MAN DIES FROM SNAKE BITE
Harry "Stretch" Jones, aged 70, died in Cairns Base Hospital late yesterday after being airlifted from the isolated "Pack Horse" station. Initial reports indicate that he was bitten by a taipan and lost consciousness whilst trying to crawl for help. Mr. Jones was a well known identity on Cape York Peninsula having worked as a fencer on remote properties for the past forty years. He never married.
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The Mighty Mitchell River barely trickled over the green-slime rocks. Harry "Stretch" Jones carefully reeled in his line. In a month, the rains would surge the river into life delivering delicious, sweet Barramundi. Today however, it was the end of the dry season and there were only bland, black bream to be caught. Harry also kept a wary eye out for the crocodiles that might be baking in the midday sun further downstream.
In his younger days Harry had been tall, earning him the nickname "Stretch". Sixty years of living had left him with a round-shouldered stoop, leathery, sun-pocked skin and greying beard. His arms though, remained as sinewy as they had been in his youth. Repairing fences had kept him fit and lean. He stood slowly from the parched earth where he had been sitting and prepared to gut the measly specimen that would be dinner for himself and Blue, his cattle dog. He had run out of salt beef a week ago and he had at least two days of fences to be checked before he reached the next station. Harry didn't mind. Food as a culinary event had never mattered to him.
As a child, Harry could remember swimming in this part of the river, the white, Y-fronted bodies of himself and his three brothers standing insignificant and colourless against the naked, black, shiny skin of the Aboriginal children who lived in a camp at the edge of the property. The white property owners and workers never mixed with the Aborigines as a rule. In summer, this shallow neck of river was the safest place to avoid crocodiles. Only at these times, united in a desire to relieve the oppressive heat, did the children splash and laugh and run together in singular oblivion. There had always been one girl a few years older than him who dived deeper, swam faster, than any other child, black or white. Okaykanb's slender, nude form was a source of wonder for them all.
It was over in a moment. Harry reached for his fishing knife. A whip of red-eye light sprung from the ground. A sharp stab in his ankle. The deadly, rectangular head was unmistakable. He stood transfixed, waiting for the snake to characteristically slither away but it didn't. It merely slid a few metres, then remained with head raised, staring at Harry. Blue had heard his master cry out and now sat meekly beside him, observing the predator as though mesmerised.
"Fuck!" muttered Harry. "I'm done like a dinner old boy. Done like a dinner."
Harry knew not to move. He sat on the ground, his audience of two calmly watching as he ripped his shirt to shreds and splinted his lower leg. He felt breathless and dizzy. Searing, ochre heat from the sun stung his eyes as he tried to focus. By staying still he could survive for eight hours. No-one would find him here though. His only chance was to crawl the mile or so back to his truck and call for help on the radio telephone. Harry rolled onto his stomach. Already blades of yellow grass cut his bare chest. Slowly, he began his journey, hands clutching the earth. His leg trailed stiffly behind him as he tried not to imagine the poison fighting to rush through his lymph system like the Mighty Mitchell in summer.
Blue ambled beside him, sometimes whimpering, sometimes licking his face. And ahead, always just ahead, he could see the snake, its body shimmering a myriad of colours, forging an iridescent trail in the dust.
As his strength waned, it seemed to Harry that the snake changed shape and there before him was a girl on a horse. He recognised her immediately, the dark-skinned girl on an equally black horse, mustering with the men. The Aboriginal men who lived on the edge of the properties would help muster in return for tobacco, beef and sugar. They were spectacular stockmen, riding behind the white men, yet always the first to reach a rogue bull. The girl was Okaykanb, but the ringers abbreviated her name to Okay whenever Harry happened to overhear their crude fantasies.
When the men were mustering close enough to the homestead to return by nightfall, Harry was allowed to accompany them in their frenzied, manic world of ropes and hooves and horns. At some point, Okay started to join them. Unlike Harry, she even went on overnight camps. A woman mustering was virtually unheard of. An Aboriginal girl mustering was considered an abomination. Nonetheless, Harry could remember his stern-faced, weathered father, as head stockman, telling the ringers that this was how it would be. He distinctly recalled the bewildered looks of lust, disgust and admiration on the men's faces when they first saw her flying towards a cleanskin bull, at one with the wind, the horse and nature.
