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Beware... Things are not as they appear to be.

 

Beware

J. Meverington

 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

Text copyright © 2017 by J. Meverington

Cover design © 2017 by ActionSnappers.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any manner without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Chapter 1

Hayley Powell shuffled her feet, not in any rush as she walked home from school. She had decided to take the scenic route through the forest, preferring it to the hustle and bustle of the main road. Her father would kill her if he knew. There had been a few incidents recently, but they had always been after dark. She’d be fine, it was still broad daylight outside. Besides, she was too depressed to care what happened to her.

Friday’s were the worst day of the week for Hayley, and she wasn’t looking forward to the weekend. She’d developed a crush on Brendon, one of the boys at school, and hated that she wouldn’t be seeing him again until Monday. Visions of his studious face and geek-boy glasses popped up in her mind.

Her friends called him a dork, but Hayley saw past his nerdy exterior and had somehow fallen head over heels in love with him. She’d never admit this to her friends, though. They’d give her a hard time and worse still, word could get out to her boyfriend, Rocco.

A pang of guilt jabbed her in the stomach as she thought about him. Rocco, the captain of the 1st fifteen rugby team, was popular and a huge boost to Hayley’s ego. After rugby games, girls would swoon around him like wasps to a can of Coke. It made her proud knowing he was hers; she was popular just by being with him. There was a problem, though. He didn’t make her heart flutter; not like Brendon.

Aaah Brendon; tall, slender, graceful, and smart. You don’t even know I exist!

The odd time she had flirted with him, he hadn’t noticed, his head always stuck in a book, oblivious to anyone around him. How can I seduce him? she wondered as she ambled along.

Something caught her eye on the side of the path. She looked down and saw it was a pile of shredded paper. Why would people litter in such a beautiful forest? Grrr. If she saw the culprit she would tell them to pick it up! She continued on when a thought occurred to her. By ignoring it, she was just as bad as the litterbug and wondered whether she should go back and get it. No. It was best to carry on home as it would be getting dark soon.

A short distance further on, some more paper appeared on the edge of the path. Discarded rubbish she could understand, but who would be dropping piles of shredded paper? Maybe a bird had dropped some on the way to its nest. This time she did the right thing and picked it up. Hayley was about to throw it in her backpack when she noticed writing on each of the strips. It was probably confidential by the fact it had been shredded, but being inquisitive, curiosity got the better of her. She brushed the dirt off and unravelled one of the shreds. Printed in a bold font were the words. ‘Beware of your thoughts.

She giggled. How weird, it’s as if they know what I’m thinking. Perhaps someone had put these down for a treasure hunt or something. Oh well, that’s still no excuse for littering, she thought, and shoved the shredded paper into her backpack ready to throw it in the bin at the end of the path.

Her thoughts drifted back to Brendon. Maybe she could look him up in the phone book, find out where he lived and ‘accidentally’ bump into him. She’d already tried following him on Facebook, without any success. Of course he wouldn’t be on social media. He’s non-conventional and she liked that about him. Up ahead she noticed more shredded paper on the path; definitely some sort of a game someone had laid out. She picked it up and again noticed a message. This time it read: ‘Beware of what’s around you.’

Spooky. What if it wasn’t a game? What if someone was hiding in the bushes? Her father’s warning rang around in her head.

A noise came from the trees, putting her on edge. Her eyes darted left, then right, but no-one was there. There it was again. It sounded like the old style fax machine her parents once had, dialling a number. Her heart thumped in her chest. Was someone there? Why would there be a fax machine out here in the bush?

She held her breath and listened. Silence. With shaking hands she reached into her pocket and grabbed her phone, ready to dial 111 if need be. Should she call her father? No. He would ground her for a month. It would be a lesser punishment crossing an imaginary nutter.

Some leaves rustled. Her heart stopped. More rustling. Cold fear slivered down her spine. Oh why didn’t I listen to Dad? She was about to run, when suddenly, two birds burst out of the trees, flitting about, chasing each other. Tui! She laughed as she watched them flirt together, chirping their little mating call in the way only Tui do. Strangely enough, they did sound like a fax machine. Those shredded bits of paper had unnerved her.

Hayley picked up the pace and tried to ignore her out of control imagination. She wished Rocco were here to keep her safe. Nobody would dare mess with him. As well as being a top rugby player, he was also a black belt in karate. He was a great catch, so why on Earth was she thinking about someone else!

Brendon popped up in her mind again. She laughed at the thought of him trying to fend off a nutcase wielding a chainsaw. Maybe he could outwit them with his brain power. Still, her heart skipped a beat as she thought about him.

Another pile of shredded paper appeared on the edge of the path. This was becoming exciting; like being the star in her own horror movie. Unravelling the paper the words read: ‘Beware of your actions.

She shoved the paper in her backpack, determined not to let the messages get to her. They’re not personal, she told herself. What if someone were watching her though? They might be angry with her for ruining their little game. Too bad! She was doing the right thing by cleaning up the litter and should be rewarded for her actions.

The sun was beginning to set, so she broke into a speed walk. As much as she thought this whole message thing was probably just a joke, she didn’t want to find herself in the forest after dark. Her phone battery was low, and she had no torch. Another pile of shredded paper glared at her from the edge of the path. She tried to ignore it, but it seemed to be screaming, ‘Go on, you know you want to pick me up. Go on, do it.’ She hesitated for a second, before bending down to retrieve it. The message read: ‘Beware, you have been warned.’

There was a noise in the bushes up ahead. Leaves rustled as footsteps stomped around. Someone was there, it was too big for birds. The stomping got closer. What should she do? Should she turn and run back the way she had come? Or should she continue along the path and hope it was nothing?

 

 

Chapter 2

Hayley stood, rooted to the spot. The stomping got closer. With sweaty hands she pulled her phone from her pocket. She swiped the screen ready to dial 111. Her phone bleeped twice. A message popped up on the screen. She shuddered with fear when she read it. ‘Your battery level is critical. Please connect your charger.’ The phone went dead in her hands.

The rustling stopped. Hayley scanned the forest but couldn’t see anybody. She needed to get out of here and fast! Breaking into a sprint, she ran in the direction of home. Her legs burned from the exertion and the cold night air struggled to make its way to her lungs. Ignoring her shortness of breath, she ran consumed with fear of who or what could be in the bushes.

As she rounded a corner an object blocked the path. She stopped a few feet away, unsure what to do. Standing in front of her was a giant. He must have been 7 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Hair sprouted from the side of his head like wiry corkscrews. His bushy beard flared out of control, possibly a home for a bird or two. He looked like a large version of Crusty the clown having a bad hair day. With one giant step, he reached out and grabbed her arm. She screamed, but he didn’t seem to care.

‘Let go of me you brute,’ she yelled, as she struggled to break free from his vice like grip. It was futile struggling against this beast. She winced as he gripped her arm even tighter.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’

He remained silent as he dragged her off the forest path and into the bushes.

‘I’ve just called my Dad, he’ll be here any minute. He knows where I am, this place will be crawling in police shortly,’ she said, bluffing.

He appeared unperturbed and increased his grip on her.

‘Ouch, that hurts you big baffoon.’

He led her further into the forest. An old house appeared in the distance. Oh my god, he’s going to take me there. He’s probably going to rape me, then kill me. I need to do something. Her arm throbbed beneath his grip. There was no point struggling against this giant oaf, he was too strong. Outwitting him would be her only hope.

Once she stopped struggling, his grip appeared to relax and the throbbing in her arm began to ease. He breathed heavily, as if struggling with the walk. If she could lull him into a false sense of security, she might be able to escape his grasp and make a run for it. She was sure she could outrun him.

They arrived at a ramshackle old house. Green paint curled up at the edges as it peeled away from the wood. Thick spider webs decorated a cracked window pane. On the front door, a handle hung loosely at an angle, broken. As the giant reached for the handle, his grip on her arm eased. Hayley took advantage of the moment and tore free from his grasp, catching the giant off guard. He staggered backward, before stumbling. He fell in slow motion, like a tree coming down in the forest. His large mass hit the ground with an almighty thump, then a crack as his head hit a tree root. Hayley looked at him lying there, motionless. Was he dead? Or just unconscious. She couldn’t leave him there to die, could she? No, she needed to find help.

Hayley had hesitated just a moment too long as the giants eyes opened. With surprising agility, he picked himself up and lurched at her. Sidestepping him, she broke into a sprint. She crashed through the forest; branches tore shreds from her arms as she pushed and swiped. She heard the monster thundering through the bushes behind her. Adrenaline coursed through her as she leapt over roots and weaved between trees. She bounded through the forest with the grace of a hunted gazelle, her life depending on it.

After a while the sound of thundering footsteps ceased. Hayley stopped to catch her breath and realised the giant was nowhere to be seen.

Night had come early in the forest as the trees blocked out the setting sun. She looked around her but nothing looked familiar. She was lost. In the distance a faint light glimmered through the trees. She walked towards it, the light increasing as she approached. It was indeed a house, with smoke pouring out of the chimney. Darkness settled around her, causing her to take more care. It would be terrible to trip over a tree root and be stuck out here over night. She tried not to think about the giant that might still be lurking in the bushes. It was fully dark by the time she reached the house. She found what she thought was the front door. As she went to knock, she noticed the door handle. It was hanging loose on an angle. No! Please No! She had lost her bearings in the dark and had made her way back to the hut. Dammit, how could I have been so stupid. She turned to flee, but someone was blocking her way. It was the giant. There was no escaping this time.

 

 

Chapter 3

The giant led her into the old house, his bulk consuming the cosy space. Heat radiated from an open fire that blazed in the corner. A rickety wooden table and two chairs sat in the middle of the room. The giant pushed her into a chair, and remained standing. He glared at her. Hayley wondered what he was going to do. She couldn’t get over the size of him. He looked like a wild animal dressed in clothes, and smelled like one too. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then appeared to change his mind. It seemed like he was trying to form the words in his mind before he spoke. Her eyes darted around looking for an exit. He stood between her and the door, blocking any chance of escape. There was a window behind her, but it was boarded shut. It seemed she was trapped. He shifted his weight from one leg to the other, in a nervous manner. Each time he did it, the entire house rattled and creaked. She sat there, waiting, trying not to breathe the terrible smell that emanated from him. Finally he spoke.

‘Give me your backpack.’

Terrified, she handed it to him. He rummaged through it and pulled out the shredded bits of paper.

‘So it’s you who’s been littering the forest?’

‘No, please no, I was picking up the paper. I was going to throw it in the bin at the end of the path.’

‘SILENCE. I don’t want to hear your lies. The forest is not a place to throw your rubbish. You hear me!’

‘No, honestly, it wasn’t me. I was picking it up. I’m as angry as you when it comes to littering.’

He brought his fist down on the table in anger causing her to jump. ‘LIES, all lies.’

Hayley broke down in tears. ‘Honestly, I was just trying to be a good person. Please let me go.’ She continued to sob hysterically, scared out of her wits by this not so gentle giant. It wasn’t fair. It was the last time she tried to do a good deed.

‘What are you going to do to me?’ It was hardly a crime littering. Was it?

‘Punishment. There will be punishment.’

‘Please just let me go. I can pay you. There must be a fine for littering. Even though it wasn’t me, I’m happy to pay it.’

‘SILENCE. I must think.’

The fire crackled and hissed. The stifling heat made her feel sick. Her throat was parched but she daren’t ask for a drink of water in fear of what this beast might do to her. The giant looked deep in thought. Some rustling outside the hut broke the silence. It sounded like someone scraping their boots. Hayley perked up. Someone was here to save her. Maybe they had traced her phone, she had heard they could do that even if it the battery was flat. Perhaps Rocco had a sixth sense moment and had come to rescue her. The door handle jiggled and jaggled as the person struggled to open it. A muffled man’s voice from behind the door said, ‘Got to get this blooming door handle fixed.’

The giant opened it from the inside. Standing on the doorstep was an older man, with a bald head and bushy beard. He was wearing a uniform. Hayley’s heart sank when she realised it wasn’t the police.

‘I’ve found her Dad, I’ve found the litter bug. She had all this rubbish in her bag,’ he said, picking up some scraps of paper and holding them out for his father to see. ‘She’s the litterbug,’ he said, pointing animatedly at Hayley.

The old man didn’t look happy. As he stepped inside, Hayley realised he was a forest ranger.

‘Kevin, how many times have I told you, you cannot apprehend people in the forest. It is NOT your job.’ He turned to Hayley. ‘I’m very sorry about this. We have had issues with litterbugs. It’s been quite disturbing to Kevin. He means well but doesn’t understand how things should work.’

‘Really? You should put a leash on him. He dragged me here from the path, then chased me when I ran away from him.’

The ranger looked concerned. ‘Like I said, I’m sorry about that. But you really shouldn’t be littering.’

‘It wasn’t me, I was just telling him that. I was picking up the litter, not putting it down.’

