been models for those ancient sculptors to carve their demons from, it must have
been this – or others very like it. A closer inspection revealed that it also had pointed
ears, and two small bony, hornlike protuberances on either side of the top of its nobbly
skull. ‘This is no alien,’ thought Drew, ‘it’s a bloody devil!’
As he continued to gaze down on the demonic entity, he heard a scrabbling footfall
behind him. Startled, he swung around quickly, only to find that Errol had finally joined
him. Drew had understood Errol’s reluctance to examine the beast with him, having
already been set upon up in the lava-chamber above by one of its brethren. He could see
now why Errol had been so badly shaken by the experience. To be savagely attacked by
a living snarling creature like this would have been more than enough to shake any man
rigid! God! And how thing stank, too!
“Come to “face your demons”, mate?” he asked Errol, quietly. And when Errol nod-
ded wordlessly, staring down at the horror before them, Drew added, “I guess we’re all
going to have to brace ourselves, old son! I have a sneaking feeling there are a hell of a
lot more where this bastard came from! And I do mean "Hell"!”
“I’ve been coming to that same conclusion for the past week myself, Drew!” said
Errol in a hoarse whisper, as if afraid he might awaken the dead gargoyle. “I was the only
one who got a really clear look at the goddamn thing, remember! But I didn’t want to put
my impression into words, in case you guys laughed at me! Now you know why I was a
tad shook up! Is this the same one, do you think?” Drew now understood all too well
Errol’s reluctance to take a chance on encountering more of the things. He must have
really had to steel himself to return to the chamber – let alone the guts it must have taken
for Errol to jump down the same shaft that the beast had leapt down! He was impressed
with his partner’s nerve.
Now that Errol had faced his fear “up close and personal”, he seemed to have over-
come the dread that had ridden him, and he showed no undue concern when Drew asked
him to lift one end of the cylinder whilst he dragged the body from underneath it. It felt
extraordinarily light in weight. Then, in order to see it better, they had to haul it by the
skinny wrists into the brighter light of the calor lamp in the cavern itself. It was only when
they turned the body over that they discovered it possessed two pendulous, sacklike flaps
of skin running from just above its elbows and connecting to its hips. They appeared
almost like wings at first, until Drew mentioned their resemblance to the skin flaps found
on glider-possums.
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That was it! That was what they’d seen when the creature in the upper cavern
above the shaft had dived into the pit with what resembled wings outspread. It had
obviously been able to glide down easily, like a sky-stunt parachutist! It hadn’t jumped to
a suicidal death as Errol must have thought.
Then Drew thought about the air-current that rose fairly strongly up the shaft. A
creature this light might even be capable of actually being lifted up on it, like a kite! Not
exactly the cheeriest of thoughts he had had thus far, but one that had to be seriously
considered. The more he thought it over, the more he realized it must be true. If so, then
the girls were in considerable danger up aloft, alone and unprotected! He turned away
and headed for the radio. But before he reached the redoubt, he realized something else
- Chas was not to be seen anywhere along the great cavern! He asked Errol if he’d any
idea where the professor might have gone, but all Errol could say was that the old guy had
been right behind him when Drew went to look at the creature. Drew had visions of the
other horrors sneaking up on Chas from behind and, before he could raise the alarm,
spiriting him soundlessly away into the depths.
Then Drew’s whirling mind leveled itself out. ‘First things first! Must warn Marianne
and Hazel about the danger!’ He hurried into the small cave that was now their base, and
as he headed for the radio-transceiver, the first thing his eyes fell upon was Chas’s body
stretched out upon the pile of blankets and tarps in a corner of the cave. The professor
was snoring stertorously in a deep slumber! ‘Thank God for that!’ Drew sighed to himself
in sheer relief. ‘The poor old bloke must have been absolutely buggered!’ He poke his
head out of the narrow doorway and clicked his fingers to attract Errol, who was standing
staring about him in a bemused fashion.
“It’s OK, mate!” Drew called softly. “The Prof’s got his head down in here! And
maybe you should do the same, pal! I’ll keep “Cocky” while you and him have a couple of
hours’ kip – then you can do the same for me. All right?”
Errol agreed with alacrity, as he was weary after all the stress he’d recently suffered.
“What are you going to do while we’re sleeping, Drew?” he asked. “Hope you’re not going
to pull any “Lone Ranger” Clint Eastwood - Arnie Schwarzenegger stunts with those god-
damn boogeyman lizard-things, buddy, are you?”
But Drew shook his head. ““God-damned” is dead right, mate!” he said. Then he
added reassuringly. “No, Errol, you can relax, old chum. I’ll spend my time having a
decent yarn with Marianne in here. It is my bloody turn, if you recall!”
Then as Errol carefully wiggled some of the blankets out from under Chas’s snoring
form, Drew called up the girls on the transceiver. Marianne answered, much to his delight,
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and he enjoyed a few minutes of intimate lovey-dovey small talk with her before asking
how they’d got on in the storm. She assured him that there had been relatively little
seepage thus far into the tunnel system, but that Jimmy O’Rourke - at their insistence -
had decided to stay with them below ground.
Apparently, Jimmy had some bee in his bonnet about their comings and goings
having disturbed the Wandjina spirits from the northwest region of Australia where his
full-blood aboriginal mother had been raised. As a piccaninny, she had told him that they
were a race of unearthly beings who had come down from the sky to dwell in Australia,
causing a “great upheaval of fiery rocks” (volcanoes, perhaps?) as they did so. They
apparently possessed enormous powers over the elements and were the bringers of storms
and cyclones, as well as the monsoon rains that drenched all of northern Australia in the
Wet Season. They could summon up rain clouds and caused the lightning to flash and
strike, as well as the thunder to crack and boom.
In addition to all this, they were the source of all new growth and fertility, and filled
the rivers and creeks of the land with their life-giving spirit. They were also fearsome
warriors, capable of vast destruction when their wrath was kindled, by the floods and
lightning-bolts they sent upon their enemies. It was wise to avoid angering them, for even
though they no longer dwelled on the land, their spirits still rested in their painted images
and could quickly be aroused if suddenly startled by the intrusion of humans. Therefore,
men should take great care to announce themselves before entering the sacred chambers
that contained their images.
Drew had heard many such tales himself in his childhood on the property from
aboriginal hands – including Jimmy himself – and had often pondered whether these
Dreamtime legends might have had some real foundations in fact, way back in time. He
also thought about the aboriginal rock-paintings up at the outcrop, above the tunnel
where he’d come upon the severed head of the steer! In fact, that was another thing that
had occupied his thoughts more than a little since examining the demonic creature out in
the main cave. Could there perhaps be a relationship between the creatures they’d en-
countered here and whatever demonic killers had so viciously attacked that poor steer?
As all this flashed through his mind, Marianne had continued talking, unaware of his
momentary abstraction.
“Er.. sorry, love!” he blurted. “Missed that bit … What were you saying?”
“I was just saying that your aboriginal people over here have some very similar ideas
and beliefs to our own in Canada – and the US, too, of course!” She said. “My own dear old
grandma was a full-blood Kwakiutl Indian and a matriarch of her clan, and also, being a
seer helped make her a pretty big shot on Vancouver Island! Mom inherited all her
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spiritual abilities and passed them on to me. So now I guess I’m a kinda repository of all
the ancient stories and legends aboot my Gran’s people, and a good many others too. I
guess we’re getting kinda thin on the groond, noo that most of our younger folk are
marrying white people. Suppose that’ll happen to me, too, one day!”
She laughed her bell-like, tinkling laugh at that, and Drew fervently hoped that he’d
be the lucky white bloke who’d get to share Marianne’s life! However, he still had the
hardest part of his call to put across to her.
“Well, I reckon a man can only live in hope!” he said, by way of a broad hint.
“Anyhow, sweetheart, I have a bit of news for you that’s not so crash hot. So I’d better tell
you now and you can tell Hazel, then you’ll both be aware!” He could hear her breathing
expectantly at the other end, but she didn’t say anything, so he went on.
“D’you recall the thing that attacked Errol the other day, up in the chamber?”
“Will I ever forget it!” she replied. “Why? Did you find it’s body at the bottom of the
shaft? It must have been pretty mangled after such a dive! Poor thing.”
“Well, I hate to tell you this, love,” Drew said, “but there’ heaps of the bloody things
down here! We nearly had to fight for our lives when we first landed! They were all over
our gear at the bottom of the shaft like a bunch of scavengers! Yeah, we did find one
dead underneath some of the gear, but I don’t think it was necessarily the one that
jumped! The damn things can glide on sort of wing-flaps, and they’re so light we think
they might be able to sail back up the shaft on that rising air-current! So without wanting
to alarm you, all I’m saying is that both of you should keep a careful eye out for any
unwanted visitors up there! Will you do that, Marianne? Pity I can’t send you a gun up so
that…..”
“Oh, don’t worry aboot that, Drew!” Marianne said confidently. “We’ve got Errol’s
pump-action double-barrel shotgun here – it’s right in front of me as I speak! And we can
both use it, too! Everybody back home goes shooting! I started when I was still a
papoose! So don’t worry, Drew!” Then she shook him to the core with her next remark.
“Oh, yeah! Nearly forgot! I love your little redoobt down there! But I don’t care much for
the local scenery – it’s worse than up here!”
Drew was thunderstruck by these remarks. “Now how the hell did you know about
our little fortress?” he asked. “And who told you about the dismal outlook? I suppose
Errol’s been shooting his big mouth off to Haz…..”
Again he heard the tinkle of her laughter. “No! It’s nothing like that, Drew! Did you
forget I’m a psychic traveller? I was doon there earlier when you were building your wall,
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standing right behind you! Didn’t you know? I thought you would’ve remembered from
when you were on the Hollow Earth list. I talked aboot my astral journeys often enough,
then. I was “Minnehaha”. Ring any bells yet?”
Then it hit him like a ton of bricks. Of course he remembered! He recalled, a little
shamefaced, how he used to pour scorn on her alleged “travels upon the Astral Plane” to
Errol. He’d even joked with him about what the airfares were worth if one booked with
“Astral”! He hadn’t had much time then for people who claimed that they had psychic
abilities – being a young and foolish cynic of the first water!
Since then, of course, he’d come to realize that there was room for all sorts and
persuasions of folk in Hollow-Earth discussion-groups – especially after he (and Errol) had
been ribbed mercilessly by the other geophysics students after lousy old Din-Dins had
revealed their ghastly ‘secret-study’ subject to all and sundry, and had branded them as
being “geopsychic” students rather than students of geophysics! They’d both been liter-
ally labelled (by means of a hand-lettered notice stuck on their room door) as “GEEl-OHl-
PSYCHICS - Do not Disturb!” from then on, until they graduated – and they’d come to
wear that label with pride as a pair of “stand-alones” among a bunch of crawl-arsing
conformists to orthodoxy!
He told all of this to Marianne, and she laughed her head off. “Well, never mind,
Drew!” she said once she’d stopped giggling, “Just as long as you believe in it now! But
you know,” she went on, in a more serious tone, “I could be of great help to you guys! It
just occurred to me that I could maybe scout ahead for you, once you get really going and
warn you if there’s any danger, or if you took the wrong turn. All that sort of thing. Do you
get my drift?”
This sounded like a fantastic idea to Drew, but there was only one snag. How would
it work when they got out of radio-range? Or if the radio got lost or busted? How would
they get in touch then? Marianne saw what he meant, but she said she’d give it some
thought and get back to him. It was just a pity Drew wasn’t a psychic himself, as their
problem would then be solved! Drew told her she’d have to teach him – just like the
“School of The Air” back at Glengarry!
Then, Marianne told him that Hazel was just waking up. She had kept watch over
Marianne while she went on an OBE (Out of-Body-Experience) trip down to watch them
set up their new “den”, and then, after learning from Errol that they were all OK, and
being very tired herself, Hazel had taken a long nap herself, leaving Marianne to “hold the
fort” – with the shotgun, if necessary!
Drew suddenly realized that he’d forgotten to tell her to turn off the air-compressor,
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so he hastily explained to Marianne what she must do. She said that she understood his
instructions perfectly and would do it right away..
Then, having now done what he set out to do, as well as acquire some interesting
new information himself, Drew told her he’d better get back to his own affairs, as he
desperately needed some sleep himself, so he’d have to rouse Errol. He whispered all his
intimate goodnights to Marianne and then, right at the end, he suddenly blurted out that
he loved her! Then he quickly added, “Over and Out!” and switched off the handset.
At first he couldn’t believe what he’d just said, but after a moment of mature reflec-
tion, he grinned to himself and murmured quietly to no one in particular: “Well, old mate,
that ought to give her something to bloody think about for the time being - bless her
pretty little cotton socks!”
He glanced at his wristwatch and noticed, to his utter astonishment, that he’d been
talking to Marianne for well over three hours! “My Word!’ he pondered to himself, ‘Doesn’t
time fly when you’re having fun!’ He debated whether to go and check that the two calor-
gas lamps were still burning all right, but then decided not to venture out of their strong-
hold in case the demons were lying in wait for him, and ambushed him before the others
had woken up. If that happened it would be curtains for the other two for sure, and the
whole expedition would have been a vast waste of time, effort and money. No better
wake up Errol and Chas first, take a quick look around and then crash out for a few glorious
hours of solid slumber!
He noticed his revolver lying on top of his backpack, and decided to replace the two
rounds he’d fired after the demons – or whatever they were. (They really would have to
come up with a sensible name for them!) He scrabbled inside his backpack for a box of
ammo, and then, just as he pushed a couple of fresh rounds into the chamber of his
revolver, spun it, and clicked it back into place again, he heard it. Something. Outside in
the main chamber. He stood stock still and listened intently for a moment. Yes! There
it was again! A pitter-pattering sound, just like the first fat drops of rain falling on a tent
canopy before a storm – or a bloody invasion! He suddenly realized that what he could
hear was the pattering of many bare, three-toed feet upon the rock chamber floor out-
side! He aimed a swift kick at Errol’s booted foot, and gave Chas a sharp smack on the
cheek, then poked his head out carefully through the narrow entry gap in their roughly
erected wall. Luckily, the two calor-gas lamps were still burning quite brightly, so he was
able to see easily. But what he saw made the hairs rise on the back of his neck.
A throng of at least forty or fifty of the demonic creatures were creeping stealthily
down the centre of the cavern toward their dead companion! Whether they were bent
upon extracting revenge for his death or merely recovering his body, was anyone’s guess,
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but at least they hadn’t had the sense or the technical understanding to turn out the two
lamps, thank Heaven!
They still hadn’t seen him, so Drew risked a glance back over his shoulder, thankfully
to see that Errol had woken up, spotted him in the doorway holding his revolver, and had
summed up the situation at once. Errol drew his own revolver, and as Chas started to
show signs of a noisy awakening, clamped his hand over his mouth.
Chas’s eyes suddenly bulged wide open in fear, until he saw Errol standing over him
with the barrel of his revolver laid against his pursed lips in a clear signal for silence.
Relieved, Chas waved an acknowledging hand and rose quietly to his feet, feeling around
under his blanket for his own revolver. Then they both crept quietly over to peer out
through the narrow opening at whatever was holding Drew’s attention. Drew felt Errol’s
body tense beside him when he saw the group of fearsome beings outside, grouping
around their dead member.
But it was Chas’s sharp, horrified intake of breath when he saw them, that caught
the sharp ears of the demons. Several turned around and glared straight at them. Then,
quite literally, all Hell broke loose! As the demons began loping towards them, Drew
coolly picked off three of them, and Errol shot two more. The ones behind them stumbled
over the fallen and were also shot before they could rise. At this sudden slaughter of their
leaders, the rest slowed, and several turned and ran.
As the mob stood and hesitated, Drew shot three more of their number, and snatched
Chas’s fully-loaded gun out of his trembling fingers, at the same time yelling “Reload the
bloody thing, quick!” As this little scene took place, Errol managed to drop another two
and winged a third in the shoulder. The rest of the enemy – for such they now certainly
were – began to retreat, gibbering gutturally among themselves, and as they backed
away, Errol risked his last round and shot another, taller member of their number, who
appeared to be issuing commands of some sort.
As he fell, the remainder now turned into a howling, demoralized rabble and fled the
scene scampering wildly for the farther end of the chamber. Drew, now armed again,
leapt out of the entry and managed to drop another unlucky two from at least fifty yards
range. Then they were gone, and apart from the snarling groans of the wounded creature
whose shoulder had been shattered, silence once more descended upon the scene. Errol
hastened to the box of ammunition to reload his and chas’s revolvers, in case the savage
entities regrouped and attempted another charge. But none came.
A quick visual count revealed that no less that sixteen of the devils had been killed
and one, their chief, severely wounded. Not at all bad bag for two young geophysicists in
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their first real armed affray! However, neither Drew nor Errol felt over confident. They
knew that they hadn’t seen the last of their foe by a long shot!
Drew now moved over to where the tall fiendish creature lay slumped against a
large rock nursing its shattered shoulder and collarbone – for its anatomy appeared to be
even more similar to that of a human then that of its underlings. However, it still had a
distinctly reptilian appearance, being covered by greeny-grey scales, and possessing a
distinctly lizard-like tail. Its glaring, hate-filled eyes, instead of being largely wide-open
black pupil, as those of the rest were, looked much more reptilian, in that its irises were
exposed and they were of an amber-greenish colour, reminiscent of those of crocodiles,
and with a vertical, feline slit-like pupil which had clearly accommodated itself consider-
ably to counter the brightly-lit cavern.
It was generally a more manlike beast, but nonetheless still bestial, as its ferocious
threatening snarls and growls demonstrated as Drew warily approached it, gun at the
ready. He approached as close as he dared in case it made a sudden lunge at him with its
grisly-looking vampirish fangs. It strove to rise to its back feet as he came closer, and
revealed that it had legs more like the hind limbs of a goat or sheep, upon which the scales
appeared to have become specialized somewhat into the form of thick spinelike hairs,
giving its haunches an even more goatlike appearance.
In fact, it looked to Drew like nothing so much as a satyr – the lustful half-goat, half-
human creature of Greek and Roman legends. This was also supported by its possession
of prominent male ram-like genitalia, and short corrugated bent horns that curved for-
ward above its protruding browridge! ‘Bloody Hell!’ thought Drew, when he recognized
the likeness. ‘This bloke must have been the original model for those bloody characters
Norman Lindsay used to paint!”
Lindsay was a famous Australian artist of the early 1900s, whose semi-pornographic
paintings, ink-drawings and sculptures had enjoyed a great deal of umbrage and outraged
criticism from the churchgoing “wowser” community of Australia. His pictures had largely
been lively depictions of muscular satyrs and squat dwarflike fawns romping with nude
and buxom sirens around the sunlit forests and hills of his beloved Blue Mountains coun-
tryside.
Astonishingly, just as this thought occurred to Drew, the monstrous creature sud-
denly ceased its vicious snarling and contorted its hideous features into a crafty, lecherous
grimace of a smile, its amber eyes glaring knowingly up into his own from beneath heavy
brows. As he stared back almost hypnotically at its face, he saw nictitating membranes,
flicker like camera-shutters across its baleful eyes. ‘My God!’ He thought, ‘The damn thing
is reading my mind!’ At that same instant, he was suddenly aware that the beast was
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attempting to communicate with him by some powerful mental or psychic means! It was
attempting to get inside his head! For a moment he almost permitted its insistent thoughts
to enter, but just then, Errol’s voice spoke over his shoulder. “Ugly-looking brute, Drew!
Needs a goddamn shower!”
At once, the near-spell was broken, and Drew saw the creature’s face creased again
with an ugly snarl, and this time, instead of growling savagely, it threw back its evil head
and gave vent to a great throat-tearing roar of anger and frustration, and lunged forward
toward them both, causing them to stagger hurriedly backwards – its fetid breath and
feral stench almost overpowering them. But the pain of its massive injuries kicked in, and
it sank back, growling and groaning again in agony.
“What can we do about it?” asked Errol, anxiously. “I know it’s a hideous brute of
thing, but we can’t just leave it to suffer, buddy!” Drew had been thinking the same
thought, but as they both stood pondering they were both thrust aside as Chas suddenly
pushed his way between them, a revolver clenched firmly in his fist.
Without any preamble, the doughty Scot pointed the weapon straight at the demon’s
head and squeezed the trigger. More by chance than design, the bullet took the beast
directly in the centre of its forehead, and its evil skull exploded like an overripe melon,
splashing them all with blood and brains. The two younger men reeled back in horror,
feverishly trying to brush and shake the mess off their clothes and skin, but Chas fired two
more rounds into the still-writhing body. It gave one great convulsive shuddering heave
then slumped down dead.
Then the professor slowly turned toward Drew and Errol with a look of grim satisfac-
tion on his gore-spattered face. “Thiere’s a bluidy fenish tae the De’il-spawned bluidy
creature!” he cried, allowing the revolver to slip from his trembling grasp. “Ahm no a mon
for guns and killin’, but Ah could see that yon demon a’moost had ye in his thrall, Andrae!
