I finally got this chapter written. Phew! That was touch and go for a while there but I am glad that it the first draft is finally done because this will allow me to work on another chapter tomorrow, all going well. In any case, I hope that it doesn’t completely suck. And if it does, feel free to leave some constructive criticism in the comments section. Though, please remember that this is a rough first draft.
After chatting to some of the women that were working at Coastal Care the day before, Karen was able to determine when Sue had left the premises. The woman had stuck around to talk over coffee with some of them. They chatted about the usual things: friends, family and random gossip. It hadn’t been out of the ordinary. The two that had been around the longest saw her leave around half-past five. A quick check of the footage from CCTV had confirmed it to be a few minutes after, driving towards the service station a small distance across the road. She requested a copy of the footage and arranged to pick it up the next day before driving over to the service station.
As Karen pulled in, she took note of her fuel gauge. Given that she’d be doing runs along the highway soon after, she decided to fuel up. She pulled gas, pulled out the fuel gauge and passed service tourists talking in what appeared to be Spanish. She exchanged a smile and a hello with them before heading up to the side counter where one of the staff was looking over some mail that had fallen down from a nest of shelves.
“Hey, Debbie!” Karen greeted with a wave of the hand.
The dark-haired woman looked over and grinned.
“Hey there, chickadee! Need to pay for some fuel and collect some mail?”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to get a copy of the footage from yesterday.”
Debbie nodded, “Sure thing. By the way, are coming to that barbeque tomorrow night?”
Karen wracked her brain trying to remember.
“You forgot, didn’t you?”
Karen was embarrassed, “Yeah. Sorry about that. I’ve had a lot on my plate of late. I’ll try to make it, though. That was at Mick’s place, yes?”
Debbie grinned, “Yep, and I hear that he should be amply pickled by the time that we get there.”
Just then, the bell rang. Karen turned to see a dark-haired woman in her late thirties and a youth in his late teens walk in. The store manager called them over with a “hey!” and a gesture of summoning. Sure enough, they wandered over.
Karen took note of the woman’s abnormally pale skin and thin frame. Simply put, the woman did not look well. She wasn’t rude enough to ask about it but filed that away for later.
“This is Maia and her son Thomas. They moved here a few days ago.”
Maia nodded, “Maia Dunham. My sister Peggy and her husband Alan mentioned something about the new cop around town. Made a big deal about you sorting out a problem with Ken Baker’s cattle wandering onto the road over near Fraggy Rock.”
Karen nodded, “Seems that they had some issues with pranksters deliberately leaving the gate open.”
Thomas mosied over to one of the fridges.
Maia nodded thoughtfully, “Probably got that you sorted it quickly. They could have caused a traffic crash.”
“It is the way that things go. Ken was happy at least. As for the parents of the kids doing it… We are still dealing with that one.”
Maia shrugged, “Some parents can be particularly defensive when it comes to their children. If Thomas did something like that, I’d give him a swift kick up the arse.”
Hearing his name, Thomas walked back with two large bottles of milk, “I wouldn’t do it in the first place.”
Maia smiled back at him, “And I appreciate it, babe. I count myself lucky that my kid is level-headed.”
“Don’t tell anyone. It might give people the wrong impression of me,” he said, tapping his nose. “I am the king of all rebels!”
The three women laughed for a moment before Debbie went through some of the mail.
“The name is Karen Johnson by the way.”
“Maia and Thomas Dunham. We moved up here from Brissie.”
“Sounds like quite the trip…”
“Yeah, had to do it, though. I got sick a few months back and I figured that I had some chance of getting better if I came here.”
Karen listened as Maia talked about how the town had changed in the fifteen years that she’d been gone. The town was a lot bigger back then, with many of the locals working in the mines two hours away. The mines weren’t as profitable anymore, leading to layoffs and drastically reduced hours. Eventually, the local government approved fly-in-fly-out rules, leading to more layoffs. For the locals that decided to stay, the bulk of their income came from farming.
“I suppose that we still have Facebook to stay in contact with some of the folks that left, but it isn’t quite the same, is it?” Debbie said as she plonked a large box with a large pile of different sized envelopes on top.