Over the years, Harry admired Okay from afar, as one might do with a precious opal. Her limbs became long and supple. She rode a horse like it was an extension of herself. Not once did she ever shirk from throwing a bull or riding into the rubber vines where men and horses could strangle and die. Harry could remember with a mixture of shame and arousal the first time they touched. He had just turned fifteen. At the end of what had been a long, difficult day, they were finally rounding the cattle into the yards. His father always became anxious at these times, yelling instructions that often became lost amid the "whoops" of the ringers and bellowing cattle.
Harry had swung his horse quickly to the left in response to one of his father's cries. A Brahman bull had escaped. The rest of the mob would scatter if he didn't round them up in seconds. When he looked up, he saw that the ringers had herded the cattle through a different gate and his father had poised his gun ready to shoot the rogue bull. In a swift stroke of anger and fear of what might have been, his father had ridden up beside him, delivering a single, clean punch to the jaw that sent him headfirst onto the unforgiving ground.
The sounds of tired men and confused cattle faded in the background as Harry crouched, salt taste of blood trickling down his throat. Eventually, he became aware of a presence kneeling beside him. He almost couldn't swallow. A cow dung and sweat musk mingled with something resembling honeycomb emanated from Okay's skin. She drew in closer, reached her hand to touch his head. Instinctively, Harry pulled away but her body wafted reflexively with his, until he had no choice but to look at her. Her shadow enveloped him, all sleek and black and pearl-white teeth. Harry had simply held his mouth half open, while she manipulated her softly insistent lips against his with healing breath, transforming blood-dirt taste into bush lemon tang. Hard nipples pierced through her stockman's shirt, a combined pulsing of chest on chest that rippled through his heart, his head, his cock.
From the neck upwards, they moved in unison, his pale, cracked lips alternating between quiet courtesy and demanding roughness. From the neck downwards they were a fused statue, revelling in the combustion of the moment. The earlier pain and shame became non-existent until Harry felt a liquid burning in his cock that could not be stopped, his taut body jerking uncontrollably against Okay's motionless form. At the same time, he saw his father riding towards them, shouting in fury. Okay immediately leapt away, running from the whip his father promised to crack across her back. Harry would never forget his father's eyes of thunder. The look was beyond anger. It was the threatening, jealous look of one man to another, not an exchange between father and son. That day, Harry discovered manhood, ejaculate spreading across the crotch of his pants, with the realisation that Okay was his father's whore.
Harry curses his foolishness as his strength wanes and he can no longer crawl. All these years as a bushman and he did not think to fill his water bottle prior to beginning this lonely journey for survival. Even Blue is panting. There is no spittle left in Harry's thirsty mouth. His throat constricts. The snake, which had remained just ahead of him for so long, has crawled back to within arm's length. The felon and the fallen. Quiet standoff. No desire for revenge. Just a silent, simmering rancour. Not unlike his relationship with his father.
Harry seethed under the weight of this knowledge which explained his mother's sobbing when she thought everyone asleep. At sixteen, he permanently joined the ringers, crossing the swollen Mitchell in the wet season, eating maggot-ridden bully beef at remote outstations during the dry. Throughout there had always been Okay, remaining aloof from them all, eating alone after she cooked their evening meal on the campfire. His father always retired first, camping far away from the ringers who preferred to keep their swags close together. Bush tales of hungry crocodiles, dingoes and bunyips managed to penetrate the dreams of even the toughest men.
With the impetuosity of youth, Harry had followed his father on a night when the full moon allowed men to see so clearly that dark shapes held no fear. Okay lay sleeping on top of his father's swag, her perfection kissed by the moon's silver trinkets. She stirred and stretched as she heard the twigs snapping under the torment of his father's boots. With practiced precision, she stood and began to unbuckle his pants, staring over his shoulder at the Southern Cross, yet never faltering in her movements. When his father's manhood was exposed, she had lain on the ground with legs spread high in the air. Harry crept close enough to be able to admire the matted, dark thatch which framed her protruding pussy lips. It seemed that they begged to be tugged and fondled and licked. His father towered above her, pointing his still flaccid cock towards that wiry patch of hair which protected her womanhood.