Man! Could ye no sense that! Ah could feel the raw power o’ the fiendish thing, mahself
even from away ower there!”
Then he sat down on a stone slab with his elbows on his knees and held his head
between his hands. “That’s the fairst time Ah’ve ever fired a peestol in anger, lads, but
Ah’ve nae doot it wilnae be the lairst, noo! Goad forgeeve me!”
Errol ran to his side. “Sir!” he said, in a tone of great admiration. “Don’t punish
yourself! You were great, professor! You did real good!” Chas removed his face from his
hands and stared at Errol, his eyes opening wide in outrage. “Whait’s that ye said? “Did
real good”? Mannie! What kind o’grammar is that? Ye’re a bluidy graduate o’ the finest
univairsity in the Ainglish-speaking world, an’ ye canna phrase ye’r remarks anny baitter
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than a bluidy Glessgie hooligan! Ye should be bluidy ashamed o’yersel, man!”
But here Drew put in his two-cents worth. “Chas, we’re proud of you! It’s a true
pleasure to have you along! Heaven alone knows what that – that - thing might have
made me do if you hadn’t just stepped in and done what I should have done first off!
You’re right professor, it was trying to mess with my mind, and I had a revolver in my
hand, too!” He paused to reflect upon the possible terrible outcome, had Errol not butted
in, and Chas put paid to the brute. “Errol, I suspect that Chas is absolutely right! We’re
not just dealing with some weird subterranean race here. I got the message loud and
clear from that –“ he nodded toward the grisly corpse. “I’m rapidly coming to the certain
conclusion that “Hell” is a real place, that the “Devil” really does exist, and that these
things are his minions!” He paused again, then he added: “If you blokes want to quit right
here and now, I won’t blame you one iota! We’ll call it a day and you can go back up
without any criticism from me! You’ve both already showed amazing guts, and….”
And what would you do if we did quit?” asked Errol. And before drew could speak he
answered for him. “You’d go on alone – wouldn’t you, you mad bastard? Errol poked out
his square chin aggressively. “Well you can forget that, buddy! I’m coming with you! If
we have to march right down through goddamn Hell itself, you’re not going alone!”
“Aye! An’ that goes for mahsailf, too!” put in Chas, vehemently. “Even ef Ah hae tae
shoot aiv’ry hellish thing that pops up afore me!”
Then Errol finally capped the whole lunatic business off by saying: “Er – excuse me
for commenting, Prof, but that’s “Before me”, sir!” And then, when the professor turned
and stared at him in puzzlement, he added, “You said “afore me” – didn’t he, Drew? You
heard him! Didn’t he distinctly say….. ”
Drew simply threw up his hands in mock despair. “Don’t try to bloody drag me into
this, you crazy Yankee galah!” he laughed, happily.
CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 17 CHAPTER 17
Meanwhile, up in the great lava chamber, two miles above, Hazel and Marianne
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were respectively lying and sitting inside their makeshift tent-hut, whilst Jimmy mounted
a watchful guard just outside, armed with one of Bob’s hunting rifles – and paying par-
ticular attention to the shaft, in case anything should fly out of it.
Unbeknown to the girls, Jimmy was showing great courage in doing this. He came
from a culture in which powerful good or evil gods lurked in virtually everything known to
mankind. He had been brought up to venerate the almighty Rainbow Serpent, by whom
his mother’s tribe believed everything had been created, and to whom all of the rich
panapoly of mythical gods and spirits revered by his people owed their own origins. The
Rainbow Serpent was the greatest of all the gods, and was seen in the rainbow as a giant
snake that stretched between the sky and the earth. To many aboriginal tribes this Rain-
bow Serpent was the great creative source of all life, and of rivers, which, in a great arid
continent such as Australia, are of paramount importance for the sustenance of that life.
To the aborigines of Australia, the Dreamtime was the equivalent in meaning to
what the Garden of Eden or the Golden Age represented to the “white fellers”. It had been
a time of great semi-human giants – much like the great heroes and gods of ancient
Greece or of the Scandinavians. To the aborigines, The Earth was then a great flat plain,
devoid of any features. And it was the diggings, burrowing and shifting of rocks done by
these great giant people as they went about their normal, everyday lives that had built the
mountains that men see today. Now, although the Dreamtime was ended and these
mighty giants were long gone, their gigantic earthworks and other great natural features
such as Ayers Rock, the mountain ranges and the deep gorges remained. However,
many strange spirits and ghosts still inhabited trees, rock-hollows, caves and waterholes,
and great care had to be taken to appease them and to avoid offending them. These
included the Bunyips and the Yowies - and even the feared Wandjina – the white spirits of
those who had come down from the sky!
Many of the tribal aborigines also believed the sky to be the realm of the dead,
unlike other cultures and religions, and that their spirits would be guided there after death
by night birds, to be welcomed Home by the spirits of long lost friends or companions to
a new Heaven-like land of plenty and peace and good weather. Others believed that the
ghosts of their dead went to some far-flung, inaccessible mountain range or suchlike
distant place, and that they were ferried there by a ghostly “Charon”-like boatman across
some distant lake or a river.
Thus Jimmy O’Rourke was very familiar with the concept of benevolent and malevo-
lent spirits, and believed that so long as he didn’t offend them, they wouldn’t harm him.
Trouble only came to those who deliberately went out into the spirit-world or their haunts,
and trespassed upon their private preserves, or disturbed their peaceful repose. The
white man’s gods and demons were of little concern to him, even though he had been told
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about them at the Mission School he had attended as a child. Had he known of the OBE
activities of Marianne, it would have been of little moment to him.
And, probably, because of this unconcern for the “white feller’s” gods and beliefs,
Jimmy thought he was immune to the creatures that dwelt in the depths below.
Meanwhile, Marianne who was sitting awake in their yurt-like tent, had heard the
sound of the ragged shots far below, carried up by the megaphone-like shaft with a
startling clarity. But, while Hazel slept, she refused to slip away, even for a few minutes,
in her astral form to see for herself what the ruckus was about. She had tried to attract the
attention of one of the trio by means of the radio-link, but they were obviously too busily
engaged in other matters to notice the signal-light blinking on their transceiver. It would
be unfair to rouse Hazel, who was still enjoying a good deep sleep. She would wait
another hour, she told herself, and then try calling Drew again. If she still got no re-
sponse, then she would have to wake Hazel and attempt another astral journey, just to
make sure that all was well with them.
She had no idea what the time really was. Her wrist watch told her it was ten-fifteen
but whether ‘AM’ or ‘PM’, she couldn’t really decide. Anyhow, time was comparatively
irrelevant below ground as there was no direct means of seeing the sky. The only way they
would know this for sure would be to ask Jimmy to climb partway up the fumarole pipe,
until he could see the sky. Or she could call Glengarry. But if it was night, she might
waken young Charlie, who had the transceiver near his bed, and he would probably fetch
Bob and Joan, and they’d get alarmed…. No. She’d wait.
In the meantime, she had better get Jimmy to check the fuel-tank on the generator.
The last thing they needed right now was to suddenly be plunged into darkness. Sure,
they had the calor-gas lamp inside the tent, but Jimmy would be in the dark outside. He
could easily stumble over the edge of the shaft if the lights went out and he didn’t have a
torch, and tried to grope his way up to the gallery.
She poked her head around the door-flap of their rough and ready ‘yurt’ and saw
Jimmy sitting apparently half-dozing against a rock. But he wasn’t asleep. He had learned
long ago how to sleep with one eye open, whilst driving sheep and cattle. There wasn’t a
dingo alive that could have crept past him without waking him instantly – as many ma-
rauding wild dogs had found out the hard way, by the sudden impact of a bullet in the
head or heart!
“You all right, missus?” he called softly, the whites of his eyes and teeth shining out
in a friendly grin from the dark shadow of the rock. “Heard some gunshots a while back.
Come from down there!” He pointed toward the mouth of the shaft. “But I hear Mister
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Drew shouting angry-like to somebody, so they be right, I reckon!” Then he noticed
Marianne was still looking at him hesitantly. “You want somethin’, missus?” he asked,
getting to his feet.
Marianne quietly told him about her concerns regarding the generator, so he went
straight off to check the fuel tank, with his rifle under his arm and, thankfully, a small torch
in his hand. She took the opportunity of his brief absence to relieve herself, and when
she went back into their yurt, Hazel was already stirring into wakefulness.
“Whut toime es ut?” she asked drowsily as she sat up, stretching her arms and
yawning. Marianne told her it was something to eleven. “Us ut stall night-toime, thin?
How long heve Oi bin asleep, love?” she yawned again, and shook her head.
Marianne told her about five or six hours. Then she mentioned the shots, and how
Jimmy had heard Drew shouting a one of the others in anger. “Don’t ask me hoo he heard
him from two miles down!” she added. “He must have ears like a fox!”
“Where us Jummy? Hes he gone beck up top agine, now? Thought he was going
to stiy with us?” But when Marianne told her he was just checking the generator fuel,
Hazel relaxed. “Oi’ll till you whut, Marianne!” she said, wistfully. “Oi could just eat some-
thing noice, love! A beg plite of bicon en’ iggs ‘n a noice hot cup of tea’d jest go down a
rual treat, roight about now!”
At that point they heard Jimmy returning. “Only me, Jimmy, missus! I just topped
up the fuel on the generator, so she’ll be right for good while now. Stopped raining now,
too. Nice day up top, missus!”
Marianne was glad to know that it was morning instead of night. “How’s the fuel
going, Jimmy, by the way?” she answered lifting the flap and talking to him directly. It
was a matter of importance that they kept a sharp eye on their supplies of fuel and water.
Bob had promised to send Mike back with more supplies in a day or two, so they needed
to know what was getting particularly low.
However, Jimmy said the first jerrycan was still about a third full, and there was
another full one to go after that. “There’s some big pools of clean water up there,
missus!” he said pointing away toward the gallery. “Maybe I pan some up into the first
water-drum. That one’s only half-full now. You want me to do that?” She said that would
be a good idea. She was also worried about how the men were going for water, down
below. They’d only dropped a few plastic bottles of it down on one of the car-cover
parachutes. Perhaps the water from the storm might seep down there eventually? She’d
ask Drew when she called him on the radio-link.
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She thanked Jimmy, who grinned and said “S’orright, Missus!” then went and sat in
his previous spot, then, just as she turned to go back inside, it occurred to her that he
didn’t appear to have anything to eat. But Hazel had already thought of that, as she was
now making them a scratch meal of rye biscuits, sardines and tomatoes. They had plenty
of fruit and tinned stuff as well as crackers, biscuits and other packet foods as well as
canned soups and other “Heat’n’Serve” meals. There was even some UHT milk in one-litre
packs, which would last them a fair while. And Mike would no doubt be bringing more in
a day or two.
However, there were two things that Marianne wanted to do as a matter of priority.
The first, naturally enough was to contact Drew, and check that they really were OK, and
the other was to try to teach Hazel the rudiments of OBEs.
She wasn’t sure if Hazel would make a good subject for this, being rather a worldly
“down-to-earth” sort of person. But if all else failed she might at least be able to help her
to get into “Remote Viewing” or even simple telepathy. If the latent psychic gift was
there, she’d do her best to bring it out! The biggest hurdle – that of cynicism - had
already been overcome, after her being able to describe Drew’s surroundings to him over
the radio. Hazel had marveled at this, and had said she wished she could do “thet sort of
psychic stuff!” As far as Marianne was concerned, if Hazel truly believed and was willing to
try her best, it would help enormously!
It was just after Hazel had taken some food out to Jimmy, that the radio phone
suddenly buzzed and flashed. It was Errol. He told Marianne that Drew was now taking
a well-earned sleep, after a marathon effort of staying awake and alert since they had
descended the shaft. So he and Chas were now manning the ramparts. He asked where
Hazel was. And when Marianne told him she was just outside chatting to Jimmy, he took
the opportunity to tell her all that had transpired since her last contact with Drew. Espe-
cially about the demonic lizard-like creatures (which he described in some vivid detail) and
how they had apparently routed the “reptilians”; at least for the moment. He asked her to
“soft-pedal” all this if she discussed it with Hazel, as she might begin to get panicky –
which was the last thing he wanted! At that point, Hazel returned and was delighted
when Marianne handed her the handset, telling her it was Errol. So whilst she ate her
breakfast, she listened to Hazel’s jovial chitchat with him, then, when the conversation
began to get personal, she went outside for a while and left her friend to it. She chatted
to Jimmy for a while and then wandered over to the edge of the shaft. It then occurred to
her that she should ask Errol how they were going for water and supplies.
As she turned to go back to their yurt, her eye fell upon the air-compressor, which
was standing idle with the air-hose still connected to the outlet pipe. It struck her then
that the now-unused hose could carry other things than just plain air. It was a simple way
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to top up the men’s water supplies down below! She hurried back inside just as Hazel was
saying her fond farewells to Errol. She pointed urgently at the phone and then herself,
miming holding it to her own ear. Hazel understood her mimicry, and quickly bidding Errol
a fond adieu and that Marianne wished to speak, she passed the handset over to her.
Hi!” she said, quickly. “Hope you’re all okay doon there! Is he still? Oh, well, he c’n
always call me when he wakes up, if he has time! I just wanted to ask how your water was
holding oot? No. It’s just that I had this wee idea. Hoo’s about you get all the empty
bottles together, and we pour you some fresh water doon the air-pipe? Aw! Get outta
here, you old charmer! It wasn’t that brilliant…..Eh? Oh, Yeah! Jimmy found it’d run
doon into the gallery ootside here and formed several good pools. So I figured it’d be a
shame to just let it go to waste….Yeah! Otherwise it’ll take a heckuva time to seep doon
through the rocks to where you guys are, and it’s stopped storming noo! Right! I’ll give
you a quick call when we’re ready to start pouring it into the pipe! See you later, Errol -
and do take care, you guys. ‘Bye!”
Then she told Hazel about the thought she’d had of pouring water down the plastic
air-hose direct to where the fellows were camped, two miles lower. “I’ll go get Jimmy
onto collecting the water raight away.” she said. “Then I want to have a serious talk with
you, Hazel! And, NO! It’s not aboot Errol, honey, it’s aboot…. Well, you’ll soon find oot!”
Then she went outside and had a word with Jimmy. Luckily, there were several empty
spring-water bottles, so Jimmy was able to collect them up easily and begin filling them.
Leaving him to his task, Marianne went back to Hazel, and began to give her a crash
introductory-course in matters pertaining to the psychic in general and Astral Travel in
particular…..
* * *
Two miles vertically below them, Chas and Errol sat awaiting Marianne’s call. They
already had their empty water-bottles standing in a small cluster beneath the open end of
the air-hose, ready to be filled from on high. Drew was still slumbering deeply into his fifth
hour. He had told Errol to wake him after the fourth, but his friend had decided that Drew
needed as much sleep as he could get, in readiness for their next move.
Before he went to sleep, Drew had suggested to Errol that it was time for them to
press on with their huge journey, regardless of whatever devils might be lurking in wait for
them. They had two primary weapons which they knew their enemies respected. Guns
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and lights. The only worry they had about these was keeping up a supply of ammunition
and torch-batteries! There was just no way they could take all their gear with them,
apart from their backpacks, weapons, climbing ropes and harnesses. Their backpacks
would have to be stuffed with as much sustenance, in the way of Survival Kits and water-
bottles, as they could reasonably carry. The rest would have to wait till they had set up
another base-camp further down. Their first priority was to see if there were any further
deep shafts exiting from this present magma reservoir cavern. Drew had rather expected
to find a continuation of the main shaft more or less vertically beneath the one they’d
already descended, perhaps choked with fallen rock debris. But he was doomed to
disappointment. Chas told him that it was probable that their present great chamber had
been fed by several vertical tubes and fissures, and that these might well prove to be
choked by solidified magma.
After their victory over the reptilians and the killing of their leader, they had taken a
chance on being attacked again, by venturing well beyond their farthest calor-lantern,
into the dark distant reaches of the cavern. However, if they had been observed - which
was more or less a moral certainty - the reptilians must have noted the revolvers they
gripped resolutely in their hands. The death-dealing capacity of these had obviously
registered deeply in the minds of the monsters, for the three adventurers never saw hide
or hair of any of them. However, their search bore fruit when Chas almost stumbled
headlong down a pitch-black crack-like chasm that ran across the floor of one of the
cavern’s further reaches.
Fortunately, as he fell, his hands struck the flat floor opposite, though his revolver
skittering from his grasp, and almost plummeting down the yard-wide fissure. Luckily
too, he had just pocketed his hand-torch, in order to grasp his gun firmly in both hands,
police-fashion, for better aim in case of a surprise encounter. So, by grasping the back
edge of his safari-jacket, Drew and Errol were able to haul him back to safety, before his
trembling body finally sagged in the middle. However, his gun still lay on the opposite
edge of the crevasse, about a metre away. Too far for any of them to reach it by stretching
out an arm.
They stood and pondered the problem for a moment. Then Errol glancing along the
edge of the fissure saw that, away too his left, it began to narrow. He only had to walk
alongside it for some twenty-five feet until he found a section that was only two feet wide.
He stepped across the space easily then came back along the other side and stooped to
pick up the weapon. But as he did so, Drew saw a pair of threatening figures looming out
of the inky darkness beyond Errol. Without hesitation, he aimed and fired, dropping one
dead in its tracks, whilst the other turned and fled whence it had come.
Errol snatched up Chas’s revolver and raced back the way he’d come. But there
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were no more suicidal sallies by the reptilians, and he made it back to the others safely.
However, before they turned back, they took a short walk along the chasm to their right,
and found that it soon widened much further to ten or twelve feet across.
“Hmmmmm….Interesting!” said Drew, who was now feeling bone-weary from his
long spell of wakefulness. “Pity I forgot to fetch a couple of those damned flares!” But he
was too tired to go back and hunt out the flares, then walk all the length of the chamber
again. “Sorry, fellers,” he said apologetically, “but this’ll just have to wait till I’ve had a
decent kip. I’m out on my bloody feet!” So, with that, they made their watchful way back
along the long chamber toward their redoubt.
None of them had been greatly surprised to find that their erstwhile “prize-bag”- the
body of the tall satyr-like reptilian - had been spirited away in their absence. All that
remained was a large patch of sticky blood on the slab of rock against which it had slumped.
Drew pointed this out as an object-lesson to his companions. “We’re going to have to
grow bloody eyes in the backs of our heads, you blokes! These accursed creatures aren’t
quite as scared of us as we’d like to think!”
As they’d entered their hideout, Chas had paused and taken a long look back up the
cavern. He’d noticed a curious anomaly among the igneous rocks and solidified magma at
the far end of the cavern. He was sure he’d seen classic traces of limestone or sandstone
strata – which is not usually associated with volcanoes. His mind raced as the others
went in ahead of him. What if this volcano had burst up through a region of what had
once in some dim and distant past era been part of a large coral reef? What if the entire
thick lava-field of the Undara Province covered some extremely ancient limestone or sand-
stone region?
If this were so, then the whole geological picture would change quite dramatically.
The volcanic upthrust of the hundred and sixty-odd volcanoes could easily account for the
elevation of the province, so the region could easily have once been part of an ancient
coast or even part of a seabed, now covered deeply by a thick layer of disgorged lava rock.
If this were so, then they might be able to sidestep any possible hotspot by following the
limestone or sandstone caves and tunnels which he knew would very probably exist from
a pre-volcanic time!
He knew that much of Australia had once been covered by seas. The Simpson
Desert, for example, had been a submerged until fairly recent geological times, between
70 to 90 million years ago. This was why it contained so much salt, as was exemplified by
the giant salt-lake, Lake Eyre. Thus at the very least, they might find themselves de-
scending through sedimentary rocks if they kept to the southern edge of the volcano’s
perimeter, and these could well have been water-eroded long before the volcanoes of the
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Undara province began erupting! Yes! There was a distinct chance that, even if a hotspot
still persisted below them, they could avoid it!
He had hurried in to tell them of his conclusions, only to find Errol standing with a
hushing finger upon his lips and pointing down to Drew’s recumbent form among the
blankets. Drew was already sliding into unconsciousness, finally overwhelmed by total
physical exhaustion. After allowing him a few moments to sink into deep dreamless
unconsciousness, Errol and Chas were able to converse together in low tones. Errol told
him that Drew had spoken briefly of pressing on after he’d rested, and that they would
need to travel as light as was reasonable, and that they were to rest up themselves as
much as possible.
Chas had then fished his notebook out of his backpack and begun to write up the
first page of his proposed daily record of their adventures. Whilst the professor covered
several pages with his tiny crabbed handwriting, Errol had sat in the doorway keeping a
watchful eye out for any further signs of activity by their demonic foe, occasionally sipping
from a bottle of spring-water and contemplating the events of the past couple of days. He
dozed off a couple of times, and Chas had to lay aside his writing, to take over the watch
until Errol woke up again. After that Errol had decided to call the girls, and it was then that
Marianne had told him about the water-restocking notion she’d had. Now they had been
waiting for a further half-hour whilst they got the water together up top.
