On Writing, Tech, and Other Loquacities

The collected works of Lana Brindley: writer, speaker, blogger

Stopping All Stations

??Prologue

A figure shimmered slightly in the fog, and eventually coalesced into the shape of a man – a darker shadow in the pre-dawn dark. He was traipsing through the dense early morning fog, the night darker now than it had been when he set out. The moon had sunk below the horizon and the sun was yet to show its face. It had been a long walk from Redton station and he was unaccustomed to extended periods of exercise – the breath misting in front of his mouth and nose came quickly – but he had been reluctant to take the train for fear of being noticed and remembered. The figure approached the house slowly but eventually, feet crunching loudly in the silence, he arrived at the side gate. He slipped a practised hand through the hole in the worn boards and flicked the catch, releasing the gate to swing inwards, scraping along the loose gravel. The gate hadn’t been used in a while and the figure had to push hard to exert his will against it. There was no dog, and the man entered the backyard unchallenged. He stepped through, pushed the protesting gate back home, the catch sliding closed of its own accord, and walked around to the back door. There was a covered porch area at the back of the house and to the side of the pavers lay a garden hose. The hose lay in a messy coil below the tap, still affixed at one end. The man groped in the darkness, stumbling slightly on a loop of hose and, using his hands as his only form of sight, removed the hose from the tap by pulling sharply on the plastic connecting piece. He dropped the hose end and ran the tap, the water whistling through the pipe and spurting out in a gush, splattering his shoes. He paid the mess no mind, and quickly rinsed his hands under the cold water. He pushed both his hands in the water, up to the elbow, and gave them each a soapless wash with the opposite hand. He then raised his wet hands to his face and accorded it the same treatment. The cold water was a shock to his warm face, sweaty from the exertion, but it felt good to be clean.

 

The man twisted the tap and shut off the flow of water, shook his arms to remove the excess, and squelched in his wet runners over to the back door. He took off his shoes and socks and, realising as he did so that his tracksuit pants were drenched almost to the knees, slipped them off too. Standing in his boxers and a grotty tee shirt, he reached out to the screen door and tried the handle. Smiling as it slid open easily and revealed the darkened laundry, he stepped into the house, dumped the dirty and wet clothes into the laundry tub, and padded quietly into the main bedroom.

Sunday Afternoon

Elouise

 

Elouise lay in bliss on the sun-drenched balcony, sunk down on her chair with her feet up on the railing and her eyes half closed with sleep and sun. She had a book out – a Marian Keyes – but she wasn’t reading it. The book lay open flat across her chest, face down. From this perspective, all she could she of the cover was a gaudy red cartoon-smile watermelon. Elouise wasn’t thinking about her book, she wasn’t thinking about the lovely sun-drenched summer day, she wasn’t even thinking about the barbeque dinner she had planned for that evening with some old friends. Like a love struck teenager, Elouise was thinking about the man in her life. Zach set her heart fluttering – even after all this time. He was tall, much taller than Elouise, with a solid build. The kind of guy who simply emanated strength, support and confidence – a typical Mills and Boon hero. That was where the similarity to a romance novel ended, though. While the masculine heroes in those novels were either outdoor working men or polished, educated doctors, Zach was an artist. Mostly, he painted oil on canvas, and Elouise had never confessed that his paintings made little sense to her. But also he was a poet and an astonishingly good songwriter. Zach had written her countless little poems over the years they been spent together – pressing handwritten little snippets of paper into her hand as she boarded the train. She had lost her mp3 player for an entire week once, had been just about to give in and buy another when Zach presented it to her one morning – completely filled with songs he had written and recorded just for her.

 

As she trawled through these glamorous, rosy memories of the moments she and Zach had spent together, Elouise smiled and reached out lazily for a drink. The ice cubes rattled in the bottom of the glass as she picked it up and as she brought it to her lips she realised that the only liquid left in the bottom was melted ice. With a regretful sigh, she left her memories on the balcony without her for a moment, put the book down on the boards beneath her chair, and rose to refill her glass.

 

Elouise would have described herself as ‘average’, were you to ask her, and were she to answer frankly. From an outside perspective though, she was disarmingly attractive. Slightly overweight, although only Elouise noticed, she was 36 with dark, slightly curly mid-length hair and olive features. She stood slightly taller than a lot of women and it was this height that allowed her to carry the extra weight – with it, she simply looked healthy and curvy, without it she would look under-nourished.

 

The kitchen seemed very dull and cold after the bright sun and warmth of the balcony. She automatically reached out for the light switch, before realising that her eyes would adjust soon enough and pulling her hand away. She went to the fridge, found the orange juice and poured another drink on top of the half-used ice cubes in her glass. She found fresh ice cubes and topped it up and while she was putting the tray away in the freezer her eyes found the vodka bottle she kept stashed there. She briefly considered adding a splash to the glass, but then decided to hold out until her guests arrived for dinner. She didn’t want to be half drunk before they even got there, and she knew that as soon as she had one, there would be no more plain orange juice for her. She picked up the refreshed glass in one hand and headed back out to the balcony to pick up her daydreaming where she left off.

 

As she stepped out through the sliding door to the balcony, she heard activity in the garden below – ominous clanging and banging of the barbeque and associated paraphernalia, then the hiss of the gas bottle as it was connected. She heard the pilot light ignition click once, twice, three times but didn’t hear the whoosh as the gas caught. More clicking, still no luck by the sounds of things. Now fully shaken out of her lovely romantic day dreams, she walked over to the railing instead of sitting back down, hanging right over to see into the garden below. As she did, the man tending the barbeque looked up at her and smiled sheepishly, “Hey El, there you are! It seems as though we’re out of barbeque gas. Would you mind running down to the petrol station and getting another, Hun?”

 

Eloise sighed, put the drink down, and straightened slightly, fixing her husband with a steely glare. “How many times this week have I asked you to check that thing, Robert? I hope you have some cash in your wallet.”

 

Her good mood totally dashed, and thoughts of Zach now horribly far away, Eloise stamped back through the house, grabbed her handbag, and got into the car to get a gas bottle.

 

Megan

 

Megan stood slowly, pressed her hands into the small of her back and stretched her protesting spine backwards and her belly upwards, counteracting the weight of the baby, then laughed at the typical ‘pregnant woman’ pose she was doing and relaxed with a smile. She glanced over at her husband on the lounge, but Dalton appeared to be asleep in front of the cricket. He had been giving her a gentle ribbing recently about her waddling, she could only imagine what he would say about the back stretching she had just been doing. With the baby due in only a few weeks, she was finding the physical aspect increasingly hard to deal with.

 

Chuckling softly to herself, she turned back to the work she had been doing on the kitchen table, readjusting the cushion on the hard kitchen chair as she carefully sat back down. The work surface was covered in tiny baby-related paper cut-outs and Megan was busily pasting them onto an album page, ready for the moment that they had some real baby photos to add to it. At the moment she had a few blurry ultrasound photos that looked more like blobby bits of custard swimming in a dark night ocean, but they were proof of the fact that there was, indeed a baby, so they were going in.

 

Megan was 32, only a year a husband’s junior, and the baby she had been carrying for just over thirty-seven weeks was her third pregnancy. They had suffered through two miscarriages in the past four years, deciding after she lost the second at only twelve weeks that they weren’t going to keep on trying, the emotional strain and physical damage was starting to take its toll. Then, late last February she had missed a period and, terrified of losing yet another baby, they had kept the news quiet until late in May, when the swelling under her tee shirt could no longer be easily concealed. She had been confined to bed rest and, as a result, had quit her job as a medical secretary. Finding herself with a pregnancy stretching ahead of her with nothing to do but watch daytime television, she had taken up all manner of hobbies – crochet, tatting, cross-stitch, watercolours and glass etching had all had a run, now she was stuck on scrapbooking. She sat with her head bowed over the oddments of paper and ribbon, her dark hair cut in a bob scraped her chin as it hung, and she pushed it back with the heel of a hand still pinching a paper cut-out of an old-fashioned style baby carriage.

 

Engrossed as she was in the album page in front of her, she didn’t notice her husband standing behind her until he kissed her in the bare spot behind her ear. She jumped, a neatly sorted pile of ribbon snippets flying off the table in every direction, and Dalton grabbed her by the shoulders, “I’m sorry!” he squawked, “I didn’t mean to frighten you! Are you okay, sweetie?” the nervous edge to his voice had been there since they found out she was pregnant again, nerves borne of so many prior disappointments. She smiled sweetly to reassure him, and as she stood to face him the hangdog look on his face made her throw her arms around his neck, the baby between them in an embrace. To prove that he or she was still there the baby gave Dalton a good kick, and he bent to kiss Megan’s belly. Megan poked the baby gently, “Oi you!” she said, still laughing, “Settle down in there! You need to wait a little while longer, I’m not ready to work out how to get you out of there yet!”

 

Lawrence

 

Lawrence had had his eyes on Ariana since he first set eyes on her at the party on Saturday night. So far, he thought it was going pretty well too. He had thought that she had been impressed by his degree – a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Law that he invariably told people was a “Law Degree”. He had finished midway through last year and graduated in September, and he considered it the most amazing achievement of his life so far. As such, it ranked highly in his conversation with Ariana. What hadn’t featured quite so highly in the conversation was the fact that he had just started a new a job in the city – as a dogsbody for a personal assistant. How embarrassing. At least he got to wear a suit to work, anyway. And at least it was in the city. This way he could at least spend the train ride to and from work every day, holding his briefcase which contained nothing more than a sandwich, an apple and a broken ballpoint pen, imagining that he had a high-powered and very stressful executive position on the board of directors. What Lawrence didn’t realise was that, even though this little fantasy played out well in his head, to the others that shared his commute, he was still a 22 year old kid with a cheap suit and a cardboard briefcase. Nevertheless, and never one to let the truth get in the way of a good fantasy involving power and riches, he maintained the dream for as long as he could, and tried to portray this character to his new found friends, Ariana included.

 

Lying on a bean bag in a corner of his mate Ben’s living room, Lawrence surveyed the clutter and detritus that surrounded him. The television was on, blaring a music video DVD to the room at large. The cheap speakers in the discount-brand widescreen television had come to the end of their life approximately two months after purchase, and now spouted a terrible crackling and hissing version of growled and snarled lyrics to what should have been a familiar tune. It didn’t matter too much, no-one was paying any attention to the aural abomination. However, the room was far from empty – at least four bodies lay around the floor and couch, in varying degrees of alertness. Ben, the ever-gracious host of the party last night, dominated the couch – head back, mouth open, legs and arms thrown wide – snoring loudly, but not loud enough to drown out the music from the television, unfortunately. Two other men were passed out in the room, one on the recliner and a second on the carpet, neither of whom Lawrence recognised, although he vaguely remembered having a very in-depth conversation with the guy who now seemed passed out on the rug with his hand still in a bowl of nuts. What were they discussing, he wondered, and eventually recalled it had something to do with the possibility of intelligent life landing on Earth and blowing up Microsoft. Lawrence heaved a sigh and hoped he was mistaken in that recollection. As for the fourth body, from Lawrence’s position he couldn’t see anyone, but he could hear snoring from behind him somewhere, forming a tenor counterpoint to Ben’s bass.

 

The other person Lawrence couldn’t see was Ariana. He mentally kicked himself for drinking way too much last night. If he hadn’t had the last five or so bourbon and cokes, he would have been able to get her into bed, he was sure of it. Ariana was beautiful – long, pitch-black hair straight down her back, and a pair of the loveliest breasts. Lawrence tried to remember what she’s been wearing last night, hoping to catch a glimpse of her through the door into the kitchen, but he struggled and couldn’t recall. He had spent a large amount of time looking down her cleavage, but he would be damned if he could remember what it had been wrapped in. Damn shame about those last few bourbons, taking Ariana to bed would have given him bragging rights to his mates for weeks. Months, even, maybe.

 

Slowly, and with the variety of sluggishness only an A-grade hangover can provide, Lawrence performed a personal physical inventory. He still appeared to be in possession of all his major appendages. He didn’t dare try to move them any more than a few centimetres, but upon inspection they all seemed to behave in an appropriately correct manner. He didn’t seem to have any sticky patches that couldn’t be explained away by alcohol, so he figured that he hadn’t, despite his best intention, gotten anyone (Ariana included) into bed. This was a minor disappointment, but one that he was pitifully accustomed to. Lawrence turned his head slightly to see if his neck was working properly, and a light-sabre of sun sliced through the venetian blinds and hit him square between the eyes. He closed them and instinctively reached to his head for his sunglasses. They weren’t there – damn it. Normally a permanent fixture day or night, he must have lost them off his head when he collapsed on to the bean bag. He carefully weighed his options – he could sit here with his eyes shut and wait for the light to fade, which could possibly take hours as he had no idea what time of the day it was and whether this was morning or afternoon sun; or could haul his sorry ass out of the bean bag and go looking for his sunglasses. After careful deliberation and a small alcohol-induced slumber, he decided, however foolishly, to try and extricate himself from the clutches of the bean bag.

 

He started by rolling to one side, hoping to roll right out. The bean bag was obstinate however, and held on firmly, refusing to tip him out on to the floor. Lawrence was nothing if not persistent though and rolled the other way, at which point the bean bag decided to give up – suddenly and reasonably unexpectedly, at least to Lawrence’s alcohol-addled mind. He landed, splat, on the carpeted floor, finding his nose in a suspiciously sticky patch on the carpet, and his shoulder hard up against the foot of the couch. His left leg appeared to have taken up residence under the coffee table. If it wasn’t for this unfortunate series of events, Lawrence may have decided to remain there until more of his hangover had passed, but the stench from the carpet was enough to make even Lawrence move and, very carefully, he rose to his feet.

 

Once the room had ceased the most wild of the careening it was currently undertaking, Lawrence stepped gingerly over to the blaring television and punched random buttons through blurry eyes until the noise mercifully ceased. He watched with interest as the picture faded to a single pinpoint of light and winked out, and revelled in the silence that can fall only after a DVD that has been on constant repeat for close to ten hours has been silenced. With this problem solved neatly, Lawrence dug around the bean bag for his sunglasses, finally finding them, bent and with a lens missing, He stared at them, deliberating, and then decided to put them on anyway. Something was better than nothing, right?

Monday – 4:56am to the City

Dalton

 

It was early, the sun had only barely crept above the horizon and the usually hot November air still had a chill lingering at the edges, although that would not last much longer. Dalton tramped steadily around the bend in the road approaching the train station, his Styrofoam lunchbox swinging loosely from his hand, hitting him in the knee on every second swing, and his safety orange shirt the only spot of brightness in the otherwise overcast morning. Dalton liked his job, he enjoyed being outdoors all day, even in the variety of harsh summer sun that only Queensland seemed able to produce. He enjoyed working with his hands, building things that were sturdy and functional, and for the most part he got along well with his workmates. In fact, the only thing he didn’t like about his job was the early starts. He had always been a late riser, even while he was still in nappies, and despite over fifteen years of working in the building industry, he had never been able to train his body to rise in the darkness. He had resigned himself to it, and the early finishes went some way to repairing the damage, but he looked forward to a day when he could sleep in every day, for as long as he wanted. Dalton – known as Tony to his mates – was 33, and counting down the days until he could retire and get some hard-earned rest.

 

The train station gradually hove into view around the bend and Dalton, with nothing better to study as he walked, stared lazily across at the opposite platform. As was normal just before the 4:56 into the city, there appeared to be no one in sight. The ticket booth wouldn’t open for another hour and a half yet, and the commuters didn’t arrive in earnest until after seven normally. Dalton felt a brief stab of jealousy – the joy of being able to get up at half-past six and meander slowly down to the station for the 7:44! This passed quickly, as he realised that these commuters may have great working hours, but they had to sit behind a desk and push paper and red tape all day for the privilege. Comforted slightly, he reached the staircase that led over the train line, and started to climb.

 

As Dalton climbed the stairs, a sudden movement at the far end of the platform caught his eye and he whipped his head around to investigate. Unaccustomed to having company on his early forays to the station, his heart leaped into his mouth when he spotted a dark, hunched over creature shuffling towards the farthest bench on the outward bound platform. Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be an elderly gent with a hat and a mostly empty-looking black plastic garbage bag. Dalton gave himself a sharp mental rebuke for getting startled over a homeless man, but continued to survey the platform to put his mind at ease. He could see the general detritus left over from a weekend typically full of teenagers with nothing better to do – some empty beer and spirits bottles thrown around and some fresh graffiti on the walls of the shelter. Otherwise, nothing appeared out of the ordinary except for a bundle of what appeared to be old clothes, or maybe a blanket, just outside the fence line, where the station ended and the long paspalum grass delimited the edge of the public car park. The old man had trundled to his seat from that direction, and Dalton assumed it was where he had spent the night. As if hearing Dalton’s thoughts, the old man suddenly looked up and stared back at him. Dalton averted his eyes out of shame and pity, and continued over to the other platform.

 

Dalton purchased a weekly ticket from the vending machine kindly provided by City Rail and thankfully working for a change, and found a place to sit at the far end of the platform, as far from the homeless man as he could. Trying to be casual, he laid back on the uncomfortable seat and pondered why anyone – homeless or otherwise – would choose to try and sleep on one. They appeared designed specifically to discourage people from spending any time on them. He could understand why the old man would sleep on a blanket in the grass instead. Dalton checked his watch – only 3 minutes to spare – half closed his eyes, and waited for his train, enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun on his upturned face.

 

Walter

 

Walter didn’t normally come out to the station on a Monday. He liked to come out on Sundays, mostly because there were less people around, and he could just watch the trains without having anyone call the police. Walter had lived on the railway line since he was born and had wanted to be a train driver for as long as he could remember. When he was 14 he took on odd jobs at the railway station near his house and, joy of joys, had finally become a driver at 26. He offered forty-five years of loyal service to City Railways as a driver, and was eventually forced into retirement against his wishes. Then two years ago, when his wife fell into a diabetic coma that she never woke up from, Walter had begun spending more and more time at the station, watching and photographing the trains that had formed such a large part of his life. Now, at 73, Walter had become a more or less permanent fixture at Redton station, although he came at irregular enough times and faded into the background enough that the commuter population rarely saw him, although he was well known to the station staff. The older staffers knew Walter from his days as a driver, and one guy regularly sat down and reminisced, although Walter suspected it was more out of pity than friendship. The younger, newer ones rarely spoke to him at all, although they appeared to recognise him and left him to his train spotting without interfering. The grand majority of Walter’s problems came from the general public, since that horrible business in America a few years ago people saw an old man loitering around public transport and taking photographs they assumed they were going to fall victim to the next terrorist attack. As a result, Walter had also become reasonably well known to the local police officers, who still occasionally came out to check things over, but mostly just reassured the hysterical public citizen over the phone that Yes, Ma’am, they knew who he was, and they also knew that he was totally, utterly harmless.

 

Yesterday morning Walter had fully woken from his usually disturbed sleep at 3am, intending to head down to the station while it was still nice and quiet, and watch the sun rise over the train line. When he had gone to swing his legs over the edge of the bed, sharp-edged pain had gripped his right hip and with a cry he had fallen back to bed. After some time of repositioning his worn body, he gingerly managed to get out bed and stumble to the bathroom to find some pain killers. He swallowed a few of the stronger variety, then shuffled back to bed, allowing the drugs to take over. By the time the analgesics had taken their blessed, longed-for effect and Walter felt well enough to rise again, it was almost lunch time. By painful experience, Walter knew that all those who had been shopping in the city on their day off would be returning throughout the afternoon, and there would be no helpful staff member to calm any panicked member of the public. He chose to spend the rest of the day not looking at the real ones, but watching the miniature variety in his lounge room instead. They were a poor substitute, but would serve to while away an otherwise lonely and boring afternoon.

 

So it happened that Walter was at the station on Monday morning not long after dawn, which today had broken just after half past four. His right hip still ached, and the short walk from his bedsit up the road to the station was painful, but he knew it would be worthwhile once he got there. He clutched a black plastic garbage bag in his right fist which contained his camera, a notebook, and his reference book – “Australian Trains Past and Present: A Pictorial History”. He clamped his fingers tighter around the top of the bag with every bolt of pain from his hip, willing himself to just take another step, take another step, keep walking, don’t fall.

 

With the pain in his hip now extending across his back and down his right leg, and his vision starting to grey at the edges, Walter finally stepped into the railway car park, preparing to take the few steps through the long grass then slip through the break in the fence to the end of the platform. Focused as he was on the pain in his side and back, and the simple act of just making it to the bench on the station, and compounded by the overcast morning, he didn’t see the bundle hidden in the grass until he stepped on the hem of the blanket covering it. At first he just thought it was just a bunch of old clothes, left behind by the hoodlums who had no doubt been around the station over the weekend. But then he realised that, for a bunch of old clothes, it was surprisingly person-shaped. Not wanting to touch it, but curiosity getting the better of him, he shifted his weight carefully to the left side, and used his right foot to give the bundle a gentle nudge. His bad hip gave an almost audible shriek of protest and he pulled his foot away before managing to move the blanket at all. Suddenly, his long-gone wife spoke up in his ear, saying Leave well enough alone, Walt. See no evil, remember? With the sudden realisation that he might be meddling in something that he certainly did not belong in, he turned away, and fell into a stumbling half run up to the platform.

 

Visibly shaking, and with the pain in his hip now all but forgotten, Walter staggered up the incline through the waist high paspalum grass, scrambled up onto the concrete of the platform, and fell onto the bench. He leaned forward, putting his head between his knees, and counted haltingly to ten, then twenty. With his heart rate only slightly lowered, an ache in his chest and burning fire throughout his entire lower body, he raised his head slowly and saw a man in a bright orange shirt watching him from the pedestrian overpass. Walter opened his mouth to speak, to bring this stranger into his confidence and share the burden of what Walter could only assume was a horrid, grisly discovery, and found that he couldn’t form the words. What could he possibly say, that would not make this man turn tail and run? Defeated by his own inability to form the sentence that would make this man trust him, Walter slowly lowered his head again. This time he counted to one hundred.

Monday – 06:14am to the City

Shannen

 

Shannen checked her watch as she approached the station and didn’t quite break into a run, but picked up her pace so that it would not be much of a stretch if she chose to. The 6:14 was due in less than a minute, and she hadn’t bought a ticket yet. Silently and without breaking pace, she sent up a prayer to whoever was listening: for once, make sure that train runs late. As she approached the car park she saw a dark-haired woman getting out of a late model silver sedan, apparently humming to herself. Shannen saw her most mornings, knew she got off the train at Central, and had marvelled at how happy she always seemed to be. Shannen saw her every morning, nodded and smiled every morning, noticed when she had washed her hair, knew what different outfits she owned, yet did not know her name. Shannen had often pondered the senseless cocoon that people routinely tried to wrap themselves in on public transport, but she did not have the time for such deep thoughts this morning – if she missed this train she would be late for work at the supermarket for the third time this week, and she would be damned if she would lose a perfectly good job because she was hanging around a train station philosophising.

