Short Story—A Chill in the Chimes

Here is a suspense/horror story I wrote about a year ago. I have it for sale on Amazon and Smashwords for 99 cents, but I thought ‘what the hell?’ why don’t I just share it, cause if you like it, you might go and buy Dark Spaces, my book of short, suspenseful stories. Please read and enjoy!

A Chill in the Chimes large copy

The cottage at 124 Cook Street huddled in darkness. Bony twigs intermittently tapped on the window. Yellowed curtains trembled, as cold gusts poked teasing fingers through the cracked panes. Nature’s epilepsy shook the Smith’s wind chime, sending otherworldly notes ringing into the storm.

Serrated light slashed and blinded, and deep, sonorous thunder vibrated the home to its foundations. A bone-breaking crack tore a muscled appendage from the scribbly gum. The timbered weight fell; a guillotine slicing, sending shards of red tiles stabbing into the rain. Water bled into the wound. The chimes lay strangled on the front porch while 124 Cook Street waited in waterlogged silence for morning.

***

Andrew stood amongst the carnage of last night: shredded leaves, broken branches, strips of bark from trees skinned alive. He stared at the wounded weatherboard cottage. 124 Cook Street needed help. He resisted the urge to rub his hands together as he trod up the two steps to the front door. A wind chime lay tangled on the porch, its silver fingers mangled and arthritic. Andrew prodded it with a booted toe and knocked on the door.

When no one answered, he rapped again. Still nothing. He looked over his shoulder. An SES car inched past, surveying the damage. No one else was about. He turned the handle and gently pushed. The door creaked open, and he extended his head into the gap. ‘Hello?’ His voice croaked. He cleared his throat, ‘Hello? Is anyone home?’

An elderly lady shuffled through a door at the end of the hallway. She smiled the too-perfect smile of dentures. Deep lines ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw, and Andrew was reminded of an animated, yet lifeless, ventriloquist’s dummy.

‘Can I help you?’  She reached the front door and her wrinkled lips settled closed.

‘I’m with the Emergency Services. The branch that fell through your roof has done heaps of damage. You must be flooded. I need to come in and take a look, make sure it’s safe.’ He slid his hand into his pocket and ran a thumb along the hilt of his knife, feeling the smooth bumps, which suggested the torso of a mermaid.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Phillip Baker.’ He extended the mermaid-fondling hand, and she shook it.

‘Pleased to meet you Mr Baker, I’m Gladys Smith. Please come in.’

Andrew understood why her hand was so cold when he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. Green floral wallpaper peeling at the cornices, and spotted with stains of rising damp, complimented the shag-pile carpet, which reminded him of dead grass in its brownness. As mould spores tickled his nose, he was six years old again, crying and waving goodbye to his mother from his grandparents’ hallway. She never returned.

As he followed Gladys he wondered if he’d picked the wrong house. What could they possibly have to steal? He hoped to find some of the old woman’s jewellery, or maybe the clichéd stash of cash under the mattress. Stupid old people.

Both his hands sought the warmth of his pockets as they reached the lounge room.  The ceiling shed flakes of dandruff over everything. A brown velour sofa sat facing an old walrus of a television; the type that you’d have to pay to have removed. He scanned the contents of a dusty wall-unit and saw the crap it had taken Gladys a lifetime to accumulate. Not much to show for her existence: lace doilies, two ceramic figurines—pink ladies with parasols—and a row of faded floral plates on stands. He turned to speak to the old woman, but the room was empty.

He hadn’t seen or heard her leave. Was he so caught up in looking at nonsensical knick-knacks that he’d forgotten what he was doing? The quicker he got this over with, the better. Looking forward to the bottle of Jack Daniels and few hours of oblivion he’d buy with part of the proceeds, he turned back to the hallway, thinking Gladys’s bedroom would be one of the front rooms.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

Andrew stopped and brought a hand up to his chest, goose bumps peppering his arms. When he turned back, Gladys stood right behind him. What the hell? ‘Um, ok. That would be great thanks. I was just looking for the damaged ceiling. I need to see it so I can let you know what it will take to fix.’ If she didn’t leave him alone he’d have to let the knife do the persuading: it wouldn’t be the first time he’d used it.