The ranger rolled his eyes, clearly not believing her. ‘Well, we can’t prove that either way, can we.’

‘No, but you could do something about this brute.’

The ranger flinched at her words, ‘He wouldn’t have hurt you, but I’ll have a word to him. I hope you’re ok.’

Hayley just wanted to get the hell out of there.

‘It’s dark out, how do I get back to the main road?’

‘Go out the front door, turn left and follow the path up the hill. It’s a 5 minute walk.’

Hayley stormed out, relieved, yet furious for what she’d been through. How dare the ranger let his brute of a son terrorise innocent people. As she stormed up the hill, the friendly sound of civilisation drifted down towards her. She never thought she’d be so happy to hear traffic noise. The forest path would be off limits for her in future. A street lamp shone from up above, casting light where the forest path met the sidewalk. As she stepped out, a glistening object caught her eye. It was another pile of shredded paper. Again, curiosity got the better of her as she bent down to pick it up. She gasped as she read the message.

It read: ‘Beware, Rocco is not where you think he is.

Chapter 4

This was starting to get personal now. Is someone watching me? Were these notes put down for me? Well, there was no doubting the message was left for her, but what could it mean? Was someone trying to scare her, or warn her? But who and why? Maybe one of Rocco’s harem was trying to bust them up so she could move in on him. It was probably Karen, with her smarmy charm and fake voice. She was always trying to win over Rocco’s attention. Thankfully he always ignored her, moaning about how fake she was.

It was late and Hayley wanted to get home. The entire evening had unsettled her, her phone was flat, and her parents would be going crazy. A good story was required as to why she was late. Being grounded during the last few months of school would be a disaster. In her haste to get home, she wasn’t watching where she was going and bumped into someone.

‘Hey, watch where you’re going,’ a man’s voice said. He then did a double take. ‘Hayley?’

She was about to apologise when she looked up and saw kind eyes peering down at her. Her heart jumped a beat. Standing in front of her was her secret crush. Her voice shook as she spoke, still rattled from the events of the evening.

‘Brendon. Hi.’

He looked concerned. ‘Are you ok?’

She burst into tears.

He looked uncomfortable. ‘Hey, what’s up?’

When she didn’t reply, he took her in his arms to comfort her. The weight of it all was too much to bear on her own, so she poured out what had happened. It felt good to dump on him. She told him everything, from the notes on the path, to being chased by the giant in the forest. The only thing she left out were the details of the final note she found. She wanted to talk to Rocco about it first.

‘You need to go to the police. That’s assault.’

‘I can’t go to the police, Dad would go nuts if he knew I was walking in the forest on my own. I’d be grounded for months. It’s not like I’m hurt or anything.’

Brendon shook his head. ‘You need to report it. Come on, I’ll take you now.’

‘No, I have to go home. My parents will be worried about me and my phone’s gone flat.’

‘Well, I’ll walk with you then. You need to tell your parents about this.’

She nodded, but there was no way she would tell them. Her father was so protective, he would lock her in her bedroom and never let her out. Once she had been out on a date with Rocco and they lost track of the time. She was only 30 minutes late, but her father went beserk. It was during the school holidays and she wasn’t allowed to leave the house for the entire week. He had removed all forms of entertainment from her room; novels, magazines, laptop, mobile phone. She’d been isolated from the outside world. No internet, no TV. It was awful. The only thing she was allowed to read were her school books. She read and re-read Macbeth, Othello, and a few of her text books. On the positive side, she did really well on her exams. She did not want to consider what he might do if he knew she’d walked through the forest on her own.

Brendon and Hayley walked side by side towards her house. It was only a ten minute walk, so she lapped up every minute of it. This was the most attention he’d ever given her and his timing had been perfect, but for some reason he seemed nervous and fidgety. She made small talk in an attempt to help him relax.

‘Do you have plans for the weekend?’ she asked.

‘Not much. I’ll get stuck into some studying in the morning, then in the afternoon I’ll work on my model railway.’

‘Is that one of those miniature trains sets that looks like a real one?’

‘Sure is. It’s a hobby of mine, I’ve been working on this one since I was 10 years old. It’s set up in a warehouse that my Dad owns.’

‘That sounds cool, does it have lights and tunnels and stuff?’

‘Yep, it’s quite elaborate. Do you want to come along to have a look?’

Was he asking her on a date? Model railway sounded pretty geeky, but she liked him. She barely hesitated before replying, ‘I’d love to.’

‘Great, I’ll come by tomorrow and pick you up. 1 pm ok?’

‘Sounds great.’ They had just arrived at her doorstep. ‘Would you like to come in for a drink?’

‘I don’t have time I’m afraid. I was just heading into town to buy my mother a birthday present. It’s her birthday on Sunday.’

‘Oh, hope I haven’t ruined your night.’

‘Nah, shops are open ’til late, so not a problem. You take care and I’ll see you tomorrow.’

Hayley opened the front door expecting an ear bashing from her father, but nobody was there. Other than the smell of food that wafted in from the kitchen, the house reeked of emptiness.

‘Hello, I’m home.’ No reply. Where was everybody? She took her bag upstairs to her bedroom and connected her phone to the charger. The lack of human presence in the house unnerved her. She checked her parents room. The faint smell of her mothers perfume lingered in the air. The door to her brothers room was closed. She knocked. No reply. It was never pleasant opening her brothers door as it always smelt bad in there. She held her breath before doing so and peered in. A quick scan through the jumble of clothing revealed no human life. She closed his door as quickly as she could, hoping the smell had not escaped.

She changed out of her school uniform and headed back downstairs. The house would normally be in a lively state, with the TV blaring and cooking smells emanating from the kitchen, but now the silence haunted her. She yearned for her father to be here, to yell at her and ground her for being late. Where is everyone?

It brought back feelings from her childhood when she would lie awake in the middle of the night. She’d be in solitary confinement in the conscious world, while her family slept on, immersed in their dreams. What if her family never woke up? What if the entire world remained sleeping? She’d be all alone. She thought she had out-grown these insecure thoughts, but they had come back to haunt her. Geez Hayley, toughen up. What are you? Five? There had to be an explanation as to where her family had gone, she was just being over dramatic. As she entered the kitchen, all was revealed. A plate of food covered with tin foil, sat on the dining table. There was a note attached.

‘Tried calling but your phone was off. We’ve gone to the movies. Please heat up your dinner in the microwave. Text me when you get home so I know you’re ok. Love Mum’

Hayley put the note on the table. Thankfully she wouldn’t have to explain to her father why she was late home. Before wasting any more time, she ran upstairs to send her mother a text. She pressed the on button and waited patiently for her phone to start up. There were a couple of text messages. Before reading them she fired one off to her mother. Sorry Mum, phone went flat. Home now. Thanks for dinner.

She checked her other messages. One was from her mother, asking her to call. There was also a text message from an unknown number. She clicked to open it. She clasped her hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. The message read:

Beware of what you did tonight.’

Chapter 5

The next day Brendon arrived in a Range Rover. It was a refreshing change from Rocco’s rusty old ford Falcon. Hayley climbed into the passenger seat, the smell of wealth oozing from the black leather. She watched as he expertly changed gear and pulled away into the lane. He drove with the assurance of a mature driver, no need to impress by squealing wheels or hooning around corners. She felt like she was in the car with a grown up. He was dressed in cream chinos and a polo neck shirt. Rocco would have been in shorts and a T-shirt, a dress code he wore all year round.

‘So how are you after your terrible ordeal yesterday?’

Hayley loved how articulate he was. Rocco would simply have said, ‘Howzit babe.’

‘Not too bad thanks, almost forgotten about it,’ she lied.

‘What did your parents say when you got home? Did you go to the police?’

‘Nobody was home, they’d gone to a movie.’

‘You were home alone?’

‘Yeah, it was no big deal.’

‘I’d have stayed with you if I’d known that. You poor thing, after all you went through.’

‘It was ok, I had an early night.’ He seemed worried about her, so she daren’t tell him about the text message. She didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.

They remained quiet for the rest of the trip. Hayley glanced at him as he drove. His whole persona screamed privileged upbringing, from his smooth manicured hands to the tip of his designer glasses. She wondered why he hadn’t gone to a private school.

He pulled up outside a large warehouse with a red roller door. Brendon pressed a remote control and the door ascended. He flicked a switch and the entire room was illuminated in light. Half of the warehouse was filled with a mass of mountains and lakes, rivers and beaches.

‘Oh wow,’ Hayley said, not expecting anything of this size. She had expected a little railway set with a couple of tunnels and flashing lights.

‘Welcome to my world away from the world.’

Hayley walked over to take a closer look. Networks of roads and railways wound their way through a variety of terrains and little villages. A large lake sat in the middle of the structure flanked by snow capped mountains,

‘Wow! This is awesome. Is that Lake Taupo?’

‘Yep, this is the North Island. It’s almost finished, then I’ll start working on the South.’

She walked around the North Island admiring Brendon’s work. At the tip, the Cape Reinga lighthouse stood proudly, complete with the famous yellow sign posts beside it. A long stretch of sand travelled down from the Cape.

‘Can I touch?’

‘Sure, it’s real sand too, from 90 mile beach.’

‘Really? This is incredible Brendon.’

He looked pleased. ‘Would you like to see a train running on the track?’

‘Yeah, that would be awesome.’

‘You have a choice. A freight train? Or a passenger train? ‘

‘Passenger train!’

Brendon set up a train at the Britomart station in Auckland. ‘This is the Northern Explorer. It travels from Auckland to Wellington every other day.’

Hayley looked at the train. It had large sightseeing windows and there were even little people inside. Brendon’s attention to detail was outstanding. She continued to marvel at his creation. How does he get time to do all this? She dipped her finger into Lake Taupo. It had actual water in it!

‘The mountain even erupts,’ he said, proudly.

He set the train in motion; from Auckland, it chugged its way south, the little people inside the carriage waving as it passed. Up ahead, the barriers came down and bells started ringing at a road junction. The little train blasted it’s horn as a warning before chugging by, the people still waving inside. It slowed down and stopped at a miniature village so realistic that Hayley expected people to get on and off. It continued its way down the north island, travelling across viaducts and through tunnels. Hayley watched, amazed, as it wound it’s way up the Raimuru Spiral.

‘How long has it taken you do to all this?’

‘Like I said, I’ve been working on it since I was 10 years old, so almost 8 years.’

Brendon explained the workings of his railway to Hayley as she drifted into a daydream, imagining the two of them on the train, drinking champagne and feeding each other strawberries. This quirky guy who played with trains had captured her heart. He was a world apart from Rocco who’s only interests were sports, fast cars and beer. It made her smile, realising boys weren’t all about muscles and good looks. At that moment she decided it was time to break it off with Rocco. She’d lost interest in him now that she had fallen for Brendon.

As if reading her mind he said, ‘Are you going to the game today?’

‘Nah, I hate rugby, but don’t tell Rocco that!’

Brendon looked uncomfortable. Perhaps he was scared of Rocco beating him up. Hayley shuddered at the thought of anything happening to him. He seemed keen to change the subject. ‘Hey, why don’t we go into town, grab a coffee?’

Wow, is he asking me on another date? For coffee?

‘But weren’t you planning on spending the afternoon working on your trains?’

‘Nah, I can do that anytime.’

‘In that case, I’d love to.’

Hayley had a feeling that Brendon didn’t have many friends, which is why he spent all his days on his railway. They decided to walk into town to avoid the Saturday traffic.

‘Is there anywhere you’d like to go?’ he asked.

He was so polite. When she was with Rocco, he had always taken charge, never asking her opinion on anything.

‘I’m not fussed,’ she replied. ‘You choose.’

‘There’s a quaint little place I know, the coffee’s a delight. You’ll love it.’ He guided her down an alleyway lined with quirky second-hand stores emitting a sweet smell of incense. The alleyway led to a small square paved with uneven cobblestones and a waterless fountain in the middle. A Korean restaurant was on their left, a Chinese herbalist in the middle and on their right, a small, but busy, Italian cafe. There was only one table left outside so they grabbed it. Brendon held a chair out for Hayley to sit on.

‘What can I get you?’

‘Flat white please.’

Brendon disappeared into the cafe to place their orders. While she waited, she contemplated how awesome he was. There was no way Rocco would hold a chair out for her. In fact, if there were only one chair left, he would take it for himself and send her off to order his drink. Selfish prick, I’m definitely dumping him.

She wondered if Brendon liked her, or whether he was only being nice because of the incident in the forest? It didn’t matter, she was happy just spending time with him. She sat back as she waited for him, enjoying the winter sun as it soaked into her skin. Just then, her phone bleeped, interrupting her solitude. It was probably Rocco checking up on her. She pulled her phone from her bag. There was a new text. She shuddered as she read the message from the unknown number.

 

Chapter 6

Hayley’s hands shook as she re-read the message.

Beware, Rocco know’s what you’re up to.

Brendon came back from ordering the coffee with a number on a stick. He must have noticed something was up.