 

Shannen brushed past the other woman as she closed the car door and locked it, and on a whim, decided to head through the long grass and up to the station, rather than going the long way around to the overpass. She knew she would be able to pick up some more speed running along the empty outbound platform than she could across the rough and broken footpath. She took two steps into the long grass, and was preparing to vault through the narrow gap beside the fence up on to the platform, when something buried in the grass caught the toe of her shoe and tangled in her ankles. Shannen cried out and fell hard on the still slightly dewy ground, and felt her knee land on a strange, unnatural bulge in the ground. Looking down, almost dreamlike, she saw a blanket lying in the grass, covered with filth and for a moment could not fathom what it might mean. Time, which had previously been racing, now slowed and seemed almost to stop, as her gaze traversed the length of the blanket-covered object and finally alighted upon a bare, pink, human toe. Shannen had time to analyse the nicely cut toe nail, the pink, sparkly polish that had started to wear along the cut edge, and finally her voice caught up to her vision, and she began to scream.

 

Elouise

 

Elouise grabbed her bag off the passenger seat, got out of the car and turned to close the door and lock it. As she did, a young brunette woman dashed past her, in an obvious hurry. Elouise checked her watch and realised the train was due any minute. She wasn’t overly concerned, the only reason she took the early train was so that she could spend more time with Zach, who she knew would be waiting for her at Central, but she had no intention of raising a sweat and breaking a heel to catch it – there would another along in fifteen minutes, and she certainly did not want to look a wreck for Zach.

 

Humming tuneless nonsense to herself, she turned away from the dashing woman, locked the car, and began to walk up the footpath that led to the pedestrian overpass. She was in too good a mood to worry about the broken pieces in the concrete, simply stepping over the potholes, taking the opportunity to admire her new shoes as she did so. They were a grey fabric, with lovely black patent toes and a ridiculously high heel. She had spent way too much money on them, imagining what Zach might think of her purchase as she handed over the credit card that was in her husband’s name. Rob had not noticed that she had new shoes, but then she had not expected him to.

 

Eloise was just completing her crossing of the overpass as the train came to a clanking, brake-squealing, shuddering halt beneath her. She quickly trotted down the steps on the other side, thankful that she had a ten trip ticket that had not yet expired, and boarded the train just as the guard’s whistle blew. She did not see Shannen fall in the grass on the opposite side of the platform, and she did not hear the scream that pierced the Monday morning of a working week that was going to be far from ordinary.

 

Zach

 

Zachary waited at Central at the farthest end of Platform Eight. Elouise was due to arrive in less than three minutes, and suddenly Zach felt nervous. He had trouble pinpointing the source of this nervousness, and after a minute or so of reasonably shallow searching – Zach made it a point not to ever delve too deeply into his emotions – he eventually blamed it on an underlying sense of ever present guilt. He had been seeing Elouise for about three years now, they met right here at the end of Platform Eight five mornings a week, and in that time Zach felt he had learnt just about all there was to learn about Elouise. She was attractive, and about ten years younger than him, which made her instantly eligible in Zach’s eyes, but he had started to feel the affair fade in the past few months and he was in two minds about what to do about it. Zach knew he was not the kind of man to settle down, let’s face it, he’d been single for 43 years, he wasn’t about to change his habits now, and the relationship with Elouise had started to sink into a routine. They met in the early hours at the station, they drove round to his studio in Frank street, they fucked, then he drove her to work. Not that he was complaining about the sex, even bad sex in Zach’s book was still worth having, but he was bored. He knew what she liked, she knew what he liked, and the fun and spontaneity had winked out like a light bulb at the end of its life. If Zach and Elouise had have been married, or in an open, less clandestine relationship, he thought he would probably put in the effort and try and revive the sexual energy that had existed between them for so long. But he was tired, he was bored, and he simply did not feel that Elouise was worth it. She was getting older, her looks would start to fade before too much longer, and he made a point never to hang around that long. What had once been exciting, passionate and somehow dirty and erotic, had now become routine, boring and joyless. He had to end it.

 

The train pulled into the station, a minute late, and Zach watched as people poured off the last carriage. Elouise was not one of them. Zach gave an involuntary sigh of relief and rose to leave, thinking that he would go online later on and catch her at work, that she would explain how she missed the train, that she was devastated he hadn’t waited. He would apologise, bring her flowers tomorrow, and then do the deed that he had been putting off for so long. Zach had taken just one step toward the exit when he was nearly bowled over by Elouise at a full run.

“Oh, Zach, baby! There you are! I almost missed the train, had to get on at the other end. Oh, I’m so glad I caught you!” Elouise’s words came out in a breathless rush, the last sentence spoken directly into Zach’s shoulder as they embraced.

“Baby doll … Elly! Settle down, I can feel your heart racing.” he pulled her away from his chest, looked her up and down appraisingly, taking in her heaving chest and the red flush that crept from her neck and down into her cleavage. He opened his mouth to give her the bad news, but at the last moment noticed the swelling in his trousers. Ah, what the hell, he thought, one more day wouldn’t hurt, “Come on Babe, let’s go, huh?”

Elouise grinned, nodded and stuck one toe out in front her, “What do you think, Baby?”

Zach swallowed a groan, plastered a smile on his face, and started to lead her out of the train station, “I love them! Did you get them on the weekend?”

Monday – 08:23am to the City

Kasey

 

While her mother was busy getting dressed so that Zach could drive her to work, Kasey was wandering down to the train station to go to school. Kasey was due to finish Year Eleven in two weeks and after that there was only a year to go before she was blessedly free of the public school system. For Kasey, the end of high school couldn’t come soon enough. She was a moderately good student, but would definitely not be getting dux this year, she was enough of a realist even at sixteen to recognise that. Kasey had a dream of living on her own, maybe with a few good friends, of working somewhere so that she had own money to spend on whatever she wanted, with no parents telling her what was ‘sensible’, or what was a ‘waste of money’. She was considering going to university, only because her parents expected it, and thought that perhaps doing an arts degree would be a good way to spend a few years of her life. That way, her parents would be happy because she was doing further study, and she would be doing something that, she assumed, wouldn’t be too taxing on the brain. Above all, Kasey disliked studying. If she could get a degree by drawing a few pictures and being Creative, then that was what she intended to do.

 

Kasey had developed a love for art since she met her boyfriend two and half months ago. He was quite a lot older than her, older than her mother even, although she would never dare to tell her about him. He didn’t act like an old guy though, he was daring and funny and, more to the point, artistic. He did fabulous oil paintings with what seemed thousands of swirled colours that made her feel as though she was falling into a hole like Alice down the rabbit hole – down into a crazy, mixed-up world where colour became touch, taste, and scent all at once. Kasey found drawings of recognisable pictures – cows and fruit and vases of flowers – to be predictable and boring. But her boyfriend’s paintings were imaginative, complex and completely enthralling. Yesterday after school, she had stood in front of one of his paintings for close to twenty minutes, and would have stayed longer if her boyfriend hadn’t started to undress her as she stared, entranced. He was so passionate, she mused, recalling how they had spent the afternoon curled up on his bed, him teaching her things no boy her own age would ever know. She felt so lucky to have such an imaginative, talented and loving man. And a man too, not a boy like the kids she went to school with. How could Brianna, her best friend, be even remotely interested in those boys? She just couldn’t see the attraction in them at all.

 

Absorbed in her ponderings, Kasey did not at first notice the commotion around the train station, but as she came closer a small group of people broke away from the larger mob near the car park end of the platform. Through the gap they left Kasey suddenly noticed a strip of tape, flapping loosely in the slight breeze. Although she had never before seen it in real life, she had certainly seen enough cop shows on television to recognise it for what it was – police tape. Thoughts of boys, art and friends suddenly banished from her mind, she stopped, shielded her eyes against the November sun sitting low on the horizon and tried to work out what was going on.

 

Directly in front of her was the wooden stairs that led up and over the train line to the city-bound platform, which was where Kasey had been heading. Police tape was now covering the span between the hand rails not just on this side but also, she realised, from the other side of the tracks as well. While the staircase was empty, people having been deterred by the copious amounts of tape, and the city-bound platform appeared deserted, the outbound platform was packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. There were also people standing in huddles through the long grass at the end of the platform, spilling out into the car park, which was full. On closer inspection she saw her mother’s silver Fairlane, with the ELOU15 vanity number plates, surrounded on all sides by police vehicles, parked hastily and haphazardly across the white painted lines. All the people, both in uniform and those without, appeared to just be standing around, Kasey couldn’t see what the cause of the commotion was, but it appeared to be out in the grass near her mother’s car, just on the other side of the little white fence at the end of the outward-bound platform. She knew her mother usually took the 6:14 to the city in the morning, and that she had left that morning at the usual time, so it was not strange that her car was here – after all, Kasey saw it parked in the same spot every morning when she came down to catch the train to school. She had complained that Elouise should go in to work at a normal time, like regular people, so that she could drive Kasey to the station and save her the walk, but her mother had fobbed her off, explaining that it was important that she be at work early. Her mother was the personal assistant to one of the three partners of a big legal firm in the city, and she had explained to Kasey that she needed to make sure she was at work before her boss, so that she could have everything ready for him. Kasey thought that it sounded like an awful lot of arse kissing, but had wisely kept this opinion to herself.

 

Kasey didn’t feel frightened, standing on the footpath down the road slightly from the station, watching the commotion. If anything, she was excited – something different was happening! After all, it wasn’t every day you got to see the station wrapped up like a birthday present with police tape and with cops crawling all over it. Seeing her mother’s car in the middle of all the chaos made her slightly uneasy, but the sheer excitement of the event was overshadowing any nervousness she might be feeling, at least for now. Snapping back to reality, Kasey realised that she wasn’t going to be able to get to school this morning. She wasn’t displeased, at least she had a fantastic story to tell.

 

Kasey swung her backpack off one shoulder, so she could paw through it for her mobile phone. She found it in a front pocket, pulled it out and speed-dialled her Mum’s work number. It rang and rang … paused slightly, then rang again, indicating that her call had been transferred to the front reception desk. Kasey thought that her mother must be in a meeting with her boss – it was likely that the CEO had just arrived and Elouise was busy running around getting him a cup of coffee or something she supposed. After what felt like an eternity of ringing, finally a prim voice said “Woodworth, Schultz and Bird, can I help you?”

“Ah, hi. I need to talk to Elouise Walker? I’m her daughter, and it’s an emergency?”

“Please hold. I’ll transfer you to her desk.”

Kasey did as she was told, watching the activity on the station and praying she didn’t run out of credit on her phone before Elouise answered. The phone rang five more times before it was finally picked up again, this time by a man with an uncertain, “Er … Hello? Elouise’s desk.”

“Hi, who’s this? I’m looking for Elouise Walker, it’s Kasey …”

“Oh hi, Kasey, this is Lawrence – Larry – your Mum isn’t in yet. Can I give her a message or something?”

Kasey frowned as Lawrence gave her this information, staring over at the station as pieces slowly slotted into place – her Mum’s sedan in the usual place, the police cars in the car park, the tape everywhere, her Mum not at work … “Oh … My God …” she breathed into the phone, “Larry, I think something awful might have happened …”

“Something awful?” Larry repeated, dumbstruck, “What do you mean, Kasey? Kasey?” But the line was dead, Kasey was gone.

 

Brianna

 

Despite the loud music pouring into her ears from the mp3 player, Brianna noticed that there was something going on at the station as soon as she turned the corner. She approached from the car park end of the platform, and as a general rule she met Kasey at the foot of the stairs leading over the tracks. This morning, however, there was definitely some kind of a problem – cars, much more than normal, were parked in no particular order all over the car park, there was a massive amount of people milling around, although none seemed to be actually doing anything to speak of. The centre of the melee seemed to be in the long grass in between the car park and the end of the outbound platform, but Brianna couldn’t see what the focus of their concentration was on, there was too much of a crowd, and whatever it was was well hidden in the paspalum.

 

Brianna slowed her pace, in order to more fully concentrate on the commotion at the platform. She was merely curious, had not yet realised the implications of what might be going on. Only as she noticed the large amount of uniforms, and the swinging, flapping police tape that was draped liberally around the place, did she start to realise that something pretty majorly serious must have happened. Oblivious to the turmoil Brianna was now experiencing, Avril Lavigne continued to yell in her ears, “‘Cause life’s like this. Uh huh, uh huh, that’s the way it is”. Brianna stepped onto the coarse gravel at the farthest end of the car park, and stopped to pull the headphones out of her ears. Avril was reduced to a tinny whistle from the ear bud speakers until Brianna killed even that by hitting the power button on the iPod. The silence was pierced only by the murmur of voices from the railway platform.

 

Brianna’s usually sunny face had clouded over, and she surveyed the scene with troubled eyes, wondering where her friend might be, and worrying that she might not be able to find Kasey’s familiar face in the crowd. Then, thankfully, her eyes fell on a familiar figure in a school uniform close to the bottom of the pedestrian overpass. Brianna broke into a run and, as she drew closer to Kasey she saw her friend bring her phone down from her face, and stare at it as though she had no idea what it was.

“Kasey!” she yelled as she ran towards her, “Kasey!”

Kasey turned as though in a daydream, and Brianna could see her speaking although she could not hear the words. As Brianna drew alongside her, she wrapped her arms around her oldest friend, “Kasey, what’s happened? What’s going on? Are you ok?”

Kasey pulled away from her grasp, and Brianna looked her in the eyes, trying to decipher what lay behind them. Contraband mascara ran down Kasey’s tear-streaked face as she dragged her eyes from Brianna’s gaze and dropped her eyes to the ground. She pressed her lips together tightly, as though she didn’t want to let the words out, and kicked a coke bottle lid along the ground with the scuffed toe of her school shoe. Brianna reached out a hand and swiped the black tinted tears from her friend’s face, creating a ghoulish grey blusher on both sides of her nose, and Kasey looked up again, her lips still pressed together. All the blood appeared to have drained from her face, and her hair had come loose from the elastic holding it. “Bree,” she said in a whisper, “I think that might be my Mum down there.”

 

Robert

 

Summonsed by an hysterical phone call from his daughter’s best friend, Robert had no idea what kind of situation he was about to drive into but, whatever it was, he was getting there fast. Pushing his work car to its limit, he had run every yellow light from work to the Redton train station, his brain on hold, simply refusing to entertain any kind of possibilities, in fact pretty much refusing to think of anything at all except the fastest way to get back to Redton. He screamed through the final intersection, hooked a sharp right hand turn on to Station Road, just about putting the Prius onto two wheels, its little electric engine protesting. The crowd around the station hove into view through Robert’s passenger side window and he suddenly braked, stopping the car in the middle of the road, and taking a bare second to take in the scene that suddenly presented itself to him. For some reason he had believed that, once he got here, it would turn out that the girls had played a practical joke, that there would be nothing out of the ordinary. He would be able to yell at Kasey for wasting his time, and his perfectly ordinary life could go on in its perfectly ordinary manner. In the same second, he had realised all along that that was not going to happen, that it had been a mere hope, and that he had known this as soon as he had heard Brianna’s strangled voice on the telephone, and Kasey’s weeping in the background.

 

Robert slowly eased the car to the side of the road, hardly tearing his eyes from the cluster of people at the station, and stepped out onto the road. He left the keys in the ignition – they weren’t important right now. Right now, he needed to find his daughter, and then, he needed to find out what had happened to his wife. Panicky, his gaze skittered over the crowd, searching for a school uniform and blonde hair – he couldn’t remember how Kasey had done her hair this morning, and he mentally cursed himself for not taking more notice. Then, above the murmur of the crowd, he heard a voice yell out, “Dad! Rob! Over here!” Robert whipped his head around to see his daughter bearing down on him at a run from the other end of the station, finally crash tackling him with an embrace. Brianna was not far behind her, and he met her eyes over Kasey’s head. Brianna shrugged, as if to say she had no idea what was going on. Rob thought she probably had a better idea than he did, but didn’t push the issue, the poor girl looked petrified.

 

Slowly, he extricated himself from Kasey’s grasp, bent his head slightly to look in her eyes, and asked her to tell him what had happened. Haltingly at first and eventually with a gush of words that flowed without the benefit of punctuation, Kasey told her story, from walking to the station and seeing the police tape, to ringing the law firm and speaking to Lawrence. Slowly, like a gushing tap slowing to a drip, Kasey’s flow of words slowed, then halted. She looked as though she had sagged, somehow, Rob thought absently, as his mind whirled trying to piece together the information he had just received. His natural ability to deny, deny, kicked in and his first thought was that nothing was confirmed, it was a series of events that were not necessarily linked. Simultaneously, and in contradiction to his better reasoning, he started to panic.

 

With a massive effort, he took a breath, grabbed Kasey around the shoulders, and led her to the kerb to sit down. Kasey looked shrunken, haunted. Rob watched her pull her knees into her chest and curl into a tight ball, and he wrapped what he hoped was a fatherly, comforting arm around her. Brianna sank down on the other side of her friend, and copied the gesture, looking like what she really wanted was someone to do the same for her.

 

Softly, trying not to upset her, Rob asked her if she had gone down to the platform to speak to any of the police lingering there. Kasey shook her head, no. Rob fell silent, pondering his next move, then spoke again, “Kasey, baby-girl, I’m going to walk down there and see what I can find out. I’m not going to be gone for very long. Can you sit here with Brianna for a little while?”

Kasey responded with silence, and Rob thought that she hadn’t heard him. He opened his mouth to repeat himself, but then saw Kasey’s shoulders lift slowly, and fall, “OK” she said softly, barely audible.

Rob rose, planting a kiss on the top of her head, “I love you, Kiddo. I’ll be right back.” he murmured into the tangle of blonde hair.

 

Rob steeled himself mentally for what might come next, ducked under a line of police tape, and headed down into the crowd of people. Once he reached the platform, it became obvious that there were not as many people as it had seemed from the car park. He elbowed his way through to the centre of the crowd, most of whom were in emergency services uniforms. It seemed as though people were just standing around in knots, waiting for something to happen. Rob and the two teenage girls had proven to be a distraction for most, it seemed, and they were curious. Rob got to the end of the platform and stopped before stepping into the trampled grass. The scene that had been obscured by milling people before, now laid itself out before him, and he drew a sharp breath as he took it in. The body, for it was clear that was what it was, despite it being shrouded by a filthy blanket, seemed to be lying on its side, with knees drawn up into its chest. The position reminded him horribly of how Kasey had sat drawn up on the kerb. He fought down the bile that rose in the back of his throat, and turned his face skyward to ward off the tears that threatened. Only slightly calmed, he looked down again, to find he was being stared at by a man in a blue police uniform. Robert cleared his throat softly, willing his voice to work, and opened his mouth to speak. Before any words had formed on his tongue, though, the police officer rebuked him, “Sir, I don’t know what you think you are doing, but this is my crime scene. You had better have a good reason for having trampled on it.” the voice was rough, the words callous, but Robert sensed that he had been given a chance, albeit minor, to offer his case before being hauled off the platform.

“Umm, I don’t … My wife … She …” Words failing him, Robert pointed with a shaking finger at the body that lay under the blanket, felt the bile rise in his throat and his eyes wash with tears. He vomited violently on the concrete of the platform, his knees gave way, and he sank to the ground, hands grabbing his body as he went down. Robert let them take him, all the fight having left him.

 

Brianna

 

Brianna sat silently beside Kasey on the kerb, awash with emotion. She was afraid, scared, nervous, upset, but somehow recognised that what she was feeling was not even a fraction of what Kasey must be going through. She was starting to come to grips with the situation though, starting to lose that feeling that the world had just been set afloat on an uncertain and unpredictable sea.

 

She heard a commotion down on the platform and decided to stand up and have a look at what was going on down there. She stood, but didn’t move away from the kerb – she didn’t want Kasey to think that she was going to leave. Through the scrubby trees at the edge of footpath, Brianna could see down onto the platform. There didn’t seem to be as many people now and those that were there all appeared to be in uniforms of one description or another. She could see a huddle of people right on the edge of the platform, where the gap next to the fence let you step down onto the grass. A group of people leaned over someone who appeared to be lying on the ground. With a start she realised that it was Kasey’s Dad, it looked like he had passed out or something. Her heart stopped, and then she watched as they got him to sit up on the edge of the platform, his back to the fence and his knees pulled up to his chest. Brianna let go of the breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding as he lifted his head, spoke to someone, and took an offered bottle of water. He was alright, it seemed.

 

Brianna let her gaze move over into the grass. Large pieces of black plastic had been put up around the grassed area to block the site off from public scrutiny, but it did not hamper the views from above. The police officers, noticeable in their neat hats and light blue, short-sleeved shirts, all appeared to be hanging back a bit more now. It looked as though some forensic investigators had arrived, and gloved and gowned, they were now poking around in the grass. Finally, she let her eyes fall on what she had been so far avoiding, the shrouded bundle in the centre of the trampled grass. She couldn’t adequately see through the trees, but it definitely appeared to be a body, covered over with a blanket or something similar. She shuddered slightly, trying to keep her composure, and wondered if it could really be Kasey’s Mum. She knew Elouise arrived early to the train station, Kasey had bitched about it often – that if Elouise left later Kasey would be able to get a lift – and Briana assumed that something could have happened to Elouise when she arrived. There wouldn’t be very many people around at that time of day, she assumed.

 

Idly, Brianna pieced together the story Kasey had blurted to her father only minutes before, and tried to work out how Kasey could be so certain that something terrible had befallen her mother. It seemed as though it was possible that this event could have happened after Elouise passed through, or even before, if no one had discovered it yet. Although that didn’t explain why she wasn’t at work when Kasey had called. On impulse, Brianna pulled her own mobile phone out of her pocket, still there from when she had called Robert. She knew she had to call her own parents at some stage, let them know what had happened, but first she wanted to try and call Elouise.

 

Kneeling down beside Kasey again, Brianna touched her lightly on the arm, and told her that she was just going to go and make a phone call, that she’d be right back. She waited for Kasey’s nod, and wandered over towards the empty end of the railway station, hopefully out of earshot of her friend. She brought up the contacts lists stored in her phone, and scrolled down to E, she smiled slightly as she found the number she wanted and pressed the call button. The mobile phone in Elouise’s handbag began to ring and Brianna heard a click then a familiar voice, “Elouise Walker speaking”.