"Get your fingers in that quim and spread it. I've told you before that I don't want any bastard offspring damaging my hole."
Harry imagined he saw a stray tear escape before Okay compliantly pulled her pussy lips apart and his father began to jet a steady stream of yellow piss at the entrance. Harry had time to contemplate a number of scenarios. He could reveal himself and confront his father. He could hit his father over the head with a branch and ride away with Okay on one of the horses. Instead, he stood frozen and watched his father provide crude contraception for the girl who no longer splashed naked and free in the Mighty Mitchell.
When his father was spent, Okay automatically returned to the swag, crouching on her hands and knees. From this angle, her pussy lips hung even more temptingly. His father fell onto the ground behind her, slapping her on the ass until she had adjusted to a position where his now thick, purple cock was directly pointed at her opening. There was no sign of movement from Okay except her hands grasping a bunch of dead leaves as his father dug his filthy, ragged nails into her hips and plunged forward.
Harry winced as his father's face turned beet from exertion. Droplets of his sweat glistened on Okay's back as his cock appeared to swell with each boorish stroke. He could almost sense the stinging sensation that must surely accompany the nightly ritual of having a huge cock punish an unprepared, piss-filled pussy. His father's hands moved to roughly grab at her tits that had started to sag slightly from years of riding horses without the benefits of corsetry. In a final series of thrusts, his father had forced Okay prostrate beneath him, grunting his seed high into her unsatisfied womb. For the second time in his life, Harry felt the shame of juvenile ejaculate spreading through his pants.
Afterwards, his father had rolled onto his back, fumbling in his pack for some tobacco. To Harry's surprise, Okay had lain there beside him, sharing a smoke, both content in separate contemplation. It was one of those painful lessons in contradiction which Harry knew was part of becoming a man. The hatred he expected to see in Okay's eyes simply wasn't there. It reminded him of an incident earlier in the year when his father had been about to shoot a calf whose mother had died. He had never been fond of raising poddy calves, deeming them a waste of time and energy. Uncharacteristically, because she never spoke in front of the ringers, Okay had pleaded for the calf to be spared. The bony, dehydrated creature had continued to stagger round the yards, moaning listlessly for its mother, unaware that its fate lay in the hands of a girl who had no right to ask.
The softness which creased his father's face had been a surprise to Harry. The other ringers had looked away, some spitting in the dirt, others busying themselves with rolling their tobacco. Eventually, the calf was taken to the homestead to be bottle-fed by Harry and his mother. Some nights, even his father had risen to check on the calf when its mournful cries demanded attention. Once the shabby beast was strong enough, it was sent to the Aboriginal camp. Okay had called it Arrngg, meaning child.
Harry reaches out to pat the snake. There is a sense of resolution now. It is his saviour, here to deliver him from guilt. The snake comes closer so he can weakly trace the spectrum of colour that weaves along its body. It is the rainbow. The rainbow that Okay gave to him.
On his eighteenth birthday, while his mother and women from neighbouring stations gossiped and baked, Harry had gone to the Aboriginal camp to visit Arrngg as he often did. He actually enjoyed the calf and it was a safe pretext to observe Okay. She loved to look after the babies or wander off alone to search for berries. Sometimes he would accompany her on these walks, always maintaining a respectful distance, even as his breathing sometimes became so laboured with desire that he could not continue a conversation.
On this particular day, gentle sun shower caressing their skin, they had walked to an enclosure near the camp lagoon to see some orphaned piglets. The tiny, squealing creatures kept sliding through Harry's hands after gnawing him with their needle-point teeth. They laughed together as they chased the elusive, surprisingly agile animals around the pen, falling in the slippery muck during their efforts. When she caught one, Okay would rub her nose against the piglet's snout and Harry wondered at his ability to be jealous of an animal that liked to roll in mud.
