“I’m bored,” said Jako to Robert. The two boys and Mike were sitting under the giant blue gum tree in the dirt. It was just before lunch and the Retiefs had invited Robert to join them for a midday Sunday roast in the late summer.
Robert Erasmus was taller than Jako, and a birthmark on his lower left leg had earned him the nickname Blotchy. Jako had noticed that he was rather proud of that name. He was known by variations of the name: Blotches; Splodge; Smudge; Streak. Streak he particularly enjoyed.
Robert was fearless and didn’t take trouble from anyone. The one name he resented was ‘Spotted Dick’, and the first– and only - time a boy called him that, Robert buggered him up. That was the last time they called him that, for fear of his wrath.
Robert said: “Let’s go and explore that mountain,” pointing into the distance
“As soon as we’ve finished eating,” Jako said.
Mike nodded in agreement.
At lunch, Anton noticing the boys wolfing down their meal, asked about their plans for the afternoon.
Robert was quick to reply. “We’re going to explore that mountain just outside Scallyclare.”
“Take care. You’re bound to come across snakes,” Anton advised.
After they’d enjoyed roast lamb (two full helpings each), followed it by sherry trifle (two large helpings, again), the three boys set off.
Mike beamed: “This is my first time exploring a mountain.”
“Yeah… ” Robert acknowledged.
The three boys had their work cut out for them in the overgrown tangle of heavy bush.
“Fuck!” Robert cursed. “These black jacks are sticking, like shit to a blanket... ”
Jako explained to Mike, plucking one of the offending objects off his shirt: “Black Jacks are black, about a centimetre long and have little barbs that attach to anything and everything. They’re excellent grabbing a ride on a sheep’s wool.”
Mike started to pluck them off, too.
Robert continued: “They stay stuck there on the sheep, until we take them off.” He chuckled.
Mike lost interest in the black Jacks. It was a never-ending exercise because they were getting into an extra dense thicket of the nasty things.
Robert exclaimed: “Look over there… ”
“I don’t see anything,” Jako said.
Mike, who was quick off the mark, shouted: “I can see it, high up on the ridge – a cave!” Jako saw that Mike was excited. He’d made his first, real discovery.
Jako looked where he was pointing. “Yeah, okay.”
“Oh, fuck,” mouthed Jako. He had been leading when the boys arrived at sheer cliff about a 10m high. It was hidden from sight by the more than head high, thick undergrowth.
Robert said: “It looks like there was no way around it. Damn this bush!”
Jako was determined to reach the cave. “Let’s go this way.” He signalled to the left. “I think I can get through this… ” Suddenly, he was confronted by bush that seemed to have a mind of its own. It snarled him.
“Fuck! Hold this.. ” Jako held some scrub that was blocking his way through. “I can see a clearing through there...”
Robert said: “Yeah, I can see it.”
Jako reached the cave first. “It’s really dark in there.”
Robert jostled him aside. “I’ll keep my eyes tightly closed to get them used to the darkness.”
After a minute, he went inside through the narrow entrance.
Jako heard: “Shit!” from the cave.
Alarmed, Jako said: “I’m going in. Mike, wait here.” He squeezed inside. Not having used the closed-eye trick, he was not ready for the inky blackness.
Jako heard Robert say: “I nearly slipped in this bat shit.”
“Shoo, I was worried. We should have brought a torch with us. You can come in now, Mike.”
A dull glow emanating from the roof of the cave dimly lit the interior. It was a couple of minutes until the boys had adjusted to the darkness.
Jako said: “It stinks like what it... ”
Then Jako and Mike heard Robert slip. The two boys heard him go down hard, and then they heard a scary thud. The strike loosened a precariously balanced rock on the ledge high above Robert.
Jako heard the heavy tone crash with a strike that was accompanied by a terrifying crunching sound. “Are you okay, Mike and Robert?”
Mike was the only one to answer with a fearful: “Yes.”
Jako heard nothing. He went to feel for Robert. He found him, but it seemed as if he had been knocked out.
“Fuck! I need help, Mike.”
He could only hear Mike say: “I’m here.”
The two boys battled to push Robert into the late afternoon sunlight. They struggled through the tight, overgrown opening and were immediately blinded by the bright sunlight. They had to close their eyes until they had adjusted to the vivid light.
Then they opened them. Jako and Mike screamed, seeing what had happened to Robert. His lifeless body was staring back at them through the bloody mess that was his skull.
“Oh, fuck, fuck...”, Jako shouted. He didn’t know what to do.
Mike wept at the terrifying sight.
Jako asserted: “We’ll have to carry Robert home.” He looked at Robert’s sightless eyes. He gingerly reached to close them, but he couldn’t do it. Jako looked at Mike helplessly, and looked back at Robert’s eyes.
“Fuck, I must do it.” He reached and felt the blood on the ruptured skull, and squeamishly closed Robert’s view of the world.
“Let’s do it,” Jako tearfully said to Mike. Grabbing Robert’s lifeless body under his arms, and urging Mike to hold the legs, they made their way through the snarl of bush down the mountain.
They had been headed home, but Jako decided to go first to the Erasmuses. They were frankly scared shitless of the reception from the parents that was waiting for them. When they got into Scallyclare, Robert’s bloodied body drew enquiring looks and gasps from whoever they passed.
When they approached Robert’s parent’s home, the maidservant saw them from the kitchen first. She rushed out to see what happened to the child who she knew so well, and she immediately collapsed at the sight of his dead body. The commotion drew the parents.
Mr Erasmus was at the door and exclaimed: “What’s that?”
A tearful Jako stammered: “Look...” He didn’t know what words to use.
Mr Erasmus saw what he carried into the garden, and in a mix of shock and grief, bent down and held the bloodied body and wept. As she saw the corpse, Robert’s Mum broke down, too.
When they reached their home, a tearful Jako broke the tragic news to his parents, who were enjoying a drink. Jako said: “Robert was killed.”
The reaction was immediate.
The funeral was attended by the whole family, including three-year-old Kate-Emily.
Jako realised that Kate-Emily didn’t understand: “Why are they burying Robert? Is he going to be all right?” she asked.