Story I just wrote for an Australian friend (or her daughter) in The Amalgamated Aggromulator

  • Sept. 9, 2018, 10:36 a.m.
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Using them as a characters. My friend may possibly forgive me. :-) I emailed it to her this morning.


Josie was a little tired of riding in cars, but it was better than Mum talking to her again about not playing with the boards in the woodpile because of the redbacks. She was even more tired of that, because she already knew. That still didn’t mean she wanted to spend all day in the car today, no matter where they were going, but this time Dad only drove a little way down the road. Mum kept asking questions, but he just smiled. After a little while he turned off the main road and drove far into the trees. The hills were tight around them, and the trees were wilder.

“I don’t understand,” Mum said for the ten thousandth time.

“I got it for a song,” Dad said. “It’s a little bigger than our place, but that’s not the craziest thing about it.”

“The craziest thing about it is that we already have a place,” Mum said.

Dad stopped the car. “Look, if it’s not true I can just give it back,” he said. “But let’s find out.” He opened his door, and the fine fresh morning air of the hills entered the car.

Josie bounced in her seat. “Want to get out!” she said.

“Course you can get out,” Mum said. She got out and walked around to where Josie’s nose was mashed against the window. Dad was already walking forward toward a great flat expanse of rock that stuck up through the branches into the sky. His head was down.

“Who’s Jerry?” Josie said when Mum opened her door.

“He’s just a strange friend who Daddy likes to buy bits of acreage from without telling me,” Mum said. “Daddy’s going to buy Glenelg too. I bet. Next Thursday.”

“Glenelg! Glenelg! Glenelg!” Josie chanted.

“Now I’ve done it,” Mum said.

“Only lease bits of acreage,” Dad said. “Lease lease lease.” Josie could barely see him back behind a small tree with curved, leathery leaves. “I think I found it.”

“Mm hmm,” Mum said. It was a surprisingly angry sort of mm hmm. Mum smiled and said, “Do you know what that bush is, Josie?”

“Is it a pomegranate?” Josie asked.

“No! It’s a wattle. I think.”

“I think we should get a pomegranate,” Josie said.

“Here it is,” Dad’s voice said. “Wait, this is funny. Um.”

And then there was a very quiet, even hum.

Josie looked around for where it was coming from. She couldn’t see anything. And then she saw that, behind Mum, the rock face had begun to swing outward.

“Mum,” Josie said. “Move.”

“What?” Mum said, and then she yipped loudly and scampered over by Josie.

The rectangle was moving slowly, slowly, slowly. It was four times taller than the car, and it looked like rugged stone across the outside, but the straight edge that was emerging was gleaming steel. Josie thought it was like a door, except the steel at the edge just kept coming out instead of showing what was behind the rectangle.

“I don’t believe it,” Dad said beside Mum.

The rectangle swung further and further out, and then there was finally a crack of dark behind the steel. It really was a door, but the edge of the door was wider than a refrigerator – wider than two refrigerators – wider than three. The giant door swung out and out until it pointed at Mum and Josie. And then it stopped. There was a huge black hole in the cliff.

“Let’s let it air out,” Dad said.

“Let’s let what air out?” Mum said. She sounded like she needed to breathe more.

“You know, that shouldn’t have worked,” Dad said. “If what Jerry told me is right, this place has been abandoned for forty years. Fifty.”

“What place???” Mum said sort of through her teeth.

“I don’t know, Angie! Jerry just said it used to be government. He had an old yellow bit of paper saying there was a special key of some sort under a special rock – that was what I was looking for, it turned out to be a green crank thing, not a proper key. But I think he thought there was just an old Quonset hut or something up here! Not this. Josie, stay back from there a bit.”

Josie could see her reflection in the giant edge of the door. It looked a little ripply, like she was under water. She scrinched her fingers and made a scary face.

“You want to go in, I suppose,” Mum was saying loudly.

Dad didn’t answer.