It was as they sat waiting that Errol himself had a bright idea concerning the hosepipe.
He’d been taking an inventory of the stuff they would have to carry with them, and he’d
found that they needed to stock up with the small heavy-duty AA batteries that powered
their helmet lamps and torches. These were about as thick as a finger, and it occurred to
him that they should easily fit inside sections of hose, which the girls could then tie off at
each end and drop down to them, thus avoiding damage to their terminals. However,
this led him to a far simpler idea. He was just about to mention it to Chas, when the radio
signal light began to blink.
He answered it and heard Marianne’s voice. She told him that they were now ready
to send down the water. Did he have their empties ready. He replied “Yep! Ready when
you are!” Then she told him to hold up a bottle close to the end of the hose. Errol having
one hand tied up with the phone, passed this on to Chas, who did the honours. “Right!”
he called.
Marianne then said: “On a count of three – but it might take a few seconds to reach
you! Are you ready?”
“Och, Aye!” cried Chas, much to Errol’s and Marianne’s surprise! He had heard her
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voice perfectly clearly throughout the two-mile length of tubing!
“OK!” laughed Marianne. “Here comes the first bottle! One- Two—THREE!” Chas
held the bottle and hose tightly together, then, after a few brief seconds a sudden gush of
water gurgled out into the bottle, filling it almost to the neck. Chas quickly screwed on
the cap and raised the next bottle. This time he heard her count, without any need for
Errol to relay the phoned signal, and a second bottle was soon filled.
From then on it was plain sailing, and they soon had at least twenty bottles of water
filled to the brim. As Marianne called down that that was it for now, Errol immediately
asked her if they had a reasonable supply of the small batteries. She went away, and a
couple of minutes later Errol heard Hazel’s voice, calling him.
“Whu’ve found a whole blinking box full of betteries!” she laughed. “Two-A, dud you
siy?” Errol quickly assured her that they were indeed the ones they needed.
“Will, said Hazel “How d’you want us to sind thim? Oi suppose we could troy rugging
up some sort of a perechute, love – what d’you rickon?”
“No, No!” cried Errol, “I want you to try sliding one down the hosepipe! Yes! You
heard me right! Honey! Just poke one into the tube and let’s see if it slides all the way
down. OK? Have you got one, there? Right! Do it - NOW!” Then he told Chas to lower
the pipe-end to the stone floor. And, Lo and Behold! Within a few brief seconds a battery
whizzed out and rolled away into the corner.
“Weel, Ah’ll be damned!” cried the professor, delighted by the idea. It’s just like yon
shopfolk haid when Ah was a wee bairn and mah Mammy took me tae the beeg depairt-
ment-stoore alang Princes Street! They had a verra seemilair system tae send messages
and sma’ change doon frae the offices up on the top floor….” But he had to stop talking
there and concentrate upon grabbing up the precious batteries as they shot out of the
hosepipe like bullets from a machine gun!
Within minutes, they had a couple of helmets full of the little black and gold cylin-
ders of energy. Errol picked up the end of the hose and bellowed into it. “Worked like a
goddamn charm!” Then Hazel’s laughing voice echoed back down: “Dud you git thim all?
We sint you half the carton down! Us thet unough, or d’you want some more?” Errol
yelled back up the pipe, assuring her that they had as many as they could carry.
However, all the laughter and hilarity had awoken Drew, who now sat up with a
rather dazed expression. “What the bloody hell’s happening?” he asked struggling to his
feet. “Been having a bloody party, fellers? I could have sworn I heard Hazel laughing!”
He stared hard at his two grinning companions. “OK, you two!” he said, “What’s been
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going on, you grinning apes?”
Errol said nothing, he simply pointed to the two helmets full of shining batteries, and
then the cluster of full bottles of water. “How’s about all that, buddy!” he leered trium-
phantly. “All done with smoke and mirrors! Plus a bit of good old North American ingenu-
ity!”
Drew was totally astounded at this welcome sight. “How the hell….What did you
bloody….” But Chas cut him off short.
“If you’ll just pipe doon for a minute…” he began, then realizing what he’d just said,
the professor suddenly burst into a loud cackle of laughter, in which he was joined by
Errol, and the two reeled about helpless with mirth for a good minute, whilst Drew stood
staring in puzzlement. “Aw, come on fellers!” he cried finally, “What’s so bloody amusing?”
Then Errol and Chas explained to Drew Marianne’s bright idea about topping up
their water-supplies and Errol’s subsequent thought about how to get the extra batteries
by using the same method. He was suitably impressed, and somewhat relieved, too, that
they had at least the means to progress further without worry on those particular scores.
Well not for a while, at any rate! The time would inevitably come however, when they
would be forced to make the best of what they came upon as they ventured deeper.
Thinking of which, they’d better make a start on doing exactly that. They couldn’t hang
around here just two miles down forever, with God knew how many hundreds more to go!
“Right, fellers!” said Drew, briskly. “It’s time that we made our really big move. So
this is the last chance for anyone to pull out if they don’t think they’re up to it! I won’t
think any the worse of either of you if you decide to call it a draw and want to go back up!
What we’ve already done and faced together convinces me you’re both great blokes with
a ton of guts! So let’s here it once and for all – Are you game to go on or do you want to
withdraw?” He looked at them both expectantly, but they both stood and grinned back at
him.
“No way, José!” said Errol emphatically. “I’m no goddamn quitter, buddy, and you
know it! I’m just as keen to see what’s down there as you are! I’m IN! How many more
times to I have to tell you?”
Drew smiled at him gratefully. Then they both looked at the dour Scotsman. But the
professor just glared fiercely back at them. “What the heill are ye looking at me for?” he
growled. “D‘ye think Ah’m gaein’ tae leave ye twa snot-nosed, hairf-witted young bairns a’
on ye’re oon, doon in the bowels o’ the Airth wi’oot a guide and mentor o’some sairt tae
hoold ye’re honds an’ blaw ye’re noses for ye? Weell, ye’re wrong! Ye canna get shut of
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me that easily! So ye have nae option but tae coont me in too!”
The two hefty young giants, acting upon the same spontaneous fond impulse, hugged
the older man around the shoulders so tightly that he had to yell at them to release him so
he could draw breath!
Then they all fell to work sorting out their backpacks, casting out everything except
the barest essentials. However, even when this was done, they had to refill them with
survival ration packs, and high calorific candy bars, plus as many spare lamp batteries as
they could carry, along with a few extra items of warm clothing, blankets, climbing pitons
and harnesses, and small tools, as well as bottles of water, and a First Aid kit apiece. They
also decided to take their parachutes in case of finding further shafts, as well as a three of
the silver plastic car-cover “parachutes” recovered from the debris at the base of the
shaft, since they had many possible uses.
They reluctantly decided that they would have to leave their calor-gas lamps be-
hind, even though they still contained substantial amounts of liquefied gas, they were
much too heavy to lug any further. However, there was always the chance that they might
find another shaft, on the next level down, in which case it might be possible to climb back
up to retrieve them. One needed to keep one’s options wide open, Drew concluded, and
play it one step at a time. They had no idea what might lie beneath them, so there was no
point trying to guess ahead.
The final items were mandatory prerequisites - long climbing-ropes and their revolv-
ers and ammunition. Their guns were stowed in side-pouches on their backpacks for
ready access, as was part of their ammunition. Several flares went into the same pouches.
As for the ropes, they had left the makeshift “chute” ropes attached to the car-covers, but
they now need one of the long ropes that hung down the pit. It could be cut into three
lengths so that each of them could carry a coil. But first it needed to be released from
above.
Drew picked up the radio transceiver phone and went out into the cavern to call
Marianne with some degree of privacy. He quickly told her of their decision to start their
major trek underground right away. He intended leaving the transceiver unit switched on,
since it was powered by the generator above, but he would carry the handset phone with
him. It had a short antenna attached to it, so the chances were that it might still work for
some reasonable distance before they final got out of range. At least that was the claim
that the manufacturer had made for its efficiency. He would soon find out if that claim was
valid!
He then went on to ask her if all was well with themselves up above. She quickly
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told him that it was, and that she was already making some good headway with her
development of Hazel into a psychic traveller. Once Hazel had overcome the fright of her
first OBE, she had discovering that she could do it again and again, and it was now getting
easier. Hazel still had to develop her directional skills, but Marianne had great hopes for
her being able to eventually locate them as they traveled below just as well as she could
herself.
She assured Drew that she herself would be at his side in the spirit as much as she
could manage. Unfortunately, OBEs were not experiences that one could extend indefi-
nitely. The slumbering body would eventually begin naturally to rouse itself into wakeful-
ness if left for too long, which meant that the travelling spirit would suddenly begin to
experience a psychic tugging sensation and would soon find itself being drawn relent-
lessly “home”, regardless of its desire to stay on the astral plane.
Drew told her to take good care of herself and Hazel, during these forays, as he had
good reason to believe that they were up against evil satanic forces, who had already tried
to attack them physically, and might eventually resort to psychic tactics against them,
However, he intended placing all of them under the guardianship of God’s Angels of Light,
before they set forth, by means of simple prayer. He told her that he also had some
additional weapons in his backpack which he hadn’t yet revealed to the other two, that
Joan had given to him before they had left Glengarry!
When she asked him what sort of weapons they were, he told her that if she really
wanted to know she’d have to visit them astrally and find out for herself in around half an
hour’s time! Then, before they said their farewells, he asked her to cut free one of the
long ropes dangling down the shaft and let it fall down the shaft, since they would soon be
needing it on their travels.
Just as he was about to ring off, he heard Hazel’s voice calling. She wanted a quick
word with Errol. Drew could have kicked himself for forgetting his mate’s own personal
attachments! He glanced across at the entrance to their redoubt and saw Errol was
already there waving his hand and pointing at the phone and himself.
Drew beckoned him over saying: “Sorry about that, old mate! Here you go!” then
he left Errol to murmur sweet nothings to his lady-love, and to hear all about her paranor-
mal adventures.
As he returned to their cave, Chas grinned up at him. “Man!” he said,” Ah’ve never
seen such a rare pair o’bluidy lovebairds as yerselves! Stell, a cannae creetisize ower
much, havin’ been in luve mahself, mony lang years sence!” He sighed reflectively, and
Drew noticed a glint of moisture in his eye.
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“What happened, Chas?” he asked softly. “Did she leave you?” Chas looked up at
him again, with a tear now rolling freely down each cheek. “Aye, laddie! Ah suppose ye
could say she did that….but not the way ye’re thenkin’, alas! She died, poor bonnie lass,
just after oor fifteenth Wedding annivairsary! It was her hairt, ye’ll ken – et was naiver
ower strong.” He cast his eyes down sadly and passed a trembling hand across his brow.
Then he said: “Ah’ll taill yer this, Andrae. If she hadnae died, Ah wouldnae be here
wi’ye today, an’ that’s a bluidy fact, man! We never ventured far frae each others’side,
even when Ah went awa’ on lecture-tours. She always came with me! Somehoo, ah
couldnae eemagine her comin’ doon here on such a damn fool’s errand as thes!” He gave
a short laugh as he imagined what his departed wife’s reaction would have been to his
present adventure. “Mebbe she’s still wi’ me, even noo!”
Drew considered him in silence. He had always assumed that the professor was a
confirmed bachelor. He’d even thought this was probably because he was such a cantan-
kerous old curmudgeon! Now he saw it from a different perspective, and wondered what
the old fellow must have been like whilst his wife was still alive. Chas’s last remark,
however, reminded him of another duty he owed his companions.
However, this brief moment of quiet was suddenly ended when Errol returned. “OK,
you guys!” he sang out breezily, “Let's rock and roll!” He grabbed for his bulging
backpack, but Drew laid a gentle restraining hand on his arm. “Hang on tick, Errol, there’s
something I’d like to say, first.”
Errol paused and eyed him speculatively. “What’s up, Drew?”
“Oh, it’s nothing to get excited about, it’s… well…it’s just something I promised
Mum, before I left. I dunno how to put this to you blokes, or what your positions are
regarding the subject, but…well…she asked me to PRAY to God before we went into any
real danger! I mean for all of us – not just myself! What do you reckon? Would you
mind?”
Errol and Chas both stared back in astonishment, then, once the initial revelation
that Drew believed in God had sunk in they both heartily endorsed the idea. Errol
admitted frankly that he had been carefully hiding his own belief from Drew ever since
they’d first met, afraid in case Drew saw it as a sign of weakness. The professor told them
both that he had never ceased to believe, even after the sudden soul-wrenching loss of his
dear wife, and despite the almost mandatory atheism that Science seemed to demand of
its acolytes, he had remained rigidly true to the inner beliefs that he had held since being
a wee bairn at the village Sunday School class.
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So it was with a vast sense of relief and gladness that the three clasped each other’s
hands in a small prayer circle and asked the Good Lord to keep them safe from all the
physical and spiritual dangers they might be called upon to face in the coming weeks or
months ahead. They ended up by singing together the same beautiful and haunting song
that had so stirred Drew to tears at his father’s funeral service, “Amazing Grace”.
They stood there quietly for a few minutes afterwards, still holding hands in silent
communion, little aware of the fact that the astral forms of both Marianne and Hazel had
also participated in their communion with God, the Great Spirit. Nor had they any inkling
of the lurking demonic spirits of ultimate evil that had also witnessed the scene, with
snarling lips and grinding teeth at this great blasphemy against their own lord and master
– the Archfiend of Darkness!
Then the three returned to their final preparations. The long but fine nylon rope
had duly been cut free and now lay in a heap at the base of the shaft, so they separated
it into three lengths of around fifteen hundred feet each. It was only when Drew came to
try hefting one of these coils that Drew suddenly became aware of the fact that it didn’t
weigh anything like as much as he’d expected. It struck him then that the lightness might
be due to a slight lessening in the pull of gravity!
They had discussed the possibility of such an effect one evening with Chas. The
general consensus of their old Internet discussion group - who had mostly been rebel
science students such as themselves – had been that gravity would diminish after de-
scending below the surface. And that it would continue to do so until they reached the
halfway point though the crustal shell. Drew, being the eternal pragmatist, had refused to
accept this, and had expected that it would be more likely to increase exponentially until
it finally crushed them into complete immobility as it reached its maximum. Now it
seemed, he was being proved wrong. Quod erat demonstrandum!
They ended up halving the lengths to around seven hundred feet or so. The thin
ropes, which were really not much more than light cord, were now much more easily
portable, and when looped around the chest over one shoulder caused little inconve-
nience. They took the precaution of donning their climbing harnesses first, before hump-
ing their backpacks on to their shoulders, and looped the rope over themselves last of all.
But before they left, Drew handed each of them a chained silver crucifix. “Put these on,
fellers,” he said, “they’re the best weapons you’ll ever possess!” Errol and Chas accepted
them gladly and hung them around their necks.
Their final act was to heave a few large chunks of solidified lava into the entry-
aperture of their erstwhile pied-a-terre to prevent the reptilians from raiding what gear
they had left behind. “Erb-iderb iderb -That’s all, folks!” said Errol in his creditable
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impersonation of Bugs Bunny, as he thrust the portable radio handset into a pocket on
Drew’s back-pack, and, whistling “Off we go into the Wild Blue Yonder”, followed him in
the direction of the far end of the reservoir chamber.
Chas caught up with them presently after turning off the nearby calor-lamp. They
had no idea if they’d ever see them again, but Drew had thought it best not to waste the
gas - just in case! In the meantime they would let the other further lamp burn whilst
they looked for other possible shafts in the cavern floor that stretched beyond it. As they
went, Chas still felt the elusive air-current fanning his face. Even two miles deeper than
the original gallery, it was no hotter then it had been up there. He was frankly astounded.
There had to be another entrance into the system and one that hadn’t passed through any
hot regions. He’d expected them to be sweltering by now, and choking on raw sulfur-
dioxide and carbon-dioxide gas. But, for some incredible reason, it hadn’t happened!
Drew led them first to the fissure-like chasm that the professor had almost tumbled
into. As they walked farther along it, they found that it didn’t open up any wider than
around twelve feet or so. “Well!” said Drew as he fumbled in one of the pockets of Errol’s
backpack for a flare, “At least if we can’t find anything better than this, we’ll have it as an
ace in the hole!” He ripped the top off the small canister, allowed it to reach full blaze,
then dropped it down the fissure. What they saw was astonishing! The cleft just went on
and on downwards, and as the flare fell, its pink glare illuminated a sheer drop of gargan-
tuan proportions. However, unlike the shaft they had previously descended, the walls of
this deep gulf in the rock were stepped and ridged with a series of stone ledges and
outcrops some jutting several feet out of the cliff-like walls. It was an awesome yet inviting
prospect.
They leaned out over the edge of the chasm watching what was revealed for at least
twenty seconds, until the flare finally hit a projecting outcrop and went out in a shower of
sparks. Errol took of his helmet and shook the perspiration off his auburn locks. “It’s a
definite ‘No-no’ for the ‘chutes, buddy!” he opined to Drew. “We’d be snagged and hung
up in nothing flat if we tried a jump down there!”
Drew nodded his glum agreement, then he brightened again. “Yeah! But it’d be an
ideal place to rappel! Heaps of places to take a rest or adjust your gear, or, if it’s a long
drop, to even take a kip! Whaddaya reckon, Erb?” Errol nodded ambivalently, but only
because he wanted to check out the area a little further first. He said as much to Drew.
“OK, then!” said Drew, who hated indecision. “We’ll look around the top end first, then, if
there’re still no jumpable shafts, this is the go! OK?”
“OK!” said Errol, walking back toward the main chamber. “Now let’s go see!”
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Chas, however, had observed something the others hadn’t, there was no air-current
rising from the deep chasm. However, the flare had still burned brightly enough, so there
was clearly oxygen-rich air down there. Which happily ruled any likelihood of descending
into foul air or poisonous sulfur-dioxide gas.
At the top end of the chasm, as he slowly followed Errol and Drew, Chas again
noticed the place where the rocks had appeared to change from igneous to sedimentary.
This time he was certain. The volcanic igneous rock wall terminated here, and was re-
placed by a light-coloured, stratified sandstone. Now he could see definite signs of water-
erosion in the rock. This was definitely where the water had entered the great magma
chamber to create that great burst of superheated steam which, in turn, had power-
blasted the chamber and the shaft clear of residual lava!
As he ventured further onward into the sandstone region, he noticed that the air-
current was definitely emanating from this area. In fact it was now much stronger than
back up the main chamber. This could only mean one thing. There was some sort of
blowhole nearby! He was now utterly consumed with geological curiosity. A hundred
yards further still he noticed that the floor had begun to slope upwards! And the air was
blowing almost a gale straight out of a wide tunnellike opening in the rock! It was being
sucked down by some inexplicable means through cracks and crevices in the sandstone
and was then being drawn through the chamb……
Just then he heard a cry behind him, and he suddenly noticed that he was all alone.
“Chaaas!” came the distant yell. “CoooEE!”. He almost collapsed in relief when he heard
Drew’s call, but he also was astonished that it seemed so distant.
He turned around to shout back – only to find himself confronted by the same
hideous, tall reptilian whose head he had blown apart only a few hours ago!
CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 18 CHAPTER 18
The professor stared in horror at the resurrected reptilian hominid which stood
glaring at him balefully in the light of his helmet-lamps. ‘It’s a bluidy hallucination! It
cannae be real!’ he told himself, making to move backwards from the apparition. But it
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was then that he found himself incapable of movement. His feet were rooted to the spot.
A great sense of dread flooded through him then as he realized that the thing had him
held in some sort of terrible thrall. His mind raced within him.
What did it intend to do with him – or to him? He had to get away from there, fast!
Obviously it was the ghost of the thing he’d killed, come back to exact some frightful
revenge upon him. He tried to speak to it, to ask it what it wanted with him, even to
plead with it, but his larynx could only produce a muted croaking sound. And still the
entity stood immobile, before him, staring into his bulging eyes with its own penetrating,
catlike amber eyes, as if searching his mind - his very soul!
It was then that Chas detected the first signs of movement in the eldritch form that
confronted him, and which showed him that it was a reality and not the product of his
imagination. It blinked, and a pallid nictitating membrane flickered swiftly across each of
its eyes. It was then that he felt an icy cold emanation of hatred radiate forth from the
reptilian, which coiled around him like a giant hand of raw freezing power and began to
draw him forward. He suddenly felt his legs begin to move, but not of his own volition,
and as he stepped forward in a zombie-like robotic fashion, toward the creature, it stepped
backwards away from him.
