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First pages

Chapter One

Dear secret journal;

 

I hate this place.

Mum and Dad don’t care about me.

Still heard nothing from H.

My p=late?

*****************

Millie Lindstadt looked the typical brooding teenager as she sat on the sand, head down, hugging at her knees. The beach was crowded. Millie hated crowds. She detested the water and loathed the sun. She swore the sun was to blame for the freckles dotting her pretty face. How did I end up with dark hair and freckles? Mum and Dad don’t have freckles. She’d been asking herself that same question all the years she was growing up.

Millie had turned her back to her mother and father, and to the water. Her hands were pressed so hard over her headphones her ears throbbed. She wanted to shut out her fear of the roaring ocean. She wanted to shut out her parents. She wanted to shut out the world.

“Don’t know what’s going on with that daughter of ours,” Millie’s father Steve moaned to her mother, Sandy.

“I know exactly what’s going on and so should you.”

Steve wasn’t sure whether his wife’s curt reply was referring to their unsettling relocation to a new city, or to their daughter’s teenage growth spurt. Steve wasn’t game to ask because he really didn’t need the added stress of two disgruntled women in his upended life. He turned his white flabby body away from Sandy and Millie to check out the waves crashing over Coogee’s Wedding Cake Island. The rocky outcrop really had taken on the appearance of a wedding cake. The swirling white surf was foaming right up and over, icing its smooth rocky top.

The Lindstadt’s must have made a puzzling sight to other beachgoers; Sandy, gazing up the dazzling white shoreline, Steve, staring out at the frothing waves and Millie, with her back turned, shunning them both, her tiny face dominated by oversized headphones.

So much had happened in the lives of this born and bred Melbourne family—too much change, and change that had been inflicted on them far too quickly. Steve had been happily employed in his career as a biochemist. He felt shattered when his company suddenly announced they were closing their Victorian premises and relocating to Sydney. At age forty-six, and with greying hair, Steve knew darn well he had little chance of landing a job as rewarding as the one he cherished. Reluctantly, he accepted his company’s generous relocation package.

Leaving his aging mother made the move even more difficult for Steve. And then there were the life-long friendships so cruelly stripped away. But it was young Millie who was suffering most from the upheaval. She detested being uprooted from her childhood school and was pining for her best friend Wendy. She also spent every waking moment checking for a message from her boyfriend back in Melbourne.

A cool change finally busted in and Coogee beach turned into a battlefield. A whorl of colourful umbrellas spiralled out of control in the gusty wind and the grainy sand began pinging at Sandy’s delicate skin. She jumped at the discomfort and grabbed her beach gear. Millie just sat, cocooned in broody unawareness, her freckled bony back still snubbing her parents. She appeared totally oblivious to the howling squall and pelting sand. When her father tapped her on the shoulder, Millie drew back and scowled up at him.

“C’mon Millie, we’re going. And will you stop checking that damn phone.”

Millie cringed at the anger in his bulging eyes. This was the last straw—her father was already enemy number one.

“His fault I had to leave Melbourne,” she spat out at her mother. Millie reached for Sandy’s outstretched hand and stumbled to her feet. The salty tang of the fresh ocean wind cooled her flared nostrils as she raced toward the family’s rented apartment.

Steve got the message loud and clear. He made sure he kept well behind. And as he stepped over their coupled footprints in the sand, he thought about how much the relocation to Sydney had slammed the family. Perhaps I should have hung on in Melbourne and tried to find some other work in my field. This wasn’t the first time Steve’s feelings of guilt had surfaced. He thought back to a time earlier in the week—Millie’s first day at her new school; how she’d blustered in that afternoon blubbering in tears, dashing to her bedroom. Then hours later, the crushing look of hopelessness on Sandy’s face after she’d spent the whole evening trying to console her distraught daughter.

As he puffed his way up the grimy concrete steps to their apartment, Steve heard Millie’s bedroom door slam shut.

“Oh, not again,” he cussed under his breath. His eyes followed the hallway down to that ever excluding barrier—the closed bedroom door. “Both in there again,” he moaned to himself. “And the same bloody whispering going on.”

