Brood

       R.W. Redwillow / Thrillers & Crime
Brood
By R.W. Redwillow



Smashwords Edition
copyright 2017, R.W. Redwillow

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Contents
Part 1
1. Amber’s Story: The Beginning
2. 1996: Amber’s Story Continued
3. Hello Dolly
4. Kylie’s story
5. Amber’s story continues
6. Companions on a Journey
7. Edmund’s Story
8. Kylie’s Story Continued
9. Amber’s Story Continues
10. Edmund’s story continues
11. Kylie’s story Continues
12. Amber’s Story Continued
13. Edmund’s Story Continues
14. Kylie’s story continues
15. Amber’s Story Continued
16. Edmund’s story continued
17. Kylie’s Story Continues
18. Amber’s Story Continues


Part 2

1. Edmunds Story
2. Kylie’s Story Continued
3. Amber’s story continued
4. Harley has his say
5. Amber’s story continues
6. Kylie’s story continues
7. Amber’s story continues
8. The private Investigators Story
9. Edmund’s Story Continues
10. Amber’s Story. The End.
11. Kylie Signs Off





Amber’s Story: The Beginning


Part 1

Chapter 1
1992

The whiplash of lightening preceded the boom of the rolling thunder, as I raced down the dark hallway into the spare room, looking frantically for a place to hide. Seeing a wide and sturdy cupboard directly in front of me, I threw open its doors. Then, as my mind finally registered what I was actually seeing, a blue looking, not breathing, human baby, a cuckoo clock began chiming stupidly somewhere in a nearby room. Then the scrape of slippers hit my ears, as Karen, Vanessa and Joanne burst through the doorway and began jabbing me with their bony elbows, before becoming very still, as they too, stared at the forsaken, lifeless newborn.
Silence strummed in my ears, and then, there was a violent crack of thunder, like the world was splitting in two. The walls seemed to close in dangerously and I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, and my mind was a roaring vacuum.
Abruptly the cupboard door whooshed closed, slammed, and we all turned around like automatons, to see sharp, green eyes upon us; her thin lips parted in what I suppose was a type of smile.
‘Come on, the game’s finished. We’re having a séance, now’.
The others ran off gleefully, while I faced Kylie, who had an ‘I dare you’ face, trained on me. My mouth opened and then closed again. The moment passed and I knew that I had failed some personal test.
I thought of those words that my English teacher had said at assembly, for reasons I didn’t understand, before she resigned, and just before she got the hell out of that stifling room, where eyes had been trained on her like a sniper’s gun: ‘The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.’ Later, I looked these words up at the library and I found that they belonged to Albert Einstein, and suddenly, I knew what they meant and that I was guilty.
Until that moment, I had been drifting along. Certainly I had been perplexed with life and not quite sure of all the social machinations that others seemed to understand so easily, but I had been puzzled and passive. Now the ground had shifted under me and I was flummoxed by this turn of events. I was shocked out of my skin and I knew I had to do something about it.
When I got back to Kylie’s bedroom the séance was underway. And as I stepped into the stuffy room, which smelt of fermenting old socks and cheap perfume, the light was switched off. I could hardly see a thing. It was steamy and airless in the room and black as the inside of a witch’s hat. I felt tense and nervy, as the other girls tittered all around me, like feeding birds at dusk.
Someone pushed me down roughly onto a stool with a fluffy top, and I heard the hard drumming of rain on the roof; then the chanting began, as Vanessa lit an old hurricane lantern, which swiftly set forth a nauseating vapour.
‘Oh spirits come to us if you can hear us’. Over and over again their monotone voices chanted, as the thunder boomed and cracked and the rain pelted down; soon, my brain was turning into baby food, and I was feeling very heavy, dull and tired. In this hypnotic state, I don’t think that seeing a ghost, would have surprised me.
It wasn’t scary at all, the séance, but my mind kept throbbing with the flashing image of that inanimate, bluish baby, and I found that I couldn’t move. I felt pinned down, and yet, inside me there existed a vortex of confusion, of apathy and shock, and the feeling that life as I knew it had gone off road. The rain too, was a real cacophony now: an orchestra of clashing sounds, which seemed to be beating and pummelling at the house.
A blaze of light zigzagged across the room, as someone opened and slipped out of the door, and still, I sat just there, trying to decide how I, a meek nerd lacking in confidence, should deal with this bizarre and disturbing situation. My head pulsed to the rhythm of doubt and indecision, and sweat trickled down my back, as the room became even more suffocating.
Finally after about an hour, or maybe five minutes, someone switched the lights back on, and as I blinked and buzzed in the florescent glow, I noticed that Joanne was clopping about the room, weeping and wringing her hands. She looked pale, almost greenish.
‘We haven’t done it for long enough. We’ve got to keep trying’, she cried.
As I sat and watched Joanne tripping about the crowded room, I became spellbound by a rip in her thin, washed-out nightie, which had been mended with tiny, red stiches. I kept staring at those red stiches, as though mesmerised; as though, those red stiches might impart answers, or might have the power to spirit me away.
Outside the downpour continued, but harder and heavier now and I pictured the heart of a giant monster, about to explode.
‘We’re finished’, Kylie stated, from where she stood leaning beside the now open door, with her lip curled in a mix of glee and distain and the backlight from the kitchen lending her a weird, blue radiance.
I looked back at Joanne, who was still going about the room, and wringing her hands. Joanne’s father had died a couple of years ago, and she was always taking about him, and working a story about him into any conversation. It was obvious that Joanne really missed her father and that she hadn’t got over his death. That is, if you ever really get over the death of someone you love. Perhaps we just anesthetise our pain, the best way we can, and then, we return, zombie-like, onto the treadmill of life. Anyway, I remembered now, how, Kylie had said, more than once, when Joanne wasn’t about, that Joanne’s father was a drunk, and that he had been in jail for something really bad. I didn’t think that this was true, because my dad had worked with Joanne’s dad, and he’d gone to his funeral. Joanne’s dad, he said, had been sick for a very long time. That’s what I knew.
I found myself standing up then, and before I knew it, I’d blurted out, ‘we found a dead baby in the cupboard’. Just like that. I looked at Karen, Vanessa and Joanne. They looked blank, and then, their eyes in unison, flicked over to where Kylie stood, dressed in an oversized man’s t-shirt, with her head on the side, and arms crossed. Kylie said nothing, but her eyes were hard as gun metal.
I heard the wind whipping up now, lashing the rain at the windows and bellowing madly about the eaves and the chimney pot.
‘You’re so full of it’, snarled Karen, as she bared her teeth at me. I felt like I’d been hit with a bullet. Karen had seen the baby and I could feel the bruise on my side, where her elbow had jabbed me, like a knife.
‘Let’s see this….er…dead baby then’, purred the golden haired Stephanie, who was parading around in silky, pink, baby doll pyjamas, which showed how physically developed she was compared to the rest of us 14 year olds.
So with me in the lead, we matched off, all ten of us, into the spare room, and as the other girls crowded around like a football scrum, I slowly opened the heavy, timber, cupboard door, which smelt of mothballs and mildew.
Abruptly, the rain stopped and all I could hear was the low wailing of the wind.
But there was nothing there. Not a sheet, not a towel and certainly no dead baby. And from that moment on, I became a pariah. This was to be the first and last sleepover party of my teenage years, and the start of me wondering if I was really crazy, and if that dead baby had been a creation of my own warped imagination.
In reality, I had only been invited to Kylie’s sleepover because I was friends with Vanessa. Vanessa and I had gone to primary school together, and when we started high school, we had naturally clung together, in those early scary days, when the older and bigger kids would shove newbies’ heads down toilets and lob water filled condoms at us, from the upper levels near the science labs.
I remember too, that during those first frightening weeks of high school, I felt like I had been hurled into a dystopian Mad Max world. I was shocked, I was fearful, and I was outraged. But after a time, I habituated to my new reality. You have to, if you don’t have the power to change things. And so, without really thinking about it, this world became normal to me, which is very warped and disturbing, when you think about it.
Vanessa, though, lately, had gravitated toward Kylie’s group, and I had just drifted along, hanging about on the fringes, the merest thread of friendship holding Vanessa and I together. Since that sleepover and ‘the baby incident’, as I called it in my head, that thread had snapped, and I spent lonely lunch hours in the library, or reading books on a shady bench, that no one else seemed to want to sit on.
The bench sat underneath this sweet gum tree, which dropped these spiky, grenade-like balls down every autumn. And every time it rained, stinking puddles of water would build up under the bench, surrounded by mud. In truth, it was kind-of-a-hazard to sit there. But nobody ever came and asked me to join their group, and when I had tried to join some other groups’ of girls, they had simply tightened their circles, and pushed me out. I felt sometimes like I didn’t exist at all. I could speak to people, but mostly, they didn’t answer me, and if they did, their eyes were always looking over my shoulder, avoiding eye contact, avoiding the knowledge that I was there in front of them.
High school passed pretty much in this sad and lonely way, except when Kylie toyed with me every now and again, and I would somehow be at the centre of some new outrage. Kylie liked drama.
There was that time, one grey, very humid day, without even a breath of air, when Kylie pretended to be friends with me again, when no one else was around. She had sidled up to me with a smile and then began chatting happily about the movie, ‘Muriel's Wedding’, which funnily enough, I had just watched on video the night before. Kylie asked me what I thought about the mother in the film killing herself. I said naively, OK stupidly, that I liked how the mother had rebelled and set the backyard on fire, but I didn’t understand why she had just ‘checked out of the world’, like that. But at the same time, as I was talking, I was asking myself if Kylie had actually been outside my lounge room window last night, watching me, watching the movie.
Kylie just smiled and I remember looking at her tiny, pointed, white teeth and then the bell rang for maths.
In maths, I thought that we would continue our conversation about the movie, and without thinking, I sat down next to Kylie, until Karen tipped me out of the hard, wooden seat, onto the dusty linoleum floor. Kylie said not a word, as a smile flickered across her moist lips. I remember just looking up at Kylie and noticing how cold and dead her eyes were, and feeling scared. And stupid.
Later, I thought again about that dead baby in the cupboard, which was actually fading a bit in my mind’s eye now, and I wondered, yet again, if I was mad. A dead baby in a cupboard! Really? Except that I remembered the poor thing, how it looked and how I felt when I saw it. The shock of it. But I was acting mad. I mean, how could I be friendly with Kylie after everything that had happened? All I can say in my defence, is that, Kylie can be so likable when she wants to be, and I was so hurt and hungry for friendship.
When I was about 16, this fanciable looking new boy came to our high school, and all the other girls had a big crush on him; but to my horror, it was me that he asked to the school’s end of year social. This caused my alarm bells to really go off, and made my head even more of a mess, as I had been putting most of my energy into avoiding the spotlight and keeping a low profile.
Suddenly the other girls were looking at me: me who was despised, and they got angry and I would find my lunch smashed on the floor in the science lab. Or, my sport’s uniform covered in red paint, like blood and violence had occurred. And other things too.
Kylie was also outraged that I, the un-person, had attracted this hot, new boy, and I knew that I would be punished even further. Soon enough, the rumours began circulating that I was a ‘moll’, ‘a bush pig’ and the ‘town bike’; and a member of a devil worshipping cult. Needless to say, that coveted invitation to the school social was hastily withdrawn, and once rumours like that circulate, you can never really shake them off. It didn’t matter that I had never been out with any boy, and that I wasn’t interested in any gods or devils. Hell! I even went to a Catholic school.
I couldn’t tell my parents about any of this stuff, because they were too busy fighting with each other, and the only time they appeared to know that I existed, was when they could bring me in as a weapon or a pawn in one of their fights. I stayed in my room a lot in those years, and if I try, I can still call up the memory of that dusty room, the sickness of loneliness, and the way hours seemed to go on for days.
I may have been an outcast, but I was no longer so naïve. I began to watch the way others around me acted, and I tried to learn and understand. Now, I noticed how Kylie had power over others and how she could coerce and intimidate the other girls with her passive aggressive behaviour, but with the teachers, she was charming, confident, helpful, and appeared caring. The teachers without exception, were fooled, and thought Kylie was wonderful, and destined for great things. I noted all this, as I sat there quietly, and I despised them all.
Though, if I am honest, I have to admit that Kylie did have lots of abilities and skills. She was like an army leader in action, as she could bring her troops into line with a word; a slight compliment would bring smiles of delight and her censure would elicit tears and distress. Thinking about it, I’m sure that Kylie brought those girls a sense of order, as she was so self-assured. And ruthless.
As for me, as I said, I was generally disregarded. The teachers’ eyes would mostly slide over the top of me and many never seemed to remember my name. One teacher, though, seemed to twig that I was held in contempt by her favourites: Kylie and Karen. And one very hot summer day, when the classroom was like the inside of an oven, I was trying to open a window before the lesson began, when that teacher walked into the room, and said, ‘only open that window if you are going to jump out.’ The casual callousness of this rocked me, it really did.
I remember Kylie smiling at me, her eyes full of venom. Then her expression had transformed to one of gloating satisfaction, as she became aware that the rest of the class was laughing, as though they had heard a great joke.
But while Kylie’s followers and flunkies may have been laughing now, they were not spared her malice, because Kylie often punished her acolytes to keep them in line, or for some perceived transgression. And from what I could tell, they accepted their punishment, and then later, they were accepted back into the fold, suitably cowered and contrite.
But sometimes, things were not so simple. For example, golden haired Stephanie was beautiful, curvaceous and blonde (she of the pink, baby doll pyjamas) and she received lots of attention from the boys. I could tell that Kylie was jealous and infuriated by Stephanie’s carnal superiority, but Kylie also recognised that Stephanie had her own brand of power and so she was wary.
Swirling gossip surrounded Stephanie in those high school years and I believe that Kylie was behind it. Kylie was subtle, and she was careful, and she spilt Stephanie’s secrets about in such a way that the leaks were never pinned to her. Someone else always got the blame. But I knew Kylie was behind the campaign, because there were a few times, that I overheard, or saw her in action.
One time, I was on my way to catch the bus to the tennis courts for school sport, when I found that I had forgotten my tennis racket in the girls’ change rooms. I raced back. The place was empty. I walked in, and as the dampness invaded my nostrils, the echoing, empty quality of the place made me quieter than usual, so that my tennis shoes made no sound on the polished, concrete floor. But as I was about to push open the door of the stall, where I had changed my clothes, I heard voices ringing out, further along in another stall. One of them was Kylie’s.
‘Brett told me that Stephanie gave him crabs and that she stunk like a skunk’.
‘Really!’ cried the other voice; then there was some low murmuring. ‘No of course I won’t tell anyone’.
I got the hell out of there without my racket. In fact, I never saw my racket again in one piece; it was gone when I came back for it the next day. But about a month later, I found the handle of that racket, broken off from its head, impaling the old scarecrow, which stood dejectedly in our backyard, overlooking the forgotten vegetable garden, and the cage where my pet rabbit, Foxy, lived.
Another time, I was making my way to English class, from my far-flung spot in the playground; it was really icy weather, in the middle of winter, and I remember that a violent wind had gusted up suddenly, causing the trees around me to groan deeply and the chain fence next-to me, to rattle and bang against the wooden posts. As I passed from the classroom window, I saw Kylie, slipping something into Stephanie’s bag, so that it was half hanging out. Surreptitiously, I kept watching. Then this guy, Jesse Candle, blasted through the classroom door and lurched toward his desk, all sweat and raging hormones. But he stopped next to Stephanie, looked down, and grabbed that thing out of her bag and held it up. It was a stained, old pair of crotchless undies.
Stephanie protested, ‘They’re not mine!’ But no one believed her. Soon after that, Stephanie was mostly referred to, by the nickname, ‘Pro’.
In the Shakespearian play ‘Hamlet’, which we learnt in English class in my last year of school, you will find the words:
‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable!’
But as I read this, I was thinking about Karen, the person closet to Kylie, and how she was actually a nasty piece of work. Yet, strangely, despite her venomous nature, Karen appeared to be popular with the boys at school, and with most of the teachers. But to me, one of the most noticeable things about Karen was the fact that she couldn’t really smile. It was more of a grimace, that thing she did with her mouth and teeth. And her eyes always had this predatory, reptilian gaze.
Karen took her job as Kylie’s sidekick very seriously. And she also seemed to really love Kylie in some warped kind of way. Kylie was menacing, but it was Karen who actively excluded others, threw out vicious insults, intimidated those who got in her way, and worked a room in seconds for potential alliances. Karen would also routinely tell lies, and those around her would agree upon these lies, and then, these lies would become truth. I also remember how the form master of our year, Mr Cocking, seemed to adore Karen, and this gave her an air of untouchability: that she could get away with almost anything.
Vanessa, Joanne and Stephanie, I suspected, were mostly loyal to Kylie out of fear. Fear of being bullied and humiliated and becoming an outcast. Though, of course, they also liked to be allied with Kylie’s power. Karen, though, she was simply from another planet.
A few times a week, in rain, storm or snow, Karen walked her dog past my house and I would see her treating that dog, a tiny, ball of white fluff, in the cruellest manner and yanking its lead really hard, so that it would almost choke. Then she would go down to the corner of the road, wrapping the dog’s lead tightly around a telegraph post, where she’d smoke a cigarette, and play with her lighter. In winter, when night fell early, I would see the flame of that lighter in the dark, go on and off, on and off, on and off. As I watched the orange blaze from my bedroom window, the thought of a lighthouse would come to my mind and the warning that there were jagged rocks ahead.
Karen to me was frightening. She appeared to derive pleasure from the pain of others and I avoided her; though, I had to admit that she seemed to have real feelings of friendship for Kylie. As to Kylie, believe it or not, despite the dead baby and all that she had done to me, I, for some reason, actually felt genuinely sorry for her, as she looked a lot like a person who is unable, due to some missing part of her being, to feel real remorse, or compassion, or even love.


