Cry of the Bunyips
CAUTION - Spoilers ahead!
Do not proceed if you haven't yet read the book.
The Mind of the Dolphins had been planned as a sequel to Call of the Delphinidae well before that book was finished, as I implied in my commentary on it, however Cry of the Bunyips was almost striving not to be born. In May of 2007, three months after completing the manuscript of The Mind of the Dolphins, I began doodling a prologue to a possible sequel but there it rested for a further six months before I bashed out the first chapter of what I was then calling The Black Delphinidae. The next two chapters took a further year to write, and it wasn't until the middle of 2010 that I reached the end of Part Two. At that point, realising I'd gone too far to abandon the project and at the same time feeling guilty about not finishing it, I made a concerted effort to push forward, finishing Parts Three and Four in just two months each and Part Five in the following one month.
From the outset, this fourth book set about picking up the loose threads I mentioned at the end of my commentary on The Mind of the Dolphins, while trying to find some common element linking them all together. So to begin this analysis, I'll look at each of those threads in turn, before considering some of my wacky ideas for unification and how it all finally panned out.
At the end of The Mind of the Dolphins, the City of Towers in Sheol was in the throws of collapsing, its streets and buildings mostly empty following the earlier clash between Morgoth and Mark. The only ones remaining were Elko's team and Charon the ferryman, to whom Jason had given the key to the Brisbane portal on Earth. My earliest thoughts were that, upon Charon opening it, Earth would be invaded by the hordes of displaced spirits, but I had no idea how to write something like that without it sounding like a corny 1960s horror flick, so I settled on having just Charon, Jim and Pedro passing through.
While Charon might well have been a physical being, most likely a Tivinel or perhaps even a latent Pasha, Jim was certainly deceased while Pedro, Peter's alter ego, had only ever physically existed inside time cusps. So I began pondering what they might do upon arrival on Earth, thinking that Pedro's spirit might take possession of ninety-one year old Peter, leaving Jim and Peter's displaced spirit trying to set things right. I couldn't see a way of giving such a scenario much depth, though, so I decided to put my ghosts aside for the moment in the hope that something might turn up for them to do later on.
After finishing Part One of the story, I returned to ponder what Pedro, Jim and Charon might encounter upon passing through the portal, hitting upon the idea of Pedro and Jim being reborn in that 1989 time cusp from the first part of Barefoot Times, and picking up the action from the moment Peter had escaped from it. This fitted in perfectly with the fourteen-year-old persona they'd adopted in the City of Towers and gave me much greater scope than just having them drifting around as chain-rattling ghosts in 2065.
Jim's exhilaration at becoming a living being again soon soured as the ramifications began sinking in, reaching its low point in the cemetery scene at the beginning of Part Four. It was immediately after writing this that I drafted his part in the epilogue and his reunion with Dornie, leaving it sitting quietly on my hard drive until finally incorporating it into the end of the manuscript after completing the final chapter.
For Pedro, his journey as a physical being was about coming to terms with his creator, Peter, and eventually burying the demons he'd been carrying for so long. His final role in this book of guiding fourteen-year-old Peter to safety from the depths of the Blue Mountains wilderness is perhaps the ultimate stage in his redemption, although it's unlikely to be the last we see of him, or Charon for that matter, should the story continue into a fifth book.
The notion that Jim's and Pedro's physical existence was a product of the nexus, and that upon its dissolution they'd turn to dust like Peter did at the end of Poles Apart in Barefoot Times, didn't become clear until I was writing that penultimate chapter, and certainly well after I'd decided what their fate would be, but I thought it tied in rather well with the time cusp mechanics from Barefoot Times. Even the sun coming out from behind a cloud was a part of this, for those who remember the significance of the dimming light at the beginning of a cusp. The songbirds were something new, though, and I'm not sure why I put them in, only that it felt the right thing to do. In hindsight, I think perhaps they might signify the blissful reunion of Jim and Dornie.