He slumped down on the sofa. The Saturday morning paper lay pristine—still unopened on the coffee table.

“All foreign to me,” he mouthed as he flicked through the unfamiliar pages of The Sydney Morning Herald.

At the very moment Sandy made another mournful exit from Millie’s room, there was a demanding knock at the front door. Steve saw the tears in Sandy’s eyes and waved her toward the sanctuary of the kitchen. It was Eric Van Hooten, an old mate of Steve’s cousin who happened to be a real estate agent. He’d been liaising with Steve about buying a new home since they’d arrived in Sydney.

“Sorry to do this to you, Steve,” he apologised, “but three more homes came on the market last night and I was wondering if you’d like to see them?”

“It’s okay, you go, Steve,” Sandy called from her culinary refuge, “I’ll stay here with Millie.”

As he made his bounding escape down the cheap reverberating steps, Steve thought it was time to remind Eric of the type of property he wanted.

“Before we go, I have to tell you; I won’t be going any further if I don’t like the look of the neighbourhood—got a bit of a crisis at home so I can’t be away for too long.”

Eric slowed his pace and turned around.

“Everything okay I hope?”

“Yeah, just a few problems with our daughter. Teenagers—you know; missing her friends back home.”

“Oh boy don’t I know. Got two teenagers at home myself. Anyway, hop in,” he gestured, running his hand along the muscular lines of his shiny black Land Cruiser.

 

The casual beachside ambience soon gave way to endless Sydney suburbia. This was the mortared sprawl Steve had already begun to loathe. One monotonous creep of red brick houses, each with a red tiled roof. And worse than that, they all appeared to merge claustrophobically together.

Steve scowled as Eric pulled up outside the first property. Although it graced one of Sydney’s most prestigious suburbs, it was still much too close to neighbouring homes.

“No Eric, my daughter needs something with a lot more privacy. She’s got this phobia about neighbours being too close.”

“Oh, okay. Sorry Steve. Well in that case, you won’t want to see the second house. But I do have another one that came on last night. It backs onto national park—a little further out of town, but it’s very private.”

Eric was right. The house was a few kilometres further north, but Steve was wowed by the treed vistas the moment they entered the neighbourhood. The backdrop of soaring eucalypts reminded him of his childhood home in Melbourne and the house itself looked every bit as appealing as its surrounds. It had been crafted in the classic Spanish mission style: an elegant white stucco mansion with distinctive arched windows and doors.

“Now, this is more like it.” This time, Steve was smiling.

“I’ll have to show you the interior on my laptop,” Eric apologised. “But I’ll bring you back tomorrow for a proper viewing.”

The computer images of expansive tiled rooms and a refurbishment faithful to the authentic Spanish style had Steve hooked.

“Hey, I’ve got to bring Sandy and Millie back here first thing tomorrow.”

“No worries Steve. Only thing is, it’s my morning off and I’m going to an air show, but I should be free by midday.”

All along the ride home, Steve kept contemplating the Spanish home and its surrounding forest of towering trees. He was squirming with excitement because he knew Millie would love it too. But Eric Van Hooten hadn’t forgotten Steve’s frank disclosure about his teenage daughter. Right out of the blue, as they neared the rented apartment, he asked Steve if he and the family would like to join him at the air show tomorrow morning on their way to view the house.

“Listen mate, I know what it’s like adjusting to a new town. I’ll come over and pick you guys up, that way we can go straight from the show and see the house.”

Steve’s brow furrowed with concern. He wondered how Millie might react to the idea of having to endure an air show. But when he thought about the house and how much she would love it, he decided to accept.

 

When Steve arrived home, he found Millie had finally emerged from her room. She looked calmer, her big hazel eyes were at last free of tears. He felt quite comfortable about heading straight up to her.

“Sorry I shouted at you on the beach Mils.” Their eyes met for one awkward second.

“Hey, got some great news. I’ve found us a house. Yeah, Spanish mission style, and it backs onto national park. Trees everywhere, and no close neighbours. Eric’s picking us up tomorrow morning, he’s even taking us to an air show on the way.”

