“Van Diemen’s land is a hell for a man
To end out his whole life in slavery
Where the climate is raw and the gun makes the law
Neither wind nor rain care for bravery
Twenty years have gone by, I’ve ended my bond
My comrades’ ghosts walk behind me
A rebel I came—I’m still the same.
On the cold winds of night you will find me.”

Bobby Sands, “Back Home in Derry”

Setting: Tasmania, the Devil’s Forest

The fugitives from Port Arthur encamped after an arduous and harrowing passage through the labyrinthine forest. Eyes holding guardian-like vigil observed the interlopers curiously and appraisingly. One seemed their leader; his eyes were naturally far-cast, that of seafarer and visionary. Niall, their enigmatic leader, remained aloof from his compatriots, his gaze restlessly and perpetually far-cast, akin to a castaway envisioning the isle of exile, haunting him like a radiant ghost gracing a ruined castle. He sang of the greenest shore as the firelight, flames swayed like charmed serpents…a castaway’s time-capsuled visions.

“I remember you as you were, as the blue distances between shores became walls and rebel’s prison cells and radiance had gone, like the sight of stars in the city nights in the lingering caress of a busker’s song.”

He strayed from the flames to be in solitude with the nomad beacon of the stars to behold the Southern Cross emblazoned resplendently, and the trees seemed to sway in a reveling veneration. Whatever arms and garb they could salvage in passing in their escape. The old songs of the Gael pulsed in his soul.

He surveyed the faces of the assembled men. Poachers, thieves, unrepentant rebels…just the men he needed. He strayed like a somnambulist from the campfire that cast its wavering crimson glow in eerie interplay over the moss-bearded trees and lingering. His men knew not to disturb him in those moments.

Nocturnal denizens of the forest stirred to forage…eyes smoldered in crimson vigil. Incessant dripping from thousands of leaves and fronds of bracken.

“Steal corn in hunger and you are called a convict. Steal an island and you’re called a lord,” he brooded.

“Have military experience?” he had been asked. He had the sudden flashback of men with pikes marching shoulder to shoulder, impaling redcoats as they reloaded their muskets. The haunting echo of his battle cries swept his soul.


He would seem oblivious to them ‘til he would make a keen observation or sardonic jest on their conversation, then return entirely to the façade of being lost in requited dreams that many had long since abandoned in the wake of the convict ships, as if his dreams danced to a disembodied nocturne.

The mirage dream of return had a greater hold and tenacity then, the chains that their limbs still bore. The firelight cast, splashed its crimson on their faces, their emaciated, disheveled features, from the ordeals of exile, of captivity and escape.

A sabre-slash mark crossed his face, pulsing in the cold. It was accentuated when he glowered.

The battles of the old country left its mark, the more so on his soul. His sigh steamed like a smoking gun in the chill air as he closed his eyes to envision a vision of beauty behind green eyes, the very essence of a Celtic bard’s muse and inspiration. The craving of her emaciated his soul. For her…he’d steal and kill…at a time of desperate starvation afflicting the isle.

It was told to them that escape from Port Arthur was impossible…that the shark-infested seas before them and the impenetrable glades beyond the prison walls of forest would slay them as surely as a hangman. They were told this by the same men who spoke of the divine right of kings and the justification of starving an island into death of exile.

Eyes holding guardian-like vigil observed the interlopers curiously and appraisingly. One seemed their leader; his eyes were naturally far-cast, that of seafarer and visionary. He surveyed the faces of the assembled men. Poachers, thieves, unrepentant rebels…just the men he needed.

Meanwhile, the redcoat officer broodingly bemoaned the fate that “exiled” him to this remote outpost of empire.

One cursed and drew his rusted knife at an unearthly shrill cry, half-shriek and half-roar. The eyes of nocturnal denizens of the ancient untamed forest smoldered in reply to the brandished torch. The firelight illuminated, in nightmarish, crimson malevolence, a dark canine-like face baring bloodied fangs over their kill. Eyes smoldered emberously past the reach of the campfire. Flanks shuddered with rage as they fought over a severed wallaby limb. Fragments of the scavenged carcass dripped from their jaws. The two were mates. Flies buzzed around their bloodied muzzles as they touched in a gory kiss.

They tore into their kill ravenously, rending flesh and crunching bones. One hastily tried to load his powder musket. Their leader staid his hand. He smiled back at the beast with kindred grin.

“No…I rather like the beasties,” Niall smiled.

He closed his eyes in kindred lycanthropic rapture as their nightmarish cries shuddered in his soul. He opened his mouth. The cry of the devil lent ventriloquism to his own rage.

Musket shots exploded into the night and a horde of flying foxes erupted from the canopy of rainforest, their membraned wings whispering into the night.

His men rose with knives and muskets drawn. Their enemy was drawing closer, hunting them…or so they imagined. He heard the undulant drone of a didgeridoo, lulling his restless heart to some measure of fleeting repose. A man, iron-collared, was pulled up roughly.

“Is he a hostage?”

“Hostage? A guide.”

“Get that chain the hell off him. We’re not bloody Brits here. And stop talking like one,” Niall commanded.

“The heathen savage will eat us in our sleep.”

Niall gestured him off dismissively.

“I don’t understand your tongue,” he said to the Aborigine. He made motions of the sea inquisitively and gestured.

“I understand yours. You want me to lead you to the coast?” the Aborigine replied.


Meanwhile, a British officer slashed at the vines machete-like with his sabre as he force-marched his redcoats relentlessly through the bracken and saplings.

The redcoat officer broodingly bemoaned the fate that “exiled” him to this remote and what he contemptuously deemed a far-flung heathen outpost of empire.

The fugitives had proven maddeningly elusive.

