by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2000 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
"Is this the house?" Neither man was in any rush to leave the air conditioned interior of the dust-covered Range Rover despite the long hours of off-road driving.
"Must be, mate. It's the only one around. A mite run down, isn't it?" The man looked more like "Crocodile Dundee" than the actor who had portrayed him. Rumor was that the actor who played Dundee had patterned himself after George Raymor, guide extraordinaire; the man who had really killed a croc with his bare hands and was known to have more unusual pets from the wild than anyone in the outback.
"I'll say. It looks like a sizable portion of the roof over the upper floor is caved in and what's left looks like it was thrown together with every kind of building material know to man and animal."
"It does look pretty strange mate, but the early settlers used whatever they could find. Why I know of one house that was so strange --"
"That's okay," Jonathan quickly tried to avert another of his guide's long winded stories. He had absolutely no interest in hearing another story like the last one where George had single-handedly saved the son of an aboriginal wise man and gotten the ugly fur, gut and rock medallion he claimed was magic. "What did they call this place again? Sounded like some kind of jewel..."
"Not sure, mate. Ruby Garnet Farm, maybe. The map that came with the escrow papers was near useless and the aborigines have got their own names for holy places like this. Remember, the house probably started out as some pirate's bloody safe home, built on ground even the natives were afraid of. It's been abandoned for more than a hundred years."
Opening his laptop computer, Jonathan Livingston sighed, "Shall we begin the appraisal?"
"That's your job mate. I'm just the guide. Besides, that house looks like it was in ruins before we joined the Empire. The chances of finding anything of value left inside is probably less than finding a toothless croc."
"True. I guess I'll check out the view first instead. It sounds like we're right on the ocean, but I can't tell because of all these trees."
"Okay, but watch out for the dung. Largest colony of Burong Putch I've seen in years."
"What's a 'Burrowing Pooch', if that's what you called it?"
"B-u-r-o-n-g P-u-t-c-h," the guide spelled it. "It's the native name for the birds that dropped all that dung. I think you educated types call 'em Sula sula, but the rest of us blokes call 'em names like Red Footed Gannets and the pirates used to call them Boobies because the were so easy to trap. Say, I'll bet that was the name on the map, 'Red Gannet Farm'."
"Well, that was interesting," Jonathan Livingston sighed, "but I'd better get to work. Well, view first, then house and contents."
"No problem mate. Have at it. I'll just put me seat back and take a long nap. If you find any pretty Sheilas down by the beach send 'em my way."
It wasn't ten minutes later that there was a tapping on the driver's side window. George didn't even bother to lift his leather hat off his eyes. "Yes Mr. Livingston?"
"How did you know it was me? Oh, never mind. Who else would it be out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"Well, it might have been the old fella watching from that small hillock we passed, but he wouldn't be wearing your cologne." Finally sliding the hat slowly back from his eyes, George grinned at the way Jonathan's eyes darted suspiciously about. He considered telling him he had been joking, but quickly decided against it, feeling he would be a bit quicker in his appraisal and they would get back to a good beer or two that much quicker. "What can I do for you mate?"
"I found this sign by the front door."
George took the piece of battered wood. The words were barely legible, hand carved into the wood by someone barely literate. The guide spit on it in several places and wiped it clean with his sleeve before trying to decipher it. Squinting, spitting a couple of more times, and slowly sounding out the chicken scratchings, he finally came up with, "Enter at your own risk. Booby trapped."
"Do you think this is for real? Is there any danger?"
"Don't know mate, it's very possible. I've seen much stranger things. The pirates around here were a rough bunch. Wouldn't put it past 'em. Of course, considering the condition of that house, I'd guess the biggest risk is of the rest of it falling down on top of you, but to be safe, I'd suggest we forget about this and head back to town now."
"Yeah," Jonathan dubiously accepted the advice and cutting the guide off before he could start another story and they were so delayed that they had to camp out again. "I guess a cold beer would be good, but I really should finish the appraisal first," the appraiser acknowledged. "Sorry, but there were no 'Sheilas' -- if that's what you called them -- at the beach."
"No problem mate. The beer will wait." George slid the hat back over his eyes hoping the man would start already. "I'll be right here dreaming of lovely, scantily clad, beach babes if I can't have them for real..."
"So what happened already?"
"Right mate. Don't keep us all in suspense."
George finished draining his mug and waited patiently while one of the people at his table at the Rusty Board Saloon and General Store finished refilling it.
"C'mon Georgie," the beautiful blonde on his lap pouted prettily. Don't keep them all in suspense."
"Okay Ethyl. Don't get your panties in a knot. I'll tell 'em. Just let me finish wetting my whistle." With that he took another healthy swallow of the beer before continuing his story.
"I woke up near sunset with the biggest bloody Gannet I'd ever seen tapping at the Rover's windshield, that very same one," he pointed to a huge bird sitting at the bar drinking beer from a shot glass. "Not seeing that appraiser fella anywhere, I stretched and meandered over to the house to suggest to him that he break for some dinner. Funny thing was he wasn't there, not at the house, not on the beach, not in the forest, and not in the Rover. The only thing I ever found of his was his clothes and briefcase in a heap jut inside the front door under the "booby trap warning."
"Of course he found me hitchhiking down the road on his way back here," Ethyl chimed in. "So it wasn't a total loss, was it Georgie?" She playfully rubbed his hair and smiled seductively.
"Definitely not Ethyl, my dear. Definitely not."
She smiled invitingly back at him and giggled as she squirmed about on his lap feeling how happy he was to be with her.
"Now wait a minute. This is the great George Raymor we're talking to here. The bloke what never, ever, lost a tourist. Where's this appraiser fella, or are you finally admitting you aren't perfect?"
"Well, I didn't say I didn't know what happened to him, only that I never saw him again."
"Tell them Georgie. Tell them," Ethyl pleaded, wiggling some more.
"Well," George winked knowingly at the Sheila on his lap, "I think he was transformed by the house. Changed into something else." He winked at Ethyl again.
"Don't tell us you set up this whole tale with that Sheila on your lap. You are not going to tell us that she is Jonathan Livingston," both of his table companions growled menacingly.
"Slow down you blokes. Let me finish the story." He took another draught and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.
"I think the house changed him. I think I was saved by this medallion here." He waved at the wise man's gift hanging from his neck.
"So where is he?"
"Why he's right there by the bar. Isn't that right Jonathan?" The bird looked up from his shot glass and chirped grumpily before returning to his cups. "I tried to explain that the house was booby trapped, but he never let me finish. The house turned him into that bird, a Sula Sula, also known as a Red Footed Gannet, also known as a Boobie."