Chapter 2
1996
Amber’s Story Continued


I really wanted to get the hell out of the house in which I lived. So when I started my last year of high school, I decided I would really knuckle down and study, so that I could get a good high school diploma, which I thought would be my best hope of escaping from Kylie, my parents, and this town.
Thankfully, things improved for me when Kylie dropped out of school near the beginning of the year. It was when I was in the line for the canteen, at lunchtime, that I overheard Vanessa saying that Kylie was learning Japanese and ceramics at a vocational college, which I found very hard to imagine. But after Kylie left school, some of the other girls started to talk to me occasionally, and as Karen was madly obsessed with her hard-faced, bikie boyfriend, she seemed to have less interest in bullying others, and so, I was able to relax a bit, and I let out a long sigh.
My parents were still going at it hammer and tongs, but they were leaving me out of their fights a lot more. Of course, it was still stressful at home, as some innocuous question or response to a question could be interpreted as an insult or challenge, which my mother would report to my father, and then, I’d be in disgrace for days. But overall, there was an improvement on both fronts, and for this I was grateful.
But still, a few things happened that year, which disturbed me. The first incident occurred late at night in March, when I was returning home, after working a shift at McDonalds.
It was a windy night of shaking windows and rattling doors, as I walked along the deserted, quiet suburban streets toward home, my footsteps sounding loud and lonely to my ears. As was usual, when I was out alone at night, I was hyperaware of my surrounding and ready to run at any sign of danger. But on this night, I was distracted by the racing clouds and the strange, purple light around the full moon. It was just so beautiful and somehow wild. There was also the heavy fragrance of lavender in the air, stirred up by the whispering wind, which was calming me and sedating me, in some essential way.
Then my eyes became aware of something like a large, black tube, lying right across the footpath in front of me. I was trying to make sense of the thing, when it jumped up, and I saw a person wearing a black outfit, topped by a Freddy Krueger mask.
Immediately I was hurled out of my stupor. I seemed to spring into the air, and I shot off running as hard as I could. I knew that that person was behind me, pursuing me, but they couldn’t compete with the blast of adrenaline which had entered my body.
I was seriously freaked out by this experience, but my parents were already in bed by the time I crashed through the front door, and I don’t suppose that I would have told them anything about it, if they had been up. It simply wouldn’t be worth it. I knew from long, hard experience, that after a bit of uproar, they would both decide that I had brought the whole episode onto myself. But I did tell my boss, Bruno, the next day, and he was really concerned. After that, when I worked at night, there was always someone to drive me home.
Perhaps that person in the Freddy Kruger mask was just a random practical joker, wanting to scare someone. But in such a quiet street, in a suburb where the doors seal shut after dark, as televisions come on, a person could wait in vain, to meet another person on the road, the whole night. No, I thought that it was more likely that Kylie was behind the whole thing. She was just reminding me that she was still out there, that she hadn’t forgotten me.
Not long after this, a strange radio campaign began, directed at me.
As I mentioned before, I spent lots of time alone in my room, but I didn’t feel entirely alone, as the independent radio station I listened to, run by volunteers, made me feel like I was part of something. It provided company and a sense of belonging. But around the end of March, someone started sending in love song dedication requests, aimed at me, with my name, in fact. Except that the songs chosen were seriously creepy.
The first time I heard the DJ mention my name, Amber Malone, and a request from a ‘secret admirer’, it had just gone ten at night. Then the song by ‘The Police’ – ‘Every Breath You Take’, began to play, and for the first time, I listened to the words. Really listened to the words, and my skin began to creep.
These ‘love song dedications’, directed at me, went on all year at regular intervals; with songs like, ‘One Way or Another’, by ‘Blondie’, and a song that was really big in that year, 1996, ‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’, by Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue.
Another strange…..well, it wasn’t an incident, exactly, occurred a few weeks before I was to sit for my end of year exams: the exams which would determine my future. I’d taken the bus, as was my habit these past two years, to visit my grandmother, who was living in an aged care facility.
Gran, who was dad’s mother, and I, had always been close; she’d been my champion and my rock since I was young. But in the last five years or so, she’d started to act odd; forgetting things, misplacing stuff, using the wrong words and even forgetting how to make a pot of tea. So mum and dad had stuck her in Golden Gardens Nursing Home. It was an awful place, but Gran didn’t seem to mind that much.
Anyway, this particular Saturday, I sat down next to Gran in the large common room area, which smelt of peed pants and boiled cabbage, and as usual, I handed her the box of butterscotch lollies, that she loved. She smiled at me and I smiled back.
Gran, she still knew who I was, but she often got confused. Like she thought I was 39 years old the last time I was here, and that I’d been divorced three times. Another time, she asked me how George was going. I don’t know anyone called George.
So I had just finished asking Gran how her week had been, and if she’d been out anywhere, when she said, ‘that interesting friend of yours was here on Thursday’. Gran always used the word ‘interesting’ when she didn’t like someone.
‘Which friend?’ I asked, puzzled. I didn’t have any friends.
‘Oh, the one with the baby’, she replied happily.
‘Gran, I don’t have any friends with a baby’.
‘You shouldn’t forget the baby, Amber’, Gran said sternly.
I was flummoxed by this whole conversation, wondering what I should read into it. Then lunch arrived and The Matron roared at me in her usual sensitive way, that I better get going, that I was ‘interrupting lunch’ and ‘annoying everyone’, as she made shooing motions with her hands.
I could say that The Matron was a real old dragon, but that would be an insult to dragons. Not only was The Matron frightening to look at, as she had this bright orange, 1960s style wig, and a face like a horse’s backside, but with red lipstick and toxic green eye shadow; but even worse, was the fact that, she hated to see anyone enjoying themselves.
As I dragged myself home on the bus, I kept thinking of Gran, and feeling sad for Gran, and in between, I wondered again, as I had done so often before, how people like The Matron were given such important jobs. Jobs that dealt with vulnerable, elderly people and their worried and stressed family: Jobs that demanded sensitivity and empathy. It was a mystery to me, it really was.
A few days later, I was in maths again, when I heard Vanessa talking in the back row. Vanessa had one of those megaphone voices, that is so loud and booming that you wouldn’t be surprised if it carried to the next country. I must say too, that Vanessa and most of Kylie’s former gang members had improved since Kylie had left; which, when I thought about it, made me think that Kylie’s presence had acted like a kind of magnet, magnifying and drawing out other peoples’ nastier aspects. Anyway, Vanessa was telling Joanne, that she had visited the beach a few weeks before, in the school holidays, with her cousin Doula, and they’d set up a little tent in behind some boulders, at a generally deserted part of the beach, as they both felt that they needed to lose weight before being seen in public in their bikinis.
‘So we’d just got the tent set up all cosy, when I look down near the water’s edge and I see Kylie, If you can believe it!’ Vanessa kind-of whispered Kylie’s name, like she was scared that Kylie might actually hear her, and then, she continued in her normal megaphone style: ‘She was with this mean looking guy with a huge tattoo of a snake on his back. Anyway, Kylie stands up and tears off that orange sarong that she was wearing…..and……she looked like she was about to have a baby!’
The strange thing is that, after this, even though I kept my ears open, nobody mentioned and there were no rumours that, Kylie had given birth, or that she was looking after a child. In fact, I would often see Kylie in the distance when I was going to my night job at McDonalds; she would be hanging around outside this pub called, The Exchange, which had a bad reputation as a drug den. One time too, I was cleaning the tables out the front of McDonalds, when Kylie went past, with this weaselly pop-eyed bloke, who was driving a gold Mercedes, which had a big open sunroof and a comically huge back spoiler. A single thought filtered thought my brain: dirty money.
As my exams drew nearer, I really started to hit the books, but Karen was rarely coming to school now. Supposedly, she had moved in with her bikie boyfriend and she was working casual hour’s at the most popular clothes shop in town; a place which sold surf t-shirts in the same design, year after year: a place at which I couldn’t afford to shop. But I did see her sometimes, walking down the main road, with her mean, blue eyes, looking straight ahead, and those big boobs of hers, thrown out-in-front, like a shelf.
I was never likely to run into Karen, thank goodness, as I bought all my clothes from op-shops. Firstly, because I didn’t have much money, and secondly, because I believe that there is just too much waste in this world. I’d decided this a few years ago, because sometimes, I walk home from school the long way, around the local rubbish dump, and it never fails to amaze and appal me, what people have bought and then throw away so thoughtlessly. It seemed to me, that most of us had the idea that we could just keep on buying stuff, as long as we hid all our waste out of the way, where we couldn’t see it.
Vanessa, who now seemed to think that she and I were friends again, when it suited her, was oscillating in her moods in these last school weeks before exams. Sometimes, she would grab my arm hard and plead with me to come over to her house after school, and help her study, because she was so ‘disorganised and unmotivated’. At other times, she would float into her classes with this strange Zen-like attitude, repeating the fatalistic saying, ‘whatever will be, will be’, when asked how her studies were progressing, or when faced by the exam panic of others around her. On the last day of school before our exams started though, she stayed in the girls’ toilets all day, just looking in the mirror, and brushing her hair, and crying.
As for Joanne, she seemed excited that our school days were almost at an end. I would watch her from where I sat studying on the top floor of the library, as she dashed past with huge piles of books and an almost crazy look on her pallid, black-eyed face; her brown hair sweeping out behind her.
Then, it was the night before exams. I made my dinner early: an omelette, some toast and an apple (My dad ate at the local club and mum would heat up a box of Skinny Cuisine (or five) and eat in front of the TV). After that, I had a long and relaxing bath. Before I went to bed, I went over my notes for the last time, with the hope that all the information would be sinking into my brain really well overnight, and then, would be ready to extract easily tomorrow.
Settling down between the sheets, I read a bit of ‘Jane Eyre’, even though I had already read it many times before, and then, trying not to think about the ethics and actions of Mr Rochester, who had locked his mentally disturbed wife away in an attic, and wooed a young, innocent and friendless girl, I turned out the light. As I fell into a soporific state, there was only the truncated scream of a bird, or perhaps a person, somewhere in the distance, which disturbed me for a moment. I was asleep before ten and all was going according to plan.
I was sweating and hot. I kicked off my blankets and I glanced at the old digital clock next to my bed. It was 2.02 am. I’d been having this weird dream, which now that I was awake, was already becoming hazy. I had been dancing underground to some very strange music. I’d been in a great cathedral-like cave, full of stalagmites and stalactites, wearing a flowing, yellow dress; a dress which seemed to be alive, even though it looked just like a simple dress. I just somehow knew that it was a living thing. I rubbed my eyes. The music was still playing. I switched on my bedside lamp and I saw that the old, white music box that Gran had given me when I had turned five, was open, and the plastic ballerina was going round and round, to the flat, tinny and yet haunting notes of Swan Lake. I felt a shiver go down my spine and I had trouble going back to sleep after that. I seemed to lay awake for hours, listening to coal trains rattling in the distance and the occasional screech of fighting cats.
I won’t go into all the details about those weeks of exams, as it’s mostly a blur. But I was pretty sure that I had done fairly well. At least, I felt confident that I hadn’t failed. Anyway, straight after I finished exams, I started working lots of shifts at McDonald’s, so that I could save some money. And I waited, with a simmering mix of hope and anxiety, for that day when the results and uni offers would be released.
On the Monday night, a few days before Christmas, the weather was humid and drizzling with rain, and things were very quiet at work.
‘Hey, Amber’, yelled Kristos, who always cooked the fries; ‘a group of us are going to explore that old abandoned house down by the railway tomorrow. You ‘wannna come?’
Why not, I thought. ‘OK’, I said. Then, I felt a wave of anxiety. I didn’t know who else was going, and how well did I know any of these people, that I worked with?
After that, I got a sick feeling in the gut and I felt this compulsion to clean the customer toilets from top to bottom. I just cleaned and cleaned until I was completely exhausted.
But the next day, I met Kristos and five others in front of McDonalds: Tom, Himmat, Laura, Ling and Mercy, all of whom I had worked with occasionally, and we set out walking in the direction of The Exchange Hotel. I hadn’t considered that we might have to go this way and I suddenly felt my heart beat loud and fast in my ears, at the thought that Kylie might see me; that she might shame me, in front of these people.
But we passed the front of that grimy building, whose windows glinted like giant eyes, and which spewed stale beer smells into the street and Kylie wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
Near the end of the road, we followed a long laneway next to the boarded up video repair shop. Then we kept walking past old iron sheds, overgrown with malodorous smelling vines, flaunting giant, purple flowers, and the corpses of old cars and rotting lounge suites, covered with bird droppings.
It was hot, as we walked in the hard, summer sunlight, and I felt a trickle of sweat run down my back, between my shoulder blades, so I was glad when Kristos started telling corny jokes, which made us, groan and laugh; but then, he began to tell us things about the abandoned house, to which we were heading.
‘So, the house has been empty for about sixteen years according to my sister, Elena; she’s a journalist down at the Gazette,’ explained Kristos. ‘Anyway, it was when Elena’s boss got her to look back at old issues of the paper that she came across the story of what happened.’
‘I’m not sure I want to hear about it now’, squeaked Ling. ‘I’m spooked already and we haven’t even got there yet’.
‘Oh, you’ll be Ok’, Kristos smiled, confidently, at Ling and I watched her relax. How did people do that? I wondered; get others to feel good or bad so easily.
‘So according to Elena, the old lady who used to live in this house, which we’re heading to, was born there. She never married and as far as anyone knew, she didn’t have any children. But one day, when the old woman was about sixty years old, these twins were dumped at her door. They were about one year old at the time, and the note pinned to their basket said that the old lady was their grandmother, and that she would have to look after the babies, because their mother and father had both gone away.’
‘This sounds like the beginning of some gruesome fairy tale’, said Himmat, in an unnaturally high pitched voice. I had to agree.
‘Well’, continued Kristos, ‘it seems that the old lady didn’t object to looking after the children, but it appears that she didn’t actually look after them very well. On quiet evenings, people would report hearing shouting coming through the trees, from her house in the woods, and the children never seemed to put on weight, or to be clean, or dressed right for the weather. One day, the old lady simply disappeared, and the twins were found crawling along the train tracks, just before night fall, by a homeless man, who was wandering about.’
‘Now, I’m seriously creeped out!’ Ling cried, as we trudged along. I, however, was feeling strangely hypnotized by the thump of our rhythmic footfalls, the searing sun on my skin, and by the mysterious and disturbing tale.
A bit further along, we passed the mummified remains of a ginger cat; then we came to a thin, old building with a corroding sign over the top of the door, which said, ‘Saddler and Harness Maker’. The building itself looked ready to fall down; its unpainted, timber boards were grey from the weather of many years, and its iron roof, brown with rust. But never-the-less, I saw the filthy, red checked curtain in the side window, twitch as we passed by.
Next we crossed the train tracks in single file, stumbling over the gravel which had been laid under and around the railway line; we began to push through thick bush, as the branches of trees slapped us in the face and thorns scratched our arms. Soon a weird feeling began to creep through my blood, as the smell of eucalyptus was thick in the air and a bluish haze seemed to be swallowing us.
We came at last, to the decaying little house, and we stopped.


Chapter 3
Hello Dolly

We pushed our way through an overgrown hedge surrounding the house, and as we did so, I felt like I was part of the plot of some Gothic novel, or about to stumble upon the inert body of Sleeping Beauty, who had been locked in slumber for one hundred years. But we kept going, pushing through overgrown grass and discarded old bits of furniture, until we were gingerly stepping, one by one, onto the decaying, timber veranda, which appeared to go right around the house; its floor covered with huge piles of rotting newspapers, sludgy leaves and mouldering bark. But that’s not what made us stop. A sign stuck on the dark and forbidding front door said, ‘Warning Asbestos: Cancer and lung disease warning’.
‘Well see you later’ wailed Ling, already walking off in a hurry, followed by Himmat and Mercy.
‘No, wait’, called Kristos, ‘it’s OK. Asbestos is only dangerous if you breathe it in or eat it. We’re not going to disturb anything. The sign is here just to scare us off. Come on’.
Kristos looked at me; I shrugged and followed him toward the door. He turned the handle and slowly the door scraped open and we were looking down the tunnel of a dark, damp smelling hallway, lined with old photos. I looked hard and directly at the first black and white photo, to my left, which was in an elaborate frame. It was of an old woman in a severe black dress, with a high neckline, which seemed to be strangling her. This woman had a very straight part in her white hair, a skull-like face and protruding eyes, and an expression that was fierce and almost unbearable to look at.
There were other photos as we travelled down the hallway, with Ling, Himmat and Mercy now following close behind, but I did not look again. Turning right, we entered a grim, sitting room, where a brown, checked, lounge chair sat in the almost barren room, covered in a blanket of dust. A tall, grandfather clock stood silently against one wall and a spinning wheel was pushed into a dark corner.
I walked over to the mantelpiece, a simple brick structure, surrounding the open fireplace. I could see a large book sitting on top. As I drew closer, I realised that it was an old Bible, covered in cracked leather. I opened it and saw the printed words, ‘Family Recorder’, and under this, a list of names written in black ink. But even though plenty of light streamed in from a high, glass window, I could make out very few of the names written there, and certainly nothing that I read, meant anything to me.
We opened a door behind this room and we were immediately met by an overpowering rancid and fermenting stink. This kitchen was a pig sty, covered with mouldy plates and saucepans. Open rotten cans of food were dotted about and debris of all kinds covered the floor. We got out of there fast and took the narrow staircase to the next level, stepping over old newspapers and empty boxes.
At the top of the stairs, kristos let out a strangled scream, as he came face to face with a large clown doll, sitting rigidly in a cane chair, directly opposite him. The clown’s clothing was still clean and bright and its bald, stupid face was artic white, with a horseshoe of vibrant, red hair. We all edged past it carefully, as though it might try to grab us, with its yellow, oversized gloves.
The first musty bedroom contained an old, iron bed covered with a patchwork quilt and a small, 1950s style cupboard, which Kristos pulled open, releasing a sulphury odour of decay and the whiff of rosemary. We then noticed a few cheap, women’s dresses, of old and dated design, and one pair of shoes, which rested at the bottom of the cupboard, furry with mould. Kristos was about to close the door, when I glimpsed something on the top shelf. I reached up and pulled out a mouldy box containing a pair of old, fragile, celluloid dolls. There was one girl and one boy doll, both wearing checked shirts. On the front of the box, written in, red letters, it said, ‘WE HAVE NO NAMES’.
I shoved the box back, and then, walked over to one of the windows and peered outside, just as cloud passed over the sun, bringing a sense of gloom to the view. The yard was overgrown with vines and trees, and I could see an old car, crushed underneath a fallen tree trunk out there. It was one of those really long, two tone, colour cars with fins, from the 1950s. Next to it, there was a small, thin building, which I thought was probably an outdoor toilet. Gran had had one of those at her old house and I hated it. At night, if natured called, I would have to get the torch from the kitchen, and walk out into the darkness, and into that tomb-like room, which had no light. I hated the raw and unshielded feeling of my pink backside hanging defenceless, as I sat on that timber box, and as I walked back across the backyard, afterwards, the trees would always be swaying in this slow and spooky way, and Mrs Freckles’ cat would be sitting on the fence staring at me with its lamp-like eyes.
We walked down the hallway toward the other bedroom and the metal roof above us cracked and groaned, as though it was alive. I was ready to flee, but Ling said, very sedately, ‘That’s just the roof expanding in the sun’. Ling’s father was a builder. So we continued on.
The other room, which was much smaller, had two wire cots on which bare, stained mattresses lay. Probably the two children had slept in here, but there were no toys, or any decoration to see, except a dusty, wooden box, which sat in front of the narrow window, which allowed in a sallow, yellowed light, through its dirty glass. I walked over to the box and opened it up. Inside there were a few items of clothing, which had become hard, as though turning to stone. On the bottom of the box was a photo of a family. A man and a woman sitting at a table, on which sat a beer bottle, several glasses and a birthday cake, with one candle. Two small babies were propped up, side by side, in a double pram nearby and the whole family were looking out of the frame, with eyes that were blank and empty.
I turned the photo over and read: 1979, Terry and Kylie, age 1. Then I felt a pounding in my head, as a question slammed out of my mind: could this be that Kylie? My tormentor?
Kristos edged up close to me and stared at the photo. He pointed to the baby boy on the left and said, ‘he died, my sister said, and the girl, she was fostered out. I believe that she went to your school’.


Chapter 4
Kylie’s story


I don’t remember that person who gave birth to me: my mother. What I do know, what a social worker told me, is that the man, my father, tried to kill my mother, then me and my twin brother, Terry. My mother stabbed my father then, with a long and sharp kitchen knife. But she paid the ultimate price, because dripping with blood, the old man bashed and strangled our mother, and then, tidily threw her body into a shallow grave, in near-by bushland.
Deciding not to kill his children, after all, probably because it served his purpose, Dennis, our dear old dad, dropped us off with his mother; his birth mother, who he’d never met, but who, he had tracked down and been watching and following, for some time. Then He turned himself into police and claiming that our mother had ‘provoked him’, he managed to have his conviction downgraded from murder to manslaughter.
Dennis, he served eight years and he now lives in Thailand with his many ‘girlfriends’.
What do I feel about all this? Nothing but rage. I feel not a thing for those DNA donors: ‘my parents’. I feel neither a sense of trust or love for any person. All I feel is a boiling rage, but what I show the world is a cool and sometimes charming exterior. It is all calculated.
I know that the house where Terry and I lived for a short time, with that woman who had the title ‘grandmother’, lies not so far away from here. It is empty and falling into ruin. Grandmother is dead. She set us free, babies that we were, and then, she lay down upon the train tracks. Supposedly, we were found not far away from her mutilated body. The circumstances of her death were never released to the public, though. No. People have to be protected from the truth: from reality.
Terry and I were sent to foster homes. But Terry was ‘mistreated’; this seems to be the norm from my experience. He died. I was sent elsewhere and I merely became the wife substitute of that upstanding member of the local council. What a joke! I was four years old when it started and I can still remember the smell of him, like rotten potatoes and dried sweat.
I had a baby when I was fourteen. But nobody noticed that I was getting fat, even though people were always looking at me, with adoration, and with fear. They never looked at me. Eventually I disappeared. Perhaps that original Kylie in still in there somewhere; she might be, but I can’t be sure.
I remember I put the baby in the cupboard while I thought about what I’d do with it. I hadn’t known anything, until, I felt a ripping pain and I saw it on the floor, all still and blue. But It didn’t hurt that much. I’ve never felt much pain myself, even though I can so easily sniff out the pain, vulnerability and loneliness of others. But it was a bit of a nuisance, because I had to prepare for a sleepover party. This was the foster mother’s idea. She lived in La La Land and couldn’t see what was happening in front of her. Or chose not to see.
Someone found the baby that day, after I’d put it in the cupboard. Amber Malone. But I was glad, because thinking about that dumb bitch gave me something to concentrate my anger on.
It still does.