‘That can wait young man. I’d rather you didn’t go in there right now. My husband’s asleep.’ Her dark eyes picked at something within him, something he refused to acknowledge as fear. ‘Now sit down. How do you take your tea?’

‘Look, it won’t take long, and I’ve got other houses to look at.’

She stared at him, eyes narrowing.

‘White and one please.’

She nodded, and her mouth curled up ever so slightly.

His need itched, but he ignored it and lowered himself onto the dusty lounge. How could anyone sleep in a saturated bed? A clammy miasma enveloped him, and the room darkened. He remembered his grandparents’ wrath, and waiting for his mother; always waiting. Still waiting.

The sharp smell of freshly turned earth was so strong he could taste the grit. He looked down and imagined he could see thousands of dirt-encrusted worms writhing within the graveyard of ancient carpet.  Fuck her and her tea. He jumped up and strode to the hall, pulling the knife out of his pocket as he went.

Two closed doors waited for him to choose. The tree had fallen on the room to his left. He reached for the handle and added Xanax to his to-buy list. He looked over his shoulder. Gladys wasn’t there. He breathed out and turned the knob, muscles tensed, waiting for the squeak of the door as he inched it open. A stronger smell of earth, mildew and something else, crawled out of the darkness—he gagged. Covering his mouth with a sleeve, he paused and thought of giving up for real this time, walking out, maybe finding another house; but the thought of being so close, and the voice that called him a pathetic coward, goaded him to continue.

He ducked in and closed the door. His fingers felt for the light-switch. Click. Nothing. He pulled the knife out of his pocket and strained to see. A large shadow hulked in front of him. His heart raced, and he stepped forward, the carpet squelching under his boots. He could just make out the outline of a bed seeping out of the gloom, and the bigger shadow was most likely the ceiling collapsed on top of it, still attached by a plastered crease to the beams above.

With the door closed, the smell he couldn’t define fleshed out and became something he recognised: the syrupy tang of decay. He coughed through his sleeve, and his eyes watered. Stealing from the bottle-o would be easier than this. He found his excuse and hurried to the door, waving the knife in front of him, trying to swipe away the dread that pushed through his pores.

As he reached for the handle, the door opened in a rush, the putrefied air sucked into the void. Gladys. Her wrinkled hand, with its paper-thin, liver-spotted skin, grasped a carving knife. She smiled her wooden smile. ‘I told you not to go in there. You came to steal, didn’t you? You picked the wrong house, sonny boy.’ She cackled and thrust herself forward. Andrew dropped his knife and grabbed at her arms, his fingers sinking into wrinkled folds of flesh.

The strength of the old woman surprised Andrew, and he screamed when the knife pierced his skin. Gladys’s gurgling laugh accompanied the blood seeping out of Andrew’s stomach. He sank to the floor, gasping his demise, while his clothes soaked up stagnant moisture.

The old woman stood over him. She reached down, pulled the knife out and lifted her arm to strike again. Footsteps sounded on the porch, and Andrew screamed. The front door burst in. The knife came down.

***

Andrew woke as they finished strapping him to the gurney. He listened, eyes closed, to the voices around him.

‘Crazy shit indeed. Some SES workers heard him screaming.’

‘Lucky. How long do you reckon that old couple ‘ave been dead?’

‘Looks like at least a month. The guy we got here stabbed himself. God knows why. We found I.D. and confirmed his grandparents used to live here, before that other old couple, Gladys and Bob. He was a ward of the state for a while. Stuffed in the head I reckon.’

‘Ha, you can say that again. Anyway, better get him out of here before he bleeds to death.’