“An air show?” Millie felt her stomach churn. She spun away from her father and headed for her bedroom, her face contorted with pain. How could he, she agonized. How could Dad do this to me? From the time she’d been a small child, Millie had clamped her hands over her eyes every time they’d driven over so much as a bridge. The sight of water beneath her had always made her feel nauseous. She hated the very thought of flying. She had never set foot inside an airport, and swore she never would.

 

Dear secret journal;

 

Just want to go back to Melbourne.

So angry with Dad=he knows I’m terrified of planes.

Still heard nothing from H.

My p still not arrived.

Chapter Two

Eric Van Hooten came knocking at the Lindstadt’s apartment door just before nine next morning. He brought his wife and teenage daughter up to the front entrance to meet the family. They all piled into Eric’s jet black Land Cruiser and headed for the air show. Millie didn’t want to go to the air show so she made a deliberate point of staring blankly out the window for the entire journey.

 

By the time they arrived at the show, Millie had her hands pressed tightly over her ears. Eric’s swashbuckling account of every daredevil flight he’d made since gaining his pilot’s licence had her stomach churning.

“C’mon guys,” said Eric, catching Millie’s eye in the rear-vision mirror, “this is the big one, this is the one I’ve come to see. And after this I’ll take you to see that beautiful Spanish home.”

The two families stood on the airfield’s patchy brown grass watching and waiting. The aerobatics trio of ancient propeller planes sat shimmering in the heat haze of the tarmac. Their engines had just begun to sputter and the propellers were struggling to spin.

Millie took a deliberate step back to sneak a peek at Eric’s daughter. So damn gorgeous, she thought. And those beautiful blue eyes. Why can’t I look like her? How easy life would be. She darted her gaze back to her mother for fear of being caught staring. Then she stepped back in. Now she felt numb—like nothing. She’d just cast herself back into her black pit of worthlessness. Her tiny hands fumbled for the razor in her pocket. Yes, it was still there—ever-ready and skin-slashing sharp. She felt a sense of comfort at the very thought of knowing she could. In the blink of an eye she could do it—bleed herself free of the pain: free of the anger towards her parents for forcing her to leave the life she had always known—and for bringing her to see aeroplanes. She pushed her thumb down hard on the blade. Oh the relief. She slipped her thumb into the warm wetness of her mouth and sucked away the ooze of salty red blood.

The two families continued to stand. The sun was burning down and the heat from the parched grass rose in furnace-like waves—so hot it toasted their faces. Eric grinned at the sight of Sandy trying to shield her pale Victorian skin against the scorching sun.

“It’s the big one coming up now guys, then we’ll go. Promise.”

“This one’s Eric’s favourite,” said his wife. “This is really all he ever comes for.”

A crude mechanical hum blitzed their ears as the first of the three old planes droned down the runway. One by one, and straining like overladen honeybees, all three aircraft buzzed into the air. They circled around before coming in low to form a perfect triad. Then came a deafening roar as they launched a dramatic vertical ascent. A ribbon of white vapour poured from the tail of each plane. The three vapour trails then sat, draped motionless, creating perfect symmetry in the clear blue sky. But above the roaring din, an ear piercing scream turned every head away from the spectacle in the sky. The crowd gasped in astonishment as Millie’s body thumped to the ground. She lay on her back thrashing in the dusty grass and clutching at her stomach. A shrieking tirade poured from her mouth as she pointed up at the three white vapour trails hanging in the sky.

“Ropes, ropes, look, look, there’s ropes coming down,” she screamed.

Steve and Sandy stared down in open-mouthed horror. After a few crazed seconds Millie stopped writhing. She lay panting, her face plumped scarlet. Steve managed to prop her up. Once she’d taken her eyes from the sky, Millie began to settle.

“Millie, Millie, what happened? What on earth was it?” her father pleaded as he crouched over her.

“I don’t . . . I don’t know.”

“You were screaming—something about ropes,” said Steve as he kneeled beside her hot clammy body.

“No Dad . . . no I wasn’t.”

“They were only vapour trails Mils, nothing to be scared of.”

As Steve squinted up at Sandy’s numbed gaze, he wondered if Millie might have experienced a fit.

