Hi everyone. My newspaper column adventures have ended for the time being, but I’m sure I’ll manage to share a bit of family ‘dirt’ as the occasion merits. ;)
Our family has a double up birthday in November. My youngest decided her father’s birthday was a wonderful time to arrive and give her parents the fright of their lives. She wasn’t due to arrive until the eighteenth of January, but what’s nine weeks in the scheme of things when you’re keen to be part of the world and determined to ensure no one ever remembers your father’s birthday as anything but an afterthought.
This year was the first time she realised Daddy wasn’t the same age as her and delighted in telling everyone exactly how old he is. She attempted to share my age as well, but trust me; I put a quick stop to that.
While choosing presents is never an issue, the matter of finding a cake that appeals to both father and daughter has been interesting. Try as we might, we can’t eat two cakes, so last year they had a half butterfly, half Batman cake. Yes, it defies explanation. This year, I found something they both love - Minecraft. The professionals needn’t be concerned about my cake decorating skills, but the birthday boy and girl loved it, and that’s all that matters.
(Don’t worry; I won’t subject you to the ‘wonderful’ cake picture again.)
As we hurtle toward Christmas and 2015, (where did 2014 go?) I indulged in my reading habit. First, ‘Grievous Harm’ by Ms Sandy Curtis.
This lovely lady barely reaches my shoulder, has the smile of an angel and looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She also writes romantic suspense at a level that will scare the heck out of you and ensure you’re reading with every single light on – in daylight. There were several moments where I had to forcibly look away and remind myself I was reading a work of fiction. The most gripping thought though was how much fact weaved itself into the story. Some of the themes depicted in this story truly exist. Ms Curtis put her main characters through the ringer, yet I was the one who felt rung out after the intense pace her story had set.
Grievous Harm begins in the streets of Sydney and travels through to the Australian Outback in Queensland. American, Kate McLaren flies to Australia searching for her missing niece, unaware the child is being groomed by a sinister cult for terrifying purposes. Agent John Corey, whist working on what he believed was an unrelated case, soon learns the truth when he joins forces with Kate. Discovering the long reach of the cult is just the beginning, because not only are there other children in danger, they’re fast running out of people they can trust.
Personally, I love the nod the author gave to our Australian farmers doing it tough, which they are, and I hope that awareness shines through for other readers and in some way makes a difference to our famers’ plight.
You can find more about Ms Curtis here.
Next, ‘The Blood She Betrayed’ by Cheryse Durrant.
I must applaud Ms Durrant for her ability to keep her world building intact and her characters believable. When mixing the known world with the supernatural and even alien ones, if a character deviates from the attributes the author created, it immediately throws the reader out of the story.
A few years ago, I started reading a story of a human who crossed into an alien world. The writer described their ceremonies, culture and the plant and animal life to perfection. And then she had her female protagonist fight with another character and retreat to her room where she proceeded to eat a packet of chips (crisps). If the author had written something to the effect of ‘thin slices of an unknown vegetable that crunched between her teeth with the familiarity of the potato chips she knew on earth’, I would still be encroached in the alien world she so carefully and painstakingly built. Instead, I was back in the real world, disappointed and feeling somewhat mislead. Happily, The Blood She Betrayed did no such thing. :)
This is the first book in a Young Ault series ‘Heart Hunters’. Shahkara (Shah) is a seventeen-year-old half human / half Taloner sent from her world into ours to recover an ancient Elnara death lantern to free her people from the deadly Taloners. These humanlike beings with hidden talons, which protrude from their knuckles and eat human hearts to ensure their incredible strength and vitality, threaten to destroy her world. Once she finds it, she must return to her world all too aware that as a half Taloner herself, she too, will die. What she didn’t count on was meeting Max McCalden, a human boy, also seventeen, who has secrets unknown to them both. Worse, the beat of his heart calls to her Taloner instincts in a way she’s never experienced.
This story had more plot twists than a cut snake. Just when you think the duo is out of danger, they’re plunged into the next catastrophe and you begin to wonder if they’re going to make it through the first few chapters, let alone the whole novel – and this is book one... What could possibly happen next? :)
This is Ms Durrant’s website.
