This story began as notes in an exercise book when I was in my mid-twenties. I was driving a tractor or the bulldozer and at lunch time, I’d stop for a sandwich and a cup of tea from the thermos. While I was taking a break, with my old Bic biro, I’d write short stories in an exercise book I kept with me. Lots of stories, about all sorts of things. Some of these stories have made it into my other books; some didn’t. They were all just scribblings on paper back then, way before I had a typewriter.
But this story was different.
I’ve always been a writer, since I first discovered the alphabet as a child, and how you could add the letters together to make words that people could say out loud. That was magic, to me! In school, as I moved up through the grades, I loved nothing more than when the teacher would say “Please write an essay on……!” Words…. Another opportunity to play with words…..!
My writing has always told its own story. I don’t start with a plan, an outline or characters. I simply start writing. Characters appear and do things – I just write it all down for them. I’m their narrator, their link to our world. It comes through to me in a complete form, spelling and grammar perfect, ready to be captured and told. And so it did with this one.
But I was a farm boy with only a grade 10 education. I knew about sheep, cattle, crops and being an auto mechanic. I could fix the cars and trucks, handle the sheep and cattle and drive a tractor with a planter on so that when the crops sprouted, the rows were all perfectly straight. But I didn’t know about this ‘weird stuff’.
We didn’t have a TV. Oh, there was TV available, but not this far from town in those days. We had a radio and in the afternoon on the ABC, “Jason and The Argonauts” children’s hour came on and there was one story about some aliens that crash landed their flying saucer. That was about as supernatural as it got.
When this story happened to me, I was totally unprepared. I got to the part where the supernatural things started to happen and frankly, it scared the heck out of me! I kept going for a little longer, but it was stuff I’d never heard of, knew nothing about, yet it poured from my old biro as though I was watching it happen in front of me.
I put that story down and closed the book on it, literally.
About fifteen years later, when my life had changed massively and I had become a little more ‘spiritually aware’ and ‘sensitive’, I stumbled across the notes from that time, in a tattered old manila folder. I opened it up and found all my old storyline notes, including this one, and began reading. I was captivated.
I resumed the writing; the characters resumed playing for me, as though I had never left.
I finished the tale, breathlessly, as it is a tale of drama, suspense, romance and beauty – it has everything. I was the first person to read it, and it affected me as it has affected every other person I gave it to in those early days to read. I saw tears, fear, and people holding their breath as they read, and their laughter and joy as the story unfolded.
Is it true? Is it possible it happened somewhere? Is this what is out there?
Nowadays, we have incredible photo journalism evidence of the wonders of nature, of the incredible things that animals and plants do, the hidden world of jungles and oceans and the way animals definitely and very obviously communicate with each other. Our computers and technology have advanced our knowledge to where we know so much about so much, that at last we begin to understand and appreciate that what we know is really only the tip of a very large iceberg.
Really, we know very little about our world and our universe except that we are a tiny speck in it.
Are there other dimensions? Perhaps a better question is whether our minds are capable of comprehending whether there are other dimensions, other worlds, and what the implications would be for us, if that was true?
How would we handle not being the supreme beings?
Could we accept that someone or something was smarter, bigger, stronger or more capable than us? And if we could accept it, how would we respond? With fear? As though they were a threat? Or a big brother and a powerful friend?
I don’t know.
However, we see all of those questions asked and possibly answered in this tale. No definitive answers, because people are all different, and different people react in different ways.
If a phenomenal discovery was made in our world and our time, a journalist would feel it their obligation to tell the whole world, and on the way, possibly collect a Pulitzer Prize. But a conservationist would see it differently, and want to preserve the secret so that the world did not trample the new discovery and destroy it because of its new-found fame and the public’s ‘right to know’. Governments would want to regulate it and entrepreneurs would want to commercialise it.
Is anyone right? Or wrong?
They all see it differently, and that is the reality of the wonderful world we live in. We are all different.
This fascinating tale might be considered a fantasy, supernatural, a thriller, a romance or love story, or all of these. But really, it’s the story of a young lady who finds herself alone in a hostile environment and comes through, in a most enthralling and captivating way. Her relationships with the environment around her, her family and community are all tested by both the elements and the worst kinds of human beings and the solutions she finds might be relevant to our own lives, in different ways.