“Can I take Millie to a doctor, or would you like me to take you home?” Eric Van Hooten was bristling with concern.

“No. No Mum,” Millie protested. “I want to see the house, I want to see the Spanish house. Please . . . please?”

 “No Millie, you’re going to see a doctor.”

 “I will, I will, I promise. But I want to see the house first. Please Mum?”

“Well she does seem okay now.” Sandy’s face was burning. She felt the need to say something, but, as usual, she couldn’t think of the right thing to say.

“You know Eric, I don’t think Millie’s ever seen vapour trails before.”

 

When Eric Van Hooten pulled up outside the elegant Spanish mansion, there were cries of delight.

“Oh Steve, you were right, I love it, I love it.” Sandy was instantly enamoured.

“Ooh I love it too,” Millie joined the chorus.

The Spanish mission home with its ultra white façade and rounded arches was so different to anything else they’d viewed. The dazzling white stucco walls appeared to deepen the blueness of the sky giving the house a kind of Greek island feel. And the Mediterranean ambience of the interior captivated the Lindstadt’s the minute they walked in through the terracotta tiled front entrance. But once Sandy set eyes on the expansive farmhouse kitchen, she was completely smitten. That was it—she was sold. They all knew the house had the privacy they had so desperately longed for. There were no more boxes left to tick.

By the time Eric dropped the Lindstadt’s back at their rented apartment, he was beaming—he knew his hefty commission was a mere formality. They all said their goodbyes and Steve made a promise to invite him and his family for a house warming once they’d settled in.

 

The minute Steve and Sandy shut the front door of their beachside apartment, the harsh reality of the day set in. The jubilation over the Spanish mansion had temporarily masked the brewing anxiety over Millie’s strange behaviour. All that long harrowing day, they’d racked their brains for answers. It wasn’t until after Millie had gone to bed that they finally had a chance to discuss the day’s unnerving episode.

“We’re going to have to get tests done, no doubt about it,” Sandy’s face was creased with strain. “That was so horrific out there today.”

“I know I know,” Steve wiped the sweat from his brow. “That wasn’t just some spike in teenage hormones, Millie’s been acting strangely ever since we left Melbourne. I hope it’s not the beginnings of epilepsy or something.”

“Well, she did look as though she was having a fit. But why was she clutching at her stomach? And the way she snapped out of it so quickly, that’s the other mystery.”

“Yeah,” said Steve, shaking his head. “And calling vapour trails ropes—what the hell was that about?”

 

Dear secret journal;

 

I hate this place.

Nothing from H.

My p? =DAD’S GOING TO KILL ME.

Chapter Three

The very next morning was to be Steve’s first day at his new office. Sandy had decided that after the disturbing events of the previous day, she would keep Millie home from school and make an appointment to see a doctor, first thing.

Steve and Sandy were standing at the front door saying their goodbyes when they heard Millie’s bedroom door fly open and the bathroom door slam shut.

“Oh, what now?” Steve groaned.

They both raced down the hallway to hear the sound of retching coming from the bathroom. A skin tightening panic consumed Sandy’s face.

“Don’t worry, Sandy, I’ll stay and take her straight to a doctor. Just let me contact work, then we’ll go.”

 

Just the thought of suffering a visit to a medical centre had Millie protesting the need to see a doctor. However, Sandy remained insistent.

When the doctor finally called Millie, the family went into the consulting room together. The doctor, who looked more like a fresh faced high school student, was polite and professional. The description Steve and Sandy gave about Millie’s strange behaviour at the air show had him scratching his short black curls. He performed the usual basic examination and then scrawled a couple of undecipherable notes on his desk pad.

“I’d like to run a few tests on your daughter if you don’t mind, but I must ask you both to wait out in reception.”

As she stood up, Sandy gave Steve a black look.

“You should have insisted we stayed in there,” she snapped after the door had closed.

“Hey,” he replied in a gritted whisper, “she’s just turned fifteen, it’s about time you stopped smothering her.”

That was enough to send Sandy into a sulk. She sat tense—arms tightly folded and refused to speak until they were called back in.

