The Fall excerpt

The Fall – Excerpt

This work is Copyright (c) Alan Baxter, 2021. For the full book, find all the links you need here.

THE FALL: Tales From The Gulp 2


Strange things happen in The Gulp. The residents have grown used to it.

The isolated Australian harbour town of Gulpepper is not like other places. Some maps don’t even show it. And only outsiders use the full name. Everyone who lives there calls it The Gulp. The place has a habit of swallowing people.

A man enjoying early retirement makes the mistake of visiting The Gulp.
A fishing boat crew find themselves somewhere entirely unexpected.
A farmer has an argument with his wife that turns violent and then entirely catastrophic.
A Venture Scout troop from Enden travel a little too far on their bush excursion.
Everything that’s been getting stranger than usual in The Gulp begins to run completely out of control.

Five more novellas. Five more descents into darkness.
Welcome to The Gulp, where nothing is as it seems.


1 – Gulpepper Curios

Andrew McDermott sat astride his BMW K1600 motorcycle at the side of the road and studied the sign. He popped open the face of his crash helmet, frowning. The main road was obvious, well-travelled, heading off with fairly dense bush on both sides, but wide shoulders and a clear blue sky above. In the distance to the west, hills rose into low mountains. The sign pointing south simply said MONKTON. But the junction before him had another road, forking off to the left. That road was also a single lane each way, but narrower, and clearly less well-maintained. It seemed to delve into the dense bush more like a tunnel than a road, quickly disappearing into shadows. The sign for that one also said MONKTON. But underneath that word, in brackets, it said: (Gulpepper). Almost like a secret.

Andrew looked down at the map tucked into the clear vinyl pocket of his magnetic tank bag. Enden was clearly marked, quite a large town, and rather pleasant. He’d had a nice lunch there, browsed the shops a little bit, then decided to get moving if he was to make the haul to the Victorian border before dark. It wasn’t too far away, but already the afternoon was drawing on. An arbitrary thought, but he’d decided to get as far as the New South Wales/Victoria border before stopping for the day. He would surely find a motel somewhere easily enough. But looking at the map now, he saw only the one road marked. The main highway from Enden through to Monkton and beyond. This junction and the narrow road leading away from it weren’t on his map, just a swathe of green indicating bushland all the way to the coast. And the town of Gulpepper, mentioned on the sign, wasn’t on his map either. Fascinating.

Andrew’s journey was a celebration of his early retirement at fifty years old. He was a successful man in almost every way and had more than enough money to live comfortably without working for the rest of his life. The banking sector was a brutal place, and he’d done well out of it. It was only a shame it had cost him his marriage. But his children were grown and his wife—his ex-wife—bore him no real malice. Perhaps this was how it was always supposed to go for them. They’d married because Joanie had fallen pregnant, after all. He’d loved their time together, and his son and daughter were the best things he’d ever done with his life, so he held no ill-will either. Everything was worth it for those two wonderful twenty-somethings. How his babies could be in their twenties already was bemusing, but there it was. He often wondered though if he and Joanie would have stayed together without the surprise pregnancy, and thought perhaps they wouldn’t have. If he was really honest. Regardless, he was only fifty and a free agent, taking an open-ended motorcycle tour of the country. No real agenda, nowhere particular to be. An absolute privilege, he knew that much. So a strange excursion like this seemed fitting. Perhaps he would investigate this unexpected road and the unmarked town of Gulpepper instead of pushing on for the border. And if there was nowhere to stay in Gulpepper, he’d carry on south as far as Monkton and head into Victoria the next day. What was the point of a trip like this, after all, without impulsive and spontaneous choices?

Although, why wasn’t the road and town on his map? Old school printed maps like this were getting harder to find, but it wasn’t that ancient, so hardly likely the town had sprung up since the map was printed. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the road looked pretty aged and decrepit. He pulled off a glove, about to tap up the maps app on his phone and check there when he heard a crunch of gravel behind him. A silver Toyota had pulled to a stop on the narrow shoulder of the junction, a bald man in a white collared shirt and dark tie leaned his head out of the open driver’s window.

“You break down, mate? Need a hand?”

Andrew smiled. “Very kind of you to stop and ask, but no, I’m all good.” He patted the tank of the K1600. “This is one of the most reliable bikes you could hope for.” He pointed up at the sign on the roadside. “I was just stopping to decide where to go because—”

“Straight on, mate.”

Andrew lifted his eyebrows in surprise at the interruption. “Straight on?”

The bald man pointed ahead at the larger road. “Straight to Monkton. You don’t want to go that other way.”

“Why not? I’m just touring, looking for interesting places to nose around.”

“There’s interesting and there’s fucked, mate. Nothing good ever came out of Gulpepper.”

That seemed to be a strange accusation. “It’s not marked on my map.”

The bald man nodded, his face set. “Lot of maps don’t show it. Some older ones do. But it doesn’t matter, you’re best off not going there. I mean, you could take that road instead of the main road through to Monkton. It’s kinda creepy, so you might enjoy that. But about halfway along is the left turn into Gulpepper, and I strongly advise against taking that.”


The bald man stared at Andrew for a moment, his expression strangely unreadable. “Look, you’re a grown-arse man, you can make your own decisions. Just know that I strongly advise you not to bother with Gulpepper. Enjoy your trip.”

Without waiting for a response, he ducked back into his car and drove quickly away, heading along the main road for Monkton. Other traffic, not heavy by any means, but fairly steady, cruised in both directions. No one took the turn in front of Andrew.

