Long ago and far away
Kate 'Brownie' Brownleigh and Marian 'Mary Francis' had never seen so many stars in their entire life! There were hundreds of them; then across the clear country sky, the trio marvelled at a shooting star.
'I wish we could have an adventure!'
'If you tell anyone your wish it won't come true, Brownie.'
'Maybe somebody made the same wish, but didn't tell anyone, Mary Francis.'
Amanda 'Sweetie' Cadbury's well fed red cattle dog put his front paw on her shoulder.
'Nobody likes a tattle tale, Kingsley!'
Brownie and Mary Francis broke out laughing; the two girls believed that with Kingsley and Sweetie, no dog more resembled his owner!
The trio were on a long weekend away from school where Sweetie's parents invited their daughter's two best friends to spend the weekend on their farm outside Merringatta. That evening the trio and the dog were spending the night camping in the bush. After a leisurely scenic hike, they dined around a campfire after dark and had a sing-song. Life didn't get better than that...
Suddenly something sizeable silently swooped over them! Kingsley began barking!
'What on Earth was that???'
'It's a bird!'
'They don't come that big, Brownie!'
'It's a plane!'
'I didn't hear any engine, Mary Francis!'
'Well, it's certainly not Superman, Sweetie! Let's get our torches and see where it went!'
'Look in the sky!!!'
The three girls and Kingsley saw a glowing light, like a dragon with a tail!
'It must be some sort of fire balloon! Let's go to it!'
'No one's going anywhere until first light, Brownie!'
It was the first time anyone had ever seen Amanda Cadbury so resolute; Kingsley's expression matched Sweetie's.
'There's snakes and treacherous things to trip over, even with our torches and by the time we get there, we won't see anything!'
As if the apparition had heard Sweetie, it slowly came straight down to Earth.
'We'll see nothing at all in the darkness! Let's get some sleep and we'll head out after our breakfast...No we won't! I forgot; I have to be home tomorrow morning to help with the chores!'
'Then I'll go look by myself.'
'My parents put me in charge, and I promised to guarantee everyone's safety! If you don't want to stay here, I'll tie you up until first light!'
Mary Francis laughed that she'd help as she'd really like to see that; Brownie said that she really wouldn't and promised to not go anywhere.
'We've Kingsley so we won't have to take turns on watch!'
The four friends reluctantly returned to Sweetie's parent's home in the very early morning as Amanda had to do her chores and Kingsley had his farm dog duties.
Over a large country breakfast of bacon, hot homemade bread and fresh scrambled eggs with locally made cheese the girls discussed the matter with Mr. and Mrs. Cadbury.
'It sounds like a giant magpie', reflected Mr. Cadbury. 'If you let it alone, it'll let you alone, like the Tasmanian Tiger...But could you imagine how many omelettes you'd get out of one of her eggs!'
'Amanda has such an imagination! Do you remember when...'
Mrs. Cadbury began telling an embarrassing story of her daughter's childhood, and Sweetie looked hurt. As funny as the story was, her two friends stepped in to her rescue.
'We both saw it too! We were scared to death, but Swee-Amanda straightened us out and stopped us from panicking.'
Mary Francis joined Brownie,
'Amanda's the most respected girl in our form and maybe the entire school! When she tells you something, you can believe it!'
Amanda's face changed from hurtful embarrassment to pride.
'Well, our daughter certainly has the best two friends in the world!'
Mr. Cadbury joined his wife,
'When you three get together, anything can happen...'
'Is there anything unusual out where we were camping?'
'There's lots of unusual things in the country, Kate. We live with them and as long as they don't harm us it's live and let live, but giant birds...no...'
After breakfast Brownie repeated her question to Sweetie.
'No...just farmland and bush...'
'Do you have a library in town? We could spend time there whilst you're doing your chores.'
The pair walked off their breakfast in a brisk walk to Merringatta. Brownie would use her research skills at the local library and Mary Francis would do her interviewing; both were experienced journalists on their school newspaper.
'We're starting an adventure, Mary Francis!'
'My Dad was in the army, and he always said, "prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance."
When they returned for lunch, Sweetie knew that her two friends had found things out that they couldn't wait to tell her!
Brownie told her what she had learned from the library; there had once been a secret government base in the area that was sold off with the area now being a farm.
Amanda came alive,
'My Dad told me that during the war there was some secret installation on what's now the Royston's farm...which probably would've been where we saw that thing in the sky!'
