The evening summer sunlight ran like gold through the tree’s and the bush behind St. Gertrude’s College, shadow crept down the hill before it, and the mercury dropped to 37℃. Sweat, half an hour prior, had ceased dripping from the brim of the broad brown Akubra perched on my dusty head, and the route I sought to the old olive grove had me passing in a northerly direction down a gravel track behind the old white two story monastery. An elderly monk on a yellow quad bike passed me to my left, giving me a smile and a wave as he did so. His heavy Spanish accent trailing a ‘hello’ behind him.
Some five minutes later, walking east now, gravel crunched under my elastic-sided work boots, and I crossed a small bridge. Turning left, back to the north once more, I passed through a gate and moved onto the track heading into the old olive grove. Flies now dissipating, mosquitoes the size of circus tents replaced them, doing their very best to prove their love to me by swarming around my face and neck, kissing me as best they could. As a result, my hands belted out a staccato beat against every part of my bare and exposed skin, as I vainly tried to rid myself of the horrid beasties. Shadows cast by the gnarled olive trees gave an odd, ethereal, undertone to the beauty that surrounded me. The reason for my visit was to find a spot to play ‘Rock Bocci’ with the small, failing, social group known as ‘The Jellybean Jam’. We were due to play it there the following evening.
With no particularly good, nor conscious reason, I stopped and face eastward, gazing down off the track, falling upon a deep cutting in the ground. What I was looking at was a monk made, stone walled and floored, and drier than the bones of St. Peter. Wedge shaped in its construction, roughly three metres deep at it narrowest point, sloping up to ground level. At its deepest, the width of the space was roughly the length of a draught horse, expanding upward and outward to the length of three of the same beasts.
Horses had been a huge part of the life of the community surrounding the monastery proper. Used to work the land associated with the monks, the equine beasties were of varied and impeccable stock, sold not just locally, but nationally, and internationally, some being sold to places as far off as India, and this stone construction was where those horses were washed once or twice a week, regardless of the inclemency of the weather, nor time of year. Labour, as the norm, was provided by the mission kids, and later, the students of the college’s; more often than not, wearing nought more than the suit they were born in. And gazing into that particular pit, my mouth detached itself from my brain, opening of its own accord, my half smoked Champion Ruby cigarette fell to the ground.
Rooted to the spot, smoke trailing up from the dropped rollie sitting between my feet, my eyes widened in concert with a gasp escaping my lips. There, in the deepest part of the stone cut, were two skinny boys facing away from me toward the south. At a guess, they appeared to be no more than eight or nine years of age, completely naked and wet looking, the pair stared down at the ground around their feet. A look of immense sorrow or misery masking their young thin faces, shoulders slouched forward, giving me the notion that the pair were being severely reprimanded. Neither paid me the slightest notice, this did not fully register to me until I called ‘hello’ in a strained voice. The fact that I was able to see the stone walls and floor through where they stood still hadn’t fully landed within the void between my ears as to the enormity of what I was seeing. By the time my brain had caught up, it dawned on me that they were no longer there. I had neither seen them move, nor heard sound of movement; one moment they were there, and then they weren’t, as simple as that.
Gathering my no longer smoking cigarette from the ground, I placed it between my lips with a less than firm hand, and lit it. Inhaling deeply, I looked about myself, and further out into the old olive grove proper to the northeast of where I stood. Wondering if what I has seen was real or merely trick of the mind, with all of my senses screaming to their height, combined with goose bumps covering my neck and forearms, I turned my back on the grove, and headed back the way I had come. Whilst I did not run, I most certainly did not stroll. Midway down the path of my escape, a sound that either was not there earlier, or I just hadn’t heard prior, crawled its way in through my left ear. It was the sound of a child crying some distance behind me.
Stopping once more, fear fighting with the concern that what I was hearing was not that of a wraith, rather that of an actual child. Not engaging the brain to ponder further on it, I about faced, and strode with all purpose back to the origin of the weeping child, its volume increasing with every step I took.
Abreast of the place I viewed the spectral image of the two wee naked dark skinned lads, the crying abruptly stopped. If I was nervous before, I was outright scared now. Shouting, I called to see if there was anyone there, uncertain if I really wanted a reply or not. A lifetime passed in the space of a minute, yet no reply to my call was made, and the darkness of the evening fully closed in.
Action pushing thought to the rear of the equation, I ran. Fast. The ‘from’ out weighing the ‘to’, ten fold. My direction, fortunately the way I entered. Dust springing up from my booted footfalls, I cut an impressive, terror induced gait. Feeling as though an unseen life threat was behind me, the fear I felt was something I had not experienced since I had been under fire, tracers lancing around me, during my military service. Hurdling the gate at the end of the track, my sprint continued back over the bridge, around past the grounds department shed, behind the monastery, and diagonally toward the Trading Post; my dwelling. Crashing through my gate, my Scottish Deerhound ‘Fredrik’ was the first to greet me, quickly followed up by ‘Tia’ my oversized Greyhound, and I collapsed into the seat beside the front door, sweaty and out of breath. The security of both of these huge dogs flopping down at my feet was not lost upon me.
Thinking myself mad, I told no one of my encounter in the old olive grove, and it took me sometime to return back there, regardless of my work requirements. Thankfully, never once did I see the two lads again, nor did I hear them as they wept when I returned to that place.
As much as this story sounds like a pack of lies, it is all true; as true as I am sitting here typing, and that is EXACTLY what happened. I believed I was going nuts for weeks afterwards.
So there you go. Click the picture and stuff.
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