Monday – 09:32am Outbound

Elouise

 

The phone call from Brianna had been strange, to say the least. Elouise had hung up the phone deliberately, and stared at her blank computer monitor for a moment while she waited for the swirling thoughts in her head to subside. She had just sat down at her desk as the phone had rung, had not yet fired up her desktop machine. She had not even had a coffee yet this morning, and she briefly considered the possibility that she was still lying in Zach’s bed, dreaming the morning away. She couldn’t quite make herself believe that little fantasy though. She watched as Lawrence walked past her door, looking in from the corner of his eye as he did so. She called his name, and he stopped, retraced his last two steps, and stuck his head in. Elouise, wrapped up in the strange events of the morning, did not notice the sallowness of his skin, or the grey pouches under his eyes. If she had, she would have mentioned them. Lawrence examined Elouise, wondering what on earth was going on with her this morning. The phone call from Kasey had been cryptic enough, but now Elouise had turned up at work and gone from acting normal, sunny even, to this strange staring creature with a haunted face.

“Is … Um, is everything ok, Elouise?” Lawrence stammered.

“Ahh. Yes, I think so,” Elouise responded slowly, “but something has come up that I really need to deal with. Is Mister Schultz in his office yet?”

Lawrence said that he hadn’t seen their boss arrive yet this morning, but offered to investigate, and Elouise asked him to please do so. As soon as his head had disappeared from her door, she looked back at the blank monitor, searching it for answers that it did not have to give.

 

The phone on her desk sprang into life with the shrill bell of an internal call, and Elouise jumped, startled out of her blank reverie. She picked up the phone and spoke her name, trying not to sound shaken, but her normally brusque “Elouise Walker” nevertheless came out sounding flat and wary, even to her own ears.

“Oh, Elly, it’s Francine over in Mister Bird’s office, are you alright? You sound tired,” Francine and Elouise had worked side by side as personal assistants to two of the partners of the firm since they had been promoted together from the secretarial team a little over three years ago – right about the time Elouise had started seeing Zach.

“Fran, hi, yes I’m alright, I think. I’ve just had a little personal emergency, and I’m going to have to go home though. It seems as though Kasey has gotten herself into some trouble. But what were you calling for?”

“Look, Elly, Kasey is much more important, I’ll bug one of the other PA’s with this one. You go to Kasey and I’ll cover you today.”

“Thanks, Fran, I appreciate that. Hopefully I’ll be back this afternoon, but I’ll send you a message and let you know what’s happening.”

“Don’t come back today, Darl, just get things sorted out. We’ll all still be here in the morning. Now go!” Francine’s tone told Elouise there was no point arguing further and, knowing her co-worker and friend would be able to handle things for the morning at least, Elouise said goodbye, hung up the phone and reached for her handbag.

 

Elouise was back at Central station, waiting for the next outbound train and practising reasons for her absence from work this morning by the time Lawrence stuck his head back in her office. Lawrence frowned, figuring it must have been pretty urgent. At least he wouldn’t have Elouise looking over his shoulder all day now. He turned to his own computer terminal, opened a browser window, and called up Facebook.

 

Kasey

 

Still sitting in the gutter with her back to the train station and what she suspected was her mother’s body, Kasey strained her ears to hear Brianna’s hushed conversation. She couldn’t hear anything other than an occasional word here and there – ‘train station’, ‘police everywhere’, ‘I don’t know’, ‘it’s closed off’, ‘yeah, ok’. She guessed that Brianna was asking someone to come to the station and get them, letting her parents know what was going on, probably. Kasey kept her head down on the knees, feeling as though she wanted the ground to swallow her up, how had today gone so terribly, terribly wrong so very, very quickly? She heard Brianna hang up the phone with a ‘See you soon, then. Bye.” and the crunch of the rough bitumen as her friend came back and sat down. She felt Brianna touch her arm, and smelled the musk of her body spray as she leaned in close. Brianna spoke softly in Kasey’s ear, her breath tickling the fine hairs on her cheek. Kasey heard the words she spoke, understood each of them individually, but could not make sense of them as they were strung into a sentence. She looked up, and stared at Brianna, disbelief and misunderstanding clouding her pretty features, “Don’t lie to me Bree,” she said under her breath, enunciating each word carefully and with a touch of malice, “That will not help right now”. Brianna shook her head, “I’m not lying Kase,” she said, a smile starting to play on her face now, “I just spoke to your Mum, she’s okay, she’s on her way here now”. The second time the words were spoken, the meaning started to crystallise, and ever so slowly, and completely unexpectedly, a smile crept up on Kasey too.

 

The friends held each other closely, this time crying tears, not so much of happiness, but more of relief and release. Slowly, the tension in the air began to unravel, like threads from a torn woollen jumper, flapping in the breeze as it dried on the line. Kasey felt layers of stress peel off her back, her shoulders and though doubt would continue to linger until she could lay her eyes on her mother, alive and well, she suddenly felt a fool. With this realisation came the understanding that her father was down there on the platform, what could he be doing, if it was not her mother’s body lying in the grass? Kasey stood suddenly, left her school bag lying on the footpath, and ducked under the police tape leading down to the outbound platform, “Dad!” she yelled as she ran, “Dad! Dad, she’s alright! Mum’s ok, Dad, she’s ok!”

 

People made a path for her as she ran, and like looking down the aisle of a church, she saw her father sitting, broken, with his back against the fence at the end of the platform. She watched as he ever so slowly raised his head, noticed the gleam of hope shine in his eyes quickly followed by a sharp sliver of doubt. He tilted his head to the side, trying to work out what she was doing and as she collapsed beside him on the hard ground he gathered her head up into his shoulder, resting his blonde head on top of hers, their hair flowing together, indistinguishable from each others, “Baby-girl, tell me again, she’s okay … ?” Kasey heard the upward inflection of hope, her father’s statement that was somehow a question, but the lump in her throat prevented her from speaking, so she nodded her head against his white shirt, leaving a trail of tears and snot on his shoulder. Finally, she managed to get something past her tears, and she whispered, “She’s ok, Dad, she’s ok. We’re going to be ok.”

 

Elouise

 

Elouise sat on Platform Twelve at Central Station, waiting for the next train that would take her out to Redton. Her mind was totally occupied, thoughts jostling each other for room, for her attention, for enough time at the forefront of her mind to be explored fully. Brianna had told her that there had been some kind of body found at the train station and that Kasey had for some reason that it was her, Elouise, when Lawrence had told her that she hadn’t arrived at the office yet. Brianna had also said that her husband, Robert, had arrived at the station and had been talking to the police. Elouise wondered how he had gotten there so fast. It seemed so unlike him to put thought into action so quickly, although she had never seen him under this much pressure. It made her realise how much she must mean to him, for him to react so violently, without thinking the matter through fully. The thought disturbed her, she had always thought that he felt much the same way she did – the relationship was okay, they had fallen into a rhythm long ago, and each played their role, husband, wife, mother, father. She had even assumed that he had probably had relationships of his own outside the marriage, although she only had her own infidelity as proof of his.

 

Elouise felt curiously elated at the fact that no one had suspected what she had been up to, why she was really late to work, although the fact that everyone had thought her dead was reasonably discomforting in itself. Though it didn’t help her explain where she had been. How was she going to explain away the missing two hours or so from her morning? Another thought suddenly hit her, and the force of it made her reel – it wasn’t just Robert and Kasey who she was going to have to explain the missing hours to, her explanation was likely going to have to withstand the scrutiny of the police also. Elouise swallowed uncomfortably. She checked her watch – and realised that she had only about twenty five minutes to come up with a story that was sufficient enough to hold up under questioning by the police, and also wash with her husband and daughter. She did not for a minute think that the truth would suffice. She had no intention of leaving Robert, and, until now, no intention of leaving Zach either. The problem, she realised, was that she had gotten away with it for so long now, she had started to get complacent. She idly wondered if she was going to be forced to choose now, if Robert had gotten wind of the situation.

 

The train pulled into the station on a noxious cloud of fumes and squealing brakes. Elouise stood as the train slowed to a stop and she stepped into the carriage, her mind like a shaken gumball machine full of high-bouncers. She took a seat near the window on the near empty train, rested her head against the cool glass, and tried not to think about the fact that she now had less than fifteen minutes, and still no excuses. She watched the buildings flick past the window through unseeing eyes, the cars on the highway alongside the rails. Everyone was in such a hurry, it seemed, when all Elouise wanted was for the train to suddenly reverse directions, rewind through time and take her back to Zach’s studio, Zach’s bed, where she never had anything to worry about, unless it was where she had left her underwear. What on earth could she say? To have ‘lost’ two hours was quite an achievement. She couldn’t blame it on a meeting – it would work on Robert, but the police would be sure to check it out. Could she have been having breakfast somewhere, alone? They would check the venue, she imagined, so that wouldn’t work. Elouise tried to think up something she could have been doing, alone, that wouldn’t be verifiable. Her mind was far from blank, in fact it was positively filled with thoughts, unfortunately one of them were providing her with a suitable excuse for her absence this morning. She was being posed a lot more questions this morning than she had answers for.

 

Before Elouise was even close to ready, she saw Redton station pulling into view ahead of them, and prepared to rise on wobbly legs. She was busy concentrating on making her legs hold her weight, when she realised that the train wasn’t slowing for the station. A typically unintelligible announcement came over the train’s public address system, she caught none of it, but she could tell that they weren’t stopping at Redton. As this thought went through her mind, Redton station flashed past the windows in a blur of signs, seats, buildings, and blue uniforms. Elouise sat back down with a bump. Redton had been shut – there had been an ‘incident’. All of a sudden, it seemed even more real than it had previously. Her mind had been so occupied with trying to come up with an excuse that she had given no thought at all to the fact that someone had been murdered, she wondered who they had been, where they had come from. She knew so many people by sight at the station – did she know the victim? Her stomach churned, to match the liquidity of her legs and, suddenly, the train pulled in to the next station, slowed, stopped. The doors opened. Elouise stood shakily, and virtually fell onto the platform, keeping her feet only barely in her heels – the heels she had been so proud of this morning, and which seemed so terribly unimportant now.

 

Robert

 

Robert was back in the car, heading west along the train line to Eaglehill, the next station out from Redton. It had taken some time for Kasey’s words to sink in to his brain, and somehow he had still not been able to believe it until he heard Elouise’s sweet voice on the phone. She had sounded distant, somehow apologetic and mournful to his ears, which seemed strange, illogical. It was not Elouise’s fault that Kasey, and Robert for that matter, had jumped to conclusions, certainly no one blamed her for the misunderstanding. Elouise rarely reacted mildly, he was so used to her flying off the handle whenever something went wrong, that to hear her sounding forlorn and sorry in this situation, which was not remotely of her own doing, seemed at cross purposes, like a single red sock in a load of white washing. All Robert could feel at this moment was sweet, pure relief – his baby was alive, well. He pushed the thoughts from his mind, attempting to convince himself that he was over-analysing the situation, and tried to concentrate on driving instead.

 

Despite his best efforts, his mind wandered back to his wife. Robert knew the relationship had gotten tired, but he tended to view his marriage like a favourite armchair. It fit him perfectly, they worked well together, it was comfortable and relaxed and he certainly had no wish to see it end. He wouldn’t dare express that comparison to Elly, she certainly wouldn’t appreciate being compared to old furniture, but he assumed she felt the same way, although she would definitely have a more glamorous analogy to describe it. He, like many of his similarly married friends, was comfortable in his relationship. He could appreciate a fine figure or a shapely thigh when he saw one, but the thought of straying never crossed his mind. The very idea of seeing someone new, someone he had to impress, flatter and notice, filled him with dread. He knew that Elouise knew how much he loved her, he knew that Elouise knew that he wasn’t all that observant, he knew that Elouise knew that he appreciated the little things that she did for him, day after day, year after year. He knew that Elouise knew that he had eyes only for her, and that she had eyes only for him. They were two of the lucky ones. So many of his friends had been separated, divorced, and he and Elly just kept on keeping on. It was a wonderful feeling, and when he thought he had lost her so suddenly, it was like his whole world had opened up, yawning at his feet, begging him to just step on down.

 

Robert snapped out of his reverie when he noticed the street sign pointing to Eaglehill station, the little stylised picture of a steam engine directing him down a narrow back street. He indicated at the last minute, turned the corner a little too fast and braked suddenly when he saw Elouise stepping carefully across the broken footpath towards the drop off point in ridiculously high heels. The sight of her was like balm to his eyes, she was okay!

 

Elouise

 

Elouise picked her way across the footpath in front of the Eaglehill railway station. She heard a car taking the corner too fast and looked up to see Robert’s company car come speeding around the bend. Rob, eyes wild and hair sticking up in tufts, peered through the windscreen at her, as if he was trying to determine if it was, indeed, Elouise. When the identification was positive, he grinned like a mad man and hit the brakes. The little hybrid car came to a screeching halt in the centre of the road in front of Elouise, and he leaned across the passenger seat to open the door for her. Elouise plastered a smile on her face in return, although she could feel that it wasn’t quite reaching her troubled eyes, and climbed into the open car. She had hardly gotten both feet into the footwell when Rob had reached across the centre console, grabbing her and holding her tight. She felt, rather than saw his tears – smelt rather than heard his relief.

“I love you Elly,” he murmured, “I love you so much, when I thought you were … well. I’m glad you’re not, anyway. I am just so happy you’re okay.”

 

Elouise wasn’t sure how to cope with the rush of emotion, and her throat clamped up. She was nervous, petrified, but most of all, guilty. Her guilt was like a living thing inside her – a black, viscous slug of a being, writhing and threatening to choke her if she so much as opened her mouth to offer her husband a platitude. She nodded her head against Robert’s chest, unable to speak, and hoped that he would take her reticence as being overcome by emotion, rather than overcome by pure, filthy guilt.

 

Finally, after what seemed an eternity to Elouise who had not dared to break the embrace, Robert released his hold on her, sat back in the driver’s seat, and gently appraised her with his eyes. She tried to smile, but it felt like a tight, false thing, so she relaxed the muscles around her mouth again, and looked back at him, wondering when his questions would start. Surprisingly, Robert didn’t say anything. He simply turned to look through the windscreen and, with a small irrepressible smile playing around the corners of his mouth he dropped the car into gear and pressed the accelerator.

 

Elouise’s reprieve did not last long, however. They had been driving for mere minutes when Robert pulled up at a red light, turned to her and, looking almost sheepish, said softly “You gave Kasey and me a hell of a scare this morning. And Brianna too. What happened? Where were you, Hun?”

Although she had been expecting it, the question when it came was like a blow to Elouise, the air rushing instantly out of her lungs, leaving her breathless and gasping. Slowly, she swallowed, trying to gain some composure, then, stuttering, “Well, you see, it’s … well, recently I’ve been spending some time in the mornings in the park. You know, the one near Central there? It has a little man-made lake in it. And I have been spending some time there. Just, you know, working on reports and such. Nothing … nothing else, really. This morning, well, I guess this morning time got away from me. I spent longer than normal there, didn’t get in to the office until late. It was, it is, rather … well. Rather unfortunate. I guess.” The words, which had been so difficult to come up with in the first place, were surprisingly easy to say in the end. Once they had left her mouth, though, Elouise could feel them hanging in the air between them. She realised she was holding her breath, waiting for Robert to give some kind of indication of whether or not he believed her. Eventually, Robert smiled, nodded slightly, and Elouise released the breath she had been holding.

“It would be nice weather in there at the moment. Early in the morning it would be quite pleasant, I bet. I wish I could do something like that before work”. Elouise relaxed further, felt a smile come to her face. A real smile this time, not a fake, plastered on one. Finally, she felt able to respond to Robert’s declarations of love, and she looked him in the eye, reached a soft, manicured hand to his stubbled cheek, and whispered, “I love you too, Rob. Thank you.” Robert grinned in response, the light changed to green, and they sped off, reconciled, at least for now.

Monday – 3:21pm Outbound

Dalton

 

Dalton felt pleasantly tired after work, and the gentle rocking motion of the 3:21 outbound train was soothing. He was sitting up the front of the train, hunched down on the seat with his legs splayed in front of him. His now empty cooler box lay on the empty seat beside him, and he could hear a bunch of raucous school kids horsing around behind him. He saw Redton station come into view through the graffiti-covered plexiglass window, swept up the cooler with one fist and swung himself into a standing position. Rolling with the rhythm of the train like a seasoned sailor, he moved to the exit then, as the train glided to a stop, he pressed the button that unlocked the doors and stepped out onto the platform. His good mood instantly evaporated as he took in the scene in front of him – what on earth had happened here? he thought as the swarm of school kids swept around him.

 

The first thing Dalton saw was the small huddle of police that were standing almost directly in front of him as he stepped off the train. The second thing Dalton noticed was the temporary, hastily erected black plastic scaffolding that surrounded the very end of the platform, where there should have been a gap in the fence leading to the car park through the long grass. The third thing Dalton noticed was the stench lingering in the air. The smell seemed to have substance all of its own, a foul, viscous mixture of rotting meat and flyblown household rubbish. Instinctively, Dalton began taking shallow breaths through his mouth. The smell made him feel like retching, and he swallowed thickly, trying to push the rising bile back down to his gullet.

 

Dalton’s first instinct was to continue on his way and he began to turn towards the main exit from the platform, following the children. Suddenly the memory of the homeless man he had seen at the station that morning rose in his mind, and he wondered if there could be a connection. At odd times throughout the day, while he had been going about his business, his mind would retrieve the memory for him like a photograph – the old man with his head down on the bench, the bundle of old clothes in the grass. The more he had thought about it, the odder that bundle of clothes had seemed. Now he was being faced with a scene where the police were clearly present and there was something rotting on the air, he couldn’t help but wonder what the old clothes may have concealed. His curiosity piqued, he turned back towards the police, who had almost instantly disregarded him, and resolutely started walking towards them.

 

There were three men standing together, two in the familiar blue uniforms of general duties officers, and one in casual pants and a collared shirt. Dalton assumed he was a detective of some sort, based only on his knowledge of American television shows. Of the two in uniforms one appeared older and slightly thicker around the waist. Dalton noticed he had two embroidered chevrons on his epaulet, but couldn’t remember what rank that would make him. The other was younger and quite tall, his epaulets without ornament, fresh-faced and clean shaven yet his eyes were tired, the stresses of police work already beginning to show on his young face. The one in plain clothes appeared in his late-thirties, strong and lean and with an expression of distrust, not a man to pick a fight with, Dalton surmised. As he approached the small group their lacklustre conversation lulled and ceased, and the three turned towards him as one, suddenly alert – instinct raising invisible hackles and throwing up emotional shields. Suddenly the older cop opened his mouth and barked “Yes, Sir, how can we help you?” Dalton stopped a few paces short, the challenge apparently thrown down by the officer making him question his actions.

“Uh, I was just wondering, um … I was just wondering what was going on. I was here this morning you see …”

The officer who had spoken tilted his head to one side thinking, then eyed the detective meaningfully. The detective must have given some signal that Dalton didn’t catch, because suddenly the cop’s attitude changed. His features softened ever so slightly, although the suspicion never left his eyes, and he pulled a notebook from his uniform shirt’s breast pocket. Fishing the pen from the spiral binding, he looked directly into Dalton’s eyes, the human version of a polygraph, Dalton assumed, and asked him what train he had caught this morning. Dalton hesitated only slightly before telling him it was the 4:56 to the city, the same train he caught every day. The officer asked him his name and occupation, and Dalton gave him the requested information, spelling out his surname and the name of the construction company he worked for. This was dutifully copied down in the notebook and then an uncomfortable silence fell as the officer flicked back in the notebook two, three, four pages. He was still looking down at the indecipherable scrawl on the small page as he begun speaking again, “Look, Mister … ah … Richmond. I won’t beat around the bush, there was a dead body found here at this station this morning, and we’ve begun an investigation into how that body, ah, came to be here. Now if you’re right in your recollections, Mister Richmond, and you came through here at approximately 4:56, or slightly before, then I believe you may be able to help us in our investigation. Do you think that you might have something that you can add to this case, Mister Richmond?”

Dalton, realising immediately that the cop really didn’t care what he thought, that he was going to be questioned regardless, nodded slightly, “You can call me Dalton, or Tony, if you want. Mister Richmond is my father. I, um, I don’t have a lot to tell you, but it’s been bugging me all day. Can I tell you here … now? Or … ”

The cop gave a tight, humourless smile, nodded slightly and then responded, “All right Mister Richmond – Dalton. How about you start here and now, and we’ll decide if we need to go to the station once we know what you saw? By the way, I am Senior Constable John Mitchell, this,” he indicated to the plainly dressed man on his left, “this is Detective Sergeant David Ward, and this here,” he nodded towards the young uniformed cop, “is Constable Michael Platt. Now, how about you start when you arrived at the station. Did you drive Mister … Dalton?”

Dalton’s mouth was suddenly dry and, though he knew he carried no guilt, he felt sure that Mitchell was capable of making him question his own innocence. Determined, now that he had started, to simply get through the interview which hopefully would be over soon, Dalton swallowed, tried to ignore the stench in his nostrils, and began, “I don’t drive, I live just up the road. I know I left home about a quarter to five, so I got here around ten to. I was walking over the pedestrian overpass to the city bound platform …” Dalton continued, uninterrupted, for ten minutes as he gave his impressions of the homeless man, the bundle of what he had mistakenly taken for clothes, and when he had finished, his story exhausted, Mitchell looked up his notes, nodded his head, and said gravely, “Mister Richmond, I think you had better accompany me down to the station. We’ll need fingerprints from you, and a formal statement.”

 

Without waiting for an answer, Mitchell turned away from the group, and spoke into the radio that had suddenly materialised in his hand. The conversation was unintelligible to Dalton, who stood slightly stunned, looking in confusion at the other two police officers who had not yet spoken a word, wondering if they would be able to tell him when he had gone from being a source of information to a suspect, and waited for Mitchell to turn back and deliver him his fate.

 

Zach

 

Zach paced up and down Platform Twelve at Central. Where the hell was she? The 3:21 outbound had been and gone. Zach checked his watch again, compared it to the station clock on the platform, and the arrivals board above him. The next outbound train came through at 3:38. He paced a little more, considered waiting in case she had missed the usual train, then decided that he had better things to do than wait around after a bit of arse. Yeah, it was great arse, but he had no doubt it would be there for him tomorrow too. Sullenly, and thinking of the romp he was missing out on, Zach stalked back out of Central Station, up the stairs and to his car. He hit the button to roll the top down on the convertible and, the wind in his hair making him feel at least slightly better, decided to go home and paint something. He decided he was going to use a lot of dark colours to match his mood – red and black, crimson and pitch. To hell with women, they caused nothing but trouble.