But in this tale, they combine to entrance you, the reader, and draw you into this other world as though you were in there with her…
I invite you to enjoy this journey and this tale, from another world.
Jade sat with her back to the open fire, her silhouette beautiful in the flickering firelight. Her husband of just over six months, George, hastily loaded a rifle near the door. A bad tempered man, the fowls squawking and the dog barking infuriated him. This wasn’t a side of him she had seen in their whirlwind courtship.
“That’s three times this week!”
“Please be careful, George.”
“Careful? I’ll give ‘careful’ to whatever it is that gets into my fowl run and kills my hens. I won’t be terrorised by some bush creature and just sit back and let it rampage through my property. I cut this farm out of the forest and made it mine. Anything else has no rights on it and I ain’t gonna stand for it!”
The dog was suddenly quieted in mid bark. Jade looked at him and a surge of fear gripped her. She rose and stood by the fireplace, her unborn baby moved as she did so. It wouldn’t be long now.
“God,” she prayed. “Please watch over him.”
“I’ll show them!”
The door banged shut after him and he strode down the yard. His world exploded into a mass of colours and then went black as he reached for the gate, his skull crushed like an eggshell. The gun clattered harmlessly to the grass beside his inert body. It twitched for a few moments and then lay still, cooling rapidly on the grass, now that the sun had gone from the sky in the west.
Half a silent hour passed. There had been no sign of George. Jade feared the worst. Nervous fingers lit a lantern and fumbled with the latch on the door. Frightened eyes peered out through the narrow opening. She pushed it wider, her pounding heart rose in her throat. She held the lamp in front of her, the dull light feebly lit the pathway and at once she saw the heap on the grass at the front gate. She crept down the path, then realised it was the body of her husband. Caution aside, she ran and kneeled beside him. He lay, unmoving and unnatural.
She put her hand to his cheek. Cold. As cold as the fear gripping her heart. Then she felt the blood on her hand from under his head and down his cheek. His head rolled to one side. The matted mess that was once his skull and now only held in place by his matted hair oozed more blood. The fear welled up inside her, she looked around wildly. The shadows, the black night time shapes, silhouettes, evil and ominous black nothings towered over her. She ran sobbing back to the little cabin, bolted the door and drew the curtains over the big windows. It seemed such a feeble gesture.
She huddled by the fire, her mind in a whirl. She felt the baby move. No, not yet! Surely!
“God, it can’t be, it’s two months too soon!” But it was. The events of the last few moments had triggered something nobody could stop. She felt the rush of fluids under her and knew her ordeal had only just begun. This night still had a long way to go and perhaps even dawn would not be the end of it.
The next day was cool. The horse trotted along comfortably with the sulky and its cargo, a baby, a body and a girl who had become a mother overnight. Her face was tired and creased. Shortly before sundown, she pulled into the Doctor’s house. Old Doc Morgan was on the verandah. When he saw her, he stood and beamed.
“Jade my girl, what brings you to town?”
She broke down as she felt the warmth in his voice. He ran to the sulky.
“Oh, my God!” He saw the figure lying under the blanket in the rear and the infant beside her. “Oh, my God.” He lifted the blanket and saw the bloody mess that had once been a man’s head and dropped it again. That could wait; there was no longer any urgency there. He helped Jade down and supported her while he carried the baby inside.
“Laura?” He called urgently; his wife appeared. “Laura Dear, please make some coffee, run a bath and send for the Sheriff. Jade, come in here. We’ll be in the surgery, Dear,” he called over his shoulder. “Now Jade, while I examine you and this little fellow, I’d like you to tell me about everything you can. I won’t press you, but you will want to be clear in your own mind about what has happened before you talk to the Sheriff. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t look very bad. There’s no other way to say it. Now, what happened…?”
She nodded, wearily. As she retold the events of the last day, the old doctor felt a mixture of pity and admiration for her. A night of terror, murder and pain, then most of a day travelling in a horse drawn sulky with her dead husband and a new-born baby when she should have been in bed with absolute rest and at least someone to care for her. Life had hardly begun for this child, and a child she still was. Already she had endured alone what he wouldn’t care to face at his more than fifty years.