The ambulance drove down Cook Street, past injured houses, ruined gardens, ravished trees. The damage would be cleaned up, patched, made new again. What couldn’t be fixed would be taken away, dumped, and forgotten.

At 124, a policeman noticed the silver reflection of sunlight hitting the wounded wind chime. He picked it up and smiled. It would look great all polished up and hanging from his front porch. His wife would love it. As he dangled it from one hand, he brushed the chimes with his other; discordant notes sounded a lament.

A chill licked the back of Andrew’s neck. The wailing of the siren drowned out his screams.

 

 

 

 

Dark Spaces—Book of Suspenseful Short Stories—on Sale!

Dark Spaces is a collection of suspenseful short stories that deal with the darkness in human nature, and it’s on sale now for only 99 cents! OMG, what can you buy for 99 cents these days? A third of a coffee, ten toothpicks, one peanut? Trust me, it’s a bargain.

Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister
Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister

Dark Spaces has been getting great reviews, but I’ve been neglecting promotion because my fantasy series has been begging for my attention. So now it’s Dark Space’s turn. Run out and grab your copy while it’s still 99 cents. This promotion will run for two weeks (until the 18th May, 2013).

You can download from Smashwords (which has every format you could want) and Amazon. Happy reading, or should I say scary reading ;).

Dark Spaces – My new book of suspenseful short stories

Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister

Drum roll… And now, I would like to announce, I have a new book out! Dark Spaces. This was a surprise to me. I had an idea that I wanted to gather all my short stories and a couple of my flash fiction and bundle them together in one collection. But I thought it would happen in a few weeks. When, all of a sudden, I was picking a cover photo and Amber Jerome-Norrgard was doing the writing on the cover (thanks Amber) I realised it was happening now!

I love my cover, and can’t believe it turned out so well. Amber can attest to that, as I’m very picky. After making her adjust the placement of the text a few times, she labelled the file “dionneanalretentive”. The cover lets you know what to expect: suspense, increased heart-rate, and some psychopathic characters.

Anyway, I found myself uploading the book to Smashwords and Amazon on a day that was not set-aside for this. Where did that come from? How did it happen? Hmm, maybe that’s fitting, seeing as it’s a book of suspenseful stories. As usual, I surprised myself. The next shock came when it was available on Smashwords approximately fifteen minutes after I pressed ‘publish’. I would have fallen over, had I not been sitting down, because I had two sales within fifteen minutes of going live!

I would like to thank the supportive peeps who have already bought my book. I hope you grab onto your e-readers, desperate to know what’s going to happen next, and I’m sorry if any of my stories make you cry.

So, I’m excited! I have two books out. If you had told me, a year ago, that I would have self-published two books by now I would not only have laughed, but called for someone to get you a psyche evaluation. Funny how life surprises us sometimes, isn’t it?

The Heart of An Angel – short story

Helen arrived at work happy: she liked to be among bedpans, stethoscopes, and a full ward of patients – the groaning of the sick and injured buoyed her steps. She updated herself by reading patient charts, but it wasn’t until the fourth one that she found her first victim—one of many during her shift.

The patient, Brian Smith, muddy from his afternoon playing rugby, had come in with torn ligaments. While he waited for surgery, his next round of painkillers was due. Helen noticed he was allergic to codeine. Easy peasy. A serene smile played on her chubby face as she went to get him the wrong medication.

Helen didn’t know why, but she enjoyed watching others suffer, more so if she had caused the suffering. It may have been her childhood, although she didn’t want to give her parents all the credit—being beaten and starved could only cause so much damage, and she had survived, hadn’t she? She had known torturing Fluffy, their first kitten, was wrong and managed to hide the damage until one day the kitten disappeared. Maybe being sadistic was genetic, like hair and eye colour. Now her patients were her pets.

Helen handed Brian some pills. “I’ll be back to check on you later.” She patted his damaged leg through the sheets.