Chapter 5
Amber’s story continues

In the following weeks at work after the visit to the deserted house, Kristos began paying me a lot more attention. He would tell me stories about his family and how he wanted to become an accountant. I was enthralled by his tales of happy and exuberant family life. But I never really had anything to say, not only because my family life was so awful, but because I always froze up when I was around people. I didn’t have the skills to play the social game: a game which I always compared to the game of tennis, with its back and forth banter, except that it was much harder.
I think too, that the social game is one which you have to learn your whole life. If you’re pushed out of it, and you don’t get to learn the rules, you’re stuffed.
Things got more serious, one wet and windy night, when Ling came up to me while I was putting together a ‘meal deal’; she said, ‘Kristos wants to go out with you’.
I didn’t know what to say. I just smiled.
Later Ling returned. ‘So what’s your answer, he wants to know’.
I’d only ever thought of Leonardo DiCaprio in a romantic way, not Kristos. So I said, ‘thank you, but I don’t want to go out with anyone’. This was of course incredibly clumsy, but that’s what I said.
Next thing, kristos was ranting at me, right in my face, saying that, ‘everyone knows that you’re the town bike and who do you think you are, anyway?’ This was followed by lots and lots of less polite variations of that delightful little speech, as staff and customers watched on transfixed.
Soon, everyone I worked with was looking at me sideways and whispering behind my back. Christos then, sent Ling to tell me that I was ‘a bitch’ and pretty soon, work became unbearable. I went to talk to Bruno the boss about it, but he backed away from me shaking his head. ‘Don’t bring your personal problems to work’, he said.
I knew I had to give up my job, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I had actually done to deserve this outcome.
Luckily, several letters were delivered to me in the next week, while I was at home alone, feeling incredibly sad. The first letter said that I had been accepted into the first university of my choice, which was located two hours away, to study psychology; the second letter confirmed that I was eligible for student assistance, and the third letter, outlined how that I could move into my student accommodation in a month’s time. I felt like dancing and jumping and screaming all at the same time. But then, I still had to get through the next month.
I didn’t want to spend any of the money I’d saved, so I spent the next few weeks living a very frugal lifestyle. I would eat whatever I could find in the cupboards at home; but not too much of anything, because my mother would complain that I was consuming all the food and not, ‘pulling my weight around the place’.
Mum never went out to do the shopping; she never went anywhere, really. So the groceries were delivered to our home once a week, always the same things: a standing order. Gran had arranged this years ago, because she was concerned that there was little for me to eat in our house. Dad paid the bill.
I did actually do quite a lot of work around the house. I mowed the lawn at least once a month; I vacuumed the carpets and mopped the kitchen and bathroom every week. I also did the washing and ironing. My mother didn’t do any of these things, because she spent most of her time in our small lounge room, with its dated décor, watching The Jerry Springer Show and all the soapies. She rarely talked to me, but when she did, it was to criticise something that I had done.
I tried not to think too badly of my mother though, because I knew that she was very unhappy and that she felt powerless to change her life. Also, I was pretty sure that my dad was having an affair, because he’d been going to the gym lately; he was wearing nicer clothes, and recently, I’d noticed the wafting fragrance of aftershave when I washed his shirts. He’d never worn aftershave before.
I also began to take long walks, until I had this awful experience.
It was one of those overcast and humid days; one of those days when you don’t feel like doing anything at all, because it’s so hard to get motivated. There’s no fresh blue sky, no birds sweetly singing and no snappy breeze to put a bit of wind under your tail; just a grey, flat ceiling above you and a pressure cooker heat that saps your energy. But I was sick of hanging about the house with nothing to do, so, just for the hell of it, I headed off walking in the direction of The New Estate.
The part of town called, ‘The New Estate’, wasn’t really new. This area of land had opened up about fifteen years ago, when our town still had a functioning manufacturing centre and young families were moving here for the jobs and the affordable real estate prices. But all that changed around twelve years ago, when the government decided to deregulate the economy, and many of those industries moved offshore, to places with cheaper wages and less stringent working conditions.
As the jobs dried up, people found that they couldn’t pay their mortgages. Families started falling apart, and gradually, The New Estate became rundown, an area of half-finished and dilapidated houses, emitting the stench of failure. Now, probably one in every five houses had someone living in it, paying a reduced rent.
I looked about sadly, at the depressed and hopeless place that The New Estate had become, smelling of rotting garbage and unclean houses. Once it had been a hopeful area of cheerful, young families; now it was falling into disrepair, and all the shops had closed, so you couldn’t even buy a carton of milk around here. Still, it fascinated me for some reason, I couldn’t quite grasp.
So there I was, walking along the main road into The New Estate, when I heard a low rumble of thunder in the distance, but I continued on, just looking about with my usual amazement, at the dried up gardens, the boarded up windows, and the decaying buildings, and comparing what I saw, to how it used to be.
Then, suddenly, I was aware that I was being followed. By slightly moving my head, I was able to see with my peripheral vision, a yellow, panel van; one of those old, Holden HQ Sandman types, moving slowly behind me on the road.
I kept my head up, and walked along with great purpose, like I was going somewhere specific, but my mind was scrambling, thinking about what I should do. One thing was clear, though: there was no one else about. The only sound around, came from the throb of that car’s engine behind me, my own beating heart and the low rumble of thunder.
The houses around me here also, were not the type of places that you would knock on the door of by choice; they had ragged sheets covering the windows and some even had foil. Old dated cars, which were out of registration, sat on blocks, and I could see clotheslines hanging with tattered clothes, which looked like they had been out in the elements for years.
A jagged tail of lightening flashed across the boiling, grey clouds above me, but I kept walking. The panel van, also, continued on stalking me like a huge, yellow beast, revving the engine every now again, to the accompaniment of distant rumbles of thunder.
I rounded a sharp corner and I saw a gang of about eight kids, who were pushing each other around in supermarket shopping trolleys. They were throwing empty, glass bottles onto the road and whopping with glee, as the bottles smashed. Without even consciously thinking about it, I suddenly found myself whipping around, turning and running back in the direction from where I had come. I just ran and ran, but I could hear the screech of tyres, as the panel van made a U-turn.
The menacing V-8 thrum of the engine was gaining on me, as I felt my lungs beginning to burn. I wasn’t very fit, I realised.
Then to my amazement, I saw two dogs of indiscriminate breed hurtling out from the side of a nearby house. They were heading straight at me.
I’d never had a dog, I didn’t understand them. I didn’t know what to do. I closed my eyes, like it was my only choice, like I hoped that the tearing dogs would disappear by magic. When I opened my eyes again, a moment later, the dogs had actually run straight past me and they were snapping and barking at the panel van’s tyres. I turned my head; the car was right next to me now. I locked eyes with the driver; he looked annoyed by the relentless barking of the dogs, which were lunging and snarling at his wheels. Then abruptly, he accelerated, spinning the tyres and he was gone. I stopped running, and the white smoke engulfed me, as the burnt, rubber smell pierced my nostrils. I tried to catch my breath, but I could hear the rattle of those trolleys coming fast up the road behind me.
As I once more broke into a run, I just had enough time to see those two dogs prancing happily off home, looking very pleased with themselves. As I ran, I scanned my mind, but I realised that I couldn’t even picture what the driver of that panel van had even looked like. My mind was blank.


Chapter 6
Companions on a Journey

The first few months of university were lonely, as I wandered around like a ghost, hovering on the outskirts of conversations and groups, hoping to be invited in. And then, I met Harley, Owen and Jessica, who absorbed me into their circle, gave me comfort and my first feeling of home.
It was a hot, Saturday night and I was alone in my shoebox of a room, trying to cook my dinner in a rice cooker. I’d been trying all these different, ‘one pot recipes’, but so far, my cooking had been less than ordinary. As I waited for my lentil and rice brew to cook, I listened to the chirping crickets and the moths crashing against my window. Though, I couldn’t open the window, because it didn’t have a fly screen and I didn’t want to be eaten alive by mosquitos. As I stood there, I suddenly felt thirsty and so, I stepped into the cupboard-like room, which was my bathroom, to get a drink.
I stood in that humid dungeon, slowly sipping the metallic tasting water and looking at my reflection in the spotted mirror, breathing in the smell of Pears soap and mould, and wondering what others saw when they looked at me. I had sad, brown eyes, straight, brown hair and a long, thin, pale face. Then I was thrown out of my reverie, as I became aware of loud popping and crackling sounds, accompanied by a burning smell, coming from my room.
Racing out of the bathroom, I saw that that a fire was leaping from where the rice cooker was plugged into an electrical adaptor. Without realising it, I let out a loud keening noise, and like an action figure, I sprang into the air, wrenching the heavy, woollen blanket from the top of my wardrobe. I threw it over the small fire and then I grabbed my wooden, hair brush and used it to turn the electricity off at the wall. As the acrid smoke filled the room, I heard pounding and yelling coming from outside my door. First I ran to the window and threw it open, mosquitos be damned. Then I opened the door.
Three people ran in, and as the room cleared of smoke and the malodorous smells, we got to know each other.
Harley, who was tall and well-built and handsome, was also an obvious extrovert. I could see that he was greatly excited by my fire. He couldn’t stop smiling and talking and patting me on the shoulder.
‘Look’, he said, ‘you can visit me any time; I’m just down the hallway. Two doors away and my door’s always open and…….’
The medium-sized guy, with ordinary, brown hair and a serious and cautious face, was named Owen, he cut Harley off. He was examining the rice cooker, ‘I think the fire was caused by this electrical adapter’.
‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’, continued Harley. ‘It’s all over now, move on, and stop trying to make sense of everything. Just throw the whole lot out and let’s have a party’.
Owen didn’t respond; you could see that his mind was turning over and that he was still trying to figure things out. I could also tell that before he would be friendly with me, he would need to watch me for a while. He was cautious person and an observer.
The smallest member of the group had red-blonde hair and a pleasant, open face; she pushed past Harley who was blocking the way and she grabbed my hand firmly. We looked at each other keenly, as her body shimmered in the moonlight, which was coming through my opened window. ‘I’m Jessica and I live in that room across the hall. You’ve had quite a scare. Come and sit down’. She led me over to my bed, which was the only place to sit, and then, she sent Owen to make me a cup of tea.
‘A cup of tea is medicinal’, she said, with a gentle, almost self-mocking smile, as she smoothed her rather crushed, hippy-style skirt.
Harley rolled his eyes dramatically. ‘A bucket of scotch would be my prescription’.
‘Yes, well, we remember the last time you took your own advice’, Jessica said, pretending seriousness. ’He was dancing on the tables for hours and he broke my favourite lamp’.
Harley grinned. ‘That was a good night. A good night’.
I smiled, enjoying the banter. Owen returned with the tea in an old, flowered, tea cup and I began to sip the fragrant and delicate brew. Owen moved away and watched me, from near the door.
‘You know what?’ Harley said. ‘You know how we want to move out into our own digs, but we need another person to share the rent? Well, here she is’.
Harley, Owen and Jessica all looked at me intently.
‘Oh, by the way, what’s your name?’ beamed Harley.
Pretty soon we were all spending a lot of time together, and a few weeks later, we moved into the ground floor of an old, dilapidated, terrace house.
Life was good.
I had my own room in the terrace, with a tall window which looked out over a busy street. I would sit next to that window for hours, watching the changing light, studying, writing essays, and gazing out at the people coming and going; people who were buying bread from the baker, peering into the window of the real estate agent, and eating ice creams, or drinking take away coffee. Sometimes, some of these people were even fighting, laughing or kissing. It was like a theatre, and I loved it.
Harley, Owen, Jessica and I mostly ate our dinner together, around our pine, dining table, which we had found abandoned on the street corner and all helped to carry home, but we took turns to cook. Jessica had also drawn up what we called our ‘Chore Chart’, so that our household ran smoothly. And so far, things were working out well, except that perhaps, Harley would have liked a lot more excitement; although, from time to time, excitement arrived, uninvited.
Two days after we moved into the terrace, we had the telephone connected. Jessica’s father, who doted on his daughter, had paid for the phone’s installation; he had also paid a substantial amount of our bond money. Jessica’s family was quite wealthy, but you’d never know it, because Jessica never mentioned money or her privileged background; that she had grown up with money or that she’d gone to one of the poshest private schools; as had Harley and Owen.
Jessica was an idealist and she was always supporting some cause, or volunteering her time for free. Her family, however, didn’t really approve of Jessica’s way of being in the world; they were more into making money and showing their status and they found it very difficult to understand Jessica’s ‘lost causes’: her compassion for others less fortunate and her deep desire to work toward social justice.
Jessica had told me once, that although her father saw the world differently, to her, he was always loving and supportive. Her mother, however, was deeply ashamed of her daughter’s ‘nonconformist ways’ and this troubled Jessica, who wished for general peace and harmony in her life. But Jessica was also stubborn and she refused to give up her principals and hopes, and so, her relationship with her mother, remained at an impasse, with neither party likely to change.
A few nights after the telephone was connected, we all stayed up late playing Scrabble and drinking red wine. Owen, I discovered, was incredibly good at the game; he seemed to have a very thorough grasp of the rules and amazing word skills. Jessica was quite good too, but Harley was more interested in making jokes, performing impromptu dance routines and mimicking our psychology lecturer. He was pretty funny, too.
Both Harley and I were taking psychology classes, Jessica was immersed in sociology and Owen was studying biochemical engineering. Though, you would think that our studies might have sparked off some really interesting conversations, it seemed that, mostly, we discussed the strange inhabitants of our neighbourhood and Harley’s porn watching habits, when we were together. One of us would usually start off a discussion by berating Harley for, yet again, leaving one of his eye-watering movies on in the lounge room, whilst he waltzed off to bed, or went out for a coffee, with one of his new friends.
On this particular evening, however, we were all yawning and more than ready for bed, at just a little after midnight, and so, I switched off the lights and off we trudged toward our respective bedrooms. My sheets were stiff and cold, but that didn’t stop me from falling immediately into a deathlike, dreamless sleep.
Sometime later, the shrilling peal of the ringing phone shattered the silence and our slumber. I looked at the clock, it was 2.02 am. I groaned and threw myself out of bed and ran to the phone, to stop the incessant sound.
I picked up the phone’s receiver and said ‘hello’. No one spoke. I waited, and slowly, I became aware of music playing in the background, which was getting louder, as though the volume had been turned up. The words of the song said: ‘There is someone walking behind you / Turn around, look at me / There is someone watching your footsteps….’ And on it went. It was a song that I had previously heard on the radio.
As I listened, I saw Harley stumble out of his room mumbling, ‘is the party rocking on?’ Then, from the corner of my eye, I saw both Owen and Jessica coming out of her room, holding hands. I had been blind, I hadn’t realised that they were a couple!
I rammed the telephone receiver into the cradle.
‘What’s going on?’ asked Owen, looking at me suspiciously.
‘Nothing’, I answered. I don’t know why I didn’t tell them about Kylie. That had been the moment to do it. But for some reason, I didn’t. Though, the reason I think, was shame.


Chapter 7
Edmund’s Story


I’ve always been very quiet. ‘A man of few words’, people would often say, as an excuse and explanation for my silence. My silence seems to disturb most people; though, not mum, she’s always understood me and accepted me as I am.
But I only speak if I have something to say and I cannot understand people who keep up a constant stream of words, and yet, say nothing at all. My mind is always busy though, analysing, absorbing, learning, and having ideas. And for this, I need quiet and solitude.
Sometimes it seems that I am invisible. This interests me.
I have a low threshold for social occasions. At first I may find them interesting, as would an anthropologist visiting Jupiter. But I notice too much. I see too, more than I should, and am overwhelmed. These days, saying ‘no’ to a party, or other event, is a shot of bliss. Then comes the fission of guilt. Why am I like this?
I started university recently and I have found that I enjoy deep discussions about real and interesting things. I have also found that there are people there like me. Although, there is still plenty of the other variety; those people who live in the moment, who are loud, always taking risks, exhibiting themselves. They are everywhere. This interests me.
I am studying medicine now, but I want to become a psychiatrist, so that I can understand people: myself especially. People I think are very complicated. I have studied maths and I have studied physics and there are rules and equations and answers. But the human mind is so complex, with its intricate interactions between nature and nurture; so many variables. How to track them all down! This interests me.
I have seen that girl who went to my high school here at university. Amber Malone is her name. She doesn’t recognise me. As I said, I am generally invisible. The reason I remember her, is because Kylie Sheeple followed her around for years, as she took photos of Amber with a tiny camera. I don’t think Amber ever noticed; it’s not something that you would be looking out for, in general.
People are interesting, confusing and scary. And with that universe of my mind, I’d like to find out why.



Chapter 8
Kylie’s Story Continued

I left school before I properly finished, for a number of reasons. The first and most important reason was that I’d turned eighteen and I could legally leave that house in which I was incarcerated. The second reason was because I was ‘up the duff’ again; he’d been careful for a number of years. Until now. So I needed my own money. Fast.
But there was no way I was going to be a wage slave; to hang about for close to ten hours of the day, on my feet, selling fruit or underwear, so that I can earn five dollars an hour. Thankfully, as luck would have it, I met Adder, down at The Exchange. Adder, who dressed like he was some sort of gangster from the ghetto, had been given this nickname by his father, who reckoned his newborn son looked a lot like the death adder snake, that he’d just seen in the backyard, next to the old dunny. And I ask you, with a father like that, who needs enemies?
I was glad when Adder fell into my lap, because Adder, he had his fingers in lots of pies. And while he’s not too clever in the conventional sense, Adder is very street smart, and that’s what I want. Also, Adder doesn’t care about my ‘bundle of joy’. He just said that it ‘made things interesting’. Fair enough.
We’re living in this luxury apartment right in the middle of town. It’s OK. For the moment, Adder takes me to my appointments and waits in the car, like a threat. But I’m beginning to show now, so I’ll have to stop this caper. I’ve got my eyes open and I’ll move away soon, to the city, I reckon.
I’ve got to be careful, though, ‘cos Adder saw some of those photos that I’ve taken of Amber Malone over the years and he was seriously freaked out. You should have seen the look he gave me, like I was some nutcase stalker.


