You might think that the most terrifying things about Australia are the spiders, or the snakes, or the fact that most of us don't own guns. But in all honesty, those aren't scary things to most of us. You get used to it. Oh, great, a redback, I'll swat it with a shoe. Oh, great, a snake in my toilet, better call the snake catcher (we have a local one where I live, he's very busy). As for the guns, well. I've never needed one.
In actuality, the scariest thing about living in Australia is the silence. I live pretty far out of the way, in a teensy little inland town in Queensland. I used to live in a rural town (still only about 5,000 people there), and what really gets me about living further in is how fucking quiet it gets. You stand outside on a summer night in 35 degree heat and you won't hear a peep. You might hear a cricket, maybe. Or a bird. But mostly you won't hear anything. Just the empty, empty quiet of the land.
You probably know where this story is going, if you've seen Wolf Creek. Hear me out though. It's important.
I went travelling when I was twenty with a couple of mates. Just me, my best friend Anna, her boyfriend Kyle and his brother Tyson. We had a shitty Holden Commodore that we really shouldn't have taken into the outback, not on those tires, but we figured we'd be fine. We weren't city kids; it's not like we were going to have any trouble we couldn't handle.
We drove for days, nothing eventful happened for about a week. We got further and further inland. We were kind of aiming for Alice Springs, but we didn't really care how long or roundabout of a route we took to get there.
Unsurprisingly, our car broke down on the way. We came prepared; we had a satellite phone and supplies. We had four one man tents in the back. We set ourselves up, called one of our parents to come get us. We knew our co-ordinates, we had a GPS. It was no problem, though they did laugh at us. They'd told us something like it would happen.
They told us it'd be four days before they could come get us, even driving as the crow flies. We had enough supplies to last. We told them it would be fine. We were so stupid. So fucking stupid.
The area we set up camp in was about ten metres from the car and sheltered by a couple of eucalyptus trees, the best shade we were going to get out there. The soil was red, more sand than dirt. There was no grass. But we could clearly see the car from where we were, even if the bottom half was hidden by a little rise. And that was all that really mattered.
The first night we drank some beers, talked about stupid shit. Kyle joked about proposing to Anna. Anna looked really freaked out by that, and Tyson managed to get Kyle to stop. Tyson started going on about his electrician apprenticeship. Kyle told him that was boring shit and to talk about something interesting. No, Tyson didn't tell a ghost story. He started talking about sexual exploits instead. Anna and I got pissed, he wouldn't quit it, we went to bed early. Normally we all get along fine, but being stuck out here, with no working car, was getting on everyone's nerves.
I was restless, couldn't get comfortable. I kept thinking about the quiet. The fucking quiet got me man. That fucking dead silence, no sound, not even wind, no sound but our breathing. I guess I fell asleep eventually, but I don't remember sleeping. Do you ever have a night like that, where you swear to god you only blinked? Where you don't even wake up slowly, so it leaves you confused and swearing, honest, that you really didn't sleep a wink?
I felt like that the next morning. But it made no sense, you see. Because we woke up the next morning, and Tyson was gone. But I didn't hear a sound. Nothing but our breathing.
So I had to have slept, right?
Anyway. We woke up, and Tyson's tent was empty. His sleeping bag was rumpled, but nothing was disturbed or taken. If he'd wandered off, he hadn't taken anything with him. Kyle flipped the fuck out. He was yelling, swearing at the top of his lungs. I think I was in shock. Anna just kept crying.
I tried to call the parent who was supposed to be coming to get us on the satellite phone, but I couldn't get anything. I couldn't reach anyone. I checked the inside of the phone, and sand had gotten all through it. The battery was corroding. I didn't understand how that could happen. It was in a sealed bag the whole night. It was in a fucking bag.
I started to cry.
We stayed in the shade the whole day. Kyle just kept muttering to himself. I hugged Anna and prayed.
We went to bed long after it got dark.
The same thing as the night before; that quiet. That silence. My friends' quiet respiration. There was no noise. I blinked, and it was morning. I blinked, and Kyle was gone too.
The same thing as with Tyson. Sleeping bag rumpled, nothing missing, nothing disturbed. Anna started rocking back and forth in her tent. I patted her hair and told her it would be okay. I didn't think it would be.
I started to worry that maybe I was the one who made Kyle and Tyson disappear.
Maybe the blink-sleeps I was experiencing were blackouts. Maybe I was dangerous.
I comforted Anna as best I could. She was teetering on the edge of madness though. It doesn't take much out in the outback. Not alone, not under those circumstances.
That night I made her bind my wrists and ankles with zip ties. It was the only thing I could think of. If it was me, she would be there in the morning to free me, and she could bind me again the next night. If it wasn't...well, I didn't want to think about that. Because that would leave me alone, trussed up like some kind of roast meat, just waiting for whatever the fuck was taking us to get me. I was so scared. I was so fucking scared.
And then it was quiet, and all I could hear was steady breathing.
Then I blinked, and it was morning, and she was gone.
I dragged myself out of the tent using my elbows and knees. It hurt so much. I was wearing shorts and a singlet because of the heat. I couldn't reapply sunscreen with the zip ties on. I started to burn in the sun. I started to cry, hysterically. I don't know how long I cried for. I heard a car in the distance. I screamed for help, desperately. Sand flew into my throat. I recognised the car. The parent was a day early. They pulled up, ran to me. I was babbling. I don't know what I was saying. They used a knife to cut the zip ties. It took a while to get the circulation back. I started to calm down. The parent (I'll call her Sam) went to look at the car. She knelt down to look underneath it.
She started to scream.
I know, if she'd been able to, that she would have spared me the knowledge of what happened. I know, if she'd been coherent, that she would have stopped me from looking. But I looked.
I hadn't been able to see the bottom of the car, because of the rise. I hadn't been able to see what happened to my friends.
They were buried in the sand. They had been stabbed, several times, and buried in the sand under the car. Their mouths and noses had been left uncovered. They hadn't been able to scream, because one of the stab wounds had been in the back of the neck. Remember the head-on-a-stick thing from Wolf Creek? That's what happened to them.
They were buried in the sand, and all they could do was breathe. I had heard them, every night. I had listened to them dying while I went to sleep.
That's what gets me, man. That's what keeps me awake. They were fucking silenced. They were so quiet, I didn't know they were still alive.