They seemed to relish a running battle. Scouts and skirmishers who did not report back were found…only what the forest devils didn’t enjoy…which wasn’t much.

A distant scream would reach them…then silence. Another man gone.

The red uniforms of the soldiers had been stripped and swayed like crimson banners from the trees.

The corpses piled under them were practically skeletal from the ravenous devils.

The crimson dawning dwindled and the blood-red crown of the mountain bled to the glacial sheen of lingering pallor. Niall gasped and staggered suddenly, clutching at his leg. He had been struck by a musket ball. A triumphant cry was heard.

“Go. I’ll lead them away…it’s me they want,” he growled with grim finality.

The horizon beckoned the twilight like a poem written on the horizon. The awaiting ship that the fugitives would escape on was silhouetted as tantalizingly as a mirage.

He pivoted, advancing staggeringly to face his assailants.

They called to him, urging him to escape with them. He shrugged off their supporting hands, holding fragility in contempt, his set features not betraying the agony.

The Aborigine pointed him to a dark, brooding rock formation that rose majestically like an ancient idolatry, enshrined to forgotten gods, being insatiably reclaimed by the forest.

The fissured rock like gothic buttresses…shadow-contoured in the vermillion dusk. Bastion like an antediluvian beast basking on a horde of emerald.

He painfully scaled the cliff face before rising slowly to his feet, overlooking the cascade of forest, spilling from its base as if disgorged.

He flattened himself against it. From afar, the summit rising above seemed a jagged crown reigning grimly.

The vine-adorned slope would be besieged by the redcoats.

Raptor-keen eyes appraised the contours and topography before a vulpine smile flickered over his face. Scavenger birds circled, crying shrilly.

He rose, swaying, before steadying himself on the dizzying heights of the crenulated summit. He stood on the promontory overlooking the sea…swaying ropes trailed down the craggy rock formations. The trees swayed to the wind, as if dancing to an ageless nocturne. Petroglyphs illuminated in the lingering sweep of moonbeams hearkened at ages older. Scenes of hunt and battle, gods and champions.

“I advise we starve them out, sir. Let them emerge haggard and emaciated from the forest.”

“No. I want him kicking at the end of a rope by the time the governor arrives. We’ll take the rock by storm. Bayonets! “Volley!”

Thrice the redcoats marched on the towering rebel bastion and thrice the blood flowed from the craggy cliff face and chimeric rock formations, like the tears of the bereaved and ravaged land itself.

Like the cry of the desecrated land itself bereaved of heirs, his battle cry arose as the dark feathers of the carrion birds fell as if hailing him in darkness.

His teeth bared into a wild Gaelic battle cry, yet it was a shrill forest devil’s shriek that escaped his lips, like a love cry for blood. He felt in lycanthropic spasmodic rapture, the primal force that the Tasmanian described shuddering through him.

Sensing death strode with him, the Tasmanian devils shrieked excitedly, maddeningly in eerie choir, at the promise of carnage burning feverishly in their nostrils. The woods were infested with a choir of demons in an eerie orc-like chorus that shuddered through his soul.

Giant spiderwebs gowned the trees eerily in the dreamscape of night forest.

He swayed, yet steeled himself to endure. The memory of her again, intoxicating….maddening…filled his psyche.

Niall had been singled out for particular brutality by the redcoat officer as an example to other convicts. He clutched a rusty cutlass as he faced his sneering nemesis.

The redcoat infantrymen had been slain during the night.

The battle was over. Only a duel remained.

“You didn’t really think you could escape…” the officer gloated.

“No. Never did. The strategy was never for me to escape. It was to make sure you didn’t. En garde.”

His teeth bared into a wild Gaelic battle cry, yet it was a forest devil’s shrill shriek that escaped his lips. From the dark canopy of trees, black birds erupted at the sharp explosion of a pistol and clash of sparking steel.

Red streamed down his face like Aboriginal warpaint—or red tears—as he bared his teeth in feral rapture, feeling the primal power of the sacred forest sweep his soul.

Mortally wounded, the redcoat crawled on his stomach, trailing blood. The patter of pursuing paws following him. The cries of the forest devils dragged him into the forest, their crimson eyes smoldering, burning with hunger. The forest seemed to spin kaleidoscopically as he was enveloped by insatiably ravenous beasts.

Their shrill shrieks as they feasted on him alive drowned out his screams that ended in a spray of red. The moon cast its eerie, ghostly spell over the dreamscape of night forest and his dreams. Its eyes like vampire bite marks opening in the night, the Tas devil’s eyes seemed to be ignited; the moonbeams illuminated the pale spectral beast. A rare albino Tasmanian devil.

As if shedding a chrysalis or a dreamer from the writhing throes of nightmare’s tortured sleep. Writhing under cover before emerging as a human figure.

An enigmatic elusive figure haunted the forest. An outcast among his own people. Albino Aborigine…one with an uncanny way with wild creatures.

He saw him moving between the apparitional searchlights, shafts of moonbeams, filtering through the canopy of trees, a wild quoll coiled around his neck. Moonbeams shifted, illuminating a path to where he lay wounded. Those beams tinged with green filtered through the forest canopy. Nocturnal and crepuscular creatures stirred as the crimson dusk dwindled to an angry wound across the sky.

He saw the Albino then, like an apparition moving between the apparitional searchlights shafts of moonbeams, filtering through the canopy of trees, a wild quoll coiled around his neck. Eyes met his delvingly….before slitting a mark in his arm and pressing it to his wounds….

“One with the forest now…”

Niall envisioned his lost love, pale hand stretched to him…her lilting brogued voice like a caress.


He awoke to the sensation of swaying, from the throes of fever-haunted dreams. His wounds had been dressed. He was in the hull of a whaling ship bribed to take the fugitives, bound for the New World, and the island of devils left in the red wake.