The MacGuire Faerie

© 2007 Jeff Lynch



Ray Charles was wringing out “I can’t stop loving you’ on the car radio and he was singing along to it to help keep him awake. The rain did it’s own imitation of buckets of water washing across the windscreen of his new Morris 1100, as it tore though the countryside on the wintry evening between Rutherglen and Corowa. He was singing along with Charles, but he did not really feel like singing. His heart was as they say somewhere else and he sung automatically. It also sounded a little lost and lonely. It was now 1965 and he had keened to this tune of Ray Charles’, from the moment it came out two years ago. It was a woman who had caused the attachment to the song of course. In the passing of those years, the ache had become just a bit duller, but the song still wound him up every time. It had even more power to move him, when was driving a car. He had been at Corowa and he was returning to Yarrawonga and he had about twenty eight miles to go now. A seminar at Corowa had kept him there a little late in the day, and he was trying to make up time on the road, but the heavy rain wasn’t helping a lot.

Coming around the bend he saw the old house once again. He had of course passed it on his way over to Corowa, and he had known the house since he was a boy. The house was, as everybody knew only too well, abandoned. It had been abandoned even when he was a child. And it was haunted too as well. The rain sloshed over the windscreen even more heavily as he turned partly into the wind as he took the corner and he slowed the car. Just then he saw a light. The light appeared to come from the famous house which was set back from the road in the English or European manner. The mansion had obviously been a grand place back in it’s heyday and was probably once part of a vineyard complex. But something had gone wrong I suppose. He blinked through the lashing rain and the overloaded windscreen. He must have been mistaken he thought for there had been no occupier in this house for donkeys years. It was legend and it was myth that that was so. He continued to slow the car to follow up his first glimpse of the light. The trees that crowded the front of the old house, made it difficult to get a proper sighting of the gloomy old mansion. For mansion it had indeed been at one time. And then he was sure of it. There was a light. And yes it was definitely shining from the house itself.

He pulled the 1100 off the road uncertain just what to do next. He thought that he might have a closer look but he was not sure how to get into the driveway of the old place. Besides he couldn’t see more than about forty feet in front of him between the slashing rain and the gloom of the night. He hesitated for quite a long time in his dilemma. Perhaps he shouldn’t interfere and in any case, what did it matter to him or the world if somebody or other was squatting in the crumbling old joint? But his race memory of this old place was too great to ignore the light, and suddenly he knew he was going to get in closer to the light. Moths do anyway don’t they? He backed the 110 up, in order to shine the lights across the road channel and he thought that he could see the small bridge which would take him across the ditch. Perhaps this would lead him to the entrance of the old driveway, but he could not be at certain in the dark. He drove forward now at a very slow pace now. The car bumped along the verge and he could see the road channel clearly and finally he picked up the crossing towards the house. And then in the lights turned up to full beam he could now make out the gateway to the ancient house. The gates were intact, strangely enough. You would have thought that marauding farmers in their normal greedy mode would have long since taken them. But there they were in the stark beam of light, barring entrance to any vehicle at all.

He was now too close to the large clumps of trees which fringed the place, to see the light now. He could see nothing at all out there, beyond the beams of the car lights, which were starkly and shockingly piercing the dark of the night. The rain seemed to get heavier now as he climbed out of the car. He didn’t have a coat and the rain sliced across his face. It almost made him give up on the idea of checking things out further towards the house immediately. But still something in him urged him on again. He got back in the car to assess the matter, without getting even wetter. He looked around him and he started up the car and backed in a tight circle, shining his lights along the fence line of the old property. Now he inched the car along the same fence line, bumping across fairly flat ground. He was confident in his driving but it surely was pitch black. He thought that the car would cope with the terrain, as it was only once dry grass on hard ground that he was traversing. He was going at a snail’s pace in any case. The dense line of trees gave way to a small break and he poked the car’s nose in towards this, and at that moment, he caught a glimpse of the building itself standing perhaps some hundred metres away from the line of trees. The headlights also showed that the fence at this point was partly down. He stopped the car. He suddenly remembered that his fiancé had left a torch in the glove box. He retrieved the torch and found that it worked and climbed out into the driving rain. The fence was easy enough to climb through, where a fencepost had given way and then he began to work his way towards the house with the aid of the light from his torch. He looked again for the light up at the house, but could see no direct light shining. He did see what might have been a faint and indirect glimmer of light spilling around one corner and near a veranda.