Mary Francis received some names of older women who were around during the war from the librarian. The librarian telephoned them that a girl would visit them for a school research project. Over cups of tea, they said the base was apparently used sometime after the war, but no one knew for what. There were no accounts of any recent unusual activity.
'Let me make a telephone call. I think that flying dragon and whatever it was we saw that flew over us landed there. Thanks for keeping quiet about it.'
'Parents are parents, Sweetie...how were your chores?'
'Dad loves company when he works, Mary Francis. He talks to me more when we're out working somewhere together than when we're at home. I'm glad you two could amuse yourselves in town.'
After a delicious ploughman's lunch followed by a fresh fruit salad. Mr. Cadbury asked,
'What are the Three Musketeers up to this afternoon?'
'We're going over to visit Brian, Dad.'
Mrs. Cadbury smiled, 'That sounds sensible.'
Afterwards Sweetie led them on a walk to a neighbouring farm.
'He's the brother of one of my girlfriends. I telephoned him and he's preparing something for us.'
'I thought we were going out where we were last night.'
'I've a much better idea!'
* * *
After a good catch-up chat, Brian lent them the use of a rubber boat, a pump, and a rucksack to put both items in. To the other girl's surprise, Mary Francis sensibly informed Brian of their planned afternoon activities and if he hadn't heard from them by 5 p.m....send the Marines!!!
The day was a beautiful one, as the three hiked to the river. They inflated the raft, and boarded it with Brownie paddling to the left, Mary Francis to the right and Captain Sweetie in the rear. Kingsley sat up front as a figurehead; the three girl's backpacks took up the middle. They noticed the current was growing stronger, and the water whiter...the white water increased...
'Tighten you're chin straps, girls! We've had more rain that we're used to, so follow my instructions on rowing or we'll go in the water!'
The rubber boat began to spin in circles! Kingsley began to nervously yap.
'You're not helping, Kingsley!'
'He's saying what I'm thinking, Sweetie!'
Everyone agreed with Brownie and Kingsley!
'Left! Left! Left! Right! Right! Left! Left! Watch out for that big rock!!! Right! Right!!! Mary Francis! Push against the rock with your oar as hard as you can! Left!!!'
They had moved quickly, but safely. The river resumed its flat and tranquil route, the current propelled them faster than they could row. Mary Francis and Brownie had their 'sea legs'. Kingsley wore an expression that said, I fooled you! I'll bet you thought I was afraid!
'Well done, Kingsley!'
Everyone gave Kingsley a pat, with his expression saying, Oh, it's nothing, really, I do this all the time...
Brownie acted as if she suddenly remembered something,
'We could have got out of the boat and carried it to where we are now!'
'What kind of fun is that, Brownie? You wanted an adventure, and you got it! I've never had more fun in my life by being here with you two. Sweetie knows her stuff!'
'Danger is the price of excitement and excitement is what adventure is all about!', Sweetie added.
'With a good mystery thrown in!', Mary Francis chipped in.
'I'm sorry for letting the team down. You're right...I've been acting like an idiot.'
Sweetie reached out for Brownie's hand, Mary Francis put her hand on top of theirs, Kingsley put his paw on top of the lot.
'Land ho! This will do, girls! Let's go ashore!'
'Have you ever noticed that every time someone gets on a boat, they talk like Popeye the Sailorman and Barnacle Bill?'
'Guilty as charged, Brownie!', laughed Sweetie. She pointed off across the river,
'Over by that group of trees is where we slept last night. If we had tried to follow that fire balloon, we would have had the river in our way. This way we can come a lot closer and save a walk.'
They deflated Brian's rubber raft and put it in its pack with the pump. The girls placed their packs on. Sweetie led the way. There was no sign of anyone in the country, but they discovered rusted railway tracks.
'We are on the right track, we'll follow them. This must have been the railway siding'
'A siding is where a train can park to allow another train to pass by, a branch line is a secondary railway line which branches off from a main line. A spur line is a very short branch line.'
'Captain Sweetie's in charge of our expedition, First Mate Brownie is in charge of research and our vocabulary, and Master at Arms Kingsley is in charge of our security.'
Kingsley's face filled with pride. Sweetie spoke,
'And you're our Boatswain keeping us on an even keel and our Yeoman recording our adventures!'