One of my regrets from The Mind of the Dolphins was that I didn't find more for the spirits of Elko, Bobby, Hilda and Peter's parents to do, and sadly the same thing happened in this book. After running up out of the basement when the City of Towers began its final collapse, they were never heard from again, apart from Elko's reprise as Jim's escort in the epilogue. Perhaps there'll be something for them in the next book, although I now suspect they've moved on to the next level of existence and out of sight of the author.
My original intention had been for what's now the first chapter of Part Two to be a prologue to the whole book, following my tradition of opening each new story with a flashback to Barefoot Times, while also filling in Jim and Pedro's back story from when they entered the column of light in Part Ten of Barefoot Times until we met them three years on in The Mind of the Dolphins. I'd been expecting the demise of Alistair Blunt to only take about three chapters, after which Jim and Pedro would come back into the story, but by the time I finally reintroduced them after nearly a hundred pages, the prologue was becoming a bit too distant. At the same time, I really liked the sunrise on Frizian as the book's opening, so after much deliberation I shuffled the chapters of Part Two along by one and inserted my prologue into the beginning of that part.
Frizian honey was one of my crazy little jokes in The Mind of the Dolphins, mentioned by a prison guard in describing how the perpetual twilight of Huntress drove some of the inmates as mad as bunyips that had eaten it. There it remained, until I realised afterwards that Frizian honey might well be the agent used in the blood sport of bunyip-baiting which Alistair Blunt had been accused of involvement in. Here at least was a strong link between a couple of my loose ends from that novel.
With Blunt having been elected unopposed as Supreme Councillor at the end of that book, I envisaged Pip, now as Emissary of the Black Delphinidae, wanting to put a stop to the sport, thus sending Clem to Frizian to infiltrate the honey smugglers. I was originally going to have his fellow porters be the Michael and Phillip who'd walked away from the battle scene on Bluehaven in Call of the Delphinidae, but realised they'd be close on forty years old by now, too old for what I had in mind. Wracking my brains for someone of about Clem's age, I finally struck upon Russell, the former Huntress prison colony inmate who'd testified against Hoskins and Smithers. His involvement in the story appeared short-lived, though, after being stung by the lethal Frizian honey-wasp, but the something Clem pulled from his pocket had always been the phial of antidote and his survival had never been in serious doubt.
Clem's conversation with the guide on their second trip to the hives filled in much of the back-story of Frizian honey and its effect on bunyips, paving the way for their confrontation and the tenuous bond of friendship that followed at the end of the chapter.
In the second chapter I wanted to portray the horror of the blood sport, overlaid with Clem's internal battle between revulsion and primal exhilaration. I made a conscious effort to avoid as much as possible any visual description of the carnage, relying instead on sounds, smells and the odd bitten-off ear flying out of the ring, hoping it would have greater impact by allowing the reader free rein to fill in the pictures. Even so, my mother didn't like it, saying it was too blood-thirsty for her liking, but I persevered as I really needed to show the full horror of the sport in order to justify Pip's desperate need to stop it.
After that, I fully expected Blunt to resign in chapter 3, with the lack of any candidates in the subsequent election leading to Gallagher's coup and Pip's incarceration. Clem would then travel to the Barefooters' planet of exile, bringing back Damon and Damien to rescue Pip from in front of the firing squad, after which they'd set about unravelling Gallagher's secret agenda which was to be the creation of a new Barefooter virus giving him immortality. But as soon as I started to write, the story took a different tack, with a defiant Blunt unmoved to simply stand aside. Pleased with the story's growing depth, I pushed on to the bunyip farm and Clem's apprehension by Blunt and his henchmen.
As I initially wrote the end of that chapter, Pip was to have arrived along with a police escort just as Clem and the guide were about to be shot. Pip then shouted a magic word in bunyip-speech, causing Number Five to turn on Blunt, locking its jaws on his nose until he signed the letter of resignation Pip had drafted. Blunt and his henchmen were led away by the police, leaving Pip, Clem and Number Five to begin the next phase of their journey.
After reading back through it, though, I simply couldn't believe I'd written such rubbish, and put it all aside for several months before coming up with the events as they now stand. I'd initially believed it had been one of Gallagher's men who'd fired the fatal bullet, and it wasn't until Michael pulled out his gun at the vet's home that I began to suspect it had just become a whole lot more delightfully complicated.
