Not Far From Bells

In lockdown a van parked for days at the edge of the car park near the river flat might have raised suspicions. But everyone along that coast knew the converted school bus and its paintwork – a patchwork, in psychedelic fonts, of the names of surf towns and breaks around the country. The couple who drove it were locals in a way most travellers could never be. Everything was strange at that time. Their untended van seemed just another layer of weird.

The surf continued rolling in as if nothing had changed. The world, being indifferent to a little suffering among a single species, turned the sun as always, and churned swells near its southern axis. They built and rolled up along the west coast of Tasmania, took a turn across the Strait and looked to hit the continent with as much force as could be mustered.

Self-isolated by nature, Frizz and Rae wondered how they’d been the ones selected. Maybe it had been that single trip to town to sort out the bank’s misunderstanding of the loan on the van. Whatever, they’d felt the change coming after a morning at deserted Winkipop (clean, 3-metres, and cold as ice). They had embraced in the saltspray beneath their canvas annexe, arms turning to wings entwined. When they disentangled the alteration was complete, and there would be no return to what they once had been.

This came when the virus, having reared once and then been all-but sent packing, returned a much angrier and more determined thing. It was known, by those who rode the southern breaks, that in any decent set the first wave was unlikely to be the largest. So it proved with the corella virus, which came the second time as a rolling giant, fuming whitewater in its wake.

By the time authorities investigated the empty van, an void had been formed by the flattening and bending of a thick patch of spinifex beside one tyre. For someone who knew what to look for it was the only sign of the van’s owners. Across the ocean road, and out beyond the point, a pair of petrels skimmed the roiling water, riding updrafts that ran ahead of waves Rae and Frizz would have happily waited years to ride.

– Richard Holt –

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