This story came out of contemplating the question: What would you do if someone you were close to turned out to be a nightmare come true?
Since coming here, he had felt better. Everything felt like it was going in slow motion. On the 15 March, two weeks after moving, he had written in his journal file: “I woke with the definite feeling I’ve been sent here. It all seems to fit a pattern. Every time I hold the hair tie, I know more about what happened to this woman.” He could enter the dream if he held the talisman even when he was awake. He wanted to find out where it had happened. He still used the word “it.” It was as if he were a grieving relative, reluctant to consider the reasons for her disappearance.
He entered his study and turned on the lamp. He had taken the accessory worn by the woman in the dream, and all the newspaper clippings. Local woman missing. He sat in the chair, after reading an article about the frustration of local police at the lack of evidence, and held the souvenir. The desk clock ticked, the owls hooted and his palms grew damp. Then, suddenly he was amongst the ferns and grass, back in the dream of two nights before. This time he was walking down the path right behind the woman with shiny black hair. She turned to face him then was grabbed from behind. He saw the man, and the knife. He awoke to the sound of his own voice “Where did it happen?”
He took out a local map, and smoothed it on the desk. It showed the recreation reserve where the woman was last seen. Now he was here and he wanted to know the exact spot written about. He must place his feet on the last place she stood.
I suppose that’s really weird. I don’t suppose I could tell anybody now. I could never have imagined being crazy like this—not in a million years. Maybe I deserve it.
He sat at the window as he had the previous night, listening to the small sounds. At first he’d thought it eerily quiet here. Now he could hear the life behind that first impression. After a while, he lay down on his bed. A peaceful sleep came over him.
The next morning, he packed the map and other items in a backpack and took a heavy parker from the wardrobe. As he gazed outside during his breakfast of toast, thick dew glistened on the grass. The sky was cloudy but the sun was shining weakly. He would go to the entrance of the reserve and see what he could feel. The woman’s hair accessory. As he placed his hand around it in his pocket, it felt cold.
It’s strange calling her “woman”. Prompted by this thought he went back to his bedroom and looked up the newspaper articles with the intention of remembering their content rather than allowing the horror of the truth to overwhelm him. Her name was Tania Ryan and her daughter’s name was Stephanie. One of her funeral notices said she had a daughter, Stephanie, aged eight years. The year the article was printed was 1993.
Now Stephanie would be 25.
He gasped as he took note of the date for the first time.
March 15, 1993.
The strong sense of entrapment by the dead was intensified. He hoped it would bring a resolution to the intense guilt that sat like a weight on him when he pondered the consequences of his brother’s life. He thought of David’s archive of shoeboxes; many were still covered by dust. As Michael sorted out his brother’s things, he realised David had more than one skeleton in his closet.
Oh, the black humour, he thought. A lump formed in his throat. Why didn’t I burn it all? Now I’m haunted.
He slammed the back door and checked it was locked as he began his four-kilometre walk to the reserve where Tania’s life had ended. He adjusted the backpack he was carrying with its load of a camping shovel, water bottles, snack and map. He removed the map and shoved it in his coat pocket.
When he reached the damp, green vale of the reserve, around the base of the volcanic mountain, he inhaled the tangy smell of damp eucalyptus, and his thoughts raced. He was captivated in his own cinema, vivid memories played out in his mind in colour. The first scene was from his youth. He was seventeen and in his final year at school. Arriving home one afternoon, after mid-year exams, he’d found David already at home. Unusually, his mother and David were seated in the lounge room with an official-looking stranger in a suit, accompanied by a black briefcase.
I knew something was up. They were using the formal front room, instead of relaxing in the kitchen with a cup of tea. When I attempted to sit with them, Mum told me to leave the room.
“Fine”, I had spat out, “I’m going for a run.” I changed and made sure I slammed the door on my way out. I changed my mind at the end of the driveway. Over the past two years Dave had become secretive. When he was home he stayed in his room a lot, supposedly studying and practising music.
Bet he’s gone and got himself a scholarship to the conservatory of music. I want to know before dad.
I snuck round the side of the house and through the double doors of the sunroom, across the room and stood in the hallway opposite the closed lounge room door. I feared that the creaking floorboards might give away my presence. I dried my palms on my pants. The house was quiet and I could hear a tap dripping through the open bathroom door.
I heard the stranger say, “It’s been necessary to meet with you for an important reason, Mrs McKenzie, so I best come to the point now.” His voice was soft but clear in the silence. “I am here in my capacity as consultant psychologist to the school counsellor, who has asked me to call on you. We’ve already spoken to David about our concerns and he agreed to me coming here. I need to point out, he agreed after the principal explained that a solution must be discussed or immediate expulsion from school would be required.”
“Expulsion! David?” My mother’s tone was scornful. “Why he is one of the best, if not the best student in that school.”
I took a deep breath and willed myself to remain silent and alert.
“I’m aware that David is highly intelligent and an excellent student.” I heard a click, and the shuffling of papers, and presumed the stranger was opening his brief case. “But you could say this matter concerns his social development.”
Dave’s voice broke in.
“Don’t show her. My father–”
“David, I feel it’s necessary to show your mother. Otherwise there’s no accountability for you and she needs to understand.”
There was a graveyard silence.
“My God, how dare you come into my house and show me this disgusting filth!” My mum’s voice seemed to bounce from the walls of the little room. “David?”
The stranger’s voice was warmer, now.
“Believe me, we know how unpleasant this is but we’re here for your son’s sake.”
“How do you know this is David’s fault? Couldn’t someone else—”
“I know this is hard to accept but similar material was found three times in David’s possession over a six month period.”
My mum’s voice rose to a screech. “Dr Cullen—”
“Enquiries have been made as to its origin. Recently David has admitted to obtaining it himself.”
“Mum, I’m sorry.” Dave’s mellifluous voice became rough.
Cullen continued. “This is only a sample of numerous images in David’s possession. Their mixture of sex with violence is most disturbing. Apart from the fact that their existence could be a legal matter, it is our opinion that David needs help.”
I didn’t wait to hear more. I exited through the sunroom and ran to the local park. I wet my head under a tap near the picnic tables. Shaking my head, I took slow deep breaths.
I thought Hell; my favourite person could be a psycho.
And then Poor Mum.