He grimaced. “Fuck,” he muttered through clenched teeth.

“I’m so sorry, Brian, how stupid of me.” She bit her tongue to keep the grin from her face. There were no other opportunities to amuse her for now so she retreated to her desk until the frantic buzz from bed 15.

She ran, in feigned concern, to Brian’s bedside. His face was the faded green of pea soup, lips pursed, cheeks puffed out. She deftly grabbed a vomit bag from the bedside table, positioning it under his chin. When he finished he thought how nice she was to hold the bag for him.

Helen didn’t record any of his three vomiting episodes. She explained to him that a couple of the other patients had reacted badly to their chicken dinners too. He was grateful when she promised to make sure he only got sandwiches from now on. She hummed as she left the room.

In her ten years of nursing, she had never been caught. She had been at St Margaret’s for three years and her colleagues hadn’t noticed her patients had more reactions to drugs or slower recovery times than others. If she sensed suspicion she moved to another city, simple. She was careful not to kill anyone, although there was that unfortunate incident of Francene, an old lady, who had died shortly after returning home. Helen had been lucky that no one checked the medication Francene had been sent home with. She had only meant to give the woman stomach cramps, not internal bleeding—oh well.

Helen was bored and there was still an hour of night shift left; making someone vomit only went so far in making her happy. She sat quietly, filling in paperwork, inhaling deeply now and then, filling herself with the scents she so loved—the bleach and disinfectant.

“Nurse Bender.”

Helen looked up and saw Doctor Brent, a young doctor who still thought he could make a difference; she snorted to herself. “Yes, Doctor Brent.”

“Just wanted to let you know we’re moving the patient in bed 12 to another ward. We have a young woman who’s been transferred from Mater West. She’s traumatised and I’d like you to take extra care with her.”

“Yes Doctor. What’s she in for?”

“Unusual case. She was kidnapped and tortured but managed to escape. She has small burns and knife cuts, a few contusions. We also need to do an examination, in case she was raped. Nothing life-threatening, but we may have to sedate her. The police will probably want to speak to her so don’t medicate her too much.”

“Certainly Doctor.” A small gift before she went home. Hmm, maybe she would get another fix tonight after all. She chewed on her pen while she imagined what delights awaited her.

It was a few minutes before Helen met her next pet. Elizabeth was sitting, too nervous to lie down, her long hair knotted and matted with blood on one side; the other hacked off to her scalp. Helen thought it looked like a before and after picture, although quite unlike those cheesy makeover shows: left side—before; psychopath, right side—after. Helen read her chart then held it to her chest as she spoke, “Hello Elizabeth, my name’s Helen. I’ll be your nurse for the next little while. Do you mind if I call you Lizzie?” She loved to earn her pet’s trust—it made the agony she inflicted that much sweeter.

“Um, no, that’s what my friends call me.” Elizabeth started to cry, wonderinghow could she have been so stupid as to leave her car unlocked when she went to the shop.

“It’s okay Lizzie, we’ll look after you. I’m going to take your blood pressure and pulse. Just relax.” Helen made sure to pump up the cuff around her arm too tight, not stopping until Lizzie winced. She let the pressure out slowly and recorded the numbers on her chart. “Good, it all looks fine. I’ll get you something to take the edge off, ok?”

Elizabeth nodded, feeling helpless all over again. She just wanted to forget the last twenty-four hours, go home, maybe buy a gun on the way, just to be safe.

Helen returned with a small pill, just enough to relax the girl, not enough to put her to sleep; she wanted her to talk. Helen wanted to know what had happened, how Elizabeth had been hurt. It would be entertaining and would make the girl relive her devastating ordeal—perfect. Helen pulled the curtains around the bed and left Elizabeth more alone and vulnerable than before, returning when she knew the drug would be thrumming through her veins.