 

When Steve and Sandy finally re-entered the consulting room, they picked up on the altered mood. Millie looked sullen, head down, eyes fixed firmly to the floor.

“Please, pull up a seat,” the doctor motioned.

“Now, Mr and Mrs Lindstadt, there’s really no other way I can put this.”

The young doctor cleared his throat and adjusted his black-rimmed glasses.

“I have to tell you, and I have Millie’s permission to inform you—your daughter is pregnant.”

Millie threw her head into her lap and broke into a pitiful blubbering.

“But how? How could that be?” Steve sounded almost sceptical.

Although the doctor offered to take them to a more congenial interviewing room, Steve declined.

“No. The best time to discuss this is right now—the three of us, as a family. Besides, what you’ve just told us doesn’t explain Millie’s seizure on Sunday morning does it?”

“No it doesn’t, but I am arranging for more tests.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Your daughter has given me an account of how she came to be pregnant and she agreed we can discuss it together.”

Millie sat with her head bowed. It hung so low it was almost in her lap.

“Isn’t that right Millie? You agreed we could talk about this together, with your parents?”

“Yeah,” Millie mumbled from between her knees.

“Look at the doctor when he’s speaking to you,” Sandy raised her voice.

Millie lifted her head a tad but kept her eyes to the floor.

“I’m going to help you through this Millie.” The doctor was trying hard to reassure her.

“It seems Millie’s boyfriend had falsely assured her that she couldn’t get pregnant after she’d had a vaccination against a sexually transmitted infection.”

The doctor eyeballed Steve and Sandy, looking for something to go on.

“Oh yes,” Sandy looked up to the ceiling trying to recall.

“Yes, that vaccination, Sera . . . Sera-bus, it was administered at Millie’s school in Melbourne. I remember signing for it.”

“That would be Cerberus,” the doctor smiled. “Geffen Pharmaceuticals—it’s their newbie.”

Sandy managed to catch Millie’s eye as she made a wary scan of the room.

“Oh Mum,” she blurted out. “He’d been on and on at me,” her dainty fingers began wringing at her tiny pale hands.

“We’d never done anything before. Honest. I didn’t want this to happen. He promised me the vaccination would stop me getting pregnant. I didn’t want to lose him. All I wanted was to stay in Melbourne. And now . . . now he won’t even talk to me.”

Her heart wrenching outpouring broke into more pitiful sobbing.

“I have to say, this isn’t unusual for young people.” The doctor sounded gentle, his voice warm and caring. “Unfortunately boys have a long history of feeding girls all sorts of rubbish about not getting pregnant.”

Steve blew a hard sigh into the air.

“Anyway, I’ll let you go home now. I’m sure you have a lot to discuss. I’ve given Millie the referral letter for her tests.”

 

Although the drive home began with strained silence, Millie knew the awkward hush wouldn’t last. Sure enough, Sandy couldn’t help herself.

“Millie, why didn’t you say something about all this?” she ranted. “I’ve never felt so embarrassed as I did in there. I don’t know what that doctor must have thought.”

“Oh Sandy, let it go. Just let it go.” Steve raised his voice. “It’s happened. There’s nothing we can do.”

Millie felt her body stiffen at the rising tension. She glanced up but then turned her head away the moment she met her father’s eyes in the rear view mirror.

*****************

Next morning, Millie rose with the dawn. Although she felt a little apprehensive about the day ahead, she somehow felt more focused and determined. The ordeal with the doctor and her parents was yesterday. Today, she resolved, is a brand new day. She’d already begun to bolster herself with the anticipation of a baby to care for. Someone to love, and, at last, someone who was going to love her.

*****************

All that day while Millie was at school, Sandy ruminated over how she’d failed her daughter. She felt a stabbing guilt about not having prepared her for the reality of dealing with boys. She even worked up the courage to tell Steve about the time Millie had rushed in the door from a bike ride, innocently asking about her grandad’s terminal tumour.

“She’d just been accosted by a flasher, Steve. A flasher. She told me how she’d just seen a man with a growth. You know . . . you know, a growth,” she pointed down at his crotch. “She even asked me if there was anything we could do to help save the disgusting fellow.”

