Extract: “The Death Breath” by Michael Sumper
PonderingTime friend Michael Sumper has again provided us with an excerpt from one of his books for this month. Tension guaranteed.
“Der Todeshauch” is the third and final part of the Scottish trilogy of the Austrian writer Michael Sumper. This part is about an “Australian” poison developed by a scientist. In addition to the distant continent and its aborigines, Commissioner McBurn also works in Sicily, where he has to investigate an abduction.
During the drive on the well-asphalted road there was a lot of silence. Both men were lost in their own thoughts. Every few miles they had to pass the lonely big gates of a cattle farm with its typical rusty windmills. The mirages of the heat pretended a humidity in the distance, which was not present in such a way. The encounters with oncoming road trains, the typical heavy Australian trucks with three trailers, brought adrenaline and variety, as well as fine red dust into the car when they suddenly were forced to switch to the embankment The drivers of the road trains almost always drove in the middle of the road. Except for oncoming traffic with another road train. The sun was burning from the steel-blue sky. In Port Augusta, they filled up the car again before they drove north on the Stuart Highway. First through Pimba and then through Glendambo, then the 250 km up to Coober Pedy, the world-famous opal city. This particular place in the outback was an underground city. Hotels and shops and the residential caves, the “dugouts,” were cut into the soft sandstone and offered a relatively tolerable climate. Opals are still found here today. Innumerable large gravel hills on the surface testified to the lively activities under the earth. On the earth’s surface, it was sometimes up to 40 degrees, and more importantly, there was a gas station for the travelers. The ride was uneventful, there was absolutely nothing to see left and right of the road, not even small animals. It was a few kilometers to Coober Pady – or “kupa piti,” as the Aborigines say, which means “hole” in one of their dialects. They took a rest at a pit stop for road trains, where nothing but a dusty gravel parking lot and an outback toilet on stilts could be seen. Nyuri drove the car a little off the beaten track into the area, and after a little snack they got ready for the night They did not use the prepared fireplaces. “Tomorrow we have 850 km to Alice”, Nyuri remarked, and Sam just nodded before they hid tired in their sleeping bags. The “Swags,” the Australian sleeping bags with headboard, were the perfect sleeping place in the outback. The motto is rolled out, crawled in and closed. It was the only way to be alone in the Swag. Mostly. Sam had sprayed himself with an insect screen from top to bottom and observed through the mosquito net, which allowed a clear view into the sky above the headboard, for some time the clear starry sky above them, which appeared very close due to the lack of scattered light. The Milky Way was crystal clear like he never saw before. At some point, his eyes closed too. Nyuri slept openly on his swag, lying on his back, and snored loudly and clearly. They were on their way again before sunrise. “Did you tell your uncle about my dream?” “You mean to go hunting with real Aborigines?” “Yes. So?” “He said he knows the absolute best hunter in the area and he’s probably willing to hunt with you for a little gift. “What I’ve wanted to ask you for a long time, what do you want to shoot?” “No matter what, its just the how, I’m interested in.”
