The beginning of May was the peak of the Tasmanian autumn when the leaves exploded into a variety of bright colours. Japanese maple trees with red leaves and Dutch elms, European poplars, English oaks and chestnut trees with leaves of yellow and orange lined the streets of mostly reddish brown brick houses with tan wooden facings. Weeping willows were turning yellow alongside the banks of the Rivulet that flowed from Mount Wellington to the Hobart City Centre. Old buildings constructed of sandstone glowed in the autumnal sunlight amidst the cornflower blue skies...It was a brief period of time, but the world traveller loved it and wished it could last forever...
The world traveller was the offspring of a pair of provincial and xenophobic parents who never had any desire to travel, except to visit their relatives in their own country. When he left home, he vowed to make up for lost time and live in or visit as many nations as he could.
As time passed and he visited more and more different nations, he found that he was always comparing them to each other and finding similarities.
Suddenly he was reminded of the play Reunion in Vienna that was filmed in the 1930s that he saw long, long ago at the Honolulu Academy of Arts Theatrette. John Barrymore played a world-weary banished and impoverished Archduke who conversed with an elderly Henry Travers who envied him his world travel, as the old man had never ever left his own immediate surroundings. The Archduke replied,
I envy you. It's a poor world. You do well to keep out of it. If you take my advice, you'll stay here, where you are, in this charming house, in this incomparable city, with a view of the horse-chestnuts; and leave investigation of the world to those who have no place else to go.
* * *
The Tasmanian winter made its first appearance on his final Monday morning in Hobart. From his Battery Point room his dawn view of the River Derwent and the hills beyond it was in various shades of silver and grey, rather than the recent impressive bright red sunrises. A funereal procession of puffy grey clouds morbidly trudged their way along the harbour following the river.
He breakfasted at an outdoor table of a Battery Point café. As he sipped his strong black coffee the white clouds cleared from the top of Mount Wellington revealing that there was snow on the peak from the previous night's rain. When he walked by St. George's Church, loud black Forest Ravens making plaintive cries bemoaning the end of autumn flew around the nearly barren trees through the grey sky up to the three tiered bell tower. He made his way to Hobart's Central Business District passing through St. David's Park where the winds were blowing the remaining leaves off the trees in a yellow snowstorm. The wind sent them and the dead brown leaves loudly death-rattling on their terminal path down the streets and the pavements.
Autumn had left without leaving her forwarding address...
He had never felt such melancholy, as if it was a portent of the end...finality incarnate...He instinctively realised that it was time for him to go...
On Tuesday, he would return to Sydney, then plan new travels.
Monday night was his Tasmanian conclusion; he had booked himself into a Ghost Tour of Battery Point. He didn't believe in the supernatural, but he enjoyed the historical aspects and he always had a taste for the offbeat and the morbidly whimsical.
* * *
His ghost tour gathered just off Salamanca Place in the dark of the evening. Not only was the tour guide dressed in period costume, but so were several members of the group, who appeared to be locals. The guide checked everyone's name off his list then began with the traditional proverbial ice breakers.
'Ice breakers' was an apt phrase. Though he dressed as warmly as he could in a long sleeved heavy shirt over his T-shirt, a black turtleneck sweater over that, topped off with a windcheater and beret, the world traveller was freezing! He shivered as the frigid wind hit him, and there was no place to shelter. He vowed to himself that at the tour's conclusion he'd pop into Preachers, the relaxed Battery Point bar for a hot mulled Glühwein that he'd drink in front of their roaring log fire. At the moment his hot cinnamon mulled apple juice warmed both his insides and his hands that he held his drink in.
Their tour began in St. David's Park amongst the headstones of the former cemetery that were placed on a wall in the park. As the guide droned on about some of the interesting stories of the names on the headstones, the world seemed to change...
The weekly Monday night bell practice of St. David's Cathedral tolled as the dead brown leaves began to circle in a spiralling whirlwind. The small Fall hurricane was coming closer to him...The cathedral's peal seemed louder, the tour guide's voice seemed fainter...suddenly the spiral of leaves ceased and he felt a woman place his arm though his. Young and beautiful with a smile that lit up his world. she was dressed in period costume as well...he noticed that he was no longer cold...
'You're fashionably late, Miss...'
'Everyone calls me the late Miss MacGregor.'
Miss MacGregor spoke quietly and gracefully, her educated voice was not a whisper, but it quietly carried on the wind as if her voice was only meant for him. She no doubt was a university student crashing the tour without the bother of any payment to the guide. He thought as long as she held his arm, they'd bring up the rear in the darkness.