Chapter 9
Amber’s Story Continues

We’d been living in the terrace house for about four months, when the next really strange thing happened; though I’m not sure if I can lay this one at Kylie’s feet. But that’s the thing that messes up my brain the most. Is Kylie behind some of these happenings? Are they random? Or, am I being paranoid?
The weather was starting to get cold, and the days shorter, as autumn grew old, so, Harley, Owen, Jessica and I, decided that we would head out to the mountains, one Saturday, so we could collect a load of fire wood. Our terrace had this old but functional fireplace in the lounge room and we were excited by the prospect of a warm and toasty fire, on cold and rainy, winter days. I smiled just thinking about all of us draped around on lounge chairs in our cosy room, reading books and eating warm soup and toast.
In some of my other fireplace fantasies, Harley or Owen are playing guitar. Although, they both learnt to play the guitar during their primary school days, and both had taken lessons with the same teacher and both had applied themselves to study the same notes, cords and theory, it was Harley alone, who was able to produce magic, when he played. Harley could bewitch you with his playing. I don’t know where that talent came from, and how only some people are able to cast a musical spell, but it seems sometimes, to me that, such talents can be found in the most unlikely people.
The day was wonderful; we packed a picnic and headed out of the city toward the country estate belonging to Jessica’s family. Harley borrowed his mother’s car for the occasion, a 1970s vintage convertible Mercedes, and we swept along the highway singing to the radio, with our hair whipping about like octopus tentacles around us and the crisp air sweeping away our stresses and troubles.
A caretaker let us through the gate and we bumped along a road until we came to a small, stone house; we leapt from the car and set to work. There was plenty of fallen timber about the extensive grounds of the mini farm, owned by Jessica’s family, and we had soon filled up the boot of the car. After this, we spread our tartan blanket under a jacaranda tree, and laid out our picnic. Jessica and Owen had gone to a lot of trouble, cooking a quiche, making salads, chilling wine; there was also a chocolate mud cake and a thermos of brewed coffee. Afterwards, we lay down and slept for a while, just falling into a satisfied dose, right where we were, lulled by the tweeting of birds and the soft breeze.
I woke up slowly and luxuriously and stretched like a cat. With my eyes barely open, I watched the leaves of the trees fluttering and shimmering and the clouds bobbing past, as though they were on their way somewhere. I turned my head slightly and noticed that Jessica and Owen were lying close and comfortably together. I smiled. But where was Harley? I sat up, hearing the thundering of hooves and watched as Harley galloped past, riding bareback, on a beautiful palomino horse.
The pounding hooves also woke Jessica and Harley, who sat up and simply stared at Harley, as he cantered and trotted past at regular intervals. Finally, he slipped off the horse and returned it to the stable.
‘I never know what you’re going to do next’, I said, when Harley returned, hobbling slightly and wincing in pain.
‘I haven’t ridden for a while’, Harley moaned. ‘I’m a bit out of practice. I used to help my cousins round up the sheep at their farm when I was younger’.
‘You on a farm?’ I blurted out.
‘Yes, my mum grew up on a farm, actually’, he said peevishly.
With Harley’s patrician looks, I had pictured him on a polo pony, not rounding up sheep.
Jessica shook her head, patted Harley on the arm and went off to see if the horse was being properly looked after by the live-in caretaker. The rest of us tided up and put the picnic things into the car.
Back at the terrace, we all helped to pile up all the firewood in the corner of the small, room, at the back of the house. And then, feeling happy and tired, we fell in the back door and set about opening cans of baked beans and toasting bread for our dinner. Later, we took turns reading a corny, pulp fiction novel from the 1950s, that Harley had found sitting on the top of the ramshackle old cupboard, in our very dated bathroom. It was called ‘The Office Jezebel’. The book was a scream and we were soon bent over, helpless with laughter.
Jessica slipped into the kitchen to make tea, during a break in our reading, but after a short time, she poked her head out again and asked, ‘has anyone seen my favourite cup? You know the one that has a picture of a green apple and worm on it?’
We shook our collective heads. Nobody had seen it.
During that night I woke up, disturbed by some noise. Something didn’t seem right. The room was very dark, so I jumped up and pushed back the heavy curtains. All around me the house shifted and expanded and settled. But I also thought that I heard the soft sound of shuffling footsteps and barely audible whispering. Perhaps I was still in the web of a dream and I wondered if I should pinch myself.
I sat on my bed for perhaps an hour and nothing else moved. I fell back into sleep.
The next day, Jessica came into the kitchen for breakfast looking puzzled. She threw down the novel that we had been reading last night and said, ‘I found this next to my bed this morning, but I know, for sure, that I left it in the lounge room last night’.
Harley, yawning widely, stumbled in behind Jessica and said with a degree of sarcasm. ‘So you reckon the book walked by itself, into your room. No, you just forgot that you took it with you’. Harley could be quite grumpy in the morning.
‘No and no.’ said Jessica tersely, as she opened the fridge and grabbed the orange juice. Jessica, also, was not at her best in the morning.
Owen got up late that day, as he was not going into uni, but staying home to study for exams. He would be alone in the warmth and the peace and quiet; I envied him this, as I went out the door into a morning of grey skies and drizzle.
As I burst through the door later that evening, cold and wet from the icy rain, which was being lashed about by the wind, the fireplace was burning away, sending out a delicious warmth. The savoury aroma of something cooking was also wafting toward me, as I stepped into the kitchen and found Owen, Harley and Jessica, seated at the table, wearing sombre expressions.
‘What’s up’, I said.
‘Owen thinks that there is someone in the house’, Harley blurted out quickly.
‘I’ve heard footsteps. Last night too’, admitted Jessica, ‘but I talked myself into the belief that they were coming from next door’
I was silent. And then I said, ‘What should we do?’
‘There might be someone hiding in here somewhere’, Owen said bleakly.
‘I read about this man in Japan who found a woman living in his bedroom cupboard’, Harley burst out happily. I know he was struggling not to enjoy this novel situation.
Owen got up and put the oven mits on; then he bent over and pulled the casserole from the warm oven.
‘Let’s eat first and then action’.
Over dinner we decided that we would have to search the whole house.
‘Maybe we are simply being a bit paranoid’, said Jessica, as we sat in thoughtful silence. ‘Or we are falsely attributing sounds from next door or…..’
‘We’ll just have a look about the place’, I said, putting my hand tentatively on Jessica’s arm. She looked at me gratefully. Jessica was determined to think the best of people and having an intruder in our home disturbed her world view. As did a great many other things that she tried to block out, or make excuses for. Jessica, for example, liked to believe that people who stole other people’s property were responding to gross inequality and poverty, or reacting against unfair marginalisation. I believed that there was something in what she said, but when I asked her once how she would explain bullies and psychopaths, she shook he head sadly and was lost for an explanation.
‘Perhaps such things can be explained by brain differences or evolution,’ I said. ‘Maybe bullies and psychopaths are just on the more extreme end of the personality trait continuum.’
‘Maybe’, she replied, noncommittally.
Leaving the washing up for later, we split up and began going through the house, room by room, opening and searching inside wardrobes, looking behind doors, and under beds. I, however, slipped out the back and poked my head into the room where we stored our fire wood, because since our trip to the country, something about that room, had been hanging on my mind. The room, though, was almost empty, except for a folding ladder, clipped onto the brick wall. Looking up, I noticed a manhole in the highest part of the sloping ceiling. So I grabbed the ladder, unfolded it, and set it up against the wall, under the manhole.
I quickly ran back into the kitchen and picked up a torch from the old, timber dresser, and then, I returned and swiftly climbed the ladder. Pushing aside the flat piece of Masonite and shining the torch upwards, I could see right into the roof cavity of the main house, where a rope ladder was hanging down from the rafters above and I realised how easy it was for an intruder to gain entry into this house.
I ran back inside the house and found the others standing at the top of the carpeted staircase, under the closed manhole in the ceiling, with the orange glow of the pendant light shining above them. Owen was holding a sturdy wooden chair.
‘I found this’, Harley said, pointing at me and putting his hand out and showing us a keychain with an actual rabbit’s foot, and a single key. ‘It was under your bed’, he said.
Not knowing what to make of it, I remained quiet and shrugged my shoulders, but I was unsettled by it, for sure. Owen picked up the keychain and tossed it about, but I wasn’t touching it. Jessica, who was a member of an animal rights organisation, was staring at the thing in absolute horror.
Owen took charge and pushed the chair under the manhole and then stood upon it, but he was a bit too short. So, Harley, grabbing the torch, took over and with his tall frame, he was easily able to push the manhole cover open. In a jiffy, he had pulled down a wooden ladder and climbed through the dark hole, releasing dust and silence.
We watched as the torch from his mobile phone came on and joggled and flashed about a bit.
‘Bloody hell!’ shrieked Harley. ‘Get a look at this!’
One by one, we scrambled up the ladder at great speed, and soon, we all stood inside the roof cavity, crouching down, balanced on the rafters, looking at a pile of blankets and clothes, which we sitting on boards which had been pushed together to create a small section of flooring. There were other things here too: a packet of cornflakes, a camera, a half empty bottle of water, and a white cup with a picture of an apple and worm on it, half full of coffee.
We moved out of the terrace the next week, into a newly built apartment owned by Jessica’s family. Life is easier when you are around people who have money. This apartment had extensive security and an indoor, swimming pool on the roof. But I missed our terrace, even though I got a creepy feeling just thinking about it.


Chapter 10
Edmund’s story continues

I went back home on the weekend to visit my parents, using the two hour train trip to study and write up notes.
Mum and dad are much the same. Mum commenting on everything and interested in everything as usual, and dad keeping to his shed, working on the computers. Dad’s obsessed with computers, but it’s also his job. He has a small business fixing computers that go awry; though he used to be a doctor once.
My grandfather and my uncle are both doctors of the general practitioner variety, and so was dad for a time. But he had a bit of a breakdown; at least, that’s what mum called it anyway. Then, after a while, dad’s hobby became his job. He is much happier with his computers, so it could have been a lot worse.
I sat at the kitchen table with mum eating the same dinner we’ve had all my life: a couple of chops, mashed potato, peas and carrots. Mum had a captive audience: me, and so she was going full bore (full bore?) telling me the neighbourhood news. Though mostly, I have to admit that I tuned out and went over things in my mind, like what are the symptoms and signs of nephrotic syndrome and sarcoidosis. Stuff like that. It wasn’t fair to mum, but I was drowning in work, and I had a pressing need to absorb information, for the upcoming exams.
Then mum mentioned Kylie Sheeple and I got interested. Kylie interested me.
‘I don’t suppose that you heard about Councillor Danksworth?’ mum said, continuing without taking a breath. ‘Well, his family is the one that took in that unfortunate young girl, Kylie Sheeple….I think she went to your school. Yes she did. Well, he was found dead in his front yard on Thursday. And you won’t believe this. You won’t! He was shot, they say, with a poison arrow, which had been dipped in aconitum. How’s that then, for neighbourhood drama!’
Mum said the word ‘aconitum’ triumphantly and I thought that she must have practicing saying it in front of the mirror. She does that. Mum always wanted to be an actress, but there’s never been much call for actresses around here. Mum would have made a great actress.
‘Aconitum’, I said, ‘comes from a flowering plant, sometimes called wolf's bane. It’s a neurotoxin which opens the sodium channels in the cell. The poor man probably experienced convulsions and paralysis before he died.’
‘Yes, yes’, mum said impatiently. ‘But this is the interesting part…..’ Then she stopped for a moment having considered what I had just said, added ‘I don’t’ know that he was a ‘poor man’, because, a diary was found on Dankworth’s body, admitting to many indecent acts’, finished mum, now looking disturbed.’
‘What! to Kylie Sheeple’, I asked clumsily.
‘No, no. Who ever mentioned her!’ Mum said with irritation.
I didn’t say you did mum. I knew better, because mum could be a bit feisty, at times.
Later that afternoon, I made a trip into town to visit the library. And as I was standing on the step, which would lead me to the open door of that august intuition, I turned around, just as Kylie Sheeple drove past in a flashy car. Kylie was alone, and she was smiling, and looking very pleased with herself. But I felt ruffled within, observing Kylie’s obvious glee, so soon after a murderous event in which she had been embroiled.
The library was cool and quiet and I felt the sense of calm wrap around me, as this room of books gave me a feeling of comfort; as I knew that all those books were here for me, if I wanted or needed them. I’ve always found books to be so reliable and so giving, without demanding anything in return. Books can provide you with knowledge and answers, or an escape to into other worlds and minds; they can be a real friend when you don’t have one, and sometimes, they take us on romantic or fantastical trips, just when we need them, in order to survive. Books too, reassure me that, despite all the terrible things that we humans seem to do to each other, we are in some way, through books, really trying to understand and communicate with each other.
I padded silently on the thick carpet, deep into the realm of books, but before I headed over to the newspaper section, which was my purpose for coming here, I grabbed one of my favourite books, called ‘Memories and studies’. It is an old book by one of the first real psychologists, William James, whose brother was the famous novelist, Henry James.
I headed over to my secret little nook, a private spot between towering bookshelves and I sat myself down. But looking down, I noticed that, there was already a book lying open here, face down, on my favourite chair. I picked it up and looked at the cover and saw that it was about the ancient Japanese, Ainu people. I turned the book over and glanced at its open pages. The chapter was all about poison arrows made from plants containing aconite.


Chapter 11
Kylie’s story Continues

I did not study Japanese and ceramics for very long, as going to community college was just an excuse: an escape route. But recently, these studies… well, at least my interest in Japanese culture, has proved to be very useful.
On this particular day, even though it was summer, a sudden cold snap had occurred, along with icy rain and I was trying to get away from Adder for a while, because boringly, he is getting paranoid and jealous. So while Adder was searching all over town for me, I stepped into the library, a place I knew he’d never go into, and I was pleased to find it was fairly empty. I kept my coat and gloves on, as I slipped down to the Japanese culture section, where I took a book off the shelf and sat down in a quiet little spot.
I was enjoying the cool solitude, reading about the ancient people of Japan, when time seemed to slow down, as I read about the Ainu people who would grind up aconite roots to use as a poison on their arrows. That got me thinking.
I am getting ready to leave this town soon, mostly because of Adder. He will say that he is going out to sell some ‘stuff’, but he doesn’t. I will see him hanging about outside the window of our ground floor flat, looking in and watching me. This has been going on for weeks.
A few days ago, I stuffed some of Adder’s clothes with newspapers, and then, I stuck baseball caps on top of these human-like figures. After this, I placed my ‘friends’ all around me, as I watched a movie on the TV. I’d only just got into the story, when I heard shouting and cursing and then, Adder bursts in through the front door swinging a baseball bat. He was as mad as a cut snake and he smashed my ‘friends’ to pieces.
There was chopped up newspaper flying about everywhere. It was then that I knew that things had to change.


Chapter 12
Amber’s Story Continued

As I stood in line to buy milk at the corner shop, everything around me seemed to pulsate with horror, as there, right in front of me, on the front page of the newspaper, stood Kylie Sheeple, posing like she was a model. The headline said ‘Boyfriend Slays Abuser’.
I tore a newspaper from the rack, quickly paid and raced back to the apartment, almost getting run over by a speeding car in my haste. Not bothering to put the milk in the fridge, I quickly began to read, while at the same time attempting to block out the nightmare inducing image of Kylie Sheeple, staring out at me from the front page.
At the tender age of nineteen, Kylie Sheeple has endured more than most people. Having suffered domestic violence as an infant and the tragic death of her mother, Kylie was then cared for by her paternal grandmother. The elderly woman, however, could not cope with both Kylie and her twin brother, and they were placed in foster care. Tragically, Kylie’s brother died soon after this placement.
As a small and trusting child, Kylie was then abused by her foster father, a well-known pillar of society, who detailed his immoral acts in a diary, but she was powerless to do anything about it. Finally, only last year, at the age of eighteen, Kylie made her escape into the arms of her first love, John Capo, commonly known as ‘Adder’, by his family and friends. However, it appears that Capo was actually a drug dealer and addict, who collected weapons of every variety.
Kylie had shared with Adder, in the early days of their courtship, stories of the abuse she endured during her childhood. However, she was not to know that Capo would ‘get crazy on drugs’ and travel to the home of her childhood abuser and shoot him with a poison arrow, mounted on a crossbow, taken from Capo’s vast weapon collection.
Late on Thursday morning, Kylie found Capo, slumped over the steering wheel in his car, passed out after his murderous spree, still holding the crossbow. Only that morning, Kylie had heard of her abuser’s death on the radio. So putting two and two together, she called the police. The suspect is now in police custody. Cappo claims to have no memory of the events leading up to the murder.

I closed the paper and I began to feel very afraid.

--------------------------

For Christmas that year Jessica received a mobile phone from her parents. I didn’t have a mobile phone and neither did Owen, but Harley had bought one not so long ago and it would often be ringing, day and night, annoying the hell out of the rest of us. I would sometimes be woken up by the resonant sounds of Harley’s voice and laugh, in the dead of the night, when everyone else was asleep. And I would lay there in the darkness, wondering who he could possibly be talking to, at that hour.
I didn’t have a mobile phone, simply because I couldn’t afford one; Owen and Jessica, however, had resisted getting one, as they believed that such devices impeded communication between people. ‘People look at their phones and not in each other’s eyes’, Jessica would say. Owen would nod in agreement, but he would also add in his Spock-like way, ‘mining for the rare metals to make these mobile phones causes immense environmental damage. There needs to be controls and some effort to recycle the old phones’. He would then point at Harley, who would be lounging on the striped armchair, with his phone glued to his ear, and say with disgust. ‘He will probably change his phone every time a new model comes out.’
Harley, who really only cared about having a good time and not about where the metals in his phone came from, would simply turn his body away from Owen and laugh like a hyena into said phone.
Owen had just been given his brother’s old computer though, and he was excited about that. He said that we could all use it to ‘surf’ around the various GeoCities ‘neighbourhoods’. He also said that a thing called AOL Instant Messenger had started and something he called ‘blogging’. But I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around it all.
The most significant thing I got for Christmas that year was a Christmas card which said ‘I am the watcher’. This was written in a fancy copperplate script. There was no return address.
But I did go back home for a few days over the Christmas break and I found my mother to be much the same, but maybe fatter than before. The house, though, was a pigsty and I spent one of my days cleaning and tiding, washing and mowing. I only saw my dad for a moment, as we passed on the stairs. He gave me a false, cheery ‘hello’ and then kept going toward his study. I just stood on the stair and watched him, as he closed the door and I heard the twist of the lock. I felt like a stranger to him. Gran, however, smiled a lot when I visited her at the nursing home. But she kept patting my arm the whole time I was there, and saying, ‘thanks for coming Martha, I haven’t seen you since the war’. It was depressing, alright.
On New Year’s Eve, we decided throw a bit of a party at our place. It was supposed to be an intimate get-together of about ten people, but Harley, ‘accidently’ invited a whole load more people and the place was bulging at the seams. I don’t think any of us knew who these people were, either.
The night had started well, our invited guests were engaged in interesting conversations, drinking crisp, white wine and nibbling from trays of hors d'oeuvres; Owen’s Nina Simone CD was playing softly in the background and the lounge room windows were opened up wide, to allow the cool night breeze to play with the curtains.
Then, around 11 o clock, there was a gentle tap at our door. I looked over to Jessica, who frowned and then at Owen, who looked puzzled. Harley’s face though, was a mixture of excitement and guilt, as he quickly lurched forward and jerked the door open and hordes of people rushed and pushed inside.
Soon a heavy metal CD had replaced Nina Simone and cases of beer were being stacked up on our dining table. Things then got rapidly out of control, as I stood and watched open mouthed. The room was packed, but I could see that Owen had got over his initial shock, and in his incredibly rational and calm way, he was trying to get the gatecrashes to leave. Jessica was trying to encourage an overweight teenager, with a short Mohawk, to stop jumping on our lounge chair and Harley was already pouring beer down his open mouth, and over his hair, as he stood on one of our dining chairs, like he was getting ready to crowd surf.
‘This is ridiculous!’ I found myself yelling at this headbanger who was stepping on my toes and flicking his oily locks into my eyes. I immediately wished that I hadn’t said anything, as he stopped moving, and pushed me against the wall. ‘How about you and me’, he said, leering at me like some type of reptile. I wanted to say ‘get lost’, but I started to laugh instead, as he sounded so corny and laughable; then I watched the narrowing of his deep-set eyes. He was mad.
I barely had time to make any plans, as the headbanger was knocked to the ground by this huge dude with a wide, waxy face and blue slits for eyes; he was dressed all in black, and he pushed his face so close to me that, I could see the tiny bristles of his recently shaved beard. I stopped laughing.
The guy in black leaned in toward my face. I froze. But at the last moment, his mouth headed away from my lips, toward my ear and he whispered, ‘remember me baby’. Then like a receding nightmare, he was gone.
Just as suddenly, the uninvited guests departed, as though they had been called by something, carrying their music and beer with them. It wasn’t even midnight yet.
Apologetically, our shaken invited guests also soon departed and we were left, the four of us, to clean up the mess and to wonder if we had dreamt up the whole thing up.
We stopped on the stroke of twelve and opened our champagne and made cautious toasts, like ‘have a wonderful new year’ and ‘this will be the best year ever’. But our hearts were not in it. Owen turned and kissed Jessica softly on the cheek. Then I too felt arms going around me and lips crushing down on mine, as the scent of spice and lemon tickled my nostrils. And suddenly, I was surprised to feel a delicious warmth, blooming within my traitorous body.
‘That’s how you do it’, Harley said, as he glared at Owen.
-------------------------------------------