He moved closer towards what he could now make out as a wide veranda, with a tessellated tile floor in the decorated Italian style. He was quite wet but he kept on moving slowly. The veranda was enough to mark the fact that, this house was once some man’s palace. He rounded the corner still following the veranda and now he saw light spilling out into the dark void. He was startled when glass crackled under his foot. Broken glass he saw, by the torchlight and his next two footsteps crunched again as glass pressed down onto the beautifully patterned tiles. The torchlight picked up the silvered trails, of moonlighting snails out in the wet with no moonlight.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up at what he saw next. The light was coming from a large entertainment room. Maybe you even could call it a small and private ballroom with it’s paneled walls and polished wood floorboards. And people were dancing. People in uniforms and fine frocks were dancing. People in gowns with sparkling necklaces held partners in a fine and graceful manner were dancing. Many of the women’s partners wore the uniform of the second AIF. He was certain about the uniforms, because after art, history was his second love. And the women were arraigned with piled or banged hair and long dresses in the 1940’s styles. Bangs and bobs to go with that please. A fancy dress ball in progress in a deserted house he thought. It made little sense indeed. Strangely he could hear no music, and the gliding forms seemed to be as from a silent movie and he half expected a piano too start up in that old strong left handed on the bass way. He heard nothing at all though, nothing whatsoever. He turned off the torch, so as to be unseen himself and gaped at the silent spectacle before him. For some reason too, he glanced at his watch which told him that it was half past eight.

The scene was definitely a cinematic one. Perhaps in his mind’s eye it was from ‘The Magnificent Andersons’ although he couldn’t say just which scene, or why to save himself. In one of those similar inexplicable ways, he was drawn to one young woman. She seemed to be crying and she was standing aloof. Maybe she had been dancing, for there was a young man in uniform standing not so far from her. Her gown was indeed magnificent, and somehow it seemed to mark her out as the main attraction in the whole room. And then it was almost if he could smell the flower that she wore in her hair. It was the scent of gardenias in his nostrils. The scene before him was now known to him. It was as if he knew precisely what would happen next. And it was as if, he was watching a play. But it was a play that was being enacted for the one and only person left on this earth. As if, it was meant to be for his eyes only. He was suddenly so conscious of being totally alone. He thought that he heard himself scream, and he dropped the torch. He could hardly stand it anymore, and he writhed or began to turn his face away. But he didn’t. He watched petrified, and soaking wet, standing at the edge of the veranda, where the rain still slanted in against him. Just then the young woman’s sexy petal white ball gown, seemed to have blood red stains emanating from her sex down below, and quickly spread outwards until almost three quarters of the loveliest gown in the room was suffused with the rush of the blood colour.

Enough his brain cried, enough. And then he knew that he was screaming, although he surely never heard the sound. And he did mean to turn and run, but before he had the whole scene before his eyes disintegrated with a roar, as if it was disappearing back into his imagination. Where there had been light there was darkness. Where there had been a ballroom lit with gaily dancing figures, there was nothing but a shell of a desolate and blackened house. For he was seeing nothing; there was simply nada And then all before his eyes, past out the reckoning of his powers of recall. Maybe he fainted, or perhaps he simply shut down his consciousness, in that sanity saving manner that most humans possess.

He spoke about his experience when he got back to his fiancé in Yarrawonga. But he knew full well that nothing made sense at all. Sense or not however, he decided to attempt some private research on the subject. The very next Saturday morning, he travelled the 23 miles to Rutherglen. He spoke to the proprietor of the local newspaper, and asked him if the old house which all and sundry in the district knew only too well had a name. And the name was ‘Shangrila’, and soon he found himself looking up old newspaper files next to the printing shop. There was no lack of information about this locally famous building whatsoever. The house had been built in 1902, in response to the building of another mansion only a mile and a half along the road to Corowa. The two house builders were said to be rivalling for the right to house the famous Duke of York from the English Royal family, as his party progressed through North Eastern Victoria whilst touring Australia. He discovered from the files that ‘Shangrila’ had lost this royal gambit to the other mansion. The place was closing up for the weekend, so he reluctantly left, and went back to Yarrawonga.
 


 

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