‘Are you ok? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

‘Something weird’s going on, I’ve been getting threatening text messages from an unknown number.’

‘What do they say?’

‘It’s kind of personal, but I got one last night as well,’ she said, not wanting to worry him.

‘How bizarre, why would someone threaten you. Can you think of anyone who might have it in for you?’

‘The only person I can think of is Karen.’

‘She’s going out with Craig isn’t she? I remember you and Craig used to be inseparable.’

‘Yes, but I think that’s only so she could keep an eye on me and Rocco.’

Hayley was surprised that Brendon knew about her friendship with Craig. She guessed it was obvious; they’d been joined at the hip for the first few years of high school. Then she met Rocco and their friendship faded into the background. Hayley had felt guilty at the time, but then Craig started going out with Karen and she was relieved.

‘I know you don’t want me to say this, but you need to speak with someone. There seems to be something fishy going on. Have you thought any more about going to the police?’

‘No way. I’ll ask Rocco about it first.’

Was it her imagination, or did Brendon’s face drop when she mentioned Rocco?

The waiter brought out their coffee. The thick milky top was decorated with a silver fern pattern. ‘I love how they do this. I don’t want to ruin it by stirring,’ she said as she ripped open a sachet of sugar and sprinkled it on top.

Brendon did the same with his. ‘Do you know it’s a sign of a good coffee if the sugar doesn’t sink straight away?’

They watched as the sugar sat on the top of their flat whites for ages, waiting for it to disappear.

‘Looks like a good one,’ she said impressed that Brendon was also a coffee connoisseur. Rocco would have ordered a coke, not understanding why people pay so much for coffee. He always moaned at her when she ordered one. I’m definitely dumping him tonight.

They drank their coffee and chatted with ease. Brendon was easy to talk to, being knowledgable in a lot of things. He also showed an interest in her ideas and opinions. She knew she shouldn’t be constantly comparing him to Rocco, but he was so refreshing. Rocco only ever talked about himself or sports. Boring! They finished their coffee and Brendon offered to walk her home. Of course she agreed. She loved spending time with him. If she dumped Rocco, she wondered how long she would have to wait before she could start going out with Brendon.

They chatted as they walked along.

‘Have you decided what you will do when you finish school?’ she asked.

‘I’m doing a computer science degree at Auckland uni. You?’

‘I still haven’t decided. I don’t like studying much. I might do a beauty therapy course or hairdressing. Something like that would suit me.’

Brendon didn’t look particularly impressed. ‘You should lock something in soon, otherwise you might miss out. You wouldn’t want to end up as a checkout lady at the local supermarket.’

Hayley was shocked by his statement. That was actually her backup plan if she left it too late. What was wrong with working at the supermarket? She vowed to get on the internet as soon as she got home and look up job ideas. Maybe she could go to Auckland uni as well. It would be awesome being there with him.

As they approached the forest entrance where Hayley had emerged the previous evening, a bunch of police cars blocked the road and police tape ran down into the forest. A few people had gathered, watching what was going on.

A bad feeling developed inside her. She approached one of the bystanders, a middle aged lady, and asked, ‘Excuse me, do you know what’s going on here?’

The lady replied in a British accent. ‘Apparently a body’s been found in the forest. Possibly a murder.’

Hayley gasped. Brendon sensed her uneasiness and put his arm around her. He led her away from the police and the spectators. Once they were a good distance away she said, ‘Oh my God, I should have gone to the police. He’s killed someone, I just know it.’

Brendon comforted her. ‘Hey, you don’t know that. Nobody knows what’s happened for sure. Just stay calm until we find out what’s going on.’

‘But what if he has, it’d be my fault because I didn’t report him.’ Her whole body trembled. She knew she couldn’t live with the thought of being responsible for someones death.

‘Hey, even if that’s the case, they mightn’t have arrested him based on what he did to you. It’s not even worth going through the ‘what ifs’ until you know what’s happened.’

He took her in his arms. ‘Hey, it’ll be ok. You’ll see.’

Hayley relaxed into him, breathing in the warmth of his body. Once she had calmed down they carried on walking. She was keen to get home, to see if there was any information on the news about it.

When they arrived at her house she asked him if he’d like to come in. He glanced at his watch and said, ‘No, I’d better get going. I’ve still got a few things to do for Mum’s birthday tomorrow. Dad and I are planning a champagne and oyster breakfast for her. She’ll love that.’

‘I’m sure she will. She’s a lucky lady.’ Hayley couldn’t believe how thoughtful he was. Getting ahead of herself, she wondered if he would go to as much trouble for her birthday. Rocco had simply taken her to McDonalds.

‘She deserves it. Hey, can I get your number? Just so I can text you to make sure you’re ok?’

‘Sure.’ Hayley grabbed her phone and unlocked the screen. What she saw next caused her to freeze.

‘What is it? What’s wrong?’

Her hand trembled as she held the phone.

‘Hayley, what is it?’

‘There’s another message.’ She opened it and gasped. The phone slipped from her fingers and fell onto the grass. Brendon bent down to pick it up and handed it back to her. The message on the phone read, ‘Beware, you are responsible for this.

 

 

Chapter 7

Hayley ran upstairs and locked herself away in her room. She’d panicked, leaving Brendon standing on her doorstep, not having given him her phone number. The text message had unsettled her. Responsible for what? The death in the forest? She should have gone to the police. Who was watching her and why? Would Karen really go to this much trouble to warn her off Rocco? Or was it somebody else, someone more sinister?

She put her headphones on and turned up the volume hoping to drown out her thoughts. The lyrics to a Linkin Park song blasted into her head and she didn’t hear her mother enter the room. A tap on the shoulder caused her to jump. She removed her headphones. ‘Mum, you frightened the life out of me.’

A look of relief crossed her mothers face. ‘Thank God you’re ok. I heard on the radio that a body had been found in the forest and I was worried about you.’

‘Yeah, we saw all the police when we were walking back from town. Do they know who it is?’

‘No details have been released yet. I’m just glad you’re home safe and well. What’re you doing tonight?’

‘I was going to go out, but the dead body thing has freaked me out.’ She’d decided to dump Rocco another day.

‘Well, why don’t you stay in tonight, I’m cooking a lamb roast.’

‘That sounds lovely. Thanks Mum.’

‘Dinner will be at seven.’

Hayley texted Rocco to tell him she had a vomit bug and couldn’t go with him. He wouldn’t come near her if she was sick. She lay on her bed and lost herself in a chick lit novel, about a girl running away to New York to escape her possessive boyfriend. She fell asleep while reading it, and became a character in the novel. In her dream, she walked into a bar in Manhattan. A tall man wearing an expensive suit, stood at the bar with his back to her. As she approached, he turned to look at her. It was Brendon. As usual, her heart skipped a beat. They talked for a while, then he invited her back to his apartment. As they rode the lift to his floor, he smiled at her, but his teeth were all rotten. Repulsed by the sight, she wanted to leave but it was too late as the lift doors opened directly onto his apartment. His place was impressive, overlooking the skyline of manhattan, but there was no furniture inside. The apartment was filled with a giant railway set, complete with a passenger train chugging around it. Little people inside the train waved as it went by, but none of them were smiling.

‘What do you do for a job now?’ she asked him.

‘I’m a scientist,’ he replied, baring his rotten teeth, the smell of roast lamb oozing from his mouth. She grimaced and told him she wasn’t feeling well and wanted to leave. He said he wanted to show her something first.

‘Follow me, I’ll show you what I’ve been working on.’ He led her into a high-tech lab filled with gadgets. In the middle was a clear glass telephone box. Creeped out by the whole thing, she told him she had to be getting home as she had an early meeting in the morning.

‘No problem, I just want to show you what I’ve been working on first, hop in here,’ he said, pointing to the clear box.

She didn’t have much choice as he pushed her in, locked the door, then walked over to the far side of the room. On the wall hung an old fashioned wooden lever like you see in English pubs for pulling beer. He pulled it down in a theatrical manner and the box filled with fog, obscuring her vision. After a while the haze cleared and she found herself in a large empty room with glass sides, Brendon nowhere to be seen. A door to the room opened and she looked up. Brendon had turned into a giant. He picked her up in his huge hand and carried her out. He shoved her into a train carriage amongst a bunch of miserable looking passengers who were standing there waving out of the window.

‘Brendon, what’re you doing, let me out, let me out?’ She knocked furiously on the carriage door.

Suddenly the sound of knocking stopped and her bedroom door swung open, waking her.

‘Dinners ready,’ droned her brother’s bored voice as he sauntered back down the stairs.

Hayley sat bolt upright. Relief washed over her realising it was just a dream, even though the creepiness of it remained instilled. She looked at her phone. It was seven already, and still no message from Rocco. That’s weird, she thought. He would usually have texted or called to make sure she was ok. She rinsed the sleep from her eyes and headed downstairs for dinner. The smell of roast lamb brought up the vivid image of Brendon’s rotting teeth from her dream. She felt sick.

Downstairs, her father sat at the head of the table sipping a glass of red wine. Her brother sat next to him, his full attention on his phone. Her mother had the pan on the element, stirring furiously as she made a gravy.

‘Nice of you to join us,’ her father said sarcastically, as she took a seat at the table.

She ignored him and asked her mother if she needed a hand.

‘Thanks dear, you can put the food out if you like.’

Hayley placed the meat, potatoes, and vegetables on the table while her mother finished the gravy. Once they were all seated, they helped themselves.

‘Any news on that body found in the forest?’ Hayley asked.

‘Not much, only that it was a male. They haven’t released a name yet,’ her mother replied. Hayley had a horrible thought. She hadn’t heard from Rocco all day, which was strange. The roast her mother had prepared looked delicious, but she had no appetite. She couldn’t shake the bad feeling from the dream she’d just had. The combination of that, the messages, and yesterdays events had made her a nervous wreck.

‘Are you alright dear?’ her mother asked.

‘I’m just worried that the body found in the forest might be someone we know.’

‘Well, there’s nothing we can do about it by worrying.’

‘Excuse me a minute,’ Hayley said, and left the table. In the other room she dialled Rocco’s number. It went straight to voicemail. She didn’t want to sound needy, so just said, ‘Hi Rocco, just wanting to make sure you got my message earlier. Please call me.’ She hung up.

She sat back down at the table and pushed the food around on her plate. As her mother said, there was no point worrying about something that was out of her control. If something had happened, she would find out soon enough. As it happened, she needn’t wait too long. There was a knock at the door.

‘Bloody hell, it had better not be salesmen interrupting our dinner,’ her father said, as he got up to answer it. He always seemed to be grumpy these days. She heard a mumble of voices, then footsteps as her father led the visitors into the kitchen. Hayley’s breath caught in her throat when she saw who it was.

‘The police want to talk to you Hayley.’

Chapter 8

Hayley’s heart palpitated at the sight of the police. Her worst fears were about to come true. Rocco was dead and like the text message said, she was responsible. She should have gone to the police as Brendon had suggested. What was going to happen to her now? Would she go to jail? Or live the rest of her life in the prison of her mind, blaming herself for the death of her once loved one.

She followed them into the lounge. The policeman introduced himself and his female partner. Their names washed over her head in a blur, her brain unable to concentrate. He was talking, but it was just a jumble of words, making no sense. They must think she was guilty, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t focus on what he was saying. His mouth moved behind the fog, while words tumbled out in a muted babble. She sat in stunned silence, quietly drowning in cold sweat.

Her mother came over and put a hand on her trembling shoulder. She said something to her, but through the haze she only saw her moving lips and kind eyes. The next thing she was on her feet, being ushered into another room. She sat down in a hard chair and closed her eyes, hoping that when she opened them the fog would be gone.

She heard her mother say, ‘Just give her a moment if you can.’ A door closed. Hayley sensed it was just the two of them in the room.

‘Are you ok?’ her mother said.

She kept her eyes closed a moment longer, willing the fog away.

‘Hayley, whats wrong?’

She looked up and saw her mothers kind, but concerned eyes looking at her.

‘Darling, it’s ok, the police just want to ask you a couple of questions. You’re not in trouble or anything.’

‘But Dad will kill me.’

‘No he wont, I’ll make sure of that. Look, I can send the police away if it’s too much for you. They can come back another day.’

Hayley could see clearly again and had calmed down. ‘No, it’s ok, let’s get it over and done with.’

‘Only if you’re sure.’

Hayley nodded, not sure at all, but wanting to know what this was all about. They went back into the lounge. The two police officers were on the couch and her father in his favourite chair opposite. Her brother was nowhere to be seen, probably in his room. Hayley took a seat in the other armchair.

‘Hi Hayley,’ the policeman said, ‘There’s nothing to worry about, we just have a couple of questions for you.’

She took a deep breath and nodded.

‘You might’ve heard we found a body in the forest earlier today.’

She shuddered at his words. ‘What does this have to do with me?’

‘We’re just following up on all possible leads. Did you come home via the forest path last evening?’