Helen let the curtain fall behind her when she came back—she wanted privacy. The pill had stroked her pet’s jitters away and Elizabeth was slumped in an almost-seated position, decimated hair highlighted against the soft pillow. Helen took one arm and started dressing the small burns. “This may hurt a little but we have to make sure you don’t get an infection.” Helen touched the red sore with a gloved finger and felt a warmth flood her when the girl moaned, trying to pull her arm away. “Sorry. Did he do this with a cigarette?”

Elizabeth nodded, teeth grimly clenched, when is he going to stop hurting me.

“What else did he do?” Helen kept watching Elizabeth’s arm, knowing the girl’s scars would be an eternal reminder. She briefly fantasised about inflicting them herself. Helen could almost hear the sizzle and smell the burning flesh.

“I don’t want to talk about it. Where are my parents? Why aren’t they here yet?”

“Oh, Lizzie, it’s alright. They’ll be here soon. We won’t be too much longer, I promise.” This time Helen placed a hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder and the girl cried out. Helen pulled down the hospital gown to reveal a puffy, green bruise in the shape of a large handprint, and she wished she had been there to watch, maybe even participate. She wanted to meet the person responsible—the things they could discuss over coffee.

Helen replaced the gown, her forbidden thoughts thrilling. She knew what the hospital would do if they ever found out, but they wouldn’t. It was like having an affair, an affair with degradation and human suffering. Helen was applying the fourth dressing, “It’s ok angel, almost finished.”

Elizabeth snatched her arm away, her eyes wide, pupils dilated.

Helen wondered what she had said to get such a satisfactory reaction. “What is it?”

“He called me angel. I remember, oh God I remember. He said it over and over, ‘I can’t believe I’ve found an angel. You’re my angel’. He told me he would cut my heart out.” Elizabeth had pulled her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth in time to her memory.

Helen tilted her head to one side, looking into Elizabeth’s eyes. “I’m sorry to have to ask you this, but did he rape you? We’re going to have to do a rape kit to make sure.”

Elizabeth nodded, then shook her head, not wanting to think. She felt dizzy and shut her eyes.

“Ok, I’m going to have to get you to lie down. I’ll be back in a minute. You should be safe enough.”

Elizabeth opened her eyes, “Please, please don’t go. What if he comes here and finds me? Please?”

“Don’t worry angel, we have fairly good security, most of the time.” Helen smiled. “Is there anything else you want to tell me about what happened?”

The girl shook her head again and buried her face in her knees.

This was good, but not great. Helen despaired of getting anything else out of the patient, before dark boots appeared under the curtain. She recognised the boots. She ignored the thought that she may get caught—how could they know? She hadn’t done anything to this girl, yet—then she remembered the police needed to interview her patient.

“Excuse me, it’s the police, can we speak to Elizabeth please?”

Helen wasn’t stupid. She opened the curtains, leaving them to it. Her shift was over.

As Helen neared home, she couldn’t ignore the red gas-warning light in her Chevrolet Metro any longer, and pulled into the next gas station. She was replaying the night over, as she usually did, happily relishing the thought of what tortures Elizabeth may have endured. Maybe she should try kidnapping someone too, but then again there would be a likelihood of getting caught. She knew she wasn’t as bad as the guy that took Elizabeth. She didn’t want to kill anyone, not yet anyway. Gee, petrol was expensive. She may have to take extra shifts to keep up with everything; life wasn’t cheap.

Helen drove away, munching on a chocolate bar—the night’s activity had made her hungry. She laughed as she thought about the rugby player she made throw up.

“What’s so funny?”

The hairs on her arm stood up. She swerved, although managed to stay in her lane. A voice spoke to her from the back of the car, “Just stay calm and keep driving.”

She felt the coldness of a knife on her throat and wondered that she hadn’t smelt the cigarette smoke before. She stopped laughing, feeling scared—something she wasn’t familiar with.  “Who are you? What do you want? If it’s money I’ll give you what I have, just let me pull over. You can even have the car. Please?” Her pleas made her feel disgusted. She felt like one of her pathetic victims. She suddenly wanted to pee.