It’s become the norm for me to share a story at the end of the year so this is my first place story from my in-house writers’ group competition. It’s in our anthology ‘Too Long for Twitter’. Instead of a romantic story, this time I’m sharing an attempt at suspense. Hope you enjoy it. :)
CONCEALED IN A DREAM
It was a week before they found her. Covered in filth and grime, there was no doubt the tiny body had long since parted her mortal coil. The long grasses curled around her ankles and wrists as tender hands reached to pull her from the possessive grasp of the greenery.
An unbridled screech of the child’s name let them know the mother was there. Two neat rows formed as the searchers parted to make way for her. They did not raise their faces as she passed. With the child in his arms, the sergeant turned to face her. His tears slid down his dusty cheeks and splashed onto the child’s muddied features. He blinked and readied himself for the moment the woman fell upon them.
Overcome with grief and despair, he was used to that automatic reaction when their legs collapsed beneath them and their sanity followed. There was a serial killer loose in their district and the mongrel had claimed his fourth victim. The Sergeant gave no thought to the gloved finger he trailed down the girl’s cheek to brush away a strand of hair. He thought of the son waiting for him at home. He’d hug him tight upon his return.
The woman was within reach now; her mouth open, eyes wide, and he braced himself for the scream that hadn’t yet reached her lips. When the silence lingered he looked at her. Her face was alive with wonderment. A streak of hope had caressed her tired features as her gaze locked on her child. He looked down too and only the sound of his voice as he swore in disbelief broke the stillness. The child had opened her eyes.
Lucy couldn’t remember what had happened, not that she tried. Through errant flashes of memory, she knew something terrible occurred. She recalled the tallest man she’d ever seen had held her hand and promised to take her for a walk along the river. She was only six. She hadn’t seen the harm in going with the nice man even if her mummy had said not to talk to strangers. He had given her chocolate and although she couldn’t remember his face, at first he’d had the nicest smile even if his teeth looked funny.
Through overheard conversations, she knew she hadn’t been ‘interfered with’, whatever that meant. She gathered by the adults’ reactions that it was a good thing. They told her the bad man who took her had gone away and she believed them.
The dreams started when she was nine. The man was there but he did not have any chocolate. He made her walk faster, but try as she might, her little legs couldn’t keep up.
‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘We have to get to the river.’
And when she couldn’t hurry, he became angry and carried her. His grip was too tight. He smelled funny and the nice smile had gone. Now his lips peeled back to reveal jagged, yellow teeth that he bared at her the way Bluey, their cattle dog, did when anyone came near his food.
She wiggled and squirmed but she couldn’t break free. She cried and said she wanted her mother, that she wanted to go home, but the man wouldn’t listen. He just held tighter and kept walking.
The sun began to set and Lucy cried harder. A flash of silver caught the last of its rays and then bit into the tender skin of her throat as he told her to shut up. Her neck started to sting and something warm slid onto the neckline of her t-shirt. Paralysed with fear, she quietened but she couldn’t halt the tremble of her body.
They reached a private spot surrounded by trees. Like cloying perfume, the scent of eucalyptus hung in the air. Mosquitoes buzzed and tormented the flesh that her t-shirt and shorts could not cover. The sound of water splashing told her they were near the river. He put her down on a damp patch of ground and told her to be quiet. He disappeared into the darkness but Lucy didn’t move. There was no moon to guide her and even if it had, she had no idea where she was.
She curled up on the grass with one tiny hand over her throat, which burned more than all the mosquito bites combined. She was tired and weak and she never heard him return.
The dreams lasted a week and then disappeared as if they’d never been. Lucy never spoke of them. She couldn’t find the words. Her parents sent her to counselling but the trauma was too much for Lucy to respond.
It took another eighteen months before she felt brave enough to sleep in her own room and she took to wearing scarves to hide the scar that marred her throat no matter what the weather.
When she was twelve, the dreams came back.
When they began at fifteen, Lucy spent the remainder of the week in a drug-induced haze of her own devising. Anything was better than to sleep and relive the nightmare again.