She glanced at her father who was listening. She couldn’t lie to the police. Could she? Her father would kill her.

‘Look, it’s nothing to worry about, we just have to follow up on all leads. We’ve reason to believe you came home via the forest yesterday.’

How did they know? The giant and the ranger must have said something. She hoped they weren’t trying to pin the blame on her. Should she ask for a lawyer? She hadn’t done anything wrong, so what harm was there in telling the truth? If it helped them in their investigation, then that was a good thing. She would just have to wear the consequences.

‘Yes, I came home from school that way.’

‘Were you on your own?’

As she nodded, her father butted in. ‘You what? I’ve told you time and time again, not to come home via the forest path alone. What were you thinking?’ He glared at her.

‘Sir, can you please hold your outbursts for the moment. This is a potential criminal investigation and we need to ask your daughter some questions.’

Her father was seething, she could feel the air, thick with tension, but he kept his mouth shut.

‘Did you see anything out of the ordinary when you walked home that way?’

She told them how she was picking up litter when a giant man chased her through the forest, then held her captive in the hut while accusing her of littering. She also told them about the ranger who came along and let her go. She didn’t mention what was written on the shredded bits of paper as she didn’t think it was relevant.

‘Why didn’t you report it?’

‘I didn’t want to make a fuss.’

‘Well, you should have called the police.’ He looked at her father. ‘Did you know about this?’

‘No, nothing. This is the first we’ve heard about it?’

The policeman looked at her suspiciously. ‘Why didn’t you tell your parents? It must have been a terrible ordeal for you to have gone through alone.’

‘I didn’t want to get in trouble,’ she said, avoiding her fathers gaze.

‘Have you told anyone else what happened?’

‘Just my friend, Brendon McGregor.’

The policeman jotted some notes on his iPad, then stood up.

‘Ok, well that’s all we need for now. We may need to speak to you again.’

‘Can you tell us who the body belongs to?’ she asked.

‘I’m sorry, but we’re unable to release that information just yet.’

With that parting comment, the police officers left, leaving her in suspense.

 

 

Chapter 9

After the police visit Saturday night, Hayley took a tablet her mother had given her then went straight to bed and didn’t wake up until lunchtime on the next day. There were still no messages on her phone from Rocco.

She climbed out of bed and entered her ensuite bathroom, capturing her reflection in the mirror. Her once pretty face was red and puffy with dark circles under her eyes, her golden curls all matted in knots. What’s happened to me? When did I become so hideous? She splashed some water on her face and tried to brush the knots from her hair. It was too much effort, so she wandered downstairs, her stomach grumbling with hunger.

The house was quiet. Her father had probably gone to golf and her brother was no doubt still in bed. Her mother was hanging some washing out on the line. When she saw her, she immediately put the washing basket down.

‘Oh Hayley, are you ok?’

‘I’m feeling a bit better today, I zonked out last night.’

Her mother looked at her strangely.

‘What’s the matter Mum?’

‘Haven’t you heard the news?’

‘What news? I’ve just woken up.’

‘There’s been an accident.’

‘Oh my God – it’s him isn’t it. He’s dead.’

Panic and fear swept through her. He’s dead and it’s all her fault. Why didn’t she go to the police when she had the chance? How was she ever going to live with herself? Shame burned inside her as Rocco’s handsome face flashed before her eyes, his cheeky grin smiling at her. Her legs trembled, threatening to collapse beneath her. Her mother came to her rescue, catching her before she fell.

‘Hayley, calm down, he’s not dead.’

‘He’s not?’

‘No, but it’s not good news I’m afraid. Come inside and have a seat.’

Her mother took her trembling arm and led her into the kitchen and sat her in a chair. She flicked the switch on the kettle and it hissed into life. Hayley watched as her mother took two cups from the cupboard and placed them on the bench. She blanked her mind as to what might have happened to Rocco. For the moment she just wanted to indulge in the relief that he wasn’t dead. Her mother made the tea, then placed a cup down in front of Hayley, and sat next to her.

‘What’s happened, Mum?’

‘He was injured at the game yesterday afternoon.’

‘What? Is he ok?’ Again, Rocco’s handsome face flashed in front of her.

‘No he’s not. He was high tackled, and has lost all feeling in his legs.’

‘Oh my God, I need to see him, where is he?’

 

 

***

 

Hayley’s mother drove her to the hospital. The thought of seeing Rocco laid up, unable to move, made her nervous. They found a place to park and made their way to his ward. She took a deep breath to try and allay her anxiety. She focussed on their footsteps, clip clopping in time along the polished floors. Hospital staff rushed this way and that. Hayley could not imagine working in a place like this, where sickness and death were steeped within its walls.

They opened the door to his room. Flowers, get well balloons, and rugby paraphernalia decorated the place. She realised she hadn’t brought anything for him, not even a card. He lay there with his back to her. She stepped into the room, then stopped. Sitting next to him, holding his hand and tears streaming down her face, was Karen.

Hayley turned and fled. She could hear her mother chasing her, calling her name, but she continued to run, desperate to escape the clutch of the stark, sterile walls as they closed in on her. She didn’t stop to breathe until she was outside the building, the cold wind slapping her in the face, jolting her back to reality.

‘Hayley, are you ok? I know it must’ve been hard seeing him like that.’

‘It’s not just that Mum.’

‘What is it darling? You can talk to me.’

‘It’s Karen. She was owning him in there.’

Her mother looked confused but said nothing.

Hayley felt bad about her feelings for Brendon now that Rocco was lying in hospital. She wondered how she could make it up to him. The thought of going back to see him made her skin crawl. Nope, she couldn’t go back, especially with that bitch Karen there. They drove home in silence. Her mother put on the radio. Justin Bieber blared out, filling the car with his soulful voice. Her mother sang along. Hayley sat there, trying to block it out. Thankfully, the news broke in, giving her respite from the pop idol she loathed.

‘News just in, the name of the man found shot dead with a crossbow in the Keeley forest Friday night has been named.’ Her mother turned up the volume. ‘His name was Kevin Freedman, the son of the forest ranger. Wayne Freedman, had invited his son to stay in the forest with him for the weekend…..’ The broadcasters voice faded out and all went blank as Hayley fainted.

 

 

Chapter 10

Hayley woke up on Monday morning realising she was late for school. It had gone 11am already. She wondered why nobody had woken her. She got out of bed, showered, then got dressed in her school uniform. Her mother caught her as she walked out of her bedroom.

‘Hayley darling, there’s no school today.’

‘No school?’

‘No, you fainted yesterday after our visit to the hospital. The doctor has signed you off sick.’

‘What do you mean? I feel fine.’ She wondered what the hell was going on. Was she being grounded?

‘Just until you start feeling better. The last few days have been a terrible strain on you.’

Hayley was actually relieved. She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing Karen’s smarmy face, although she would miss Brendon. Maybe she could invite him over. When she went back into her room to remove her school uniform, she noticed her TV was missing. She looked around the rest of her room. Her laptop, books, games, everything… gone! They did this to her the last time she was grounded. How dare they? Her phone. Please no, they can’t have taken her phone. She rummaged around in a panic, but there was no sign of it. Surely this can’t be allowed.

‘Mum,’ she screamed, ‘Mum, where’s all my stuff gone? Am I being grounded?’

‘I’m sorry dear, but it’s for the best.’

She slumped down on the bed, not having any energy to fight back. She drifted off into a dreamless sleep, not waking up until dinner time. Her mother had made sausage and mash, her favourite. She gobbled it down, not having realised how hungry she was. There wasn’t much discussion at the dinner table. Her father avoided her gaze and her brother was just his usual broody self.

Hayley struggled to keep her eyes open during dinner. Her mother said something about Craig recovering well. She assumed she meant Rocco, but didn’t have the energy to correct her. After dinner, she excused herself and crawled back to bed.

She drifted in and out of a haze for the next few days. She had no idea how long she was being grounded for. She slept a lot, not sure why she was so tired, but it was nice reprieve from the boredom.

The following week she felt a lot better. The haziness had disappeared and she had more energy. It sucked being grounded though. Her brother brought home her lessons from school. There was nothing else to do, so she buried herself into her school work. Exams were still a few months away, but she studied with the gusto of someone who had been starved of knowledge. If she studied really hard, maybe she could go to Auckland uni with Brendon.

She swotted her way through the second week, only taking time out to eat, or to run on the treadmill downstairs. Her father was talking to her again and it seemed she had been forgiven for disobeying him.

On Sunday morning she approached her mother. ‘Mum, how long am I going to be grounded for? Do you think I could go back to school this week?’

‘I’ll talk to the doctor, but probably another week at home. Have you been getting much study done?’

‘Well, there’s nothing else to do!’ she snapped. ‘I’m really bored, can I invite a friend over?’

‘Not yet Hayley, you’re not ready.’

She sulked back up to her room. It wasn’t fair. At her age, she should be out enjoying life, not stuck in here with nothing to do. She considered running away. Why not? They couldn’t keep her locked in here against her will. Could they? The thought of further groundings made her think twice, but it couldn’t be any worse than what she was going through now. She could meet up with Brendon and they could run away together. She didn’t have his number though, or his address. Then a thought struck her. It was Sunday and he would probably be working on his model railway. Her stomach lurched with excitement at the thought of seeing him again. Now that Karen was with Rocco, she felt no guilt in hooking up with him. Excitement rose within as she planned her escape. Brendon and her glorious freedom were within her grasp. She envisioned the two of them riding off into the setting sun, their romantic silhouettes getting smaller and smaller before fading into the horizon.

But first she had to escape without her mother noticing. Jumping out of the window was an option, but she was on the first floor and she would more than likely break a leg. There was an old oak tree outside her bedroom, but it was too far to reach. The kitchen extension on the right-hand side of the house was below the guest room. If she could get to it, she could easily jump onto the roof of the kitchen, then scale the drainpipe from there. Yep, that’s what she would do.

She opened her door as quietly as she could and stepped out. There was nobody around. As she closed her door she put up a ‘do not disturb’ sign. Then her family knew not to disturb her unless it was dinner time. Hayley snuck along the hall to the guest room. The door was already open. Quietly, she crept across the room, avoiding the squeaky floorboard, and pushed the window open. She stepped out onto the roof of the kitchen and pushed the window closed behind her, hoping nobody would notice it wasn’t locked. A quick scan of the backyard showed it was empty.

Halfway down the spouting, she spotted her mother in the kitchen, walking over to the fridge. If her mother turned, she would be sprung. She panicked and jumped, landing in some bushes with a crash. Thankfully the bushes had cushioned her fall and she was still in one piece. Hiding behind the bushes she watched her mother put the milk in the fridge, then walk back into the lounge with her cup of tea. She hadn’t seen her. Phew, that was close. Hayley took the opportunity and ran, as fast as she could, to the cover of the trees on the far side of the garden. Looking back towards the house, she half expected to see her mother chasing her. But the garden was still empty, there was nobody around. She opened the gate in the fence and stepped into her freedom.

It felt so good to be out of the house, she had started to go stir crazy inside. Her father really was a prick and ought be be reported to the police. Surely it must be abuse keeping someone locked in the house and removing all contact from the outside world. It would upset her mother though, and she couldn’t do that to her. Enough was enough, she was 16 years old and legally allowed to leave home. It crossed her mind that she had nowhere to go, but she would worry about that later. Brendon was rich. Maybe he would run away with her. She’d ask him when she saw him.

She followed the same route that Brendon had driven the day he took her to see his model railway. Was that really two weeks ago? It was further than she remembered, but of course it always seemed that way when walking. She weaved her way through the suburban streets, excitement building at the thought of seeing him again. I wonder if he’ll run away with me? We could do a road trip down to Wellington. Maybe I could sleep in his warehouse until I find a job.

Buzzing with excitement she imagined the possibilities her new found freedom could bring her. She could travel the world, go backpacking though Europe, climb mountains, sip champagne in Michelin starred restaurants. The world was her oyster. Her parents could no longer ground her or tell her what to do. Maybe she could run away to America, become a famous actress. That would show them all!

The streets became less suburban, and more industrial. Butterflies danced in her stomach as she realised she was almost there. Just two more streets and she would be face to face with her gorgeous Brendon. But what if he wasn’t there? She brushed the thought aside. If he wasn’t here, he would come sooner or later. She turned the corner into his street, but something had changed. Brendon’s warehouse was no longer there.

 

 

Chapter 11

Hayley was sure she was in the right place. The street was Woodend Avenue, she had taken note of it last time. But now there was no warehouse, just an old shed, with a rusted door. How odd. Something must have happened, maybe he had moved his railway elsewhere. Parked outside was an old Land Rover Discovery. That’s strange, she thought. It looked a bit like Brendon’s car, but older. She peeked in the window. Hmmm, black leather seats. An odd feeling overcame her, a feeling she had experienced in the past. She needed to find out what was going on.