 

Walter

 

Walter had stumbled home from the station as soon as his hip had allowed him to stand and walk again. Even the trains had not been able to take his mind from the horrors that lay in the grass to his left, and the station had lost its appeal, at least for today. He just wanted to be home, where people didn’t show up unexpectedly dead, wrapped in filthy old blankets and left out in the cold for strangers to find them. It had taken him close to an hour to traverse the kilometre or so back to his house, and when he had arrived he had collapsed into bed with exhaustion, fear and anguish crowding his mind. After ten minutes of lying in agony, the confusion of the morning refusing to allow him to slip into sleep, he snagged the bedside phone by its cord with shaking fingers, and punched a speed dial button. His niece’s husband had set the phone system up for him years ago, patiently sitting beside him one Sunday afternoon, teaching him how to use the speed dials, and which one to use for what service. Since then, he had had a falling out with his niece’s family, they had accused him of being senile since all he did was stare at trains. Later, when he had refused to go into an assisted living facility because it was too far from the train line his niece and her husband had ceased contact and now he hadn’t heard from them in years. Most of his old friends had passed away or moved out of town, and so Walter rarely had visitors anymore. Although he missed the company, at least he didn’t have to explain to anyone why he was at the station so much. He could come and go as frequently and at whatever time he wished, without having to justify the action.

 

The line was picked up at the other end, startling Walter out of his memories, and for a moment he forgot who he was calling and why. Then the pain in his hip reminded him, not so subtly, and he asked in a soft voice whether or not Rosemary would be able to come around that afternoon. He had had a bad night, he told the nurse on the telephone, and a bit of a scare this morning, and he was in a bit of pain. Although Walter’s words did not reveal the level of discomfort he was in, the nurse was practised and had heard from Walter often enough to know from the sound of his voice that he was in urgent need of medical attention. When Walter ended the call with a pleasant, “Thank you, Lovey.” she immediately dialled Rosemary’s personal mobile and called her in on her day off. She knew that Walter needed the best care right now, and that Rosemary would provide just that.

 

After swallowing two pain killers from the bottle above the bathroom sink, Walter finally found peace in the form of drug-induced sleep for a few hours, and was woken when he heard Rosemary knocking on the front door, calling out, “Walter! Dear, are you home? It’s Rosemary, from Home Nursing”. He slowly and carefully rolled out of bed, throwing aside the last remnants of pleasantly dream-free sleep, and padded in his socks to the front door. He unlocked it with the key he kept in a jar on the window sill, and checked above the chain before opening the door wide. Rosemary entered with an undisguised look of relief on her face. Chattering pleasantly, apologising for being late and saying how worried she had been about him, she grabbed his elbow and gently steered him back to the bedroom. Walter allowed himself to be led back into bed, let her check him over, Rosemary exclaiming over his bumps and bruises. She noticed the pain evident in his eyes as she gently manipulated his leg to gauge the damage in his hip and then went to her bag for some appropriate medication. Walter took the pills without question, swallowed them with the glass of water she fetched for him. She elicited promises from him that he would go and see the specialist, both of them knowing full well that he wouldn’t. Rosemary waited, engaging Walter in general, light hearted conversation, as the drugs took effect, and once he was again asleep, Rosemary slipped out of the room and left the house, ensuring the door was locked tightly behind her.

 

Walter awoke some hours later and lay in bed listening to the sound of the trains as they passed behind his small house. Judging by their frequency, it was late in the afternoon. After an hour or so of daydreaming as the last vestiges of the medication faded away, Walter rolled over to check the clock – nearly half past three. He had virtually slept the day away, he realised, and with a resolve found from the faded pain in his hip, and a trace of unfounded guilt at sleeping for so long, he carefully rose from his bed, and shuffled into the kitchen.

 

With his half full coffee mug in one hand and toast crumbs clinging to his lips, Walter shifted into the living room, and studied his model trains. He set the coffee down carefully on a side table and picked up an engine from the collection at the miniature rail yard. Placing it on the track, he had just flicked the switch to set the train in motion when a knock came on the door. He assumed that it must be Rosemary returning, perhaps she had forgotten something, and he switched the power off and went to the door.

 

He unlocked the door with the key and, because the chain hadn’t been replaced when Rosemary had left the house, opened the door wide. Instead of the friendly face of the home care nurse, though, Walter saw the stern faces of a pair of police officers – one older, one younger. Walter gave an involuntary cry and fainted on the doorstep.

Monday – 5:13pm Outbound

Lawrence

 

Lawrence watched the clock in the corner of his computer monitor count down the seconds to five o’clock. If it went any slower it would go backwards, he thought morosely as 4:46 ticked over. Figuring it would take him at least a few minutes to pack up, he stood with his coffee mug and wandered into the kitchen to wash it up. He dawdled back to his desk, realised only a minute had passed, and morosely hit the send/receive button on his email. Nothing. He heaved a sigh, and then decided to shut down his computer anyway. Elouise wasn’t here, she would never know. He happily clicked his mouse, instructing the machine to shut down. The jingly, electronic tune of the machine’s shut down process was music to his ears and, looking around furtively to see if anyone was paying any attention, he grabbed his empty briefcase and headed for the door.

 

The walk to Central station was a short stroll through a trendy shopping precinct, and Lawrence arrived on Platform Twelve just as the 4:59 pulled up to the station. Thanking his good fortune, Lawrence jumped onto the train, along with what seemed like hundreds of other commuters, all just as willing to get home slightly early as he was himself. The train was packed to the rafters and the chance of finding a seat was next to non-existent. Lawrence didn’t bother, he wedged himself into a corner near the exit doors, and let his eyes drift into the unfocussed, dreamy gaze of a regular commuter.

 

Almost completely oblivious to his surroundings, only barely taking in which stations they were stopping at and tuning out everything else, Lawrence began to think about some of the stuff that had happened since the weekend. What a crazy day! Late on Sunday afternoon, he had wandered back around the block to his own flat from his mate Ben’s place, and had stayed up pretty late playing Halo 3 on X-box. He had woken this morning feeling a bit tired and run down from the party, but the worst of the headache had gone. He still couldn’t remember much of what had happened at that party – there had been a lot of people there, not all of whom he’d known – not all of whom even Ben had known, he suspected. Not that that was particularly unusual, Ben had a flair for throwing pretty wild parties that seemed to end up encompassing more people than anyone ever expected.

 

He had gotten to the station and caught the 7:56 into the city, arriving at the office shortly before half past eight, which was his designated starting time. Of course, that was when things had started to go really pear shaped. The phone in Elouise’s office had rung and rung and he had been relieved when it stopped, transferring back to reception, and the pressure had been off him to answer it. But then it had started again and Lawrence had figured he’d better answer it. Elouise was rarely in much before nine, so there was no chance she was in her office ignoring it. And if it was important, she would be irritated if he hadn’t gotten a message. So he had stepped, somewhat nervously, into Elouise’s office, picked up the phone and spoke to Elouise’s daughter Kasey, who had seemed upset and out of sorts, but who had not given him any information whatsoever. He thought it was strange that Kasey had seemed so surprised when Elouise wasn’t in her office. Elouise had told him in the past that she usually caught the 8:23 into the office in the mornings, so she should have left home around about the time Kasey called him in the office, unless he had miscalculated somewhere along the line.

 

But then Elouise had finally arrived, right around the normal time, received a phone call on her mobile just as she walked into the office, and then had appeared all dreamy and worried and nervous, and had fled again. Lawrence hadn’t seen or heard from her for the rest of the day, which was strange. In the two months Lawrence had been working with Elouise, he had not known her to even take a lunch break, let alone a whole day off at no notice.

 

Something familiar in the scenery made him snap out of his thoughts, and he realised that the train was beginning to pull into Redton station. He elbowed his way through the press of people and stepped through the doors as they opened onto the platform. A stench rolled off the air and hit him like a fist in the face as he did so, and he took a small involuntary step backwards before regaining his composure and his balance and starting to move toward the southern end of the platform, intending to duck through the narrow gap in the fence and through the car park towards his flat. As he neared the usually long grass, he thought at first that it had been mown, but then realised it had been trampled flat. The smell seemed to get worse as got closer to the edge of the concrete platform, and when he stepped through the gap in the fence onto the trampled grass, a fresh wave assaulted his nasal passages. The smell was remarkably similar to the kitchen bin in his house just before he got up the energy to take it out, and he guessed that an animal had died in the grass overnight, the heat of the daytime sun putrefying the flesh and creating the smell. Finally, he got to the car park, where he crossed the street and continued on his way. At least the air was a bit clearer here.

 

Shannen

 

Shannen twisted the key in the lock and pushed the door of her apartment open. It swung inwards, revealing her lounge room. The furniture was old, sourced from op shops and second hand dealers of dubious integrity, but the room was neat and clean. Shannen stepped over the threshold, placed her handbag on the old fashioned hall stand where it belonged, and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She had already switched the kettle on and reached up to the overhead cupboard for a mug before a thought suddenly hit her – alcohol would be so much more welcome right now, surely discovering a corpse on the way to work was enough to justify a Monday afternoon drink. She put the mug away and grabbed down a glass instead, then went to the top shelf of the pantry for the Baileys. She poured a good measure of the smooth smelling liquor into the bottom of the glass, hesitated, then sloshed in another fingerful, before recapping the bottle and returning it to its place. She topped up the glass with milk from the fridge and then took the glass to the balcony.

 

The sun was low on the horizon, although still about an hour away from setting. Shannen sat down on the low couch, which was wedged into a corner of her tiny balcony, and pulled her legs up to her chin. She had put the drink down on a small table beside the couch, and now she wrapped her arms around her legs, resting her chin on her knees. She closed her eyes, but the only images dancing behind her eyelids were of a filthy blanket-wrapped body, a pink painted toenail, and the distrustful faces of police officers. In despair she opened them again, and watched the wind chime turn lazily in the only barely there breeze. The chime was unusual, the product of a lazy Sunday morning searching the more obscure markets held along the beaches south of the city. It had blown glass tubes in varying, swirled colours that produced a high pitched yet pleasant chime, but the most interesting part about it was the feature hanging from the central ball. It was a glass phoenix, wings lifted as it eternally rose from unseen ashes. She had bought it for its slightly quirky charm, but in the past twelve months it had come to symbolise a lot more to Shannen. The traditional symbolism of the phoenix represented rebirth and new life, and indeed the purchase of the chime had represented a new chapter in Shannen’s life. It had ended the part of her life that had been concerned only with drinking, partying and general hell-raising, and had heralded the current chapter, where she had gone back to university, gotten and held a steady, albeit menial job, regained contact with her mother. She still missed the partying – not so much the drugs and alcohol, it was a refreshing change to wake up with a clear head in the morning – but more the social aspect, the friends (although many had turned out to be not so good friends in the end), the constant, yet often unsavoury, company. She craved the daily interaction with others, yet still somehow coveted her own space, which had made her very difficult to spend time with in recent years. She had had a boyfriend for a few months, on more than one occasion, but had been unable to reconcile time spent with a significant other and time spent alone, and the relationships had died rather natural deaths. Shannen had chalked them up as learning experiences. Through the confusion of departing false friends and strained personal relationships, one friend had risen up above it all, though. Ariana had offered her a hand up, a shoulder to cry on and most of all love, right when she needed it most. Many nights had been spent over endless cups of tea, and the occasional glass of wine, and the two had formed a strong bond as together, although it was an unspoken pact, the two young women tried to make some sense of their lives and rise, like the phoenix, from the ashes that their own teenaged selves had created.

 

When Shannen had started down this path of betterment and self-awareness, she had known she would face some hurdles. She knew that false friends would tempt her, that the partying would exert its pull, that the pills would call her name. And so they had, frequently, sometimes irresistibly. She hadn’t always managed to stay away from the temptations, but she had always managed to get back on the ladder. It may have been a few rungs lower, but she never found herself right back at the bottom. Although all these things had been expected, that many battles had been fought and most had been won, she had never expected that being drawn into a murder investigation would be among them. The thought of drinking herself into oblivion, of finding a little something to take the edge off, of sinking into that wondrous world where everything sparkled and even strangers glowed with love (except for when they didn’t), teased her, and she pushed the thought back down. Struggling a little at the moment, knowing the struggle was only going to get worse as the night wore on, she wondered what to do. If she could keep busy, maybe that would keep her mind occupied. If her mind was occupied, she wouldn’t be thinking how she could obtain some pretty little pills, she wouldn’t be thinking about the bottle of Bailey’s in the pantry, or the gin stashed in the back of the cupboard.

 

Struck with an idea suddenly, Shannen got up from the couch and trotted into the lounge to snag the cordless phone from its charger base. She dialled the number from memory as she stepped back outside, and watched the sun dip its bottom edge below the horizon as the phone rang in her ear. It was picked up mid-ring, and Shannen opened her mouth to speak, but closed it again as she heard the pre-recorded voice, “Hi, this is Ariana’s phone. I’m not answering, so leave a message. If you’re sexy I’ll call you back.” The slight tinkle of laughter that came after the message was abruptly cut off by a jarring beep, and Shannen did as Ariana had instructed, “Hey, girlfriend. I was hoping you were free for a bit tonight. I’ve had an absolutely shitty day and the bed bugs are bitin’. Give me a call back, ok?” Shannen hit the button that terminated the call, laid back along the length of the couch, and hoped that Ariana would call back soon. Slowly, the sun sunk in the sky, and as the last few rays of light shone over the horizon, Shannen resigned herself to having to fight her demons alone. Resolutely, she got up, grabbed the glass of Bailey’s and milk, and carried it into the kitchen. She poured the contents of the glass into the sink, watching the milky concoction swirl down the plughole, leaving a scummy trail behind it, then ran the tap for a few seconds to clear the drain. Shannen turned to the kettle, hit the switch with a vengeance and grabbed down a mug. She plopped a teabag in and waited for the water to boil.

 

Elouise

 

Elouise lay in bed, wide awake, mind reeling. Rob was asleep beside her, lying on his side, her back to his wife, his breathing heavy but not quite a snore yet. Elouise was, as usual, thinking about Zach. This time though, it wasn’t a pleasant recollection of the times they had spent together, the time they had spent together this morning, the way his eyes undressed her, or the way his touch sent sparks into her groin. This time, she was trying to think what to do about the whole sorry mess. The events of this morning had completely disarmed her; she had been so totally unprepared, so completely wrapped up in her invincibility. The charm that had surrounded the affair from the beginning had always seemed to extend to the possibility of being found out. She had been so sure that she wouldn’t slip up, that the only way Rob would ever find out would be through her own doing, that the possibility of it occurring through something as random as a murdered stranger and as simple as a phone call, something she had absolutely no control over, was almost mind boggling in its obviousness. Elouise realised that she had become complacent, and the thought of Rob finding out chilled her to the bone. However, the thought of breaking off the affair filled her with dread. How would she get up in the morning, without the thought of Zach meeting her at Central? How would she get through the day at work, without the memory of the morning she had spent with him, the animal scent of their sex still lingering on her skin? How would she get through the menial evenings as dutiful wife and attentive mother, without the prospect of doing it all again tomorrow?

 

She had been with Zach for so long now, had led a double life so successfully for so many years, that she wasn’t sure if she would be able to go back to being what she thought of as ‘normal’. Her choices, though, were limited. She could call it off with Zach tomorrow morning at Central, walk away as though the past three years had meant nothing, and go back to being wife to Rob, mother to Kasey, the morning commute suddenly a painful, endless chore. She could spill the truth to Rob, tell him all, beg him for forgiveness, and hope that they could salvage some love, some trust, some pitiful scrap of their relationship, their marriage. She could choose Zach instead, dump Rob in a blazing argument over his lack of attention, his dirty clothes on the floor, his resistance to going out for dinner more than once a month – any excuse would do – and then announce to Zach that she was all his, forever more. Elouise sighed under her breath, covered her face with her hands. None of those options were suitable. What she really wanted was to continue the way she had been – indefinitely. But after this morning, she knew that she had to make a decision – before a decision was made for her. Because in a flash of realisation today she had come to the conclusion that a decision surely would be made for her. And she knew that whatever that decision was, she probably wasn’t going to like it.

 

Elouise sneaked a look at the clock – 11:47, nearly midnight – and sighed. Her body desperately needed the sleep after the series of stresses that the day had dealt her, but her mind refused to shut down, still filled with thoughts. Reluctantly, she got out of bed, ensuring that she didn’t wake Rob, and slipped downstairs. She would sit up and watch late-night television with a herbal tea for a while, try and get her brain to shut down for the night.

 

Robert

 

Robert felt the bed rock slightly and rose slowly into consciousness just in time to see Elouise pad over to the bedroom door and head out to the stairs. He lay unmoving on his side, still climbing through the spider web threads of his dreams, attempting to sort out fantasy and dreams from the reality of the bedroom, his house. He listened to the muffled sounds coming from the kitchen – the tap running, the kettle set to boil, the clink of a cup and saucer. Eventually, the click as the kettle shut off, the liquid sound of boiling water sloshing into the cup, more clinking as the cup was picked up and taken away … into the lounge room as far as he could tell. Then the sound of the television, too loud at first in the sleeping house, then quickly turned down.

 

Fully awake now, Robert realised that Elouise must have been having trouble sleeping. A herbal tea and bad late night television was her usual remedy for sleeplessness, although he hadn’t noticed her do it in, well, possibly years, he realised. It made him wonder what was keeping her up, but put it down to the confusion and stress of the day. Once Kasey had seen Elouise and the last of the doubt and confusion had been cleared up, the family had spent most of the rest of the morning with the police, both at the railway and later at the local police station. It had been a harrowing day for all of them and all three had fallen into bed early after a quick take away dinner. Robert knew that he had fallen asleep almost instantly, sheer exhaustion taking over. It seemed as though Elouise hadn’t been so lucky.

 

Robert considered going downstairs to talk to her, try and help her unravel her thoughts enough that it would allow her to sleep, but he always felt uncomfortable in the role of confidant with Elouise. She had never been the type to express her feelings to him, put her heart on her sleeve, so to speak. He assumed she did a lot more of this with her girlfriends, but recently, even those seemed to have drifted away. Elouise rarely had time for coffee mornings, casual dinners or telephone gossip sessions with her friends recently, it seemed. Suddenly and for the very first time, he wondered why that was. It had never occurred to him to question it before, put it down to increasing maturity on Elouise’s part and a greater commitment to her work since she was promoted a few years ago. But now something niggled at him. With the clarity of hindsight, Rob realised that Elouise had definitely shown a change, and he tried to think back to when this change had occurred. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought it centred around the time she was promoted. He guessed that perhaps the promotion could account for much of it, but there were other things that seemed strange, now he analysed it. She had gotten edgier somehow, less tolerant, more prone to fly off for a minor misdemeanour or a perceived slight. Never an early riser, she had started getting up in the pre-dawn hours, taking early trains to work. At first these had been accompanied by excuses – she had too much work on, her boss was coming in early, there was a big presentation first thing in the morning – and eventually it had become the norm, no more excuses given, or requested.

 

His thoughts jumped to the conversation they had held in his car, stopped at the red light on the way back to Kasey at Redton. At the time Elouise’s explanation for her absence – that she had been sitting working on a report in the parklands near Central, seemed entirely reasonable. But now that he could give it more rational, less harried thought, it seemed strange. Elouise had never been an outdoors type. They had gone camping once, in the early days before Kasey was born, before they were married even, and Elouise had done nothing but complain bitterly the entire time. Needless to mention, they had never gone again. Robert knew Elouise well enough through nearly twenty years of marriage to know that she was simply not the type to want to sit in parklands and watch the sun rise over the lake. Unless she was undergoing a sudden want to get back in touch with nature as she got older.

 

Robert yawned, weariness overcoming him again. He dismissed his disturbed thoughts as paranoia, brought on by a stressful day, rolled over and readjusted the pillows, then closed his eyes and drifted into sleep again. He would ponder this more in the morning, when surely it would seem a lot more rational.

Tuesday – 6:14am to the City

Shannen

 

Shannen had woken early, feeling worse than she had the night before, despite over eight hours in bed. She had resisted the pull of alcohol, alone, waiting for Ariana to call back, until shortly before nine o’clock. It was around then that the events of the day had started to catch up with her. She had been sitting on the balcony since the last light had seeped out of the day, reading a light-hearted paperback novel by flickering candle light and listening to classical music on the stereo. After a while she had been unable to concentrate on the page, felt compelled to force her eyes back to the top of the page again and again, because the words simply weren’t making sense any more. Finally, she had given up trying to follow the story of the words in front her and closed the book. She stared at the cover for a little while, a picture of a house painted in airy watercolours with a tree and a horse-drawn carriage in the foreground, a strangely happy looking Clydesdale horse with a blade of grass dangling from the corner of a whiskered mouth. Overwhelmed by the cuteness of the picture, Shannen closed her eyes and let her head fall back on the arm of the couch, lying prone along the length of it, legs dangling from the knees over the opposite end. She had attempted to call Ariana several times throughout the night, had left messages the first few times and then had given up, disconnecting the call when Ariana’s bright recorded “Hi…!” came over the line again and again. Eventually, she had picked her weary body up, and put herself to bed.

 

Shannen had not slept well however, her dreams filled with demons and cadavers, lost friends and failed relationships. She had woken throughout the night a number of times, had on one occasion gotten up to go to the toilet and had ended up wandering the small apartment, checking doors were locked, windows closed, blinds drawn. Reminding herself that no one was about in the house apart from herself, trying to convince her brain to just stop thinking, allow her to rest. Eventually she had gone back to bed, despite not feeling any more reassured than earlier, but with the knowledge that she had at least checked the house.

 

When the alarm clock shrieked at five am, Shannen had been awake for some twenty minutes already, had been steadily watching the second hand on her old-fashioned, op-shop bought clock tick down the minutes that she was not going to get any more sleep in. Fully awake, but far from refreshed, Shannen got out of bed and showered with the water turned as hot as her body could stand. When she wrapped the towel around herself, she noticed how red her skin had gone from the hot stream of water, and noted that it didn’t seem to matter how hot the water was, she still felt the stench of death lingering on her skin. She hadn’t touched the body, had seen nothing more of the body than a pink painted and slightly chipped toenail, but somehow she could still smell the scent of the corpse surrounding her.