The grass turned into green concrete. They saw strange structures ahead,
'That looks like army camouflage netting, and it doesn't look very old!'
'You're right Brownie! Look at the silver on these railway tracks beneath it! They've been recently used!'
Sweetie was moving in a different direction.
'Look at this row of landing lights!'
Sweetie followed the row of lights on the green concrete as Mary Francis and Brownie following the recently used railway tracks, both lead to closed green metal roller doors.
Kingsley began whining. The girls ran up to his discovery.
'We'll add "Chief Scout" to Kingsley's duties!'
There was an opening wide enough to crawl through!
They removed their broad brimmed hats and packs then produced their torches. Sweetie entered as her three friends watched and guarded.
'It's a cave! Come in, but be careful, there's a ledge large enough for us. There's an underground lake below. Are you girls game?'
'Well, we've got our raft and pump!', chirped Mary Francis.
'Count me in!'
They reached out and put their hands and paw together again.
Out of her rucksack Sweetie produced a large coil of rope.
'You weren't joking when you said you'd tie Brownie up!'
'Of course, I wasn't joking.'
'I might have something to say about that!'
'If you had tried running off in the dark, you wouldn't have been able to say anything after I finished with you.'
'I'd love to see that too!'
'Thanks a lot, Mary Francis.'
Brownie's ire didn't last; she joined her two friends' laughter.
Sweetie found a place to tie the rope off and threw it down below. It was long enough to reach the bottom, with some rope left over.
'May I go first?'
'Permission granted, Brownie!'
Mary Francis and Sweetie held their torches on and around Brownie as she descended.
'Why don't you come down and we'll have a wander?'
Sweetie was next; she tied Kingsley's lead around the both of them. The pair went downwards with Kingsley securely fastened to her. Mary Francis brought up the rear with the raft pack.
They had never been anywhere so damp, dark and quiet. The torches gave the girls confidence, and the girls gave Kingsley confidence.
The pair stayed close together and used their torches in all directors, at the ground they walked on and the top of the cave as well as forward. It didn't take too long to inflate their raft with the pump and reassemble the oars.
Brownie shined her torch in the distance.
'There's a stairway over there! Let's paddle to the other side.'
After leaving their rubber boat, they viewed the top of a ledge where they heard a motor. They advanced to it and saw there were railway tracks. Soon there was a moving light, then what looked like a 1930s art deco streamlined bus pulling an empty gondola car! The odd rail bus stopped, a door opened and there stood a pale man dressed in black with a belt and gumboots, both painted gold, and a red cape. He put his hands on his hips and stared at them.
'What are you three doing here?'
The girls exploded in laughter.
'How far did you chase Superman to get that cape?', laughed Sweetie.
'Don't make me get tough, or you'll regret it...'
'Yeah, we'll die laughing.'
Kingsley growled then dashed towards the man who instantly jumped back in the rail bus and shut the door.
'Faster than a speeding bullet!', laughed Sweetie.
The man was struggling inside, the girls saw that his cape was stuck in the door and their laughter increased!
'This looks like a job for...Stupid Man!'
When the man opened the door to pull his cape in, Kingsley and the girls forced their way in. It was impossible to decide who the caped driver was more afraid of, Sweetie or Kingsley! Their captive proved quite talkative, because when Amanda Cadbury persuades, she really persuades!
'Tell us what's going on here! How many of you are there?'
'I'll show you but keep that dog away from me! We're having a meeting and you can see our power and might from the tracks.'
‘Look on my works, ye Mighty Mouse, and despair!’, mocked Brownie.
They heard the bizarre sound of a pipe organ's music echoing against the side of the cavern that now had become a large room, its walls were maps. A large group of people were illuminated by coloured lights. They were dressed like the driver and were doing movements in unison as they musically chanted in an unearthly manner!
The tune and movements were familiar to Brownie.
'They're doing The Hokey Pokey in Latin!'
Their caped driver opened the door and ran towards the mob shouting in fright. The girls ran after him, but he was faster than they were.
'Come back, Kingsley!'
'Invaders! Intruders! Help me!'
'Yeah! We're a Viking riding party out for plunder! But we only want brains so you're all safe!', Amanda shouted.
'I don't know how to work this train, maybe the driver took the control key with him because there's no power. We'll have to run for it!', shouted Mary Francis.
As one, the mob ran towards them.