He sat back finally, with his examinations over for now, and just listened. Only twenty-one years ago, he had delivered this child. He had cared for her through mumps, chickenpox and the annual bout of flu. Now, a grown woman stared at him from this frightened little girl’s eyes. He reached out to her, wordlessly. She took his hand and came closer. He put his arm round her shoulders and she sought the comfort of his embrace, nestling into his shoulder with the baby against her breast. She sobbed gently. At last, it was safe to cry again.
Footsteps sounded outside on the veranda.
“Doc Morgan.” The Sheriff called out. “You there, Doc?”
“He’s in the surgery, Sheriff.” Mrs Morgan called in to them. “The Sheriff is here Dear.”
“Thank you, Laura.” In a quieter voice he asked Jade, “Are you ready for this?”
“Yes, I think so.” She steeled herself for the next ordeal. She sat up straight, looking up at the doorway, and the doctor stood to give her space. “Yes, I’m ready.”
“Good girl.” The doctor marvelled inwardly at her strength. “Come in, Sheriff.”
“Afternoon, Jade. Afternoon, Doc. Now, I’ve seen the body. Just what is this all about? What on earth happened out there?”
Jade took a deep breath. The deputy readied himself to take notes as the Sheriff asked his questions.
It didn’t take long. Minutes really. The tale came with no embellishments, a simple narrative of her experiences, almost delivered unemotionally, factually. Now it was time for all the questions.
“You say you don’t know what hit him?”
“No, I have no idea. There was nothing else there; no weapon except the gun and it was lying beside his body.”
“Did you ever see what caused the commotion in the fowl run at any other time? Do you think George knew what sort of animal it was?”
“You said the dog was killed?”
“It was all bent up, as I remember. Neck twisted, back all bent. It was barking wildly, and then suddenly it stopped, right in the middle of a bark. It was then I began to be afraid. Before then, it could have been just a fox or a wild cat, but after that, I realised it was something much more. It was a big dog, not one that a fox or wild cat would scare.”
“Were any other animals ever harmed or missing? Did you ever see any evidence of any other large animals out there?”
“No Sherriff. It’s been so peaceful – the only loud noises from time to time were from George when he was cranky at something. Otherwise, it’s always so peaceful!”
“Tomorrow, we’ll ride out and see all this. Have a really good look around. But before we leave in the morning Jade, you might like to let us know if there is anything you need done at the cabin, and we’ll fix it for you while we’re out there. Now, I’d like to have a word with the doctor, if I may.”
“Thank you, Sheriff, and you, Doctor.” She gave his hand a squeeze.
“Mrs Morgan will have a bath run for you, my girl, and some hot coffee. Go in to her and she will look after the baby while you settle down and get cleaned up.”
The three men sat there as she went out. The silence continued for a minute, as they looked at each other. It was the Sheriff who broke it. He shook his head, muttering to himself.
“She couldn’t have done it, could she, Doc?”
“No.” His reply was deliberate. “Her strength is in her spirit. That baby was due more than six weeks away. She was a few weeks pregnant when they were married and well along in the pregnancy yesterday. She couldn’t have even lifted the weapon that made that mess. I’m afraid you’ll have to keep a lot of your questions till after you have had your look around the place tomorrow. Even then, I suspect that some of them may never be answered. This is a strange one, gentlemen. I am as lost as you with this. I have known Jade since her birth and she is a plain speaker – she believes everything she told you and there’s nothing extra in there. You have it all – everything she knows, she has told you!
Now, I expect her mother will be in from her farm within the hour so we’ll have to look lively and get this mess cleaned up. Laura arranged for Ted to go out and fetch her in.
Can you see the undertaker and order a coffin, Sheriff? I don’t think we will learn any more from any further examination I could do of him. He was hit once very hard by something very big. He died instantly. Probably never knew a thing about it.
We will also have to see if he has any family. He was never a patient of mine so I have no records of anything about him.”
“None.” The Deputy’s voice came from the back of the room. “We checked him out when he first arrived here, last year. Not even a last address. Just appeared in town and took up that land on the edge of the forest. He built his cabin, came to town and got himself a wife. That is all we know about him.”
