John Ross ©
It was a beautiful morning. There was not a cloud in the sky. The air was still cold but the sun was warm on my face as I set out along the trail. Even though it was heavy, my pack felt comfortable on my back. I had brought enough provisions for three days, a feather down sleeping bag and plenty of warm clothes, as it can get very cold in the mountains in autumn. The whole trek down to the cave and back should only take me two days, but I had learned to be careful and to always prepare for the worst.
There was no well-trodden track, just a cleft in the rocks that led down to a narrow platform. One had to inch along this for about two hundred meters to the remains of a rock fall. This was a rather steep slope strewn with man-sized boulders and loose scree. About two thirds of the way to the bottom between two larger boulders there was a small round opening into the cave.
I had no recollection of the track at all as I started along the cliff face to find the cleft in the rocks. The last time that I had made this trek I had been found just outside the opening to the cave. I was unconscious and had a large wound on the back of my head. Bush walkers on the top of the cliff face had spotted me lying on the rocks below. At first it was thought that I had fallen from the cliff and was surely dead. However when the rescue team from the local police station reached me they found that I was still alive. It had taken them many hours to bring me back to the top and then by ambulance to the nearest hospital. The doctors did not give me much of a chance of surviving but, against all odds, I slowly got better and after four weeks I was ready to be discharged.
There was, however, one major problem. I could not remember anything before waking up in hospital. Not only did I not have any recollection of walking down to the cave but also I did not even know my own name or where I had come from.
Initially the police tried to help me but as the weeks wore on they gradually lost interest. There were only a few clues as to who I was. I could speak English, albeit with a strange accent that I was told was closest to an Irish one. I also had no words for all the modern conveniences of life such as television, mobile phones, computers etc. It was assumed I must have come from a remote rural area. The doctors told me I was about twenty years old. The clothes that I had been wearing when I was rescued did not have any maker’s tags and appeared to have been home made. They were however of good quality. They had not found any pack, provisions or other clothing.
When I left hospital I had initially stayed with one of the male patients that I had become friendly with. He had been discharged a few days before me and owned a small flat in the city. I had to attend a clinic three days a week for the next year. They helped people like me who had lost their memory or who had become mentally restricted because of an accident. At first it was hard as everything was strange and new to me. Little by little I adapted and after the year was up I was able to gain employment and to save up and rent my own place.
The years had rolled by and now I was forty years old, married with two children and a mortgage. Lately I had become more and more curious about my past and, with my wife’s support, had sought out one of the police officers who had been in the rescue party. He was now retired and living in the mountains. He told me about how they had climbed down to where I was and described the route that they had taken. He could not help me with any other information except to describe a scrap of paper that I had grasped tightly in my hand. He did not know what had happened to the paper and could only remember that it had part of a painting of a bird on it. The bird had a brilliant red head and a silver flash on its wings.
After discussing it with my wife we decided that it might be helpful if I was to go back to where I had been found. There was just the possibility that it might make me remember something about my past.
All these thoughts were swirling around in my mind as I found the cleft in the cliff face and headed down. I found the going surprisingly easy and was soon approaching the area where the cave should be. I rounded a large boulder and there it was, just as the policeman had described.
I stood staring at the opening for many minutes and at the area where I must have lain all those years ago. Nothing! The past was still just a blank wall.
Crushingly disappointed I sat on a small rock and tried to gather my thoughts. I must have sat there for at least an hour and then feeling both hungry and thirsty I opened my pack and had something to eat and drink.
After the meal I was still hungry so I took a biscuit from my pack. As I was about to eat it a male King Parrot landed near the opening to the cave. I threw it a piece of my biscuit and then it struck me. The male King Parrot has a bright red head and a silver flash on its green wings.
The bird took the piece of biscuit and flew into the cave. It disappeared into the darkness. For a moment I was too stunned to move but then grabbing my torch from my pack I followed it into the cave.
The opening was narrow but not far inside it opened out into a large chamber and from this numerous tunnels led off in different directions. I was just in time to see the bird disappear down one of these. Again I hurried after it. The tunnel twisted and turned and then came to an end in a large cave. The floor of the cave was littered with rubble that had fallen from the roof and many stalagmites and stalactites almost obscured the view through to the back wall. Then I saw it.
In the middle of the cave was a skeleton. I approached cautiously.
One side of the skull was cracked open. Beside the skeleton was a rucksack that had nearly rotted away. It was full of books. Tied to the bottom of it was a bag of what must have been provisions and a water bottle.
I pulled back the flap of the rucksack and amongst the books was a sheet of newspaper with an article on the wildlife of the mountains of the Colony of New South Wales. It was dated 1867.
Something made me glance back at the skeleton. The bird was sitting near its right hand.
Grasped in the bony fingers of that hand was a scrap of paper with a painting of a bird with a bright red head.