 

Shannen found a clean uniform shirt and slipped it over her head, then found yesterday’s pants lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. She picked them up, shook them out, inspected them half-heartedly, and climbed into them. She quickly pulled her dark hair back with a black elastic, the end of the pony tail skimming the back of her neck. She leaned forward, examining her face in the mirror. She was naturally slender, her cheek bones fairly prominent underneath the olive skin. She had brown eyes set beneath long dark lashes, and, as of this morning, she had dark crescent-moon shadows beneath them. When she looked closely, she could see the beginnings of crows’ feet extending from the outside corners of her eyes, a slight vertical crease beginning at the top of her nose. Shannen considered putting on some make up to hide the worst of the stress showing on her face but a yawn caught her suddenly, stretching her mouth wide. She decided to just quickly smear some mascara on – any more than that would be just too much effort this morning. She performed the ritual quickly, then blinked and turned away from the mirror.

 

Shannen went to the kitchen and slowly made herself a cup of tea, which would serve as breakfast until she got into work. As she waited for the kettle to boil, she began thinking of Ariana again, wondering why she hadn’t called back last night. She finished making the tea and sipped it slowly as she grabbed the phone, hit redial, and nestled it into her neck. It rang a while, then “Hi, this is Ariana’s phone…”

 

Elouise

 

Elouise was startled awake by the jarring sound of the morning radio breakfast announcers suddenly braying synthetic-sounding laughter from the clock radio beside her bed. It was five am, and still caught up in her dreams as though they were lace curtains for her to peep through, she tried to make sense of the morning. Her body cried out to be allowed to go back to sleep, but then the thought of meeting Zach in an hour or so pried her eyes open. Until she remembered what had happened yesterday. With the sudden recollection of the angst she had been struggling with into the early hours of this morning, she closed her eyes. Zach’s face, the comfort she knew he would offer, faded in her mind’s eye, and Elouise allowed the call of further sleep to pull her back under, where she didn’t have to make a decision between her husband and her lover – between surety and security and lust and laughter.

 

Walter

 

Walter lay in the narrow bed, eyes closed and dull pain coursing through his body. His mind was foggy, the memories of the past night hazy, and he wasn’t entirely sure how he had ended up here, or even where here was. There had been nurses come in and out through the night, taking blood pressure, changing the bag hanging from the intra-venous drip, asking him to swallow more pain killers. He wasn’t certain where the pain was located anymore. It had started in his hip, but the drugs, the fall on his doorstep and the general fogginess which now overtook him made it seem to be emanating from everywhere, and nowhere. He half opened his eyes and, without moving his head, took in the room around him. Hanging above the pitifully small hospital bed was the ever-present IV bag, hanging from a flimsy pole poking out of a groaning, whooshing pump. He followed the tubing down with his eyes to where it disappeared into his right wrist. He flexed his wrist experimentally but felt no pain, at least none associated with the drip as far as he could tell. Looking back up above him, he could see the oversized standard-issue bed head, upside down in his point of view, and completely rigged up with strange valves and spigots, incomprehensible acronyms on the labels below them. To his left, he could see a table, the sort that was designed to be rolled over the bed, it had an unopened newspaper and a nearly empty bottle of water on it, and was littered with the little plastic cups that they brought his tablets around in. Further to the left, there was a window. The view to outside was dingy and it was difficult to see, but he could discern the barren tops of high rise buildings in the middle distance, although everything beyond this was just haze under a grey sky. His gaze slipped from the view and suddenly alighted on a figure sitting in a chair beside the window, apparently staring out the window, watching the rain as it dropped from the sky.

 

Walter gave a start when he realised that someone was in the room with him. The chair had been turned halfway towards the window and the person sitting in it had turned to the rest of the way to look out, so their back was towards him. It was unlikely that they had realised he was awake, Walter realised. Walter examined the figure closer, a weedy body, thin shoulders clad in light blue serge, hair concealed underneath what appeared to be a policeman’s cap. The figure was wearing dark blue pants to complement the lighter shirt, and Walter realised that the person was a police officer, although he could not determine of what gender. Why a policeman would be in his hospital room, he had no idea, but then he didn’t understand why they had come to his door last night either. He guessed that there was something they needed to talk to him about, but why would that necessitate putting a policeman in his room, waiting for him to wake up?

 

How had he gotten here anyway? He knew he had been here for some time, since late the afternoon before, he assumed. The last thing he could remember was opening his door to the police officers the night before. He cast his memory back, tried to work out if one of those was the one here in his hospital room now, but couldn’t make a positive identification either way. The policemen at the door must have called an ambulance, brought him here. Which would indicate that this was the large public hospital about twenty kilometres from his home. And now there was one of the boys in blue in the room, waiting.

 

The thought of having to face this police officer if it was discovered that he was awake made him nervous and upset. It occurred to him that if he continued to sleep, the event would at least be put off, if not cancelled. He shifted onto his side, so that the figure in the room was behind him and out of his range of vision, and closed his eyes again. He waited for the drugs to wash their foggy cloud over him and send him back to blissful, unknowing sleep. Eventually, they did, and Walter slept.

Tuesday – 8:23am to the City

Lawrence

 

Lawrence’s mobile blasted out a particularly bad rendition of In da Club by rapper 50 Cent, and Lawrence was out of bed and in the lounge room answering it before he had even realised what had happened.

“Larry, mate, you awake man?” Ben sounded wired, as though he had been awake for hours, and Lawrence decided that he must be either on some heavy drugs or had been up around the clock, because he’d never known Ben to be out of bed before ten am otherwise. Ben was lucky enough to have parents who could support him through his uni degree, and he had so far managed to make a career out of changing his mind. Lawrence had calculated that Ben had spent somewhere close to seven years studying now, and he was no closer to finishing a degree than he had been five years ago. All this had added up to a lot of late night, drunken parties at Ben’s house, and a lot of mornings where everyone except Ben had had to get up and go to work.

“I am now, aren’t I?!” Lawrence answered grumpily, “What the hell do you want? What time is it anyway?” As Lawrence grumbled into the phone he glanced at the LCD display on the DVD player and gave a start – it was nearly 8 o’clock already, he was going to be late for work. What had happened to his alarm clock?

“Listen, Larry, did you ever see that chick you were chatting up again?”

“Huh? Which chick? When? What does this have to do with anything? Look, Ben, I’m gonna be late for work, I’ll talk to you later, ok?” Lawrence had pulled the phone from his ear and was lining up the ‘end call’ button with his index finger when a tinny voice squawked from the receiver. Reluctantly, he brought the phone back to his ear, “What?! Ben, I’ve gotta go!”

“Larry, mate, this is important! Don’t hang up on me, OK? Remember the chick you were chatting up on the weekend? Tall, dark hair, built like a peg?”

“Uhh,” Lawrence searched his hazy memories of Saturday night, trying to piece together the events that had begun to, mercifully, fade from memory, “Umm. It was a funny name … Aalia or something? That wasn’t it … but it was like that. Why?” He paused, then added, “And make it quick.”

Ben ignored the question, sounding strangely far away now, “Aalia, you reckon? Hmm … ok, thanks mate. Listen, I’ll call you tonight, ok? Try and remember the name for me, alright?”

 

Lawrence stared at the phone for a second after Ben hung up and the shattered tone of the disconnected line started pulsing in his ear. Then he shook his head slightly and pressed the button to disconnect the call. He had no idea what that had been about, it just seemed as though Ben was on some weird drugs. He possibly was, but he had seemed rather lucid, if a little vague at the end.

 

Lawrence saw the clock on the DVD machine had ticked over eight o’clock, and he forced thoughts of Ben and the girl from the party from his mind. He dashed back into the bathroom, turned the hot water on, and stripped. Thinking of nothing now but getting to work on time, he jumped into the shower.

 

He was halfway through lathering himself with soap when the girl’s name jumped into his head – Ariana! That had been it! He’d have to remember it and tell Ben when he called tonight, assuming Ben even remembered of course. Feeling slightly better, he finished washing, dressed, and ran all the way to the train station.

 

Elouise

 

Elouise couldn’t find a parking spot at the station. Normally when she arrived, there were places right up close, but that was at six o’clock in the morning. By eight, she saw, all the good ones were gone. Kasey was in the car with her, happy because she had, for the first time in years, gotten a lift to the station. Elouise had felt that there had been a certain amount of suspicion from both Rob and Kasey over her decision to go in late today. She had brushed it off, saying she was just too tired after yesterday to go in early. Indeed, her face had been showing the strain of the sleepless night when she looked in the mirror this morning. Whether or not Rob had noticed, she didn’t know, although she suspected he hadn’t – he didn’t generally notice things like that, she thought wryly to herself. What mattered was that she had seen it, and she had subsequently over compensated with makeup to cover it. She suspected by the greasy, heavy feel of the products on her face now, that she looked a little like a fairground clown. If she just opened her mouth and moved her head back and forth, she thought, and almost chuckled in spite of herself and her dismal mood. Kasey turned slightly, and gave her a funny sideways look, and Elouise quickly wiped the smile from her face.

“Mum,” Kasey said slowly, like she couldn’t find the right words, “Mum, are you ok? I heard you up last night. And you look tired.”

 

Elouise was taken aback, when had her daughter gotten so astute? She felt a little tremor of shock run through her as she realised that her baby was turning into a woman, and she had a fleeting feeling of missing out on something major somewhere along the way. She realised that the pause was growing in the air between her and her daughter, and she struggled to put some words into it, if only to fill the void, “Oh yes, I’m OK,” she said, “just tired I guess. I just couldn’t seem to get my brain to shut down last night.” Elouise gave a chuckle, but it sounded false to her. Like so much else she spoke at the moment, it was just a layer of lacquer over what was underneath, hiding it from view.

 

Kasey gave a half-hearted, “Hmm. OK then,” but Elouise could tell she wasn’t convinced. She sensed Kasey want to take the matter up further, but then stopped herself, and she wondered what she was thinking.

 

Suddenly, a parking spot appeared like a beacon in front of her sedan, and she hit the brakes quickly, and performed a neat reverse park into the gap. The two women, older and younger, got out of the car and retrieved briefcases and umbrellas from the car boot. Elouise locked the car with the remote key, and the two walked side by side down the rough footpath, sidestepping puddles. Neither woman looked at the other, the unspoken conversation hanging between them like threads of silken spider web – too dense to ignore their presence, but too difficult to wrap words around them and make some sense of the emotions. Suddenly, Kasey spotted Brianna up ahead, just about to cross the pedestrian overpass, and she called out to her.

 

Before racing off to meet her friend though, she turned to her mother, stopping her in her tracks.

“Mum?” she said softly, “I love you. Don’t work late today OK?”

 

Elouise nodded mutely, struck by the depth of the emotion she felt buried in Kasey’s words, and on an impulse, wrapped her arms around her daughter, their bags tangling together in an embrace of their own. Elouise could smell the fruity shampoo that Kasey had used in her hair this morning, the hair that was so much like her father’s. She vowed to herself that, no matter what, she would be there for her daughter. Regardless of what she decided to do about her tangled relationships, she needed to ensure that she was never less than the best she could be – not for herself, not for her partner, whoever that turned out to be, but for Kasey. She owed her that much.

 

Reluctantly, Elouise pulled away from the embrace, and the two chuckled as they disentangled the various accessories – bags, earrings, umbrellas and identification tags had all gotten caught up with each other. Once they were separated once more, they smiled at each other and Elouise realised that, although the tension had lifted, Kasey still looked somewhat troubled. Still, Elouise felt marginally more relaxed, and somehow one step closer to a decision than she had been this morning.

 

Kasey ran ahead to meet with Brianna, and Elouise watched the two, heads together and talking seriously, as they crossed the overpass ahead of her, disappearing into the crowd of commuters that surrounded the station. Yes, maybe she knew what she had to do. She didn’t have to decide between two men – she had to decide between a man and her daughter. And, not surprisingly, that decision was a lot easier.

 

Lawrence

 

Lawrence tore down the footpath as fast as he could go, praying that the broken concrete, slick with the drizzly rain that had been on and off all morning, wouldn’t catch one of his shoes. These shoes were not designed for running in, he thought vaguely, as he watched his black dress shoes with the silver buckles thump the footpath in rhythmic foot falls. His breath was coming in ragged gasps now, and as he saw the pedestrian overpass looming ahead of him, the thought of getting over all those stairs made him feel like giving up. But then he saw Elouise’s stern face in his mind’s eye, and, knowing there was no way she would miss two days in a row, he used the last of his energy to propel him up the old wooden stairway. As he hit the catwalk at the top, he heard the crackly announcement from the platform, the words with their peculiar inflection common only to pre-recorded public transport announcements the world over, were distinguishable only because he had heard them so many times, “The train arriving on. Platform two is a. City train. Stopping. All stations to. Central.” The announcement was cut off abruptly by the rumble of the train approaching, and the squeal of brakes as it pulled in to the station. Lawrence put the rest of his energy into getting down the stairs, and made it to the platform just as the guard’s whistle blew. He stepped through the nearest pair of open doors, just as the too cheery warning announcement – “Doors closing! Please stand clear!” – chorused in every carriage, and the doors snapped close with a vengeance. He had made it!

 

As the train pulled away from the station, Lawrence stumbled slightly with the sudden movement, and grabbed the nearest handhold, which was suspended from the ceiling immediately in front of the double doors. He brushed against someone in his haste, and turned to mumble an apology, realising at the last minute that is was none other than his boss, Elouise.

“Oh! Elouise! Hi!” he said, still breathless, and trying unsuccessfully to not to show his surprise at seeing her in his voice. She was standing on the packed train, holding the dangling handhold next to the one he was hanging from, and her concentration appeared to be on the tiny silver phone in her hand. She appeared to be reading a text message, deep in thought, and she looked up vaguely when she heard her name.

“Hmm? Oh, Larry, hi. How are you?” The question was polite, not inquisitive, Lawrence noted, but answered anyway, in the interests of making polite conversation,

“Oh, pretty good thanks. Running a bit late today,” he gave a rough laugh, a quick, “Heh,” before he realised how peculiar he sounded. “It’s, uh, it’s a bit wet outside isn’t it? Makes public transport fun, huh?”

Elouise’s attention had returned to the phone, and Lawrence noted a slight crease had appeared between her eyes, was that confusion or irritation, he wondered. And was it directed to him, or to the phone?

She looked up again, distracted, and said “Huh? Oh, the rain. No … I mean, yes, it is wet outside.” She looked out the window as though it was only Lawrence’s pointing it out that had made her realise the miserable weather. Lawrence just watched her, her attitude confusing him. Drawing her attention back to the interior of the carriage, she spotted an empty seat and pointed to it, “I, um, might take a seat. These heels …”

Lawrence nodded and watched as she moved to the empty seat, swaying with the motion of the train. Either she really didn’t want to speak to him, or there was something very strange going on in her life right now, Lawrence thought. He turned his back to her and stared out the scratched and misted window instead, watching as the daggy old shopfronts and messy backyards sped past, his brain moving just as fast, wondering why everything seemed so topsy-turvy at the moment.

 

Brianna

 

Kasey and Brianna had wandered down to the far end of the city bound platform before the train pulled in. Mostly it was because they always rode in the end carriage, but today it had the extra advantage that it was out of earshot of Kasey’s mother. The two teenagers sat down on the concrete of the platform, away from the other commuters, facing each other across their crossed legs, their school bags dumped unceremoniously on the ground next to them.

 

Kasey had been filling Brianna in on what had happened yesterday once they parted ways at the station. She told of going down to the local police station in the patrol car, about trying to answer all the questions that she had no answer to. They had checked her shoes, taken a print of the soles for matching and, eventually, had driven the three of them back to the train station, where they had gotten in the two cars they had abandoned there and headed home. In the middle of Kasey’s story, the train had arrived and they had gotten on, swaying from the hand straps in the centre of the carriage. It was busy even in the last carriage on this train as all the office workers who started at nine and most of the school kids caught this one.

 

When Kasey got to the end of the story, they were pulling out of Central station – only one more stop before they got school, and Kasey leaned in close to Brianna, her eyes twinkling slightly and a little smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Brianna realised that the initial shock seemed to have worn off completely and Kasey appeared to be caught up in the excitement of it all now that she was aware that it wasn’t someone she knew, someone she was close to. Now it was just something out of the ordinary, something that not only had given her day off school, but something that would provide her with gossip to last days, possibly weeks. Brianna leaned forward to catch the snippet of information that Kasey was about to impart.

“I know who it was,” Kasey breathed into her ear, and Brianna looked at her, eyebrows knitted in confusion,

“You know who did it?” Brianna breathed, shocked yet mystified.

But Kasey shook her head, “No, silly! If I knew that I’d still be down there at the police station, explaining it all to those hunky coppers. No, I mean I know who it was … who the body was. I mean, I don’t know her, but I know what her name was.”

Brianna’s eyes widened as she realised what Kasey was telling her, and she leaned in close again with the swing of the carriage, “Who?”

Kasey smiled with the increased stature of knowledge before imparting the little nugget of knowledge, preceded by a caveat, “Well, you didn’t hear it from me, because I don’t think I was supposed to hear it. But I had gone to look for the toilet in the police station, when a young copper – cute too, he was – came tearing into an office, yelling that they had worked out who it was. Her name was Ariana Mathers, he said.”

Brianna took in the information, and frowned slightly. This was not the reaction Kasey had expected, it seemed, because she looked at Brianna strangely, her head tipped to one side, “Brianna … ?” she asked, “What is it?”

Brianna looked up, into her friend’s face, and gave a sudden, sunny smile “Oh, nothing, it’s just that name seemed familiar. I can’t place it though, must be a name I heard on TV or something.” she brushed off the momentary chill that had passed over her, when her heart had stopped for a moment as she had tried to put a face to the name. She couldn’t quite lose the feeling that there had just been a slight shift in the universe, though. As though something had tipped slightly, and the earth had just twisted a fraction of a fraction of a hair’s breadth off course – enough that everything still seemed normal, but was something was just … wrong.

?Tuesday – 3:21pm Outbound

 

Kasey

 

Kasey’s train pulled into Central station. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, when Brianna had dance and singing rehearsals, Kasey travelled the single station from school to Central, and got off there to meet her boyfriend before continuing the journey home on a later train. She never had to explain the hours or so absence to her parents, as both of them worked full time and neither arrived home before six, as long as she got home before then. She had always assumed that if she was ever asked she could claim to have been studying in the library, but she hadn’t been questioned yet, and this had been going on for over a month now – almost forever in Kasey’s reckoning.

 

Kasey was on her feet as the train stopped and the doors opened, and she fairly bounced out of the train with her excitement. She had missed seeing him yesterday, and wanted to make up for it double time today. She looked to the far end of Platform Twelve and her heart stuttered as she spotted him standing apart from the small crowd on the platform. She picked up her pace, trotting up to him, smiling.

 

Zach smiled back at her as she came towards him, and he held his arms out to her, wrapping her in a hug that lifted her off her feet. They kissed passionately, Kasey trying to apologise between breaths for missing yesterday, Zach trying to get her to stop talking and just kiss him, damn it! Zach’s hand stole into Kasey’s school blouse, and she wondered how he had gotten the button undone so fast and with such stealth. She gasped and pulled away as he squeezed her breast, then slipped his thumb inside her bra and brushed her nipple. She gave him a look of mock anger, and looked down at her chest as she buttoned her blouse. She noticed both her nipples were showing, badly, through the thin material and she looked up at him again, pushing her chest out to show him the evidence of her arousal, “Now look what you’ve done!” she scolded playfully, and he gave her a puppy dog look in return, before they both cracked up laughing and fell into another embrace.

 

Zach bent down and whispered in her ear, “Hey, Baby, let’s get out of here, huh? I can’t do what I want to do to you here on the platform.” He punctuated the statement with a gentle bite on her neck and a low growl and Kasey smiled her agreement. The couple separated and, her hand stuck in the back of Zach’s jeans pocket, they walked out to his convertible, and drove around to Frank Street.

 

Dalton

 

Dalton sat on the nearly empty train, his feet up on the facing seat in front of him, a commuter’s discarded daily paper open on his lap. The pages of the newspaper were soft from being thumbed by who knew how many hands throughout the day. He flicked the pages idly, not really reading, just skimming the headlines, looking at the grainy photos. Dalton wasn’t much of a reader – like the old song said, he could get all the news he needed from the weather report – but it was nice to have a distraction on the train sometimes. As he lazily turned the pages of the worn paper, his thoughts drifted back to the day before at the police station. They had taken prints of his shoes, prints of his fingers, a DNA sample. They had questioned him, repeatedly and from all angles, about what had happened that morning – where he had walked, what he had seen, what the old man had done, what he had looked like. Dalton had learned a few things about what had happened, although the officers had been pretty determined not to let any more facts go than they had to. But he had learned that the old man, the man he had taken for a vagrant, was most possibly a train spotter who was known to the police. He had also learned that the bundle of clothes was a body – a body belonging to a young woman. He had asked who she was, but nobody was willing to give up the information, regardless of how many times he asked. Finally, after hours of questioning and putting through no less than three phone calls to his panicked wife, Dalton was escorted home, where he had proceeded to recount the entire experience yet again, this time to a rapt Megan. She had been shocked by the events, at the speed with which they had escalated, and asked him why he had not called her in the morning. Dalton had explained that it hadn’t seemed significant at all then, that it hadn’t, in fact, become significant until he stepped off the train and saw the police on the platform.

 

Dalton’s brush with the law had been somewhat exciting, an interesting break from his usually dull daily routine, mostly because he knew he wasn’t involved enough to be accused, once the initial shock of being dragged down to the police station for questioning had worn off. However, he was glad it was over. Dalton was not a man who took well to uncertainty, in any form. He had been young when he married Megan, although so had she, and they had very easily fallen into a steady pattern of daily chores, work and snatched private moments. It just seemed to suit them both, and their marriage had become a solid foundation, the centrepiece around which the rest of the world revolved. Now that Megan was pregnant, and with the knowledge of the past miscarriages, though, Dalton had realised how tenuous life could be. The thought he could lose Megan, even as he gained a child, was almost unbearable. He knew he had become overly cautious with her recently. Even now, when the pregnancy was nearly at its end, and the idea of having a real live baby was becoming more sure by the day, he worried. What if something went wrong with the labour, or the baby was born deformed or, worse, stillborn – there was still so much for him to worry about.

 

Dalton flipped a page idly, and a headline in the local section grabbed his eye – “Murder Victim Found at Suburban Rail Station”. He frowned slightly, and read on,

In the early hours of yesterday morning, at a suburban City Rail station, a regular commuter came across the shock discovery of a body. The victim is believed to be a local resident, Ariana Grace Mathers, 22, of Tallen Heights. The cause of death is as yet unknown, and police are appealing to the public for assistance. If you saw anything on …

 

Dalton ignored the plea for help at the end of the article, he had certainly assisted as much he possibly could already. But now he had a name to place to the face. Ariana. It was a pretty name, he thought idly. On an impulse, he tore out the corner of the newspaper that contained the story and tucked it into his breast pocket. He carefully refolded the paper and placed it on the seat, ready for the next commuter who needed some reading material, then stood up. His station was next.