“We’ll bury him tomorrow,” the Sheriff said. “I think you are going to be right, Doc. There’s a whole heap of questions I want to ask, but there isn’t anyone to go to for the answers! We’ll probably never know what really happened.”
Mrs Cooney clucked over her daughter and grandson at breakfast as she had done for a week.
“Did you know I invited young Ted Stevens over to lunch today? He often comes over to see me. He really is a very nice young man still, you know. Works ever so hard over at the sawmill. I believe he is saving some money to buy a little farm of his own. He was the one who came out to fetch me in last night – Laura Morgan sent him out. He was going to stay on last night and see you then, but he thought better of it – felt you already had plenty going on with all of this happening.”
Her mother chattered on, Jade felt a glow inside at the mention of Ted’s name. She had often thought of him in these last few months, especially in the last few days. How she had longed for some of his friendly words in those hard, lonely times. Ted was really good natured. They had always been friends, even at their little school. In the last week though, she had wondered how he would react to a widow and her son. Then, she began to wonder how she would react to him. A lot of water had flowed under their bridges in the last year or more; it was a long time since she had even seen him, since she made her choice.
The morning passed quickly. Mother was still remembering things to help her with the baby. Jade still had trouble with the nappies. They looked so easy to fit but Mother always made a better job of it. They both enjoyed fussing over the baby. So did the baby.
The little front gate squeaked noisily. Mrs Cooney looked up.
“Oh, that will be Ted.”
Jade tensed a little in anticipation. His frame filled the doorway, he leaned in and smiled.
“Hi all, hello Jade.”
She just smiled back nervously. At least he seemed to be the same as he always had been, friendly and cheerful. But half of her still wanted to run and hide, the other half of her wanted to run to him and hold him like she used to, in their childish innocence. Back when it hadn’t mattered. Back when life was so simple and everything was so clear.
“How are you, Ted?” was all she could coax out.
“Oh, fit as a wild bull, as always. More to the point how are you? And the baby; let me see him.” He looked with almost reverent awe into the bundle of blankets. “Oh, isn’t he tiny? And beautiful. And innocent. And, and....”
His words trailed off into nothing as she lifted the tiny baby into his careful arms. He almost fitted into one of Ted’s huge hands. Mrs Cooney fluttered out.
“I’ll go fix some lunch,” she said and softly closed the door.
They were both conscious of being alone with each other for the first time for so long and exchanged silly small talk for a few minutes. Then she caught his eye squarely and saw the feelings were still there for her. She could pretend no longer and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him and sobbing at the same time.
“Ted, it’s wonderful to see you, in spite of what I did to hurt you, how I must have made you feel. Yet you are as wonderful to me as you ever were. Oh I have missed you and I am so sorry.”
He made to reply, but no words came out. The baby began to cry. They turned to him, just as Mother fluttered back into the room.
“Lunch is served,” she said with a flourish. “And how are you two getting on?”
The young couple glanced at each other and smiled self consciously.
“Just fine, Mother, just fine.”
The time passed quickly and Jade began to glow again. The early arrival of the baby out there, her husband’s death and the ordeal of the drive to town had all taken a heavy toll on her. She was beginning to feel her old self again. Even better than that because she had a little bundle of joy who was constantly telling her how much she was needed and loved. She named him John Michael, for no other reason than that it felt right. And then there was Ted.
She was only officially mourning George. After the initial infatuation had worn off, the relationship had become a vacuum, in which love played no part. Companionship maybe, but not love. The courtship had been a seduction and a game for him. She was the prize he won, a beautiful young lady to cook and clean for him in his cabin was how he viewed her. Something to keep him warm and comfortable and well fed. Nothing more. She found out that he was not capable of anything more, very fast. Once the game was over, he went back to being the George he had always been, and the charming façade fell away fast.
Perhaps it was a good thing. The heartbreak everyone thought she was bearing so well was not as real as supposed. But it made people keep their distance and allowed her time to rethink her life. Now, there was another one to think about, a very tiny, and very dependent one.
