SAUL TURNS OFF the bitumen onto the dirt road and drives due west. The ute rattles along over the corrugated track; its tyres rumble over cattle grids between immense pastures. The land before him flat and featureless; everything – the rocks, sand and thin scrub – leached pale by the sun. The sky cobalt but for a distant spittle of cloud to the south. Behind him, miniscule against the sky, a range of hills and a line of electricity pylons. He crests a rim where it seems the whole country suddenly drops away before him, so vast and flat and desolate he is overwhelmed by a sense of vertigo. A nothingness out there terrifying in its extent. And as he drives down into that nothingness, he knows his search has ended.
He reaches the base of the escarpment and continues along the straight track toward another dusty horizon, all the while scanning the countryside for a place to stop. He will need shade, and there is precious little of that out here. After a while he makes out a lone tree on a plain in the far distance, and decides that will have to be the place. But then he catches a glint of sunlight off the iron roof of a tiny, dirt-brown house near the tree, swimming behind heatwaves. The house appears to lie at the end of the track and is the only dwelling Saul has seen since turning off the main road. The sight irks him; he had hoped to be spared the bother of people. But if he wants that tree for shade he will need to speak to whoever lives there. He hopes it is deserted. As he draws closer he sees around the house a windmill and water tank, an open garage and shed, a few citrus trees, some broken fences and a collapsed loading ramp marking out a paddock empty but for the rusted hulk of an old truck. That solitary tree, in the open plain beyond, the only other feature against the horizon. A battered early model LandCruiser parked in the garage. The stone house itself seems of the earth around it – small and crude, unpainted, surrounded on two sides by a veranda. Spying the approaching vehicle, a small dog stands barking at the edge of the veranda, soundless to Saul in the clattering ute.
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