It was difficult making Michael the killer, though, as I'd always thought he was going to be one of the good guys, and began concocting all sorts of wild schemes where his shot had missed but some other hidden military assassin firing simultaneously had done the deed. Common sense eventually prevailed, though, and I began to warm to the idea of having one of my hero characters blotting his copybook big time like this, giving me a mottled mix of good and bad in Michael which took Clem's Jeckyll-and-Hyde reaction to the bunyip baiting to a new level.
At the same time came Clem's first run-in with the ultranet worm giving him access denied every time he tried to open a paper on the biology of Frizian honey and bunyips. My first thought was that it was the military's doing, as I was still convinced the main theme of the story would be Gallagher's secret agenda, and it really wasn't until after Jacob's death in Part Three that I realised its true significance.
With my working title of The Black Delphinidae, I'd fully expected this story to be mostly about Pip in his new role as Emissary of the revived creed, but in spite of my best efforts in the earlier chapters, Clem kept taking centre stage with Pip mostly directing the action from the wings. He finally came to the forefront in the fourth chapter, with his arrest for treason and imprisonment on Nimber. In hindsight, his anguish over the training exercises involving his apparent shooting of three red-haired boys wasn't directly relevant to the development of the story, but served to highlight the trauma Pip was suffering during his incarceration and the lengths the military under General Gallagher would go to in order to achieve their objective.
Pip didn't return to the story until after his rescue by Captain Harrison at the end of Part Three, where the link between the Black Dolphin and the yowie people was implied by his morphing apparition, tying in with the Black Dolphin's description of himself in The Mind of the Dolphins as the spirit of enlightenment, the essence of growth and the seed of sentience, a spirit which at that time became embodied in Pip, something which Pip later used to convince the Eridanian yowies to accept their new home.
Right from the outset, I had it in mind that Damon and Damien would be rescued from the planet of exile at some point in the story, although I'd never expected it to be delayed as long as it did. Part of the reason was that I couldn't really find a role for either of them in the story, and was on the verge of abandoning them altogether when I realised that their now empty planet would make an ideal new home for the bunyips and yowies. The idea that the Barefooters had engineered it to resemble Cornipus at the time of their self-imposed exile fitted in well with their history from the earlier books, while providing a reason for it to be palatable to the yowies.
Likewise, Pip's romance with Damon's sister Cloe only became apparent late in the piece, although in hindsight it should have been an obvious thing to have introduced in The Mind of the Dolphins, given his long association with the Enderling family. Pip's proposal may well have been interpreted as him wanting Cloe to become just a replacement for Snooky, but in Cloe's response I let that one pass through to the keeper as I'm sure that's not what he meant to say.
Joel, like Clem in The Mind of the Dolphins, was never envisaged as part of the story until after he'd arrived on the scene in Part Two and began making his mark, ultimately becoming my principal point-of-view character for much of what followed. There was something about this awkward and naive yet stout-hearted boy and his relationship with Loraine and David that enriched the story so much. With dysfunctional parents named Jack and Jill, he was sure to have had a difficult childhood, a lonely abyss but for the friendship of the Collins twins. In willingly sacrificing his well-being and perhaps even his life to secure the release of his friends' father from the Eridanian yowies, he more than justified the awe and deep respect Number Five had vested in him.
The Joel-Loraine-David triangle proved an interesting one to write. Although I'm sure deep down David always considered Joel to be a good friend, he became jealous over Loraine's infatuation with him, seeing him as a threat to that special relationship between twin siblings, a threat compounded when his mother started focusing her affection onto Joel as well. More so than ever, David made Joel the butt of his teasing, until the moment when the Eridanian bunyip threatened Joel's life and he realised with a shock what an absolutely precious and fragile gift their friendship really was. Initially embarrassed by his outpouring of emotion, he tried to hide it by reminding Joel that he was still a git and playfully pulling his hair down over his eyes, but Joel's “and proud of it!” response showed he’d seen through David's ruse. After that it was best mates all the way for David, seeing Joel now almost as a brother he had to nurture, and perhaps even as a future brother-in-law, although that will have to wait until book five.
