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WHISPERS OF THE PAST
BY OWEN CLOUGH
Sam is employed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) with his two mates helping out. Their task is to clear out as many feral pigs as they can in the Tongariro National Park, which is located in the North Island of New Zealand.
There are three major volcanoes within this park, so the culling of the pigs has to be done with great care as there are an abundant amount of thermal pools, mud pools, and of course, volcanoes.
In the high country of New Zealand, the weather can be very fickle, going from warm to cold within minutes. The three friends draw even closer as they get caught up in a weather pattern with a difference. Mist, sulphur, and rain envelop them and propel them back to the start of the New Zealand Wars of 1863.
Three modern blokes, with all of the paraphernalia of the 21st century, running around in the past, lost, confused and trying to stay out of harm’s way, once they realise where they are.
Will they get home? Will they change history? Experience a former era of New Zealand in an exciting story of the past and the present.
It was continually getting thicker as we headed off down the track. The mist was starting to wisp around the trees in front of us, but we could still see okay. Looking back though, you could not see from where you had come. Within fifteen minutes, the mist was so thick we could hardly see each other. ‘Sam,’ I said. ‘I think we need to stop and get ourselves settled, this is thick stuff – I have never been in a fog like it.’ There was a smell of sulphur in the mist as well.
‘I’m sure there is a cave or overhang down here, if we haven’t come across it in another 10 minutes then we’ll stop,’ Sam replied.
I have good eyesight, but I could hardly see Sam’s pack in front of me. Then out of the gloom we came across a rock wall with a slight overhang, this could do. We would have to climb up to see. It took us a few minutes until we got to the ledge, where we found a cave about three metres deep, bingo! It was nice and dry with natural fresh water seeping through the rear of the rock wall. ‘This is not the one I was thinking of, but it will do the job,’ said Sam. We dropped our packs and looked outside. God, it was eerie! The fog had become thicker, the sulphur smell was really quite noticeable and we could not see where we were at all.
‘I’m pleased we are here mate, I don’t think I would have liked to go any further – I reckon if we had kept going, we would have been in deep shit,’ Shane speculated.
Sam rang base, but all he got was static. I pulled out the GPS. ‘That’s strange,’ I said, ‘I can’t pick up a signal; either it’s packed up or we’re in a black spot.’ I looked at my watch. ‘Bugger me, it’s 4 pm, what happened to the day?’
‘This whole fog thing is weird,’ said Shane. ‘What do you think, Sam?’
‘Well,’ he answered, ‘I have run into fog like this around here before, but nothing as thick as this. It is serious stuff, to affect the radio and the GPS. There has to be a bloody big storm out there. At least we will be dry here for the night. We should make ourselves comfortable.’
We hunted around picking up dead branches to start a fire. The temperature had fallen quite a bit and it felt like it was less than ten degrees. We changed into our cold weather gear and got the billy going. Then we sat down with our backs against the wall of the cave. We were looking out into the mist while eating the sandwiches that Maggie had made for us and enjoying a hot drink, when we notice a golden swirl in the fog. ‘What the hell’s that?’ I said.
‘God knows,’ replied Sam. ‘I have never seen golden fog or mist before.’
It swirled around the entrance to the cave, making the hairs on our arms stand on end, our skin tingle and we felt a bit dizzy. Then a few minutes later, we felt normal again.
‘That sure was strange,’ said Sam. ‘Did you blokes feel dizzy?’ ‘Yeah, that felt weird’ we answered. ‘Well, it must have something to do with the sulphur in the lagoon. As the crow flies it’s about 4 kilometres south of us, with the wind bringing the smell this way.’ We sat and debated the ins and outs of the strangeness of our situation to the point of killing the subject.
‘That golden stuff was dry though fellas,’ I added. ‘Mist isn’t dry’
‘Do you think it was a chemical?’ Shane asked.
‘I don’t think so; well, I hope not. If it was, who would do that sort of thing in NZ?’ Sam replied.
‘Yeah, sounds a bit dozy when you say it like that,’ I said.
It was only just after 5 pm and the day was getting quite gloomy. It seemed too early to be so dark in February. Then we heard an unusual sound, coo-ee, coo-ee. Sam sat up straight, turning his head to the sound. ‘Did you blokes hear that?’
‘Yeah,’ we said, ‘sounds like someone calling out.’ We walked to the edge of the cave and looked out. That was a waste of effort because we couldn’t see a thing. The sound came again on the wind. With the third coo-ee, Sam was beside himself. ‘I’ve heard that sound before on a tape in Wellington DOC HQ,’ he said. ‘It was the sound of the laughing owl.’
‘That’s great,’ Grunt remarked.
‘No, you don’t understand, it’s been extinct for over eighty years.’
We looked at him. ‘Well, it can’t be that,’ argued Shane.
‘But what if it is?’ insisted Sam. ‘It would be like finding the takahe in the 40s after everyone thought it was extinct.
‘We could be famous,’ I laughed, ‘in our own lunch time.’
‘Shit fellas, I’m serious, this is big deal. Just make sure that your cameras are at the ready, just in case, okay.’
‘Yeah, good as gold, mate,’ we echoed. I’m thinking Sam might need to get out of the bush for a while. He now hears stuff that is probably his imagination. I heard the sounds, but it didn’t sound like a bird to me. ‘It could be a couple of people lost and trying to make contact. Voices will travel in this weather,’ I concluded.
