Ben woke from a dream to find himself in the middle of the scrub. The sun beat down. The genie in his dream told him that he was on the centre-line, whatever that meant. Ben also learned from the talking serpent that the carrot would sustain him as long as he made it last. Just one bite per day.
Reaching into his left pant-pocket, Ben retrieved the forbidden fruit: a crisp, orange carrot. Yeah right! Like he’s going to eat something that got the tick of approval from an imaginary snake. Forget that though, how had he come to be in the middle of the outback when hours before he was resting his head on his own pillow, in his own bed, in his own house?
“You are on the centre-line” the genie had said. Musing on the cryptic clue in the shade of a mallee gum, Ben took a bite of the carrot and carefully replaced it in his pant-pocket. Overcome with confusion, or was it anxiety, or maybe indecision, Ben closed his eyes and fell asleep. What more could one do in this situation?
Ben awoke as the sun swept low across the horizon. the winter months are cold out here in the dry, dusty interior. A snake slithered by and Ben followed it in the hopes that it might divulge some helpful information. This was not an imaginary snake however, and it disappeared into the scrub. Something glinted in the distance having caught the reflection of the low, winter sun. A sign.
Naturally, Ben approached and examined the sign.
RANGE CENTRE LINE
304° 42′ 41“ TRUE
Ben was in the middle of a firing range. The range-head must be to the Southeast, otherwise the measurement would have been closer to 124°. He knows he’s in the middle of Australia, and he knows he’s in the middle of winter. The sunset ought to intersect the horizon at about – I don’t know – maybe 300°. That’s almost straight down the centre-line! Just at that moment of realisation, the sun dipped below the horizon like a pebble into a pond. Plonk! All Ben had to do was walk in the opposite direction. He picked a prominent silhouette against the purple sky and headed straight for it.
Three weeks of walking, and a nibble of the carrot each day allowed Ben to cover hundreds of kilometres. Either he missed the range-head completely, or it wasn’t your typical firing range. Then, there was another sign.
MILITARY RESTRICTED ZONE
AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY
He crossed the boundary and as if by magic, a truck showed up loaded with armed, khaki-clad Aussies.
“Mate!” Shouted a soldier. “Private Benny!” He shouted again. All the men jumped from the vehicle as Ben collapsed in their arms. All of the soldiers’ Geiger counters were crackling hysterically. Some stepped back in fright whilst the others tried to identify the source of the radiation.
From Ben’s pocket a soldier pulled the crisp, fresh, half-eaten carrot and the radiation sensors crackled even more intensely than before. They threw the irradiated survivor into the truck, they threw the carrot into the scrub, and they sped away to Maralinga – the “decommissioned” nuclear testing range to have the doctors tend to their confused, disoriented, broken-down friend.
Some more info: The Woomera rocket range in central Australia covers over 120,000 square kilometres and is the largest rocket range in the world. Its centre line lies at 304° 42′ 41“