He pressed harder with the knife; she stayed quiet. Helen recalled Elizabeth’s words when he next spoke, but this time it wasn’t amusement she felt.

His voice was raspy, joyful, “It’s not your money I want. I’m looking for an angel. It seems I’ve found another angel. You’ll be my angel won’t you?”

Short story – Amy

The cellar is dark, the door is locked and the naked girl sits shivering, slender, goose-bumpy arms embracing her knees.  Mundane thoughts push through the fear that he will return and do what?  How did I get here?  How long have I been here she wonders; time has lost its relevance in the musty dankness of a crazed man’s lair.  What is my name?  My name is Amy Franklin she reminds herself in defiance, the words silently evaporating before passing her lips; she doesn’t know if he is listening.

Amy reluctantly opens her eyes.  As if in a nightmare she strains to see nothing in the impenetrable blackness; pinpricks of fear assault her and she shuts them again, retreating to the almost place of temporary denial, an imagined space of counterfeit calm.  With eyes closed her ears are struggling to see and she uses stiff, cold fingers to move her long hair, the only source of warmth, behind her ears.  She hears nothing, not even muffled sounds of something; more indeterminate time passes.  The tension of waiting beats at her, cramping pressure building until she is shaking, now so tired she must let go and gingerly relaxes her bruised forehead onto her knees, listening, waiting.

Amy retreats from the stale air of her imprisonment to the fresh air and sunshine of two weeks before.  Returning home from school she sees her stepfather’s shiny, black ‘60s Cadillac in the driveway; an ugly monster of a car that, even at 17, she wasn’t allowed to drive.  Although tempted to wait until he left, she bravely steps into the volatile atmosphere of marriage breakdowns and hate and wonders if she can make it to her room without being noticed.  The universe has ignored her wishes, yet again, and her eyes hug the floor as she walks in-between the two combatants, enduring the burdensome weight of their stares as they watch her pass; his loving and apologetic eyes only inflaming her mother’s accusatory scowl.  It’s not my fault she screams futilely inside her own head as she slams the bedroom door.

            Scratch, scratch, scratch:  Amy spasms to consciousness and opens unhelpful eyes, turning her head from side to side, desperate to see.  Earthy fumes plug her nostrils and she knows it is not the door, not this time.  An unmistakable but feathery touch creepily caresses her ankle and Amy quickly stands, dizziness propelling her off balance so she lands heavily, grazing hands and knees, scaring the rodent away.  There is no illumination from sudden burning tears; she grits her teeth and resolutely blinks them into oblivion.  Amy’s head throbs and she reluctantly assumes her previous position, dreading any interlopers, rats and humans alike.

She thinks humming her favourite tune will help, but still fears someone is listening, so the tune revolves quietly, weaving around the stabbing skewers inside her head and caressing her terror to sleep.  She is comforted enough to disappear into a few days ago when she lay on her faded pink bedspread, an innocent memento of happier times before her cliché of a father left her mother for a younger woman.  He was weak and in avoiding her mother, avoided his heartbroken children, the fully comprehending, forgotten bystanders, helplessly riveted, watching the bloody destruction of a marriage and family; both witnesses and victims.

Sharon, Amy’s prematurely wrinkled, pack-a-day mother, stormed into her room in a haze of noxious smoke and venomous intent.  Amy, purposefully antagonistic, ignored the dramatic entry and continued to listen to her iPod, eyes shut and foot tapping the beat on the timber baseboard of her childhood bed.  It wasn’t until Sharon ripped the earphones away with a violent sweep of her hand that Amy’s blue eyes opened, forced to acknowledge her situation.

