You could say I get distracted quite easily. It’s usually when I’m on my own without anyone to keep my attention. When someone else is talking to me, I keep my mind on topic at all times, even if I have trouble looking people in the eye.
When I’m on the road, however, it’s a different story. It’s a good thing most people don’t have cars in the Outback, because I’d crash in less than five minutes.
So when I’ve got to go somewhere, I walk.
Whenever I’m walking along the road, I can’t help but survey the environment. The red ocean that was the Outback, the small shrubs and rocks, hills and ditches that stretched on forever like giant waves, even the occasional patch of greenish grass.
The thing that always got my attention the most was the road. Not only was it the only-man made thing in site for miles, but it was the only sign of the civilisation that had come before. The civilisation that had burned down to let a new one rise from the ashes.
Most of the towns left in the Outback had been built after the war. While all the buildings looked more or less the same, the older structures were like a window into the past to me. The roads, houses, towns and bridges of the old world had been built by a different society; the Commonwealth of Australia. Ten years ago, it had been lost to nationwide rioting which had turned into a civil war. When it was all over, there had been an uncertainty. The cities were in chaos, or so my grandmother had said. I had been a toddler at the time, and my only knowledge of the Australia of old came from her word, photographs, and the occasional TV series that I saw on the TV in our local pub. Seeing these landmarks of the old world had more significance than any photograph or documentary.
Even after I’d seen it for three days, I still found myself studying the road that I walked on. The white lines painted in the centre of the road to mark the lanes, every crack and bump, made me imagine the world that came before. A world before the war, a world before Australia became known as the nation of peace and safety.
I was on my way to Sydney, a city that had burned like a bushfire when the tensions had boiled over. During the war, they called Sydney the Glowing City. They kept the name after the war had ended, although some said that it would be less morbid to call it the Shining City instead.
Glowing or Shining City, either name fit. I’d seen the pictures of the rebuilt city, the modern skyscrapers sparkling as if they’d been polished. The few mates who’d made it to the big city and back said that it was entirely different to see it for yourself.
My plan was to go on to Sydney, then make my way down to the ruins of Old Canberra and then to Melbourne, a city that had managed to survive the war. I’d grown tired of my world ending at the quiet town I’d spent my nineteen years in. Sure, I had my mates and the decent-looking girl here and there, but I would never be happy without seeing the rest of the world. They warned me the world was a dangerous place, full of suffering and death, but I knew that that world was beyond Australia. A world of sadists who waged wars for years, a world that simply hadn’t caught up to us yet.
By my third day of travelling, I was starting to question my decision to go out alone. The supply train was only a month away, but it had been my own impatience that had sent me walking out into the acrid desert that was the Outback.
I wiped sweat of my brow, surveying the environment for any sign of life. If anyone lived out here, they were certain to have water, and a place to rest. I’d tried resting by the side of the road, but the heat made touching the tarmac unbearable.
It was then that I noticed the smoke, thick and dark, rising high into the sky. I followed the trail down to the ground, where I spotted its’ source just ahead of me on the road.
It was a hot day, but I suddenly felt chilled to the bone. I’d only seen a few cars in my entire life, and I’d never seen so much as a picture of a car crash, until now. Leading up to the battered vehicles was a field of twisted metal. There were two cars that I could see from my vantage point, one of which was upside down. Both looked as if they’d been chewed up and spit out by some giant creature.
Despite my exhaustion, I picked up my pace and began jogging to the site of the wreck, looking desperately for a sign of life.
The first car I reached was an almost-unrecognizable mass of twisted metal. Among the wreck was a gloved hand attached to an arm that had blood running down it.
“Hello?” I called out, crouching down to see into the wreck. “Anyone alive in there?”
There wasn’t a response, and there wasn’t anything that looked like a person in that car wreck. The interior looked as if it had been painted red, while the owner of the arm barely resembled a living thing.
“Hope it was quick, mate,” I whispered to them before moving on to the second car.
The blue and white checked pattern on the car hadn’t escaped my notice before, but it was only then that I made the connection; it was a police car. This car was upright, and I saw clearly the driver through the shattered windscreen. I was about to call out to him when he stirred in his seat, groaning.
I ran around to the side of the car and wrenched open the door, and it was then that I noticed the patch on the shoulder of his jacket; Victoria Police.
I frowned, what was a Victoria Police member doing out in New South Wales? I looked back at the mangled wreck and remembered stories of the highway gangs that had prowled the roads in the months leading up to the war.
“You alright?” I asked the officer, who nodded groggily.
“I think so,” he whispered, opening his eyes and looked around. “Christ, it’s a furnace in here. Do…you have any water?”
“Yeah, hold on.”
I quickly dropped my pack from my shoulder and took out one of my spare water bottles, unscrewing the cap and holding it up to the man’s lips.
“Pretty nasty crash,” I commented as he tilted his head back and took massive gulps of water.
“I’d been chasing that guy for hours,” the officer murmured. “You ever hear about the gangs that used to be all over the roads?”
“Well, that guy in there was one of the last of them. We’ve been chasing him for ten years. We though he was killed during the Siege of Hamilton, but he surfaced a few years later.”
“Guess he won’t be a problem no more then,” I replied. “C’mon, we need to get you to a hospital.”
“Broken Hill’s not far from here,” the officer said as I helped him out of the car. His uniform looked dirty, as if he hadn’t washed it in days. “You know, they filmed Mad Max on this road.”
“Never saw it,” I muttered, slowing my pace as the man limped alongside me.
“What? You call yourself Australian without seeing Mad Max?”
“We don’t have a lot of movies in the Outback,” I told him. “We’re pretty isolated. Most people still think the highways aren’t safe.”
The officer scoffed. “Outback people…” he muttered as we walked.