When I began writing the story, I expected the bunyip Russell had called away from the spilt honey would become my hero bunyip, with his resistance to the lure of that elixir being his crucial trait. I even thought at one point of changing him to her so she could mate with Snooky, producing a new race of super-bunyips. All that went down the drain, though, when Number Five came on the scene in the second chapter, his role reinforced when the vet declared that any bunyips consuming Frizian honey had to be destroyed. From that point on it became increasingly clear that the story would hinge on the honey's after-effects, even though at the time I had no clear picture of what these might be, aside from aggression towards other bunyips. Oddly enough, that characteristic was the first to go, with Clem saying Number Five had become a committed pacifist, while at the same time my off-the-cuff description of Chopper being the biggest bunyip Clem had ever seen took on new significance as I realised one of those effects would be rapid growth.
The growth of honey-eating bunyips provided an immediate way of linking the Cornipean creatures with Earth's mythological ones, a connection Joel recognised early in Part Three. At the same time, I began to realise that this growth might have been part of the bunyips' natural life cycle, culminating in both Pip and Jacob saying that the honey's not a poison but a cure. As I was pondering what might be hiding in plain sight on Cornipus, I took the bunyips' metamorphosis a stage further, having them ultimately transform into the lost indigenous people of that world.
I'd earlier speculated on whether Number Five's transformation might threaten one or more of the human characters, as implied in Clem's dream at the end of Part One. As the story progressed through Part Three, Joel became the target of that implied threat, leading to the scene near the end of Part Four where Number Five overcomes his natural appetite for human flesh to save Joel from the Eridanian bunyips. Although I strove to imply that Number Five had died in saving the boy, that was never my intent as from the moment that scene began to crystallise for me I realised his injuries would be the trigger for his final metamorphosis.
I'd always been reluctant to give the bunyips the power of speech, preferring instead that their pungent pheromones be their primary means of communication, but Peter's encounter with the Eridanian yowies left me with little option. Besides, having them remain mute would have made the title Cry of the Bunyips a tad untenable. Part of my reluctance is still evident, though, as their speech is initially described as grumbling and difficult to understand, but in the end I had little choice but to make them fluent in not only Eridanian but ultimately, after some exposure, the Meridian common tongue as well. Number Five, having lived with humans all his life, had no trouble mastering his new-found power of speech when waking from his metamorphosis, testing his skills with some familiar tongue-twisters.
So began Number Five's final role as both peace-maker and saviour of his people, leading to the title of what I'd thought would be the penultimate chapter, The Pied Piper of Cornipus. In my mind I'd envisaged Number Five going through the streets of that world, leading all the bunyips away through the portals to their new home, but as I began writing it took a slightly different tack, evolving instead into an extra chapter between that one and Aftermath. He still ultimately fulfilled that role, only in a slightly different manner and with a somewhat smaller flock than I'd originally envisaged.
When I reached the end of the second chapter of Part Two, I had two seemingly unrelated story elements, namely the arrival of Jim and Pedro in the 1989 time cusp remnant and the disappearance of David. At around that time, my friend Kevin Dawson sent me a link to a website describing the Mandelbulb, a three-dimensional extension of the Mandelbrot set, and I quickly realised an object like this might allow me to join those threads together. Thus the nexus was born as a conduit between that remnant and the present-day (2065) world.
Having already reintroduced the time cusp, it seemed reasonable to make the time slippage between Earth and Eden the mechanism for accessing the nexus, which inevitably drew the Eridanians and their orbs into the story. This became something of a mixed blessing, for while Norrie in particular was a character from Barefoot Times I wanted to flesh out a bit more, with all the Collins family plus Peter and Chris already involved and Anton and Michael joining in too, I was quickly moving into character overload. My solution was to split them up again, courtesy of the renegade Barradhim, allowing me to focus back onto my main character Joel and the much smaller group of “nobodies” he ended up rescuing.