Amy rocks back and forth in the darkness, suspended between two nightmarish lives.  She steps from one existence to the other, time no longer a barrier between the past and present, her emotions becoming warped then compressed between a tragic duality she did not deserve.  The comfort of a remembered pink bedspread beckons her.  With no will to refuse she is again staring into her mother’s paranoid eyes.

“I can forgive him, but you…”, Sharon’s hands clench into hardened, yellow-stained balls, it is her eyes that deliver stabbing blame as she positions her face inches from her daughter’s; Amy can smell the smoke on her breath.  “All those times I left you alone, you little slut.  He is my husband, mine!”  Amy looked up at the mother who had tucked her in every night when she was a child, the mother who had kissed her tears away so many times, but now the love was gone, consumed by bitterness and washed down with alcohol.  Amy wondered if her earphones still worked as she watched Sharon depart to her clinking stash under the kitchen sink.

Her mother recedes into a painful echo as the girl in the dark lifts her still aching head to see that nothing has changed.  Amy wondered how long she had been down here and if anyone missed her; would they look even if they had?  Reality was becoming a concept that applied to others, not her.  She could imagine she was a disembodied spirit, absorbed and filled by the blackness, floating in peaceful indifference, liberated from the earthly emotions which crushed her.  If she defined herself by the love of her parents she would be nothing.  This realisation self-pityingly makes her cry.

Geoff has managed to talk Sharon into letting him move back in.  He has hated being away from his step-daughter and wife.  Things aren’t quite back to normal, the girls still aren’t talking.  When Amy’s not at school she is locked in her room, in self-imposed exile, listening to that noise she calls music.  Geoff is a perfectionist, his car a shining example, but his family is not so shiny, tarnished by jealousy and addiction.  This situation is not to Geoff’s liking and he vows to fix the problem tonight, but first he’ll down a cold ale, relax and think the problem through.  He is a perfectionist, things will be perfect.

Sharon has let Geoff come back.  She loves him and can forgive him anything.  She hasn’t had a drink for days and while her depression hovers around, teasingly prodding her happy thoughts, she will not let it destroy another relationship, not again.  She feels guilty for fighting with Amy I do love her, she is my little girl, however the goodwill does not extend to an apology, not yet.  Amy looks like her father, tall and olive skinned, it is hard to look at her and not think of him.  Her mind slides backwards through time and adrenalin floods her body as she remembers his betrayal, her freefall into self-loathing for still loving him and stomach churning devastation that he loved another woman.  She is spiralling again as her legs transport her to the kitchen sink and her not-so-secret stash.  Sharon quietly lifts a bottle to her lips, simultaneously hearing the sound of aluminium crinkling and the hiss as Geoff opens another can of beer.  As the intoxicating liquid floods her throat she briefly acknowledges tonight might not be such a good night after all.

Distant sirens pulse through basement walls, the faint whining an unwelcome alarm clock waking Amy from an anaesthetising slumber.  The expectation of seeing morning light cheerfully patterning her bedspread is quickly abandoned as the monotonous gloom continues its vigil.  Amy hears her famished stomach objecting to its neglect and she is not sure what is worse – the hunger or thirst.  Sleep has cleared her headache and she wants to know who brought her here and undressed her, did they do anything else to her – she can’t remember.  With almost detached speculation Amy contemplates what would be worse, facing more torment from her captor or dying from thirst.  These alarming deliberations have awakened an impulse to survive and for the first time since being here she leaps on the idea of escape.

Exploring carefully on hands and knees she feels her way, palm by palm, to the nearest wall.  Cool fingertips skim the rough wall of bricks that are as naked as she.  Following the perimeter she reaches the end of the wall within a few metres, turns, follows again, quickly reaches the next corner and continues until she reaches a smooth, slight bump on the wall – a door frame.  Faintly trembling hands rise up the frame as she stands and feels for the handle.  Could it be as simple as opening the door and walking out, or will he be waiting up there (wherever there is)?  She reasons the door is probably locked and holds her breath, trying not to hope for an end to this torment.  Amy swallows one last time and between one racing heartbeat and the next, turns the knob.