‘Yeah, you’re most likely right,’ Sam admitted. ‘But keep your cameras ready anyway.’ We were all a bit paranoid; things were just not right. ‘Let’s prepare dinner fellas,’ I said. ‘It will take our minds of this shit. Once we have a full gut and our minds are working normally, we will feel better and be able to look at things rationally.’
We looked at each other and grinned. ‘Yeah,’ we all agreed. We needed to make a big effort to stay focused. Food always helps and we had lots to eat. The stove quickly heated our meal and we sat down to mushroom soup, sausages and eggs along with Maggie’s mixed salad, apple pie, fresh fruit bread, tea and coffee. By the time it was over we all felt better. We cleaned our gear and yarned for a while until Shane announced, ‘I’m dropping off to sleep, I’m feeling quite buggered. I’ll catch you two in the morning.’ Within five minutes his breathing was deep and it made us decide to hit the sack as well. I pointed out to Sam. ‘It will be good as gold tomorrow mate, the fog will go and we will get more pigs, and everything will be back to normal.’
‘Yeah, Brill,’ he frowned. ‘I hope so. Night mate.’
The bird noise woke us, it had crept into our sleep like a living thing, and it was like being in an aviary with a thousand birds. The noise went on and on. Waking up groggy, I went out for a pee. The fog was still thick but maybe not as bad as last night. I still could not see much. Though I was feeling better and confident this would soon lift. Sam and Shane came out, ‘What a bloody racket,’ they grumbled.
‘I have never heard bird sounds this loud.’ Sam commented. We went into our routine: wash, breaky and then clean up. We’ll see how the day pans out once we have had a feed. With breakfast over, we sat on the lip of the cave with a tea and coffee in our hands, looking at the fog swirl around but getting lighter and lighter. Slowly the shape of the bush became more distinct, but we were still puzzled about the bird noise. It really hadn’t let up. The last of the morepork’s cries vibrated off the bush, as the misty morning slowly turned grey, then to white and finally the sun peaked through the canopy.
Sam was trying to raise base on the radio. ‘Not even static and the GPS is still not working,’ he grumbled. ‘I tried the mountain radio; nothing, not even a peep. Hope we can get them soon, otherwise they’ll be out combing the bush for us. I don’t know what to make of all this, I’m stumped.’
We went outside; the fog was just about gone.
‘That’s a plus.’ I said.
Shane nodded, ‘Yeah, fellas have you noticed the size of these trees. I have never seen matai, rimu, and totara for that matter, so tall. Just look at them, and the size of the tree ferns. That’s rata over there,’ he pointed. ‘Shit, it’s a monster, it’s a good thirty metres, but it should have some flowers left, as it is only the middle of February. Look at all the wood pigeons in there. I have been watching them, I counted twenty-two. When was the last time you saw twenty-two in a rata tree? There’s Tuis as well, and I have never seen so many kaka. This is only one tree fellas, and there must be hundreds, this bush is thick with them.’
Just then Sam raised his gun to use the scope, and yells. ‘This is bull, it cannot be,’ he exclaimed.
‘What’s wrong mate?’ we both ask.
‘See those birds just about half way up the rimu tree?’
Shane was squinting, ‘Oh yeah, got it.’
‘That’s a bloody huia.’ Sam announced. ‘And not just one, there are about five of them. They must be a family group. Dad’s got the long curved beak and mum has the smaller one. Look, it’s turning, orange wattles on its cheek. Oh shit, fellas, they have been extinct since about 1907.’ He looked at us and went on quietly. ‘The owl last night, the huia now and this bush noise; I’m a wee bit worried, I really don’t know what to think. Once could be coincidence, but twice? Two extinct birds within twenty-four hours, I just don’t know.’
Shane theorised. ‘You know this bush reminds me of the movie Jurassic Park.’
‘I must admit it does look primeval,’ I answered.
Leaving school at fourteen, Owen travelled around New Zealand on a working holiday. Then at the age of seventeen joined the Royal New Zealand Airforce, where he spent eleven years on different bases including time overseas.
He married his wife Kaye at Twenty and are still together after fifty years of marriage. Over the year he has had various jobs from driving the buses in Christchurch to selling dairy products on the road.
He owed two businesses, a coffee bar/tearooms and a limousine. Then in 1995 he joined the tourist tram operation in Christchurch and spent the next twenty years with the company including a year in Auckland helping set up their operation.
After surviving the devastating earthquakes of 2010 in Christchurch Kaye and Owen sold their home after the repairs and hit the road in their 5th wheel caravan. He is now retired with two grown children and one granddaughter.
Owen a keen genealogist, motor caravaner and rugby fanatic with a love of history has put his hobbies to good use when he wrote his first novel of Historical Fiction.
He wonder what it would be like to live back in the turbulent times middle of the nineteenth century he wrote the first of the trilogy Whispers of the Past.
The second book Shadows of the Mind is very close to been published with the third book in the series Clearing of the Mist a wee bit down the line
Whispers of the Past, has 22 reviews on Amazon, 19 on Goodreads, 10 on the Facebook page and on the website 188.
Links to Owen’s website, blog, books, etc.