“Welcome to the Outback!” The open-armed stranger soaked in the panoramic hillside view. “That is shonky business about your brothers and sisters.”
Driew was awed at the sunset’s radiance. “Call them bothers and sinisters. They’ve used those names my entire life.” Driew’s voice cracked.
Driew tried to speak, but his voice had succumbed to dehydration.
“You need water before you go hoarse—which might not be a bad thing.” Like an Olympian, the stranger heaved a wooden disk from a pile of fieldstones, revealing a well. He pulled at the well’s rope until a water-laden bucket appeared. The stranger filled the canteen with water.
“Drink. Best Outback water in the county, I guarantee.”
The metal container chilled Driew’s lips at the touch. Its contents not only quenched his dry palate, but also his hangin’ feelings.
“I agree! Best . . . drink . . . ever,” said Driew.
While drinking in the refreshing view and water, Driew contemplated how he would respond to the question about his family’s moniker for brothers and sisters. He handed the canteen to the stranger.
“Hey! Mate to planet earth! Are you avoiding my question?” prodded the stranger.
“Imagine you’re the only normal kid you know,” said Driew.
“I am! You confirmed that, mate,” said the stranger.
“You’re hilarious—NOT! I’m not only their ‘lil bother,’ but also the smallest and darkest member of my family.”
“You’re literally the black sheep of the family!” laughed the stranger. “You make bloody good stories. Go on.”
“Misspellings like bother, sinister, and our names are a historic Qweepie family birthright. Qweepie is pronounced like it sounds, and is always followed by chuckles,” said Driew.
“You have issues, mate. Not only creepy, but you can’t spell it either!” The stranger slugged Driew’s shoulder.
Be them ever so cruel, there’s no family crueler than ours, Driew contemplated before responding. “You wouldn’t understand the humiliation.”
“Oh, I understand! There are some real haters in this town. I’m Gulia. Spelled with a G instead of J. Kids call me Goo-lia, Gruelia, Moolia, and a list of bloody hurtful and ignorant combinations,” said Gulia. “What’s yer name, mate?”
“You’re a girl!”
“Too right, mate! Don’t I stand out like a shag on a rock?”
“What’s with your pirate talk, mate? Does everyone here talk like you or is it Talk Like a Pirate Day?” asked Driew.
“I adopted words when visiting Australian relatives,” said Gulia.
I need an Australian dictionary to understand her, Driew thought. “That makes sense. My name is Driew; also misspelled, with an ‘I’ after the ‘R.’ My bothers tease that an odd baby needed an odd name,” said Driew, with a crooked grin.
“We have one thing in common, weird names!” Gulia smiled.
“Two things actually. My dad and Ida Mae, our housekeeper, tell me to play out back. Outback, we have in common,” Driew returned her smile.
“Okay. Bizarre names and the Outback, two things we share.” Gulia passed the canteen to Driew. “What brings you to my Outback?”
“Dad inherited a farm years ago. Since it didn’t sell, we’re here until it’s sold, which I hope won’t take long,” said Driew.
“The one where you rescued me,” said Driew.
“That old dump! People live there?” said Gulia, gagging dramatically.
“I know. Mom says magic can be found in the ugliest places. A magic goldmine must be buried there,” said Driew. “Our Wekiva Springs house must have had no magic because it was beautiful.”
“Wekiva Springs. Never heard of it. Is it near Dawson Springs?” asked Gulia.
“No. It’s a subdivision near Wekiva Springs State Park, near Longwood, Florida,” Driew answered.
“Moving from one spring and state park to another. You must not like change,” said Gulia.
“I don’t understand?” said Driew, shrugging.
“Wekiva Springs to Dawson Springs. Wekiva Springs State Park to Pennyrile Resort State Park. You’re about eight miles from Pennyrile,” said Gulia, pointing away from town.
“Oh, I didn’t know!”
“I don’t see the magic in your farm either. But like I said, people dump treasures on Old Hospital Road all the time. Your farm appears to be the biggest dump of treasures around,” chuckled Gulia.
“Old Hospital Road? Where is New Hospital Road?” asked Driew.