They walked to and stopped at the Narryna Heritage Museum that he had visited a few days ago. The guide told more tales, she added her own anecdotes, as if she had studied the local history herself. She was very knowledgeable and extremely well spoken; she did not use any contractions and would emphasise a word here and there. Her accent wasn't one he had heard before, and he found himself delighted with it, like the gentle sound of a wind chime in an old room where he could detect the colours of a prism sending out bits of coloured light to the walls that he could not see, but he could feel, as if the colours were on a different plane of existence.
Even in the dark, her piercing eyes were blazing, as if they could see right through him...
The group marvelled and politely laughed at some of the guide's stories. No one seemed to take the excursion into the supernatural too seriously, but no one ridiculed it either. The guide said that sometimes ghosts of the past deceased could be sighted in the windows of the museum; the traveller wondered if the guide was in a conspiracy with the cleaner inside to move some of the dressed mannequins by the window.
'If a spirit desires to be seen, then he or she will be seen.'
Her voice was as reassuring as if it was a promise from a loved one.
They walked up Hampden Road, the main avenue of Battery Point quaintly illuminated with reproductions of old gaslights. The procession would stop now and then at Georgian houses for the guide's ghost tales, again, Miss MacGregor would tenderly add her own anecdotes as if it was gossip about her neighbours.
They continued off Hampden Road to Arthur's Circus, the circular street with its grass island in the middle with chestnut trees flanking it's brick pathway. The guide related more lore, Miss MacGregor's tender additions sounded more like dreamy reminiscences.
She never let him go.
The tour entered the swish Lenna Hotel for more accounts and legends. They made their way up staircases to the rectangular cupola for a view of the harbour lights. Miss MacGregor remained below; the traveller figured that she was avoiding the view of the tour guide.
Going back down the stairs, the pair brought up the rear as they went to Princess Park, the site of the former coastal artillery battery that gave the suburb its name. The park was splendid by day, but amazingly romantic at night. The tour was nearing its end.
She whispered like a breeze into his ear,
'I'll see you very soon...'
'Preachers. My shout for the hot drinks!'
He heard the sound of the leaves on the concrete pathways of Princes Park. The spiral whirlwind had returned; he watched the wandering willy-willy vanish into the darkness.
'Do we still have everyone with us?'
The tour guide did a head count, obviously the clever university student knew the drill and had vanished, no doubt in one of the park's bushes.
He now realised that he felt freezingly cold that he hadn't been since she took his arm...
'Preachers! By the log fire!', he loudly repeated, to the strange looks of his tourmates.
Their final destination was inside the magazine of the former coastal artillery battery. He couldn't wait for the tour to end and meet her again at Preachers.
* * *
She wasn't there.
The majority of the local patrons of Preachers seemed to enjoy dressing in T-shirts and shorts to show they were immune to any cold. They mingled outside or aboard a disused bus in the courtyard where they likely would be impressing each other with how warm it was and demanding ice in their drinks.
She had had her fun, but he remained hopeful. Surely if she was a penniless university student she wouldn't turn down a free drink or two and bar snacks.
Despite the cold winds of what he called Subarctica, the Preacher's bartender informed him that it was too warm and too early in the year for a Glühwein. The bartender did say that he could make him a hot rum toddy.
He had one, then another, then another as he sat by the raging log fire waiting and waiting...
The inside of Preachers was a cosy place with comfy easy chairs and couches with board games and books for its patrons. He was drawn to one of the old books, GHOST TALES OF HOBART and paged through it.
There was a photo of the real Miss MacGregor who died in a fire. It resembled his friend...no doubt the university student had seen her picture, dressed like her and adopted her name to play a joke on him, and some other visitor on every tour.
As the man said, 'if you can't cry, you might as well laugh', and he did.
* * *
'We'll be closing soon.'
'One for the road, thanks.'
'You've had enough.'
'I'm walking, not driving.'
'I don't know if you'll even be able to do that...'
They both agreed that it was time to go.
He had packed before the Ghost Tour, and only had his toiletries and laundry left to pack. There was no hurry for his afternoon flight, a good night's sleep would do him well.
He staggered across Hampden Road where he saw the illumination around him from the car's headlamps, then he heard the screeching of tyres...
* * *
'I told you I'd see you soon.'
Was it a dream? He opened his eyes and there was her face in front of his, her eyes sparkled as she smiled.
He felt her passionate kiss, this was no dream...
She seemed be in a sort of a strange dawn or twilight that softly glowed. When she took both his arms and lifted him up; he realised that he emitted the same strange light as well.
They stood side by side and held each other's hand and walked forward then upward into the final horizon. He looked backwards and downwards and saw a body wearing his khaki chino trousers and black shoes covered with a blanket. The flashing lights of the police car and ambulance lit up the night on Hampden Road below them as a semicircular crowd stood amongst the light show of the vehicles and the body, his body laying on the street...
She turned him around and softly spoke,
'Straight on my love, straight on to our new life together...'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).