Perilous Adventures
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As Long As You're Here

by Chris Somerville

As Long As You're HereOn a Saturday morning my brother Will called me from out of the blue. We hadn’t spoken for a while, though we usually held a loose line of contact with each other. Sometimes he sent a few short letters or made couple of vague phone calls around Christmas and my birthday. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for months and then he’d stay at my house for a couple of weeks. These things never happened with any kind of regularity.

When I picked up the phone I hadn’t expected it to be him. Will told me that he was calling from a phone booth because the commune he was living at didn’t have a phone. He said he was watching the raindrops wriggle down the outside of the booth like tadpoles. I didn’t say anything. I looked at the phone chord that attached the receiver to the phone, then followed the line that came out of the phone to where it disappeared into the wall. It reminded me of a plant that had sprung up in the floor of my shower, between the tiles. At first the thought that there were plants all through the walls and that this was the only thing holding my place together had been a pleasant one, then the idea made me feel nauseous.

I waited the exact amount of time long enough to seem polite and then said, ‘So what’s the problem?’

‘I was wondering if you’d do me a huge favour and drive down here and come and pick me up.’

‘Right now?’

‘That would probably be for the best, yeah.’

‘I’m not going to drive all the way down there and all of a sudden you’ve changed your mind right?’ I said.
‘Trust me,’ he said. ‘There’s no chance of that happening at all.’

It had been raining heavily for the last week or so. I copied Will’s directions down onto the back of a used envelope – he was somewhere south, just over the New South Wale’s border, in one of the valleys that were scattered throughout the hinterland – and promised I’d be there as soon as I could.


When I finally did turn up at the commune, it had stopped raining but the sky was still dark and grey. Will was waiting on the front veranda with his arms folded across his chest, slumped in a deck chair. When he saw me he held his hand up in the air solemnly, then went and said something to someone just inside the door. Whoever it was came and stood in the doorway, no more than a silhouette, as Will came over and hopped into my car. He only had a small bag with him which he threw into the back seat. The person at the doorway was still standing there while I turned the car around, drove down the driveway and back onto the road. Once we were back on the main road it started raining again, lightly. Will looked thinner than I remembered. I turned the windscreen wipers on.

‘I can’t thank you enough,’ Will said.

‘No problem,’ I said. ‘The rain slowed me down a bit.’

‘I’m freezing, does this car have heating?’

I nodded and Will leaned forwards and messed with the dials until he had the heat going. He sat back in his seat.

‘It was a nice place there, there was a stream out in the back yard,’ he said. ‘But I really had to get out of there.’

‘Why? What happened?’ I said.

‘Nothing serious, like no real event or anything. They had a generator, but the only thing connected to that were the light bulbs. Plus everything either in, or around the place seemed to be damp.’

‘Did they have running water?’

‘I just explained about the stream didn’t I?’ Will turned the volume up on the car stereo until the speakers rattled and I leaned over and turned it back down again. ‘But I was having a bad time there,’ he continued. ‘I kept thinking that the other people on the commune were going to come into my room during the night and strangle me. I even hid my belt each night because I was so certain that were going to choke me with it. Which was stupid, I know, because if they were going to do it why wouldn’t they make sure they had a belt or a rope or something of their own before they started?’ He paused, as if it were an actual question, and I shrugged. ‘So it was either that or they were going to poison my food.’

‘You’re okay though?’ I said.

‘Me? Yeah of course. I’m starving though, we should stop and get a burger or something.’

I explained to will that I didn’t feel like stopping. We were about an hour’s drive from my place, even longer because of the rain. We followed the winding road around the sides of hills and through small valleys.


The first sign of trouble was red and blue flashing lights catching in the raindrops on the windshield. Night had already fallen, though I hadn’t seen the sun all day. I slowed the car down and Will said ‘Oh boy,’ with a deflated kind of tone. Ahead of us, parked across the road, was a four wheel drive with police lights attached to its roof. A policeman wearing a raincoat and a hat held his hand up to us and walked over to the driver’s side window. I had the thought, for a brief second, that he was there to take Will away from me and this thought had filled me with relief. The policeman leaned down and stared at Will and me through my window. He looked over us slowly. He had what looked like a shower cap stretched over the top of his hat.

‘I’m sorry but you boys are going to have to turn around. The river’s overflowing,’ he said. ‘The entire bridge down there is underwater.’

‘I just drove over the bridge,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it a further way around?’

‘We’re cutting the road up here as a precaution. Probably there was a burst upstream somewhere. You’re the only people I’ve seen so far.’

Will leaned towards the window and said ‘Were there any significant property damages?’

Both the policeman and I looked at him and he said, ‘Never mind,’ and leaned back into his seat.

‘Well,’ I said. ‘If there’s nothing that can be done.’