“Well, we’re not taking Josie in there,” Mum said. “We can go back and leave her with Eileen.”

Dad appeared beside Josie in the reflection. “No, I don’t think we can.”

“Why not?”

“Well, we don’t know anything about this place,” Dad said. “What if we leave Josie off with Eileen and then we go in . . . and the door closes? And we just never, ever come back, and we’re just gone? That can’t happen. We can’t do that to Josie.”

“So this is why you want to take her in there with us?”

“Well, yeah. – Get off. What are you doing?”

“I’m looking for the lobotomy scar. We can tell Eileen where we’re going so people can look if – you don’t want to tell anyone, do you.”

Dad looked into the dark, and back to Mum, and then back into the dark. “This is our secret,” he said. “No one knows this is here. There isn’t supposed to be anything here. No. I –” Josie saw him swallow. “I want to keep this our secret. Just a little bit longer.”

Mum was quiet a long time, and Josie watched her walk around in a little circle like a chicken. But when she looked at the black rectangle of darkness her expression was very much like Dad’s. “I am out of my mind,” she said. “Do we need torches?”

“I didn’t bring any,” Dad said. “But I think . . . is that . . .” He stepped into the darkness.

“Dad!” Josie yelled.

There was a loud clack, and Dad was standing there about five meters in, against one wall of a gray tunnel that was mostly round, not rectangular, with little blue lights spaced along the roof as it receded into the distance.

“I told you it shouldn’t have worked,” Dad said. “The key shouldn’t have. There’s still power.”

Their footsteps echoed up and down the tube back toward the open door and ahead of them, and when the footsteps came back they sounded like oom oom oom.

Dad had stopped and looked at the gears and rods that covered the whole back of the door, and he had taken hold of a couple of hand wheels and had turned them back and forth, and he had found that only a little push could start it slowly swinging. “We could let ourselves right out if this closed,” he said finally. There was a little more talking between Mum and Dad that did not sound very happy, but finally they had started.

Dad had wanted to drive the car in, but Mum had Put Her Foot Down. “Are you trying to do a Marie Celeste?” So they had to walk. Josie thought doing a Marie Celeste sounded fun, like a princess thing to do, but when she asked Mum if she could do a Marie Celeste Mum just bared her teeth and looked back over her shoulder toward the entrance.

Dad was mumbling. “This is wrong,” he kept saying.

Mum said something with rude words that was lost in the oom oom echoes.

“No, this is wrong. You saw that door? But this is all sedimentary rock. All around here. This is old ooze, it’s –” Dad said a rude word. “Basically.”


“So if you’re going to build something like this, you drill it into granite. This is like doing it in a mud pie.”

Josie heard their footsteps stop behind her. Mum said, “So this is what? Sandstone?” There was a slapping noise of a hand on the wall.

Dad sounded puzzled. “Right, it doesn’t look like sandstone. I don’t know –“

“Wait. Build something like what? – Josie!”

Josie was running ahead. “Look!” she cried. “It’s a magic cave!”

The string of blue lights had ended in a tremendous bowl of space that swelled out and out into a gloom. “It’s bigger than my school!” Josie yelled. The tunnel let out into a broad rectangle of carpark that the cavern made look tiny. There was a cluster of normal white lights at the far end in a group of square rooms cut into the far side, including one that was raised up and jutted out under the roof like a box. The main cavern was dimly outlined by smaller white lights and more blue ones. It was broken up into several different levels linked by ramps and short flights of steps.

Standing up here and there were big cubes of buildings, two and three stories high, and even they looked small. Each was standing up on something hard to see.

“ECHO!” Josie shouted. Parts of it came back, scrambled.

She heard her parents trotting up behind her. “Oh, I do not believe it,” Dad said. “I do not believe it at all.”

“What is this?” Mum said.

Dad ran past Josie and and down a short ramp toward the nearest cube with three levels of windows. “Do you see this?”

“What, Dad?” Josie asked. She followed him, her mother at her side.