“I don’t understand!” “It’s a dream – and I’m sure you know more about those things.” “I’ll tell you something about our songlines, then you’ll understand the Aboriginal stories with their dream trails.” “I’m listening.” “Not now, later, by a campfire, with my people I tell you of the paths of the ancestors.” “Okay.” In the creation myths of the Aborigines, legendary beings were reported who once wandered across the old continent in the Dreamtime and created the paths through their singing. They sang of everything they saw and were on their way, plants, rocks, young and old trees, and billabongs, the vital waterholes, and so they sang of the dream time into the now, into existence. Whenever Nyuri thought of these stories, a deep religious feeling at the bottom of his soul began rhythmically to vibrate. And she swung for a long time. But when white people talked to him about the dream time, which he didn’t like at all, he always felt deep contempt for the person talking to, something he couldn’t explain to himself. So he avoided this kind of conversation as much as possible. The Aborigines had a very earthbound worldview. The earth gave them life, food, language, and intellect. But the earth also took everything back if one died sometime. An Aboriginal’s own land, and if it was only a bare, barren piece of outback overgrown with spinifex grasses, remained for him like an icon that should absolutely be preserved unchanged. The earth had to remain unwounded. Otherwise, you wound yourself, that was Nyuri’s firm conviction. Those who deliberately destroy the earth ultimately hurt the owner of the earth, which are the Aborigines themselves. He hoped that his excursion with the white man, whom he did not really know, would not lead to such an injury. The earth should remain untouched as in the dream time when the ancestors sang the world into existence. Those were the thoughts that were jumping under his dark head of hair. His eyes stared hard at the long straight road in front of them. They passed Maria, a small settlement with five houses, a gas station, a pub and an airport that did not deserve the name. They stopped briefly to stretch their legs and have a drink. Sam ordered a big beer that ran out of the tap and was chilled to ice. Nyuri was content with a Coke. Sam took a second beer. The rest of the trip went on without any annoying conversations, which was a good thing for both of them. The “Mulla Mulla” flower, the plant known as Pussy Tails, was currently low in growth, indicating a dry summer. It bloomed in beautiful colors in large fields along the road. Sam looked out at the side of the car and enjoyed the improbable blaze of color. He thought of his dream and hoped for some completely new techniques and poisons that the Aborigines would use in their traditional hunting. He had even stowed a small laboratory in his backpack, which allowed him to bring any samples safely to his private laboratory in Melbourne. In the lab at home and not in the office of the big company. Some time ago he had developed a spray there, the main component of which contained the poison of the blue curled octopus. Completely secret experiments had shown him that administration via the lungs had led to severe neurological disorders in the test subjects. Hardly detectable, completely invisible and absolutely deadly. A means that he had very well paid for by various “specialists.” A wealthy buyer, who probably lived in or near Venice, took five of these sprays from him through his secret middleman. He distributed the rest via “Darknet,” the special site on the Internet to which not everyone had access. He was looking for other toxic components of Mother Nature that were not so well known. Australia had a lot to offer when it came to poison. He was an enthusiastic hunter of these components and always in need of money. Only his damn gambling passion was bigger than his love hunting. But his Aboriginal friend had no idea. Sam didn’t know if Nyuri had helped him in his quest for saleable, lethal poisons. He did not’ think so – according to his judgment. The dazzling sunlightwas unmerciful and the car’s air conditioning system went on strike at will. They drank plenty of water on the way to Alice Springs and kept silent, sweating and brooding. Each in his own way. Sam couldn’t stand the silence anymore. “Nyuri, it would be nice if you could tell me something about your clan and its peculiarities before we hit the ground. I don’t want to stumble like a fat little fool mucking something up just because I don’t know your customs and traditions enough.”
Michael Sumper, born on 12th of April 1953 in Villach/Austria. After the unnecessary state HTL school, in the following school of life always up front, first in class. With 18 years already on the way to Sudan, active as an artist. During his Service as a UN soldier in Cyprus awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, together with all other UN soldiers of that time. Travel becomes a leisure activity. After a few detours, he ended up working for the Austrian Federal Railway (ÖBB). Later chairman of the ÖBB cultural association with seminar leadership and exhibitions in Finland, Venice, Frankfurt, Vienna and Slovenia. Over and again trips to India and Srilanka, Morocco, Scotland and Canada. Initiator of a foundation that has been supporting children in Sri Lanka for 20 years. His journeys are recorded in books. For 30 years owner of a catamaran in which we crossed the Atlantic in twos and spent 3 years in the Caribbean. Now back in Europe. Lives in Aquileia near Grado and Villach.
