GEYSERLAND GUILD OF WOODWORKERS
A short story by Bob Collins (Stumpy)
A tradition among the local people, which has built up over generations, encompasses omens, visionary sightings, seasonal and weather signs, and, of course, the dreaded ‘Matuku’ – the casting of frightful spells.
There are ’good’ places in this valley, and ‘bad’ places – places to avoid. Some places are avoided at all times for fear of the revenge of ancestral enemies; some bad places are to be avoided only at night when the spirits abound.
The atmosphere is there all right – the number of present day events which fall into the pattern are too numerous to be put down to coincidence, and make doubt impossible. The sombre, frowning, dark mountains within which many of the historical events of horror were acted out, crowd around the small valley like big bullies round an innocent little boy, lending themselves to the ‘atmosphere’ of the place.
Jack was a child of the valley, of its history. At forty-five he was a quiet man, a religious man, rough and ready but kindly, thoughtful, without the vengeful will or drive of his ancestors. Though a man of God, he was also a child of the valley so was gravely superstitious, careful not to break the tapu of the place, fearful of breaking it.
Jack was a pig hunter of great ability. This was his pleasure and pastime – and it fed his family very well too. One day he was out hunting the scrub lands with horse and dogs. Like all Maori pig hunters he was travelling light carrying only a sugar bag tied to the saddle with some tucker in it, and an old army greatcoat for a blanket.
In the late evening the dogs got on to a mob of pigs, chased them to a small area of standing native forest in the scrub, and caught one. Jack arrived on his horse and killed the pig. Because of its isolation from that great forested tract called the Urewera, this place was known as ’Island Bush’. It was a ‘bad’ place, Jack knew, particularly at night. But now he had killed his pig and darkness had fallen. He was benighted – he had no choice but to stay.
In fear and trembling Jack short tied the horse and dogs, lit his fire, ate a meal, then shucked into his greatcoat and lay to rest on his bed of ferns, his saddle for a pillow. Jack woke in the darkness. A morepork was hooting, the moon was racing the clouds across the sky, the horse and dogs were restless, the fire had gone out. The bad, bad feeling was all around him, heavy on the cold air. Jack knew he should never have come to this place.
He could not bear watching this night away. He climbed out of his greatcoat, buttoned it all the way up, then pulled the tube of coat over his head and as far down his body as it would go. In the pitch darkness of the coat he then lay in terror to await death – or the dawn.
Jack waited, and waited, and waited. He waited for an eternity in the stifling, suffocating darkness of his poor refuge. He didn’t dare to even peep out, lest he see his destiny approach. Finally, the call of nature forced its attention on him. He held out as long as he possibly could, but eventually he had no choice, he had to leave his cocoon.
He was astounded to find himself in bright sunlight, and his big silver pocket watch, when he drew it from the leather pouch on his belt told him the time was midday. Jack did not feel foolish, he had been too terrified for that. He was just thankful that he had survived the night of horror at this bad place.