Can you believe all you hear?
"Watch out! Hang around too long, or go the wrong way, you'll be next!" Shivers run down my spine, as my imagination adds detail to an already vivid image that binds me in a place between petrified and eye-rolling. I am part captivated by this tale, while another part of me knows better than to believe the endless stories that serve to terrorise me at the hands of my older brothers.
Every year we camped at the same place for the six weeks of the summer holidays, and every year the stories of the ghostly man and his companion wolf living in the caves grew. I hadn't seen him myself, but as I was always straggling behind my older and better-climbing brothers, their word was all I had to go on. Legend had it this ghostly figure was seen around he caves, at times with his companion, a wild dog. (In hindsight the wolf was not a great fit for Australia, but where was that knowledge when I needed it?) Plus, there was proof - in prints, in sightings, in sounds that echoed through the caves as we explored and roamed over hours at a time, seeking connections between the tunnels and pathways to new adventures.
Those times weren't the most fear-filled for me, though. In the later night, once I was wrapped up in my sleeping bag in the tent, having been the first to be forced to turn in, it was then. When the not-so distant voices still talking around the campfire faded into white noise, and my mind had a chance to seize on the casually spilled comments and the evidence...really pick them down to the bones and rationalise the impossible. It was then, in the dark and solitude of my tent so far from town but so close to those caves...
But who could I turn to at these times? I wasn't about to call for Mum or Dad, I was too old for that. My brothers were not my saviours in this situation, and I wasn't about to encourage them by showing fear. By showing, even in the slightest way, that I believed them. That I bought into their stories. That the whispered whistle that travelled on the wind belonged to the ghostly figure always searching for his loyal companion, and not to one of the five boys sitting by the fire and still seeking ways to dement their little sister.
What else to do, then? Howl. Respond to the call of a ghostly master and howl back into the night. As the sound carried across the wind, across the dust and bush to where my brothers sat, across the empty space between us, I turned in my bed. The first cry from them was shock, the second disbelief, the third recognition. They were enough. Sleep was mine for the taking. And a fitful sleep at that.