The nexus also served another role as the bunyip’s lair, the place where its hapless victims were brought to be consumed in the bone room. At around the time I was starting Part Three, I began to realise that, as a confluence of all possible time lines, it could also house the souls of the bunyips that should have become fully sentient beings but for what had been done to them by the first settlers on Cornipus.
Gallagher was first introduced in Part Three of The Mind of the Dolphins when Hoskins said to Kevin, “It's just an idea, sir, and you should bounce it off General Gallagher on Nimber before saying anything, but it could be the answer to our problem with the food wholesalers.” He reappeared later in that part as leading the invasion of Earth, before being identified as Hoskins' commanding officer.
In my original thoughts for the fourth book, back when I was calling it The Black Delphinidae, Gallagher was to have been the villain in the story, plotting behind the scenes to create a new Barefooter virus to make himself immortal and omnipotent. There's still a remnant of that thinking in the last chapter of Part One when Owen ponders Gallagher's role in what had been happening over the years, wondering whether he'd been using the Drago affair as a smokescreen to hide his true agenda.
As the story evolved, the focus shifted from Gallagher to the bunyips, and his role became that of someone seeking a military solution to the Cornipean problem. There still needed to be a payback for his treatment of Pip, though, and while it did cross my mind on more than one occasion to have him eaten by a bunyip, his loss of command and replacement by Piper, whom he disdained, seemed a much more fitting outcome for him.
This led me to the realisation that this story simply doesn't have a villain in the true sense of the word. There are opponents with differing points of view, but no-one is really presented as evil personified in the way Brett Farley in Call of the Delphinidae or Drago in The Mind of the Dolphins was. Ever since redeeming Andushin and Barrad in Barefoot Times, and even Morgoth in The Mind of the Dolphins, I've come increasingly to the view that blacker-than-black villains and whiter-than-white heroes make for bland writing, preferring instead to have everyone painted in shades of grey, with stereotypes as often as possible turned on their heads. Just as this story has no villain, it has no true hero either, although Joel or Number Five might come close to filling that role. Rather everyone is a victim of bad decisions made over the eons, each seeking their own way to make things right. I've also made a conscious effort throughout the series to have the crises resolved by teamwork rather than individual heroism, as seen clearly in the team rescue of Pip in The Mind of the Dolphins and the joint effort of all the main characters in finding a solution to the bunyip dilemma in Cry of the Bunyips.
Tying it all together
The hardest thing in writing Cry of the Bunyips was trying to tie a whole lot of seemingly unrelated threads together into a cohesive whole, and for much of the time I had no clear idea of how to achieve that. Looking back over the notes I'd made, here are some of the wacky ideas I came up with along the way:
Bunyips that eat Frizian honey can become trained weapons, which Gallagher wants to breed for the war he's plotting.
The solution to the bunyip mystery would be in the final chapter of Morgoth's book, which was written in a language none of the present-day people could understand. Pip would bring Damien back from the planet of exile to translate it, but along the way he'd be captured by Gallagher.
The Cornipean settlers did something to make the bunyips soulless, and after eating Frizian honey they would try to fill that void by consuming the souls of humans, but the more they consumed the hungrier they became.
Bunyips metabolised Frizian honey into the secret ingredient needed to create the Barefooter virus, which Gallagher wanted so he could become immortal.
Gallagher would declare war on Eridani over the bunyips, with several worlds in each galaxy destroyed before Number Five brokered a cease-fire.
Peter and Pedro would merge into a single being, perhaps, as Ray Foret suggested, at the midpoint of their respective ages.
Number Five would eat someone, perhaps Joel or General Gallagher, and be condemned to death, only to be rescued at the end by Clem.
One of fourteen-year-old Peter's friends in Brisbane had been the renegade Eridanian Rebecca Gosling, who followed him to Sydney and did all sorts of sadistic things to him, causing him to create Pedro to help him escape. He subsequently forgot it all, but it was the reason he had remained unmarried.
