30km outside Narromine, NSW Australia
For a long time my father worked for a man who owned a lot of land. One particular property of his is called ‘Arrabree’. 3,000 undulating acres with a huge, old but well-kept house, machinery sheds, stock yards, shearing sheds, grain silos and more. The farm needed caretakers, and since it was only a few k’s from the boss’s place, Dad agreed to move us all out there.
I loved it. At a time when most of my friends were playing football and following their dicks around, I was spending days and nights alone in the pine forest on the next property, making campsites, sharpening knives, tracking foxes and fantasising that I was the only person ever. I was a bit of a strange kid I guess, but I wouldn’t change those years for anything.
So one day, I set out on a long walk across to the far side of the farm. I left at around 11, took lunch and water, but not really planning to go anywhere in particular. I did a lot of thinking and planning on these long walks. Thinking about how I wished we had forests like European forests in the stories. Dense and black with trees you can live in. There was no way I could get lost on this farm, I could only dream about it.
After some hours, probably around 3 in the afternoon I came to the back fence of the property. From there I could see the neighbour’s farmhouse and a dog tied up near the fence with a half 44gallon drum for shelter. It was a female blue cattle dog and she didn’t say anything to me. Her bowl was overturned so I thought I’d go and put some of my water in there for her. I walked closer and she looked at me without getting up, just a slight thump of the tail on the ground. I flipped the bowl over, emptied my water in there and she came over for a drink. As she drank I looked up at the house and there was no movement or sound. I thought I’d just go to the gate and fill up my water at the tap.
I walked toward the house and noticed that the front door was open, but no sign of movement coming from within. I refilled my water bottle at the front tap near the gate and stood for a moment, waiting for some sign of life. None. The only sound was an old windmill rattling in the breeze nearby, and the occasional truck on the road not far from the house. I went to the door of the house and called inside. No answer.
It stank in there, sort of damp and mouldy but some other nameless stink, I couldn’t think what it was. I called out a few more times before I stepped inside. There were clothes and papers everywhere, and some cardboard boxes. They were all dry so I thought maybe some plumbing might be leaking under the house and rotting the timbers or something because that smell was all I could think about. Urk. I came to a room at the back where the sun was streaming through a large window. The window was broken but there was no glass inside. I walked over to it and looked outside and the glass was all over the ground out there. Something had smashed the window from the inside.
I was looking at the yard which was overgrown with grass, thistles and weeds. There was an old lawnmower amongst the grass but its days were over. I was already feeling quite a bit uneasy, but now the feeling that crept over me intensified, becoming unbearable. I wanted to turn and run. The smell seemed worse in this room, despite it being almost empty, save for an old vinyl armchair. I was about to turn and leave when something on the concrete path, outside caught my eye. It was a solid black line of ants marching. With my eyes I followed the line of ants to where they disappeared under a low shrub.
In the grass under the shrub I saw the ants crawling. They covered a person’s face. It was an old man lying on his back, his face turned up with his eyes open. He was dead, probably for a couple of days. My body tingled all over and I turned and ran. As I fled from the room, I crashed full-faced into something soft. It was an old lady and she stank. The smell, it was her all along. She cried out as we both fell on the floor in a heap. I got up and bolted outside, across the yard, past the dog and jumped the fence. I ran for home.
I ran for as long as I could and eventually slowed to a walk. I forced myself to calm down and to stop reliving the whole thing over and over in my head. I don’t know why, but didn’t want to tell anyone. It was probably about 5:30pm when I saw the headlights of dad’s Land Rover coming towards me. Mum had been worried about me (again) and when dad got home from work, she’d asked him to go looking for me. I got in the Land Rover and he asked about my day. I didn’t tell him what happened, I told him that I’d just done my usual wandering and exploring.
Some days later, dad mentioned that the old man’s body had been found but the old lady and her car were missing. The farm was searched but she was nowhere to be found, and the car is still missing to this day. I told mum and dad. We went to the police and gave a statement, some investigations were held and I told my story to a local journalist on the condition that she kept my name out of it.
As far as I know, the case remains unsolved. The old lady was never found and it’s one of the big unsolved mysteries of the region.