 

Damien

 

The piercing ring of the phone cut into the dreamy half sleep that Damien had been in. It was afternoon, and he was working the night shift at the hospital tonight. His alarm wasn’t due to go off for another few hours yet. Cursing people who felt they had to do things during the daytime, he pulled himself out of bed, and padded out into the lounge room, following the madly bleeping phone to its hiding place under a pile of papers on the kitchen bench. He retrieved it just as it stopped ringing and, swearing under his breath, took it back to bed with him. If it was important, he thought, they would ring back.

 

Damien lay awake for a while, still cursing the damn phone, and was just slipping back into that sweet place between awake and asleep where all adults become children, and nothing seems important anymore, when the telephone went off again. Damien jumped up, startled fully awake, groped for the phone that was now tangled somewhere in the sheets. He found it, punched a button, and held it to his ear, “H’lo?” he grunted,

“Damien! It’s Ben! Is Larry home?”

“No. Why would he be? Call after six. See ya, Bye.” Damien hung up without ceremony, dropped the phone onto the carpet, and laid back down in bed. He rolled onto his side and tried to reclaim the sensation of floating he had experienced only moments before.

 

It was close to four when the phone rang again, and Damien was fully in the grips of a dream. It took a few rings for the signal to reach his brain, and for his brain to send the appropriate messages to his limbs. He sat up in bed, leaned down for the handset and picked it up again, “H’lo?” he grunted again.

“Damien! Larry there, mate?”

“Ben,” Damien said, threateningly, “I don’t know what shit you’re on, but he won’t be here until after six. Goodbye.” He punched the button to disconnect the call, then, on second thoughts, held it down until the backlight on the screen lit up and instantly died, turning the handset off. He dropped it to the carpet, rolled back over, and dropped back to sleep.

 

When the phone rang for a fourth time, it rang only at the second handset, which was hidden beneath the couch cushions. Damien didn’t hear it, but his dreams were full of ringing telephones and he slept lightly for the rest of the afternoon.

 

Kasey

 

Kasey was lying on the king size bed in Zach’s studio. She was flat out on her back, arms thrown wide and a grin on her face as she watched Zach drink up the view. The blouse of her school uniform was unbuttoned, and the bra she was wearing just reinforced to Zach that she was a sixteen year old. It was a blue gingham pattern, with white lace edging, and it just made her look even more like a school girl. This had a mixed effect on Zach. He experienced a tinge of guilt over it, a little bit of caution, which was not a familiar feeling for him, but the overriding emotion was one of this being a sweet, sweet taboo. What made it all the sweeter was the knowledge that, unbeknownst to either, he was fucking mother and daughter – one in the morning, one in the afternoon. Just thinking of it again made him hard and, in his sudden angry need, he reached down to Kasey and pulled her skirt up, revealing matching briefs. He growled, an instinctive, animal sound low in his throat and rested his weight on top of her prone body. She smiled, wrapped her arms and legs around him, then said huskily, “How badly do u want it, baby?”

“You have no idea how badly I need you right now, baby doll.” he responded, nibbling at her ear, pushing his nose through her hair, breathing in her scent – fruit, tinged by the musky smell of sex.

 

He pulled back up onto his knees, bringing her upper body up with him, and stripped off her shirt and bra quickly, efficiently. She moaned and arched her back as he lowered his head to her breast, sucking and biting at her nipple until she pushed him away. He let her pull his t-shirt off clumsily, assisting her a little when she couldn’t get it over his head, and then laid her back down again. He slipped a hand down between their bodies, into her briefs, and she stifled a little squeal, her breath catching in her throat as his fingers slipped inside her. Oh she was ready alright, Zach thought, and he quickly finished undressing her. He would have to get her home to her parents soon.

 

Shannen

 

The train came to a screeching halt at Redton station and Shannen stepped off amid a crowd of jostling, laughing school children, dodging their swinging school bags as she did so. She wasn’t paying attention to the kids, though, her mind was busy worrying about Ariana. She hadn’t heard back from her all day, her calls had gone unanswered except by Ariana’s recorded voice. It was certainly unlike her to be this reticent, a message on Ariana’s voicemail rarely had time to cool its heels before it was picked up and called back. Shannen could think of only one possibility, and it wasn’t a comforting thought. Her mind’s eye involuntarily brought up a vision of Ariana, passed out, only possibly alive, lying on the kitchen floor. Depending on exactly how apocalyptic Shannen was feeling, this scene was accompanied by blood, effluent or spilt alcohol and broken glass, sometimes a combination of all. With determination borne of friendship and fear of what she might find, she decided as she walked out of the station precinct that she would go around to Ariana’s house now – immediately – and check.

 

Shannen walked back out to the car park, oblivious to the school children calling to each other, throwing things across the street. She found her car, fished in her bag for the keys, and slid behind the wheel as she jabbed the key into the ignition. The car started and she checked over her shoulder as she pulled away from the parking spot, the station fading behind her as she drove down the street. At the main street, instead of turning left to head down to her own apartment building, she turned right and drove towards the old pre-war Queenslander style house where Ariana lived in Tallen Heights.

 

Shannen pulled up to the house, parked on the street with two wheels up on the kerb. She got out and locked the car, praying that she wouldn’t be rear-ended while she was parked there. From the footpath, her nervousness suddenly hit her again, and she stopped, looking up at the house, its iron-laced verandah suddenly looking imposing and fortress-like. She swallowed, worried about what she might find, and walked up the steps to the front door.

 

She lifted her hand to the door, knocked once, twice and then lowered it again. She stared at the paint, peeling in sheets from the door and chewed at her bottom lip as she strained her ears for any sound coming from within the house. She lifted her hand, knocked again, called out Ariana’s name. Nothing. She chewed her lip some more, and vaguely noted that it had started to bleed. She was debating with herself what to do, when she heard a shuffling noise behind the door, a scrabbling at the lock, and it suddenly swung open.

 

The woman who stared back at her had deep lines around her eyes, the corners of her mouth were turned down, and her eyes were red-rimmed and swollen. She looked suspiciously at Shannen, but said nothing.

“Uh, hi.” Shannen stammered, reeling slightly from the shock of seeing someone who was very definitely not her friend, “Umm. I’m looking for Ariana?”

“Ariana?” The woman said, as though she had never heard the name before, and her swollen eyes closed as though speaking the name had caused her physical pain, “Ariana. Ariana’s gone, love. I’m sorry. I’m Ariana’s mum, I’m here to … well, to clean up her things. You had … well I guess you had better come in.”

 

The woman stepped aside, and Shannen stepped over the threshold she had stepped over so many times before. But this time she stepped over it as a stranger.

Wednesday – 5:24pm Outbound

Damien

 

Damien was doing his rounds of the general ward of the hospital. He checked his watch and decided that as soon as he had finished doing the observations for the last few patients, he would go down to the main entrance and hopefully get most of a cigarette in before Lawrence and his mad mate Ben showed up. He had a suspicion he knew what they wanted to talk to him about, and he thought that if he could get a good hit of nicotine into his system before they arrived it would help him answer their questions with a lot more calm and indifference than he actually felt.

 

He finished up with the second to last patient and wheeled his little blood pressure trolley into the next room, giving the police officer at the window a nod that was barely returned as he entered. It had been strange, at first, the cops hanging around this old man twenty four seven, but Damien had gotten to know a couple of them over the past day or two, and they were generally happy enough to have a chat to relieve the boredom. The old man had done nothing but sleep since he got here, and it was no wonder when Damien saw what drugs they had been pumping him with – enough to put a race horse to sleep for a few days, he thought. The young officer who was on duty now – Damien knew him only as Constable Platt – had been rather chatty last night, had let slip that Mister Walter Spinner, the old guy, had been witness to a murder down at Redton station, and he, Platt, was waiting around until he was awake enough to be questioned. Damien had pricked his ears up at that, and tonight he was determined to get some more information from him.

 

He leaned over Mister Spinner, and shook his shoulder gently, “Mister Spinner,” he said in a slightly raised voice, “Mister Spinner, it’s Damien Everett, I’m an orderly here at the hospital. I’ve come to do your obs – your blood pressure and such. Mister Spinner!”

 

As usual, the form in the bed muttered slightly, flapped his hands weakly, and fell back to sleep. Damien sighed loudly, disentangled the old man’s arm from the blanket, and wrapped the blood pressure cuff around the old man’s withered bicep. While the automatic blood pressure monitor sighed and moaned its way through its routine, Damien inserted the thermometer into a fresh disposable sleeve and stuck it into the corner of Mister Spinner’s mouth, resting it carefully so it wouldn’t fall out from between the slack lips. Instead of waiting idly while the measurements were taken, Damien turned to the police officer, watching him from his post by the window.

 

“So, Constable, how’s things? Sick of waiting for His Nibs to wake up yet?” he said with a slight chuckle and a thumb jabbed in Walter’s direction.

“Yeah, you bet,” Platt answered, “You guys must have him on some heavy duty gear, he barely opens his eyes at all.”

“Hmm. Yeah, it’s pretty heavy painkillers he’s on.” Damien replied and then asked cagily, “So, do you reckon he did it?”

Platt laughed slightly, “Nah. No way he could in his condition, I reckon. But I reckon he could’ve seen who did do it. He’s about the only half solid lead we’ve got right now. I want to be the one to question him. Earn me some brownie points with the boss.” Platt winked roughly at his own quip, his face screwing up slightly as he did so. Damien stared at him, thinking how very young and inexperienced he must be to give so much away so easily, either that or extraordinarily bored, he thought wryly.

 

The blood pressure monitor squawked just then, and Damien turned back to the machine. He pulled Mister Spinner’s chart out of its plastic holder on the end of the bed and scrawled the number displayed on the monitor into the book. He retrieved the thermometer from the old man’s mouth and recorded that too. His eyes fell on the opposing pages as he did so, where there was a list of the different drugs that had been fed to him through the intra-venous drip. It was mostly saline to keep him hydrated, but they were giving him some pain killers intra-venously now that he wasn’t waking up enough to take the tablets all the time. An idea began to blossom in Damien’s mind. He became so pre-occupied with the thoughts in his head that he forgot to say goodbye to Platt. He realised later that he should have thanked him.

 

Megan

 

Megan stretched out in bed, feeling the muscles and tendons in her back relax and realign as she moved, causing pain that was the forerunner to total relaxation as the pressure came off her strained spine. The baby within her kicked and rolled as she stretched, finding room it hadn’t had before and, she thought wryly, probably gearing up for a night of acrobatics. Dalton watched her as he undressed, the corner of his mouth lifting as he watched his wife’s look of pleasure when she straightened out. He pulled on a pair of cotton boxer shorts and slid into bed beside her, his hand slipping over her satin-covered belly to feel the baby move, pulling himself as close to her as possible.

“How do you feel, honey?” he murmured gently,

“Mmm. Good. Tired.” She yawned as she said it, then turned her head to look at him, “I’m glad we went to see Walter.”

“Hm. Well. I guess it wasn’t all as bad as I thought. Still, the trip wore you out. I don’t think you should be doing so much walking.”

“You’re trying to change the subject.” Megan said, playfully poking him in the ribs as she said it. “Besides, the baby can come along whenever she’s ready to. Much as I don’t really want to go through it, I’d rather have her out than in at the moment.” She stuck her belly up as far as could to emphasis her point, “I feel like a beached whale.”

Dalton laughed, “Yeah, but you’re the cutest beached whale I’ve ever seen.” He looked at her quizzically, “and since when was the baby a she, anyway?”

Megan winked, “Since Great Uncle Walter told me so.”

“Ah, so that’s what he told you is it? Any other prophesies I should know about, then?”

“Prophesies? No, I don’t think so,” she said airily and then, her tone becoming serious once more, “But he did go on about some strange stuff, I thought. Asking me to pass on messages.”

“Oh really? What kind of strange stuff?”

Megan shrugged, the afternoon had taken a strange turn toward the end of the visit. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

There was a pause as husband and wife got lost in their own thoughts. Megan was wondering if there was more than met the eye with her great uncle. When they had arrived, Walter had been in the room on his own, only barely awake and, after the initial introductions and a brief recapping of her mothers’ branch of the family tree, he had nodded sagely and they had spoken of general things, centering mostly on the pregnancy and the imminent birth. They had been discussing using private versus public care (the Richmond’s had chosen private due to the previous complications Megan had experienced), when a uniformed police officer had entered the room. He had only been young and, seeing guests, had nodded politely at Megan and Dalton, and had ducked back out of the room. Megan had at first thought he must have been visiting a sick relative of his own and had come to the wrong room by accident but as they had gone to leave, he had been sitting patiently outside, waiting for them to leave. Megan had started slightly at this, and had begun to replay the conversation she had held with her great uncle, sifting through it for clues as to the presence of the policeman. Unsuccessful, she had nodded politely at him and grabbed Dalton’s arm, wondering if he was going to question the man or walk straight on past. It was then she had heard the wavering voice from within the room, calling, “Oh, Megan, love!”. She had patted Dalton’s arm then, to instruct him to remain where he was, and had gone back into the room.

 

Walter was sitting up slightly, looking worn out after the visit, yet a spark lit his eyes from within, as though he had a very important message for her. The uncomfortable thought crossed her mind that this was how he would look if he had a dying wish to impart, some final parting words on his deathbed, but she pushed the thought to the back of her mind. She doubted he was dying, just convalescing, recovering from his hip injury. She stepped to the bedside, the chairs they had been using had been replaced so she perched on the edge of the bed as best she could with her swollen belly. Walter had found her hand, his paper thin desiccated skin rasping against hers as he had spoken, “I want you to know something, lovey.” and Megan had nodded, steadying herself. “There’s a lot of bad eggs between your mother and I, but all of that is water under the bridge, now.”

Megan nodded again, wondering if she would ever find out what ‘a lot of bad eggs’ might entail, and resolved to question her mother at length about it one day, when Walter continued, “But I want you to look up a name for me, find this girl’s family, and pass on a message. Can you do that, love?” Walter’s faded blue eyes pierced her suddenly, searching her face for honesty, and she nodded again. Finding her voice, she said “I can try, what’s the name?”

Apparently satisfied with the answer she gave, he nodded sagely, and instructed her to find a piece of paper and a pen on the side table. She did as instructed and, using the cheap blue pen on a piece of paper emblazoned with the hospital’s logo, she had written down the name as Walter spelled it out from memory.

“Find her mother, her father, and tell them this. I don’t know what happened, but I am sorry, so sorry. No young person deserves what she got, and no parent deserves to have a child taken from them in that manner. I wish I could have done more. I should have done more, and I will live in debt to that family for not doing more. And now, seeing you with child, you need to make sure you keep that child tucked under your wing. Teach them how to fly, but always fly right by their side. Do you understand, child?”

Megan nodded yet again, mutely this time, not understanding what had caused this monologue, but somehow feeling its powerful undercurrent, the emotion behind them if not the meaning. She put down her pen, where she had been scribbling the message he had given her and wrapped both hands around her unborn child, caressing the skin as though her own body no longer existed as a shield between her and her offspring, and she stroked the skin of the child itself. Tears sprung to her eyes, unbidden, and she swiped at them quickly, forcing a chuckle when Walter looked at her questioningly, “Damn hormones,” she muttered under her breath. But it was not hormones that caused the tears this time, it was the deep emotion she had felt in every one of her great uncle’s words, even though she didn’t fully understand the meaning.

 

Walter nodded again and, with a little burst of energy, he sat up slightly in bed and reached out with his hand, placing it feather light at the top of her belly, where the swell begun under her breasts. He had looked directly into her eyes, his gaze searching her own, and she had resisted the urge to look away, to blink. Eventually, he had dropped his eyes to her belly again, and looked back up. “She’s going to be a lovely little girl, Megan. Healthy, too,” he laughed as a kick swelled the skin around his hand. Then he lifted his chin towards the door, “You’d best be going, I think. Your husband is looking restless.”

Megan looked up to see Dalton’s head poking around the corner, and she smiled at him and stood up, smoothing her long maternity shirt over the elastic-waist pants she wore. She planted a kiss on Walter’s rice paper cheek, and whispered as she did so, “I’ll find them, I promise.” As she lifted her head, she saw Walter’s smile, and at that she turned and walked back to her husband. She grabbed his arm and the two had left the room, leaving Walter to sleep.

 

Once Megan had described all this to Dalton, he looked at her, bewildered, and sat up straight in bed. She smiled as he thought this over. She had always loved the way he thought things through slowly, so carefully, before making any move. He would not speak before he had ordered his thoughts, would not lift a tool before he had planned the project from start to finish, would not make a mark on paper until he knew what he was going to write.

Eventually, thoughts apparently organised, he lifted his head, and said, “I think he’s just an old man, Meg. It’s probably something that happened forty, fifty years ago. Look it up if you must, but the message seems hardly full of meaning.”

Megan had nodded slightly, “It meant a lot to him, though, I think. I would like to do it. Maybe not now, immediately,” she said, laying a hand on her stomach as reason, “but eventually.”

Dalton nodded and sank back down into the sheets. Megan did likewise, turning on to her side. Her back was to her husband and Dalton wrapped a strong arm around her, pulling her in to the curve of his body. They lay together, breath slowing in duet, when, sleepily, Dalton murmured, “What was the name, anyway?”

Megan pressed back into the warmth of his body, enjoying the heat despite the warm night, and trying to sink further into sleep, not wanting to talk, said, “I don’t know, it was a pretty name, Ariana something?”

Dalton’s eyes flew open at the name, “Ariana Mathers?” he said, awake now.

Megan turned to look at him, relinquishing the thin hold on the threads of sleep that she had, “Yes, I think so. Why?”

Dalton looked suddenly pale and, whispering, said, “That was the girl at the station.”

Megan started, and rolled over to look him in the eye, “The dead girl? Just the other day?” she questioned.

Dalton simply nodded. Neither got much sleep that night.

 

Lawrence

 

When Ben arrived at Lawrence’s place at half past nine, they were both as jittery as each other. They had climbed into Ben’s car and driven in silence for a while, before Lawrence had finally piped up, and asked Ben if he thought that Damien had had anything to do with it. Ben had thought about this for while, chewing at his bottom lip for a while, and when Lawrence had been about to ask the question again, he finally answered, very deliberately, “I don’t know. I don’t think so. But he can at least fill in the next part of the story. I mean, the last either of us saw her was when they left the party. He went with them, so I guess he will be able to tell us what happens next. Maybe he will be able to tell us if she went off with someone, what his name was. But I think that, if he knew anything of any significance, he would have said something by now. I mean, you live with the guy, you would have noticed if something was off, right?”

 

Lawrence nodded miserably, thinking that he probably wouldn’t notice if something was “off”, to use Ben’s words. He’d had a few weird days himself with all Elouise’s strangeness going on at work, and anyway, he didn’t see Damien all that much when he was on night shifts. Lawrence shifted uncomfortably in his seat, wishing suddenly that Ben had never called him, and he had never gotten dragged into this mess.

 

Well before Lawrence was ready to confront his flatmate over the matter, Ben swung his car into the emergency entrance and stopped in the space marked “Reserved for Ambulance”. They could see Damien leaning against the wall to the left of the main entrance doors, he had a smouldering cigarette in his hand that had burned down to the filter. As they got out of the car Damien took a last hopeful drag, dropped it on the ground amongst the dozens of others and squashed it under the heel of his soft-soled shoe. He looked up at them through half-closed lids as they approached. He graced Lawrence with a smile, a “Hey, Larry” in greeting and a small nod before turning to Ben and glaring at him. Ben dropped his head as though ashamed, and muttered, “Sorry about the calls mate, I forgot you were doing nights. I was a bit hyped.”

“No shit.” Damien deadpanned. He sighed slightly, “You’re lucky I’m talking to you at all man. Now what to do you want? Did someone get a bit too wasted at your party and you’re looking for someone to lay the shit on, huh? Well, I’ll tell you, I’m not doing drugs anymore, okay? None, nada.”

Lawrence saw the look on Ben’s face as he reassured Damien that that was not the reason for the visit, thinking that Ben looked more frightened than he ought to for some reason. Lawrence suddenly realised that Ben thought Damien had done the girl in, despite what he had said in the car on the way over. He was frightened, Lawrence thought as he watched him talking, just about quaking in his boots, like he thinks Damien will do him in next.

 

Lawrence thought that he had to cut Ben off from talking, before he dug himself into a hole he couldn’t get out of. Lawrence held up a hand to Ben to get him to shut up, for god’s sake, just shut your mouth. Ben turned to him with wide eyes that were clearly asking Lawrence to help him out. Lawrence jumped in and started speaking,

 

“Ben. Mate. You know that girl Ariana that I was chatting up the other night at the party? Yeah?”

Damien looked vague for a minute and then said, “Ohh, you mean the brunette with the tits? Yeah, she was awesome. Did you get it on with her? Lucky asshole!”

“Nah, I wish!” Lawrence chuckled, settling into the banter and then called on all his social skills to get him through the next bit without sounding strained, “Well did you hear about the dead body they found at Redton station? Just near our place?”

Damien shook his head, and Lawrence ploughed on through, “Well, her name was Ariana Mathers, and it made me think, you know, maybe it was the same girl. I had a think about it, and the last I saw of her on Saturday night she was walking off down the road with a bunch of her mates form that lot that gatecrashed. The thing is I thought I saw you with them, and I thought that maybe you could tell us what happened after you all left the party. I mean, I didn’t see you again until yesterday afternoon, and then Ben here called me about the dead girl they found at Redton and I thought maybe we had better see, you know,” The rush of words faltered and stopped, and an awkward, somehow solid silence hung in the air between them as they waited for Damien’s answer.

Damien made a face and gave a nonchalant shrug, “Nah, nothing happened. There was me and few of the other guys, and that girl, what did you say her name was? She was all over a couple of the blokes, saying they were going to back to someone’s place and have a threesome. She had pills in a little plastic bag in her pocket. I don’t know what they were, but whatever it was she was enjoying it. E’s I guess.” Damien shrugged, “Anyway, I didn’t want a bar of it, I’m off the gear now. Anyway, they went one way and I jumped on the train to Redton and went home. I only spent maybe ten minutes with them. Sorry mate. Do you really think it was her?”

 

Ben looked suspicious, Lawrence just felt relieved, and it showed on his face. He shrugged in response to Damien’s question. Somehow it was seeming less and less likely that it was the same girl. He turned to Ben, “C’mon Ben. Let’s go back. I’m totally had it. You’ve been dragging me all over town and I’ve gotta work tomorrow.”

 

They were turning to leave when Damien suddenly piped up behind them, “Hey Ben!”