Was there perhaps another one to think of as well? Ted featured so much in her thinking lately. She realised that it was likely he would play a big part in the rest of her life. As it was, he was a daily visitor, despite the distance from the little town. He rode out each evening after his day at the sawmill.
But what about that last night out there? What did happen then? What did kill George? Or was it who? There were never any signs of other people in the forest while they had lived there. Maybe foxes or wildcats had taken the hens and the eggs. It had been a regular thing, maybe once or twice a fortnight, one or two hens at a time and all the eggs. But no other damage of any kind.
Each time, the small pen had been entered without damage and left closed as she had left it each night. It was either small enough to jump in or fly in, or smart enough to let itself in and out. If it was small, it hadn’t killed her husband. If it was big enough and intelligent enough to open the gate, maybe it could have killed him. But why not her as well?
Jade knew she would have to go back. Womanly curiosity was a small part of the reason, but living at home again was becoming difficult. After the freedom of her forest life, her mother’s constant attentions were making her feel very constricted. Mother was really great, but she overdid the caring and fussing. She wasn’t helpless. After all, she had been living out in a cabin in the forest for much of the last year. With all the challenges of being married to George, she still loved the serenity of the place and the freedom of the wide open spaces.
However, it was a long way from the town. All the follies of returning to that farm alone would be pointed out to her in elaborate detail by all who professed to care. There was very definitely real danger there and people would want and even insist that she stay in town. She knew, though, that she had to go.
And she did! Mother fussed and tried all sorts of things to make her stay. But when she saw how determined she was, she realised she was wasting her breath. All she could do was insist on regular contacts and Ted visiting her as often as possible. And a final visit to Doc Morgan. She was given all manner of advice, but it was wise old Doc Morgan’s she treasured most.
“George was a violent man. He would forcefully take what he could get no other way. Such people seem to attract violence, seem to affect the air around them till it carries with it a vengeance. Be gentle; treat your surroundings with peace and gentleness. You may find it gives you a lot more than you could ever take from it by force.
But do be careful, my dear. You are still only a child. There is something out there that has the capacity for violence. You cannot fight it. The Sheriff could find nothing in his search, nothing stolen, nothing disturbed. It was as if something from Heaven had struck.
Well Jade, if it was from Heaven, then you will have no trouble. You will be right at home. Goodbye my girl, and remember what I have told you. But do be careful. I’m glad that Ted is going with you for a few days. He is a good man and will look out for you. Goodbye and good luck.”
As she hugged the doctor, she felt his strength and wisdom flowing to her. The thought of the journey ahead seemed to shrink into insignificance.
Suddenly, it was time to say goodbye to Mother. She held her and kissed her lightly. Ted helped her into the sulky and passed the baby up to her. Little John Michael gurgled and chuckled happily at all the attention. With Ted’s horse tethered behind, a wave and they were away.
They found plenty to talk about during the day’s travelling. Ted hadn’t been this high before and at the top of the range, when they stopped for lunch, he sat back and marvelled at the view. He was like a boy on his first trip away from home.
“Does the country change much from now to your place, Jade?”
“Yes, it does. It’s downhill from here, but not much. It isn’t as steep and breathtaking as here, more like a wide valley surrounded by the forest on most sides and we ran our cows in a cleared part of the valley. The house is on the far side, facing East, not far below the timberline. It is really very beautiful.”
Beautiful it was. They arrived in sight of the cabin around two hours before sundown, though some of the valley was already beginning to shade. In the little time it took to cross the valley to the house, Ted’s eagerness boiled over.
“It is lovely, Jade!” he breathed. “That must be the cow yards over there, and that will be the fowl run. Look at the way the garden has overgrown. What did you have planted there?”
Though she was as excited as he was, she restrained him. “Ted, Ted. You will see it all very soon. Be just a little patient. As soon as we arrive, I’ll light the fire and get some water hot. The cows will have to be milked and the fowls rounded up. Then we’ll bathe and have some dinner. But yes, it is lovely and it is just wonderful to be back.”
The house was just as she had left it, a mess. She could see where the Sheriff had tried to set a few things right and smiled at his well meant clumsiness. ‘Men,’ she thought. The two rooms soon began to take shape though and by the time Ted had finished outside, the little cabin had become a home again.