The defining moments in escaping my impasse were the realisations that Frizian honey was the cure rather than the poison, and that the indigenous warrior in the Night Terrors statue was in fact the third phase of the bunyip's metamorphosis. After that, placing a surviving yowie population on Eridani, courtesy of visits to that world by the descendents of Gallad's people, tied everything together in what appeared to be a reasonably cohesive storyline, with the inevitable attempt by the yowies to reclaim Cornipus as their home and the fight by General Gallagher to prevent it.
I did strike another major snag when I reached the third chapter of Part Four. In Part Three, Joel had already discovered the link between the indigenous warrior and the bunyips, however Jim, Pedro and Anton were unaware of that but needed to reach the same conclusion in order for the story to proceed. When reading, I always find it incredibly tedious when the reader knows stuff the characters are laboriously trying to unravel, so there had to be some new piece in the puzzle for them to discover. Peter Thorpe also had to play a part in solving the mystery, otherwise there'd be no point having him in the story at all. My first attempt was rather feeble:
One of the yowie creatures emerged from a crevice in the wall, stepping up to Peter and placing its hands on his shoulders. Its mouth opened, again revealing a set of long sharp teeth any dentist would be proud of. “I saved you once long ago, now I ask you to do the same. Hear the cries of our children and make the poisoning stop.”
In a vision opening in his mind, Peter became an infant bunyip, newly born into a lush green world. Under the watchful care of his parents, he grazed on nourishing grasslands and the vegetables cultivated by the villagers, growing in size and strength until his grinding herbivore teeth gave way to sharp carnivorous ones. Filled with a lust for meat and blood, at night he stalked the animals of the forest, hunting not only for himself but for the adult villagers as well.
As his independence grew, he felt the need to challenge his peers, fighting for the right to choose his mate. Once a fight to the death, this contest had long been ritualised, the losers humiliated but free to build their strength and fight another day.
In eventual victory he slept while his bones lengthened and fused, changing him from quadruped to biped, from bunyip to yowie. Waking as an adult, he joined his chosen mate in the village, growing crops to feed their families while extending their culture through art and story-telling.
The yowie released him. “Now you understand.”
It walked towards the portal, placing its hand on a recessed panel to reopen it. “Give back our home; give back our people.”
“What happened?” Norrie asked.
“The small bunyips, large bunyips and yowies are each different stages of the one species – their children, adolescents and adults I guess – but the Cornipean bunyips can’t mature because of what’s been put in the grass there. The souls of the people they should have become are in here, in this nexus of possibilities.”
“We have to set them free,” Rangy said.
“That’s what they want us to do.”
“You mean reclaim Cornipus for them?” Billy asked.
“If that’s what it takes, I suppose. They want us to give back their home and their people, and from what we know, I’m guessing they have a fairly strong case for that.”
“I have contacts in the Supreme Court on Meridian,” Elissi said, “but your friend will have to come with us if we’re to have any chance of success.”
The yowie nodded.
“General Gallagher won’t like it,” Norrie said.
Invoking that age-old advice to show rather than tell, it took two more attempts before I eventually ended up with what's in the book. The new pieces in the puzzle for them to find were the bunyips' social structure and the role of the nexus in housing the unfulfilled spirits of the poisoned Cornipean bunyips, and in the case of the latter it fell to Jim to make that connection. Perhaps there might have been a better way of revealing it, but at the end of the day I couldn't find it and simply had to move on.
After that, Number Five's demonstration of his people's sentience by sacrificing his life to save Joel, and the subsequent court case and its outcome, became a fairly clear-cut progression of the story. The release of the rogue botanist's grass brought the conflict over ownership of Cornipus to a head, paving the way for Number Five to rise as his people's saviour.
My side-track into the mind of Number Five was something that seemed like a good idea at the time, although as it progressed I feared it was turning into just a rehash of everything that had happened in the earlier chapters. My intention was to put the bunyip's dichotomy of minds into context, culminating in his return to consciousness as a fully sentient being and discovering his newly acquired power of speech. It took a lot longer to write than to read, though, interspersed as it was with my mother's death, so perhaps my misgivings about it being too much of a distraction are groundless.
