Creative The Author Speaks Writing

McIntyre’s escape: An extract from the unfinished ‘Glenrowan’ prequel.

McIntyre had since crawled out of the hole and put his boots back on. He stumbled through the bush, doused in rainwater, his boots rubbing uncomfortably. He paused long enough to realise he had put them on the wrong feet and switched them around. Convinced the gang were no longer in pursuit he decided to continue on his way, using a match he had found in his pocket to create enough light to read his compass. The first match didn’t take but the second was a winner. He noted that he was heading west. He picked a constellation and followed it as he wandered through the bush. The canopy was thick and grew denser the further in he went until he could no longer see the sky. He felt the chill of the night air in his bones and struggled on, hoping movement would keep him warm.

The darkness was profound and McIntyre began to jump at every noise. Things rustled among the ferns below and branches above. Nocturnal eyes peered curiously at him from the gloom. He soldiered on, determined that news of the atrocity should get out. In his mind he relived the horrific moment when Ned had fired at Lonigan. He envisioned the blood drenched face with its sunken eye socket. He ran Scanlan’s death over in his head to make sure he saw what he thought he saw. Yes, he thought, he was definitely dead when I escaped. He knew there was no hope for Kennedy but tried not to think too long about it.

Hours passed and McIntyre felt like he had been wandering in circles. His body shook, he felt as if he was going to vomit. His head pounded aggressively and he sank to his knees and dry retched. He had not eaten since the morning before and had only really had a little tea to sustain him since then but that was more than twelve hours previously. As dawn broke, he found the terrain was far too rough to continue traversing and began to head south, roughly in the direction of Mansfield.

Dizzy and nauseated he pressed on until he reached a creek. He planted himself under a tree and attempted to write in his notebook again.

I have been travelling all night, and am very weary.

He checked his watch and tried to hazard a guess at his location.

Nine a.m. Sunday : I am now lying on the edge of a creek named Bridges.

McIntyre thought he could see a clearing. He headed towards it with all the strength he could muster. Sure enough, he reached the edge of the forest and looked down across shabby farmland where he could see a house. He staggered towards the house with one boot off, covered in bloody scratches and sweating bullets. He thought he saw smoke wafting from the chimney. Onwards he pressed. As he got near he could make out the bark roof, the slab walls and a hitching post. There was movement and he could see a woman standing outside with a little boy. He waved and tried to call out but his throat was too dry for anything more than a broken squawk. The woman and the child went inside. McIntyre swore they had gone through a closed door. Now he reached the house and stumbled to the door and knocked. The door budged slightly.

“Hello, ma’am?”

There was no answer. McIntyre pushed the door experimentally and it swung open. Inside was dark except for where there were holes rotted in the roof and walls. He stood inside and found the building was deserted. No people, no fire, no signs of life at all. An old crockery cabinet stood, just barely, beginning to collapse from its own weight. The crockery inside was filthy and outdated. The dining table was covered in bird droppings and dust. Cooking bowls sat neglected on the surface with tiny pools of stagnant water in them. The fireplace was cold and a bird skeleton lay in the ashes. McIntyre felt a fool for hallucinating. He pushed aside a sheet of moth eaten canvas and saw two beds, one much smaller than the other. He pressed down on the larger one cautiously and a snake slithered out. He was so tired that he almost didn’t care and would have laid there, snakes and all, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He checked his compass. He knew that Dueran Station would be nearby and decided that was where he needed to go.

It was around midday when McIntyre reached Dueran Station. The day had heated up very quickly and not only was the heat oppressive, but it was horribly humid. McIntyre struggled to get any kind of relief from the weather, sticking to the shade where possible and tying his jacket around his head.

He went through the gate, shuffling painfully, trying to breathe proper lungfuls of air. He headed for the farmhouse. Just outside the farmhouse he spotted several bay horses and immediately presumed they were the police horses. He supposed that the gang had ridden them to the station, pre-empting McIntyre’s arrival. He did his best to avoid being seen from the farmhouse and quietly slipped away in search of another farm to seek assistance.

It was three in the afternoon when McIntyre burst into the sitting room of the McCall house. The women gasped at the dreadful appearance of the man.

“Have you any firearms in the house?” McIntyre blurted. There was a dumb bemusement in response. “There’s been murder! I need help!”

He reached into his pocket and withdrew his notebook, which he waved wordlessly as his eyes rolled back in his head. Almost twenty four hours since the attack, McIntyre finally fell in a heap. He hit the floor with a heavy thud. Senseless to the world, he was carried to a bed by John McCall and one of his staff and his wounds cleaned. A doctor was promptly sent for. When he finally came around he shouted for a chamber pot and upon being presented with an appropriate vessel he vomited. His stomach was empty so all that came out was liquid and bile. His body trembled and he dry retched again.

When he had settled, he told the McCalls everything that had happened the previous day and they sat gobsmacked at the tale.

When Glenrowan was still in its early drafts I began working on a novella that expanded upon the prologue and fleshed out the events that led up to where the novel began. The above extract was written in September 2019 and closed chapter 8 of what was titled Blood and Thunder. This should give an indication of what a first draft looks like.

The title of the novella was derived from a witness description of the gang’s hut, which was supposedly littered with cheap novels of the “blood and thunder” variety, that being stories about violence and revenge. This was, I thought, a good way of riffing on the underlying themes of the novella being Ned Kelly’s lust for revenge against the police, the police force’s desire for revenge against the Kellys, and also the violence that results when those two worlds collide.

At present there are no plans to complete and release the novella, though this could change if enough interest is expressed by readers. The bulk of the novella is already completed, with tentative plans having already been made for a second prequel novella that was to plug the gap between Blood and Thunder and Glenrowan that focuses on the bank robberies and the complexities of the police pursuit and was to be titled Long May They Reign, which is a reference to the lyrics of The Ballad of the Kelly Gang. If ever a prequel book was to go ahead, then it would comprise the two novellas put together as one volume but, as previously stated, there are no plans to do this at present unless there is a legitimate interest in such a book. For now, this extract will serve as a hint at what could have been.

By AJFPhelan56

Father, writer, artist and bushranging historian residing in Melbourne, Australia. Author of 'Glenrowan' and the popular website A Guide to Australian Bushranging.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s