Ben whirled around quickly, and Lawrence caught a look at his face, stricken with terror. He stammered slightly but settled for gaping silently at Damien, waiting for him to speak.

“Ben, weren’t you with that group? I thought I saw you loitering around in the background when the girl was handing out her pills.”

Lawrence peered at Damien, trying to figure out if he was serious, or just winding them up.

“Nuh, not me mate.” Ben replied, recovering his speech, “Must have been someone else you saw.”

Damien looked doubtful for a second, then cracked a grin, “Gotcha there! See ya round.” He said, and turned on heel to head back into the hospital, still chuckling.

 

Ben and Lawrence moved to the car, but Ben wasn’t laughing. In fact, he looked furious, Lawrence thought.

Thursday – 4:56am to the City

Robert

 

Robert had been awake for a while. Since Monday he had started harbouring suspicions about what Elouise actually got up to in the early hours of the morning before work. Somehow, her excuse that she had been sitting in the park just didn’t sit well with him. Not only was she not a sitting in the park kind of person, but she had always said she needed to start early so that she could be prepared for her boss before he arrived for work. It simply didn’t stand to reason that, if she had to be at work early, that she would spend an hour or so sitting in the park. Even if she was working like she said she was, how did that help her prepare for her boss? It just didn’t make sense, and the more that Robert thought about it the more he started to realise where the deception lay. She was doing something else before work, and Robert had become suspicious enough that he was beginning to think that he knew what it was.

 

Thoughts started to coalesce in his mind as his wife slept on, random thoughts and memories – Elouise taking her wedding rings off because they gave her dermatitis; her insistence that she needed to start work at seven, but rarely finished before six; her infectious smile in the morning that turned into a frown when he joined her. And Robert started formulating a plan of sorts. Shortly, the five o’clock alarm sounded, morning radio deejays brutally intruding into the quiet morning. He watched his wife as she rolled over, started to wake, his heart filled with love but now, and in equal proportion, suspicion. Eventually, she opened her eyes, stretched, and got out of bed. She padded to the adjoining ensuite, closed the door behind her, and the muted sounds of her bathing began. Not a word had been spoken.

 

As soon as Elouise was out of the bathroom and in the walk-in robe dressing, he followed suit. By the time he emerged from the shower to get dressed she was downstairs, preparing breakfast and lunches and yelling to Kasey to come down and eat. The three of them performed their normal routine morning dance – partners who moved around each other in practised rhythm, but without touching, without passion. Eventually, Elouise gave Robert and Kasey a quick peck on the cheek each, and, appearing as distracted as ever, went downstairs to get in the car and drive to the station.

 

Robert acted quickly. He picked up the backpack that contained his laptop, and the car keys to the government Prius he drove, then gave Kasey another peck on the cheek and told her sorry, but he had to leave early too. He dashed out the door, hurtled down the stairs to where his car sat in the driveway, quickly got it into gear and was on his way to the station, hot on the heels of his wife, and with his heart thumping.

 

Zach

 

Zach lay in bed, looking around his tiny inner-city studio apartment. The walls were covered with art – his own unframed canvases hanging haphazardly from every spare space, without regard for form or pattern. More stood in stacks against the skirting boards, and the remaining floor space was littered with more canvas stretched across wooden frames, pristine and waiting only for inspiration to render them into works of art. Zach had never spent time at art school, and had never sold a painting, despite what he told those he wished to impress. Zach had made his money as the owner of a car yard, having sold it to one of the multi-national chains when they first started encroaching on his territory. He had been making a comfortable but not wealthy living off the business, but when it sold he made a number of wise decisions. He had sold the property he had been paying off in the suburbs and bought the apartment – tiny but very fashionable. He had been sure to take the convertible with his as a farewell gift to himself, and then invested the remainder of the money. He now lived modestly off the interest and, with no loan repayments on car or house, he felt he was doing alright. He had finally found the time to pursue his first love – women. In order to do so, he had created a persona that women simply couldn’t resist, that of the struggling artist. It had all the romantic charm of those horrid movies he took them all to see, but it gave him exactly what he wanted – sex. And as much of it with as many different women as possible.

 

Thinking of his conquests made him think of Elouise, and the reason why he was awake so early. She had stood him up the day before, no reason given, and in a fit of pique he had sent her a text message saying that maybe she didn’t value the relationship as much as he did. He had learnt long ago the language to use when speaking to women, and he thought that he had worded it quite well. He had been surprised when no expression of regret and apology had been forthcoming from her whatsoever, and he was angry enough about it that he still wanted his revenge. It was alright for him to stand a girl up if he wasn’t in the mood, but god pity the woman who tried it back on him.

 

He had been thinking a lot recently that the relationship with Elouise was getting tired and a glimmer of an idea started to germinate in his mind. He rolled the thought around in his mind for a while, and eventually decided that, if he could cause enough of an argument with her, he would be able to orchestrate a big, angry argument one day pretty soon. The argument would easily facilitate a show of emotion on his part, where he could fling some accusatory words at her and walk off into the sunset – never to be seen by her again. This way, he could easily avoid the part of the breakup where she would cry all over him, begging him to take her back, and his memories of her would be forever tainted by whatever cruel words she flung at him, thus resulting in a total reluctance on his part to ever regret the move and want her back. Perfect!

 

With this in mind, Zach rolled over in bed, pulled the blankets up to his ears, and closed his eyes, a small smile playing on his face, pleased with his cleverness.

Thursday – 6:14am to the City

Elouise

 

She had been giving herself a pep talk all the way from Redton station, and by the time the train pulled into Central, Elouise had successfully worked herself into a suitably steely mood to be able to break it off with Zach without tears. Or so she hoped. Elouise was on her feet before the train had even started to slow and she stood by the doors with her hand on the release button, waiting impatiently to get off the train and have the deed over and done with. Acid swirled in the pit of her stomach, reminding her of the gravity of the decision she had made, and she mentally pushed it back down again, clamping an iron lid over it. She could inspect those feelings later, right now she needed resolve and determination. The train slowed down forever, it seemed, and finally, finally stopped at the platform. She tapped her toe as she waited for the doors to release and fairly jumped off the train ahead of the other commuters. She walked briskly to the end of the platform, her heels clicking on the tiled floor of the underground station. She had the words in her head, ready to rapid-fire at Zach as soon as she saw him bounce into view, but she hadn’t spotted him yet. It wasn’t long before she was at the farthest end of the platform. The rest of the commuters had funnelled towards the exit, and she stood, alone, on the platform. Where the hell was he?

 

Realising that she had been stood up, the steely resolve that she had been fostering for close to half an hour now boiled up into something more like fury than determination. Feeling as though her head was about to explode with the high emotions she was experiencing, Elouise decided she was going to follow through with her plan, regardless of whether or not he could deign to even show up. She marched towards the exit off the platform, and through the main gates that led out into the city. She crossed the street, barely looking for oncoming traffic, and began the march to Zach’s studio. She would sit and wait on his doorstep if she had to, but she was going to break it off with him, she had decided, and she was going to do it today.

 

Robert

 

Robert had successfully caught the same train as Elouise. He had waited in the car while she had walked over the overpass, bought her ticket, and found a place to wait the few minutes. He followed her, bought a ticket for himself and waited on the opposite side of the station master’s booth. He was hidden enough that if she looked up casually she wouldn’t see him, but if she took a single step forward, he would be able to see her. When the train pulled into the station Robert had watched Elouise board, and then boarded himself two carriages further down. As soon as the train was in motion, he started to walk through the carriages separating them. He could see the back of her head through the small partition in the – they were less than ten meters apart. He feeling quite pleased with himself, and was thankful for the only moderately full train, but had not counted for the amount of people that would disembark at Central. He kicked himself, it should have been obvious, but it took only seconds for him to lose sight of Elouise when everyone stood up and started shuffling towards the exit. He imagined that he would be able to catch sight of her again on the platform but by the time he had elbowed his way through to the carriage that Elouise had been travelling on, and out of the door on to the platform, she was nowhere to be found. He stood, hopeful, as the crush of commuters eddied around him, thinning gradually, until he was alone. Disheartened, he followed the now-absent crowd to the stairs leading upwards into the station, thinking that he had better just give up, maybe try again tomorrow.

 

Zach

 

Zach was asleep, dreaming of young girls in cute lacy underwear, when a loud banging at the door woke him abruptly. He jumped out of bed, grabbed the nearest thing he could find to cover himself and yelled out, “Just a second! Keep your hair on!” as he wrapped the towel around his middle. He felt his building erection drooping as he did so. The banging continued, and Zach stepped over to open the door before it got totally destroyed. He flung it wide, only to see Elouise standing in the doorway, her face red with exertion and her eyes wild. She opened her mouth to start spraying him with invective but he reacted quickly and plastered a broad smile on his face, “Hey, Baby!” he said, holding his arms out, “What time is it? How did you get here? You look exhausted!”

The fight left her, which was exactly Zach’s intention. But then, to his surprise, she didn’t fold into his arms, instead her mood descended out of angry and down into steely cold. She peeled her lips back from bared teeth, “It’s over Zach.” she hissed at him, “Do you hear me? Over. It’s been a great three years, but I can’t do this anymore. The stress is going to kill me. I’ve chosen to go back to my family, Zach, do you hear? My family.”

She turned to storm away but Zach caught her in his arms, forced her to turn back to him. She struggled against him, flying her hands against his chest to push him away, but he tightened his clutch as he tried to come up with the right words to say. His immediate reaction had been relief that it was over, after all, that was what he had wanted anyway, but then anger started to wash over him. He had never been dumped, ever, and the fact that she had clearly walked all the way from Central to do so had injured his pride more than he would ever confess to. He pulled her in close to him, tighter and tighter until she no longer had the room to struggle, her hands still upon his bare chest, and he bent his head to whisper in her ear. His hot breath came strongly and he felt her recoil away from his voice, but he pressed on regardless, “You bitch,” he growled, “You foul filthy bitch. After everything I have done for you, everything I have sacrificed to be with you. Not once did you ever offer to give me anything, not one thing. No, not you, you precious cow, with your husband and your family and your oh so high and mighty fucking professional placement. Well, I’ve got news for you, you bitch, you’ve picked the wrong guy this time. I won’t be fucked over, Elouise, I won’t let you do it. And do you want to know something else, Elouise? Your daughter is a great fuck.”

 

He released her suddenly, pushing her away from him with brute force and Elouise, dumbstruck by the tone and anger in his voice as much as by the words he had spoken, fell to the ground. The towel that Zach had wrapped around himself came undone with the sudden motion and dropped to the ground also. In the split second before Zach could slam the door in her face, however, her eyes locked on Zach’s flaccid penis dangling in front of her eyes. She grabbed it suddenly, tugged brutally and then used her fist to jam it in her mouth before clamping her teeth down on it as hard as could. Blood filled her mouth almost instantly, and Zach fell, screaming and trying to push her face out of his genitals. She spat him out as he dropped, then pushed him fully into the studio apartment, following him inside herself and slamming the door behind her. He pushed himself onto his elbows and looked at her, pain still evident behind his eyes, and his lower body trying to curl in on itself. “You bitch,” he said, horror and pain straining his voice “What the fuck do you want from me?”

 

She looked back at him, that steely gaze had returned and her voice was cold as she said, “I want you to drive me back to Central. And put some fucking clothes on. On the way, you had better explain what you’ve been doing with my daughter.”

 

He nodded miserably, knowing better than to try and argue with her. He figured he’d drive her back to the station and kick her out of his car there, never to be seen from again. It was a small price to pay to get her out of his life. He struggled to his feet, pain blooming in red splotches in the middle distance. There was blood seeping from his penis still, and he could see the neat line of wounds where she had sunk her teeth into him. He was lucky she had let go when she had, or he could be in serious trouble right now. He found some boxers and a loose pair of shorts – he wasn’t going to be wearing jeans any time in the near future he though miserably. He grabbed a tee shirt and pulled it over his head, every movement causing his genitals to remind him of their predicament. He grabbed his keys from the table, opened the door and snarled at her, “Get out to the car. Go!”

 

The drive was silent, Zach certainly not going to explain what Kasey and he had been getting up to without a few very direct questions from Elouise. Elouise looked too tongue tied to be able to work out what those questions should be. The air hung between them, a solid thing forming a veritable wall, blocking any chance at questioning or explanation. When Zach pulled up at the station, Elouise didn’t open her door, she turned to him instead, and demanded that he walk her to the platform. He hesitated at first, ready to protest and tell her to get the hell out of his car, but Elouise turned in her seat and he saw her hand flash out towards his groin again. She hadn’t even made contact before he screamed. “Okay, Okay! I’m coming, alright! Leave my cock alone!”

“First time you’ve ever said that to me.” she mocked and waited until he started to get out of the car before following him from the passenger side. Without a word, they walked into the station, and Zach trailed her over to the very last platform. Together they descended the stairs and Zach started to protest as he realised that they were on the platform for the long distance trains, not the suburban lines. Elouise turned and glared at him, holding her hand up as a reminder of what she could do, and he shut up and walked down stairs. At the bottom she turned, grabbed his hand with a death grip that he couldn’t shake off, and they walked together on to the platform like lovers. Elouise glanced casually at the ceiling as they walked along the length of the platform, and he couldn’t work out what she was looking at at first. Fear started to creep into his heart though, as he realised that she was looking for security cameras. She leaned into him as though she wanted to tell him a secret, or kiss him, and he tried to pull away put she had wrapped her arm around his so tightly that he had no chance. She pushed him ever so slightly towards the edge of the platform, over the yellow line plastered with the words “Do not cross” and soon they were right at the very end of the platform, only four platforms away from where they had stood like this so many times, but with love in their hearts instead of this black hole of rage. Elouise positioned herself so she was facing Zach and the tracks, and leaned in to him again, her face looking up into his as though searching for a kiss. She started to whisper, as Zach had done to her only minutes ago at the studio apartment. “You know something, asshole,” she said, venom seeping from between her clenched teeth, her lips peeled back in what resembled nothing like the kisses she had offered him so many times, “I was going to give you a kiss and say good bye. You never would have heard from me again. I don’t know if you are just trying to piss me off by saying that you slept with my daughter. I don’t know what you thought you were going to achieve with it. But what I do know, is that I don’t cope very well with that kind of talk.”

 

Zach heard a train approaching, and his knees began to buckle in fear. Please let that train be on another line, he thought. Elouise continued her invective, “No,” she said, “I don’t cope with it well at all. In fact, I think that maybe you have worked that out already, Zach. Goodbye – and thanks for all the flowers and poems and things. It was good while it lasted. It’s just a shame you had to go and ruin it all.”

 

Zach felt her body move against his, and when he stepped back to catch his balance he learnt exactly how close to the edge of the platform she had pushed him. His foot landed on nothing except thin air, and he overbalanced and toppled onto the tracks. The train was approaching on this line, and as he felt it come in contact he heard Elouise let up a scream, “Zaaaach! Zaaaach! Oh my god! Zach!!!” The world went red, and then there was blackness, and there was just … nothing.

 

Robert

 

Robert sat in the cafe that was housed within the train station, drinking bitter yet ridiculously expensive coffee, and pondering the strange situation he had found himself in. At seven o’clock he had called in to the government office that he worked in and spoken to a colleague. He had told him that he had to stay home at the last minute, that he would use his flexi-time and take today off. His co-worker agreed to pass the message on and, almost as an afterthought, asked Robert if everything was alright. Robert assured him that it was, his daughter was just not too well, and he would be back in the office tomorrow. The excuse seemed to wash and Robert hung up, feeling relieved that at least that chore was out of the way.

 

Robert swigged the last of his coffee, grimacing slightly at the now cold bitter brew, but unwilling to waste any considering he had just paid close to five dollars for it. He stood, dropped the empty cup with its grimy wash of coffee grounds into the rubbish bin, and stepped out between the low barricades that formed the perimeter of the cafe. He looked up as he did so, wondering which platform he needed to be on to get back to Redton, and was nearly bowled over by a woman marching through the platform with a harried-looking man trailing her. As his gaze followed the odd pair, he realised almost immediately that the woman was none other than his wife. He noted that they were moving, and quickly, to Platform One, and then with shock noticed the sign beneath the platform number – “Long Distance & Interstate Lines Only This Platform”. He had been intending to follow them down the stairs to the same platform and then thought better of it. There was unlikely to be a crowd to hide in on Platform One, and if the pair caught a train he would not be able to follow without a prepaid ticket. And then an idea struck him. The underground station was completely open at the platform level, and the goings-on on one platform could be quite easily seen from the few platforms on either side. Thoughts of heading back to Redton now completely abandoned, he bolted down the stairs leading to Platform Three. Once there, he peered across at Platform One. Elouise and the stranger were completely alone on the platform, as Robert had guessed they would be, and Elouise appeared to be marching the harried man along the full length of the platform. The man stopped before they got very far, and Robert watched, fascinated, as Elouise raised a clawed hand threateningly, and the stranger continued reluctantly until she had grabbed him and leaning against each other, they had made their way to the furthest part of the platform. Robert trailed them in parallel on his own platform, stopping only to retrieve a newspaper left behind by a commuter, and seated himself one the end of the last seat on Platform Three. He rose the newspaper as cover, and peered over it to see what story the actors on Platform One might act out for his viewing.

Thursday – 8:23am to the City

Elouise

 

She screamed and screamed, screamed with a genuine sense of fright, shock and horror. She had scared herself with her own rage, terrified herself with her actions, and then been shocked to the point of nausea when she saw the result of her wicked plan. The train had ploughed into Zach’s body before he had even hit the tracks below, pushing him aside as though he were piece of limp newspaper flying in the wind and his body, for he surely had not survived such a direct hit, had bounced from the sloped front of the interstate train and been flipped upwards before coming back to land with a sickening thud just over the end of the platform, past the barricade right next to where Elouise stood. His body lay broken metres from where she looked on in horror, the full impact of what she had just done hitting her hard. She didn’t know when she had opened her mouth and begun screaming, but she realised with total clarity that she had no hope of stopping, and so she let it go, allowed herself to fall to emotional pieces. All the feeling that she had kept bottled up for so long, month, years even, she let out with a primal scream that reached back down the ages, to millennia before where this kind of emotion was felt just as keenly as today.

 

The force of Elouise’s screaming drove her to her knees, as the full horror realisation hit her that she had murdered her lover – murdered! She tore at her hair, clawed at her breast, and was in such agony of terror and pain that she did not feel the hands around her, the calming voices, until they tried to replace her on her feet. She heard her own screams start to die in her throat, taken over by the rise of tears in the back of her mouth, and what had been a torrent of volume and noise, suddenly became a flood of tears. Her legs tried to collapse under her again, but the hands kept her upright. She had no idea who they belonged to, in fact she didn’t even try to work it out – it wasn’t important right now. Somehow she ended up in the lift and was taken to an office in the depths of the station somewhere. She had water and tissues offered to her but she pushed them all away. She didn’t have the mental capacity to even work out what to do with them at the moment. Someone pressed a handkerchief into her hand at one stage and she looked at it blankly, screwing it up and tearing at it with her fingers, rather than blowing her nose or wiping her face.

 

She had no sense of time passing, was only aware that it had and someone, a female, crouched in front her, looked into her eyes and encouraged her to look up. She was a police woman, and she gave Elouise a kind half-smile as Elouise rose her grief-stricken face ever so slightly.

“Heeyy, honey,” the police officer said gently, “I know you’re pretty upset right now, but I’m going to ask you a couple of really easy, quick questions, okay?”

Elouise nodded, tears still streaming down her face. She somehow realised even through all the emotion that was coursing through her, that she was going to have to tread carefully here.

“Well, my name is Diana Foster. I’m a constable with the police here in the city. Now, can you tell me your name?”

Elouise nodded again, her brain racing as she swallowed, tried to find her voice. Eventually, “Ellen Walker” she whispered.

Constable Foster nodded as she wrote this down, then looked up again “and your … boyfriend? Husband?”

“Boyfriend,” Elouise confirmed, relieved that she had taken her wedding rings off a few months ago. They had given her dermatitis she had said at the time, although in reality it was because the promise had begun to feel false. “Zuh-Zach,” She swallowed again, forcing the name out through her lips, “Zachary James”.

“Thanks, Ellen, you’re doing great.” She wrote the information again, checking the spelling with Elouise as she did so, and then asked her to explain what had happened.

Elouise swallowed again, then launched into a broken version of events, starting with how the two had gone down onto the platform hand in hand, had been so busy talking and kissing that they had not realised they were so close to the edge. That she had leaned against him in an embrace and he had stepped backwards, toppled over … Elouise burst into tears again, and Constable Foster wrapped an arm across her heaving shoulders, murmuring platitudes as she waited for the hysterical woman to calm down enough to continue.

 

Finally, Elouise gave a shuddering breath and the weeping subsided again, the images of Zach’s body bouncing from the front of the train pushed once more into the background. Constable Foster asked a few more questions, about what they were doing there, why they were on the interstate platform, and Elouise answered with more lies, that she didn’t realise it was the interstate platform, they must have been too involved in each other to realise they were in the wrong place, she was supposed to be taking a train to work a few stations north, and he was just seeing her off. Eventually, the police officer had gotten her fill, and she offered Elouise a ride home. Elouise declined, said she was going to sit in a coffee shop for a while, make some phone calls and try and come to grips with what had just happened before she went back to an empty house. Constable Foster helped her up and watched her walk down the street to a nearby cafe, where she took a seat and, with sunglasses over her eyes, ordered a very strong short black.

 

Robert

 

Robert had watched, pained, as Elouise and the stranger had leant in close to one another, apparently kissing, and he had gotten a bright idea. He pulled his phone out and, trying to be as surreptitious as possible and hiding as much as could behind the newspaper camouflage, snapped a quick photograph of the couple embracing. He looked at the photo on the pixelated screen of his mobile phone and thought it was pretty shocking – blurry and practically unrecognisable, certainly no one would be able to identify the stranger by the back of his head. He didn’t dare take another, though, and pocketed the phone before anyone could finger him as a terrorist. Caught up with taking the photo and trying to push down the emotion surrounding the fact that it was wife over on the other platform making out with some other man, he hadn’t immediately noticed how close they were to the edge of the platform. When the man with Elouise had stepped backwards, at first Robert hadn’t thought anything of it. So it was with growing horror that he noticed the man’s foot drop below the level of the platform and then watched, helpless, as his arms flung out, flapping as though he could suddenly discover the power of unassisted flight to save him. Robert had just enough time to think that surely the fall would be survivable, when he noticed the incoming train. He couldn’t immediately discern which of the two lines it was travelling on but, he thought, the way the man had fallen, it probably didn’t matter.

