Jogging Encounter

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I live in Australia, a country I consider to be rigorous with their physical education programs, mine being no exception. Attending a Catholic high school, the faculty thought that combining charitable Christian values with exercise would be an engaging and exciting 2 for 1: raising money for local issues and keeping all the young women who attended this school fit.

This event occurred annually and was dubbed the “run-a-thon” even though most people jogged or walked. (Some even organised boyfriends or girlfriends to pick them up on parts of the route that weren’t supervised). Parents and friends would sponsor each girl for the activity, usually forking over 50 to 100 dollars. It lasted the entirety of the school day and stretched from one side of my country town back to my school, all in all about 25/30 kilometres.

The reason I’m telling this story is because from year 7 to year 11 the reservoir trail route was the one the school used, and one that many friends and relations had used during their own years there. It was shifted for my grade 12 year because of the following events:

The run-a-thon was an activity that for some godforsaken reason was, for the most part, unsupervised. The route started in the middle of the bush, before winding through local streets, finally hitting the centre of the town and therefore the school. Approximately 2 teachers were supervising arguably most dangerous section, the bush. What would take place as a cautionary measure instead of more teachers, was that the year 12’s who were accustomed to the route would start running first, year 7’s trailing behind, 8 through to 10 behind that. The year 11’s were put at the back to supervise and make sure no one was left behind.

What made the run difficult was the additional “fun” bonus of a costume. Each year the run-a-thon had a different theme and being a sort of crazy school, most girls went all in, which didn’t lend itself to practicality during the run. This particular Run-a-thon I was in year 11. My friends and I were at the very back because we were on the athletics team and were the most likely to make up lost time after herding the stragglers.

Now halfway through the bush section of the route is a tunnel that we had to go through. It’s traditionally kept pitch black to add some excitement, and this time was no exception. Somewhere in the tunnel it forks into two routes. Our school took the one on the left that led back into town, the other one led further into bush area. One of the two supervising teachers would stand there as to prevent girls from taking the wrong tunnel but seeing as though we were at the very back with some distance between us and the previous group the teacher must have assumed that no-one else was to come and left.

By the time we got in the tunnel it was completely silent, besides the 10 pairs of footsteps that were my group. Around the time we went to exit the tunnel we heard voices echoing loudly from behind. Half of my group, scared out of their wits began to run off, the rest of us taunting them as they refused to return, informing us they would see us back at school. Suddenly out of the dark comes a little group of year 7’s. Maybe 3 or 4, all hysterical, with blotchy faces and muddy knees. Concerned we sit them down and ask what’s wrong.

They informed us that they must have taken the wrong turn, which my friend Dinah tried to call BS on, only to be shushed by the group for scaring the girls more. They then admitted to sneaking through the other tunnel as the teacher was distractedly talking to some of the girls she knew.

Now this was no big deal, it happened every year. It was a rite of passage type of thing. One or two groups of girls in each year level would be known for pulling it off. What this group decided to do was take it too far and continue down into the bush. As it had been raining that day, sometime during their little adventure a few of the girls slipped off the side of the small hill and after a panicky rescue forgot about one of them. They realised this another 2 minutes down the track, rushing to go back and get her, only for her not to be found. As our high school had a no phone policy, these girls naively didn’t carry theirs, still too young to realise that there were no real consequences to carrying it during school. They asked us to call triple zero for them, but we stupidly remained unconvinced.

Rolling our eyes, we headed back through the tunnel and to the last place the girls had seen their friend, sure that in their hysterics they missed her somewhere. It was about 5 minutes later when she truly was nowhere to be seen my group panicked.

Dinah looked at me with concern, and called her girlfriend, who attended a neighbouring school to come and drive her and the year 7’s, who she would take to the teachers and make explain the situation. As we didn’t have the phone numbers of any teachers this seemed like the next best thing to do. In hindsight this wasn’t but you know what they say about hindsight…

Another friend Isla dialled triple zero requesting police and ran to wait at the entrance of the tunnel to guide them to us. This left me and two of my other friends in the spot that the girl, Sophie, (we would find out her name later), went missing.

Now one of the scariest things about the bush is just how loud it gets, crickets, cicadas all vocalising in a disturbing cacophony. Seeing as this was mid-afternoon, such sounds were in full effect. Until they weren’t.

Somewhere in the distance, the three of us heard the most high pitched, desperate scream that only an adolescent female could produce. Confident that this was Sophie, we shouted back asking where she was. Only to be met with the most eerie silence, a short rustling, and finally the crescendo of insects once more. We didn’t hear the call again and were thoroughly shaken. Knowing we had to stay put for the sake of Sophie was the only thing that kept us there. Upon reflection all three of us confessed to feeling sick to the core and hyperaware after what seemed like 5 full minutes of this. The police arrived 10 minutes later.

We were asked to relay our information to the senior constable before being taken back to the cop cars. We couldn’t interfere with police proceedings, and instead were instructed to sit in the car while being questioned by some more members of the force. My phone was flashing with messages and missed calls as news started to spread of my involvement with this incident.

Eventually my father came to collect myself and the rest of my friends and being an ex-policeman, himself got some details from his friends that were still on the job:

It was about 3 in the afternoon when they found her, she was conscious, frightened and had a broken leg. Sophie was rushed to hospital for her break and possible hypothermia.

Now we were glad she was safe, no longer frustrated by her friendship groups antics, but also curious as to what had happened. Her friends were right in that she slipped when the others did, but where they stopped, hitting rocks, she kept rolling and was hidden by some overgrown shrubbery. As her leg broke she lost consciousness and did not regain it until her friends had left.

My dad believes the next part of the police report was the delusions of a frightened and injured adolescent but it shakes me to my core.

She told the police that she woke to the rustling of grass around her in pain and fear. After sensing that she could not move her leg she peered around to assess the situation. About 20 metres ahead of her she saw an animal but was unable to distinguish was it was. She thought it was a kangaroo because of its strange gait, but it almost seemed like it was uncomfortable walking the way it was, trying to shift between bi and quadrupedal. She screamed in fright with this realisation but passed out once more. This explained her not being able to hear us screaming for her.

The only thing that has me believing this, is the unnerving silence that I heard in the bush that day, almost as if the bush itself suddenly realised something unnatural was within it.

Now I am willing to believe that what she saw was simply a kangaroo, (country policeman are really something else when it comes to making up some crazy ass tales, even with the evidence right in front of them, and I have never actually talked to Sophie) but something in my gut tells me otherwise. I hope it’s wrong.

Ever since that year, the route was changed to one in town and is heavily supervised. I graduated a few years ago, (and Sophie has graduated as well) but my younger sister who attends the school now tells me that this incident is already a thing of legend, always brought up just before the run-a-thon when the younger year levels complain about not having the “cool old route.” The nature of a legend tends to lend itself to hyperbole, and my sister has reported back ridiculous tales ranging from monsters of aboriginal folklore to high junkies, trying to find their dens.

Whatever happened that day, it was enough for me, and the school to never take the risk of running that path again.

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