“I’ll show you,” said Gulia, signaling Driew to follow her into a tree near the well. They rested in the comfortable cradle of a twisted branch.
“See Outwood Bridge? It’s not used much. A long time ago, Old Hospital Road led to Outwood Hospital beyond those trees. Built in the 1920s for soldiers coming back from World War I, it even had a golf course. They called the road Hospital Road. The new road is Highway 109. Locals call the hill from Dudley Riley Bridge to the top ‘Hospital Hill.’ Don’t ever step onto the road at the bottom! People drive way too fast through there,” warned Gulia.
“Why would they build a new road when a good one already existed?”
“Who knows why people stop using perfectly good routes? I do know the old, unused road and your rundown farm are eyesores in my Outback. Both are mostly hidden until fall when the leaves drop and I can see both of them from my bedroom window,” said Gulia.
“Sorry.” Driew wished many things in life stayed hidden. Not only his farm, but also his childhood memories of unacknowledged pleas. That’s not cool. That’s not right. Don’t! Stop, STOP, STOPPP! PPPlease. These resurfacing memories drowned out his good times. “Why doesn’t my sinister like me?” asked Driew.
“Boomerang! You must have hit your noggin on that scarecrow. What do you mean, mate?” said Gulia, giving a cross-eyed look.
“Boomerang? Definition please,” said Driew.
“Boomerang—my word to avoid saying something mean. Like ‘right back at you’ or ‘come again.’”
From the Qweepie farm, Nieve clanked a cowbell to summon Driew home.
“I’ve got to go,” sighed Driew, disappointed to leave his judgment-free listener who, as an added perk, lived within sight of the farm.
“Driew, holdin’ a grudge means letting mates live rent-free inside your noggin. Time for their eviction letters,” Gulia encouraged.
“Unfortunately, my sibling grudge owns the deed to my mind.” Driew smashed his fist into his palm. The force stung, causing him to shake off the pain.
The cowbell interrupted their conversation, followed by a more determined call from Nieve.
“I gotta go!” said Driew.
“Here, one last swig for the road.” Gulia tossed the canteen to Driew.
He finished the last sip of cool Outback water then leapt from the comfortable branch. “I’ll see you around the Outback,” said Driew, running toward home.
“Hey, mate! You’re the best roadside treasure I’ve found in the Outback—a scarecrow with a brain!” Gulia watched Driew descend the hill.
Driew’s perspective of his Outback was not clear like Gulia’s Outback water. The pumpkin patch and the tree line were concealed by dusk’s darkening hold. A sprinkling of fireflies twinkled in the foggy air. Like the pumpkins, Driew was maturing.
Nieve called southern slang lazy-talk. Some of her words like dija, y’all, and prolly were Driew’s favorite words. Gulia’s slang wasn’t southern, but boomerang was sort of like lazy-talk, and it was a word he could adopt.
Speaking a combination of Kentuckian and Australian slang—how cool, Driew thought. He sensed speaking Australian words made Gulia feel closer to her Australian relatives. Her words made her unique!
— • —
Marq found the house’s torn window screens obstructed his view from inside and had not rushed to replace them. Their absence freed the night air to blend with the fragrant smell of southern cooking. Driew enjoyed this open-air lifestyle.
Bits of plastic jugs, stacks of decaying vehicle cushions, and bald tires were strewn around the front yard. The eyesore Gulia saw was clear from this distance.
Nieve beckoned Driew from their two-story concrete house’s side porch. The rest of the Qweepie family had gathered in the dining room.
“Driew Dawin Qweepie, where were you, baby doll? Dinner is ready!” Nieve hugged him, happy he had returned from out back.
She hung the heavy cowbell beside the door and gave it a pat. Great placement, she thought. “You’ll save my voice,” she whispered. Overwhelmed by the work ahead of them, tears welled within her as she surveyed their Kentucky farm. She gently kissed Driew’s forehead, removing straw from his hair. I don’t want to know, she thought. “You’re a mess! Wash up before dinner.”
They strolled through the aged 1930s doorway to dinner.