You could take that road instead of the main road through to Monkton. It’s kinda creepy.

Andrew laughed softly to himself. What a strange thing to say. The weirdness of it all had made the decision for him, he realised. He would take the road less travelled because that was the nature of the trip. Whether or not he turned left for Gulpepper he would decide when he came to it.

He put the helmet visor back down and pressed the starter. The BMW purred into life and he pulled off the hard shoulder and took the left fork into the trees. Tall, pale gums lined either side of the road, interspersed with fern trees and bracken. The vegetation was thick and spread quickly back into heavy shadow. The ground was deep with leaf litter and fallen strips of bark. Prime for a bushfire, Andrew thought, but it seemed no fire had been through this particular spot in a long time. The whole place seemed to emanate age.

The afternoon sun occasionally lanced through a rare gap, but the canopy closed over high above almost completely, making a tunnel of the road. The rough and potholed asphalt had patches of dark green moss in places where the sun clearly never fell. Andrew made a mental note to pay attention, the slick growth deadly for a bike. But the road went almost arrow straight so it wasn’t much of a risk.

The air was cooler in among the trees, the February heat suppressed by shadows. Andrew huffed a soft laugh in the confines of his helmet. Kinda claustrophobic, he thought to himself.

The road carried on unchanging for a good twenty minutes, then Andrew saw a white cross at the side of the road. It had a smear of green along the top of the crossbar and a faded wreathe of plastic flowers hanging on it. Painted on the front was Wayno. Behind the cross a large gum tree had a huge scar in its pale bark. Andrew grimaced. How did you come off the road and kill yourself against a tree on such a straight stretch? No doubt poor Wayno had fallen asleep and drifted. Tiredness was one of the big three killers on Australian roads, along with speeding and drunkenness.

Andrew throttled off only a couple of hundred metres past the white cross when he saw a sign on the opposite side pointing left. Small and green, easy to miss for anyone not paying attention, the sign said:


Gulpepper Road

(Gulpepper 11km)


Hanging off the bottom of the wooden arrow-shaped sign was a small head, like one of the shrunken heads in old Tarzan movies. It was tied by its hair to a nail. Andrew laughed. He’d slowed to an almost complete stop and checked his mirror for anyone coming up behind. Nothing. And not a single car had passed him coming the other way.

Gulpepper Road looked indistinguishable from the one he rode. One lane each way, thick bush either side.

Just know that I strongly advise you not to bother with Gulpepper.

A statement like that only made Andrew more intrigued. He’d made a career out of risk. Reading the financial winds, taking chances. He’d been burned a lot of times, but he’d been right a lot more. He thrilled with the idea of it. In truth, his career had been a little too intense, and stress levels were high. He’d seen stress literally kill several of his colleagues and peers. He’d been smart, played well, got out early. But he still relished risk. And honestly, how much of a risk could it really be to visit some small, half-forgotten town? If it turned out to be rundown and boring, barely populated as he suspected—if populated at all—he’d just have a quick look, then come back and head on to Monkton. Decide how much further to go after that. He revved up and made the left turn.

This road was indeed almost identical to the other, buried and lost in some of the most dense bush Andrew had ever seen. Even gloomier now as the afternoon sun went lower. Again, the asphalt was poorly kept, and patched with moss and lichen. Andrew cruised and after about ten minutes the gum trees began to thin. The first signs of civilisation were a couple of farms, one either side. Mailboxes on posts had signs hanging underneath, on the left BELFIELD FARM and on the right, McFARLAND. Old houses and sheds with tin roofs and weatherboard walls. A lot of them had peeling paint and rust, wooden barns leaning with age. All the tractors and trucks he spotted had to be at least twenty years old. Then more properties as the bush thinned further. Dogs ran up dirt driveways, barking at him as he passed.

Then more regular houses began to dot the sides. Still plenty of bush around, but lawns with fences, trampolines and cubby houses, family cars, some more modern than the old farms. Andrew frowned. Perhaps Gulpepper wasn’t as small or dilapidated as he’d anticipated. A couple of side streets cropped up, and then he saw a large car park. Neon letters announced Gulpepper Bowlo and a spot-lit Tooheys New sign glowed by the gate.

Big enough for a lawn bowls club, Andrew thought. Just like every country town in Australia.

The road opened out and he came to a roundabout at the top of a hill. Three other exits led from it. One to the right was signposted to a leisure centre, to the left went towards more housing. Dead ahead, the road sloped downhill towards the ocean, vast and dark across the horizon. From the high vantage point, Andrew saw the town laying to either side in undulating waves of fairly steep hills covered in houses and shops, an industrial looking set of units off to the left. He slowed, eyebrows raised at the glimpse of a harbour. He saw dozens of white masts, all manner of fishing and leisure boats. He put one foot down before entering the roundabout to take it all in. To the north and south of town the land rose steeply to cliffs thickly covered with gum trees and banksia, like the bush he’d been riding through for the last half an hour or more. But the town ahead of him was pretty big. People wandered the footpaths, cars drove around. A sign beside the entrance to the roundabout read:


Gulpepper, population 8,000

But the dead outnumber the living


Andrew laughed at that. Small town morbidity on display. But eight thousand people was not really all that small. Why the hell wasn’t a town this size on the map? And why was that bald fella with the tie so worried about it? This looked like a great Australian harbour town. A tourist town. He was surprised the place wasn’t better signposted to attract more visitors.

Want to read more? CLICK here!

This work is Copyright (c) Alan Baxter, 2021. For the full book, find all the links you need here.