Now it began to address him, but not in any tongue he had ever heard before. It
was a language of some sort, full of hissing sibilants and harsh gutturals, but most frightful
of all, spoken in a deep, sepulchral tone of voice that boded him no good! As the bestial
monstrosity retreated before him, drawing him along with it, Chas felt great lashes of
searing frigid pain flashing through his body like bolts of ice-cold lightning – and his heart
began to leap and flutter agonizingly within his shuddering breast. The demonic entity
was cursing him to death! And yet in the midst of all this terrifying ordeal, Chas realized
with a faint sense of surprise that he was still able to think rational thoughts within his
mind! Even though the thing still controlled his body’s motive powers, it had not
actually taken over his thought-processes.
From somewhere in the dim recesses of his memory, he recalled an occasion when,
as a young man, he had attended a local theatre which was featuring among its various
“turns” a hypnotist. The man had been the talk of the town, for his ability to make the
most august and stuffy of the theatre’s patrons come up onto the stage and make public
spectacles of themselves – some had bayed like hounds, whilst others had leapt around
the stage gibbering like monkeys. However, when one of Chas’s friends had virtually
pushed him up on the stage in answer to the hypnotist’s call for more volunteers, he had
been totally unaffected by his hypnotic suggestions and incantations. The upshot was
that the hypnotist had to admit defeat and told him as he sent him off the stage, that he
was one of the select few who could not be “put under”.
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The recollection of this incident suddenly filled the professor with a surge of rebel-
lious spiritual power, and he stopped in his tracks, fighting off the psychic force that was
pulling him along. The hellish demon began to thunder out loudly his incomprehensible
commands, and Chas felt the already freezing chill that had surrounded him intensify a
hundredfold, and the very hairs on his head, neck and arms stood upon end. But still he
fought back with every ounce of his will against the monster’s power. He forced himself to
remain still, even though every motor-nerve in his limbs seemed by now to be screaming
for him to obey and keep moving. He had no idea how far the creature had brought him
or where it had been taking him to. All he knew was that the whole pantomime had to
stop right here!
As if right on cue, he heard a loud staccato report ring out, off to his right, and all at
once, as if awaking with a start from some hideous nightmare, he found himself suddenly
freed of both the terrible possessing thrall and of the appalling cold. At the same time, as
in a crazy dream, the creature before him seemed to simply sink down and melt away into
the ground. He was just about to turn and run, when a familiar voice bellowed at him not
to move. It was Andrew’s voice!
“Stand right there, Chas! For God’s sake, don’t move a bloody muscle!” came Drew’s
urgent call. Then Chas felt a pair of hands grasp his backpack firmly from behind, and he
was dragged backward for several paces. He spun around swiftly, ready to fight for his life
- only to find himself staring straight into Errol’s pale face!
“What the bluidy Heill are ye aboot, ye great loon?” he roared at his ex-student. But
Errol gave him a wan grin, and at the same moment, he was joined by Drew, holding a
revolver still smelling of cordite fumes in his great fist.
“Thank God we heard the shouting in the nick of time!” gasped Drew, clapping Chas
on the shoulder. “That bloody creature had you right on the edge of the crevice!” He
pointed around to the great chasm they had looked into a short while before. “The damned
reptile was trying to make you step off the edge of that!”
Chas was dumbfounded. It had all actually happened! He hadn’t dreamt it all! “Ah
cannae believe it!” he cried. “Ah thought it was some sairt o’ psychic monkey-tricks that
some demonic speerit was playin’ on me! Some kind o’ ghostly maismerism or somesuch
noansense, from the speerit o’ yon thing that Ah killed yesterday!” Then he added:
“Weell, Ah fancy that ye feared the bluidy thing off wi’ yeer peestol, eh, thanks be tae the
Lord!”
“No!” said Errol. “Drew actually shot the goddamn thing and it fell down the fissure!
It wasn’t any spirit, it was the real MacCoy, Prof! Looked like the twin brother of the one
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that you plugged. I figure there must be a whole tribe of the hellish things lurking around
these parts. Anyhow,” he went on,” what happened? How did you run across it?”
Chas then told them both what had transpired; how he’d found the edge of the
volcano’s base, and that the mysterious air-current was apparently blowing or being sucked
out of a water-eroded tunnel in the sandstone that underlay the plateau - and that it was
just after he’d found this, that the reptilian demon had appeared behind him and, after
taking over his body somehow, had compelled him to walk along after it.
“Ah felt juist like one of those Zombie craitures yon weetch-doactors create wi’ their
magic spaills in Haiti!” Chas concluded. “Ah haidnae a clue that he’d laed me tae the aidge
o’ yon great crack!”
Drew shook his head in amazement at the way it had all worked out for the best. “I
seem to get the impression that we’re all being led somewhere, fellers! And I reckon that
whoever it is whose leading us, is looking after us, too! That little escapade went just a tad
too far beyond pure coincidence, in my book!” He eyed them both speculatively. “I guess
that, since we have been led back to this selfsame spot – by whatever agency or compul-
sion – this must be our way down!”
Before they began their descent of the chasm, and whilst Chas assisted Drew in
finding suitable projections around which to loop their climbing-ropes, Errol contacted
Hazel and Marianne by means of the radiophone, and informed them that they’d found a
way to descend considerably farther than they presently were and that from hereon in,
they might possibly drop out of radio-range – however this remained to be seen, since as
long as there was a direct open channel between them and the upper chamber, he per-
sonally could see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to communicate for quite a long
distance yet. They would have to wait and see. Drew was right this minute arranging
their descent-ropes with Chas’s help.
He deliberately omitted any mention of Chas’s near-fatal encounter with another of
the demonic reptilians, in order to avoid frightening the girls. But, much to his surprise,
Marianne asked him if the professor was over his nasty shock now, and that he had
certainly put up a brave psychic fight against the creature’s spiritual attack. Both she and
Hazel had been silent, invisible witnesses to the entire scene!
Whilst this came as a considerable shock to Errol, he was even more surprised when
she went on to tell him that they had also seen two or three tall, white and rather spectral,
humanoid-looking figures hovering close by the professor when he begun to resist the will
of the hadean monster. After the arrival of Drew and himself, they had seen these strange
ghostly interlopers watch on for a few moments longer, and then they had simply disap-
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peared like will-o-the-whisps! She felt sure that they had played some part in bolstering
Chas’s spiritual morale. Hazel had suggested that they might have been Angels! What
did he think?
Errol didn’t know what to think! “Angels?” he said, incredulously. “I don’t disbelieve
in them, of course, but what on Earth would they be doing in such a hellish place as this?”
He said he’d pass her over to Drew and let him ponder on it, but she asked him not to. If
Drew was busy, she’d leave Errol to tell him about this new development.
However, just at that juncture, Drew, who had now completed the task of position-
ing the ropes, came over and took the phone from Errol’s hand, and having overheard all
of Errol’s side of the discussion, asked her what these new people had looked like. She
repeated her description, adding that although they hadn’t been able to see their faces
very well, they’d both gained the impression that they were trying to help Chas, and that
they seemed to emit an aura of great benevolence toward all three of them. She added
that she was sure that these strange spiritual entities had also noticed Hazel and herself,
but had made no effort to communicate with them. Perhaps they had been too en-
grossed in assisting Chas?
Drew was quite mystified by this, and said he’d give it some thought. Then he said
a few private words of endearment to Marianne before asking her to put Hazel on for Errol,
then he bade her a fond adieu, and passed the transceiver handset back to his friend.
Who immediately launched into an intimate lovey-dovey chat with Hazel.
As Drew returned to the edge of the chasm, Chas once again criticized “A’ thes
bluidy romantic noansense” as being counterproductive to their mission. “Ah suppose
we’ll hae tae wait yon feller’s plaisure, while he aixpresses his hairt’s desire tae his lady-
luive, before we can stairt oor descaint?”
Drew just grinned and told him not to be such a wet blanket. A couple of moments
later Errol rang off, and returned to his comrades. “Well! How about that for a goddamn
surprise, eh?” he asked as he slipped the phone into a pouch on Drew’s backpack. “Sounds
like we’re not entirely on our own in this, eh, buddy!”
Then, after fastening the ends of their ropes on to their harnesses, they began the
dangerous business of lowering themselves over the edge of the chasm, working the
other halves of the ropes, laced through their chest-boxes, in an easily controllable hand-
over-hand manner, by which they could halt their descent at any time. This itself wasn’t
a particularly hazardous procedure. The main danger lay in the chance of interference
with the ropes up above, where they slid around anchoring rocks, by the reptilians.
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Surprisingly their descent proved to be comparatively easy, and since there were
frequent ledges in what were now the two cliff faces, as well as occasional strong outcrop-
ping projections, they were able to take occasional comfort-breaks on their way down.
After about half an hour, when Drew estimated they had gone down some six hundred
and fifty feet, they had to stand on one of these ledges and loosen the ropes from their
rappelling-racks, pull down the ropes from their first anchor-points and find new anchor
points among the projecting outcrops. Then they were able to continue downwards for
another half-hour or more, before repeating the procedure. By the end of seven or eight
hours of this uneventful descent, Drew reckoned they had reached around nearly seven
and a half thousand feet below their magma chamber’s floor!
The air was now becoming noticeably thicker and strangely more oxygen-rich, so
they felt no discomfort, if anything, apart from badly-aching shoulders and arms and
severe numbness in their backsides, they felt quite fit. They were amazed that they
hadn’t yet encountered any hint of sulphur-dioxide or any great increase in temperature,
such as they’d been led to expect by all the scientific books they’d read on the subject of
descending deep into the Earth’s crust!
The professor, in particular was frankly astounded by this contradiction of all he’d
ever learned – and taught - in this connection. He was now beginning to seriously
reconsider his scientific convictions, and the concept of a hollow interior of the planet was
steadily becoming a distinct possibility to him. Not that he was yet ready to admit this
openly to Andrew and Errol. His self-esteem as a scholar still tended to cloud the evi-
dence of his own senses!
That “night” – for they had learned how to determine “night” from “day” by their
body-clocks, in the absence of any external, visual indicator – they slept comfortably upon
a wide ledge, safe in the knowledge that, should they inadvertently roll off it during their
slumber, their ropes would prevent them falling. Nothing came to disturb them, nor were
their minds haunted by any fantastic nightmares, so when Drew awoke some eight hours
later, according to his wristwatch, he was totally astonished at having enjoyed such a long
and refreshing sleep. He then switched on his helmet-lamps and opened up his back-
pack. From it he drew out a little luxury he’d kept concealed therein – a small aluminum
container of calor-gas attached to a light metal gas-ring. He also produced his billy-can
which was packed with tea-bags, sweeteners, and a cigarette-lighter, and one of his bottles
of water.
By the time his companions had been awakened by his stirring around, they found
themselves being handed an enamel mug of scalding hot black tea, and a survival ration
pack apiece! It was a wonderful start to the “day” – if such a name could be applied
sensibly to the inky depths of a vastly deep, subterranean chasm!
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“What goddamn time is it?” asked Errol, clutching his mug of hot tea and shaking his
head free of the drowsy mussiness of sleep.
Drew gave him an astonished look. ”What the hell does it matter?” he asked. “We’re
in the Twilight-Zone now, mate! ‘Day and night’ and ‘time’ mean absolutely zilch down
here!”
“Och! Ah wouldnae say that, laddie!” said Chas, rummaging in his bag for his diary.
“Ahm keepin’ a record of every day that passes, and the evil that’s “sufficient unto et!” Ah
believe that i’ts noo the fefth day on this expedeetion, wi’ Goad knows hoo many more tae
follow!” then he added softly. “An’ Ah doan’t thenk it’d dae us any hairm tae say a wee
prayer tae ask the Lord tae gei us another guid one, either!”
His companions agreed readily with this sentiment, and after their meal was ended,
they again held hands whilst Chas himself now offered up a prayer for their protection and
safe deliverance for the day ahead and those that would follow from all hurt and harm, to
which the three added a heartfelt “Amen”.
Before starting the day’s descent, drew decided to try out their radio-link, not at all
certain of any result from this amazing depth. But surprisingly, he was delighted to hear
Marianne’s voice quite well if rather faintly over the handset. She was astonished that
they had already descended so far. She had been awake since their last conversation but
was just about to awaken Hazel and get some well-earned rest herself. However, Drew
wanted to tell her something fairly serious. “Look, love,” he said, “I want you to listen to
me, carefully. Now we’re getting so far away, I think that the next stop might be too deep
to make contact. In which case that’ll mean your watch up top will be over. No point you
hanging around, Marianne as we might be gone for months – a year or more even! So,
if I can’t make contact in another seven hours or so, I want you and Hazel to call Bob to
come and collect you both – and Jimmy, of course, and take you back to Glengarry.”
Marianne had been dreading this moment, but she was only to sensitive to the fact
that whatever happened to the trio below, they were beyond all help from up top now.
And at least she and Hazel would still be able to visit them from time to time, even if only
on the astral plane. It mattered not at all that they would be physically some hundreds of
miles south of the volcano. There were no bounds of distance or time in the spiritual
world. At least they would be able to mark their progress at regular intervals, or if they
chose they could sleep in shifts, so that one of them was constantly on hand to watch over
them.
She answered Drew. “Very well, my love, so it will have to be. But remember that
one of us will be watching you always – and unless I miss my guess, there will be those
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others watching out for your wellbeing, too! But whatever happens I want you to know
that I will love you forever, darling, just as Hazel loves Errol! Let that thought burn in the
forefront of your mind at all times, and I know that you’ll win though. God be with you,
Drew, and with you all!” Drew was nearly in tears by this time, but he turned his back on
his comrades, so they wouldn’t see his emotional state, and softly swore his own undying
love to Marianne. Then she whispered a last farewell and broke the contact.
Errol looked at him beseechingly as he turned around again, and Drew had to tell
him that Hazel was asleep – but that she was probably watching over him right there as
they spoke. “We’ll see if we can make contact again later, Errol, and if so, it’s all yours,
mate! At least Marianne told me how deeply Hazel feels about you!” Errol smiled at this
and nodded his thanks, then he turned back to the task at hand. Chas said nothing, but
Drew knew that he felt keenly for them both.
Now, after Drew had restowed his backpack, they were ready to continue their
descent. They began by hauling down the rappelling lines and looping them over new
projections of smooth rock, then once more they tied themselves on and began lowering
themselves down the seemingly bottomless stygian rift. Now as they went they con-
versed with each other. The work of lowering oneself in this manner requiring no great
expenditure of physical effort. So they were free to discuss a number of matters that had
been crowding their minds, but which they had previously not cared to mention. The
close camaraderie that had sprung up between them during the events of the past three
or four days, helped them feel much more free to unburden their minds of earlier misgiv-
ings.
“D’ye think, lads,” asked the professor, as they steadily descended down into the
blackness, “that if we get sae far doon as this “Gravity Floor” ye mentioned tae me a while
back, that we’ll be able tae croass through it? Et’s be puzzlin’ me sorely aiver since ye first
maintioned it! Ah’ve been eemaginin’ us being haild fast there, toatally unable tae move
any fairther ahead, because of the grevity on the other side pushin’ us back doon! What’s
ye’re ain view on yon wee conundrum?”
This was a problem that had puzzled both Drew and Errol too, as well as hundreds
of other Hollow Earth scientific speculators. Drew told Chas of all the different scenarios
that had been propounded in this connection. Some had worried about the same thing
that Chas had raised. Others had envisioned that this Gravity Floor, which they assumed
must run midway through the 800 to 1000 miles thickness of the Earth’s planetary crustal
shell would steadily fade to nothing as it was approached, so that at the Zero Point of
gravitational interface, they would float as freely as astronauts in space. They believed
that the two opposing halves of the gravity field would cancel each other out. Thus all an
explorer would simply be able to pull himself along through this zone of weightlessness by
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using handholds on the rock walls, until the gravity began to make itself felt more and
more again he headed “upwards” toward the inner surface.
Still others again were concerned that the pull of gravity would simply continue to
increase, and that the traveler’s weight would become so great at the “Gravity Floor” that
he would be crushed flat against it by his own vastly-increased mass! This latter scenario
seemed, at first sight, to be by far the most logical. Why should the pull of gravity cease
at the Earth’s surface?
“However,” put in Errol, “you have to take the effects of centrifugal force into ac-
count into this equation. It’d be like an ant trying to get down a nail-hole in the tread of
the tyre of a jacked-up, but rapidly-rotating truck wheel! Or some goddamn thing like
that, anyhow!” he added, feeling mildly irritated by Drew’s laughter at his curious verbal
illustration.
Although they weren’t able to solve anything concretely during these debates, which
left Chas’s head spinning with scientific bewilderment, at least it passed on the time for
them very nicely. By the time Drew called another day’s descent to a halt, their jaws
ached considerably more than their shoulders and arms!
As they settled upon another even wider ledge, and began to unpack some victuals
for an “evening’ meal, Drew was able to announce that, according to his reckoning of
rope-changes en route, they had descended a further eight and a half thousand feet, give
or take a yard or two either way! This placed them at just over three miles beneath the
last chamber they had left, making it a total of around five and a half miles below the
outer surface of the plateau! “Only another seven hundred and ninety five thousand
miles left and we’ll be home and hosed!” Drew grinned at his companions. “I reckon if we
can keep this up, fellers, well be popping up inside in around eighteen month’s time!”
However, instead of laughing, this news was received in a stony silence by his friends.
They had all suddenly reached the same conclusion. At this rate of one and a half miles
or so per day, even given such an easy descent as this, they would take at least a year and
a half to reach the other side, but probably far more than that since half their journey
would be occupied in climbing upward instead of rappelling down. That would surely be
far slower. This sudden realization of their true situation was more than just a great
disappointment to them all, it was a great hammer-blow to their morale, especially when
one imagined how terribly much longer it would take to struggle back up the other, inner
half of the crust – against the pull of gravity!
The sheer enormity of the undertaking that they now faced simply didn’t bear
thinking about, so, after a great deal of soul-searching but fruitless discussion, they de-
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cided to sleep on it, and try to think a little more objectively about it in the morning. Drew
lay awake for hours after the others had finally dozed off, his mind whirling madly with
disastrous, gloomy thoughts.
The whole bloody show appeared to be crumbling around his ears, and it was all
due to his own crass imbecility and stubborn bloody arrogance! They would run out of
supplies long before they reached even the halfway point! Then what would they live on?
Hope? He wondered if they might able to clamber back up the three miles they’d come
so far.
After all even that was no mean feat! Especially under a bloody volcano! The
professor could attest to the veracity of their descent, and the news of it being cool below
instead of a raging inferno of white hot magma, would stand geology upon its ear! They’d
have to rewrite all the geology and earth-science textbooks even on what they’d already
discovered!
Yes! YES! They could pull out now and still be hailed as heroes! Nobody outside
the family knew that they had really set out to discover the Inner Earth, so nobody need
ever know! It all made perfect sense… He’d call Marianne right away, and tell her that
they were coming back…
It was then that he finally fell asleep. But instead of his usual deep, dreamless
sleep, Drew’s slumber this time was filled with both nightmares and dreams of peace and
light and beauty. He dreamed that they were being assailed in the stygian blackness of
the chasm by demonic creatures with wings who tore at them viciously, striving to fling
them all headlong down the bottomless abyss, worst of all Marianne and Hazel were also
there upon the ledge with them! Their backpacks were seized and flung away into the
inky depths and their clothes were torn to shreds. But still the horde of their attackers
continued to swell as they fought and punched, kicked and tore at their enemies with their
bare hands and feet, seizing their scaly limbs and breaking them or smashing in their foul
faces with torn and bleeding knuckles. The battle seemed to last forever…and they were
weakening rapidly under the sheer savagery of the massive onslaught….all five of them
were bleeding profusely, and…
Suddenly there came a great hiatus in the bloodshed and carnage The evil entities
that a moment ago were screeching wildly at the imminent prospect of victory and a feast
of human flesh, then suddenly it all stopped, and the fiends withdrew upwards en masse,
howling in rage and fear.
The next thing Drew’s dream vision revealed was a group of angelic beings, shining
as if lighted from within by a brilliant blue-white effulgence, hovering before them with
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outstretched, shielding arms! However, unlike Drew’s own ingrained concept of angels,
as he had seen depicted in religious paintings and illustrations, these possessed no wings.
They simply hovered there above the black gulf emitting powerful radiative waves of
peace, healing and love directly into their bodies, minds and souls. It was absolutely
wonderful! None of them had ever experienced any sensation like it! And as they turned
to look at each other they found that all their wounds were vanishing before their eyes,
and the myriad bruises and bloodstains were being miraculously cleansed from their skin
and clothing. Even their clothing itself was being invisibly repaired! Then the angelic
beings stretched forth their hands to take their human hands and…. and….
Drew suddenly awoke with a great start, to find Errol shaking him by the shoulder,
the reflected light of his helmet lamps upon the rock behind him illuminating his familiar
features. “Hey! Hey!” he said brightly. “Wakey Wakey, old buddy! Or do you mebbe fancy
a lie-in this fine sunny morning?” Drew struggled up to a sitting position and saw Chas
leaning across to hand him a mug of hot tea.
“God!” he said, blinking his eyes owlishly and rubbing them with his knuckles, then
gratefully grasping the proffered mug. “What’s the blooming time?”