Against her better judgement, she stepped up to the roller door and knocked. Some rustling noises came from inside. Her heart raced as she wondered if she was doing the right thing. There could be a nutcase inside and she didn’t have her phone. What if he dragged her in and did God knows what to her. What could she do? It was Sunday afternoon and the industrial estate was empty. As well as that, her parents had no idea where she was. What the hell had she been thinking? She was about to turn and run, when the roller door opened up.

In front of her stood an ugly young man. Clothes hung loosely from his tall, skinny frame, his face covered in pimples, weeping and oozing like a fine pepperoni. Strings of greasy hair clung to the side of his pock ridden face. Clumps of gunk that she hoped was gel, streaked through his hair. Hayley recoiled. Who was this creep? Where was Brendon? She apologised and was about to leave, when he said her name. She turned back to him and said, ‘Do I know you?’

‘Hayley it’s me, are you ok?’

He stepped toward her, as if to give her a hug, but she pulled away, the stench of his BO causing her to gag. She didn’t want this creep touching her.

‘Hayley, what’s wrong?’

‘Who are you? Where’s Brendon?’

He looked at her confused. Anxiety crept in and she wished to be back in the safety of her room. What had she been thinking coming out here on her own, not telling anyone where she was going. Her parents knew what was best for her. She stood rooted to the spot, wondering what to do, the haze threatening to return. The boy spoke again, snapping her from her thoughts.

‘Hayley, what’s happened to you?’

She looked at him, puzzled by his appearance. What had they done to him? This was not the suave, sophisticated guy she met two weeks ago. Where was her gorgeous Brendon? Had she just stumbled into an alternative universe? Or was it a sick joke someone was playing on her? She bet Karen had something to do with it. She’d always been jealous of her relationship with Rocco and now she was mucking around with Brendon. That girl was trouble.

A noise came from inside the shed. She peeked behind him to see what it was. A train was chugging around in a loop. It looked like a model railway, but not of the same scale as Brendon’s. She watched the train as it circled the pathetic little track with a few papier mache hills and artificial trees. This guy was a loser. Brendon could teach him a thing or two. What was going on? She was sure this was the same place he’d brought her to. But where was he? And what had happened to his marvellous railway? She looked back towards the boy standing in front of her, with his pizza face and oversized glasses.

He spoke, ‘Hayley, you know I won’t hurt you. I’d put my life on the line to do whatever it takes to protect you.’

‘Where’s Brendon?’ she said, and took a step inside the shed, looking for him. She took a closer look at the model railway. It was the North Island, but not on the same scale as she saw the other day. Then something caught her eye. She gasped, then stepped away, unable to take her eyes off the object. She looked at it, then at him.

‘Hayley, you’re starting to worry me.’

She looked at the object and said, ‘Is that a crossbow?’

‘Yes, why?’

‘The death in the forest, he was shot with a crossbow.’

He took a step towards her. ‘It’s not what you think, Hayley.’

Bile started to rise and she swallowed to hold it back. She needed to get out of there, now! She turned and fled, ignoring his shouts for her to come back. His footsteps thundered behind her, his breathing close. In a panicked state she ran onto the road. A horn blared, then there was silence.

 

 

Chapter 12

Hayley woke up in hospital. She tried to move but a searing pain coursed through her arm. She looked up and saw her parents by her side.

‘Hayley, oh thank God you’re awake,’ her mother said.

‘Where am I? What’s happened?’

‘You were hit by a car. You poor thing. You broke your arm and had to have an operation to reset it.’

Hayley tried to recall, but her brain was in a fog.

‘Brendon brought you to the hospital.’

‘He’s here?’

‘He hasn’t left darling, he certainly has a thing for you. Would you like to see him?’

‘Yes please.’ Her heart lifted at the thought.

Hayley’s mother turned to her father. ‘Can you go get Brendon, honey?’

Her father squeezed her hand then left the room.

‘Oh honey, we’re so glad you’re ok. You’ve not been having a good time of things lately. We were so worried about you, then this happened.’

Her father came back into the room with a pimply faced boy. Suddenly her memories came rushing back. Industrial estate. Old shed. Creepy boy. Crossbow. Panic. Car horn tooting. Blackness.

‘Oh my God, it’s him!’

‘Honey, it’s who?’

‘The guy who killed the giant in the forest.’

‘Honey, this is Brendon, your friend. Remember?’

‘No he’s not, he’s a weirdo pretending to be Brendon. He has a crossbow in his shed.’

Her mother indicated to her father to take the boy out of the room.

‘Honey, you stopped taking your medication a while ago. Remember what happened last time you forgot to take it? You imagined things that weren’t as they seemed? We took you out of school so we could make sure you started taking your medication again, to make sure you came right.’

Hayley realised she’d made a terrible mistake.

‘Rocco, where’s Rocco?’

She saw her parents share a look.

‘I really need to see him.’

‘Honey, you can’t.’

Suddenly she remembered. ‘Is he ok Mum? Has he regained the feeling in his legs?’

‘Hayley, I’m sorry honey, but what are you talking about?’

‘Rocco. He was injured playing rugby and couldn’t walk. Is he feeling better now?’

‘Hayley, it wasn’t Rocco that was injured at the game.’

‘It wasn’t?’ Hayley asked, confused.

‘No, of course not honey, it was Craig. ’

‘Craig?’

Her mother looked at her, concerned. ‘Yes, honey. Craig was injured playing rugby, but he’s recovering well. He’s undergoing intensive physio and is expected to get back the full use of his legs.’

It started to make sense to Hayley now. He’d had his back to her in the hospital and she’d just assumed it was Rocco. It also explained why Karen was there with him, being his girlfriend and all. Gosh, she felt like an idiot, and she’d treated Rocco so badly. She needed to talk to him.

‘Where’s my phone, I need to call Rocco and explain.’ Her parents shared another look.

‘You’d better go get the doctor,’ her mother said to her father.

‘Mum, what’s going on? Why isn’t he here? Has he broken up with me?’

‘Hayley, don’t you remember?’

‘Remember what Mum?’

Just then her father came back in with a doctor by his side.

‘Hayley, I’m just going to give you something to help you relax.’

The doctor then injected something into her arm and a wave of sleepiness came over her. She closed her eyes and fell into a light dream.

Rocco’s smiling face popped into her mind. She smiled back at him. How could she have been so stupid to think she liked pizza-face. Rocco was gorgeous. Her mind slipped back to a memory.

They were at a school party. All of her friends were there. Rocco was there too. They’d had one too many tequila shots and were snogging on the dance floor. Rocco suggested they take a drive down to the waterfall for a skinny dip. Hayley readily agreed. They hopped into her old Toyota Corolla and sped off from the party with a screech of tyres. Rocco nibbled her ear causing her to giggle. ‘Stop it Rocco, let’s wait ‘til we get to the waterfall!’

He continued nibbling her ear, while Billy Idol danced with himself on the radio station.

‘Rocco, stop it.’ She pushed him away, taking her eyes off the road for only a second, when there was a giant bang. The music stopped dead. Shattered glass surrounded her, filling her mouth. What’s going on?

It took a moment before she realised she was in a car accident. For some reason the statistic, one in five, popped into her head, as the car continued to move in slow motion, spinning, rolling, screeching. Eventually, the car stopped with a jolt and Rocco landed on top of her, causing her to cry out in pain from the weight of him.

‘Rocco, get off, you’re hurting me.’ Rocco didn’t budge. She pushed him with all her might, but he was stuck fast against her.

Someone flashed a light in the car door. ‘Oh my God, Oh my God, are you alright?’ screeched a lady’s voice. She opened her door and Hayley fell out, as did Rocco, right on top of her, neither of them wearing seat belts. ‘Get off me, you’re heavy,’ she screamed at him. He didn’t move. ‘Rocco, get off me.’ She pushed again and he tumbled onto his back, his lifeless eyes starting into space.

Hayley woke up screaming, remembering for the first time since it had happened six months ago. Rocco was dead and she had killed him.

 

 

Epilogue

Six months later

Brendon sat alone in his studio apartment situated near Auckland university. He opened his laptop and scrolled through Hayley’s Facebook page looking at what she’d been up to since he last looked. He got excited as he noticed a new status from her.

Hayley Powell – my brain hurts from studying so hard!’

He was pleased to see she was getting on with her life. She’d enrolled in a beauty therapy course, and according to her Facebook statuses over the last few months, she found it challenging. But other than that, she looked happy and for that he was thankful.

A pang of guilt shot through him as he recalled how he took advantage of her six months earlier. He knew she’d been struggling with Rocco’s death and he’d hoped to be the one to help her through it. So he followed her around in secret, waiting for the right time to step in, to be a shoulder for her to cry on. Some might have thought that was creepy, but he was only trying to help.

That Friday night when she exited forest, he’d been waiting for her on the main road, not knowing that she’d taken an alternative route home. When he saw how upset she was, he decided to ‘accidentally’ bump into her, to see what the matter was. When she told him about the ‘beware’ notes she’d found in the forest he knew immediately what they were. They’d been laid out in preparation for a screening of the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ that was due to be shown the following evening.

The poor girl had been so distraught, especially when she read the message at the forest entrance that said, ‘Beware, Rocky is not where you think he is.’ She’d mistaken the name Rocky to be Rocco, and assumed the message was for her. Brendon used this to his advantage in the hope of bringing her closer to him.

Brendon had been livid when she mentioned the ‘giant’ who had chased her through the forest and accused her of littering. After he’d walked her home that night, he’d gone to the old house in the forest to give the giant a piece of his mind. His eyes glossed over as he recalled the events from six months earlier.

He knocked on the door of the old house and Kevin, the giant opened the door. He was large, but not as large as Hayley had made out. Brendon spoke calmly, yet firmly, explaining how his girlfriend was very upset. Kevin raised his voice at him, telling him to get off the property. Brendon refused to move and an altercation broke out between them.

Just then, a voice boomed out from behind. ‘Move away from my son.’

Brendon turned and was confronted by a ranger holding a crossbow.

‘I said, move away from my son.’

Brendon stood there, frozen, like a rabbit caught in headlights.

‘Move, now!’

Paralysed, Brendon was unable to take his eyes off the crossbow that was pointed in his direction.

‘I’m going to count to three….’

‘One…’

Brendon didn’t know which way to run.

‘Two…’

Oh shit!

‘Three…’

On three, Brendon dropped to the ground as the arrow was fired, then an ear piercing scream as the ranger yelled out, ‘Nooooooo.’

Brendon looked behind him to see the giant lying on the floor of the house with an arrow sticking out of his heart. Somehow thinking it was his fault, he fled the forest, too afraid to look back. He never mentioned the event to any one. Hayley had tried to pin the blame on him, but with the delusions she had been suffering, nobody had taken her seriously. Thankfully that was all now in the past.

He continued to scroll through her Facebook page, looking for new photos of her. Yes! Karen had tagged her in one. His heart melted at the sight of her as she smiled at him from inside his computer. If Hayley was happy, Brendon was happy.

He clicked on the photo to enlarge it… right click… save image as… Hayley275.jpg… print…

The printer whirred into life.

Once it had finished, he retrieved the photo and checked it over. It was perfect. Hayley was perfect. He found the allocated space on the wall and pinned it up with the others. He stood back and observed his handiwork. One wall was complete.

 

The End

 

The Secret Community

A Novel by J. Meverington

A page turning mystery full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the end.

Terri wakes up with no idea of who she is, where she is, or how she got there. The worst thing is, nobody seems to take her memory loss seriously.

With a stroke of luck, she bumps into Damion, a London bar owner, who takes her in and is determined to help her.

As he investigates, he uncovers a horrific secret. Does this have anything to do with Terri’s memory loss? He has no idea, and worse still, he doesn’t know who he can trust.


What is The Secret Community?

Please read on for the first few chapters of:

The Secret Community

Chapter 1

 

The sun streamed through the bedroom window, intensifying the agony in her head. Feeling dizzy and disorientated, she had no idea where she was or how she’d got there. Her eyes struggled to open against the bright light. She tried to recall what had happened last night, but her mind drew a blank. The throbbing in her head had affected her ability to think. After a moment she managed to open her eyes to a squint. Luxurious silk sheets and pillows enveloped her naked body. Sitting up, she used her hand as a visor to shield the sun and surveyed the scene around her. A dramatic view of a city skyline dominated the floor to ceiling windows. She had no idea which city.

Where am I? Am I dreaming? She pinched herself. It wasn’t a dream, more of a nightmare with decadent sheets. She racked her mind for memories, but it was blank. Even her name eluded her. A toilet flushed. Her heart thumped as she realised she was not alone. A shower started to run. Who’s behind that door? Instinct told her she needed to get dressed and get out. She clambered from the kingsized bed and looked for something to wear. A black cocktail dress lay discarded on the floor. That’ll have to do. The tight little number got stuck on her head and smothered her face. A battle broke out between herself and the dress as she tried to pull it over her head, but it was stuck fast. Her breath became short and ragged as she yanked the dress this way and that, but it wouldn’t budge.