Maia shook her head, “Sure isn’t…”
“The first of the three stooges left three years back,” Debbie offered.
“Three stooges?” Karen asked.
“Yeah. That is what folks used to call three of the guys that we used to go to school with. That was Frank, Eddy and Travis. Eddy used to mow the nature strip each Thursday. Don’t know what happened, but he decided to up and leave one day. Heard that he got married and had a kid. His mum, Doris, said that he was living somewhere in the Wide Bay.”
That is when it occurred to Karen, “So, does that mean that you guys all went to school together?”
Maia and Debbie nodded.
“Sure did!” Debbie declared proudly. “I was even at Thomas’ birth, not that remembers me at all.”
“Class of ninety-five,” Maia offered.
Karen tried to remember her own graduation, but the best that she could muster was the memory of her idiot brother accidentally pouring Fanta over her floral dress just before she was about to walk up to the headmistress to collect her graduation papers. It was an embarrassing moment, but she’d quickly covered the spot with her handbag.
“Class of ninety-eight here. I went to Salisbury High in Brisbane.”
Debbie was about to say something when Karen’s mobile phone began to chime. The police officer nearly swore under her breath at the realisation that she’d been chatting to the girls long enough for the reminder for Martin’s appointment to go off. She reached into her right pocket, unlocked the phone and switched off the alarm.
She looked up at Debbie and Maia, “Looks like I have to go now. I’ll have to pay for that fuel…”
She felt guilty about occupying the spot for so long but didn’t recall more than a couple people head over to the other counter while she was chatting. Debbie nodded and began to bring up the details. Karen used her fuel card before picking up the mail.
“Thanks for the chat. Both of you should feel free to drop by next counter shift.”
“Will do.. and nice to meet you, Karen.”
“Catch you later, Karen!” Debbie said.
As Karen drove along the dirt road towards Martin’s place, she noticed a spot on the side of the side. It was a bridge over a shallow river below. She instinctually moved to the shoulder and turned off the car. She got out and began to walk down the embankment off to the side.
When she reached the bottom, she looked under a domed area big enough for a car to drive through. She noticed some soft mud on the ground, with the imprints of thin tires. She shrugged, then started up the embankment.
She couldn’t shake the feeling as she reached the top that something was watching her from the treeline fifty feet away. It was an odd sensation, like one that she’d felt several times before when she’d driven up the same road. Then something darted into view before her and nearly jumped.
She kicked herself when the large dog with coarse brown and white hair bounded up to her. It began to bark and jumped about, turning from her and then back to the treeline repeatedly. It was odd, but she felt compelled to follow.
“Show me, boy!”
The dog gave a loud “arf” of appreciation before it started to jog towards the trees, occasionally stopping and looking back at her. Moving through the knee-high grass, she had an inkling of what she was about to find. However, what she discovered when she reached the treeline was even odder.
Balanced between the branches of two bluegums was a blue Jimny. At the base of the tree were scratch marks.
“Hello?” Karen yelled. “Anybody up there?”
It took a moment before the voice of Sue Williamson sounded from above, “Hello?”
“Sue, is that you?”
“Yeah. Don’t move. I’ll call for help to get you down.”
It took an hour to get her down from the car, but members of the local fire brigade managed to get her down safely. All the while, the dog stood to attention next to Karen, his eyes taking in everything. She arranged for somebody to fetch the dog, which appeared to have a collar, some food and water as a thank-you. In her own words, she couldn’t have found Sue without the strange mutt.
As Sue rested at the back of a stretcher being checked on, the dog named Egg saw his chance to leave. In one of his rare moments of clarity, he sniffed the air and ducked behind the firetruck. He ran further into the treelines, found the tree that he needed, before running directly at it. The air in front of the tree wobbled slightly as the transportation node was activated.
In the white space beyond, he sniffed again and picked a direction, then jumped forward. Moments later, he ran out of some cane fields less than a hundred meters from behind Peggy and Alan’s home. He was abundantly aware that he needed to tell the woman before he forgot again. He sniffed, caught her scent and started sprinting in her direction.