“Now, now, buddy!” said Errol still grinning. “Who was it who said only yesterday
told me that “time means absolutely zilch” to us down here? It was you - you dumb
halfwit! Anyhow, I just thought you’d like to know that I just managed to contact Hazel
- but only just, mark you – on the handset, and they’ve decided to take your advice, and
are going to be lifted out today by Mike and Bob. But we’re not to worry, they’ll still keep
an eye on us on the astral plane – even from Glengarry! Oh, yeah, and she said to tell you
that Joan and Bob send you and us all their love, and that she’s still praying for us! So
there’s the latest “News Up-Date”, buddy!”
“Well, I’m bloody glad Marianne saw sense and did as I asked her,” said Drew. “I
had visions of them both still sitting there waiting for us eighteen bloody months’ from
now!”
Here Chas put in his two-cent’s worth. “Andrae, mah boy, Ah’ve been haeing a wee
think aboot a’ that, an’ Ah’ve a feeling this chasm is widenin’ oot the fairther we gae doon
it! So Ah teisted it for masailf airlier, like thes! “ and, suiting the action to the word, the
professor picked up a fist-size rock and flung it hard across the cleft.
Drew was quite surprised to notice an appreciably time-interval between the throw
and the impact of the stone against the opposite wall. “Chas! I think you might just be
bloody right, old son! Good on you, mate!” He felt around for his helmet, switched on the
headlamps and then groped around in his backpack pouch for a couple of the small flare-
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canisters. Then, standing up, near to the edge of the shelf they were camped upon, he
cried “Flare!” so that the others could shut their eyes, then ignited the flare. As it blos-
somed forth into pink, sizzling flame, Drew tossed it out over the edge and, after a swift
glance at the opposite wall, he turned his gaze downward, as also did his two companions.
What the pink brilliance of the flare revealed quite took their breath away. The gulf
– for such it had truly become – instead of diminishing rapidly down to a narrow slit, as
they had all expected such a volcanic fissure to do, did the exact opposite. It widened out
into a deep gorge, with still no floor in sight! There were still jutting projections and
ledges along its sides, but the vertical centre was now easily a sixty feet wide immediately
below their present position, but it had widened to well over a hundred or more, as far as
they could judge before the still-falling flare finally twinkled out.
It was truly unbelievable that so tremendous a canyon could exist at such a depth.
The whole body of geological and geophysical scientific belief cried out against it - yet
there it was! And even the professor could not argue with the evidence of his own eyes.
“Man! Did ye ever see such a sight!” he almost shrieked in his fervour at their
discovery. “This will completely change the ideas o’ geopheesics for all time - if ainly Ah
can conveence yon dusty ould eediots sittin’ back sae pompously in their infinite wisdom
an’ know-all claiverness back at the Univairsity!”
Both Drew and Errol smiled furiously to themselves at this last statement. Chas
himself had been far and away the dustiest of all the know-all pompous “old idiots” they’d
ever known! However, they both had to concede that he’d certainly changed his tune
over the past few days.
Drew was the first to consider this new development with regard to their method of
progress downwards. “I guess it’s time for us to dig out the parachutes again, you blokes!
But this time I think were going to have to take our backpacks with us and our ropes too.
We don’t know where we might need them again. Any thoughts on that, Errol?”
Errol agreed that the chutes would be fine given the wide open space they’d just
seen. “As for the backpacks,” he added, “we can hang ‘em down below our feet, Drew,
like the military do, and the ropes can be slung around them. I don’t see any problems -
except for the air-density down here. It will certainly slow us down a fair bit compared to
the last time we used them, but at least we won’t need to keep stopping to re-anchor the
ropes. I suggest that we each carry a spare flare so that when we want to land for a
break, we light one of ‘em, pick out a wide enough ledge, then steer our ‘chutes in toward
it, and hope to hell the flare lasts long enough for us to land! We gotta land sometime,
guys!” he laughed, “Otherwise how do we get to eat, sleep or go take a leak or a crap?
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Waddaya reckon, you guys?”
Drew and Chas agreed entirely, and they were soon busily engaged in digging into
their backpacks again for the skydiving parachute packs. As they sorted out their gear,
Drew suggested that they should pocket their revolvers, as well as some spare ammo, as
well as some candy bars and a bottle of water apiece. Fortunately they all wore capacious
but lightweight ex-military surplus combat jackets with plenty of pocket-room, so these
items were not a major problem.
Then they repacked their big packs and, after attending to their Calls of Nature
(which had to be forced along somewhat), they donning their chute-harnesses and at-
tached the backpacks, around which their climbing ropes were bound, to the central
crotch-rings with short lengths of rope. By this time they were beginning to feel - and
look - like trussed fowls, with all the harness-gear strapped about them. Errol said he
wished he’d brought along a flash-camera to record their appearance for posterity!
“What! You mean you bloody DIDN’T?” cried Drew in mock-anger. “Now how the
hell are we going to photograph the Inner Earth when we get there, mate?” Then, seeing
Errol’s startled face in his headlamps, he chuckled. “Only kidding, you silly sod! I feel
certain that the Inner Earth folk will have something far more technologically advanced
than our primitive cameras!”
It was here that Chas cleared his throat meaningfully. “Ah believe et’s time for a wee
word wi’ the Almighty, laddies.” he said, looking up at them both solemnly. Then they all
bowed their heads and followed him in prayer. Drew, reflecting upon the terrible night-
mare that was still burned into his mind, strove to put every ounce of fervour into his
words. Somehow, he felt that they might well need all the help they could get in the
coming days of trial that lay ahead.
Ten minutes later, with their backpacks still swinging lightly in pendulum-fashion
beneath their feet, they were all drifting gently down side by side into the fearsome inky
blackness of the bottomless pit.
* * *
Their descent continued in silence for some time, as each of them floated down-
wards, wrapped in his own private thoughts.
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Chas, having little to look forward to for what was left of his humdrum University
existence, was living entirely for the moment. This was the ultimate and crowning
adventure of his life, so he just hoped that he might survive to see its final completion.
Thus far since the death of his dear wife, his life had been lived largely at second-hand,
most of his “field-work” in geology being done from the comfort and safety of his study
armchair, via the medium of various magazines and periodicals to which he subscribed.
Exciting journals in which he had avidly read and mentally shared the adventures
and discoveries of geological adventurers, such as volcanologists, speleologists, and moun-
taineers. Oh, how he’d wished that he could have joined them in their travels to the
farthest-flung corners of the globe! And now, he reflected, how he wished that they could
be here with him and these two wonderfully bold and fearless young fellows, whom he
had helped to mould, right now! He cared little what might befall him on this adventure.
If it were to be Death, then he trusted that it might be mercifully swift, if Life, then Heaven
permit him to return home to his beloved Scotland with proof to spare of his discoveries
and adventures! What more could any red-blooded Scotsman desire?
He glanced across at Errol, his helmet-lamps falling upon his handsome, square-
jawed features, now solemnly still, as the young American swung gently, wrapped deeply
in his own thoughts. He decided to leave him to his reflections
Errol himself was pondering his past and his future. The present was in limbo as far
as he was concerned. If and when they reached their Holy Grail, he’d sit up and take
notice, but this never-ending descent was something he wanted to be done with ASAP.
He was a guy who lived for life and adventure, the greater the risk the bigger the “rush”.
He often wished he could take all this Hollow Earth quest as seriously as Drew. But he was
really only along for the ride. If it all turned out to be just so much garbage, well, so what?
He’d still have - how did it go in that goddamn “Star Trek” intro? “Boldly gone where no
man had gone before?” Hey! Correction, buddy! “…where no ONE had gone before!”
Plus, he’d hopefully be taking back his Kiwi bride, too! He only hoped that she’d stick
around and wait for him - eighteen months was a long time between drinks! However,
he wasn’t the only love-smitten kid on the block! Drew also had someone to come back
to. Nice girl, Marianne, if you liked the quiet, mysterious type! And she was certainly a
looker!
But the main thing was that she and Drew were crazy about each other, and he
wished them every happiness in the whole wide world. And he knew they’d be really
great together. They were both pretty intense people, though Drew could be a helluva
rough diamond when he felt like it! He still had the scars to prove it! He’d always struck
him as a kinda cross between Clint Eastwood and John Wayne, but with plenty of brains in
spite of his funny way of talking! He hoped they’d find the Inner Earth, and that it was all
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it’d been cracked up to be by his own fellow countrymen who claimed to have been there
- if only for Drew’s sake. And he’d get to share the glory of finding it, himself, too! Gee!
And speaking of “Glory” - if only he’d remembered to bring Old Glory along with him in his
kit! It would really be something else to plant the “Stars and Stripes” in the Inner Earth
for dear old Uncle Sam! “Wowee!”
Errol suddenly realized he’d hollered the goddamn word out loud. He turned his
head and stole a glance at his buddy to see if he’d heard him.
But Drew was light-years away in the universe of the mind. He had been thinking
hard about a multiplicity of things – not least of all his two friends. If all this turned out
badly for them, he’d never forgive himself. If he hadn’t been such an urging bastard, they
wouldn’t be here now falling downward into God knows what sort of a desperate bloody
hellhole! For he was under no illusions that they had seen the last of their enemies! He
could feel it in his water! The bloody things were probably hot on their trail right now! He
was also worried about the dream or was it a nightmare – bit of both, he decided. Could
it have been some sort of precognitive thing? He only wished he could still call up
Marianne and ask her.
Yair! And that was another strange part of the nightmare thing! She and Hazel had
somehow followed them down here and been caught up in the whole bloody horrendous
schemozzle! No! he decided, it must have just been a bloody stupid dream - “Only this
and nothing more” - as old Edgar Allan had said in “The Raven”. Raven bloody mad, more
like!
But for the moment, his greatest worry was their supply situation. The ration packs
were holding up fine at the moment, and would last them many days yet. They had cut
themselves down voluntarily to one a day, since they were in no way using up two thou-
sand calories, just dangling beneath parachutes! The main things of concern now were
batteries for their headlamps and torches, they were taking quite a hiding being turned
on for ten or twelve hours at a stretch. Maybe if they took it in turns to leave their
helmet-lights off? Unless they were attacked – of course! Really, only one man need
keep his lights on whilst they were descending like this. They’d need them all when they
tried a ledge landing, but in between – it was worth a bloody try anyhow… If they could
cut down their use from three a day to only one, it’d ….
PLOPl PLOP-PLOPl The sudden plopping sounds aroused all three of them from
their introspective maunderings. They sounded for all the world like heavy drops of rain
falling from miles above and splattering upon their canopies.
“You hear that, Errol?” Drew called. “What the hell can that be?”
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Errol’s voice rang back from nearby. “Can’t be a goddamn thunderstorm, down
here, can it? Maybe somebody’s taking a leak up-top right into the chasm! Or perhaps it
might be bats crapping on us!”
PLOP! PLOP!
“There they go again,” laughed Errol. “Yep! That’s what it’ll be, pal, goddamn bats!
They’ll do it on you every time, I recall Dad once taking me to….”
I don’t think so, mate!” interrupted Drew hurriedly. “We haven’t seen any bloody
bats since right up in the first gallery! It’s way too far down for ‘em! What else of any
largish size have we met that flies, since we came down the shaft! Hey?”
Suddenly Errol and Chas understood what Drew was saying.
“Oh, God, NO!” Errol cried in horror. “You don’t mean you think it’s the goddamn
reptilians, buddy? Tell me you don’t!”
“Sorry, old mate, but who the hell else could it be?” said Drew, in gloomy tones.
“They must have been following us ever since they twigged where we’d gone! They must
be gliding around above us right now, Errol! The only reason we never noticed it before
was because we were always against the chasm walls! They must ‘poop’ on the wing,
mate, and it’s missed us up till now!”
Suddenly Chas yelled out loudly. “Gerroff, ye felthy bluidy swine! GERROOT WI’YE!
Drew! One o’ yon bluidy dragon things juist bruished against me! Ah saw et in mah
lamps! Ah dinna care ower much for thes state o’ affairs!”
Drew had a sudden and quite literal flash of inspiration. He groped in his pocket and
felt for a small cylinder. He pulled it out and yelled “FLARE!” then he ripped the top off it
and held it out in his hand away from his body.
The sudden burst of blinding pink light and smoke had the desired effect. There was
a loud, terrified shrieking sound above them, followed by a flurry of PLOPS upon their
canopies, and the shrieks rapidly faded overhead as the creatures flapped up and away
through the dense air. Meantime Drew’s sharp eyes had been flashing around the walls
of the great gulf . Over to their lower left he spied a wide outcropping ledge. “Down to
the left! A big ledge!” he yelled. “Go for it!” The others spotted it just as the flare began
to die in Drew’s hand. He swiftly groped for his pocket torch, in which, thankfully he’d just
changed the batteries that very morning.
Clenching the small but powerful torch between his teeth, he reached up an pulled
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on the steering handles that adjusted the airflow around the canopy by means of cords
attached to either side. He found it extremely hard to focus the torch-beam by turning his
head this way and that, but he finally managed to lock fairly well on to the target platform
of olivine rock, and by gentle pulls on the guide-lines, he steered his canopy towards it.
Suddenly, he felt his backpack land on it with a dull thump, then he came directly
down upon it himself, letting the air out of the canopy as he did so. He quickly scrambled
to gather in his collapsing parachute, then turned to see how his friends were doing.
Errol was right behind him, but Chas was still higher up and toward the centre of
the chasm. He was having great difficulty controlling his chute, and drew realized that
this was the one thing he hadn’t taught Chas to manage during the lessons in base-
jumping back at the Glengarry outcrop!
However, Errol, who now had his own hand-torch out, was equal to talking Chas
down to a landing. He shone is torch up at the professor’s canopy, taking care not to
dazzle him with its beam, and gave Chas unhurried, calm directions on how to manage
the steering-handles. Chas was a little heavy-handed at first, but under Errol’s easy
guidance he soon got the hang of it. and began to glide towards their platform of rock,
luckily, the density of the air held him high enough and for long enough to make it across
to their side, but even at the end, as he swung in towards them, it was still a very close-
run thing.
His backpack missed the ledge, and struck the under-hang of the rock just below it,
but Drew made a wild lunge with his extended arm and managed to grab Chas by the leg
as he swung past, following his backpack. A gargantuan struggle then ensued in which
both Errol and Drew finally succeeded in hauling the professor on to the ledge, and his
backpack, which had become somewhat wedged under the outcrop, was soon hauled up
after him. Then the three of them just fell back exhausted against their backpacks
among the tangled billows of nylon fabric and cord.
Drew was eventually the first to speak. “Bloody Hell!” he gasped, aching all over
from the enormous struggle. “There’s my two bloody thousand calories gone up in bloody
sweat, all in one hit!” Chas and Errol just lay back weakly, trying to laugh and gasp at the
same time.
After a minute or two, the professor was finally able to gasp out his sincere thanks to
them both for saving his life. As they waved away his thanks, he added that he’d had
enough of parachutes for a wee while, and would they mind if he just walked the rest of
the way? This was just the sort of spirited remark that they needed to boost their
dwindling morale, and the three soon recovered their strength and their nerve. Chas had
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taken much more of a beating in the struggle than he cared to let on to his comrades, so
he laid back quietly, and within seconds the older professor was snoring gently, much to
the relief of his fitter and considerably younger ex-pupils.
“Poor old codger!” said Drew, pulling the edges of Chas’s canopy up over him like a
blanket. “I guess we’re going to have to keep an eye on him, mate! He’s got a lot to face
yet before we’re done. Do you reckon the poor old bugger’ll make it, Errol? Fair dinkum?
I blame myself for inviting him on such a bloody fool’s errand as this is turning into! I’ll
never forgive myself if he carks it on us, mate!”
But Errol wouldn’t listen to such defeatist talk. “Oh, come on, Drew! You know as
well as I do that Chas knew the risks from Day One. To him, this is the adventure of a
lifetime, and about the greatest holiday he could ever have had! He could just as easily
have keeled over sitting quietly at his desk in the University, as with us, buddy! But I’ll bet
my bottom dollar I can guess which way he’d rather go! Dying in a blaze of glory six or
eight miles underground, beats the old study-desk heart-attack hands down anytime!”
Drew sighed heavily. “Yair, I guess you might be right about that, mate!” then he
looked over at Errol, leaning back in the torchlight. “How far do you reckon we came
today, Errol according to my watch we’d been floating down for about six hours or so
before those bastards tried to attack us, and I’m sure we must have made better descent-
time than with the continual “stop-start” business on the rappels We must have at least
doubled up on the time, mate! I mean, up top we got down a two-mile shaft in around
twenty-five minutes, so at that rate, if we’ve been dropping for six hours or so, we must
have descended at least twelve times that! Don’t you reckon? If so, that’s twenty-four
bloody miles!”
Errol wasn’t quite so sure. “You forgot to factor in the denser air down here, Drew
- and the lower gravity! For myself, I’d figure that around a half of that would be
closer to the mark!”
But Drew had the answer to that. “Yes, but you forgot to factor in the backpacks
and the ropes! They would have cancelled out the air-density and the lower gravity,
mate! I’ll stick with my twenty-four miles – PLUS the original five before that! How
does twenty-nine to thirty miles grab you, cobber?”
Errol gave up. He might as well go along with Drew, he reasoned to himself. It was
all basically guesswork, anyhow. Might as well look on the positive side!
“OK, Drew!” he grinned finally. “You won me! Thirty miles it is! Now all we have to
worry about is, will this goddamn chasm take us down another twenty-five or thirty miles
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tomorrow? If we can only hold those reptilians off next time as easily as we did today, we
oughta be able to do it standing on our ear! ‘Specially if you don’t sleep in tomorrow like
you did this morning!”
“Yair! And always providing that Chas feels up to it tomorrow!” said Drew, soberly.
“He was pretty well stuffed back there, Errol. We can only hope and pray that he wakes up
feeling fine and raring to go in the morning. It’s all in God’s hands, mate – we’ll just have
to wait and see! Anyhow, let’s get some kip ourselves now, or we’ll all oversleep tomor-
row!” He clicked off his helmet lamps, and with a mumbled “G’night” he turned on his
side and fell asleep almost immediately. Errol wasn’t far behind him, although he did
worry a little about them being attacked in their sleep. But that would have to be faced if
and when it happened. In the meantime, he was really too tired to care. Then he too fell
fast asleep.
But Errol’s slumber wasn’t a dreamless one. He dreamt that he awoke and sat up to
find several white gleaming figures surrounded them, but them were not standing on the
ledge so much as hovering in the empty void a few feet away from its edge! He stared at
them, but he noticed that instead of looking down at them, they were all facing outwards
into the blackness of the pit. He tried to study the shimmering figures of light, but their
dazzling brightness partially concealed their faces and the contours of their bodies. All he
could be certain of was that they appeared to be humans, but of a much greater stature
than himself or Drew.
They stood with their arms extended sideways and with their fingertips touching, as
if to protect himself and his friends. He felt a beautiful sense of well-being and calmness
pervading his body and even his mind. He struggled to sit up with the intention of
addressing them, but as he stirred, one of their group who was closest to his feet, turned
halfway around toward him, presenting a serenely handsome and gently smiling face, and
waved his outstretched hand across his body. At once Errol felt a wave of utter peace and
warmth surge through him and he fell back against his backpack in a deep tranquil slum-
ber.
CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 19 CHAPTER 19
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The next thing Errol knew was the feeling of being gently shaken into wakefulness
by Drew. “Now whose the dozy sod, mate?” Drew grinned. “It’s all right, Errol, you
haven’t overslept. Just thought that seeing as how Chas and I have been lying here
yacking for the past half-hour, we might as well get an early start!”
Errol quickly scrambled up from his canopy bed, put on his helmet, switched on his
lamps and set his gear in order, then he felt a nudge from Chas who had a mug of hot tea
in his outstretched hand. “Here ye go, mah wee Yankee laddie! Get this doon ye’r gullet,
and let et warm the cockles of ye’r hairt!” Errol thanked the professor profusely. He also
noticed that Chas looked a thousand percent better than he had last night! He had to
laugh to himself how they had fallen into this habit of talking about “day” and “night” and
“morning” and “evening” when they were continually surrounded now by stygian gloom!
He noticed too, that he felt totally rested and in fine fettle.
It was then that he recalled his curiously pleasant dream. As they sat together
eating their daily ration pack, he decided to risk being mocked and tell the others of it.
Strangely enough, no one mocked him or told him it was just a dream. Instead, his
revelation stirred Drew’s own subconscious memory and he remembered his own night-
mare-dream of the previous night, so he told that to Errol and Chas. They were totally
astonished that their descriptions of the appearance and actions of the angelic-looking
beings matched perfectly.
“Looks like we must either be a pair of telepaths between ourselves or else it was
something fair dinkum that we both actually saw!” said Drew, with more than a touch of
awe in his voice. “you know, you fellers, I’m beginning to feel convinced that Mum was
dead right, and that God has set his Angels to watch over us!”