The shower stopped running. She froze. Oh my God, what if they see me like this, face stuck in a dress with my bottom hanging out. Panic overwhelmed her, terrified more by her appearance, than the person in the bathroom. With one foul yank and a terrible ripping sound, she managed to get the dress on, albeit in a torn kind of fashion. At least her body was mostly covered now. What she saw next caused her to gasp with surprise.

Standing in front of her was a person she could not have imagined in her wildest dreams. She was the most exquisite creature. Dark hair framed a pretty face and cascaded down her back, partially obscuring a tattoo on her left shoulder. The bronzed beauty who stood before her was tall and athletic, yet lean and feminine. Intense blue eyes stared at her, looking confused, eyebrows contorted into a puzzled expression. And she, too, was wearing a torn black cocktail dress!

The sound of gargling broke her trance. Apprehension fluttered in her chest. She wanted to run, but curiosity got the better of her. Perhaps whoever was there would jog her memory, remind her of who she was and how she got there. The door opened and a man stepped out wearing just a white towel around his waist. He looked at her and spoke.

‘Oh honey, you’ve ripped your dress! You poor thing. You okay? You needn’t worry, you have plenty of others.’

He walked towards her but she shrank away from him, trembling with fear. She continued to retreat until a cold hard wall stopped her in her tracks. Her eyes darted around looking for an escape route, but she was cornered. Her heart pounded as he took a step closer. She pushed herself into the wall as if it might give way, allowing her to escape, but it stood its ground. The man was right in front of her now as he reached out for her. She stiffened, paralysed by fear as he pulled her into his arms. He had the fresh soap smell of someone who had just showered. Even though she was terrified, she felt he would do her no harm.

‘Honey, are you okay?’ As if sensing her unease, he released his embrace and stepped back, holding her at arms length. His brown eyes seemed to bore into her soul trying to connect with her thoughts. He looked confused, like a child struggling to understand. She almost felt sorry for him as he stood there, looking at her, his eyes moistened with emotion. His voice cracked as he spoke. ‘I know you’ve been through a lot, but it’ll get better, I promise.’

He continued to stare, a longing look in his eyes. She stared back at him, wondering who he was. He looked quite old, perhaps in his late 40s; his greying hair was cropped short and gelled at the front for a trendy look. He had a kind face and was rather handsome. Just not her type. I have a type? she thought.

He turned away from her as if to hide his feelings and stepped away. He opened the wardrobe door. ‘I’m sorry you ripped your dress, but there are plenty more here. See?’

Too afraid to move or talk in fear that he would try to touch her again, she remained silent. As if reading her mind he said, ‘I’ve got to get changed and go to work now, but I’ll see you later this evening.’

She stood there, bewildered. As if aware of her confusion, he added, ‘We’ll talk then. Love you, honey.’

 

 

***

 

After an agonisingly long time she heard the front door close. Tentatively, she stepped out of the bedroom to make sure he had gone. Thankfully there was no sign of him. A wave of relief washed over her. Who is he? What does he want from me? What is the ‘lot’ I’ve been through? And why’s there a wardrobe full of black dresses?

She stepped into a lounge and gasped at the sheer opulence. Light filled the room through the floor to ceiling windows. The lounge had raised levels on either side. In the left wing, three steps led up to a platform, with a grand piano taking pride of place in the corner. The right wing was another raised level of the same height where a giant spa bath was strategically placed to take in the incredible views. The middle level was lower than the other two. A lounge suite, a coffee table and a television formed the only furniture. There was a closed door leading off from the lounge which she attempted to open, but it was locked. Too tired to even wonder why, she continued to snoop.

The kitchen sat aside from the lounge. She held up her hand to shield the sun as it reflected off the dark glossy work top. Her eyes adjusted and she took in the stainless steel fittings and granite floor tiles. A piece of equipment beckoned her toward it, somehow knowing she loved to cook. On closer inspection, it was a high tech oven and hob. Her stomach grumbled as she wondered if she could figure out how to use it. Grabbing the handle of a glossy white cupboard, she pulled the door open looking for food. It was empty and looked like it had never been used. She checked the other cupboards and also the fridge but got the same result. Empty apart from a few glasses and plates. There appeared to be no food in the house.

The kitchen extended into a dining area. The room was dominated by a square dining table with eight chairs placed around it. Each chair was a different colour. She thought this was odd, but it did brighten up the otherwise stark decor.

She gazed out the window and looked for inspiration. Anything that might remind her of who she is and why she was here. The sun had now disappeared behind some clouds and the day had turned dull and overcast. Black clouds loomed in the distance. It looked as though there might be a thunderstorm later. Below her, a brown river wound its way past a mixture of middle-aged buildings and modern glass structures. The scene outside made no sense to her.

She wandered back into the lounge and sat herself down on a white sofa. Thoughts throbbed around in her head so she closed her eyes to try and ease the pain. Before she knew it, she had floated off into a dreamless sleep.

A knock at the front door jolted her from her slumber. What? Where am I? What’s going on? Who’s there? There was another knock, this time a little louder.

A highly strung voice screeched out from behind the door.

‘Terri? Are you home?’

She sat there, stunned, unsure what to do. Another knock, louder again. She stood up, still a bit dazed, like a rabbit caught in headlights, not sure which way to go.

‘Terri, I can hear you shuffling around in there. Open the door will you! I haven’t got all day.’

A glimmer of hope sprung in her. Maybe this person can help me. Maybe they have the answers I’m looking for. Deciding this could be a good thing, she tentatively opened the door.

A lady carrying a Harrods bag barged in, almost bowling her over as she strutted into the lounge. She placed some Danish pastries and a bottle of champagne on the coffee table and sat herself down on the sofa.

 

***

 

Laura threw her head back and roared with laughter. ‘Are you telling me you don’t remember a thing from last night?’

‘Um…yes, that’s correct. I woke up this morning with a shocking headache, in a strange bed, with a strange man in the bathroom. I can’t remember a thing about myself or anything else for that matter.’

Laura laughed again, this time snorting like a pig, which caused her to laugh even louder. ‘Oh Terri, you are hilarious, so what did this ‘strange’ man look like?’

‘Um…’ she took a moment to recall his features, ‘I’d say he’s about 20-25 years older than me. His hair is grey…,’ she paused, ‘…Oh, and he’s tall.’

This brought on another episode of psychotic laughter. ‘Sounds like Martin to me. Terri, you really should stop drinking.’

‘Who’s Martin?’

‘You know, that guy you married about a year ago. Rich, famous and until you married him, Britain’s most eligible bachelor!’ Laura picked up a Danish pastry and took a bite.

Terri’s brain struggled to process this new information. So it seemed the stranger in the bedroom is my husband? I guess that’s why he hugged me, but it doesn’t explain why I don’t remember him. And she keeps calling me Terri.

‘You called me Terri – is that my name? and my husband is Martin? And I live here?’

‘Of course you do darling. You really are in a bad way. How much did you have to drink last night?’

‘Haven’t you been listening to a word I’ve been saying? I DON’T REMEMBER A THING. All I know is what you’ve told me. Apparently my name’s Terri, I live in this apartment and I am married to a man called Martin. I don’t even know my last name!’

‘Towley.’

‘Pardon?’ Terri replied.

‘Towley, your last name is Towley.’

‘Are you serious? My name is Terri Towley?’

‘Yup.’ Laura took another bite of her pastry.

Terri shook her head in bewilderment. How do I not know any of this? She continued to question Laura.

‘Don’t you think it’s weird that I can’t remember anything? What do I do for a job?’

‘Oh darling, you don’t work. You’re a lady who lunches.’ Laura took a slug of champagne, then dug into another pastry.

‘A lady who lunches? What does that even mean? I don’t want to be a lady who lunches with a name like a bathrobe. This is insane.’

‘It means, darling, that you married Martin for his money.’

‘Oh my lord, this just keeps getting worse.’ Terri struggled to come to terms with what Laura was telling her. Why would she marry someone for their money? What sort of awful person was she? She wasn’t sure she wanted to find out.

‘Have you seriously lost your memory? I told you not to take those drugs at the party last night,’ Laura said, taking another mouthful of food.

‘Party? Drugs? Tell me more.’ Terri leaned forward, intent on hearing what Laura had to say.

‘Last night at the party. You got drunk and took a tablet some guy offered you.’

‘Which guy? What drugs did I take? Oh my God, this is my worst nightmare.’ Terri wondered if that was it. A nightmare she would soon wake up from. She really hoped so. So far all she knew about herself was she was a drug taking, money-grabbing lady who lunches with a name like a bathrobe. She shuddered at the thought of who or what she might be.

‘I don’t know the details, just that I saw you talking to a guy I’d never seen before. He handed you a tablet and I saw you take it. After that, you were anybody’s. I bundled you in a cab and sent you home,’ Laura said dismissively, as if this was the last she wanted to say about the subject.

Terri was beside herself with worry and confusion.

‘So, you think the drugs I took caused me to lose my memory? What sort of drugs would do that?’

Laura sighed. ‘Darling, I’m afraid this whole losing your memory thing is becoming a bit of a bore. I have to be going. Things to do, people to see. You know how it is.’ Laura got up and walked out of the apartment as swiftly as she had entered. Terri was left alone in a state of bewilderment.

 

 

 

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][] Chapter 2

 

Matilda daydreamed about Josh as she collected oysters off the rocks. She had only seen him that morning but she was missing him already. I must be in love, she thought as she half-heartedly tried to prise an oyster loose. She reflected on what a nice guy he was, the way he treated her like an adult, while everyone else still treated her like a child, despite the fact that she had turned 16 last week. Conjuring up an image of him in her mind, she envisioned his blond hair flopping over his cute face, and his cheeky smile laughing at her. His toned arms and tanned skin occupied her mind so strongly that she didn’t hear Belinda calling her name. A tap on her shoulder startled her from her day dream.

‘Matty, are you okay? I’ve been calling you for ages. You seem to be in your own little world. I’ve got my quota of oysters – how’re you doing?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine. My mind’s on other things.’ She looked into her sack and was alarmed that it was only half full. This was not good; she should have a full sack of oysters by now. A feeling of panic caused her to break out in a sweat.

Belinda looked concerned. ‘Well, you’d better get cracking. You don’t want to be punished.’

Matilda and Belinda were gathering oysters for the evening meal. Their team was preparing the dinner service for the Community this week. It was a big responsibility, to ensure the meal service ran without incident. Any hiccups would result in punishment for the person concerned, and sometimes the entire team.

Matilda realised she had become increasingly vague over recent weeks. Her crush on Josh, the Community heart throb, had really affected her. He consumed her thoughts day and night, and she had trouble concentrating on anything else. Apparently she was not alone. Almost every girl in the Community had been in love with him at some stage. The strange thing was that he had never shown an interest in any of them. Not since that fateful day. She shuddered at the memory.

Belinda stepped up to help her.

‘So what’s on your mind, Matty? Must be pretty serious to get so far behind.’

‘Nothing much,’ she replied, not wanting to talk about it.

‘Are you thinking about Josh?’

Matilda’s face flushed bright red. How could Belinda possibly know about her crush on Josh. She had never said anything to anybody.

‘Why would I be thinking about him?’

‘Because you luuuurve him. Come on Matty, it’s so obvious.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes really. You need to be careful though. No girl in the Community has been able to tie him down since… well you know. If you don’t watch out, he’ll just use you then abuse you.’

‘Ooh, I would love to be abused by him,’ she replied, her smiling face reddening further. Belinda did not look amused.

‘Just be careful is all I’m saying.’

‘Hey, I’m a big girl now. I think I can look after myself.’

Matilda spoke more convincingly than she felt. Deep down, she knew Josh would never be interested in her. He was already 20 and she was still a teenager. She had a pretty face though, and considered herself fun. Some of the girls in the camp kept telling her to grow up, but she didn’t want to be like them. As far as she was concerned, life was about having fun. The other girls were all boring and responsible. Belinda, her best friend, was also like the others, but she looked after her. They complemented each other. Belinda was always there to keep her out of trouble and in return, Matilda took her on fun adventures. The two of them were inseparable.

A horrible thought occurred to Matilda as she blurted out, ‘Do you think Josh has noticed how I feel?’

A look of panic flashed in Belinda’s eyes and they wouldn’t meet hers. With authority she said, ‘Enough talk now Matilda, we need to get cracking.’

She used her full name to let her know she meant business and, at the same time, evaded her question. They worked in silence as they diligently collected oysters, desperate to get their quota in time. Matilda was annoyed with herself for getting so far behind and needing Belinda’s help. Sometimes she wished she was more mature like the other girls but she found it so hard. Her attention span was not good at the best of times, which was probably why she was always getting into trouble. She decided it was time to grow up and be more responsible. If she acted differently, perhaps Josh would like her more. Starting today, she would turn over a new leaf. It was time to say goodbye to childish Matilda and introduce grown up Matilda. I will not be naughty. I will be hardworking, mature and sophisticated. I will pay more attention in school and be the ultimate student. I will no longer have fun or get into mischief. I am now mature and responsible Matilda!