Dad was standing beside the curving shape of a gigantic spring. It was as big around as he was. A row of identical springs was behind it. Above them, the square block of a building bulked. It was standing on top of the springs. “I know what this is,” Dad said.

“A bouncy castle?” Josie said.

Dad laughed, and it went on a little too long. “It would be,” he said. “This is mad.” He set off toward the cluster of white lights at the far end. Mum hustled after him.

Josie dawdled a little, running up one ramp and down some steps, making a slower journey across the cavern. Benches and chairs could be found here and there. Her path took her past two more of the cubical buildings, and both of them stood on a square made up of the huge dark springs. One of them was next to the curving wall, and it had more giant springs on that side that connected it to the rock.

“This wouldn’t be here!” her dad cried in frustration. “It’s in the wrong place. And they wouldn’t lose the place like an old sock.”

Mum said something that sounded like she was talking to Josie when Josie wouldn’t go to sleep.

“This should be in Canberra,” Dad said. “Not even in Canberra.”

Josie ran up the last ramp to where her parents were standing on the verge of the open-sided room at the wall. The room was full of desks, and a woman’s face was painted on the far wall.

Where the cavern ended and the room began the floor became tile, and there was a circular symbol worked into the tile. They were staring at it.

Words went round the edge of the symbol. “What’s it say?” Josie asked.

Her mother read it aloud.


“What is this doing here?” Dad ran his hands over his head. “No one would put it here. This is nowhere.”

“Maybe no one would send a missile to nowhere,” Mum said.

“No one was going to send a missile here at all! Not to Adelaide. Not anywhere. I can’t believe they even built this place. Look at those springs – this isn’t just a fallout shelter. And if they built this place –“

“I’ve got a better question.”

“What?” Dad moved forward into the white glow of the office space.

“What’s she doing here?” Mum pointed at the face painted on the back wall.

“That’s the queen.” Dad was moving among the desks. Some of them had papers stacked on them. There were teacups.

“Dan. That’s the wrong queen.”

“What?” He looked distractedly where she was pointing.

“It was Queen Elizabeth in 1960.”

“Right.” He picked up a sheaf of papers. Mum made a “grrrhhh” noise and went to join him.

“Who’s that, Mummy?” Josie asked, hurrying beside her.

“Oh my God.” Dad was staring at a binder in his hand. His face slowly spread in a huge grin.


“Did you see a power line out front?” he said.

“What? No. Going out here? No.”

“So I wondered where the electricity could be coming from.” He handed the folder to Mum. She looked at the cover for a moment.

Then the conversation got very loud indeed, and Josie scampered away to look at more of the great cavern.

“Mummy, we can PAINT it!” Josie was very excited now, running back and forth through the ramps and plateau. She had it all planned out now. Every one of the buildings on springs would be its own solid color. And they could paint all the handrails colors that went together, like purple and green or blue and orange.

Mum and Dad wouldn’t listen. Dad had kept repeating the same things for what seemed like half an hour – that if the plutonium was inside the round ceramic pellets it couldn’t leak. “The pellet bed only gets hot enough to run the generator,” he had kept repeating. “There are no control rods or anything. The pellets are harder than stone. Harder than steel. Safe as houses.” Mum had eventually started saying just “yup”, “yup”.

Finally Mum came over to where Josie was planning a hopscotch arena. “Josie,” she said very, very brightly, “Let’s do some exploring, okay? Daddy’s busy.”


Josie was going to show Mummy all the levels of the cavern that Mummy hadn’t bothered with, but Mummy led her toward a dark door in the wall a quarter of the way around the great bowl of the cavern. Mummy’s lips were set in a thin line. Behind them, they heard Daddy’s voice rise momentarily in frustration: “But I didn’t even think they had radioisotope thermoelectric systems back then.”

Mummy mumbled something about Victoria either. “What do you think is this way, Josie?” she asked.

“Secrets! Secrets! Secrets!” Josie chanted.