“Ah’m sure that ye’r absolutely correct in what yo say, Andrae, mah mannie” said
Chas. “Ah’ve seen the same identeecal fellers, mahsailf, for the past four neets noo!”
They all stared at each other in amazement. If they had all seen the same strange
manifestations, there had to be some truth to it all. They were really and truly being
guarded by some sort of angelic beings! He said as much to his colleagues.
“I reckon we have no choice but to believe in God, Christ, and the holy angels,
fellers! And that means if we believe in such spiritual beings as angels and that they’re
under God’s command, we also have to believe in their opposite numbers who are com-
manded by Satan - the demons! If I remember my Bible lessons rightly from school and
from Mum, then Satan first appeared to Eve as a reptilian entity, who was loosely trans-
lated by the old-timers from the Hebrew, as being a serpent! So we’ve always imagined
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Satan in the Eden story as being a sort of talking snake slithering around the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil! But what if Satan, who was a spirit had by then taken on the
fleshly guise of a reptilian hominid?”
“Aye!” said Chas, suddenly, “And pairhaps he was something o’a salamander an’all!
Have ye no read in the Guid Book that yon was twice taunted by the prophets aboot his
doonfall? Hang oan a wee meenute, laddies, whilst a find mah wee Bible!” As Chas
groped in his backpack, Errol and Drew exchanged astonished glances. The dear old guy
was full of surprises. They’d never considered Chas as such a religious man that he’d
carry a copy of the Bible around with him! But neither had they ever thought they’d one
day seriously discuss the existence of holy angels of God, either! Life was certainly full of
some pretty staggering surprises. Then, with a little cry of triumph, the professor with-
drew his little dog-eared pocket Bible from the depths of his pack. He then quickly
thumbed through the pages, and found the two sections he had referred to. One was in
Isaiah, chapter 14. He read it out to them in his broad Lowland Scots brogue.
“Hoo airt thou fallen froam Heaven, o Lucifer, son o’ the morning? How airt thou cut
doon tae the groond, wha’ ded weaken the nations! For thou hast said, “Ah wull ascend
intae Haeven, Ah wull exault mah throone aboove the stars o’ God: Ah wull set also upon
the mount o’ the congregation en the sides o’ the noarth: Ah wull ascend aboove the
heights o’ the cloods; Ah wull be like the moost High.” Yet, shalt thou be brought doon
tae Heill - tae the sides o’ the Peit!”
Chas looked up at his audience of two, his eyes glittering with fervour. “Noo dae ye
see what Ah’m driving at?” he asked. “But gie mah ye’r patience for a couple o’ meenuts
more, while a read ye the coamplimaintary words frae Isaiah, chaipter tweity-eight.” Then
he began to read again from another part of his Bible.
“Thus saith the Laird Goad. “Thou sealest up the sum, fuill o’weesdom, an’ pairfect
in beauty. Thou haist been in Eden, the gairden o’ Goad; every praecious stoone was thy
coovering, the sardius, topaiz, ond the diamoand, the beryl, the onyx, ond the jaispair, the
sappheere, the emerald, ond the cairboncle, ond goald….Thou airt the anointed cheerub
that coavereth; ond Ah hae set thee sae: thou was upoan the holy moontain o’ Goad; thou
haist walked up an’ doon in the maidst o’ the stoones o’ fire.” “Dae ye see yet what Ah’m
driven at, lads?” said he to his listeners, who were indeed now beginning to see very well.
Then he went on, abbreviating wherever he could, so as not to bore his listeners too
much:
“Thou was pairfect in thy ways frae the day that thou wast created – tell eneeiquity
was foond in thee……Thou haist senned: therefore Ah weel caist thee as profane oot o’
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the moontain o’ Goad: ond Ah weel destroy thee, o cooverin’ cheerub, frae the medst o’
the stoones o’ fire. Thine hairt was leifted up because o’ thy beauty, thou haist corrupted
thy weesdom by reason of thy brightnaess, Ah weel caist thee tae the groond, Ah weel lay
thee befoor kengs, that they may behold thee. Thou haist defiled thy sanctuary by the
multitude o’ thine eneequities….” ..An’ sae forth an’ sae oan!” Chas said concluding his
quotes. Then he looked at his two friends, “What d’ye make o’all that, then?” he asked
them.
“I understand that these prophets were sort of speaking God’s words to Lucifer, but
why didn’t He tell him directly Himself?” said Drew. “Or were the prophets simply kind of
repeating what God had told Satan, for the people’s benefit?”
Chas’s face literally beamed. “That’s exaictly corraict, laddie! They were explaining it
tae their lesteners juist as Ah’m daein’ here, tae you twa fellers!”
Now it was Errol’s turn to comment. ‘ seems like old Satan or Lucifer sure had plenty
of big ides about himself! All those “I wills!” particularly the bit about “I will be like
God!” But it sure sounds like God chopped him down to size pretty good! I get the bit
about bringing him ‘down to Hell’ and to ‘the sides of the Pit’, by the way! Sounds a bit
like our own plight right now, Prof, doesn’t it!”
Again Chas was pleased that they had got the message.
Drew now spoke again: “See what you meant about the “salamander”, Chas! All
that “walking amid the “stones of fire”! He must have lived on top of a volcano!
“Weel, Ah dunno aboot that, Andrae, nor does anybody else, either, Ah fancy, But
that’s aboot a’ that seems tae feet the peetcher, isnae it? But ah was also enterested in
that wee pairt aboot Lucifer - or Satan - bein’ coovered wi’shinin’ deeferently-coloured
gemstoones. Ah kind a get the peetcher of heem shinin’ wi a rainbow iridescence – as ef
he were covered frae heid tae toe wi’ bonny gletterin’ scales – that reflaicted the licht in a
grand spaictrum o’ colours just like jewels dae! D’ye ken what Ah mean?”
His two listeners nodded their agreement. But drew was more interested in the
“Stones of Fire”. “Professor, you don’t reckon perhaps that this “holy mountain of God”
might possibly have been a volcano, do you? The reason I ask is that, from what I can
recall of ancient mythology, a lot of the great gods of different cultures lived on top of
volcanoes – like Zeus on top of Mount Olympus, throwing his thunderbolts around – or
the Scandinavian god, Thor, who also tossed the odd thunderbolt off his own mountain
tops – he was a Sky god, too!”
“Hey! Yeah!” cried Errol. “Zeus was also called Jove, wasn’t he? Wonder if he was
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another type or aspect of Jehovah?”
However, Chas felt that it was all getting a bit out of hand, and that they should also
be getting on, too. “Ah dinna ken that Olympus was aiver a volcano, Drew, but Ah see
what ye mean. And yon’s a guide point ye make aboot Jove and Jehovah, Errol – but a
raither fancy Ah’m holdin’ up the works, wi’all this blether! D’ye no’ thenk we’d baitter be
oan oor way, lads?”
Within ten minutes, the three adventurers were once again sailing gently downward
beneath their canopies, the air about them steadily growing denser and their weight
growing ever less. As they descended, they were constantly kept aware of the gargoylish
creatures that followed them down by the frequent “plopping” and pattering of their feces
and urine upon their parachutes. Errol in particular was revolted by this, but After Drew
had pointed out that the reptilian excreta was helping them by adding to their overall
weight and helping to push their canopies down through the thick air, he stopped com-
plaining about it. Chas wasn’t entirely sure of the accuracy of Drew’s physics in all this
seemingly logical point, but he said nothing.
It was on this section of their astonishingly deep vertical fall that they first began to
notice patches of lightness upon the rock faces about them, and here and there were little
glowing objects which they eventually identified as curious forms of crystalline outcrops,
that seemed to be radioactively fluorescent in some way. Eventually, after they had fallen
a further ten or twelve miles, the glow of the algae or fungi on the rocks had become
bright enough to allow them to perceive each other and something of the chasm walls
around them. This was infinitely better than drifting down in a total pitchy blackness,
penetrated only by Drew’s helmet-lights. The other two had already decided to take his
advice and turn off their own lamps in order to save on precious batteries.
Drew had also noticed that their canisters of carbide were getting perilously low too,
so it was decided to keep the carbide lamps in reserve for their sojourns upon the ledges,
where they were better able to top them up with water from their dwindling supplies of
that precious fluid.
From time to time, now that they had a faint twilight glimmer coming from the walls
of the huge abyss, they were able to make out the flitting, bat-like silhouettes of one or
two of the bolder reptilians, gliding and swooping around, between them and the walls.
Errol had discovered that a smart clap of the hands was enough to scare them away,
temporarily, at least. They obviously had a acquired a healthy respect for their revolvers
and had come to associate such a sharp and sudden sound with the equally sudden
deaths of several of their fellows, during their forays and attacks up above.
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However, a new distraction came to their attention.
Drew, who was gifted with magnificent hearing, was the first of them to pick up a
faint, distant rumbling sound coming from beneath them. Another mile or two and all
three of them were at length able to detect it. Chas was the first to identify it as the
sound of a mighty outpouring of water, as if a dozen Niagara’s were all thundering down at
once beneath their feet!
This gave them all furiously to think. If there really was a vast waterfall down
below, it meant that, sooner or later they would reach the bottom of this gigantic gorge
and that their further progress might well end there - in a gigantic well of water! How-
ever, thought Drew, that was a problem they would have to face when they struck it.
Then he silently told himself: ‘Unfortunate choice of words, old son!’
He glanced at the luminous face of his gold Rolex watch – the last gift his father had
given him before he died. Bit ostentatious, but it had well and truly supported all the
claims that its manufacturers had made for it. Drew had subjected his to more varied and
violent tests than even its designers could have conceived. But this in no way altered the
definite fact that they had been drifting down for over twelve hours this “day” – which
more than made up for Chas’s impromptu little “Bible class” back at their previous resting
place.
It meant that they’d come at least another forty-eight miles further down, on top
of the thirty they’d already come! Seventy-eight bloody miles - and still alive! It
was hard to believe, but it must be close to right. Only another seven hundred and
twenty-two to go! Drew reminded himself, a little grimly.
But now it was time to scout around for another ledge or platform. Hopefully, this
time one that Chas would be able to land on safely! Judging from the thunder down
below, tomorrow was going to be a hairy sort of day – they’d need plenty of slid rest
tonight. Hopefully with their night-watch of unknown guardians on duty again.
He smiled again at their rather laughable divisions of ‘day’ from ‘night’. However, it
seemed to work fine for them, regardless of the absence of sunlight.
At least, for Errol, the growing roar of the giant waterfall below them now drowned
out the ugly ‘plops’ and ‘dribbles’ that had continued to resound upon their canopies from
the horde of devils up above.
‘Talk about ‘being crapped on from a dizzy height’’ he thought whimsically. ‘You
really have to hand it to these reptilian bastards; they got some kinda sense of humor!’
But he must remember not to wrap himself in the canopy anymore, when he went to
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sleep! Better mention that to the other guys, too. Delight the hell out of ‘em no doubt,
but it was better than letting them lie in demon-pooh all night!
‘B.O.’ couldn’t hold a goddamn candle to it! Uhuh! And that’s another thing! Better
start cutting out the language a bit, too; their angelic watchers might not take too kindly
to it!
‘Sorry, Lord!’ Errol thought to himself, rather penitently and with feeling.
However, they had to continue descending for another three hours before they
finally found a safe-looking platform on which to land easily. This was quite a large
projecting ledge and they were all able to get down on it without any difficulty, even
though it had a pronounced downward slope. But this very long day dangling in their
harnesses had taken a considerable toll on their stamina, not to mention their muscles,
and the areas that were chaffed by the straps of their parachute harness were severely
chaffed.
After landing they wasted no time in ridding themselves of their cumbersome gear.
And, thanks to Chas’s providential forethought, they were able to anoint themselves with
a soothing-cream that he’d stowed in his kit. He’d brought it along in case of any recur-
rence of a persistent skin problem that had plagued him for years through too much
sitting, burning the midnight oil, at his study desk.
Because of their extra-long period of descent that day, Drew suggested that they’d
all earned an extra meal so they sat around Drew’s tiny calor gas-stove whilst he heated
up a dixie of water to which he added a pack of powdered tomato-soup. The water
seemed to take forever to boil, and Chas pointed out that it was the air-pressure that had
lifted the boiling-point of water. However, they were really grateful for the soup when it
was finally ready, and, together with a few dry biscuits, it refreshed and cheered them up
no end.
But, making the soup also served to show Drew that their water-reserves were
almost exhausted. They were now down to only one two-litre bottle apiece. He fervently
hoped that they would reach the source of the waterfall sounds within the next day, or
things would look grim for them! How much further down could the falls be? By now the
noise was so loud that they had to almost yell at each other to make themselves heard!
‘There’s one way we might find out!’ he thought.
He rummage in his pack-pockets and found some more of the little cylindrical flares.
They would have to sacrifice one or two, to try and check out whatever lay beneath them.
Obviously, their parachute descent was going to come to an end quite soon now, and they
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didn’t want to find themselves dropping into a tumult of thundering waterfalls. Being
drowned would be a rather an ignominious end to the expedition!
With Errol gripping his ankles, Drew squirmed forward in a prone position until his
chest rested upon the edge of the sloped projecting ledge and he could look directly down
into the faintly-illumined depths of the pit below it. Resting his elbows on the edge of the
rock, he ripped off the top of a flare and dropped it into the thundering gloom. As it fell,
the flare burst into a bright pink radiance that lit up the chasm for quite a long distance
beneath them.
And there, perhaps only a mile and a half below them, they saw the first of the great
waterfalls jetting out of the rock face as if from a gigantic faucet, and, as the flare fell ever
further, other, similarly vast jets became visible, shooting forth magnificently out of both
sides of the chasm, their foaming waters mingling as they thundered torrentially down-
ward into a huge churning maelstrom of frothing water! At that point, the flare expired in
the swirling flood. The darkness was intense after it died, but at least they had actually
seen the source of all the tumultuous racket!
Errol went to help Drew to his feet, but he declined the offer. There was something
else that he’d noticed at the last moment before the flare was extinguished.
He would have to expend another flare to make sure that his eyes had served him
correctly. He motioned Errol and Chas to join him in peering over the edge of the
outcrop. As all they lay staring down, Drew tore open a second flare and dropped it.
They gaped in amazement at the awesome sight revealed below, but this time,
Drew was able to focus his gaze at the centre of the milling water beneath them. It
actually was swirling! The whole body of foaming water was in truth a great revolving
maelstrom, and there, at its centre, was a huge funneling, tubular aperture; a giant
whirlpool-vortex of open space spiraling away downwards! Drew had no idea of its
diameter, but it was certainly huge!
As the second flare was doused, they all withdrew back up the downward sloping
ledge to where their baggage lay with Drew’s helmet-lamps perched upon his backpack
illuminating their way. And now another great surprise awaited them!
They had been too preoccupied as they landed upon the outcropping section of the
ledge to notice that, instead of a smooth olivine rock wall rising behind it, the ledge
continued backwards into large cavernous opening in the rock! This was indeed a find!
Drew quickly donned his lighted helmet and walked on into the gaping opening, with his
comrades following closely.
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As they entered it, they saw that it wasn’t so much a cave as a great tunnel mouth,
with curiously smooth walls. True, there were a few rocks lying around, but even these
looked more like giant rounded pebbles, rather than the jagged rough chunks they had
found higher up on other ledges on the cleft walls. Chas ran his hands thoughtfully over
the tubular tunnel walls and over some of the rounded rocks. Then he paused in his
inspection and turned to the others.
“A dunno waither ye’ve noaticed, but this tunnel wasnae a magma-tube or anny
such, it was cairved oot by the erosive action o’water! See! Ye’ve ainly goat tae feel the
smoothnaess o’ it, and o’ these stones, too! Ah’d wager a year’s sailary that this was once
a water-conduit, the same as those doon below! Ah’d say that this was once the bottom
o’ the chasm but the water has sence eroded the whoole theng deeper and deeper intae
the Airth!”
“I get you, now, Prof!” cried Errol. You think this was once the bottom of the pit and
that this was the main water drain that probably ran out and down into some sort of
central plughole! And now the water has found new outlets lower down, its ceased
running through here! That would mean that this tunnel must lead back to some sort of
big underground river – is that the general idea?”
“Which also means we might be able to refill some of our water-bottles!” said Drew
enthusiastically. “We can only hope it doesn’t run too far back before we find the source!”
He thought for a moment, then he added: “You know, fellers, it strikes me that we ought
to take a day off tomorrow and check this out. We need the rest anyhow, since this is our
seventh day, below ground. I guess that God won’t mind if we also “Rest on the Seventh
Day”, too! Let’s call it Sunday, eh?”
Everybody grinned - especially Chas - since he knew it really was Sunday, according
to his notebook!
Then, being dog-tired, they decided to turn in. But, after Errol remembered to point
out that their parachute canopies would no longer be very pleasant to use as covers, Drew
remembered that they had also packed one of the car-covers apiece. So they dug them
out from the bottoms of their packs and managed to jury-rig a tent of sorts. They used one
folded car-cover as a groundsheet, and the other two as a double layered makeshift tent
draped over a rope. The rope was strung between two projecting corners of rock across
the cave-entrance. The edges were held down by some of the rounded stones from
inside the cave, in much the same way the girls’ “yurt” had been, in the volcano lava-
chamber seventy-eight miles above. They felt a lot more secure inside this shelter, flimsy
though it was, than they had when lying out on the exposed ledges above them.
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Drew was the last to fall asleep, and he, for one, was looking forward to the next day
being one of normal mobile activity, instead of dangling helplessly on a parachute, with
the harness steadily biting into his crotch and armpits, cutting off the circulation and
making his limbs go numb. He had even worried about deep vein thromboses forming
and had urged the others to frequently raise and lower their legs and feet as much as
possible, by way of a precautionary exercise. As it was he ached all over after their last
marathon descent. However, his head ached worse as he pondered what possible
options they could have left in getting down deeper.
He’d known that the chasm would have to end sooner or later, and they truly had
been extremely lucky that it had gone down so deep. But they now had to find another
similar shaft that went even deeper. There had to be one! Perhaps they might find some
sort of access to one along the water-tunnel beside them in the morning? He found
himself wishing the “night” away, but the more he tried to get off to sleep, the more active
his mind became. It revolved like a runaway squirrel-cage around the host of wild ideas
that flashed through his brain, one after the other.
In the end he became so utterly restless that he had to get up and go outside in
case his tossing and turning awoke his friends. He picked up his helmet and backed out
of the tent, pulled the flaps down behind him and weighted them together at the bottom
to keep the body warmth inside. The atmosphere had been steadily getting colder and
damper as they had drifted down toward the watery region at the base of the shaft. ‘This
really was one in the eye for all those scientific buffoons who had predicted that, at this
depth, the heat rising from the mantle would have become so fierce that they should have
long since been cremated by it, if not by the magma itself! Instead, if things went on as
they were going, they could perhaps expect to die of cold and exposure!
He straightened up, raising his hand to switch on his helmet-lamps, but before he
could do so, he glanced up and saw before him the same row of shimmering blue-white
ethereal white-robed figures he had seen in his dream-vision just the other night, and
which Errol had seen only last night! They were real! There was no way he was
dreaming now. He could feel the damp chill and hear the thunderous roar of the water-
falls below, sharply enough. No! Whoever, or whatever, these entities were, they were
absolutely fair-dinkum!
Strangely, even faced with such an uncanny phenomenon in reality, it didn’t seem to
worry him at all. In fact, the very opposite was true! He felt a glow of warmth emanating
from them that radiated right through his shivering body! His mind was suddenly at
peace and all the worries and doubts that had been assailing him, swiftly evaporated. He
moved over closer to them, sensing that they knew he was there. And as he did so, one
of the beings turned his spectral head towards Drew smiled at him benignly. And then he
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did a most peculiar thing – he raised his ghostly right arm and bending his wrist, he
pointed straight downward at the very eye of the great vortex beneath them! ‘What’s he
trying to tell me to do?’ thought Drew. ‘Does he want me to jump over the bloody edge
and kill myself?’
But the entity seemed to have read his mind, for he smiled again at Drew and shook
his head gently. Then he pointed at Drew again, and this time, at the tent, too, then
pointed downward very positively at the eye of the maelstrom below. “Strewth!’ Drew
thought to himself. “Now he wants all of us to commit bloody suicide!’
This time the entity stared at him with a most penetrating gaze as if looking directly
into his mind. Drew felt a curious numb, buzzing sensation, and at first he resisted it, his
mental encounter with the demonic reptilian immediately surfacing and setting off alarm
bells in his memory.
But then he began to hear a faint, inner voice speaking to him – inside his head, and
in his own language! At first the voice wavered in and out like a distant, faulty radio
signal. But then another of the entities turned around to regard him in the same intense
way, and suddenly their voices joined as one, and he ‘heard’ the message quite clearly.
Of course, he was by now well aware that they were speaking to him telepathically and
that they meant no harm to him and his friends, so he concentrated on ‘listening’ to their
words with all of his mental power.
