Quiet country

Above us, the Milky Way is a slash of sheer silver gossamer, studded with diamonds. The stars of other constellations are in sharp focus, stretching far out into the heavens. Two trains blaze past in the night, sirens and headlights blaring as the signal bells ring on the road next to us. They pierce the total silence and wake some of the campers. There is quiet talking, singing. The pitch-dark explodes again a little later to the headlights of a semitrailer roaring past on the track, its load shaking with corrugations. Then perfect quiet settles until dawn. (Ros Moriarty, Listening to Country)

Write the next part of the narrative where the mood or atmosphere in the text is changed because of a surprising or unexpected event. 15 marks

It is the perfect blend of the human and natural worlds. Few of us could really cope with an environment that had absolutely no sign of human life. We say we want to get back to nature, but that really means that we want this – a campsite, with a toilet block, parking, and the sounds of trains and semis in the comfortable distance. It’s life, just turned down a few notches. Take humans out of the picture, and it’s less appealing. Take them out quickly, and it’s terrifying.

We lie back down, waiting for the perfect quiet to turn to perfect silence. For the fruit pickers in the tent at the end to stop with the bong and the slurrily-strummed guitar. For the young parents ten yards away from us to cuddle Ben and Jacinta and teddy and Mr Giraffe and sleep.

You stroke my arm and listen to the parents become gradually as tired and fractious as the children. ‘Do you want that?’ you ask, meaning the package of family life.

‘God, no.’ I can feel your smile in the dark. ‘tI’d be hard, but I think I can manage without the nappies, and the mummy-mummy-mummy. And Mr Giraffe.’

Then the tent wall lights up; small stones on the ground rattle, and the whole place – the whole place, ground and everything – begins to shake. Your hand stops stroking and grips my arm. Next door, the kids wake and start calling. It all occurs at once: the side-to-side shaking of the earth beneath the groundsheet, the way you shake a pancake in a pan, to loosen it before flipping.

I sit up as the glow outside the tent grows bright and brighter, turning the nylon from orange-night to orange-day, to a blinding whiteness, as if headlights were right up against the tent wall. Huge headlights.

There are voices outside, calling questions, then suddenly the short, high sound of a small child’s scream. I scramble to my knees and reach for the zipper but you catch me around the waist and drag me back. ‘Don’t,’ you say in a whisper. ‘Just say here.’

I am indignant and scared and suspicious all at once. ‘There’s something out…listen to the kid! They need help! What about the parents? What is it – fucking bikies?’

But you slap a hand over my mouth and push me down into the rustling nest of sleeping bags which have been our bed, sofa, kitchen table and exercise space since we met at the truckstop a few weeks ago and decided to link our rambling lives for a while. ‘Just keep real quiet,’ you breathe in my ear.

The tremours stop as the other campers’ shouts grow louder. I can hear one, young male, voice asking no one in particular what the fuck they think they’re doing and could they turn the fucking headlights of whatever fucking thing that is and get the fuck out of here. There is no answer and I am thinking about fighting you off and going out to support the young guy when the blazing wall of light on the tent is suddenly broken by black shapes, shadows thrown by whatever is outside.

Or whatever – because the shape on the tent wall is distorted well beyond the normal stretching and simplifying that very bright light on nylon achieves. It is at once grotesquely elongated, solid and limbless, but moving around the top section, as if the head had more articulation than the black block of the body.

‘What the fuck is that?’ I whisper. ‘That’s not bikies. That’s…is that an animal or wha…’ For a second I think of a goanna – an eight-foot tall goanna. With a vehicle that has headlights.

Then, on the tent-wall shadowplay something uncurls from the head section. Like an antenna, but more tentacular, more pliant. It whips out and in a second there is the silhouette of a person caught around the neck by this tentacle thing, struggling, dragged towards the first figure. The clarity of their The distance between them closes. The figures merge into a single body.

The ground begins shaking again; the light brightens beyond bearing and we throw ourselves face-down into the inflatable pillow. Before we black out, we hear screaming, then an abrupt silence.

When we come to at noon the country is again still, quiet, and entirely unpeopled.

Describe how the writer creates a mood or atmosphere in this text. In your response make reference to at least ONE language device or stylistic feature. 5 marks

The mood in Moriarty’s piece is one of tranquil expansiveness. She achieves this by setting the scene with the description of the heavens, against which any ensuing thing will seem small and insignificant. The metaphor of a diamond-studded cloth is not an overtly active or exciting, and the expanse of the heavens inflects the description with a sense of existential calm. This continues as the description’s focus moves earthwards, but does not settle on an individual person or action. The trains and the semis are anonymous and impersonal, so their noise has little meaning other than to reassure the reader that there are humans in this landscape, and that they are all getting on with their business. Even the onomatopoeic blaring, ring, explodes, and roaring are commuted to a kind of peace by the campers’ activity of quiet talking, singing. These noisy events are absorbed into the overall calm of the description by the final, simple sentence, which ends the passage in a decrescendo that culminates syntactically, symbolically, and narratively, in both quiet and dawn.

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