The door was small, and it seemed to get even smaller as they made their way toward it. It was regular size, and regular shape, and it stood wide open. Josie looked inside. There were three stacks of ancient cardboard boxes, and half of the furthest stack had collapsed and spilled papers across the narrow corridor that ran away to the left. A row of bare yellow light bulbs protruded from the wall, far apart. From somewhere, there was the sound of running water.

Josie was suddenly a little nervous. It was dimmer in here, and closed in, and Dad seemed very far away. “Mummy, can we go in here?” she asked.

“Just a little, Josie. Be careful where you step.”

Josie thought she would perhaps have preferred it if Mum had said no, and she wanted to go back and hang behind her mother’s knees, but she made herself lead the way into the dimness. The light bulbs were not very bright at all. There were no more boxes in the corridor. There was only the sound of their footsteps.

The sound of water got louder.

After a while it looked like there was a door coming up on the right. The door looked different, and as Josie got closer she could see that it was not rectangular like the other one. It was just an arch, and there was no door set into it. A different, blue light glowed from within.

She peeked round the corner. The blue light was high up on one wall, set into a little cage.

“Oh,” she said. “Mummy!”

There was a river in the room.

It came in through one great circular hole in the gray wall, and then it crossed the room and left through another. The long room was barely as deep as Josie’s living room, but there was a short slope of sand leading up out of the water.

And on the sand, there were two boats.

Josie felt Mum stop beside her.

The boats were very long and thin and black. They slanted sharply along the shore, and were tied up to dark iron loops that protruded from the concrete just where the sand gave way to flooring. The boats curved up sharply at the prow and the stern.

Lying along the top of each boat was a very long black pole.

The circular hole where the river came in was edged with a fresco of red and white. The hole where it went out was edged with blue and white. It was hard to tell, but the opening did not seem to be completely dark inside.

And, as she looked at it, Josie heard the faint sound of birdsong.

“Right,” said Mum.

Josie looked up at her mother. Mum was nodding slightly, looking at the boats. There was a note of decision in her voice.

“Right, right,” said Mum again.

When Mum and Josie rejoined Dad, Mum did not say anything about the boats or the river, and neither did Josie, because Mum had told her not to. Mum had closed the little door on the far side of the cavern. Mum told Dad that this was all very interesting but Josie was getting hungry, and, for that matter, so was she. Dad hesitated, but Josie could tell it was about time for him too.

Back home, Mum said she wasn’t too interested in interfering with some government facility. Dad couldn’t be sure it had even really been forgotten, she pointed out, and, never mind that he had leased the surface land himself, there might be some sort of criminal penalties for trespassing. Dad had looked astonished at this, but he had to admit that he didn’t know she was wrong.

Dad did not drop the subject at first, so Mum began talking about how he could use the place to park a vehicle, and maybe some tools, and over the next couple of days she laid out a list of tools that would make sense to move into the cavern, and she made a couple of diagrams of shelves he could perhaps build in the corridor with the blue lights, with lists of lumber, and as it turned out Dad did move some boxes over there, but very soon the light of interest died out of his eyes and he began avoiding the topic whenever Mum brought it up, at which point she stopped soon after.

Josie thought sometimes about the strange long boats that rose so high in the front, but there are a lot of things to occupy a little girl’s time. There were books, and there were the endless places Mum and Dad kept taking her around Adelaide, and once they took three days and went out to the Coorong and she scared up four flounders by shuffling her feet through the shallows. There was school. And there was the back yard, which was a wonderful yard for a child. There were the fruit trees, with a pomegranate bush in the offing, and sometimes there were surprising animals. And there was the woodpile, but Josie did not go poking into that when she was by herself, because, like her mother, she knew exactly how far to go.

Last updated September 09, 2018

Deleted user September 09, 2018

Interesting. Well written.

Flugendorf Deleted user ⋅ September 09, 2018

Thank you. :-)

Deleted user Flugendorf ⋅ September 10, 2018

But I wanted more of the story :-)

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