The following day, New Year’s Day, I woke up very late. As I slowly opened my eyes, I threw off my damp sheets as the room was quite steamy and I noticed how the heat of the sun was pressing brutally on the blinds. I dragged myself from my bed and I opened my cupboard to pull out some fresh clothes, when there, in front of me, on the shelf, was a tiny doll: a baby doll, with soft pink skin, large round eyes, and a pin going straight through its heart. I slammed that door shut, my mind in a whirl.
I started to walk around the room, trying to think. Obviously, one of the gatecrashers from last night, had entered my room and put that…that..voodoo doll there. But why?
Then I thought that maybe this voodoo doll was just one of Harley’s practical jokes. I remembered how Harley would hide whoopee cushions on our lounge chair. And how this one time, he had placed beautiful red roses on the dining table and when Jessica lent over to smell them, she immediately starting sneezing from all the pepper he had sprinkled on them. Harley had been almost on the floor in fits of laughter.
Then I remembered the time that Harley fixed a poster to the bathroom ceiling; a picture of one of those ventriloquist’s dummies, with eyes that seemed to follow you. Then another time, he left a box of pizza in the fridge, with a note on top saying, ‘dinner’. When Owen opened the box up, thinking about all the delicious melted cheese he was going to eat, he found a pile of dried out carrot sticks. Yeah, maybe this was Harley’s work.
I went back to the cupboard and I grabbed that doll and then I walked quickly to the kitchen and shoved the damn thing into the rubbish bin, with all the stinking old food and other rubbish. Then I returned to my room and I got my clothes and I went to have a shower.
Later, as I stepped out of the steaming bathroom, I noticed that Harley’s bedroom door was open and he was smiling at me, his head peeping over the white sheets. And as usual, he had female company; I could see the back of her blonde head. Harley’s women would often arrive very late at night, slipping in and out almost unnoticed; with only the sound of their shoes and the click of the front door, to tell us that anyone had been there at all.
As I stepped into my room, I heard a woman’s voice, a little bit louder than was necessary cry ‘oooh baby’. And then, they both laughed.


Chapter 13
Edmund’s Story Continues

I met Owen during my second year studying medicine during a biochemistry class that we were both taking. The lecturer of this class organised this role playing game, where the whole class was divided into three groups. One group was making accusatory claims about the pharmaceutical industry, another was defending the pharmaceutical industry, and the last group acted like a government agency. Each group then had to gather qualitative and quantitative data and make their case.
Owen was assigned to my group, the government agency, and I found him to be a very disciplined and logical thinker. But I have to admit that I was very irritated by this ‘game’ at first; though, it quickly became apparent that role playing really allowed us to observe various perspectives and the associated implications and presumptions. And soon, I was a very keen participant.
After our fourth class, in which Owen and I had worked very closely together, Owen invited me to have lunch with him, and his girlfriend, Jessica. Initially I was surprised by his offer, but then, I said ‘yes’, as I really was interested in getting to know Owen better. I knew that Owen and Jessica both lived with that girl who had attended to my school, Amber Malone, but I didn’t say anything, as I was sure that Amber didn’t even recognise me, even though I walked past her fairly often, as we both made our way to our various classes.
We ate at this organic café: Jessica’s choice and we all got on very well together. Both Owen and Jessica were interested in a great many things and although all of us were inherently reserved people, we talked deeply and freely about many subjects and topics, including: politics, medicine, ethics, equality and human rights. I really enjoyed it.
Before Jessica raced off to her sociology class, she touched me on the arm and looked at me in the eyes, directly and warmly. She said ‘I’ve really enjoyed our chat’. Then she smiled crookedly and added, ‘next time we will talk about the meaning of life’. She was having a little dig at herself, at her earnest nature and idealism. I simply said ‘I enjoyed our talk, but shall we start our next discussion from Schopenhauer’s perspective?’ At this, she laughed delightedly, throwing back her head and long hair in the process. I had to admit there was something flirtatious about Jessica’s movements and I noticed Owen’s mouth form a straight line and grow tight. Owen and I then sat silently, and watched, as Jessica ran off into the wings of the afternoon sunlight, her red blonde hair glowing, until she disappeared around a corner and from view.

Chapter 14
Kylie’s Story Continues

I sold that souped-up car of Adder’s which he had put into my name as a tax dodge and then, I moved to the city. I took a room at a cheap and anonymous boarding house and initially, I kept to myself, so I could get my bearings and keep a look out for opportunities.
I kept my cellphone switched off though, because Karen was calling me night and day, leaving me urgent messages and voice mails. I hadn’t bothered to tell her before I left, that I had taken off to the city. That I was Gone. Eventually, when I was in the right mood, I would send her a message and tell her that I was in hiding, ‘cos someone was after me, or some such crap. But for now she could wait.
Soon enough, I nabbed myself a job as a barmaid, at one of the many dive bars located near where I was staying. It was a down-at-heal sort of joint, stinking of rotten beer, cigarette smoke and sweat, but there were plenty of chances here to make money, on the sly. I could tell.
It didn’t take long for me to get into the good books of the sleazy owner, either; a fat ape with no lips, too much body hair and a misshapen head, who had named himself Bronx. Pretty soon Bronx was paying me commission and all I had to do was encourage a few of the bar deadbeats to spend half an hour with one of the ‘girls’ upstairs. And some of them really were girls.
I soon became very good at this job, especially after I realised that I had to act as a lure myself. While I’m not bad looking, I decided that I needed a bit of extra help. So I headed off the hairdresser and had my hair dyed a silvery blonde. Next, I went to the beautician and I got a manicure, spray tan and a body wax. After this, I invested in some new clothes, which were sexy but not cheap. I wasn’t trying to attract any of these parasites myself (I’d had enough of that). I only wanted to get them in the mood. I’ve also got myself an appointment with a plastic surgeon, so I can buy a pair of attention grabbing breasts, because, I’m a firm believer in the adage: what you don’t have, you can buy…..Or take.
After a while, as I put a bit of money away, I moved into a nice studio apartment, which I have filled with the newest modern furniture and abstract art, bought from an upcoming artist. Things are going well. Then one Saturday afternoon, I messaged Karen and sold her this bullshit story about me being stalked and threatened by some friend of Adder’s and that I wouldn’t be able to ring her very often, as I had to keep moving around. The dumb slag believed me.
Then one night, out of the blue, there I was feeling bored behind the bar, when that tasty looking Harley fella, who lives with Amber, came in. He just rocked in there looking to buy a couple of tabs, so I helped him out. After a few beers, he started getting real friendly and he told me about the New Year’s Eve party that he and his flat mates were planning. I decided right then, that I would turn this party into a surprise party. Later on, that New Year’s night, I got a surprise too, when Harley called me up in the early hours of the morning, and asked me to come over. And I did.

Chapter 15
Amber’s Story Continued
1998

It dawned on me suddenly one night, when I was sitting alone in my room writing yet another essay, that I didn’t really know Harley, Owen or Jessica all that well. And the fault lay with me. Sure I had spent many nights with them, playing board games and eating dinners. And we’d taken the odd day trip together, but when I thought about it, we hardly talked, really.
The reason we hardly talked, was that I spent a lot of time alone in my room. And the other major reason was that I still tend to freeze up whenever people talk to me. I could express myself pretty well on paper, but talking was hard. If I had to talk in class, I would start shaking and blushing and sweating. This was exhausting for everyone: not just for me.
Lately, Harley had started calling me The Ice Queen, in a sneering sort of way, wherever my name came up in conversations, about cooking or shopping, or anything at all. Owen and Jessica would then glare at him with hard eyes for a moment, but they had known Harley since they were kids and so they were tolerant and used to his ways. It hurt, though.
When I finally got to have a turn on Owen’s computer, I was really amazed. I had used computers in high school, but only to play educational games. With the internet, which you had to ‘dial up’ to the music of squeaks and beeps, I was able to connect to all sorts of interesting things and ideas by using the search engine Altavista and by going to GeoCities. There was also this website called FriendsMeet, an online place where people could connect with their old school mates. Out of interest, I signed up, using a fake name and I found that most of the people registered from my school, were those who’d claimed that they couldn’t wait to leave school, back in the day. Kylie, though, she wasn’t there.
I also got an email account.
In the middle of the year, we were all invited to the wedding of Jessica’s elder brother, Dane, who was a stockbroker. Dane was to marry Jane, the daughter of a business associate of Jessica’s father. Jessica’s parents were more than pleased with their son’s intended bride, as Jane’s family was similarly rich and moved in the same private school and country club circles. I’d never been to a wedding before, so I was both excited and anxious.
The morning of the wedding dawned clear and crisp and I lay looking out of the window for a while, as the hissing sounds coming from the bathroom told me that someone had beat me to the shower. I could see the highway from where I lay, but in the distance. Strangely, I found the silently moving cars soothing, maybe because I wasn’t down there in that mess of traffic. So, I just lay in bed, trying to empty my mind, until the squeak of pipes and the squeal of an opening door, told me that I might have a chance at the bathroom. I jumped out of bed and immediately, I was ambushed by a wave of cold air.
As I walked down the corridor toward the bathroom, I saw that the door to the apartment was just closing and Harley was standing with his hand still on the door, in his satin boxer shorts. He was looking very pleased with himself. We locked eyes and he smiled, but I fled quickly into the bathroom, as I could see that Harley was obviously, how shall I say it? Aroused.
Later that morning, Harley, Owen, Jessica and I, bundled into the limousine that Jessica’s parents had sent out to pick us up. ‘We must make the right impression’, Jessica’s mother had told her, when Jessica had said that we were planning to arrive at the church in a taxi.
Riding in a limousine was a new experience for me; I found it both strange and interesting. I also felt that I was getting a glimpse into the minds of certain types of rich people and how they came to think that they were more important and deserving than others. Being cocooned in luxury could warp your brain, I decided. If I ever get rich, I’ll have to make sure that I don’t become full of self-importance, I thought. But since I didn’t have any idea how I could get rich, or any great desire to be rich, I probably had nothing to worry about.
Inside the limo, eighties music was playing softly and the air was thick with the mix of our collective perfumes and aftershave lotions. I glanced over at Jessica and Owen, who were holding hands and sitting close, and I thought how good they looked together, almost like brother and sister, in a way. Harley was humming a little tune, tapping his knee and looking out the window; he was unusually quiet.
Soon, we stopped in front of a gracious old stone church, which was surrounded by velvety, green lawns and beautiful trees; a scene was so still, so serene, that it could have been a photo, and out we hopped. But when I looked up, I could see steel grey clouds, in the distance.
Inside the church it was cool and dark, except for shafts of bright light coming through the narrow windows, like swords. Beeswax polish glowed on the wood and the aroma of flowers drifted and floated in the cool air. Jessica and Owen headed down to the front pews and Harley and I slipped into a shadowy and vacant row at the back.
The burr of a luxury engine told us that the bride had arrived; car doors closed and then the fast click of high heels, upon the stone outside. I felt excited; it was all about to start. All heads turned as a shape appeared outlined by the sunlight. She walked inside and slithered in next to Harley. They kissed and then, she turned to leer at me. It was Kylie.
Something inside me seemed to fall, then freeze. I could not move. Then the bridal waltz was playing and Jane was there, moving down the centre of the church on her father’s arm, toward her soon-to-be husband.
Time seemed to drag horribly, through the minister’s welcome, the declarations, readings from the Bible, a sermon, the vows, the giving of rings……..and on and on. And all that time, Kylie was there, a figure of menace, close by me; her perfume and her presence like poison.
Finally it was all over. But I was gutted. I simply couldn’t go to the wedding reception, even though I had been so looking forward to it. I would make my escape.
The Church began to empty, but Harley and Kylie didn’t move; they sat there nuzzling each other, with Kylie smirking at me every now and then. She looked different though. More polished and dressed expensively. And meanwhile, I was stuck there, waiting, dying inside.
Finally I made it outside into the sunlight, where people were milling about waiting for cars to pick them up. I looked around for a means of escape, but Jessica and Owen were heading toward me, like steamrollers and I found that I was rooted to the spot.
‘Wow!’ said Jessica excitedly. ‘Did you meet Harley’s girlfriend? It must be serious’, she added. ‘I mean, this is the first time he has introduced us to someone……She seems nice’.
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. Then, Harley and Jessica looked meaningfully at each other and I realised that they thought that I was jealous of Kylie.
Owen gave me a strange look and then he smiled and leaned over toward me. ‘I’ll tell you a little secret. Jessica’s father is going to announce my engagement to Jessica at the reception’. He pulled Jessica close to him and she glowed.
‘Congratulations’, I said, giving them each a hug. But as I put my arms around Owen he whispered, ‘I know that you have feelings for Harley. I’m sure all is not lost. Yet’.
All I could do was shake my head, as Jessica pulled me along with her and Owen into the limo, which had just arrived to sweep us away to the reception.

Chapter 16
Edmund’s Story Continues

My medical studies are going well. Of course, it’s all a bit of a grind, but I do feel that I am moving along in the right direction with my life. Lots of the other students, however, seem to spend inordinate amounts of time drinking and taking drugs, all of which simply mystifies me, as from my point of view, this is a pathway to doing damage to your brain and health and increasing your chances of messing up your life.
I may be far from perfect, as I’m as flawed as everyone else, but you don’t get a spare life, so you just have to work with the one you have. That’s the way I see it. And in a way, this is the message I would like to pass along to others; that each of us has battles to fight in this life: some more, some less, and if we all realised this and could be generous and tolerant with ourselves and others, then perhaps, we would all be a lot happier and live in a better world. Sadly, I haven’t mentioned these thoughts to anyone other than mum, as I would sound like a naive bumpkin. But still, within myself, quietly, I cling to my delusions of hope.
I meet Owen for lunch, once a week or so, and sometimes Jessica comes too and we have very interesting discussions. I really appreciate Jessica’s sociological perspective, which she calls the ‘sociological imagination’; a way of seeing personal problems as being political and social issues. I feel that when I am with these two, I am really extending my understanding. I have noticed though, that when we are together, that Owen really watches Jessica, and she seems to be aware too, that she is under observation. Now she only smiles at me, if Owen is distracted, or if he is looking away.
I know that Jessica loves Owen, but sometimes, I feel that she is also interested in me. Though, maybe, this is just another one of my delusions of hope.
I have recently joined the university chess club and my game is improving. I have also met an interesting person there named Beth and we’ve even met for coffee, as neither of us are interested much in bars and drinking alcohol. Beth is studying molecular biology, so I think we have a bit in common, but we’ll see how it goes, because I heard a whisper behind me in class the other day, that Beth is married. It could just be a joke at my expense, but I don’t know how to ask Beth about such a sensitive subject. I mean, would a young woman knowingly go out with someone, a single man, when she is married? But then, some people have open marriages. I however, would not like to be involved in such a scenario. This is awkward, I think.
A few times a week, I set out late at night from my rooms near the university and I take really long walks through the city. I’ll walk for a couple hours, clearing my head and enjoying the noisy solitude. But last week, as I was walking past this well-known restaurant, Kylie Sheeple came sauntering out of the place. She virtually ran into me, holding the arm of that guy that lives with Owen, Jessica and Amber. I don’t know his name, but from what I can tell, from seeing him around the campus, he is a real show pony. You know the good-looking type who flicks his hair constantly and wears sunglasses: even at night.
Of course, I was very surprised to see Kylie laughing and flirting, as in my view, it hasn’t really been that long since Kylie’s boyfriend had murdered her abusive stepfather. If it was me, I think that I would be still recovering from such horrors and wary about forming new relationships. But Kylie, I think, is not ‘most people’. Then I remembered how I had gone to the library that day, right after mum had told me about the murder with the crossbow, and I had read the whole sordid story in the newspapers, though I couldn’t help thinking, at the time, that the papers didn’t tell the whole story. Then I also remembered Kylie that day, driving past the library, right after the murder, looking so very pleased with herself. And I thought about that book that I had found lying open in the library, all about poison arrows, and I wondered.

Chapter 17
Kylie’s Story Continues

You should have seen her face when I turned up at the church! It was like the devil himself had appeared right in front of her, in the place that she least expected. You could tell that she couldn’t stand it, her arch enemy being there with one of the people she thought was her friend: a person she lives with. Yes, Amber Malone did not enjoy herself much that day. But I did.
The reception was very classy, very elegant and Harley and I were sitting at one of the most important tables, right in the centre of the action, of jokes, dancing and laugher. Amber was right down the back, seated with a group of people she didn’t know. Harley arranged it that way. Apparently he knows some of the wait staff who work at the function centre and they changed the place cards about. Harley is easily able to get women to do things for him. And no one even noticed. Well, I did and I could see that Amber was miserable.
Harley is easily duped, I must say. Most men are, of course. They tend to think with a rather small part of their anatomy, that is the problem. But it’s also useful.
You see, when Harley first told me who he lived with, I pretended to be appalled and shocked. I told him that I had gone to school with Amber Malone and that she was the school bully. He didn’t believe me at first; he said ‘Nah, not Amber, she’s so quiet and gentle’.
I said, all mysterious like, ‘yeah, she might look that way, but she’s crafty’.
The key is not to say too much. I let his imagination do the work and soon he was telling me all kinds of stuff about Amber, like how she was working nights on reception, at a posh hotel. And I do mean ‘was’. I called the manager up and gave him an earful, about a very rude staff member with the name tag ‘Amber’, and how I would never again stay at this hotel.
Another brilliant idea I had lately, was to get this guy I know called Amal, who is a really excellent artist, something like Edvard Munch, to draw a giant picture of a screaming baby’s head. Then I got a copy made. The original, I stuck on the wall of my apartment, and the copy, I attached to the back of Amber’s bedroom door. I did this when I was visiting Harley, and when Amber was away at the job she was about to lose. This was just a follow up to the baby doll present that I left in Amber’s room, on that first occasion that I stayed over with Harley.
I have other bits of useful information and ideas, filed away too, about Amber, as you never know what things might prove to be useful.
Harley though, seems to be getting serious about me, the fool. But then, men are fools. I’m keeping him around because he is very good looking, he comes from money and because being with him allows me to torment Amber more easily, which is just so satisfying.
I’ve been making a bit of money myself lately and I seem to have a talent for the job. The boss is very pleased; he’s all simpering smiles and extreme courtesy whenever he sees me. The great fat turd. ‘The girls’, though, don’t like me much. They see me as some kind of traitor to the sisterhood; like I’m the one who is selling them, when I just help them to sell themselves. Anyway, who cares? Not me.
The boss also mentioned that he also owns a bar with his brother in the north of England somewhere. He was wondering if I was interested in working over there for a while; he said that he’d pay all expenses. I have to admit that I am thinking about it. Seriously.