The meal was simple. The day drew to an end. It had been a very long day.
“I think I’ll turn in, Ted. I still get a little tired, especially after all the travelling we’ve done today. And my little boy is tired too, he needs a sleep.”
He looked longingly at her and took her hand. She kissed him lightly on the cheek, although he knew he wanted more. She wanted to give him more too, but she held back. So much had happened; so much was happening right now and it wasn’t a time to rush anything else in.
“I’ve made you a bed up over here and John Michael and I will sleep in the other room. Good night Ted.”
“Goodnight Jade.” Slowly he relinquished her hand. She looked at him from the doorway, the longing in their eyes obvious. Then she firmly closed the door. He smiled a little, and then settled down on the makeshift bed. The firelight flickered and shadows danced around the walls.
What had really happened here, he wondered. His first impressions of the place were of peace and serenity. It felt peaceful, it looked peaceful and there was no evidence of anything at all that could be remotely dangerous. But, they were on the edge of a forest that was largely unexplored still, and no one could say what was deep in under that canopy of trees. He remembered the old loggers and prospectors tales from years ago but there was little to suggest anything that was likely to have done this. He drifted off as the fire burned down.
The next days were busy. Fences needed pulling up, the garden needed uncovering again as the weeds had gone wild, firewood had to be cut and a few running repairs done to the cabin. The forest had started to take over again, while Jade was away. It didn’t take long. Ted herded the cows into the yards and branded the two new calves.
“They’re doing well, Jade. There’s a small permanent spring at the top of the valley and the green grass below it is terrific feed. The cows have great milk and the calves are all fat! There is still a good pick over most of the rest of the valley, as well. There must have been a little rain out here while you were away. The fence along the top side over there,” he waved at the top of the valley near the timberline, “needs some attention still, but I’ll do that in the morning before we let the cows out. Shouldn’t take long; there are only a few panels that need to be pulled up.”
Jade smiled her thanks. It was lovely having Ted here, she thought. Maybe this was what life could be, and should be like. She felt a glow inside as she thought about it. A sense of satisfaction of having something of her own, the cows, the farm, a beautiful son and of course, wonderful, good natured Ted, for whom things always seemed to go so well. Pity, she thought, tomorrow he will have to go back to town. After their reunion, she would miss him!
Everything they had once felt and more had returned in the last few days. All the shyness was gone, frank discussions filled their time together.
“No, Ted, I don’t know how things will end here. I do want to stay, though,” she told him. “This has become home. I feel at home here, it is mine and it is where I can really be myself. I think you can understand that.”
He certainly could, it was what he also was aiming for.
“Promise me that you will keep coming out to see me, though. You really are dear to me and as well as loving to have you around and working and sharing all this with you, I almost feel I owe you, for all you have so unselfishly done for me.”
“Hey,” he said. “No obligations. We were more than friends for a long time a while ago and I chose to come out here with you, knowing what to expect. Besides, wild horses couldn’t keep me away!”
His look of absolute sincerity quickly changed to pure mischief so quickly that Jade laughed. She wanted it no other way though.
“When will you be back?” she asked, as he saddled up next morning.
“Friday, two weeks away. I won’t take any days off work at the mill till then and save all my spare time for here. That is,” he grinned, “If it’s alright with you and you don’t mind me here for a long weekend when I do come out again?”
“Of course.” She hugged him close. “Thank you, Ted. I can’t promise you anything. Things have changed so quickly and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. I didn’t know what to expect here, but fortunately, things seem to be alright again. Nothing has happened and I feel I’ve settled in again. A few days on my own again and I’ll have had time to think things through.”
“I’ll see Doc Morgan as soon as I get back and let him know all is well.”
“Oh, please do. He will insist on hearing all about us. He did ask me to get you to call in on him, whenever you went past on your way back.”
“Goodbye for now, Jade.”
“Goodbye, Ted. Til very soon, I hope.”
“Two weeks, and counting down!” he called over his shoulder as he wheeled his horse and cantered out. It seemed only moments later but was more like ten minutes that he was silhouetted in the rising sun as he topped the ridge before dropping out of sight on the trail.