They had run to the lagoon afterwards, discarding their clothes with careless abandon. They were children again, diving into the murky, brown depths then emerging with a joyful roar. He swam closer, gulping a mouthful of water which he promptly sprayed over her face, as though he were six years old. She did the same, then swam closer till they were touching. Her lips pressed his, and as he instinctively opened his mouth, she released the water, causing him to rasp and choke, even as his body stiffened at her close proximity. He recovered and placed his arms tightly around her back, revelling in the rapture of feeling a naked woman against him for the first time. Their legs wove together under the water as they sought to stay afloat. His pubic hair matted with hers, his cock bobbing against her stomach. Okay smiled and laughed amidst the flurry of kisses he directed at every part of her face. He wanted to leave no part of her untouched, unvenerated, unloved.
They had paddled together, a tangled raft of hair and limbs and throbbing organs until their feet sank in the muddy shallows. They drenched their bodies onto the bank, still locked together, stumbling crab-like towards the trees. Neither was willing to break the embrace. Eventually, Harry pulled away. He cautiously lifted Okay onto a smooth, flattened stump. She looked simultaneously regal and contrite as she sat expectantly on the makeshift throne.
Harry knew nothing of women except campfire tales from the ringers. He relied on pure intuition as he knelt at her feet and began his slow worship, sipping the droplets of rainwater that speckled her ankles, her calves, her thighs. He continued upwards till her reached her breasts. Up close, her areolae were a patchwork of browns, perching unsteadily on her narrow chest. He sucked on each of them, marvelling at the rough creases that greeted his tongue as they puckered to attention.
It was Okay who placed pressure on his shoulders and forced him to move his face downwards. He used his tongue to part the mattress of hair on her pubis, intrepidly exploring the juicy, pink interior he had admired from afar. Okay had clasped his arms for support and leaned backwards, guiding his inexperienced mouth to her neglected core. His hands roamed from her bony, swaying hips to the top of her spine, revelling in the tingle of quivering flesh. Her body went rigid as a river gum when she peaked, a long hiss of air emerging from her throat.
When her body finally relaxed, he stood and gently spread her pussy lips with his fingers, honouring the tiny hole that would soon be split by his cock. He imagined the wonder of it stretching, stretching as the crown of a baby's head emerged. Her baby. His baby.
"Okaykanb," he whispered.
His cock squelched into her slippery, well-used pussy with ease. He could not compete with his father's impressive dimensions but the walls of her hole contracted sufficiently to clamp his meagre offering. Okay arched back and forth with him, patient in the face of his inability to set a steady rhythm. A blanket of humidity followed the rain. Harry's balls boiled in the scalding sun. In spite of his fumbled ineptitude, Okay once again turned still, her slow hiss drowned out by his own triumphant groan.
There were hundreds of prisms reflecting and refracting before his eyes. The violets, pinks, blues, greens merged together till there was no world. Just him. Just Okay.
After a long time, he recovered enough to focus on the horizon. Just beyond the lagoon was a perfect rainbow.
"I am Okaykanb," she had smiled when he pointed to it. "I am Rainbow Snake."
The following morning, Harry had intended to visit the camp, taking a slice of his leftover birthday cake to Okay. He could hear his father engaged in frantic conversation with the ringers as he headed for the horse paddock. His father followed.
"I'll join you," he said.
At the Aboriginal camp, everything was abandoned. Only Arrngg remained, forlornly fossicking amidst the charcoal remains of cooking fires.
"Been taken to the Missions son. Government orders."
Harry wept inside as they silently rode back to the homestead, herding Arrngg in front. He had treated Okay like his father, like other men, as a mere receptacle for carnal lust. He had not told her he loved her. He had not asked if she liked the rain. He had not taken her to search for gold at the end of the rainbow. He should have been a better man.
Afterwards, mustering had held no appeal for Harry. He had liked the solitude of repairing fences, the lack of necessity to hide his tears on moonlit nights.
The ringer who found Harry was initially attracted by Blue whimpering loyally beside him. An ominous murder of crows hovered in the trees above but surprisingly, they had not ventured near the corpse. Harry's sunburnt face was relaxed in a permanent smile of contentment. For a mere second, the ringer glimpsed a sleek, black shape before it rustled into the grass and disappeared.