“You must go onward through the portal.” said the double voice. “You and your
companions together – there is no other way through but by the portal.” Then again they
both turned toward the fearsome maelstrom far below, and pointed their ghostly fingers
toward its open tubular “eye”.
The question bubbled up into the forefront of his mind. “but how could we enter
such a whirlpool? We’d all be drowned!”
With a jolt the answer came back immediately. “You will not die! We control the
portal, so no harm can befall you.”
Drew’s response reached them even before he had finished thinking it.” How could
we jump into the water from such a height? The very fall and impact would smash us
instantly, we’re only human beings, not spirits like you!”
“Ah, my friend! We are not telling you to jump into the water! We ask you to use
the air-floating apparatus you have used thus far. You have only to launch yourselves forth
as you have hitherto, and we will guide your descent into the portal. We ask that you trust
us completely in this – or return back whence you came.”
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Drew thought feverishly. This was all a bit too much for even him to absorb.
‘I cannot make such a great decision without consulting my friends!’ he thought.
‘And we cannot return to our starting place, anyhow, it’s too far for us to possibly climb
back now! We would die long before we could even climb a mile or two. We are only flesh
and blood!’
The answer instantly flooded back into his mind. ‘There is no need to answer us
now. Speak with your friends. Then, when you are ready to enter the portal, you have
only to do as we have said, and we will be here to control your passage through it. But
know this. That there will be another, final test of faith awaiting you after you emerge at
the other side of the portal. If you decide to go on, then do as we have told you. If
instead, all of you choose to return to your world, then we will send you back to your point
of departure up inside the volcano. The decision must be that of you all. But remember
our words and know that we are here! We have spoken!’
At this juncture, the two figures who had faced him turned away and returned to
their former vigil, leaving Drew standing gaping in a total emotional quandary. He felt in
his mind that the communication had now terminated, nor did feel that he wished to
resume it at this point. He had so much to consider. What if these entities were some
form of demonic spirits trying to tempt him – and his comrades with him - just as Satan
had once tempted Jesus Christ during his initial sojourn in the wilderness, after His bap-
tism by John the Baptist? Didn’t the Bible say that Satan and his demons could appear as
Angels of Light, to confuse the righteous?
“Now where on Earth did I ever hear about all that?” Drew found himself asking,
out loud. Then it occurred to him that perhaps it was something he’d been told as a
youngster by his Mum, or maybe at the Charters Towers C of E boarding-school during
their weekly classes in “Religious Instruction”. Strange how things could bury themselves
in one’s subconscious for donkey’s years without one even being aware that they were
squirreled away in there!
He suddenly became aware that he wasn’t alone. He heard a soft footfall on the
rock behind him, and turned swiftly - ready to fight for his life - only to find Errol standing
behind him staring at him speculatively.
“So what are you going to do then, buddy?” he asked quietly.
Drew was astounded . “You mean you heard all that, too?” he asked. “How the heck
could you? They were speaking to me in my mind!”
Errol grinned. “What makes you so special, old chum? They were speaking to me,
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too, in the same way!” Then he explained how he’d woken up and noticed Drew’s ab-
sence, and as he rose to go outside to look for him, a voice had spoken within his head.
Two voices in actual fact. The guardians and Drew’s. “It was just like accidentally listen-
ing in to a conversation on a telephone party-line!” he said. “Don’t ask me how I heard it
all - I just did! End of story!”
“But I never heard a blooming peep out of you, mate!” exclaimed Drew.
“Probably because I didn’t say anything!” replied Errol. Then he continued. “How’re
we gonna explain this to poor old Chas? He’ll never believe us, will he?”
A voice boomed forth from inside the tent. “Chas wilnae believe what? Hae ye all
goane ravin’ bluidy mad, hangin’aroond oot there in the cauld, clackin’ awa’ like a flock o’
bluidy hens while a body’s tryin’ tae get some sleep! Et’s a guide job et’s Sunday the
morn! Ah’ll hae tae sleep tell lunchtime tae catch up, noo!”
Within seconds they had returned inside the tent and begun to tell the dour old Scot
what had just transpired. Then, when they had finished, they sat back, and waited for
the anticipated explosion of scientific protest.
But it never came. Instead, the professor sat and considered what they had told
him in a deep silence. Then finally he spoke to them both in a surprisingly quiet and
reasonable tone.
“Why did ye thenk that Ah’d doobt ye?” he asked. “Surely ye ken by noo that Ah’m
a man o’Goad, sae Ah see nae reason tae doobt the word o’ His angelic maissengers!” He
paused reflectively. “The whole Bible is full o’ stoories o’ maen an’ prophets an’ such, bein’
gi’en maissages from Goad, if ye took oot a’ the pairts that tell o’ such thengs, ye’d ha’e
nae Bible laift tae speak of! NO! Ah’ll accept et as read that what ye’ve baith tell’t me as
true, soo whatever ye’re going tae doo, lads, ye can coont me in et, an’ all!”
“Even jumping down inside a flaming great whirlpool, Chas?” asked Drew.
“Aye! Even thait, Andrae!” laughed the professor. “Ah’d ne’er hae believed Ah’d
ever gae doon enside a bluidy volcano, much less pairachute nigh on eighty miles doon
underneath et! Sae what’s a wee bit o’ a maelstrom between friends, eh?”
Drew and Errol once again stared at each other in amazement at the sheer Celtic
intestinal fortitude of their one-time mentor and tormentor!
The following ‘morning’, after sleeping like logs for the remainder of the ‘night’, the
three resolved that before even considering the suggested leap into the maelström below
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their camp, they should at least explore the tunnel behind the ledge of which their cave
was but the entrance vestibule.
So, with their helmets on and new batteries inserted in their head lights and torches,
and the carbide lamps refilled with both granules and water, and their revolvers check and
reloaded where necessary, plus a handful of spare rounds in their tunic pockets, they set
forth. Drew also suggested that they should take along some of the empty plastic water-
bottles, which they had saved since they weighed virtually nothing, and because Drew
had always heaped scorn upon desert movies that featured scenes in which the lost hero,
struggling grimly over the arid sand dunes, parched and dying of thirst, invariably threw
away his empty water bottle along with other discarded impedimenta !
The first thing they noticed as they ventured along the tunnel was how easy it was
simply to walk. At first they put it down to the refreshing change from dangling upon
parachutes for so long, until Chas suggested that it was because they’d actually become a
good deal lighter in weight than they’d been up in the magma chamber. He demonstrated
this by simply jumping up and down on the spot. His two companions were quite sur-
prised at how high and easily he was able to bound upwards - almost as if he were on a
trampoline!
However, Drew felt that this confirmation of his belief that the gravitational pull
decreased as on descended beneath the crust implied that his major fear was coming
true, and that at the mid-point of the crust, they might well find themselves floating
trapped in a region of zero-gravity, unable to move either forward or backwards – unless
they could somehow haul themselves along by their fingertips in crevices in the rock walls!
He quickly dismissed the thought, at least for the time being. As Chas had said earlier in
one of his Bible quotes, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”, which he guessed was
Christ’s way of saying “Just concern yourself with today, and let tomorrow take care of
itself!” Not such a bad philosophy, at that!
The tunnel went a great deal further than they had imagined, and Drew had to keep
chivying the professor who kept pausing to minutely study any changes or excoriation’s in
its smoothly polished surface. They must have traveled an effortless two or more miles
before they encountered anything remarkable, and then it was truly staggering!
Their tunnel which had swooped and curved around somewhat, suddenly ended in
a vast open stadium of a cavern, with a vaulted ceiling hundreds of feet high, and of an
indeterminable length and breadth. This was due to its being obscured by a dense,
saturating mist that arose from a great turbulent river, almost a hundred or more yards
across, which flowed very rapidly but astonishingly quietly across its breadth. They were
only a few short yards away from its nearer margin.
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Before Drew could utter a cautionary word, Errol leapt happily forward in a couple of
kangaroo-like bounds that almost carried him into the heart of the rushing torrent, but
fortunately he was able to scramble back to safety before he was carried away. But he
had at least discovered it to be nothing more than pure fresh crystal clean water, and not
the possible acid or corrosive liquid that Drew had feared.
“Hey, you guys!” shouted Errol, ”Come on in, the water’s fine! Even if it is as cold as
a witch’s ass!” Then he scooped up a handful and rinsed around his mouth.
“Wow! It’s terrific!” he cried. “Tell you what, Drew! If we could set up a bottling
plant down here, we’d make a killing in the mineral-water business!”
He cupped his hands and scooped up a good mouthful which he then drank down.
Drew and Chas watched him closely to see if it had any adverse effects on him, but he
simply beamed back at them and suggested they sample it for themselves.
Drew then decided to give it a go, and tried it for himself. It tasted almost like
lemonade, with the same bubbly effervescence of carbonated water one finds in soda-pop
soft drinks. It was really delicious and refreshing and, upon seeing Drew drinking it, Chas
also tried it.
“Guide Grief!” he shouted.” Wheer’s the boattles? Ah fancy that we’ll be drenkin’
naethin’ but fezzy lemonade for the raist o’ the journey!” Then noticing that just beyond
their tunnel exit and eddy of the swirling river had carved out a small pool in the rocky
bank, he added: “Aye! And bluidy bathing en it, an’a’!”
And suiting the action to the words, he immediately set about divesting himself of
his gear and his clothing, and was soon wallowing like a seal and blowing like a grampus
in the spa-like pool. “Man!” he gasped to Drew. “Et’s heillish cauld - but ye wouldnae
believe hoo refraishin’ et is!” He then plunged his head under the surface and came up
whooping with glee. “Ye’r baith bluidy mad” he yelled, “if ye dinna tak’ the chaince o’ such
a grand bathe while et’s oan oaffer!”
Drew and Errol needed no second bidding. Within a couple of minutes all three
were splashing around in the icy but invigorating crystal water, shouting and laughing, as
happy as sandboys. The only problem, when they finally emerged wonderfully refreshed
and clean, was that they had no towels to dry themselves. However, Chas himself showed
them how to get dry quickly, by racing back and forth along the coarse silica sandy bank of
the great river.
By the time they had dressed themselves again, and donned their helmets, all three
of them felt like brand-new men. The mineral-laden bubbly water had also reinvigorated
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their spirits as well as their bodies. Drew grinned at the others. “My word, fellers!” he said
brightly. “That was well worth the blooming walk! I reckon we’d better get those water-
bottles filled before we forget, too!” He glanced across at Errol as he spoke - only to
notice that he was standing stock still, gazing all around the great cavern in sudden awe
and amazement. “What’s up, Errol?” he asked, in a voice filled with concern.
Errol simply waved his arms around him in wonderment. “Haven’t you guys noticed
something pretty strange?” he said, in an incredulous tone.
“Noticed what?” asked Drew, staring mystified about the hazy mist-filled cavern.
“Dunno what you mean, old son?”
“The goddamn LIGHT!” Errol yelled. “None of us even noticed it when we entered!
The whole darned cavern is full of DAYLIGHT!”
It struck Drew and the professor like a bolt from the blue! Errol was right! The place
was filled with a pale misty effulgence, a pallid white gleam that reminded Chas most
forcibly of the early dewy morning light of his native Scotland. It was truly astonishing
that they hadn’t even noticed it as they’d emerged into the cavern. But what baffled them
all was how this could possibly be? They were now well over eighty miles below the
surface, so how was it even remotely possible for daylight – for such it truly seemed – to
penetrate to such a depth? But the professor’s keenly analytic mind was already search-
ing for a scientific answer. And sure enough, after a few moments of searching, he found
it. He stepped back almost to the river’s edge and turned to look upward at the walls of
the cavern above the tunnel mouth behind them. The rock was festooned with large
colonies of the fluorescent algae or crystalline growth they had begun to see upon the
walls of the pit during the past day or so of their descent. It must have covered the entire
surface of the cavern’s rocky interior to engender so much radiance. And this, in turn,
was diffused so much by the perpetual mist of the river, that it took on the appearance of
misty daylight as one might see it on a cloud-enshrouded mountain top!
For a brief moment following this discovery, Drew felt slightly disappointed, since
he’d suddenly found himself hoping euphorically against hope that, in some mysterious
way, they had been transported to the surface of the Inner World they sought so keenly to
enter. However, this feeling of despondence passed as suddenly as it had appeared, and
he was able to marvel at it, and enjoy with the others the wonderful and heartening effect
it had upon them all.
This had indeed turned out to be a marvelous “one-day holiday” for them all. As
they finally turned their backs upon the wondrous scene and reentered the tunnel, they
found themselves filled with a new sense of purpose and determination to get over the
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next hurdle in their odyssey with whatever grit and effort it might require.
However, as they emerged from the tunnel back into the comparative inky darkness
of the pit, they were confronted by a truly nightmarish scene! The sloping platform was
alive with their reptilian enemies, busily engaged upon tearing down their tent and rum-
maging through their belongings! The hideous horrors swung around snarling and hiss-
ing as the lights of the men’s helmets fell upon them, and several rushed forward to attack
them, with yellow, vampirish fangs fully exposed and the long curved talons of both hands
and feet ready to rend and tear at their flesh!
Drew felt thankful indeed as he produced his revolver and aimed it at the leader of
the swarm, that he’d suggested arming themselves before exploring the tunnel. “Choose
your targets!” he roared, and soon the three were blazing away at their vicious attack-
ers, taking a deadly toll as they charged screaming at them. The first six or seven
reptilians fell, dead or dying, to slide over the edge of the sloping platform but a second
wave at once sprang forward to fill the places of the fallen, only to share the same fate.
Those that had only been wounded were still knocked off the ledge by the solid hammer-
blow impact of the bullets at such close range. They toppled backward, howling in pain
and terror, into the huge, madly-swirling whirlpool far below. It was a scene that far out
rivaled that which had been enacted in the magma-chamber far above, for the foul crea-
tures of darkness were now in their own stygian element, with only the helmet-lights of
their hated human foes to face.
But the guns were the deciding factor, and, after the loss of nearly half their number,
the rest of the fiendish monsters launched themselves off the ledge with their membra-
nous “wings” extended, and vanished howling and screaming into the darkness. Their
retreat came only just in time for the trio, as even though few shots had missed, thanks to
Drew’s command to pick their targets with care, they had all emptied their revolvers.
As they hurriedly reloaded their weapons, they took the opportunity to glance around
at the appalling havoc that the reptilian demons had wreaked upon their scattered and
tattered belongings. All that seemed to remain intact were their chutes, which had fortu-
nately been stacked just inside the entrance to the tunnel, and a few bits and pieces of the
contents of their torn backpacks. It all looked a truly ominous sight. And it took a very
great effort of will for all three of them not to just sit down in total despair, and abandon
all hope of going any further – or even of going back!
By the time they had finished sorting out what was left – since much of their food
had been eaten by the reptilians and many of their other supplies had been torn apart or
tossed into the depths. All they could salvage were a couple of dozen batteries, a number
of the Survival Ration-Packs – which, fortunately, the reptilians hadn’t recognized as food
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containers – about a dozen of the little cylindrical flares which had rolled away to one
side, and two or three sealed boxes of ammunition.
Chas was especially delighted however, to discover his Bible and his notebook still
lay intact, together with his pens, in a side-pocket of his ripped and ragged backpack.
But, whilst Chas was elated that these had been spared, Errol whose own backpack had
been shredded virtually to pieces, pointed out rather heartlessly - in Chas’s opinion - that
they couldn’t be eaten, so what was the big deal?
The silver car-covers-cum parachutes, that had formed their tent, were little more
than shredded ribbons of plastic now, but Drew untied the ropes from their corners, and
rolled up several of the wider ribbons of material. His own backpack had miraculously
remained almost intact, even though its contents had been emptied out upon the ledge
and looted. And he was able to retrieve some loose ammunition from its side-pouches,
plus a further handful of flares, and most useful of all, his sheath- knife, still safe in its
sheath!
The radio handset was also still in its own pouch – not that it was of any use down
here, in the bowels of the Earth, of course! However, he hung on to it. It might be useful,
should they ever encounter any Inner Earth dwellers – which seemed highly unlikely now
– to at least demonstrate the development of technology on the outer surface.
Errol, who had lost virtually everything he owned – apart from a couple of tattered
garments – was utterly devastated by it all, and retreated into a mood of gloomy despair
and foreboding. He seemed to have lost all interest in what was going on around him,
and rejected all advances on the parts of Drew’s and Chas to cheer him up. Drew was
extremely worried about his chum. How could they possibly go any further with Errol in
such an appallingly depressed state?
However, there was nothing left for them to do now, but pack all these few remain-
ing items into the two remaining backpacks, and take their chances upon doing as they
had been bidden by their guardian entities. But first, after noticing the glint of shiny
metal amid the ruins of Errol’s backpack, Drew was able to retrieve several useful-looking
stainless-steel rods that had formed its framework. He thoughtfully slid these down the
corners of his own pack, feeling that they might come in extremely useful at some later
date – particularly as weapons perhaps, once their remaining ammunition had been ex-
pended.
By great good fortune, their parachute-harnesses were still attached to the chutes
themselves, so they had no worries on that score. All that really remained now was to eat
one of the remaining Survival packs - which would now have to be divided between them.
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And then just jump for their lives – or whatever Fate held in store!
They sat and ate their fairly frugal meal in a thoughtful introspective silence, each
thinking his own thoughts about the hair-raising prospect that confronted them.
It was certainly a very big “ask”, thought Drew, to expect three intelligent men to
leap a mile and half down into the vortex of a gigantic maelstrom, especially when the
urging came from a group of mysterious entities who had appeared to be their guardians,
until this very ‘morning’, when they had intended to get a few hours’ sleep prior to taking
this leap of faith. Where had their ‘guardian angels’ – or whoever they were – been when
the demonic reptilians had invaded their ledge and destroyed their gear? Was it possible
that they might have been demons in disguise, luring them to self-destruction in the
horrendous swirling lake below? It was one of those things one had to judge entirely on
one’s gut-instinct in the absence of tangible proof. However, he had to consider the
options. Where there really any left? There were none. Correction! They had one! They
could remain in their present site, and do nothing until their rations finally petered out,
then slowly die of starvation, or they could jump and risk a much quicker death by drown-
ing! Drew elected for the latter!
Errol meantime, was still wallowing in a deep depression. His usual cheery, extro-
verted self had undergone a great manic-depressive mood-swing. His depression cen-
tered upon losing so much of his gear, compared to Drew and Chas, who seemed to have
fared reasonably well, all things considered. Why did it have to be him who was the loser?
And why did it all have to happen so suddenly after such a great day as they’d had in the
big, lighted cavern. It was always the goddamn same! There was always something
waiting around the corner to knock a guy down after he’d just had a great time! It was
like being mugged in a dark alley after emerging triumphant from a casino with a great
bag of winnings! He too pondered the absence of their guardians, but he assumed that,
since their three charges were inside the big cave having a ball their presence wasn’t
required – so they’d just stayed home. And now, he guessed Drew would expect him to
jump off the ledge with him and the Prof. Well, he sure didn’t have anyplace else to go, so
“Che sera, sera!” and “Who travels light, travels fast!” Suddenly, after arriving at this
conclusion, he felt much brighter.
Chas was quietly thumbing through his Bible for a remembered quotation that might
explain the curious guardian angels who had failed them so badly, earlier on. Then he
suddenly found it! The book seemed to fall open on the very page! It was in the writings
of St. Paul, 2 Corinthians,11:14…”And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed
into an angel of light.” ‘Weel noo! Yon’s a rum thought tae keck aroond an’ nae meestake!’
he mused. He would have to think hard about it. But he’d still jump if the others did. He
was far too proud to walk away from danger.
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But now Drew got up and began donning his harness, and the others followed suit.
“I guess we have no really alternative, fellers!” he said, helping Chas to buckle up his
harness. The others silently nodded their agreement. Before tying his own full pack to his
harness, Drew bound a rope around a stone of about the same weight as his pack and
fastened it to the bottom of Errol’s harness. Chas had already secured his own. “Well!”
said Drew, “Now we’re all the same weight we should all hit the vortex at the same time!
So let’s get this over with, once and for all!”
Then they stood in a row on the edge of the ledge whilst Drew primed and dropped
a flare. Then, as he counted down. “One, Two, THREE!”, Errol yelled out “GERONIMO!”
And, all together as one, the three leapt bravely into the unknown!
But they were not to be alone in their death-defying leap. Nor were they unseen.
High above them, many pairs of evil eyes had been watching their activities closely since
the battle on the ledge. The demonic reptilians had not retreated far after their ignomini-
ous defeat. Now they were looking for revenge as well as meat, and only awaited the
commands of their powerful leaders – for there were several among them. These were
brethren of the two satanic monstrosities that had been shot far above in the magma-
chamber, who were now fulminating with a fiercely burning hatred of these humans who
had dared to intrude into their Hadean realm – children of that same God whom they
themselves had so despised for millions of years!.