Belinda broke her daydream for the second time that day.

‘Matilda, will you stop daydreaming and get on with the oysters. What on earth is wrong with you today?’

Matilda snapped out of it and focussed on the job in hand. It was not a good start to her newly turned-over leaf. After 20 minutes or so, she checked her bag and it was full. Her quota had been reached.

‘Woohoo. We’re done! Thanks Belinda, you’re a star!’

They grabbed their sacks, laden with oysters and sprinted back to the camp as fast as they could. When they got back, the kitchen was a hive of activity, the other girls were already well into the dinner preparations. Matilda and Belinda needed to get a move on.

Matilda noticed the boys were not yet back. It was unlike them to be late. Josh was out fishing with the boys. An uneasy feeling came over her. His handsome smiling face popped into her head, filling her with dread. She couldn’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to him, but for now she had to focus on the oysters as they needed to be prepared before the deadline. With a deep breath she sucked her fears deep into her belly and banished Josh from her mind. It was important to get on with her job with no distractions. They couldn’t keep people waiting for their dinner and, more importantly, they did not want to be punished.

 

 

 

 

 

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][] Chapter 3

 

Terri collapsed on the sofa suddenly feeling all alone. Why can’t I remember anything? Laura hadn’t been much help. She’d seemed more interested in drinking champagne and eating pastries. In her mind she retraced their conversation and tried to make sense of it. Apparently she’d been to a party and taken some drugs, but Laura hadn’t been forthcoming with any details. In fact, Laura seemed to be amused but at the same time bored by the fact that she had lost her memory. She didn’t seem like a very nice friend.

Laura had told her that she was married to a man called Martin and that she had married him for his money. That certainly explained why she wasn’t attracted to him. But what sort of person did that make her? Even though she knew nothing about herself, she couldn’t imagine that she would marry someone for their money. It seemed such a shallow thing to do and she shuddered at the thought that she could be that type of person. None of it made any sense. It was odd too, that Laura had never said anything about her ripped cocktail dress. Surely she would have commented on that.

Terri could wait around for Martin to come home in the hope that he would provide her with information about herself. On the other hand, she was unsure about him. He seemed nice enough, but something about him was not quite right. He seemed upset about something and she sensed it was to do with her. Also, she was terrified he might try and get intimate with her. It seemed there were two choices. Stay and ask him about herself, or leave. But where would she go? She had no friends or family that she knew of. The only person she knew was Laura and she didn’t seem very nice. And how would she get in touch with her? She had left no contact details. Tears of frustration welled in the corner of her eyes as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay. Crying wouldn’t help her dilemma and she needed to be strong. She sat for a minute and closed her eyes as if looking for the answer in the darkness behind her lids. Nope. Nothing there. She opened them again and looked around. Leaving the apartment would be crazy as she had no idea where she would go. Deciding to wait for Martin to get home, she lay her thumping head down, closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Terri was awoken shortly after dark with the sound of the front door slamming.

‘Hi Honey, I’m ho-ome,’ Martin called out as he entered the apartment. Terri got up to greet him. A wonderful aroma wafted from a bag he was holding, which made her realise how hungry she was. The only thing she had eaten all day was a Danish pastry that her so-called friend Laura had brought. She hoped the food in the bag was for her.

He leaned in to kiss her on the lips. On impulse she turned her head so that his lips landed on her cheek. She resisted the urge to wipe away the moist feeling he had left there as that would seem rude. He placed the bag of food down on the counter then poured himself a glass of red wine, but didn’t offer her any.

‘How’s your day been? Feeling better this evening? You were in a right state last night when you came home.’

Terri’s stomach grumbled. She couldn’t help staring at the bag of food, the smell causing her to salivate. It was important to discuss her memory loss and Laura’s visit but her brain had fogged up and all she could think about was eating. The cavernous hole in her stomach groaned, pleading for its gap to be filled. Her entire body shook from a drop in blood sugar and she felt she might faint. The smell had consumed her entirely with the overwhelming urge to eat and nothing else mattered. He seemed to be waiting for a reply. Food was her main priority so she kept her answers short, not wanting to waste time by talking.

‘It was okay,’ she said.

‘Just okay?’

Terri nodded, afraid anything she said would delay getting that food into her stomach. Martin unlocked the door to the other room and disappeared inside. Terri wondered why he kept it locked. Could he be hiding something from her? Or did he just like his privacy? Her stomach grumbled again and she felt like throwing up. Maybe I should make a run for it? She mulled the thought over, but decided she didn’t have the energy. The food on the counter smelt so good she couldn’t wait to eat it, assuming it was for her. I need food, now! What’s he doing in there?

Eventually he emerged from the room, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. He looked good and less intimidating. His toned body showed definition through his fitted shirt. He was clearly an active man who looked after himself. He looked younger too, now he wasn’t wearing a suit. He smiled at her.

‘Hungry?’

‘I’m starving!’

‘I’ve brought you some fish and chips. I thought it was easiest.’

He flicked a switch on the wall and suddenly the apartment was filled with classical music. Terri cringed at the sound of the music. It was clearly not to her taste.

Martin took the contents from the food bag and placed it on the dining table.

‘Here you go.’ He indicated for her to sit down and eat.

Terri salivated at the sight and smell of it. It was odd though, that there was only enough for her.

‘Are you not joining me?’ she asked.

‘No thanks, I ate earlier, but I’ll sit with you if you like.’ He didn’t wait for her to accept his invitation and sat himself down at the other end of the table. Terri didn’t waste another minute. She devoured the fish and chips in a ‘crazy starved person’ fashion, desperate to kill the hunger rooted deep within her. It was like she couldn’t eat them fast enough. She barely tasted the chips as she shoved them in her mouth, chewing like there was no tomorrow. Once the last piece of fish slid down her throat, she proceeded to lick her salty, greasy fingers. It was then that she noticed Martin was just sitting there, watching her, looking amused. Looking down at her empty box she realised she must have looked a sight. Feeling embarrassed, she picked up the empty fish and chip box and put it in the bin. Martin picked up his drink and settled down on the sofa. Terri took no notice as she found a tissue to wipe her hands and face.

‘Come and sit next to me,’ he suggested, patting the spot on the sofa next to him. Terri hesitated as it was the last thing she wanted to do.

‘Come on Honey, don’t be shy. Come and tell me about Laura’s party last night. You were pretty drunk when you got home.’

Terri sat down on the sofa but a safe distance away.

‘Awww, come on, I need a cuddle from you.’ He patted the sofa again and gave her a friendly grin.

Terri shuffled across towards him. As she got closer, his big brown eyes beamed at her, full of love and kindness, his smile showing off his perfect white teeth. A few wrinkles had started to form around his mouth and eyes and she guessed she was fairly accurate in her assumption he was in his mid-40s. He was good looking for his age, and had probably been a heart throb in his day. She needed to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was her husband after all, even if she had married him for his money.

He wrapped his arms around her and tried to pull her in close, but she resisted. He relaxed his grip and asked in a concerned voice, ‘Terri, what’s the matter?’

‘I can’t remember anything!’ she blurted out.

He laughed out loud. ‘Oh poor you, when will you learn not to drink so much!’

‘No, I mean I can’t remember anything.’

He looked confused. ‘You mean you can’t remember anything from the party?’

‘I can’t remember anything full stop! I woke up this morning and it was like my memory had been erased.’ Martin’s look went from confused to concerned. ‘I have no recollection of this apartment, of you, of anything,’ she said.

‘Really?’

She nodded, unable to look him in the eye.

‘Did something happen at the party? Someone spike your drink perhaps?’

‘That’s the thing, I don’t remember any of it. Laura came around today and told me she saw me take something a guy gave me. Could that have caused this?’

Martin appeared to be deep in thought. ‘It’s possible I guess. There’s a drug called Rohypnol, which can cause memory loss. We’ll need to get you to the doctor tomorrow and get a urine test.’

‘I’m scared,’ she said.

‘Hey, don’t worry. If it is that, then the effects of the drug are temporary. It will wear off in time. Come here.’ He pulled her in close. Forcing herself to relax, she snuggled into him. The warmth of his body and the faint scent of his aftershave helped to calm her down. She had so many questions for him, but for now she just wanted to relax. Closing her eyes, she pushed sinister thoughts from her mind and before she knew it, she had drifted off to sleep for the third time that day.

Terri was woken abruptly by a loud ringing sound. What’s that? Where am I? The room was pitch black as she stumbled around looking for a light switch. A man’s voice pierced the darkness. ‘Yes, okay, yes, no problem, I’ll be there as soon as I can.’

Who’s there? What’s going on? Suddenly the room was bathed in light. Terri covered her sleepy eyes with her hands, the brightness too much to bear. What’s happening? She sensed the warmth of another body coming towards her. Someone gently shook her by the arms. ‘Terri, Terri, are you okay?’

She peered through a crack in her fingers and saw a man standing there. He had grey hair and was calling her Terri. He continued to shake her, trying to wake her up. Realisation suddenly dawned on her. It was Martin, her husband.

‘Terri, sorry to wake you, but I have to go back to work, there’s been an emergency. I’ll see you later.’ He gave her a quick peck on the cheek before leaving the apartment. Once he had gone she looked at the clock. It was 3.15am. Her neck was sore from where she had fallen asleep on the sofa. Martin must have gone to bed and left her there. She took herself off to bed and curled up in a ball, wrapping her arms around herself for comfort. For some reason she felt absolutely exhausted and it didn’t take long before she fell into a deep slumber.

Terri awoke later that day and Martin was still not back. The bedside clock showed it was noon already. She lay on the bed and looked at the ceiling, her mind ticking over as she tried to figure out how she could not remember her husband. Did they have any wedding photos? Perhaps a video of their day? There must be something around to help jog her memory. Her stomach grumbled with hunger but she remembered there was no food in the house. Why didn’t I ask him about that last night?

She dragged herself out of bed but felt she had no energy. Her entire body felt like a lead weight as she struggled to put one leg in front of the other. She desperately needed the loo; her bladder felt like it would burst. The wall propped her up as she struggled the four or five steps to the ensuite. What’s happening to me? Just 3 steps to go, the toilet in her sight now. Grabbing onto the towel rail, she managed to lower herself down onto the toilet seat. She sat there for 5 minutes or more, trying to summon the energy to get back to her bed. It must be another side-effect to the drugs, she thought. Finally, she staggered back to the bed and lay down with no plans to move again for the rest of the afternoon.

Terri awoke in the early evening with Martin standing over her still dressed in his suit. ‘Terri, what are you still doing in bed?’ He sounded grumpy.

‘I’ve been feeling really lousy all day. Could hardly walk.’

‘Still hungover no doubt.’ He was definitely grumpy.

‘No, it’s not that. My whole body felt like lead, I struggled to make it to the bathroom.’

His face softened. ‘You poor thing.’ He reached out and put his hand on her forehead. ‘You don’t seem to have a temperature. How’re you feeling now?’

Terri sat up, wiped the sleep from her eyes and realised she felt alright.

‘Better,’ she replied, ‘About time I got up, I guess.’

‘That’s my girl. I’ll just go get changed.’ He disappeared out of the room. She heard the door to his private room unlock. She wondered why he kept his clothes in there. Did they have separate bedrooms? It was possible, especially if he was on-call for work. He might not want to disturb her in the middle of the night. She clambered out of the large bed and headed into the lounge where classical music was playing again. I can safely say, I definitely hate this music! Still feeling weak, she sat down on the sofa. Had he brought any food home for her? She was absolutely famished. She twiddled her fingers while she waited, occasionally looking over the sofa to his private room, wondering when he might emerge.

Finally, a door opened and she looked up to see him come out of his room. Like the previous evening he had changed into jeans and a t-shirt. She preferred him like that. His suits made him look powerful and a little scary. He came over and sat next to her on the couch and took her hands in his. The warmth in his soft hands made her feel protected, loved even. His thumb gently caressed the top of her hand and she noticed how immaculately clean and manicured his fingernails were.

‘Terri, I’m sorry if I appeared a bit grumpy earlier.’

She continued to look at his hands as they caressed hers.

‘You know how I was called away early this morning?’

She nodded, still mesmerised by his hands.

‘Well, there was a disaster at work and it didn’t work out too well. I’m sorry though, I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.’ He gently cupped her chin in his hand and raised her face so she was looking at him. ‘Are you okay?’

‘I still can’t remember anything!’ she blurted.

Martin whacked his palm on his forehead. ‘Darn it,’ he said, ‘Sorry but I completely forgot, I was supposed to organise a urine sample for you. You didn’t happen to get it sorted did you?’

‘I wasn’t aware I was supposed to.’

‘Darn it Terri, why didn’t you call me and remind me?’ He suddenly sounded angry again.