Steve’s eyes flew wide open. “Oh Sandy, you don’t think your father ever . . . ”

“Oh, Steve,” she huffed. “For goodness sakes. No. It’s just that she’d heard me referring to Dad’s tumour as a growth, that’s all.”

“So what did you say?”

“Nothing. I couldn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to.” She cupped her hand over her anguished mouth.

Steve shook his head in disbelief.

“Oh I realize now,” she sobbed. “That was the time—that was the time. I should have sat her down and told her what boys are all about. But she seemed so young—so innocent. Millie’s always seemed so . . . so young and naive. I just brushed it aside. It’s all my fault,” she blubbered, her red eyes flooded with tears.

 

Dear secret journal;

 

Know why my p never arrived.

I don’t need H. Don’t care.

Soon have my very own baby to luv.

Chapter Four

Moving day felt as though it just might be the new start the Lindstadt’s were hoping for. The few weeks they’d spent in the rented beachside apartment was a time in their lives they all wanted to forget.

Millie chose her own room from one of the four spare bedrooms. Her new bedroom overlooked the expansive yard and out onto the forest of lush green eucalypts. Millie had always kept her blinds drawn in Melbourne. Right from a small child she’d nursed an inexplicable paranoia that someone was watching her. So at last she felt an enormous relief knowing there wasn’t a single house to be seen from her new bedroom.

 

The day after the big move was the day for another round of tests and scans for Millie. Sandy accompanied her daughter to the clinic and stayed with her throughout the tests. The clinician conducting the tests gave no inkling of the likely results and advised that the outcome of the tests would be passed on to her doctor.

Sandy decided it was too late in the morning for Millie to return to school so she talked her into spending the rest of the morning exploring one of the enormous shopping malls near their new home.

Millie loathed the crass commercialism of high street fashion stores. Although she’d inherited the same trim, taut figure as her mother, she’d donned her usual faded black tee, her old denims and her comfy worn sneakers. Millie never had cared if her choice of clothing embarrassed her fashion conscious mother.

Millie tried to put on a brave face and steeled herself against the frenzy of the shopping masses. They lunched together and then Sandy began her usual mad scramble, hunting for clothing and shoes.

As Millie sat watching her mother twirl out an endless procession of trendy young fashion, she couldn’t help but think how much she resembled some scrawny underfed bird draped in a continuous parade of riotous colour. Her long thin face and her deliberately starved body made Millie determined she would never crave the same neurotic desire to stay young. She yawned her time away watching Sandy slip her willowy body into every chic fashion garment she could lay her hands on.

 

By the time Millie and her mother headed home from the shopping spree, they were both in a relaxed and happy mood. The sprawling garden was all theirs to admire as the big car rattled the cobblestones leading up to their imposing new home. But the moment the huge triple garage door rumbled open, Sandy felt a strange unease—almost like a sixth sense. It was as though she was being warned that something wasn’t right. She hesitated before fully accelerating the throbbing V8 into the dark garage. That’s when she saw it—a lurking movement in the dim depths of the garage. She hit the brakes so hard that the seatbelt gnawed into her flesh. Millie had spotted it too. It was right there in front of their eyes; an eerie moving form—something hanging, something swinging from the rafters. They both squealed as it suddenly dropped to the hard concrete floor. Sandy rammed the car into reverse. The big sedan roared back onto the driveway and screeched to a bouncing stop.

“Ooh Mum, it’s a snake, it’s a snake,” Millie lunged over to the safety of her mother.

Sandy sat petrified, peering into the shadowy gloom. She could just make out a strange dark form on the floor. She inched the car slightly forward, squinting hard, trying to figure the obscure shape.

“No, it’s not a snake. Looks more like a rope to me. But why would a rope have been up in the rafters?” Sandy’s owl-like eyes bored down at Millie who was still cowering in her seat.

“Maybe it’s a sign,” Millie whispered.

“What do you mean, a sign?”

“Maybe someone hung themselves in there.”

“What? Oh Millie, don’t say that.”

“But Mum, haven’t you ever wondered why this house was up for sale, I mean why would anyone want to leave such a beautiful home?”