With the inert rail bus to their backs, Kingsley leapt in front of the girls and snarled revealing a mouth full of teeth and a savage expression. The mob stopped in fright.
'Get lost, Super Clowns!', screamed Sweetie. 'Get 'em, Kingsley! Rip 'em apart!'
With a vicious red heeler after them, the mob of costumed Subterraneans took Sweeties advice as they dashed back to where they had been having their dance and chant meeting!
The three girls screamed like demons and joined Kingsley in pursuit as the caped mob kept running with the appearance of supersonic speed!
The only exception was one very tall one wearing a medieval type of helmet that make him look like King Richard of the Crusaders; he had a giant gold emblem on his chest and a gold cape. He had been the one leading the meeting as one in a similar helmet played the pipe organ. Kingsley ran to him then stopped, moved his head and gave a questioning whine...
The man with the large helmet determinedly walked towards the girls...he took his helmet off,
'Amanda Cadbury! Is that you?'
Sweetie brilliantly hid her surprise.
'Hello, Mr. Royston. I'm home from school and I thought we'd visit you. These are my friends Kate and Marian.'
'How lovely to see you! My, have you grown! And is that me old cobber, Kingsley?'
Kingsley dashed to Mr. Royston for a good strong petting.
'Who's up for cake and tea?'
The Roystons had removed their costumes, Mrs. Royston served up tea and a freshly made and iced cake. Kingsley contentedly snoozed as Mr. Royston massaged him,
'During the war there was fear the enemy would destroy our main airfields. Merringatta was near enough to the big city, had a railway link, and there was plenty of fresh water, both above and underground. It was readied for, but never used as a fighter base. With the hills around it the plans were to train an army of local guerrillas to defend the place in case of invasion.'
'Your Mum and I and a lot of the local girls your age were given horse commando training. We're not allowed to talk about it, but let's just say that Merringatta girls know how to look after themselves...you three would fit right in', Mrs. Royston remarked.
'Later in the war, they kept it for storage, then reworked it for the Cold War when everyone feared a nuclear attack. It was put up on the market and after I retired from the Air Force, we bought it on the conditions that in case of a national emergency it would be used again. We had to keep it from going to seed and keep it secret which I hope you girls will do.'
The three agreed.
Brownie replied, 'Secrets and mystery go together, like excitement and adventure. What goes on in Merringatta stays in Merringatta!'
'What was that cute little railway car?', asked Mary Francis.
'They were originally rail buses for small country lines. They pulled them off once people had more cars and turned them into vehicles to pay rail workers. I was able to get my hands on a couple that fitted our government railway tracks.'
'Who are all those people dressed like Super Ballet Dancers?', laughed Sweetie.
'The Temple of the Secret Subterraneans.', answered Mrs. Royston. 'They believe humanity is going to perish in either an atomic war or an invasion from another planet. They were looking for a place to go where they'd be let alone and could hide under the ground. We were looking for a bunch of farm labourers, so we're both happy with each other. It's like being kids again with pretend. We go along with them...well, we don't openly laugh at their beliefs...and they believed us to be their wise leadership, so again, I hope you girls won't mention anything.'
'Not at all! Who'd believe us anyway?', chirped Brownie. 'I never knew The Hokey Pokey was so esoteric....'
'Everything sounds esoteric in Latin', Mrs. Royston laughed.
'Well, they like it...', laughed Mr. Royston, 'And my wife plays the organ so well with those underground acoustics! That banzai charge of yours was really something! They thought you were the Space Invaders! When they retell that story, they'll swear Kingsley was on his hind legs breathing fire!'
Everyone laughed, it appeared Kingsley did as well!
'What on earth swooped over us the other night?'
'Our son's glider, Mary Francis. He comes for weekend visits. His neighbour pulls his glider from her aeroplane, he loves coming at night not only to not attract attention with a noisy plane landing, but he loves the challenge of landing with the landing lights and the light balloon with the windsock. Of course, our secret society of farmhands love the mystery and excitement. "Razzle Dazzle" as P.T. Barnum might say. More cake, girls?'
'I telephoned your parents, Amanda and I told them we're bringing you home after tea', said Mrs. Royston.
'May we please stop off at the Dennehy's so I can give Brian back his raft?'
'Of course. Your Dad was right when I spoke to him. He said that when you three get together you won't believe what happens!'
Author Notes: Happy New Year everyone!