‘I don’t have a phone!’ Terri retorted.

‘What have you done with yours?’

‘How would I know! How many times do I have to say this? I can’t remember anything. You’re as bad as Laura!’ Terri was getting riled up now. ‘And why is there no food in the house? I’m starving!’

Martin stepped back from her. ‘Well it’s not my fault you go to a party and are too hungover to go shopping. Why didn’t you go out and get some food in?’

‘Because I have no money!!!! I wouldn’t know where to go!!!! I don’t know or remember anything!!! Why does nobody seem to care???’ She stormed off into the bedroom and slammed the door shut. She threw herself on the bed and pummelled her arms and legs up and down in frustration. Why is nobody taking my memory loss seriously? Firstly, there was Laura, who had just laughed at her. Now her so-called husband was blaming her as if it was all her fault she’d been drugged. Well maybe it was, but that was no reason to be a jerk. She waited for him to apologise, but he didn’t come. She eventually drifted off to sleep and dreamed she was eating a never ending supply of fish and chips.

She awoke the next morning with a renewed energy. Martin was nowhere to be seen; he must have slept in his own room. She bounced out of bed, determined to find answers. She knocked on his door. No answer. She tried opening it. It was locked. He must have gone to work already. She hunted around in the cupboards and fridge for food. Nothing. Looking around, the minimalist apartment beckoned her to pry. She thought it was probably rude to do so but felt the situation allowed it. It was time to go on the hunt for clues, to put on her detective hat and pull the place apart from top to bottom. A sense of exhilaration came over her, at the excitement of it all. For the next few hours she would be Detective Inspector Towely, finder of memories and solver of crimes. It was her job to crack the case of the little black dresses.

Terri slammed yet another cupboard door as its emptiness left her clueless. The entire apartment had been turned from top to bottom. All the drawers and cupboards were devoid of clues, just the usual cutlery, crockery and glasses. There was no sign of her phone, money, or credit cards; she must have left them at the party. The only clothes in the house were those hideous black cocktail dresses. That in itself was disturbing, not to mention the lack of underwear. Apart from the one door that was locked, there was nothing to indicate that anybody lived here. It was like a show home.

Her detective work had left her exhausted and she needed to relax. She walked over to the antique wooden bookcase and browsed its contents. She loved to read, detective novels being her favourite. How on earth do I know this? Her eyes scanned over the books, which seemed to be more text books than novels. One of the books caught her eye. With a trembling hand she pulled the glossy covered hardback from the shelf and stared at it in disbelief. Detective Inspector Towely believed she had just found her first clue.

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][] Chapter 4

 

Matilda and Belinda shucked oysters at a steady pace. They had to move quickly but at the same time be careful that no shell was left in the oysters. That would mean disaster. If anything went wrong with the dinner service or deadlines were not met, there would be punishment. And tonight was no ordinary night. Tonight there was an important visitor.

Matilda was thankful to be in the same team as her best friend, Belinda, and Josh, the man who made her heart throb. She would just die of embarrassment if Josh found out that she fancied him. Josh and the boys were still not back from their fishing trip and a bad feeling cultivated inside her. They were never late. There was no time for distractions though, so she pushed the thought from her mind. They still had a lot to do if their dinner service was to run to schedule. There were three courses to prepare and they had to be on time.

‘Ouch!’ Belinda cried out in pain and grabbed her left hand.

‘What’s happened? You okay?’ Matilda asked, full of concern.

‘I’ve cut my hand on the oyster shell. It really hurts.’

Matilda looked over to her friend and saw blood oozing from her hand. They could not afford to waste any more time. She guided her away from the preparation area. Belinda kept a tight hold on her hand, her face wincing in pain. Matilda looked at the blood and cringed, unable to look at anything gory. Grabbing a bucket of water, she thrust it at Belinda and said, ‘Here, wash your hand in this.’

Belinda did as she was told. ‘Yeeeeoowwww, that stings!’

Matilda grabbed a towel and wrapped it around Belinda’s hand, applying pressure to stop the bleeding. This was the worst possible timing. She looked at the clock. They didn’t have long to go to meet their deadline.

‘I have to get on with the oysters,’ Matilda said, ‘Keep the pressure on your hand.’

Belinda looked concerned. ‘But I need to help, there’s no way you can get the oysters done on your own.’

‘We can’t afford to have your blood get into the oysters. You keep the pressure on until it stops bleeding. Then you can come and help.’

Lucy, another of their team members heard the commotion and came over.

‘Do you girls need a hand over here?’

‘We sure would appreciate it you have time, Lucy. Belinda’s cut her hand quite badly on the oyster shell. It won’t stop bleeding.’

‘Yee-ouch, poor thing. We’ve almost finished over here.’ She yelled over to her friend, ‘Farley, do you mind if I help these girls? They need a hand with their oysters. Belinda’s cut her hand.’

‘No problem,’ Farley yelled back, ‘I’ve almost finished here. I’ll tidy up, then check on Belinda.’

Matilda felt thankful for her awesome team. They were all willing to help each other out in times of need. Lucy was a no fuss type of girl and took up the space of two people, but her efficiency made up for her size. She started shucking like there was no tomorrow. Matilda was concerned by Lucy’s speed. They had to be careful not to get any shell in the oysters. Broken shells could mean broken teeth and that was a big ‘no no’. Matilda wanted to say something to her, but was not sure how to approach it. Lucy was, after all, doing them a favour. She decided to keep her mouth shut. There was no point angering her as she could have a mean temper at times. The punishment was probably better than getting on the wrong side of Lucy.

Matilda noticed the boys were still not back from their fishing trip. The whole day was turning into a disaster. As soon as the oysters were prepared, a fish stock needed to be made, but this was not possible without the fish.

Matilda shucked her last oyster, and was relieved when she looked up and saw his familiar stride walking towards the filleting table. She admired how his muscles glistened with sweat as he cleaned the fish. The afternoon sun flared through his floppy blond hair, creating a halo type effect. This made her laugh out loud. A fish murdering angel. His tongue stuck out the side of his mouth as he concentrated on the task at hand. As if he sensed her staring at him, he looked up. Their eyes met. Butterflies flapped around inside her stomach. He smiled at her. The butterflies started doing somersaults. Her face glowed hot as it turned bright red. Fearing he could read her thoughts, she looked away.

As the boys filleted each fish, the girls took the heads and bones away to make a stock. Usually they would wait until the boys had finished, but they were so far behind schedule, they could not wait. Matilda fried off the fish bones in some butter and herbs, then added water. The aroma made her mouth water. She took a teaspoon and dipped it in the stock to taste. It needed salt. Picking up a ladle, she scooped some seawater from the bucket that was on the ground next to her, and added it to the pot. The process was repeated, tasting, adding, tasting again, to make sure the flavour was perfect.

‘I wonder why the boys were so late,’ she casually remarked to Belinda who had now recovered.

‘I heard they met some girls down at the beach and were playing around,’ Belinda joked.

Matilda’s face dropped. The thought of Josh playing with other girls made her feel sick. The cute little butterflies that moments ago had been happily doing somersaults crash landed in a heap in the bottom of her stomach. Rising juices devoured the squirming butterflies causing her stomach to cramp. Belinda saw her reaction and quickly added, ‘I’m just kidding. They probably just had trouble finding the fish.’

Matilda was unsure why Belinda would say something so cruel, then backtrack from it so fast. Did she know something she didn’t? She pushed the bad thoughts aside and moved on to preparing the salad. It was a big job cooking for 200 plus people. The entire team had to put one hundred percent effort into it. They were all terrified of the punishment if they failed, but excited by the reward if they did well.

The members of the Community were seated at a long banquet style table. Excitement filled the air and lively chatter fluttered around the table. They had worked hard all day and it was now time to relax and have some fun. At the head of the table was a visitor, seated beside Keith, the chief Elder.

At 7pm, a hush descended over the crowd. It was time for the meal to be served. A stream of waiters brought out bowls of steaming fish stock and placed them on the table in front of each guest, starting with the visitor first, then the Elders, followed by the members in order of their age. The stock would be consumed with the meal.

Once everyone had been served a bowl of stock, Axel and Sarah, the team leaders, stood in front of them and made an announcement. Axel spoke while Sarah remained silent. ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen. We are now ready to serve the first course of the evening. We present to you, Freshly Shucked Oysters, served with fragrant spices. Please enjoy.’

A keen applause broke out as the waiters appeared again, their hands laden with plates. An oyster starter was placed in front of each guest as ‘oohs!’ and ‘aahs!’ echoed around the table. This delighted the cooks. They loved serving food that looked as good as it tasted.

While the oysters were being consumed, the team cooked the fish. Almost there, Matilda thought, Just one more course to get through without incident and we’re safe. If everything ran perfectly there would be no punishment and they could relax.

The team were relieved this was their last night to cook. It had been a stressful week preparing meals, ensuring a good service and making sure all ran to plan. Thankfully they only had to cook one week out of six. Next week they would be guests, relaxing and enjoying good food. But until the dinner service was complete, they could not relax. It was imperative it ran smoothly. Overcooked fish would bring serious consequences.

 

 

 

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][] Chapter 5

 

 

Terri clutched the book in her shaking hands, fearing if she dropped it a vital clue might escape. She collapsed on the couch and placed the book in her lap, hands resting on top of it. Her heart pounded in her ears and her chest tightened. She took a deep breath and tried to relax, but her mind continued to race.

Is this the clue I’m looking for? Can this be the reason for my memory loss? Would Martin really do something like this? Or is it purely coincidental that this book is in his bookcase?

She took a slow deep breath. Her chest rose as the air travelled into her lungs and deep down into her abdomen. Breathing out, she controlled her breath with the same slow speed. She repeated the process, breathing air all the way in, then all the way out. The tightness in her chest began to dissipate. She continued the deep breathing exercise until she started to relax and her heart-rate calmed down.

Opening her eyes, she removed her hands from the cover. She looked down and re-read the title.

‘The Art of Hypnotism and Erasing Memories.’

A nasty feeling developed in the pit of her stomach as she flicked through the pages. Was Martin hypnotising her? Perhaps he had been giving her drugs as well. She tried to think back to what had happened that she could remember. Her brain was fogged up, the lack of food getting to her. When did she last eat? Was it the fish and chips the night before last? Yes, it was. She hadn’t had anything to eat last night. An argument had erupted between Martin and herself and she had stormed off. He had accused her of being a drunk and told her it was her fault she had lost her money and phone. The frustration of the whole thing was getting to her. She had to get out of this apartment. Maybe she could go to the police, tell them about being drugged and possibly brainwashed. She didn’t want to spend another night in this apartment with that man. It was time to leave. Now. Before he came home. She looked down at her ripped dress and realised she would have to get changed first.

Terri raced to her bedroom, yanked open the wardrobe door and frantically looked for something to wear. All the dresses looked the same, so she grabbed the first one she saw. She threw the dress she was wearing onto the floor and donned a fresh one. At the base of the wardrobe, there were rows and rows of shoes, all in the same style. Grabbing the closest ones she squeezed her feet into them. They were a bit small, but would have to do. Her legs wobbled as she attempted to stand, the high heels threatening to topple her over.

Clinging to the bed post for dear life, she balanced delicately on the high heels, fearing she might break an ankle. This is insane. Who would design something ridiculous like this? It’s impossible to stand in them, let alone walk in them. Kicking them off in disgust, she took the shoes to the kitchen. Taking a knife from the block on the kitchen worktop, she attempted to saw off the heel. Darkness crept into the apartment. Would Martin come home soon? A feeling of urgency overwhelmed her. Her arm ached as she sawed like her life depended on it, but the knife barely made a dent in the heel. Out of sheer frustration, she tried to snap the heel off, but it didn’t budge. A sense of foreboding came over her. No more time could be wasted. She needed to leave now, before he came home. She grabbed her shoes in one hand, the knife in the other and raced to the front door in her bare feet. Once outside, she could continue to remove the heels, but for now, her bare feet would have to do. She had no idea where she would go. Perhaps the police would help her. All she knew was that she couldn’t stay here and take a chance that Martin might continue to erase her memories.

She opened the front door but it was too late. He was standing in the doorway. Martin was home.

 

End of Sample

 

 

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The Secret Community


Beware... Things are not as they appear to be.

Don’t walk through the forest alone... Those six words echoed around Hayley Powell’s head as she walked home along the forest path. Alone. Her father had warned her many times, but today she’d decided to ignore him. On the side of the path, shredded pieces of paper had been scattered at regular intervals with a warning attached. At first she thought it might be a game that someone had laid out, but after a while, the messages became personal. Who was watching her? And why? Beware, things are not as they appear to be... Beware is a novelette of 70 pages which is about a quarter of the size of a novel.

  • Author: J. Meverington
  • Published: 2017-05-08 08:35:14
  • Words: 22477
Beware... Things are not as they appear to be. Beware... Things are not as they appear to be.