As I began writing The Pied Piper of Cornipus, which I thought would be the penultimate chapter with Number Five leading his people to their new home on the Barefooters' former planet of exile, I realised that transporting ten million bunyips to another galaxy would be no mean feat, and thus General Piper also reached the same conclusion, eventually agreeing with Gallagher that culling would be the only workable solution. After Mark quoted Elko's famous line to Lorina, “sometimes there are hard choices and people will die no matter what we do”, it dawned on me that there might be a different solution. At the same time, in the back of my mind I'd been worried about finding a role for the bunyip Russell had brought back from Frizian after calling it away from the spilt honey, as up until then it had been completely overlooked. Having heard a reference to genetic drift in a TV nature programme, I put two and two together and came up with an additional chapter called No Matter What We Do, intending to beguile the reader into thinking there was about to be a mass culling of bunyips but instead having the veterinary biologist Jodie Ellicott utter those words when explaining how the lost genetic material couldn't be reactivated.
I hope the genetic drift solution didn't appear too much as a deus ex machina, but, having ruled out cohabitation, I couldn't, and still can't, see any other plausible resolution that wouldn't have involved either a mass culling of bunyips (and a resulting public outcry) or hordes of hungry adolescents gobbling up large numbers of children, neither of which I find particularly appealing. It was at least hinted at by Russell calling his bunyip away from the spilt honey and references to the top bunyip-baiters breeding their own bunyips, so didn't come completely out of the blue. As I mentioned earlier, a common theme in all my books has been resolution by teamwork, rather than an individual hero, and my solution does at least fit well with that.
Such ponderings aside, all that remained then was the fate of Jim, Pedro and Joel. I'd thought that perhaps Jim and Pedro might return to Earth, taking a river cruise only to find themselves on a boat skippered by Charon, but realised that since they were brought into the present via the nexus, its dissolution would cause them to turn to dust in the time-honoured way I'd used back at the beginning of Barefoot Times. The ultimate fate of these two characters, as told in the Epilogue, had been essentially sown in Part Four during Jim's graveyard scene and Peter's recollection of having been rescued by Pedro after his encounter with the yowie in the Blue Mountains wilderness, and all I had to do to wrap up the story was put those thoughts into words.
As for Joel, I'd on one occasion speculated that his parents might also have been lured away into Sheol by Charon, leaving him orphaned and to be ultimately adopted by Mark and Lorina, but I realised straight away how much that sounded like a corny daytime television tear-jerker. At the time I wrote his reunion with his parents, I'd just finished reading Marco Peel's book A Parallel Path and it seemed like an appropriate birthday gift for this prodigiously barefoot boy, leaving me to wonder whether book five will open with Joel and Loraine, then in their late teens, following Marco's bare footprints through France and Spain along the old pilgrims' road.
A Fifth Book?
I've learnt by now to never say never, so in all probability there'll be a fifth book in the series. To that end, intentionally or otherwise, I've left open several avenues for future development of the story.
First up is Pedro and his relationship to Peter, something which I raised at the end of Part Two when they came face to face in Sheol, but then managed to mostly dodge throughout the rest of the book. I'm pretty sure there's a tale or two between where I left them in the Blue Mountains wilderness at the conclusion of the Epilogue and the 15th of February 1997, the date quoted by Pedro in Part Ten of Barefoot Times as when his time-line split from Peter's. I have a feeling that a major element of any fifth book will be this completion of Pedro's circle.
Another likely thread is Charon's back-story. Is he really a Tivinel? How did he become the ferryman? What awaits him in the future?
There'll no doubt be further adventures for Joel and Loraine, perhaps set a few years on when their romance fully develops. If, after finishing high school, they do take the old pilgrims' road described in A Parallel Path, perhaps they might find some ancient artefact hiding in the basement of an old monastery, or be lured onto a sinister ferry boat on a foggy river.
Having brought Damien back into the story, I can't help wondering, as I did in my commentary on The Mind of the Dolphins, whether there might be a dark secret or two hiding in his past, perhaps even linking him to Charon or the Tivinel.
What too of Billy and Peter? They're already 91 in Cry of the Bunyips, so assuming a gap of four years till Loraine and Joel are 17, that would make them 95. Will they survive another book and get their centenarian's emails from the king?