It’s 10.30 pm and police sergeant Bob Court is sitting in a smoky lounge room facing the distraught mother and stepfather of a missing 17 year old girl.  He knows it’s likely she’s run away but they can’t accept it, not yet anyway.  Following routine, he orders his officers to search the room in which she was last seen.  He remains on a plastic covered lounge, surveying the parents.  The mother is a nervous chain smoker, who bites her fingernails between puffs; the step-father has a neat side-part separating both sides of his slickly combed, Brill-cream hair which suits his meticulously clean, white shirt.  He rises as the two constables return, one carries a baseball bat.  The officers give each other a look and Sergeant Bob Court addresses the mother, “Mind if we take this, it could be evidence.”

Sharon Franklin hugs herself and nods, starting to cry, “That’s her favourite bat, she’s good at sport.”  Geoff looks at her and wants to panic but freezes his face in a concerned expression.

“We’ll come back tomorrow, in daylight, and check outside her window.  It’s likely if she was abducted they took her out there.”  Sharon falls into her husband’s stiff arms and cries, he pats her back in a reluctantly soothing fashion, but his mind is already rushing through what he must do tomorrow.

Geoff hardly sleeps and is dressed at dawn, waiting.  The sun’s first beams call Geoff to action and he rushes to the front yard to check out what evidence might have been left behind.  He notices faint drag marks leading across the lawn.  He rushes inside and grabs the neighbour’s keys; Bruce and Carmen had gone on a five week caravan trip, entrusting the watering of beloved house plants to Geoff and Sharon.  As Geoff runs towards their house Sergeant Court arrives in an unmarked car.  He turns to his two constables, “You see the mother.  I’ll take care of Geoff.”  Before exiting the car he speaks into the police radio “This is car twenty eight, I need an ambulance to the Franklin address.”  As he jogs towards the neighbouring property he hopes they’re not too late.

Amy turns the handle, grimacing in anticipation as if touching a funnelweb spider.  The door doesn’t open.  She applies a knuckle whitening grip and tries again.  Upstairs Geoff hears the jiggling handle and is drawn to the noise.  He steps carefully down the stairs and reaches for the lock, sliding it across and out of its housing.  As he turns the handle Sergeant Court appears at the top of the stairs.  Both men look at each other, only Geoff shows fear.  Court orders, “Go on, open it.”  Geoff hesitates in surprise, surprise he hasn’t been arrested or shot, yet.  “For God’s sake, open the bloody door.”  Concern for the girl’s safety gruffly amplifies the Sergeant’s voice and Geoff, reminded of his task, shoves open the door.

Amy retreated to the far wall after hearing the lock being manipulated.  Should she bite, kick, scream, would any of it help?  Fear of what was about to happen relegated her nakedness to an afterthought.  Her prison yawned open, muted light lifting the darkness away.  Amy, squinting, cried when she saw her stepfather standing there.  She knew who had beaten her and thrown her like a piece of garbage in a forgotten hole, and it wasn’t him.  Geoff removed his shirt placing it gently over his daughter’s head.  Sergeant Court calmly watched them embrace, knowing the mother’s fingerprints were on the bat.  He reluctantly interrupted their reunion, “Amy, let’s get you to hospital.”

Amy’s eyes protest at the blinding sunshine but her skin devours the warmth.  Seeing Sharon, she stops, anger and sadness warring within.  A policeman guided Sharon, more than gently, towards the police car.  The older woman’s manacled hands twitched for absent cigarettes.  Mother and daughter’s eyes met, and as Geoff stood protectively behind Amy, Sharon could only grasp her own truth, not reality.  If Sharon could have seen into her husband’s mind she would realise the only love he ever had for Amy was the love of a father for a child.  Amy was devastated but she was alive, and what could be better than that?