It wasn’t until she was almost eighteen that she realised the dreams happened on the anniversary of the week she’d disappeared. Maybe her parents had thought it best not to remind her, and maybe she’d blocked out the date, but now that she remembered, Lucy had to know more.
Why every three years? What did it mean?
At the town library, she waited until almost closing time before making her way to the computer furthermost from the door. She searched for the local newspaper, entered the date and released the breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding.
In seconds a scanned copy of the front page appeared. Lucy looked upon her six-year-old self bundled in the arms of a local police officer and the headline copied Australia-wide. The man looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. She stared at the picture a moment longer then began to read the article.
It was surreal to learn they’d found her at Murdering Lagoon. It was obvious the journalists and news reporters had over-glorified that particular detail yet they’d named her attacker after the Suttor River, which fed the lagoon. She didn’t read the comments on the extent of her injuries. She had her scars as permanent reminders.
On a hunch, she adjusted the date an additional three years and her insides turned to ice as the article appeared. Three years to the day, two more children had disappeared. And like Lucy, they’d found both boys a week later. Neither survived their ordeal. Her hand shifted to rest just below her heart.
If the knife had struck a centimetre deeper, she wouldn’t be sitting here now.
She adjusted the date and again the article was chillingly similar. This time the victims were girls. Their story was the same. Her hands hovered over the keyboard, the compulsion to check too much to ignore. She typed the date three years before her abduction and the article confirmed what she already knew.
To Lucy that meant just one thing. Not only was the man still killing, but also in a fortnight’s time, he’d be claiming his next victims.
As she collected her printouts, switched off the computer and made her way to her car, Lucy wondered if it was somehow her fault that the killer had evaded capture. She couldn’t remember his face. She couldn’t identify him.
She opened her car door, threw her bag and the printouts inside and then screamed blue murder when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
‘Jeez, calm down. I’m sorry. I thought you heard me.’
Lucy stared at him, her breathing erratic. Memory penetrated the fog of fear in which she’d surrounded herself. Now she knew why the police officer in the newspaper article looked so familiar. She’d gone to the same school as his son.
‘You startled me,’ she managed.
Jake smiled. ‘Yeah, I got that.’
His grin faded as she scowled at him. He caught sight of the printouts fanned across the front passenger seat.
‘What are you doing with those? Did you remember something Lucy? You know my dad found you,’ he persisted when Lucy pressed her lips together and stared down at her shoes.
Lucy moved her head in affirmation but she would not meet his eyes.
‘He’d help you know, if you asked.’
Lucy reared back and shook her head.
‘Then let me help, Lucy, because if you read the article about the murderer before they decided he was a serial killer, you’d know the first victim was my big brother and if there’s a chance I could find his murderer, I’d take it. Wouldn’t you? Don’t you want to make him pay for what he did?’
His sudden anger should have frightened her but Lucy felt a strange calmness. Decision made, she followed him back to his place. No one was home, but Lucy scarcely looked around. Jake guided her to his room and she sat on the chair he provided while he started his computer. She watched as he pulled out a torn, dog-eared manila file from an envelope he’d stuck to the underside of one of the drawers of his desk.
‘Policeman’s son,’ he said in answer to the look she gave him. ‘I copied these from Dad’s files. You realise they kept things from you?’
‘Your parents, the police, your psychiatrist ... anyone involved with the case. They thought if you didn’t know the killer was at large then you wouldn’t feel pressured to remember what he looked like. Things didn’t turn out the way they hoped and after a while your parents refused to let them near you.’
‘I don’t remember any of that. How do you know so much about it?’
‘I made it my business to know and, well, you’re probably going to think I’m crazy ...’
Lucy laughed, the joyous sound surprising them.
‘When I was nine I had this weird dream. The killer took my brother by mistake. He really wanted me. Every night for a week, I dreamed the same thing and then nothing. Dad was under enough pressure so I didn’t see the point in telling him. Not that it mattered; I could never get a good look at his face. The same thing happened when I turned twelve and again at fifteen.’
Jake’s speech hastened as he took in Lucy’s look of disbelief.