They had watched avidly as the humans scrabbled through the ruinous havoc that
their underlings had wreaked upon their camp, and had read their despairing thoughts
like open books. They had sensed with satisfaction the dejection of one of the three, and
they had been filled with revulsion as another had picked up and looked into that most
hated Book and read to himself a foully slanderous remark written therein against their
Lord and Master!
They would reserve the worst fate of all three for this one - even though he pos-
sessed the most formidable and powerful God-Spirit of them all! Then, as they continued
to watch the humans and saw them preparing to make a final plunge into the depths, the
leaders hurriedly issued urgent commands to certain of their horde of demons. And as the
three men leapt off their ledge, they were followed swiftly by an unobserved mob of
gliding reptilians whose flight membranes were folded away to give them greater vertical
speed!
Nor were these lieutenants of the Archdemon the only witnesses to the brave leap
of the three men.
Hovering to one side of the vast pit, Marianne’s astral form also watched her beloved
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Drew and his two well-loved companions as they drifted down below their canopies to-
ward the awesome spinning gulf at the centre of the great whirlpool. Before they
vanished into the depths, Hazel arrived just in time to watch her own true love as he
descended with Drew and the professor, into the maelstrom’s fearsomely roaring, tubular
“eye”. But as they watched, they saw the hideous pack of evil fiends come hurtling down
from the blackness high above and plunge, howling, in chase of the three men, into the
swirling walls of the twisting, terrifying vortex.
A sense of tremendous Antarctic cold struck them both like the very breath of Lucifer
himself, and they knew that their presence had been detected by his evil minions of
darkness who had loosed this pack of demons after their men. Given Hazel’s inexperience
in battling such overwhelming dark powers, Marianne saw that there was nothing for it
but to withdraw instantly, before an attack could be directed at themselves. Her ghostly
right hand seized one of Hazel’s and they sped away at the speed of thought – a speed
infinitely greater that of light itself – following their brilliant silvery astral “umbilicals” back
to their bodies which lay comatose in the bunk-beds of their trailer at Glengarry.
CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 20 CHAPTER 20
Marianne awoke with a start, her mind still racing from the unimaginable speed of
their flight. Then as she felt her pulse begin to calm, she hauled her stiff body up to a
sitting position, just in time to see Hazel’s body give a violent shudder of shock. For a
moment Marianne thought the worst - that her dear friend might have succumbed to the
tremendous jolt that such a swiftly-returning spirit can impart to a deeply comatose body,
and which can sometimes dislodge the sleeping soul.
This, she knew was often the real cause of so many people dying in their sleep.
However, she soon discovered that Hazel had gone into a deep sleep, and that her breath-
ing and pulse were perfectly normal. No doubt her spiritual weariness, due to her lack of
experience, would require a period of recovery in sound, dreamless slumber. So she did
not make any attempt to waken her.
Instead she sat thinking of their present situation, and the likelihood of some form
of spiritual reprisal by the satanic forces they had encountered. Few people, she thought,
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even in this allegedly ‘enlightened’ age, realized their own spiritual nature, which was very
regrettable.
What most people didn’t seem to understand was that a personality is composed of
three separate entities; the outer body, which is the tangible, material vehicle or earthly
shell which the soul inhabits and uses in the day-to-day business of living; the soul –
which is the essential, individual “self”or “animus” of the person – the central, immortal
subject of the person’s own consciousness, which is itself, in turn, the home of the spirit
- that unfettered part of the soul that is completely free to wander in many other dimen-
sions than those three which so trammel the fleshly body.
The Spirit, as she had been taught by her shamaness grandmother, was free at all
times to exit the body whilst it was asleep, but the soul had to remain with the body until
it died. Then, both immortal soul and spirit were released to return to their place of origin
– to their Creator, God, or The Great Spirit, whom many believed would permit them to
begin a new bodily sojourn if they so desired and if they had merited such a privilege.
Under most normal circumstances, a person’s spirit, if encountered upon the astral
plane, would usually present the bodily appearance of the person, except that it would be
free of any defects or disabilities that might afflict their carnal body.
But it possessed the capability of changing its appearance to suit any astral contin-
gency or purpose that might arise. Thus, if the spirit were being pursued by a demonic
entity in the form of, say, a wolf, it could - if sufficiently adept – change at will into a grizzly
bear, and turn ferociously upon its pursuer. Or it could turn into an ant and thus be lost by
its attacker, or perhaps become a wasp or a scorpion and retaliate by stinging its enemy.
Similarly, if, whilst on its astral wanderings, a person’s spirit saw another approach-
ing whom it didn’t wish to encounter, it could change its appearance to that of someone
entirely different. Such an ability need not be used for bad or nefarious purposes, there
were often cases where it was a useful and harmless expedient for either observing oth-
ers, or avoiding observation oneself.
However, it was an unfortunate fact that the possession of a spirit was not an gift
that was confined to the children of Light. It was also shared by the denizens of the
Darkness, and evil spirits were legion! The entire surface world swarmed with such
demonic entities – both embodied and disembodied - so the powers of Light although
supported by God and his angels, were often outnumbered in the worldly realm by those
of Darkness, since the spirits of the good were taken to Paradise or Heaven, whilst those
of the wicked remained bound to the Earth pending judgement.
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This overwhelming abundance of disembodied evil entities meant that they were
constantly seeking to occupy the bodies of those who were lukewarm in their belief or
tried to stay neutral, and, after ousting or overcoming the resident soul, they were able to
work their evil in many more directly physical and carnal ways. This same danger also
applied to the bodies of astral travelers if they were careless enough to leave them unse-
cured and unsealed. Her grandmother knew of many people who had suddenly become
insanely evil overnight, because they had foolishly neglected to take the necessary pre-
cautions before ascending spiritually to the astral plane.
Evil spirits were similar in many respects to thieves and home-invaders who broke
into untended and unsecured houses. Even Jesus spoke of exactly this situation to his
disciples. Unfortunately, they had many choice and vacant residences to select from in
this ungodly and spiritually bankrupt day and age!
This was why she had seized Hazel and fled with all possible speed back into their
bodies. The Powers of Darkness were not slow to seize upon easy opportunities, and
were often almost as omniscient as the Great spirit Himself in such matters. There could
be little doubt that the Forces of Evil had already discovered the whereabouts of their
home and bodies. It would only be a matter of time before they began to mount some
sort of attack. Not only upon themselves, alas, but upon all the other innocent and
unaware inhabitants of the station-homestead.
Thus it was Marianne’s most pressing duty to advise them of this threat. Luckily,
both Joan and Bob, and their children were religious people who believed in God, so that
would help to get the message through to them. However, Marianne realized that she
might not get a very welcome hearing from Joan, who regarded anyone who dabbled in
“psychic matters” as being at least ungodly “spiritualists”, if not actually in league with the
satanic enemies of God.
This was a common problem that she had often encountered, and in this respect
she felt that many otherwise sound and respected churches and religious organizations
were failing abysmally in their duty, by not emphasizing enough the spiritual, psychic
aspects of being a believer in God! God Himself, as the Bible clearly declares, is a Spirit
- as also are all of His Angels!
Her own mother, although having inherited her grandmother’s Red Indian shaman-
istic abilities, had joined a worldwide Christian church when she had married her white
Scots-Canadian father, Dave Stevenson, and had developed the gift of “Speaking in
Tongues” – not necessarily the languages of other nationalities of humans - but allegedly
the tongue of God and His Angels! In short, they had claimed to be able to speak the
language that was spoken in God’s Heaven!
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However, what they hadn’t realized was that Satan, who had formerly been Luci-
fer, God’s most-trusted lieutenant, in charge of all the angels, must also have spoken the
very same tongue! Along with all his ex-angelic demons, who had spoken it prior to their
huge rebellion and subsequent banishment to the Earth! Would this be any reason for
them to change their tongue? Marianne thought it most unlikely.
Consequently, after she learned that few, if any, of the tongue-speaking ‘prophets’or
laity of her mother’schurch had any inkling of what they had actually said in tongues, she
had reasoned that it wouldn’t be so unthinkable that Satan or his emissaries could have
planted remarks of their own into the speech-centres of unwitting churchgoers’minds,
that could actually have been insults to God - instead of the words of praise the speakers
assumed they were uttering! Also, many others, might in their vanity, have spoken noth-
ing more than self-delusional gibberish!
As for Marianne herself, she had no particular fears in using her spiritual abilities.
She had long ago realized that, for an astral traveller to go out into the astral realm
emanating waves of fear was to openly invite intimidation by an evil spirit. One had to go
forth armed with three principal weapons. The first being assured that you are in the
company of God’s Angels of Light, and therefore knowing that you are not alone before
the Powers of Darkness. The second being unafraid of death, since the Spirit cannot be
killed, except by God alone, otherwise it is immortal, like the Soul. The third having no
fear of Satan or his demons, for if you are a Child of God, The Creator, or the Great Spirit,
you have only to resist the Evil One and his minions and they will flee from you.
These were great Truths that she had learned from both her grandmother and her
mother - descent among the Kwakiutl or “Kwagul” as with many other tribes, being through
the female line. Not that she had realized the true power of these weapons at the outset,
but she had soon discovered that they actually worked once she had become familiar with
astral travel and learned to depend upon her Creator-God-given spiritual willpower in
overcoming her fears.
In many ways, venturing out upon the astral plane was akin to going out in an
automobile. The first experience of driving solo was often a terrifying one, and the fear of
being alone behind the wheel was great, as was the fear of crashing into another vehicle
and being killed. But as one became used to driving, and one’s driving skills developed,
one lost the fear of being alone in the car, and of being killed, and one no longer worried
much about other oncoming drivers. Mostly they were just as cautious about avoiding
you, as you were of avoiding them.
Soon the whole thing became almost as natural and subliminal as breathing. The
only danger in astral travel, as with car travel, was that of becoming too detached and
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casual about it. There were as many bullying demons on the astral plane as there were
raging road-hogs on the highways, so the same cautious and wary eye had to be kept out
for the one as for the other, but there were also watchful guardian angels on the astral,
too, just as the highways are policed by patrolmen. The main thing was to stay within
the bounds of God’s Law upon the astral, as one would stay within a City’s Traffic Ordi-
nances on the highway! Thus one could travel in comfort and confidence wherever one
chose in the Realms of Light, just as one could on the highways and byways of one’s own
Earthly neighbourhood.
* * *
Marianne was roused from her contemplation by the waking of Hazel, who now sat
up and yawned after her sound sleep. “Moi word!” she said, as she flexed her arms and
her neck-muscles. “Thet was some dream, kuddo! Ut was so realestuc! Just loike ectuaelly
beung there!” Then she swung her shapely legs out of the bunk and stared hard at
Marianne. “Ut was a dream, wasn’t ut?” But Marianne solemnly shook her head. “No,
Hazel honey, it was for real! You and I were there together, and we saw them parachute
off that high ledge down……”
“…Down ento a huge grite whirlpool!” gasped Hazel, still half in disbelief. “Thin
those tirruble demons, loike thet one we saw in the big chaimber, caime doiving down
efter thim!” She nibbled her long fingernails as the truth of the thing struck home to her.
“Oi seem to ricollict thet some of thim caime efter us, too, end you hed to greb moi hend,
love! Croikey Deck! To thenk thet Oi ectuelly saw Irrol end Drew end the poor old
professor venushung down thet dreidful grite drine-hole! Oh Moi Gawd! They must all be
drowned boi now!”
And as the tears suddenly sprang out onto Hazel’s cheeks, Marianne jumped up
from her bed and hurried to comfort her. But despite her assurances that their men
would get through it with flying colours, Hazel was for some time quite inconsolable, and
all Marianne could do was to hold her close and hug her tearful face against her bosom.
But, eventually, when Hazel’s heart-rending sobs had dwindled down to occasional moist
sniffles, Marianne was able to convince her that their menfolk were being guarded by a
number of Light-Beings, and that they would surely see that no great harm befell them.
“You mean thiy were loike Angels – from Hiev’n?” asked Hazel, dabbing at her
reddened eyes with a damp handful of paper-tissues.
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“Yeah, I suppose you could say they were angels.” Said Marianne. “They were cer-
tainly Beings of Light, and the reptilians were very afraid of them, even though they hated
them! I got a pretty good idea where they’re from, too, but I want to make sure first!
Anyhoo, they were astral spirit-projections, just the same as us, I guess. I saw them
yesterday when I was keeping watch, and it was they who told the boys to jump into the
vortex.”
“Oi only hope thet your roight, Merienne!” Hazel smiled, wanly. “Et least, ut’s set
moi moind et rist, so you don’t heve to worry about me maiking en ixhubetion uf moiself,
agine!” Then she got up and went into the kitchen area of the trailer to make them both
a pot of coffee.
Whilst Hazel was thus occupied, Marianne sat and pondered how she’d be able to
convince Joan about the need to take some sort of spiritual precautions for herself and her
family. It wouldn’t be easy, that much she knew. But she’d have to take the bull by the
horns and give it her best shot – and the sooner, the better, for everyone’s sake! But first
she must think things through as to how she should present the things she knew to Joan.
The two young women sat together for a while in silence, drinking their coffee, each
wrapped in their own thoughts about the events of the past week or more. Marianne,
thought of Drew and the great leadership he had shown, even though some of his more
madcap ideas had backfired more than a little.
The point was that he’d gone the ‘full mile’ so far as his first-designated objective
went, in showing that the Earth was other than Science believed. The full eighty-odd
miles in fact – which might well have already been doubled, trebled, or even quadrupled
by now! For she was sure in her heart of hearts that he and his buddies were still alive
somewhere deep within the crust of the planet. If any of them had died, she felt certain
she’d have sensed it by now. The genes of her shamaness grandmother thrived abun-
dantly within her, and her sixth and seventh senses had developed to full maturity now, so
she would have felt his passing, perhaps even seen his spirit - before it passed over into
the safe keeping of the Creator Spirit
But she hadn’t – so she believed implicitly that her man still lived!
Her Man! She recalled the times she had been present, a watcher in the spirit, as he
had led the others onwards down inside the Earth’s crust, even when all the fiendish odds
were stacked so heavily against them. Drew had never known just how heavily – for she
had seen the enemy everywhere under the surface - in pitch-black tunnels and passages,
in great caverns and grottoes, in deep chasms and pits.
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A passage from her mother’s Bible came into her mind; one of the stories of Jesus –
the occasion when he delivered the possessed lunatic at Gadara - and when He asked the
demon within the madman his name, the demon had answered: “My name is Legion: for
we are many!”. Then Jesus had sent all the devils – at their own request - into a great herd
of swine, two thousand strong, feeding nearby, who then ran violently and madly down a
steep slope into the sea and drowned! She’d never figured out what happened to the
demon-spirits. But since they were immortal - at least until the time of Judgement - did
they then have to go in search of other bodies to occupy?
But the horrible thought that had struck her then – and had come back to her now
was this. If two thousand demon spirits could occupy a single human host, how many
millions must there still be, lurking beneath and upon the Earth, still looking for humans to
inhabit? Even worse - how many had already found such homes? The grim spectacle of
scores of demons hurtling down after Drew and his two companions into the maelstrom
had forcibly reminded her of this particularly frightful concept.
Marianne’s inner spiritual beliefs were a curious melange of those of her mother and
those of her grandmother, and those she herself possessed in a deeply psychic nature of
her own. Her mother who had taught her about the Triune Godhead of the white man -
God and Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit - had attempted to make her to ignore her innate
psychic senses, telling her that such feelings would leave her open to demonic posses-
sion.
But her grandmother still believed in only one God, The great Creator Spirit – vari-
ously known to the indigenous peoples of North America as the Great Spirit Gitche Manitou,
Maheo, Tirawa, or Waka Tanka. And she had counseled her to give her hereditary spiritual
skills full reign. Otherwise, the spirits would become angry with her for neglecting their
gifts and send some great misfortune upon her.
Since then, she had grown up within the white educational system, and, due to a
classical education, had added other belief-systems and gods – such as that of ancient
Greece – to her fund of wisdom. Now she was a many-facetted, complex soul, who had
taken what she felt was relevant from all of these beliefs into her spiritual makeup. The
Christian God and the Great Creator Spirit were the same deity to her, but she clung to a
mixed mythos of stories and lesser gods from both, to which she added the old legendary
pantheon of ancient Greece. She was frequently astonished by the surprising parallels
between all these religious beliefs.
However, she felt most keenly that all of them shared a common Underworld of evil
darkness concept, and it was this that she now had to face – if only as an onlooker. She
had been taught by both her mother and her grandmother that a strong, brightly-burning
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spirit of goodness need fear no evil from creatures of the underworld. So she was able to
enter their domain without qualms.
Her major concern however, was for Hazel, who was still a mere novitiate, and who
had never really been particularly religious until now. What little religious knowledge she
did have was of an infantile Sunday-School level. It was now Marianne’s self-imposed task
to put her through a ‘crash-course’ on psychic matters in order to arm her even if only
sufficient to protect herself from spiritual harm. Thus far, Hazel had made excellent progress,
but Hazel was still a mere tyro and extremely vulnerable. She would need to develop
Hazel’s psychic abilities a lot further yet..
But now she had to face Joan with the news about Drew and his friends, and try to
forewarn her against possibly demonic attack. It was already daylight outside, and the
sun had already risen well above the horizon. It was time for them both to go up to the
house for the morning meal.
Joan greeted them as they entered the huge homestead kitchen, and waved them
to their seats at the large kitchen table. Bob was sitting at one end of it, reading the
Brisbane “Courier-Mail” newspaper. He looked up over his reading-glasses and said “G’Day!”
to them, and hoped that they’d had a good night’s sleep.
Hazel very nearly blurted out the truth about her frightful experiences, but Marianne
managed to lay a restraining hand on her arm, before she did so. Instead she asked Joan
if she wanted any help in preparing breakfast, but Joan smiled and said something about
“Too Many Cooks” and that a woman’s kitchen was strictly her own preserve, and they’d
only “get under each other’s feet”. So the two girls got on with their pre-breakfast cereal,
whilst Joan cooked their breakfast.
After a while Bob folded up his newspaper, muttering that it was full of nothing but
political nonsense today, then removing his reading-glasses and reaching for his pint-mug
of scalding tea he gazed at the young women thoughtfully over its rim. “Wonder how the
fellers are goin’?” he said. “I was talkin’ to Jimmy a little while back, an’ he reckons that he
had a dream that they’d found another deep shaft or something, and were well down into
the ground now!”
“Oh, come on now, Bob!” said Joan with a skeptical laugh. “You can’t take his word
for it! You know how Jimmy goes on about all that “Dreaming” mumbo-jumbo! It wouldn’t
surprise me if they all turned up at the back door at any minute, saying they decided to
give it all away - and asking what’s for breakfast!”
She placed the girls’ breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast in front of them. “I bet
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you two’s be glad if they did turn up, wouldn’t you, eh, girls! I know how you’re missing
Drew and Errol. I’m not blind, you know! I fell in love with a nice young bloke once,
myself!” She winked at the girls, sniffed, and gave Bob a knowing look.
“Oh, Yair!” Bob grinned back. “An’ he was a real handsome young feller, too! Joan
didn’t know how lucky she was roping’ in such a fine catch as him!” Now he winked at
Joan and the girls, and they all had a good laugh at his bit of repartee.
Bob drained his pint-mug in one huge gulp, burped with a murmured apology, and
wiped his mouth on his hairy forearm. Then he rose to his feet, and pushed his chair back
under the table. “Well, I’d best get back out there,” he said, “before the lads all think it’s
a bloody public holiday, and start skivin’ off! Catch you later, ladies!” He gave them a little
wave, pecked Joan perfunctorily on the cheek, and, grabbing his hat, he disappeared out
the back door.
But what he hadn’t told them was that he was heading out to the rocky outcrop and
the tunnel where the unfortunate steer had been so horribly torn to pieces.
A bunch of the station-hands were awaiting him on the other side of the big shed
beside their horses, and Jimmy had Bob’s horse already saddled and waiting.
Once in the saddle, Bob turned to Stan Lawson, his other yardman. “You got the
flame-throwers, mate?” he asked.
Stan nodded grimly. “Yep, and plenty of bloody kerosene, too, boss! We should be
able to singe the bloody arses off the little buggers now, orright!”
“How many head does that make now, Stan?” asked Bob. “Three or four?”
“It’s four, Bob, and that’s four too bloody many!” replied the yardman. “Last time we
only nailed two of the ugly little bastards, with the shotguns. But this time we’ve got to get
the whole sodding nest of ‘em – an’ I reckon burnin’ ‘em out’s the surest bloody way, boss,
same’s you’d do with a nest of snakes or scorpions!”
“Yair! Then cave in the whole bloody tunnel-system with gelignite, so their mates
can’t take over where they left off!” added Bob, a grim vengeful look on his face. “Orright,
fellers! Let’s get to it!” he said, heeling his horse away into a canter.
Meanwhile, totally unaware of the fact that the reptilians had already surfaced as far
south of the Undara region