“There’s plenty of time,” Nyuri tried to appease. “Now we have time, and plenty of it,” Sam urged. “All right, what would you like to know?” “Everything I need!” “There is no Aboriginal crash course for beginners.” “Well, what about the dreams?” “Our ancestors made themselves out of clay. Thousands and thousands, one for each being or plant or stone. It’s the totemistic creatures. If an Aborigine tells you he had a koala dream, he’s saying he belongs to the koala clan. Our clan belongs to the lizard clan. Each one of us is descended from an ancient lizard father. Faith forbids us to kill one, which has already led to problems, especially in our habitats. They are our brothers and sisters, and we do not commit fratricide or cannibalism. But now our people have other dreams. You can have a flu dream or a rain dream. Anyway – many people have a money dream at the moment, like those on the goldfields of the West. On their journey through the land, the dream trails, the ancestors have scattered words and notes beside their tracks, which we now sing as we walk through the bush. These dream paths are like traffic routes from a territory to a distant tribe. They’re spreading all over the country, connecting all our tribes. If you can sing that song, you know the map you’re walking on. We also believe that we, the Aborigines, “make” our territory by naming the “things” in it. In the old days, we used to walk along these paths during our walkabouts. Today we drive our walkabouts by car,” he added with a laugh, only to become very serious again. “Deviating from these paths or the Songline, as we say, was like stepping on a strange ground and could be punished with death by a spear.” “As far as I understand it, singing the path was like a passport protecting me if I stayed on the way?” “Yes, along the way we always found friends and brothers who were kind to us.” “What would you advise me not to do with your people?” “Don’t tell them anything about your dreams. You couldn’t understand it at all and take it seriously in a way that wouldn’t be good for our further journey!” “Okay.” The yellow-flowering undergrowth landscape changed slowly, and they came into open grassland. The grass was dried up and wind-polluted eucalyptus trees, which had leaves like olive trees, lined the road. Their green, elongated leaves turned white in the wind if you just pinched your eyes a little. Far after Alice Springs they turned off the Stuart Highway and drove onto Tanami Road, which brought them far north of Uluru, the national shrine of all Aborigines. In a wide arc, the road led north past it. Nyuri did not love to get near the famous red sandstone. After a few kilometers, they turned off onto a gravel road which was to take them 100 km to Papunya in Luritjaland. Nyuri broke the long silence and remarked, “I get seizures every time I think of the madness that is happening in Uluru right now. Our old people are abused by the tourist offices as tourist guides like dancing bears. They lead tourists for little money to sacred places that were previously not even entered by our women and children. Years ago we too were only allowed to get close to these places after thorough ritual cleaning. Today the strangers run in masses and in colorful plastic clothes over our ancient sanctuaries. A holy cathedral, which has also degenerated by our own people to a house of pleasure. Even a kangaroo would puke in a wide arc. Now there are even tickets – funny enough only for three days! Most tourists disappear again after one day and devastate our other holy places with their buses and their ignorance. They leave their garbage there.” Sam remained silent because he had known this problem for a long time and did not want to discuss it with an Aborigine. Too many opinions about a red sandstone in the absolute nowhere. They were already in the land of Luritja. The tribe was the last to be slowly brought into civilization from the western desert. Until the end of the fifties of the last century, they had lived naked collecting and hunting in the sandy deserts. Like the last 50,000 years or more. They were friendly and carefree people. The men lived as hunters who hunted emus and kangaroos, and the women collected grubs, roots, and seeds. Her children often seemed well fed to the whites. At that time the Australian government needed its land for mining and also for nuclear weapons tests. So they were resettled. Many brought them to Pompanji, a settlement near Alice Springs, where they succumbed to alcohol and epidemics if they had not killed themselves before. The favorite way of death during the suicide of the Aborigines was and is the poison of the “DeathOtter,” their Latin name is Acanthophis antarcticus. The poison of the death adder is strongly neurotoxic and triggers a muscle rigidity similar to the effect of curare. Its poison, which is injected through the long teeth of the snake, creates a special kind of euphoria when bitten. The male victims die with an erection and a happy smile on their face. It’s the same with women, they die happy. The rest was taken care of by the missionaries with their sterilization practices. Even in captivity, the ancient stories repeated by the elders for thousands of years for their children and grandchildren were told. Some of the songs survived – surprisingly. The parents of Nyuri drew the animals into the sand with a stick and told the stories of the Dreamtime heroes. That’s how Nyuri grew up. Hence the deep connection of his young soul with his old country.
P.S.: Culinary research is also provided for in “The breath of death.” The book contains a list of local recommendations for its readers.