‘I’d see a knife slash the air, then a hint of misshapen teeth and I swear I could smell peppermint. You know, as if he’d swallowed a tube full of toothpaste. Although with his teeth he’d be fighting a losing battle.’
Lucy’s eyes flashed. Peppermint! That’s how he smelled. She remembered now.
‘Tell me more.’
‘Well he was tall and he didn’t look much older than we are now. Thin, but strong. He’d stare at me through my bedroom window twisting the knife in his hands.’
‘This window?’ she asked as she crossed the room and brushed aside the curtain floating idly in the gentle breeze.
‘Yeah. After the second lot of dreams, I put a mark against the wall where he stood. He was level with that.’
‘I had dreams too,’ she said suddenly, startling him. ‘Every three years on the anniversary of the week I disappeared I’d relive what happened. His face is always unclear but I remember his awful teeth.’
Her hand went to her throat.
‘And the knife. I remember he liked the way it slid across my skin.’
‘I’m so sorry, Lucy.’
‘Do you have a tape measure?’ she asked. ‘If you go outside and hold the tape level with the mark, we’d know his height.’
Jake felt his jaw clench as he forced his mouth to close. Her change in demeanour confused him. Not knowing what else to do, he shrugged, stooped to retrieve the jacket hanging off the back of his chair and put it on.
‘There’s a measuring tape in Dad’s shed. I’ll grab it and head outside. What’s wrong?’ he asked as she stiffened, her hand trembling as she gestured at him.
‘Your jacket! He was wearing one just like it!’
‘Are you sure?’
‘This was my Dad’s when he was a recruit. You think this creep’s a cop?’
‘Maybe. I don’t know. I just remember the jacket had a strange bit of material on the shoulder.’
‘Material? You mean the epaulette?’
When she nodded again he said, ‘We need to tell Dad. Don’t argue, Lucy. We’re doing this.’
He was at the window with the measuring tape and asking for the number before Lucy could think of a reason why she shouldn’t just leave and pretend she’d never been there. She moved like an automaton through the house when he told her to grab her things and meet him at the front door.
When she passed the bookshelf, she glanced at the photos arranged on top. It wasn’t until she reached the last two pictures that she paid them any attention.
Fear ramped her heartbeat to a harrowing pace. Viscous fluid swelled in her throat, constricting her breathing. She clawed at her scarf as if it burned and let her fingers alight upon the scar she abhorred. She couldn’t avert her gaze no matter how her thoughts insisted she comply.
One photo was of two men in similar uniform; the other was the taller man only. Lucy recognised Jake’s father as the shorter man smiling proudly in profile. One hand pointed to the double-striped insignia on his shoulder while the other gestured toward his companion’s, which was plain. Unlike Jake’s father, the younger man’s face was emotionless. Her eyes moved without coercion to the second photo. The serious look had gone in this one. Now he smirked at her with that same chilling smile her abductor had given her before it dissolved into that horrific cavern of broken and rotted teeth.
‘Lucy? Is everything okay?’
‘Who ... who is that?’
‘Some juvie Dad took pity on. Dad got him into the recruiting program. It was a pretty big deal at the time. I can’t remember his ... Wait! You recognise him, don’t you? Is he ...?’
As he took in her expression, Jake stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her. Surprised by the comforting gesture, she hugged him back. When he whispered that everything was going to be okay, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
Jake was right. They had to tell his dad. She could identify her abductor now. They’d stop him before he hurt anyone else and he wouldn’t haunt her dreams. She looked at the scarf in her hand and smiled as she let it fall. The Suttor River Slasher couldn’t hide anymore and neither would she.
Murdering Lagoon along the Suttor River exists. It is located in Central Queensland, the river originating from the Leichhardt Range northwest of Glenden. I wanted a Queensland setting for my story and an interesting name for my killer. In Suttor River, I found both. The fact that it also had a place called Murdering Lagoon made the connection real and gave life to my story. :)
However you celebrate the season and the coming new year, I hope it’s filled with love, laughter and time with those special people you hold dear. :)
See you in 2015. :)