The policeman nodded and patted the roof of the car in a tender way, like you would a horse. He headed back to his four wheel drive and I reversed back down the road and found a place to turn the car around. We drove back the way we’d come and stopped at a service station in the small town that Will’s commune sat on the outskirts of.

There was a take-away restaurant attached to the service station. Will ordered a hamburger and I bought an energy drink. We sat down at one of the plastic tables. I finished my drink by the time Will’s hamburger was ready. I was rotating the can on the table top with my palm, the can turned slightly on its side, like a loose tyre about to spin itself to the ground.

‘They didn’t let me have meat out there,’ Will said. ‘Well that’s not true, but none of them ate meat and there was this real kind of judgement thing going on there, you know? You couldn’t cook meat and use any of their frying pans or plates or cutlery, because then they’d be contaminated by the meat. So now and then I’d sneak into town and buy meat. Actually now and then I’d slip some of the blood from my steaks into their food. Sometimes I think that it’s the only thing that kept me sane.’

The side of the can rolling over the table top was the only sound, apart from the rain, to be heard.

‘It’s hardly my fault,’ Will said after a while.

‘I know,’ I said.

‘It’s not like I caused a flood. That’s almost biblical.’

‘It’s not that.’

‘Then what?’ Will said. ‘I said you didn’t have to come and get me if you didn’t want to.’

I shrugged. When we were teenagers, when I was fifteen and he was thirteen, Will and I had gone through a weird kind of follow the leader. I had been the one to teach him about drinking, about smoking and drug use, about sex, all those other gleaming, clean teeth of the adult world. But where he had smoked steady cool jets of smoke behind the bus stop at school, I had coughed and spluttered, and where he had said that the alcohol burnt a little but still seemed unfazed, I felt something awful rise in my throat while the room had spun around me.

After Will had finished high school he went off and tried out a number of things; working on a tuna boat, selling fruit on the side of the highway, making pillows in a factory, but none of these ever seemed to stick. Of the two of us he was definitely always the black sheep. The last job he had was at a car rental booth at the airport.
Sometimes I wondered why my life was so stable and his was such a mess, other times I worried that he was a genius and I was just a guy who was wasting all his time in a small office at a financial company.
‘Look, there’s that policeman,’ Will said.

I looked out the service station’s windows to where, near the petrol pumps, the four wheel drive with the police lights was now parked. The automatic door of the service station opened and the policeman walked inside, shaking the water from his hat. He went and ordered a coffee and stood and chatted with the woman behind the counter for a while. When he noticed Will and me he gave us a quick nod, but kept on with his conversation.
His coffee came in a polystyrene cup, he fixed a lid onto its top and went back to his car. When he drove off he headed in the opposite direction, away from the bridge. I told Will to hurry up because we were leaving. He finished eating then wiped his mouth carefully with a napkin. We walked outside and got back into my car. When I left the car park I steered us back toward the bridge.

‘This road’s blocked,’ Will said.

‘I know,’ I said.

‘So, then, what are you doing?’

‘Don’t worry.’

‘He said the bridge was down.’

‘So we’ll go and check things out, maybe there’s another policeman there. I just want to see what the road’s like.’

‘I just don’t think it’s a good idea,’ Will said.

‘I know,’ I said. ‘But what else are we going to do?’

On the road my headlights lit the branches of the trees in an alarming way. They looked only half real, like a diorama in a museum. I drove past the spot where the policeman had been, or at least where I thought he had been, and continued on for a short while until we came to a white wooden barricade. There wasn’t a sign of anyone else around. Down the hill, in a dense ink-black area, was the river.

‘You see, let’s go back okay?’ Will said.

‘Come and help me, we’ll move it,’ I said.


‘Actually, stay in here and drive it through once I clear the way. The quicker we do this the better.’

Will didn’t say anything and I climbed out of the car and walked over to the barricade. I lifted the thick wooden beam, which was heavy but not as heavy as I’d imagined it would be, and shuffled the thing over to clear the road. I was getting wet, rain seemed to be hitting me everywhere. I leaned up and waved Will through. Once the car had passed by I returned the barricade back to its position. When I climbed back into the car Will had already shifted over to the passenger seat.

‘Simple,’ I said.

The surface of the bridge had been swallowed by the river, but the bridge’s side rails were still visible, sticking out of the water like the remains of a jetty. I half-wanted us to not make it because I liked the idea of us floating away. As I accelerated water fanned out from the car, thrown up by the tyres. There was a smooth, clear sound underneath us and Will inhaled sharply and gripped his hand on the dashboard to steady himself. It made me happy to see him so worried. When the tyres caught on the road on the other side of the river, and we were safe, I felt a single sharp heartbeat of disappointment, before we continued on into the dark.


About the Author

Chris Somerville is a writer who lives in Queensland. His short stories have appeared in Voiceworks magazine and The Lifted Brow. His manuscript of short stories was recently short listed for the Emerging Author category of the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards. Chris maintains a modest website at:

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