… But you know what young fellas are like. Get an idea in their head for exploring and off they go. And off he went, into that lengthening afternoon, and was never seen again. Him or his bike. Just tyre tracks in the sand which led away from the motel for a bit, until the wind blew them out.
Course, the first thing they thought was he’d fallen down one of the old mines in the area, dug around the same time that they struck opals over in Mintabie, ’cept all they ever found around Pinnaroo way were milk opals. The contractors had the mines they found fenced off with star pickets and that orange barrier tape, but some of it had already been torn away, by animals or people or whatever was out there. The police came in and lowered a spotlight down the drops and said that they were empty. Nothing in the bottom but that dry yellow rock, and the bones of things that had fallen in over the years and died staring up at the thin circle of light above them.
But there was one of the opal mines, they said, that had no bottom they could see. They lowered the spotlight more than one hundred feet with the light shining off the walls of the mine, and once they passed a certain point, that reflection just went. Just the tiny spotlight, looking like a candle down there, and dark all around it, until they ran out of cable. Whoever’d been digging had broken through to an underground cave, something carved out of the rock thousands of years ago, the coppers reckoned. Those caves can be hundreds of feet deep. They never said this to the parents, but if the little fella had fallen down this one, he was there for good. No way to ever recover the body …
An extract of ‘The Koala Motel’ from Australian horror anthology The Great Unknown, edited by Angela Meyer and featuring A.S. Patric, Paddy O’Reilly and Chris Flynn. ‘The Koala Motel’ was shortlisted for The Carmel Bird Award.