Sandy shivered. Her thoughts turned to why they still hadn’t been welcomed to the street by any of the neighbours. She shuddered at the very thought of a body hanging from the rafters of her garage.

“Lost your accelerator have you?” A deep, powerful voice and a sharp rap on the car window had Sandy and Millie screaming in their seats.

“Ooh sorry ladies, I didn’t mean to frighten you. I’m your gardener. Just been pruning the bushes around the side of the house.”

“You scared the shit out of us.” Sandy recoiled at the dark bristly jaw looming at the window.

“Hah, yeah you do look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“My husband told me you were the gardener for the previous owners.”

“I was, and I’m very grateful to him for keeping me on.”

“Tell me then, do you know why they sold up?”

“Retired to Port Macquarie—seaside. Well that’s what I heard. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, just curious. We haven’t met any of the neighbours yet, so we don’t know anything about the history of the house.”

“Huh, you’re not likely to see many of your neighbours in this street. It’s like a morgue around here during the week. They’re all highly paid professionals in this estate—you know: judges, pilots, cardiologists . . .”

“Oh.” Sandy tried to sound surprised.

“Anyway, better get back to my work. My name’s Jeff by the way, Jeff Kline.”

“Pleased to meet you Jeff. I’m Sandy, and this is my daughter, Millie.”

Before Jeff turned to walk away, Sandy asked him if he would check that there wasn’t a snake on the garage floor. He stood for a moment, his eyes staring strangely. Then his face broke into an uncanny smirk. Sandy raised the car window a notch and watched him stride into the shadowy dimness.

“Nah, no snake in there ma’am,” he called out. “But there is a bit of old rope laying here.”

He placed his soiled boot on what they had thought was a snake’s ominous form.

“Hmm, suppose it could look a bit like a snake.” He beamed out a snide grin before heading back to his pruning.

Sandy and Millie didn’t feel any less spooked. They left the car on the drive and sprinted to the front door, shopping bags flying at their sides. Jeff Kline’s jarring knock on the car window had left them doubly rattled.

Everything appeared quite normal inside the house. But that didn’t stop Sandy from clicking the lock on the internal door to the garage. They both settled back into their afternoon routine by sorting through Sandy’s bounty of high fashion shopping.

 

In the afternoon, when Steve arrived home, Sandy and Millie heard the slam of the car door and waited for him to come into the house.

“Sandy, what’s your car still doing out on the drive?”

“Oh Steve, we had the creepiest experience when we opened the garage door.”

“Creepy? What do you mean, creepy?”

“We both saw it, Millie and I. I’m not joking, there was a rope swinging from the rafters. Honest Steve, it looked just like a snake. Then we saw it fall to the floor.”

“You sure you’re okay?” he asked, with a hint of a snigger.

“It’s true Dad, it was swinging from the beams. Then it fell on the floor.”

Sandy and Millie glanced sheepishly at each other. Neither of them wanted to admit that the gardener had already checked out the garage.

“Oh come on then, let’s take a look.”

They both crept a few cautious steps behind Steve’s ample body as he headed for the garage.

“Who the hell locked this door?” he cussed as he rattled at the fiddly lock to the door of the garage.

Sure enough, the rope was still there. Sandy though, couldn’t help but notice how it now took the form of a tight coil. She was positive it hadn’t been that tightly curled when the gardener had put his boot on it earlier in the day.

Because Steve appeared so cynical, Sandy wasn’t game to voice any further concerns.

“Yeah, well I guess it could be mistaken for a snake.” Steve kicked and taunted it, as though it were some slithering aroused beast.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Proud to be an Australian author, bringing to life the unique flavour of Australia. 'Hominid' follows my first novel, 'A Tango with the Dragon.'

Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
There were rumours concerning contaminated vaccines dating back to the nineteen fifties. 'Hominid' evolves the concept of contamination; (this time deliberate corruption of a vaccine), to the present day.
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
I wrote a story about the brave voyage of my ancestors to the land 'down under' back in the year 1842. I was so moved by their fortitude and their loss of a child during their sixteen weeks on a tiny sailing ship.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
Editing was onerous, as was condensing the novel into a brief back-cover blurb.

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