Chapter 18
Amber’s Story Continued

The wedding reception was a nightmare! Somehow, I was relegated to the table most remote from the bridal party, with all the friendless, weird and random guests. It felt like a banishment.
I had a very good view of Kylie, however, and she was having a blast. She was constantly throwing back her head in laughter and swishing her blonde hair about (which used to be mouse brown) and Harley looked like a fish on a hook.
I found that I couldn’t take my eyes of her, like I was trying to figure out how she always managed to land on her feet and how I could learn to be so lucky; even though I realised that I was a fundamentally different person, with a nature and nurture so much unlike her own.
Things got worse later on, because Jessica’s father announced Jessica and Owen’s engagement and how they both wanted to get married, ‘sooner rather than later’. I know I am being selfish, but I can’t help wondering what will happen to me. I have had a sense of security living with Jessica, Owen, and even Harley, and I still have over a year of uni to go.
I’m feeling worried and I’m feeling bitter about Kylie coming back into my life. I have to admit too, that sometimes, I wake in the middle of the night and I imagine bad things happening to her; just silly things really, that come straight from the cartoons that I used to watch as a kid. Like Kylie falling off a very high cliff, or a heavy piano falling on top of her from a great height. But just like the cartoons, the Kylie in my imagination, always gets up and walks away, unharmed.
The next day after the wedding, I took the train back home and I went to visit Gran, which made me even more depressed. Gran had this idea that I was her long, dead sister, Pearl, and she kept asking, over and over again, ‘Pearl, did you tell that young man that I don’t want to dance with him’. The whole visit was beyond terrible. I felt so helpless and sad seeing Gran like this and it hurts how much I miss her.
After I left the nursing home, I went home. But as soon as I got out of the taxi, I knew things were very wrong. I mean more wrong than usual. The front lawn had grown almost up to the bottom of the windows and the blinds on the windows were closed and covered with dust, even though it was just past the middle of the day.
The day was overcast and the sky had a sick, yellowish cast, as I walked up the pathway to the front door. All around me I could smell a really strong, rotten garbage smell, and when I looked around the corner, there were piles of stinking rubbish bags piled up, covered in flies.
I knocked on the door, but no one answered. Then, I searched inside my handbag, but I couldn’t find my house key, so I fetched the spare one that was hidden under a garden rock.
Inside the house, clothes were strewn on the floor and there were even more rubbish bags dotted about the place and the fermenting, sulphurous smell was invading my nostrils, as I waded down the hallway, and pushed the door of the lounge room open.
My mother was not there, but the TV was on and a soapie was playing, with an actress who had been on TV, for as long as I could remember. Now days, this actress wore a huge wig and her painted face, was stretched and monstrous from plastic surgery. I watched as she performed a soliloquy, bemoaning the fact that she had accidently married her son, who must have been young enough to be her grandson, when she had inadvertently been sucked into a satanic, religious cult. I had the feeling that this plot line had already featured a few times over the years.
Mum’s chair was empty, but I could see the sunken-in indentation of her backside on the vinyl. I walked into the kitchen, it was a mess; used plates covered with green fuzz were piled in the sink, and the back door was hanging open and a pile of sodden leaves were piled up on the dirty floor. I went out the backdoor and found that my rabbit’s cage was empty; mum had assured me that she would feed my rabbit, Foxy for me. It was the only thing I had asked of her. I felt a fizzle of fear and worry.
I went upstairs, there was an air of gloom, neglect and abandonment, but my mother was not here. I walked into my mother’s bedroom; my father generally slept on a chair in his study. I opened the wardrobe door, all her clothes were still here, hanging huge and tentlike, smelling faintly of stale body odour. Worry was replicating like a virus.
I pushed the door of dad’s study open. The room was dark, the curtains pulled closed and the air was stale; the whole room was empty, and dad’s desk, his chair, and his bookcase, were gone. I walked out of there with my mind galloping. I went out of that house and for the first time, I visited the next-door neighbour and knocked on the front door.
After what seemed to be a long time, I heard slow, dragging footsteps growing louder on the timber floor. The door creaked open by degrees and a small, mouse-like face with black-framed glasses, peeped around the door. I didn’t even know this neighbour by sight, because this was a rental house and the occupants often stayed only a few months, and then moved on, looking for jobs.
‘Hello, my name is Amber Malone and that is my parents’ house next-door’, I pointed stupidly, like I was the host of a children’s TV program. ‘Do you know where they are…..What happened to them?’
The mouse face didn’t move position, but just stayed there, with his head hanging around the door. ‘I heard that the man…your father?’ he questioned and I nodded, ‘ran off, I think with some woman and that your mother just let herself get run down. She didn’t eat or drink, or even wash herself. She went kind of crazy and she was carted off. Sectioned Mrs Sloon across the road said’. He gestured at the tidy, brick house over the road, where the town gossip lived. ‘Thank-you’, I said, as I turned around and the door snapped closed.
Some people go to the cinema to watch horror movies, but I don’t need to.
After that, I screwed up my courage and I visited Mrs Sloon over the road, to ask her if she knew where I might find my mother.
Mrs Sloon’s was bursting with self-importance and schadenfreude. But before she would answer my questions, I had to endure a long spiel about how successful her nieces were. ‘Yes, Katie’s a sales executive and Sharelle is the manager of a very, very exclusive hairdressing salon. And did you know she actually did a perm on that contestant from that TV singing contest last week?’ Then, she waited for me to add my compliments, which I found difficult, but I did manage to say, ‘oh wow!’
Mrs Sloon did not actually have children herself, as her husband, so the rumour goes, ran off after one week of marriage. And the nieces that she so often bragged about had never even visited her, as far as I knew. But as I thought about Mrs Sloon’s life, as I walked slowly back across the road, to my home, I felt guilty, thinking that I should have said more. I should have let Mrs Sloon think that I was really impressed with her nieces, as it was obvious that Mrs Sloon was pretending that her life was fine and just as good as anyone else’s. But then, another voice in my head, asked why Mrs Sloon had to derive enjoyment and revel, with obvious relish, in my family’s distress?
But I soon settled down, because I had got the information that I came for. My mother had been transported to Coal Island, which was about 60 kilometres north of here. And not the easiest place to get to. So I didn’t waste time; I set off for the train station, right away.
I travelled in a nearly empty train, except for a drunken man who stumbled into my carriage and lay down on the dirty floor, in the aisle right next to me, blocking my exit. When I tried to step around him to get out at my station, he grabbed my ankle and stuck up his head, which looked like an unmade bed, and mumbled hopefully, ‘is that you Maggy?’ Waves of unmentionable smells were emanating from him, but I felt so sad and so powerless to help him and he lay back down in a sprawling heap and I left.
The ferry which would take me to Coal Island was right over the road from the station, but I had to wait for over two hours for it to arrive. During that time, I trundled off to buy something to eat and drink from a nearby shop, and chewing as slowly as possible, I looked out at the horizon and tried to think of nothing.
When the ferry arrived, it was packed with a large group celebrating a fortieth birthday party. The group was heading to the outdoor pleasure garden on Coal Island, which had been based on the once famous, but long gone, Vauxhall Gardens in London. This pleasure garden was situated on the side of Coal Island closest to the mainland. The mental institution occupied the other side of the island, separated by a tall stone wall.
As the ferry churned through the greenish water, I tried to make myself small and almost invisible, by wedging myself in a small private corner, but I could still hear the raucous laughter and the crude jokes swarming about me. One middle aged women with a very low-cut singlet top, and sun damaged décolletage, actually came stumbling toward me at one stage, all bleary eyed, with mascara running. She tumbled onto me and her champagne spilled, sliding down into my shoe. She didn’t apologise at all, or even look at me, she just repositioned her jumbling breasts and re-entered the fray.
But the group soon scrambled off the boat and I alone continued the journey to the other side of the island, with only the plaintive cries of birds and the flowing air for company.
As I neared my destination, I looked up at the cliff and I saw two high towers rising above the ha-ha walls, which surrounded the institution. Interestingly, the other side of the island had seemed to be mostly flat.
I stumbled down the gangplank onto the dock, and stood for a moment, just looking around. It was a beautiful but isolated place; silent, except for the buzzing of bees, floating about in the white tuffs of Queen Anne's Lace, and the occasional cry of a soaring seagull.
I began to trudge up a rough, gravel path, which led to stairs, which had been cut into the cliff face; they went straight up along the wall of the cliff. At the top, I could see the two brick towers again and a high metal gate.
The harsh sun seared my skin, as I stood and pressed the buzzer on the gate post; after a time, an agitated looking man stuck his head out and he barked rudely, ‘what do you want’.
‘I..I’m here to see my mother, Franka Malone’.
The door swung open and as I walked through onto a shabby lawn, where rotting and peeling timber benches where scattered about. I looked up at the forbidding, barred windows and felt a shiver of apprehension.
Pushing in front, the man led me toward a dark timbered, gothic style, door. He knocked as though irritated and the echo of footsteps soon rang out.
‘Yes’.
‘This here girlie reckons she wants to see her mother……..A patient here’.
He’d forgotten my mother’s name, I realised, and so I repeated ‘Franka Malone’.
‘Mmmmmm’ the woman with wiry, grey hair, a potato nose and flashing blue eyes said.
They are not real friendly here, I thought. However, the door opened and I stepped into the dry air of a cold and dark hallway. Soon, I was being led along other barren hallways and up flights of mental stairs, until we came to a locked, grey, metal door.
The woman, who had not at any stage introduced herself, unhooked a large bunch of keys from her belt and inserted a ridiculously large key into the lock, and then, yet another door swung open.
I knew that something was very wrong as the door opened into the fetid room, as the residents of this ‘care facility’ were slumped and glassy eyed, with the bars of the tall and narrow windows casting surreal shadows and stripes across their bodies. There were no physical restraints used on the patients here, but the use of chemical restraints, was obvious.
My mother had been plunked onto a large recliner next-to the inanely chattering TV. She was staring straight ahead at the game show host, who kept touching his dyed hair transplant and flashing large artificial teeth, as he called ‘ Magda Block, a housewife from the suburbs’, to the stage.
I was also drawn in to this TV drama for a moment, as the short, prune faced contestant leaned over and spoke, barely moving her lips, into the microphone. ‘Housewife my ass. I lost my job and I want another one. I need money. Whaaya reckon I’m on here for?’
The cheesy game show host was lost his words for a moment, and then he chuckled, ‘you’re quite the comedian Mrs Block, he, he.’
Mrs Block just closed her eyes in annoyance, like she was used to people dismissing her claims and she couldn’t be bothered fighting about it anymore.
I turned to look at my mother; she looked so pale, so crumpled and so sad. ‘Hello mum how are you? Sorry I didn’t come before. I didn’t know’.
Mum slowly tuned to look at me, and then, surprisingly, she spoke with slow and measured words; huffing between them as though short of air. ‘I thought I would never see you again. But I thought that if I did, if I had the chance, the first thing I would do would be to tell you the whole story, because I might not get the chance again’.
I sat down heavily in the nearby metal chair and waited.
‘I know that I have been a bad mother, an uncaring distant mother, but I have been so angry’.
Without thinking, I put out my hand and held my mother’s small, sweaty hand. She seemed to un-bend just a little in her manner, and then continued, with a slurring urgency.
‘I don’t know, maybe you noticed that your dad is older than me’. I hadn’t. I’d never thought about it.
‘I was forced to marry him when I was only 15 years old, by my parents, who were farmers engaged in the drug trade. Your father was a just a small time criminal, with daddy issues.’ She said this with a sarcastic slur. ‘He latched on to my father and he broke his own mother’s heart.’
‘Poor Gran’, I said, sadly.
‘Your dad started working with my father when he was still only a bit of a kid. Your dad was messed up, because his own dad had skipped out of them……. But later, there were rumours that he didn’t like women, and so, of course, obviously, my dear ‘ole dad thought that it would be a good idea to marry me to him…you know, to sort him out…..and me.’
‘But why, mum?’ I asked, puzzled. ‘Surely your parents wanted the best for you?’
‘They had old ideas, from the old country, born of poverty and lawlessness and I had been demanding to go out with my friends, wear makeup, and get a boyfriend. But I was lucky in a way, I could have been dead. I know girls around where I lived, that are’.
I was still holding my mother’s hand, but as yet, I couldn’t speak’. I just sat there, stunned.
‘But I’ve never met your parents, only Gran, dad’s mother’.
‘You did meet them when you were young, but maybe you don’t remember.’ Mum went all quiet again and I waited. ‘They both died in a house fire about 15 years ago. No one was ever charged. Your father still works for what is left over of the organisation. But recently, after my brother died, he has become less concerned with toeing the line and more interested in his own private life’.
This whole situation was so weird. I mean, this was the most talking mum and I had ever done, but I didn’t know what to say.
Eventually, I said, ‘I thought that dad was a travelling salesman’.
‘Well, in a way he is’.
I almost laughed; was that a joke coming from of my mother? But mum remained blank faced.
I said, ‘why did dad hang around so long……Oh, sorry, that came out wrong’.
Mum’s face still didn’t change, she just said, ‘my brother would have killed him’.
‘Oh!’ I said.
Suddenly I realised that I should have bought mum some magazines or books and I apologised for not doing so.
Mum just shook her head and said, ‘I used to like to read. I liked knowledge and I wanted to do something with my life’.
‘It’s not too late’, I blurted.
She just looked at me and didn’t say anything.
We sat there in uncomfortable silence for a while, then I said, ‘I’m going to find out how I can get you out of here’.
As I walked over to the nurse, who sat at a desk near the locked door, an elderly woman in a wheel chair advanced toward me. I stopped and I smiled at her; then she reached out for my hand and held onto it, in just the same way that I had just been holding my mother’s hand and tears began to leak from her face.
The nurse impatiently tapped her foot, and so reluctantly and sadly, I pulled away from the old woman. Soon, I was soon being led out of that room and through a dizzying array of hallways and staircases, until we came to the Victorian section of the building. Here there were high ceilings, polished timber floors and the aroma of beeswax.
The door was duly knocked upon and a voice called, ‘enter’.
‘’Your visiting time is over with your mother, so you may leave after you see Dr. Gardyloo’, the nurse said.
‘But I haven’t said goodbye to my mother’, I cried.
‘I shall communicate your words to her’, was her cold reply.
I went into that agreeable room of soft carpets and I found that Dr. Gardyloo was a pleasant faced gentleman with a beaky nose and a thatch of silver hair.
‘How may I help you, young lady?’
I was soon explaining who my mother was, and asking him what had happened to her, and when she could go home, and why she looked so sad and forlorn.
‘Slow down lass,’ he said patiently. ‘Let me explain something’.
‘Your mother has experienced a rather a severe mental health emergency and I don’t see her going home anytime soon. I know this place may look somewhat grim, but the staff here work very hard, and they do their best, with the very little money we have. We do what we can, and we always have our patients’ best interests at heart. And let me tell you, that what you may judge to be cold behaviour, is simply our staff becoming burnt out. There are few workers lining up, you know, for their hard, low paying jobs, either.’ He said all this with head on the side and one eye squinted closed and the other trained upon me.
‘But my mother is depressed and feeling hopeless’.
‘That is why it is best that she stay here and that she receives therapy. And just so you know lassie, I do not approve of people with mental health conditions being hidden away and isolated from the general community, but we must work within the system we have, as we fight to improve matters. Understand?
I nodded and he got up. ‘You must leave your contact details at the office and we will keep you informed of your mother’s progress’. He said, with a twinkle in his eye.
‘Thank you’, I said, and that was that.
Later, when I was back on the ferry heading for the mainland, I realised that I would have to go back to my parents’ house and clean up and get rid of all the rubbish. That should be fun. Not.
That night, I slept in mum’s room with the door locked, and then, I spent all the next day cleaning and hauling rubbish to the dump in a wheelbarrow. Finally the house was clean and I locked up and began walking toward the train station.
As I walked onto the platform, I heard a loud whistle behind me. I turned around in surprise.
There was a burst of laughter and a male voice shouted, ‘she’s still up herself’.
Kristos stepped out from his clutch of friends and leered at me.
For a moment, I felt rooted to the spot; then, I moved as far away from the group as I could. But I could see the eyes’ of the other people who waited on the platform, regarding me quizzically, as I walked past.
It felt like I waited for hours for the train to come, but in reality, it was only twenty minutes. Then one of Kristos’ friends, a small girl with a pink Mohawk, boarded my train, and the rest of the group waved her goodbye and left the station, including Kristos; I watched him sauntering, not a care in the world, through the huge, arched doorway. As the train pulled out of the station, I slumped into the slippery seat, feeling drained and empty, and as I watched houses and fallen down buildings slip by, I wondered what would happen next.


Part 2


Ten Years Later, 2008………….

Chapter 1
Edmunds Story

I have been seeing Riya for almost seven months now, and she is all things to me: beautiful, full of kindness and incredibly smart. I didn’t think that Riya was beautiful at first, in fact, I hardly noticed her. Slowly, however, her playful manner, the obvious intelligence in her eyes, her concern and understanding for others, and especially, her irresistible, shy smile, beguiled me.
Riya is also a newly qualified psychiatrist, like me, working in the public system and we have so many experiences in common. We are both bursting with ideas that could improve the treatment and experiences of our patients and we can talk about these ideas for ages; I’ve actually become quite talkative with Riya, when I am not listening to her with rapt attention.
I also have to say that in this relationship with Riya, I feel like we are equals; but there’s still room for growth on both sides. It’s like we are on a journey together, which promises to be enriching, deep and truly satisfying. I also feel that I know where I stand with Riya; that I can ask her anything. Not like that doomed, almost relationship with Beth, all those years ago. Beth was married as it turned out. You would think she should have mentioned it, before she kissed me. Then, when I did ask her, she said, ‘of course I’m married, but it hardly matters’. It mattered to me. Anyway, that is in the past.
Psychiatry is incredibly challenging and interesting work, which truly tests me to the limits, because I hear the most disturbing and heart wrenching life stories, day after day, and I have to try to help these people with the limited tools that we have. It has been my observation though, that if we were only more caring with each other, more particular with the words that we use, we could perhaps avoid so much unnecessary pain.
Of course, a great many people inherit genes that may predispose them to a range of mental health disorders, but that doesn’t mean that the future must necessary be a bleak one. One of my patients, for example, who has Bi-polar 1, the most serious form of this disorder, still manages to run a small business and a family, with the help of her wonderful partner and kids. Sometimes, she still falls into depression or soars into mania, but mostly, we have it under control, and she has the right support behind her, and that makes all the difference, when she returns.
Testing of many of my patients who ascend into mania has found that they experience hypermetabolism and impaired oxidative phosphorylation and mitochondrial dysfunction. This means that the powerhouses of the cells, which create energy, are not working properly in these patients. However, I do have a great hopes for most of my patients, as we are really coming to understand those cellular pathways which lead to many mental disorders and this will really help us to manage, treat and alleviate the unfair burden which those who have won the mental illness lottery, must currently shoulder.
Some of the saddest stories that I hear from my patients, in my opinion, come from those people who have been abused, bullied, ostracised and endured lives of constant criticism. This strikes at the heart of who we. One of my patients, let me call him John, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Disorder as an adult. But in his youth, John was moved around about five different schools, in an attempt to get him away from bullies.
John constantly had his things and his money stolen, by those who he thought were his friends and he was even coerced into taking nude photos by a girl claiming to fancy him. She promptly had these photos circulated throughout the whole school. John is literal and he is vulnerable, but he is also incredibly smart; his drawing and maths skills are outstanding and he has a wry and perceptive sense of humour. I really like him. However, John is on a disability pension because he can’t trust people anymore. Sadly, it is difficult for me to help him, as John’s distrust and avoidance of people is extremely rational and based on solid evidence.
I haven’t seen Kylie for many years. Owen told years ago that she had moved to England and that Harley had been devastated by her leaving. I do see Owen and Amber about once a month and their marriage seems happy enough. When we are together, though, none of us ever mention Jessica; she is the ‘elephant in the room’, so to speak. I, however, think of her often, as she was, when we first met.
Mum and dad are fine, nothing much has changed there; though, dad’s business is slowing down, with all the young people coming into the computer field. Mum, of course, is still filling me in on all the town gossip, along with her own particular observations and comments. Sadly, I don’t get back home so often these days. However, I will endeavour to make the effort more often this year, as I’d like mum to be a bit closer to Ryia. Mum, however, is worried, because Riya and her family come from a different culture and background to us. They look different too. I understand how mum feels though, and I am patient, because I understand that the unknown can often be the most frightening thing of all.
Mum says she is fearful, but not simply because Riya’s people are different to us. She worries, she says, that they have different values to us, and she fears losing those things that define us; those things we believe in; those things that our ancestors suffered and fought for. I understood these thoughts completely, but I countered this with the fact that our ancestors had also perpetrated many injustices and wrongs; ‘it is not altogether a virtuous history’, I said. Mum nodded, but her mouth remained rigid and she said, ‘I still don’t want to lose who we are. That’s all’.
Amber’s mother died about ten years ago. Poor Amber. She told me that, she had only just visited her mother in the mental hospital, when a few days later, she received a phone call informing her that her mother had suffered a massive heart attack and had died instantly. Amber became very withdrawn after that, for a while. I think that she thought that she’d experienced a bit of a breakthrough in her relationship with her mother, and then, her mother was gone; taken from her in the cruellest way. Amber’s father hasn’t been seen for years. Nobody knows if he is alive or dead and the family home is just sitting there, sliding into ruin.
Anyway, must dash, I am seeing a patient today who has recently recovered from brain surgery, only to find out that he has Alien hand syndrome. This particular patient has no control over his left hand, and just the other night, he found his own hand was trying to strangle him.

