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  • jdettmann

Wake In Fright: My Idyllic Country Writer’s Retreat

On Sunday I started a three-day writer’s retreat at my parents’ weekend house in the country. The plan was to come home after dinner on Wednesday. Today, Tuesday, I finished that retreat, at 4.55 am.

I’ve done a couple of these little three-day stints in the past few months, and until now they’ve been fantastic for getting a huge amount of work done in a really short time. There’s something about not having to get small people’s lunches made, clothes on, and delivered to school and preschool, then not having to plan dinner, shop for dinner, and do laundry and bath, dinner and bed that really helped me focus on the book.

Lots of people, when I said I was going to the country on my own to write, expressed concern. Mostly the people who have actually been to the house, because it is big, old and, not to put too fine a point on it, haunted.

I laughed off their concerns. I’ll be absolutely fine, I told them. It’s lovely and peaceful. Just me and the birds. And a few bats. I’m not scared. I lock up well at sunset, and I don’t ever look into the downstairs bedrooms when I walk past them. (This has been my rule since childhood. The ghosts may be there but if I don’t look at them then we’ll all get along fine.)

But this morning, a bit before 5, I was woken by music so loud I thought it was coming from inside the house. You know that feeling when you wake up with your heart pounding, in total terror? Like you’ve woken from a bad dream into a worse one? It was like that.

And to make matters worse, I was pretty sure there was no ghost involved. The ghosts in this house date from the 1870s and the song that was blasting right next to this isolated farmhouse was the 1992 dance hit ‘Everybody’s Free (to Feel Good)’. You’ll appreciate, this was horrifying on a number of levels.

After a minute or two my brain adjusted as I realised the music might be coming from outside the house, but very very nearby. There is a caretaker’s cottage on the property, but the sound wasn’t coming from that direction. Apart from that, there’s not another house for a long, long way.

I peered out the window. What I expected to see outside was some sort of combination of Wolf Creek and Say Anything: a psycho outside the house watching my window while holding up a ghetto blaster.

If I’d had to hazard a guess as to the identity of the psycho, I’d have said possibly the bloke who has been living for the past week in a camper trailer that looks like it’s been on fire more than once, beside the road down by the river a few hundred metres away from the front gate. His little roadside setup comprises the aforementioned pop-up camper, a generator, a busted-looking four wheel drive crammed with his possessions and one of those five-dollar fold up camping chairs from Bunnings, filled with a hundred golf balls.

But it was pitch black outside. And my window looked out the back, and I was pretty sure this was coming from the side of the house, possibly from the verandah underneath my bedroom.

Then there were some whoops and yells. They were just bloodcurdling icing on the bone-chilling cake.

And then the song finished. There was a brief snippet of another song, then silence. I returned to bed and lay there waiting for my heart to explode and kill me.

Finally the sun came up.

I packed up and left. On my way out I chatted to the caretakers. They hadn’t heard a thing. There were fresh tyremarks near the front gate, though, and they put the noise down to drugtaking locals arsing about.

As I drove off, I passed the roadside camp. The camper, who looked about twenty, had evicted the golf balls from the chair and he was sitting in it, wearing a hi-vis vest and a look of sheer lunacy. He was staring down the road.

A hundred metres on was another young man, running in the direction of the town, wearing only a pair of cargo pants, his long hair and beard streaming in the wind. And a hundred metres on from him, on this long straight stretch of road, was a woman, around forty, also running. She was wearing running clothes, but she was so fast I was a bit concerned. I slowed beside her and rolled down my window.

‘Do you know that man who’s running after you?’ I asked.

She turned and checked. It was like she’d only just noticed him. ‘Oh yeah,’ she said, ‘his gran lives up the road.’ She turned and started running back towards bare-chested cargo pants man, with her arms outstretched, like he was her long-lost love.

What a bunch of fucking crazies. I’ve never been so glad to leave one of my favourite places on earth in my life.

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