Chapter 2
Kylie’s Story Continued

I left England two years ago after spending eight years living in the north of that country. I really had a blast over there and my former life, my past, seemed to just fall away from me and disappear; I became a new person, in a way. I started out doing the same job that I’d done back home, trying to get the punters to spend some time and money with the girls from the brothel, but when my boss’s brother fell down some stairs one day, and broke his back, I ended up managing the whole damn place. I did really well for myself.
But then, the boss back home decided to close the pub in England and bring his disabled brother to live with him. So, I moved back to the scene of my old life, and soon, I was working at the pub again, near the city, but running it this time, while the boss organised the sale of the English pub and the removal of his paralysed brother across the seas. So far, the boss has been away two years, trying to tie up the multiple lose ends of his brother’s overly complicated life.
It was a wet, slow, chilly afternoon and the sky from the window hung slate grey and heavy, when in walks Harley. Though perhaps walk is not really the right description, because Harley was drunk as a skunk and he was reeling around as he entered the pub’s open door; he then weaved about and tried to sit on a bar stool. Harley was right in front of me, but he hadn’t noticed me yet, as he lit up a cigarette, with a shaking hand. I saw that he had stained teeth and nicotine discoloration on the lips and he was rake thin. I hadn’t seen him in about ten years.
‘So Harley me lad, long time no see’, I say, in a fairly bad English accent imitation.
Harley looks up, and sees me and his jaw seems to fall open. He is gaping at me, like he has seen a ghost.
‘Kyles, Kyles, is it really you?’ He says, looking like he is about to dive over the bar and hug me. Or worse.
‘Yep, it’s me, but what’s happened to you son? You’re not looking too good’.
‘Whaddayamean?’ he slurred. He was beginning to repulse me and I could feel my mood going south. Then he immediately and hurriedly says, ‘you know Owen and Amber got married some years back?’ I felt a jolt go through me and I almost dropped the glass I was polishing. Though, I knew about the marriage, of course.
‘What happened to his fiancé?’ I asked, just stringing him along.
‘Jessica died eight years ago, after she and Owen were married for about a year and a half; she was knocked down by a speeding driver and she died at the scene. ‘I loved that girl’, he wailed. He grabbed his head in his hands, pressed it like a melon and started to cry sloppily, without restraint.
‘And now he’s married again?’
‘Yep, they’ve got a two year old kid. I think that was why they got married, though, I’m not sure. I’ll have to think…..’ he trailed off, his eyes leaking.
‘So what are you doing with yourself, then?’ I asked, but really, I was still feeling malicious about Amber.
‘Ah, you know, this and that…..’ he said vaguely, wiping his eyes with his stained fingers.
Luckily, Robert the barman walked in, just then, to take over his shift and I had an excuse to escape. ‘Well, might see you about’, I waved, as I walked quickly toward the door behind the bar.
‘But when are we getting together?’ I heard him stammer.
But I was already gone.

Chapter 3
Amber’s story continued.

I was almost late picking Dylan up from day care again, but thankfully, the sea of traffic seemed to part and let me through this time and I let out a sigh of relief. The thing is, it is often difficult for me to get away from the office and the demands of clients and the endless paperwork required. But I have been warned three times now about being late and I can’t afford to lose Dylan’s place at the centre, as there are no other childcare places to be had, for either love or money, around here.
As I battled the traffic, Dylan was softly singing away in the back seat, his own version of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. He looked like he might drop off to sleep soon, but I needed to run into the supermarket to get milk and something for dinner, as the cupboard was bare at home. I heard myself sigh heavily. I hated to disturb Dylan when he was in this frame of mind, because he can cry for hours if his sleep gets disturbed. But what can you do?
Owen wouldn’t be home for hours yet, because he is a mid-level manager, at a company involved in medical products, which is trying to break into the Chinese market. Owen has to travel a fair bit and he is often under a lot of pressure and constantly tired. Our relationship is also quite strained; maybe because we are connected together, essentially by Jessica, Owen’s former wife and our long dead mutual friend.
After Jessica was run down on the road all those years ago, Owen and I continued to keep in touch afterwards; we didn’t talk about Jessica, but we would talk about other things, like our careers and Harley’s alcohol and drug problems. There was never anything romantic between us, until this one night almost three years ago, when we both drank a little too much wine during one of our occasional dinners together and we ended up in my bed. Soon afterwards, I was pregnant.
Early in my pregnancy, I found out during a routine test that I had elevated homocysteine levels and that I was in danger of having a miscarriage. At the time, I had no idea what all this meant, but as the doctor prescribed me a special form of a vitamin to take, she told me that I had inherited a genetic mutation called MTHFR, which is possibly a risk factor for a wide range of disorders and medical problems, including: depression, autism, heart disease, miscarriage and migraines. I’d suffered from many migraine headaches in my life, but I began to wonder, if perhaps, I had some form of autism; maybe that was the key to my sociability deficits? Straight away, I began to take the vitamin supplement and within a week, I felt like a dark and heavy weight had been lifted from my head. There was suddenly a feeling like I had a cushion or a buffer and everyday stresses didn’t affect me so much. I also stopped brooding about the past, as I was prone to do, and I began to feel so much better within myself.
Owen and I had a low key wedding and we put a deposit on the town house in which we now live. Things are going pretty well in general, despite the way we got together; though I find combining working, with having a family, really difficult, as mostly, it’s me who has to adjust my life around Dylan. Owen simply assumes that I will do all the housework and cooking and get Dylan ready and drop him off and pick him up again from day care. And if Dylan is sick, I have to take time off.
It disturbs me this inequality at the heart of our relationship, but when I try to talk to Owen about our problems and these issues of unfairness, he accuses me of being ‘aggressive’, when all I am being is forthright and direct. I have noticed, though, that lots of men seem to live in this pipedream that all women should act like gentle and tender creatures, who never make demands or stand up for themselves. I know that I have a right to say how I feel, to show my disappointment and dissatisfaction and to stand up for myself in order to change things. I do hope, though, that as time goes on, we will work through some of our difficulties, after all, we both love our son to bits.
Speaking of changing things, I have my own business, a counselling service, which is concerned with trying to help people who have suffered feelings of loss, sadness and rejection. These are things that I have faced and endured myself and I would like to offer support and understanding to others who travel these lonely roads. I am also motived by the belief that people can really change. The problem is, that many of us don’t even know what we are doing wrong, or that things could be different. Essentially, this is because all of us come to be in situations, not of our choosing. We don’t get to pick our genes, our parents, or the class or socio-economic situation into which we are born. And then, as we grow, we passively absorb the culture, religion and way of being in the world, of our country and our family. Most of us go on to simply reproduce these same structures into which we were born. But if we are able to gain insight, we can change things and hopefully, become better versions of ourselves.
In my therapy business, I don’t deal with people with serious mental health issues, but I offer a more general therapy. However, sometimes, when things are getting on top of me, when the cases I encounter are very complicated, I can feel that I need therapy myself. But I push on, motivated by love for my family and by the realisation of how far I have come. I am no longer that girl who spent much of her life alone in her room, although she is still part of me.
I really miss Jessica, and I sometimes talk to her and pretend that she and I are sharing being a mother to Dylan. I think that these feelings stem from guilt. I know that Jessica was a much better person than me, and that she deserved to live and have a wonderful marriage with Owen, with their own children. It doesn’t hurt so much when I think this anymore, because I feel that Jessica, where ever she is, understands. Of course, I’m most likely just deluding myself, but thinking in this way makes my life easier and my guilt more manageable.
I haven’t heard anything about Kylie in about ten years, and in all that time, there have been no strange and disturbing occurrences that I could pin on her. It seems that she has got on with her life and that she has forgotten about me.
Harley really fell apart when Kylie left, so I guess that he must have really liked her, which just goes to show, how love can be such a mystery. I tried to talk to Owen about Kylie once, but he stopped me, and said that Kylie had struck him as a ‘good sort’. This really made me question myself and my history with Kylie, as I consider Owen to be astute and clear-eyed in his judgement of people. I still think about that baby in the cupboard sometimes, and I still wonder if it was real. But thinking about it, and then, thinking how Owen judged Kylie to be ‘good’, just fries my brain.
I think that I’ll try and have a bit of a rest when I get home, as I’m feeling pretty wiped out, because I didn’t get much sleep last night. My neighbour, Mr Jones, who lives a few doors down, told me the other day that the couple next door to us have just had twins; those twins were certainly crying a lot last night and Owen kept pacing up and down the room like a deranged tiger. He hates noise. I haven’t met our neighbours yet, even though they have lived next door to us for a few years. I do hear their car coming into the garage from the back lane-way, when I am out in the backyard, sometimes, but other than Mr Jones, who is retired and always out walking his dog, I don’t know anyone else around here, to even talk to. It is strange, that despite all the people who live around here, suburban life can be so lonely.

Chapter 4
Harley has his say


I disgust people now; they edge away from me and avoid eye contact, pretending I don’t exist. I saw Kylie today, after not having seen her for many years, and she looked at me like I was rotting garbage. There was a time though, when it seemed like she couldn’t get enough of me; like I was some kind of prize she had nabbed. Oh well, it was all fake anyway. I was never really who I seemed to be and neither was she.
It’s true that I was an extrovert, always talkative, outgoing, and getting my energy from other people and now I’ve become more solitary and reserved, but the extrovert in me was killed off by life. This happened in part, when I found out the reality about my family, and when Jessica, the kindest and most beautiful person I know, died without reason. Also, even though I find it hard to admit to myself, I had feelings for Kylie: strong feelings, and yet, I know that she is not a good person. She’s black-hearted, if you want to know the truth.
I’m a different person now. The change happened bit by bit, but my biggest reshaping happened after my dad died a few years back and I found out that mum was really just dad’s mistress and that dad already had a ‘real family’. I knew that dad was a rich kind of bloke and much older than my mum, but I never imagined that me and mum were dad’s ‘hidden family’, as the newspaper described it, which made me feel so dirty and unwanted.
Dad’s ‘real family’ consists of a respectable wife, and two boys and two girls, who all work in their father’s business empire. I’ve never met any of them and mum and I were banned from attending dad’s funeral. That was another shock.
The death of Jessica occurred not long after my dad’s death and it was like a body blow. Jessica was such a good person, she really deserved to live. I loved that girl and she saved me more than a few times, just by putting up with me and always accepting who I was. When she died, I doubted everything that I had taken for granted in this world. I began to question everything. Life began to sour for me and I saw lies, corruption and injustice wherever I looked.
I started drinking heavily and instead of going back home to live with my mother, after I lost my job, I began squatting in an abandoned old house near the city. It’s a miserable, dirty old place, but I am left alone. The room in which I sleep is packed to the brim with piles of newspapers, piled up by some old hoarder, who has long since died, as I will die one day. Maybe soon.
I use these piled up newspapers in the winter, in the old brick fireplace, to keep warm. But you know, sometimes, I feel like lighting that fire, even on hot days, because the warmth from the fire, feels like a hug and a friend. Crazy huh! Anyway, this one day a few years back, I was stacking newspapers onto the fire, when I saw a picture of Kylie on the front page of the yellowing, tabloid newspaper, which had been owned by my dad. I started to read the article and I found out that Kylie was not the daughter of a successful lawyer, like she had told me; but instead, she came from some seedy, abusive environment. She had also been involved in some suspicious way, with the murder of her stepfather, by her drug dealing boyfriend.
I hadn’t seen Kylie for years, ‘cos she’d just disappeared one day, years back. And then, today, I saw her and she looked so good. I could have eaten her up with a spoon. But I know that she’s still black-hearted. And also, she’s too good for me now, and we both know it.

Chapter 5
Amber Continued

The door of my consultation room has just snapped closed and I am sitting on my chair just staring at it, perplexed. The woman, who just left, was a fake. Not only was she wearing a long, straight, black Cher style wig, but she had these dark, tinted glasses on, so that I couldn’t see her eyes. And she was hugely pregnant. I haven’t seen Kylie for many years and I wondered if it was her, underneath the sack-like dress, glasses and artificial hair. Though, I don’t recall Kylie having breasts that large!
This woman, who said her name was Kerry Sandal; that’s the same initials as Kylie Sheeple, spun me a horrific tale of abuse and mistreatment. The words just poured out of her, like she was dumping a toxic load. I didn’t have to say much, I just listened and nodded my head. I was riveted, horrified and desperately saddened by what I heard. But really, even after all this time, after hearing so many stories, it is a mystery to me how many apparently sane and intelligent members of our society, will knowingly maim and destroy an innocent child, for their own purposes. This woman was a fake, but her story was not. I wanted to reassure her that she was blameless, that she had been a victim and to comfort her, but she took off, stumbling to the door and in a moment she was gone. When I looked out my window, some minutes later, I saw her standing on the street corner like a statue in the wind. And I watched her with great sadness, as she began to run.
Earlier in the year, I joined the new social media craze called Facebook. There was nothing to it really; all I did was put up a single photo of myself and some basic information. Mostly, so far, I have just been searching for people that I used to know. Like, I have found the profiles of Karen, Joanne, Vanessa, Kristos and Kylie, and I must admit that I have studied their pages and I have been avidly awaiting their updates.
Karen, Joanne, Vanessa and Kylie are all ‘friends’ on Facebook, but I was knocked sideways when I noticed that Kristos is also on Kylie’s friends list. I actually didn’t sleep all night after I saw that. But what amazes me even more, is how Karen and Kylie, undisputedly our school’s ‘mean girls’, have heaps of ‘friends’ from our school on their profile, including people that they regarded as being lower than a worm’s belly, and used to terrorise, back during our school days. Which makes me wonder, if people in general are all such crawling sycophants? Or, is it the case that people are so lonely, that an online association with someone, even a person who distains them, is preferable to no friendship at all? I really don’t know.
I haven’t made any friend requests as yet, because, as I said, I am still just looking about. And I have to say that I find it really interesting. I mean, it is amazing how much personal information people share with the world. Karen, for example, reveals that she still works part time at the clothing shop in the mall and she also proudly displays a picture of her wedding to the biker, the same guy she was going out with in high school.
In her wedding photo, Karen is wearing a strapless, low cut, artic white dress and proudly showing off her huge, rose dripping blood tattoo, on her arm. Her husband has this great barrel of a belly and a bald head in the photo, so I really hope that he has a magnificent personality. There are also various photos of Karen’s young sons, named Jaiden and Jaxon, who sport mullet hairdos and earrings, even though they are both under six years old. The thought of Karen being a mother is terrifying, but perhaps, she sees those children as being extensions of herself. That’s what I’m hoping. Also, she seemed to really care for Kylie.
Joanne has a big photo of her father on her page and a long public spiel in which she is telling her dead father how much she still misses him. I don’t know, to me this strange. I mean, I understand the sentiment, but publically posting a personal message like this , so that you can collect lots of ‘likes’, just cheapens the whole thing; it just looks attention seeking, if you ask me.
Joanne’s profile makes no mention of where she works, but she does say that she is a ‘lead solutions officer’; whatever that means.
I know, I know, I sound really bitchy. But it’s what I think.
Joanne is also very skinny in her photos and very brown from the sun. In fact, her skin resembles a leather bag I used to own. Though, she does look very fit, like she does lots of long distance running and Pilates and swimming and eating lettuce leaves for sustenance. She also has a tattoo on her lower back. I believe that a tattoo in this position is often referred to as a tramp stamp. Classy!
Joanne doesn’t appear to be married or even in a relationship, but she has lots of photos of herself at parties, amongst groups of happy people, in tight, skimpy clothing, toting champagne glasses. It all looks a bit staged and curated to me, but who knows, my life has none of that stuff going on, so maybe I’m just jealous.
Like many women, Joanne has lots of New Age quotes plastered on her page. I hate that stuff; it is so vacuous and self-absorbed. It is all cheap, imitation candles, incense oil and crystals, made in third world countries. In my view, the New Age movement is centred on a superficial spiritual marketplace where you constantly pat yourself on the back, as you engage in an orgy of self-obsessed neuroticism. Those who surrender to this cosmetic philosophy often seem to stay in their bubbles of narcissism, avoiding knowledge of oppression, slavery, genocide and the multiple inequalities and prejudices which exist. New Age people never change anything and never seem to know much, either.
When I looked at Vanessa’s Facebook photo, it soon became obvious that it did not represent the way that she looked now. The photo she had stuck up there as her profile picture was at least five years out of date, showing Vanessa as still slim and smiling. I knew that this photo was a misrepresentation, because when I had peeked at Vanessa’s cousin, Doula’s profile, there was a recent family Christmas photo, showing Vanessa to be obese, with very thin, greying hair and a puffy face. My immediate thought was that Vanessa is suffering from a thyroid disorder, but I could hardly send her a message saying ‘Hi Vanessa, I just happened to be Facebook stalking you and I think you are hypothyroid’.
I felt a tremble of uneasiness and angst just thinking about Vanessa and how I could point her in the direction of medical help, but that would mean that I would have to send her a ‘friend request’ and I just couldn’t. The problem was that I feared rejection by her and the others. And yes, there is some bitterness within me toward those people who had colluded with Kylie. And not only that, my life has moved on and I did not really want to go back and connect with those people who had been part of my loneliness and misery. Looking at Facebook profiles was safe and I did not have to risk being rebuffed, but my conscience was uneasy because knew that I could help Vanessa and perhaps, alleviate her current misery.
When I had a look at Kristos’ Facebook profile I had the shock of my life. I never knew, I never twigged, that Kristos was gay. He is now living happily with his boyfriend Sean, so obviously he never liked me to begin with. This does my head in. Was Kristos confused? Or was Kylie involved in messing with his brain and causing more trouble for me? Funnily enough, though, as I read through Kristos’ timeline, I think that he sounds like someone I could relate to, as we share similar political beliefs and we have read and liked many of the same books and movies. And yet, the fact remains that he was very cruel to me and he is ‘friends’ with Kylie.
Oh yeah, Stephanie’s Facebook profile is simply a huge brag-fest. It consists of many photos of her, and her corny looking husband, posing at glamorous and beautiful places around the world. She also describes herself as ‘the founder of The Woo Travel Group’, which may make you think that she discovered the structure of DNA, instead of a travel agency. Her many photos communicate to us, the audience, how happy and successful she is. Then there are her public posts congratulating her own children on their various feats of academic or sporting prowess. But I have to wonder why she doesn’t simply walk to the next room and tell them? Another one of her posts positively gushes about her daughter winning an award at school for ‘most improved’ and how this is a sign that her daughter, is going to be a rocket scientist. If it was me and my kid got that award, I would know that it was time for some intensive tutoring.
Stephanie also has a few photos of a ‘school reunion’ on her page, which happened last year. The largest photo is a group photo, which shows about thirty people from our whole year, including, Kylie, Vanessa, Joanne, Karen and Stephanie, and other random people all squashed together and smiling stupidly. Underneath, Karen has written: ‘School days were the best days of our lives’. Joanne added ‘I loved school so much!’ and Stephanie, ‘best of times!’ I wondered, as I stared those words, if any of these people ever remembered the bullying and injustice which occurred during those school days. And did any of them ever give a thought to those people missing from school reunions and consider the reasons why? Of course, I do realise that the view from the bottom is very different from the view at the top, especially when you throw the rose-coloured glasses of nostalgia, narcissism and self-absorption into the mix.
Alright, alright, I know I sound spiteful but shouldn’t this social media business be about communication and not just showing off and bragging and getting ‘likes’? What about all those other people out there, who are looking at this parade of vanity, who suddenly may feel that their life is a failure, because they might be poor, or disabled, or for any number of other reasons. I mean, how about thinking about how your actions affect others for a change?
Thinking about all these things has made me think about revenge. Do I believe in it or not? Would I engage in actions motivated by the desire for revenge? I would hope not. Revenge, I think is motivated by extreme emotions. I understand that. But I do believe in the rational, fair, impartial hand of justice, which can bring cycles of seemingly never ending hate, violence, unfairness and inequality to a close. To really work though, justice must be proportionate and it must not employ brutality and violence, as these things erase the very essence of justice.
Of course, as you may imagine, I am very interested in Kylie’s Facebook page and I visit it far too often, just to re-examine what’s there and to see if she has added anything new. Mostly, she posts about twice a week and I avidly await each new update. But I have to say that she looks very good and very polished in the photos that she posts of herself; she says that she is a ‘hotel manager’ and that she’s ‘in a relationship’. There is this one photo of her in her house, which I look at all the time. She is sitting on a very modern, metal and glass chair, with a huge abstract painting behind her. I don’t know where she lives though, but I wonder if she is still overseas. Or not.


Chapter 6
Kylie Continued

Amber probably thinks that I have forgotten about her. I haven’t. When I was away overseas I may have stopped photographing her and meddling in her life, but I was busy thinking about the penultimate way to extract my revenge and enable my own catharsis.
When I returned from England and I slotted back into my old life, I felt like a person who has been deprived of water and food for a very long time and I knew that I would have to find a way to get even better, more intimate photos and information about Amber. And I did.
But soon, even this wasn’t enough, and I realised that I wanted her life.

Chapter 7
Amber Continued

Last night, during the darkest hours of the night, I was thrown out of a disturbing dream about Kylie, by the howling cries of the babies next door. As I lay there, as the night slowly grew quiet again, my mind began travelling and I got to thinking about how dislocated I am from my neighbourhood and how it is only Mr Jones that I know well enough, to even say ‘hello’ to, around here. Later, as I drifted back into the world of sleep, I decided that I must try to make time to take Dylan out in his stroller around the neighbourhood, so that we can begin to sink some roots into this place, in which we live.
The following day, as I thought again about my isolation and lack of integration into my neighbourhood, I knew that one major part of the problem was that I don’t have much free time. I did think though, that with some juggling, I could squeeze in a walk on Saturday mornings. This Saturday, Owen would be away again, as he has to fly down to head office, but hopefully, next week, he will be able to come along with us, and maybe, we can make our walk a regular family outing. I smiled at the thought. That would be so good.
-------------------------------------------------

The morning was clear and warm that Saturday morning as Dylan and I set out for our neighbourhood walk. With the warm sun on my back, I marched off a brisk pace, with Dylan in the stroller, beside himself with excitement. He was twisting and turning about, smiling and laughing gleefully, as we headed down the road and around the corner, toward the little park with the swings and slippery slide.
Before long, our cheeks were red like apples from running about through the grass, climbing up and down the slippery slide and whooshing through the fresh air on the swings. Then we simply lay down on the grass for a while and made daisy chains and pretended to have a car race with sticks that we found on the ground. Mr Jones and his dog stopped by for a while and Dylan fondled the sweet-tempered animal’s ears, as Mr Jones chattered about the new airport and his daughter’s car, which was so often breaking down.
As we later headed home, I noticed a small, corner store, which I hadn’t been into before; so I stepped in and bought us each an ice cream, even though we hadn’t even had lunch yet. The owner there, who told us her name was Irma, came out from behind the counter to talk to us, telling us very passionately about the council meeting coming up next week, which would discuss the fate of a now empty and decaying heritage building, which she said was very important in our area.
‘I’ll be there’, I said later, as we waved and left the shop, with Irma calling out for us to be mindful of the thunder storm, that had been forecast for that afternoon, which might bring back the rain. But while I felt invigorated by the feeling that I could be more involved with the decisions made about this place in which I lived, I also felt guilty that I would have to find someone to look after Dylan. I felt that I didn’t spend enough of my time with him as it was, and mostly, I was tired and worn out when I picked him up from day care, because there were just so many pressures in this busy life we lived. But I had to go to this meeting. I knew that.
We had just about reached home, when I noticed that Dylan’s head had slumped forward. He had fallen asleep, so I stopped and crouched down to move him into a more comfortable position, before I attempted to carry the pram up the two steps, which led into our townhouse. As I stood up, stretching and smiling, still thinking about our successful and enjoyable morning, I noticed that the door of the next door townhouse was open and I could see right inside.
The first thing I spotted was two men halfway up the stairs, leading to the townhouse’s second floor, carrying a large mattress. Then, furtively, I moved my eyes downstairs, where I could see right through the open plan house, into a modern, red kitchen and beyond that, to a compact courtyard with a small swatch of grass. Suddenly the door clicked closed and I was left standing there, feeling like a voyeur: a peeping Tom.
As I ate a bit of lunch, I switched on the TV and watched an old episode of The Simpsons, which I hadn’t actually seen before. In this episode, Lisa Simpson took over as ‘America’s first straight female president’, from the ultimate bully, President Trump. As I slowly chewed my tomato and cheese sandwich, I thought that the show’s creators had been trying to pick the most implausible person that they could think of to be president. However, to me, from my experience in the world, this bully president scenario could easily happen, simply because people so often seemed to favour bullies; believing them to be powerful and forceful agents in the world. The only thing you needed to do was to make sure that you were on the right side: the side the bully favoured. If not……..
Later in the afternoon Owen called and we chatted for a while about all Dylan’s doings; how he had painted a picture of Mr Jones’ dog and how his favourite book at the moment was ‘The Muddle Headed Wombat’. Later on, Owen casually mentioned that his firm had given him some free tickets to a theatre production of, ‘A Doll’s House’. He asked if I wanted to go next week, and happily, I said ‘yes’. I was feeling really elated, like things were going really well; so plunging in, taking a chance, before he hung up, I whispered ‘I love you’. There was silence for a moment, as I waited, and then, I heard, the wailing duet of two babies beginning to cry. And suddenly, things clicked into place, and I knew.

Chapter 8
The private Investigators Story

Last week it had rained for days and flash flooding had hurtled through houses, sweeping away cars and people on the other side of town. Today, though, the sun was shining and I was at the pub sinking a few beers and watching the footy, when my mobile phone rang on that Saturday afternoon. It was Amber, my former therapist, who had helped me a while back to deal with my difficulties in forming relationships and getting emotionally involved. See I have this tendency to be avoidant when a woman gets too close, even if I really like her….especially, if I really like her. I will just split and get the hell out of there. I can’t say that I am altogether over these issues, but Amber helped me to understand how they developed. And that’s something.
Anyway, I pick up the phone and Amber is soon telling me this whole goddamn insane tale going back years, about this crazy stalker from her childhood and how she reckons that this dame has stolen her hubby and has secretly had a couple of rugrats with him. Now, if you think all this sounds crazy, wait for the next part: Amber even has this mad notion that her husband’s little family is living right next door.
So anyways, I immediately forget about the game and the other half of my beer and I get going over to Amber’s joint, toot sweet, where I immediately start going over the place with a fine, tooth comb; and sure enough, if it isn’t packed to overflowing with all sorts of surveillance equipment. Firstly, I find that all the smoke detectors are actually hidden cameras, and then, I find other cameras throughout the place, in small holes in the wall, in the bathroom mirror and even in the baby monitor, which I reckon has also been transmitting conversations, probably next door.
I have to say that Amber didn’t go all crazy and hysterical like some of my clients do in these situations. She just looked real concerned and real calm. Then I said, ‘I’ll go up into the roof cavity and take a gander’. And she just nodded and looked like such an idea brought back memories or something.
These town houses all share the same roof, I soon found out. So, as thunder began to rumble in the distance and the rain rattled above me, I carefully crawled along through the roof cavity, on my hands and knees, until I came to a downlight in the ceiling; I then put on my rubber gloves, and pulled out the central part of the light fitting, along with the globe. And what I saw, as I pressed my eye to that gaping hole, knocked the bloody stuffing out of me. See the walls they were covered with hundreds of photos of Amber: Amber as a teenager, and as an adult. Some of these photos were very intimate, very private; Amber in the shower and getting dressed…and others. But there were even piles of these photos on tables and chairs. This was years of work. Bloody years of work, I thought.
As I reported my findings to Amber, she just closed her eyes and shook her head, and then, she reached for the phone.


Chapter 9
Edmunds Story Continued

It was a hot and sultry Monday afternoon, but unfortunately, my air conditioner had stopped working some hours ago. I’d just seen off my last patient of the day, a sufferer of borderline personality disorder, with severe abandonment issues, when I received a phone call from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with a request for me to see, and possibly access, an individual who was to be charged with various criminal offences. This person, who was primarily accused of stalking behaviours, was one Kylie Sheeple.
Amber Malone, the plaintiff in the case, had also mentioned in her statement to police, a possible historical offence committed by Kylie Sheeple, going back to 1992, which involved a deceased baby. Police had subsequently examined the childhood foster home of Kylie Sheeple and the skeletal remains of a newborn had been recovered. Forensic and DNA tests are expected any day now, I was informed.
My immediate feelings, as I listened to the speaker outline this case, was guilt, as I had been aware back during our school days, that Kylie had been taking photos of Amber. This photo taking, it appears, had really escalated and later involved extreme breaches of Amber’s privacy.
I clapped my hand to my head, as I also recalled that open book that I had found in the library, all those years ago, which lay open at a chapter about poison arrows. I blushed, as I recalled telling the librarian about the book and the sceptical look that she had given me. Eventually, though suspicious and disbelieving, the librarian had let me call the police, who eventually came and took the book away. They found only my fingerprints on the cursed thing though, which put me under suspicion, at least as a troublemaker. I’d wished then, that I hadn’t said anything at all. Now, of course, I wished that I had tried to do more. The thing is that, often, it is hard to know which things around us are important, or mean something, and which don’t. To me, life can seem like a huge puzzle, where all these random pieces are being constantly thrown at you and not only do you have to find the right pieces; you also have to navigate a maze at the same time. It is only when you look back afterwards, that the choices and the road seem to have been clear; at the time we operate mostly with instinct.
As I fanned myself with a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it occurred to me that Kylie was probably some variety of psychopath, as psychopaths never experience true emotional bonds with anyone; but they will sometimes become intensely engaged with obsessive stalking behaviour. Psychopaths, also, seem to seek constant sensation and they can become consumed with the need for retribution. At their very heart, central to their behaviour, however, is the psychopath’s need for power and control.
I also felt greatly saddened by the information that Kylie had given birth to twins, and that my old friend Owen, Amber’s husband, was the father. This fact really threw me, as I had always judged Owen to be careful and cautious: a conscientious and loyal type of person. Kylie also, hardly seemed to be his type, in my humble opinion. But psychopaths do have the ability to see into the particular vulnerabilities of their victims and to judge the best way to manipulate them. But even so, Owen falling for Kylie, I never would have thought of it.
I had another disturbing thought, as I fanned myself even more vigorously, in the smothering heat: Amber’s child, Dylan, is now tied to Kylie’s children, sharing DNA and a father.
As I put the phone down, it hit me that I could not be professionally involved in this case, as it would be against the ethical principles of my profession. I simply could not produce an unbiased, independent opinion, as I know both the plaintiff and the defendant; and I am also aware of facts that could be pertinent to the legal outcome. I walked into another room and I opened the fridge and I quickly downed a bottle of ice cold water. Then, I picked up the phone.

Chapter 10
Amber’s Story. The End.

Dylan and I now live as far away as possible to our previous home, on the other side of town. We don’t know anyone around here yet, and at the moment, I am also out of a job, as my therapy business is defunct. No one, it seems, wants to see a therapist whose own life is in such a shambles. The newspapers, of course, duly reported all the salacious details of Kylie’s stalking and lay out my ‘life in ruins’, for all to read and discuss.
Last night, I just lay on my bed and listened to the caterwauling cries of the windstorm outside, and I thought about my life. At the moment, I feel emptied out, especially after Owen found out that Kylie, the mother of his twin children, had been stalking and tormenting me for many years, and that probably, Kylie was simply using him, to get at me. Owen cried and begged me to take him back, apologising for his ‘deceit’ and his ‘affair’ and his ‘weakness’. He was ‘so sorry’, he said. But it is over. We are over. Though, I said, that maybe, after a time, that I might be able to forgive him, and then, we could be friends. And even if I can’t bring myself to be friends with him, I told him that I would always engage with him in a calm way and treat him with kindness and generosity. Owen just looked at me and cried even harder.
I am also hoping that my long odyssey with Kylie Sheeple too, is coming to an end, but I just can’t be sure, as my lawyer has told me that Kylie’s legal representatives are going to argue that their client is suffering from a ‘defect of reason’, which was caused by a ‘disease of the mind’. This disease of the mind, they claim, was brought about by the frequent deprivation of food that Kylie endured as a young child, whilst in the care of her grandmother, which subsequently affected her brain. My lawyer said that this food deprivation had been well documented by the social workers: all who did nothing.
But I am hearted by Edmund’s view, that Kylie is a psychopath; you would think that as a psychiatrist, he should know. He says that psychopaths, like Kylie, fully understand moral rules, but they choose to manipulate these rules, and others, to suit their own purposes. Edmund also says that if it can be established that Kylie is a psychopath, then she is not legally entitled to make an insanity plea.
I should mention too, that the child that Kylie gave birth to when she was living with that guy, Snake, back when I was in my last year of school, has been found. This child, a girl, appears to be happy, healthy and loved; she is fully embedded in her adopted family and her life is going well. Snake, however, who is not the father of the child, according to DNA testing, has come out swinging against Kylie, from his jail cell. No one would listen to his claims of innocence, for years. ‘No one gave me a chance’, he has said. He reckons that Kylie set him up and that she murdered her foster father, with that crossbow. The police are looking into it.


Chapter 11
Kylie Signs Off

Outside, bushfires are raging in the mountains, destroying hectares of forests and causing animal and human homes to go up in smoke. But I’ve been closeted in here for close on two years now, as I await my trial. It’s not so bad. Of course, the usual politics and hierarchies exist, but there is also this feeling that we are all in this thing together: it’s us against them and I like that.
You know what is expected of you in here, too. Like firstly, if you are a dog and you snitch on someone to the screws, or you suck up to the screws, you will get bashed. Simple. You just got to hold your mud.
It’s not fairyland in the slammer, of course, but there’s plenty of scope for manipulation and intimidation, if you play your cards right. You just ‘gotta know when to take it on the chin and when to tell someone to rack off. It’s a game and I know how to play it like I was born to it.
I don’t know how long I’ll be in here; though, the lawyers reckon I’ve got a good chance of getting off. They’ve got a couple of shrinks working me over, trying to prove that I’ve got some brain disease brought on from my ‘disadvantaged childhood’. The thing is, just about everyone in here has had a crap childhood, with abuse and violence and poverty. Many get violent themselves, after they get sick of being knocked around and exploited. But the difference between most of them in here, and me, is that they blame themselves, and I don’t. Also, I know for sure that I have no conscience and no remorse for what I have done, which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned. Look, those chumps who get all full of guilt and shame are done far. Game over.
Annoyingly, there is a complicating factor in my case: they found the baby from the cupboard. But then, things have worked in my favour again, because the upstanding council member’s wife has admitted to the police that she was fully aware that her husband was cracking onto me, at the time. And imagine! I’m the one being called the psychopath.
I’m really enjoying all the fan mail I’ve been getting since my case hit the papers, too, but my lawyer says this is not altogether uncommon; he used the word ‘hybristophilia’, which means that some people are ‘titillated’, that is they ‘get off’, on the thought that people like me have committed cruel and outrageous acts. Hilarious!
One thing I know for sure is that, I won’t let them give me any of their drugs in here, to try and change me and warp my mind toward their version of normal. If they try, I’ll kick up a stink like they’ve never seen before. Jeez! I still get the dry horrors when I remember how I got sucked into trying that oxytocin spray, by that crooked pharmacist, who was always bothering me down at the pub. ‘It will make you feel so good’, he said; ‘so happy and connected with the world’. I thought I’d try it for a while, because I remembered that time with the mushrooms; how I felt there was a god and that I had dissolved and become part of the universe.’ The pharmacist said that the mushrooms, which he called psilocybin, decreased activity and connectivity in parts of the brain, but oxytocin is safe, he said, and it still makes you feel good. I tried it for a week and it was a disaster. Yes, I did feel more positive emotions, but I also felt stronger anger and jealousy and envy. And it was in that week, whilst I was squirting the oxytocin up my nose, that I disguised myself and went and spilled my guts to Amber. I told her the reality of my childhood. What compelled me to do that? I don’t know.
My lawyer also told me that there’s a chance that I might be able to study in here. I told him to look in to it, as I want to be a lawyer. God, you should have seen the way he looked at me, how he came over all pale and silently outraged. I enjoyed that.
But don’t get to thinking that, just because I’m behind steel bars, that I haven’t been my usual creative self. Because I’ve actually discovered various subtle and interesting ways to continue to annoy Amber and she is never far from my mind. Like, I’ve got one of my ‘fans’ operating a Facebook profile, which stalks Amber around social media, posting cryptic messages on posts that she has made. Ah, what fun! And things will develop.
Oh, before I go, I have to mention that Owen, the father of my children, got himself stinking drunk one night over a year ago and he drove his car off a cliff. The police divers had to fish his car and his body out of the sea. He’s dead.
But even more amusing, is this twist in the tale: according to the TV news that I watched in the common room recently, Amber, who is still Owen’s legal wife, has taken it upon herself to be a mother to my children. She is quoted as saying that, ‘these children are blameless’ and that, her child and mine, are ‘simply brothers’. I laughed as I listened to this, as I knew that this sappy arrangement could be made to work in my favour.
Another interesting and surprising titbit that I have picked up lately is that Amber has been helping Harley; helping to rehabilitate him, provide therapy for his hurt and trauma and restore his ability to be included and functional in the world. That’s how he put it according to one of my spies. Oddly, there is also, supposedly, a whiff of romance between the pair, so I hear. Funny, I wouldn’t have thought that Amber was Harley’s type. But of course, as I read in a magazine, men will lower their standards when they haven’t ‘got any’ for a while. Anyway, thinking about all this reminds me of that child that I had with Harley: the one I gave birth to and fostered out in England, as I reckon that he must be getting very close to that age, when he just might want to know who his daddy is.
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