 

In perfect terror and with sick fascination he watched the stranger, arms flailing and feet now completely separated from the terra firma of the tiled floor, come into direct contact with the oncoming train. The impact created a sickening sound caused by the impact between falling human flesh and speeding metal. The man’s body was flung back from whence it came, and like a gruesome fullstop to the sorry story, landed with a terrible final thud just over the railing delimiting the edge of the platform. There was a heartbeat of total, pure silence, and although the train hid the full horror of the tableau from his eyes, Elouise’s screams reached his ears and his gut wrenched as his imagination provided the visuals.

 

Robert sat still, not daring to move. He wondered briefly if he had imagined the whole thing, and then realised that his imagination could never come up with such a bizarre chain of events. He replayed the whole sordid movie in his head, from the moment that Elouise had brushed past him with the man in tow behind her, to where they had almost struggled along the platform, Elouise looking about herself suspiciously and the man looking whipped, to the gruesome finale as the train pulled into the station.

 

With sudden clarity, Robert realised that Elouise had forced the stranger onto the platform, had forced him over the yellow safety line and then proceeded to give him a final strategic push into the path of the oncoming train. Robert, already dumbstruck by the fact that he had witnessed his own wife with a strange man, suddenly felt deathly sick as he realised she had just murdered that man in, it seemed, cold blood. Spurred into motion by fear and the sick feeling in the bottom of his stomach, he got up and stumbled to the overfull rubbish bin in the middle of the platform, then threw up his breakfast and the station coffee on to the mess of discarded burger wrappers and chip packets it contained.

 

Shannen

 

Shannen looked up from the screen of the laptop and rubbed her dry eyes. She had done nothing but read from the LCD display for the past twenty-four hours, foregoing sleep and food in order that she would not have to take her eyes away, and break the tenuous connection she had formed with Ariana through the words she had written so soon before her death. But now, the flow of words had abruptly ended, the story unfinished. And though she felt the connection was tenuous, a mere filament compared to what it had been, she felt as though it was somehow still there, that with effort she could solidify and strengthen the conduit. Shannen had been totally engrossed in the story, in the journey of the elf Laboeg Fairfox, in the goings on within Ariana’s imagined Kingdom of the Cerulean Tiger. She lifted her hands and placed them on the keyboard. For a little while, she stared at the blinking cursor on the screen. The little pixelated icon flashed at her, and in her mind she heard it taunting her, You can’t do it, you can’t tell the story the way Ariana would tell the story, you will never find out What Happened When They Got There. So, in defiance of the imagined mockery, she lifted her hands, and began to type.

Thursday – 3:21pm Outbound

Elouise

 

Elouise had sat in the coffee shop for a long time, nursing her tiny cup of espresso while the waiters gave her filthy looks. She felt somehow dead inside. She just couldn’t make her brain accept what had just happened, and she couldn’t seem to get past the roadblock idea that she had just murdered someone. It was on an endless loop in her mind – murdermurdermurdermurder – until the word no longer made any sense. Even then, the idea of it remained with her and whenever she tried to think about what she was going to do now, to plan anything beyond taking the next breath, having another sip of coffee, she was road blocked by the image of Zach’s broken body lying on the rough ground beyond the fenced off platform. She craved the days of her childhood, when decisions were made for her, when if she made a bad decision, it could be fixed by the grownups. But there was no grown up to turn to now – she was the grown up, and time had relentlessly shuffled on. Even deciding whether or not to go home was too difficult a decision to make, and it was well after lunch time that she finally found enough impetus to stand up and wander back to the train station.

 

She had caught the train more out of habit than by actually thinking about what had to be done. Her feet knew which platform to go to, and they took her there faithfully. The train had moved along its well-beaten path, the sound of the wheels running along the tracks singing their song just for her (murder-er, murder-er, murder-er). She had gotten off the train at Redton and walked in a daze to her car, where she had driven on autopilot to her home. She opened the garage door remotely and had started to manoeuvre the car inside when she recognised something out of place, and at first she couldn’t pin point the problem. Then she realised that it was Rob’s car … why was the Prius here at three o’clock on a Thursday afternoon?

 

Kasey

 

Kasey got off the train at Central, and walked quickly to the end of the platform to meet Zach. But when she got there, he was nowhere to be seen. She stood at their normal meeting spot, tapping her feet impatiently and watching the smattering of other people coming and going on the other platforms. She could see a small commotion happening on platform one, over where the interstate, long distance trains came in, but she couldn’t tell what, if anything, was going on. She watched with idle interest for a while, checked her watch, and looked up at the electronic timetable on a screen suspended from the ceiling. There was a train heading home from another platform in about ten minutes, and she decided to take it if her boyfriend didn’t show soon. She waited another five minutes, and when Zach still hadn’t appeared, she wandered over to the exit, up into the station and back down on to Platform Twelve. She couldn’t see the commotion on Platform One from here, it was too far in the distance, and before she had a chance to think any more about it, the train pulled in and the doors hissed open, inviting her to enter.

 

On the train ride back to Redton, she sent Zach a text message, saying that she had missed him at the station and would see him next week. She didn’t get a response. She felt let down and a bit miserable, but decided that she would go home and make herself a milkshake and spend some time listening to music and chatting to her friends online for the afternoon. She really should be studying, she had exams next week, but she needed some time to herself too, she couldn’t study for seven days straight! The fact that she had actually not studied at all this week seemed inconsequential to her at the moment, and she promised herself that she would do some over the weekend instead.

 

Eventually the train pulled into Redton station and she alighted and meandered back home. She let herself in with the door key she kept on a key ring hanging from her backpack, and went into her room to dump her school bag and turn her computer on. While she waited for the machine to boot up, she went into the kitchen and prepared herself a milkshake and a handful of biscuits to take up with her. It was only then that she noticed the neatly packed suitcase and the overflowing hold-all on the floor of the living room. She heard a motion from the stairwell and looked up to see her father dumping another bag, this one full of her mother’s shoes and handbags, next to the two already there, and instantly she knew what had happened. Her mother’s secret was out, and Dad wasn’t happy about it.

 

Robert

 

“Dad! DAD!” Kasey sung out from the kitchen.

“What?” Robert responded from upstairs. Instead of answering, he heard his daughter’s footsteps coming up the stairs, and he looked up from where he was packing bottles of makeup and hair product into a bag in the ensuite.

Kasey stuck her head around the corner, “Um. Mum’s here. She’s just pulled in to the garage.”

Robert nodded, then, noticing how nervous she looked, he gave her a quick hug, “It’s going to be alright, Kasey, we’ll sort this out OK? Do you want to try and make yourself scarce for a bit? How about you slip out the back door and run down to the corner shop for fifteen minutes or so?”

Kasey started to shake her head in protest and then, thinking better of it, agreed reluctantly. Robert gave her a wan smile – the best he could do right now, and she took off back down the stairs. He waited until he heard the back door slam, then finished putting the last of the bottles and tubes into the bag. He hoisted the bag, now heavy with cosmetics, and set off downstairs with it, stomach churning in anticipation of the confrontation he had orchestrated.

 

When Kasey had got home and saw the packed bags, Robert had decided to tell her that her mother had been having an affair with another man. She had surprised him when she said she knew about her mother’s affair, because Elouise had told her the whole sorry truth only last Tuesday evening. He had asked her why she hadn’t said anything to him, and was strangely relieved when she had shrugged and said that it was because Elouise had sworn her to secrecy. “Besides,” she had said to him, “She said she was breaking it off, so it didn’t seem important to get you all upset over it when it was ending anyway.” Robert had thought wryly, Oh, she finished it off all right – permanently, before he could stop himself, and he bit his tongue to keep from revealing the gruesome conclusion he had witnessed just that morning. He hadn’t called the police, he had no evidence other than his own eyes, and he didn’t know the man’s identity. But, he thought, he wouldn’t hesitate to call them should he feel the need.

 

He had heard the door that gave access to the house from the garage as he descended the stairs, and as took his foot from the last stair and placed it on to the carpet of the living room, he could se Elouise staring at the bags of clothes and other belongings as though she could not identify what they were. He walked over to the pile without acknowledging his wife, and dumped the bag he was holding alongside the others.

“Well, that’s about it I think.” he said, looking at the bags and placing his hands on his hips. Gradually he looked up into her stricken face, realisation starting to dawn slowly across her pretty but worn features, “I’ll give you a hand to take them down to the car shall I?”

Elouise didn’t reply, she didn’t act as though she had heard, just continued to shift her gaze from Robert’s face to the bags of belongings at their feet. “What?” she said eventually, in a tiny voice, “What’s this? What’s going on? Where are we going?”

Robert looked at her intently, a mean glint coming into his eye, “Not ‘we’ honey, ‘you’. You are leaving this house. Now. I want to ask you a lot of questions, but right now what I want even more than to ask questions is to get you out of this house.” Robert had not raised his voice, in fact it had dropped slightly in volume as he gave this little speech, becoming quieter and somehow much, much more frightening. To emphasise his point, he re-opened the door leading to the garage and picked up two of the bags, one in each arm. Staggering slightly with the weight, he took them out to the garage and packed them neatly in the back of the sedan. When he came back in for more, she was standing still gaping at him.

 

Brianna

 

When they had spoken on the phone the day before, Brianna had come to like Grace almost immediately. Now, Brianna was on her way around to Ariana’s house to meet her. It was a fair walk from the train station, but Brianna had been surprised at how close they had lived, albeit unwittingly. She was tired from walking when she arrived at the big Queenslander, up on its stilts, but the overriding emotion was nervousness. She hadn’t told her parents she was coming here. Normally on Thursday’s she had a dance class, but she had made an excuse that she wasn’t feeling well and decided to head out here instead.

 

Nervous, but excited, walking slowly yet wanting to run, Brianna got to the front door and hesitating only slightly, rapped loudly. There was a nervous pause where she thought that either no one was home, or she had the address wrong, but eventually footsteps could be heard and a thin voice sung out, “Who is it?”

“Uh … it’s Brianna Moore. I spoke to you on the phone yesterday?” she called in response.

There was no answer immediately but the door opened as a form of acceptance, and Brianna found herself looking at a woman who so closely resembled her father it was quite uncanny. She didn’t quite have his height, and she had not gained the amount of weight he had in the past ten years, but otherwise, her face and features were identical. Behind the red-rimmed eyes and the grey pallor to her skin, the visual cues of her grief, Grace Mathers had clear green eyes, high cheekbones and a graceful, pointed nose. Her mouth was a rosebud, softening and lined at the corners with age but with the naturally well defined line that had so charmed her many suitors. Grace’s hair, the same strawberry blonde as her father’s receding locks, was pinned back casually with a clip, and strands of it hung in her face. Grace gave a sad smile, and reached out for Brianna’s hand.

“Brianna, Love,” she said, “I am so glad to see you here. It means a terrible lot to me that you have reached out as you have.”

Brianna did not know how to react, and so she simply nodded, dropping her head slightly in embarrassment.

 

Together, they had walked into the kitchen, sat at the table, and they had begun talking. As she had done with Shannen, Grace got up and made tea, and eventually two stories – different stories yet inexorably intertwined – were unravelled onto the table that sat between them, like an unwinding ball of tangled twine. Grace discovered what her twin brother had been up to all these years, and finally got the contact, second hand as it was, that she had craved for so long; and Brianna discovered the cousin, also in a second hand way, that she had discovered so recently, and lost before she knew of her existence.

 

It was some time later when Brianna was startled by a sound from the next room. She wheeled around to work out what the noise was, and Grace flapped her hand in the direction of the dining room. “That’s Shannen,” she said casually, “Shannen is – was – Ariana’s best friend. Ariana did all her writing in that room and Shannen has been sorting out the paperwork.” Grace dropped her voice, and leaned across the table as though she were about to impart a grave secret, “I’m a bit worried, she hasn’t budged from the room for two days, but I don’t want to disturb her. I wonder if you would like to speak to her.” This last was spoken wistfully, and seemed to be Grace speaking to herself, more so than to Brianna. Nevertheless, Brianna was intrigued. She stood, walked over to the entrance to the dining room – there was no door here – and stuck her head around the corner. She saw a woman sitting hunched over at the wooden slab of a dining table, her fingers flying over the keyboard of a laptop, totally engrossed in her work. Unwilling to interrupt, but completely unable to resist the gnawing fingers of curiosity, Brianna cleared her throat.

 

Shannen, startled, looked up from her typing and, expecting to see Grace and seeing instead a teenage girl with a dark ponytail and round features, frowned at the newcomer. “What’s this? Who are you?”

Brianna smiled politely, explained her connection to Ariana, and hastened to add that she didn’t want to interrupt Shannen’s work.

Shannen smiled sheepishly, and lazily waved her hand at the computer, losing the abruptness of her movements once she got over the initial shock, “Ha. Not my work, for certain. Ariana had come so close to finishing the story and, when I had read the rest, well I wanted to see what happened. The crazy thing is, the characters are writing their own stories; they’re just using my fingers to get them down on paper.” She gave a slight chuckle at how crazy that sounded then added, “It’s quite amazing really. Here, sit down.” Shannen gestured to an empty seat next to her, then to a pile of papers on the table, “Here’s all Ariana’s notes – do you want to have a look?”

 

Brianna was stunned at Shannen’s easy friendship, especially after being so shocked at her presence initially. She sat down on the offered seat, and pulled the papers toward her, staring almost reverentially at them. Slowly, one by one, she started going through them, and became lost in the portrait of a world and a people that were completely new to her.

Thursday – 5:13pm Outbound

Kasey

 

When Kasey had told her father that she was going to slip out the back door and go to the shops, she had meant it. But when she had gone outside, the door slamming behind her, she had stopped just outside the door, standing on the coir mat. And before long she had heard her mother come in and her father, very politely Kasey thought, ask her to leave. She listened as her father went to and from the garage, packing the bags into the car, and marvelled at the lack of yelling. She had somehow expected them to yell at each other, call each other foul names and fling accusations at each other like weapons. Instead, she heard her mother weeping softly as her father packed the last of the bags into the car, and then her father’s soft voice saying, “I was there this morning, Elouise. I saw what you did. You’re lucky I’ve kept it to myself so far, but I can’t stay in this house with you now I’ve seen what you are capable of. There are just two questions I want answers to before you go. First, how long has this been going on and second, who is he?”

Kasey couldn’t see her mother, but she heard her sniff as she tried to bring her emotions under control, “It’s … we’ve. We’ve been seeing each other for about three years. I went this morning to break it off … things got. Things got. Well, it got heated I guess …” Elouise’s voice cracked on the last word, and it seemed as though Robert stood patiently by, waiting for the answer to his second question. Eventually, it came.

“His name is Zach, Zachary Wright. He lives in Frank Street in the City, in one of the studio apartments along there. He’s a painter – an artist.” Elouise’s voice faded into a series of hiccupping sobs, and Kasey stood, dumbstruck, for a heartbeat, while the information she had just heard sunk in. Robert had begun to speak, but Kasey’s ears heard only a rushing sound as rage and jealousy overtook her.

 

She wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but in the blink of an eye, Kasey was back through the door into the laundry, and through the house into the living room. She wasn’t aware of it, but she was yelling the whole way, her face red with passion and anger. “How DARE you?! How DARE you! Why didn’t you TELL me?! My own MOTHER!” she screamed, enraged, until she was face to face with her mother, her father stepping back a few paces in shock at the tempestuous fury that had appeared between them. Kasey put her face right into her mother’s and yelled as loud as she could, “HOW DARE YOU FUCK MY BOYFRIEND!!”

 

And with that, Kasey stormed back the way she had came, Robert flying after her, leaving Elouise rooted to the spot, amidst the ruins of her household.

 

Damien

 

While he had been doing his round, Damien had been thinking about the little problem that Walter Spinner was causing him, and what he was going to do about it. He had no clear ideas, just some vague assumptions and theories that all felt as though they were dead ends.

 

He was busy with a patient in the room very close to the nurses’ station when he heard the alarm bell sound there. He apologised to the patient and stuck his head out into the darkened hallway to see what was going on, and one of the senior nurses called over her shoulder to him, “Code Blue in 36! See you up there!” as she ran up the hallway. He lifted his hand in acknowledgment, and went back into the room to pack up quickly. Within seconds, he was following the nursing staff up the hallway to room 36.

 

Damien liked to be around for a Code Blue emergency. Code Blue specifically meant an adult patient was in immediate trouble, with death imminent, but it was used mostly for cardiac arrest. Damien was rarely needed at these, he didn’t have the medical qualifications to be able to help out, but often the professionals there would get him to grab equipment or run a message to someone in a hurry, and for that reason no one ever minded him being around. It was fascinating to be able to stand back in a corner and watch the commotion going on around him. To be able to witness someone in their death throes, and know that their future hung in the balance on the skills and reactions of those attending to them, was the ultimate gamble. Damien would call the game in his head as he watched the panic, trying to decide if the patient was going to live or die, right up until it was clear that the dice would roll one way or the other. Unfortunately, by the time Damien arrived at this one, the patient had been stabilised and sedated successfully and the nurses were busy patting each other on the back. The woman in the hospital bed still looked deathly white, but her chest rose and fell evenly and the monitors she was hooked up to had ceased complaining.

 

The nurse that he had seen at the nurses’ station when the alarm went off turned to him when she saw him enter, “Oh, Damien! Crisis over thank goodness. Doctor Dreiser was here for another patient and she got her stabilised really quickly.” she said with a smile. She turned to the mess laying on the bedside table next to the patient’s IV pump and started picking up the rubbish of discarded syringe packets and single-use sleeves.

Damien walked up beside her and touched her on the shoulder lightly, “Here, let me do that, Robyn, I’m sure you have patients to see to.”

The nurse looked up gratefully, “Oh, thanks Damien. That’s sweet of you.”

“No problem at all,” Damien replied with a smile, “I’ll see you later for the next round of obs, okay?”

Robyn nodded, thanked him again, and walked quickly out of the room, already concentrating on the next thing she had to do.

 

Damien looked back down at the mess of syringes and empty vials, sifting through it a little bit with his hands as he sorted the hazardous rubbish from the general refuse. The motion of his hands stopped suddenly as he noted a vial still half full with a clear liquid. He dropped what he had been holding and grabbed the vial, turning it until he could read the product name. As he did so he smiled – his luck was in. Immediately, he had a plan.

 

Kasey

 

When Kasey left the house her feet, lacking any conscious direction from her mind, took her down the path they usually trod and she shortly found herself at the train station, exhausted but still very angry. The sun was starting to leech out of the sky but, undeterred, she walked on to the outbound platform and up to the very end, then sat on the edge of the concrete beside the gap in the fence. Her feet dangled into the long grass where they had found the dead girl, and she stared at the spot still marked by broken grass and embedded footprints as she seethed at her mother. When Elouise had poured her heart out on Tuesday evening Kasey had actually felt sympathy for her and had even come some way to understanding why she had done the things she had done. Elouise had explained how the affair had just happened, and how once she had started how hard it was to stop, and Kasey had nodded along, understanding as her mother explained how one day can flow into the next and before you know it you were weeks or months, or in this case years, down the line and it was too late to turn back. Kasey had believed her when her mother had said she was going to break it off. She had even believed that no real harm could come of it, thought that if Dad didn’t know and Mum was ending it before he found out that there could be no real problem. But Elouise had never told Kasey his name, had never indicated where he lived, and had never implied that she knew about Kasey’s relationship with him. It didn’t occur to Kasey that maybe Elouise didn’t know. She didn’t think that Zach would be so selfish and self-centred so as to hide the knowledge. And she certainly didn’t understand why Elouise would have withheld the information from her own daughter.

 

While Kasey was sifting through her thoughts, she heard foot falls behind her, and she turned slowly to see her father approaching her. His face was red, his breath fast and when he sat down beside her she could smell the sweat drying on his body. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell, in fact it was somehow comforting, and reminded her of when she was small and helped him out doing things in the yard. She leaned against him, drinking in the warmth and reassurance that he emitted, and let the tears flow. Robert cried along with her, the high emotion of the confrontation with Elouise catching up with him in a rush.

 

The two sat side by side for some time, just bathing in each other’s company, receiving solace from the other’s presence. Eventually, they spoke in hushed tones, and Kasey filled her father in on the bits of the story he hadn’t already worked out. Robert bit his tongue, deliberating, and eventually blurted out the truth about Zachary Wright’s death, and her mother’s role in it. Kasey cried again, harder than ever this time, and it was fully dark by the time she regained control over her emotions again. Robert drew her skinny, still child-like body into his own, and she crumbled against him. The automatic lights came on on the platform behind them, casting their shadows on to the grass in front, surrounded by sickly yellow light. The change in the environment was enough for them both to stir from their thoughts, and Robert gently suggested that they walk home.

 

The pair rose, the younger leaning against the elder, tears still making fresh tracks down her face, although the wracking, heaving sobs had departed for the moment. Slowly, carefully, father and daughter made the trek the few blocks back to the house, and Robert opened the door for his daughter to enter. The house was empty, Elouise’s car missing from the garage, and a note left on the kitchen bench. Robert lifted it to read, “My darling Husband and Daughter, I have done wrong. I am sorry. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. For I don’t know that I will ever forgive myself. With love, forever and always, Elouise.”

Friday – 4:56am to the City

Walter

 

Walter was starting to feel better. He had still been sleeping a lot, but for the brief periods that he was awake he was feeling more comfortable. He missed being in his own place, missed his own bed. Missed getting up early and trotting down to the train station for a relaxing few hours. But he also knew that he was being looked after here, and he guessed that was a good thing. The police hadn’t left like he had thought though. Every time he opened his eyes, there was someone standing by the window, waiting for him to be lucid enough to talk. He had talked to one guy, a young fellow by the name of Platt, some time ago – his sense of time was all out of order, and it could have been this morning or three days ago. Platt had asked him all sorts of questions about what time he had gotten to the station, what he had seen, whether anyone else was around. Walter had answered all the questions as well as he good, but his head was still fuzzy and the policeman hadn’t seemed very happy with the answers he had given. The visit from his previously unknown niece and her husband had cheered him though, and it had been good to give her the message to pass on to the dead girl’s family. He had told one of the nurses later on about the whole story, and she had smiled, happy that he had enjoyed the visit.

 

He looked over to the window now and was surprised to see no one there. The room appeared empty for only the second time since he had gotten here. This time he didn’t get his hopes up that they had left him alone, though. He figured that even police officers had to use the toilet from time to time. There was the promise of dim light starting to show through the grimy window and Walter realised that it must still be very early in the morning. The small portion of the hallway visible to him was plunged in semi darkness and Walter could hear no voices speaking, no trolleys filled with manufactured hospital food rolling between rooms. It was then that he heard soft footfalls and a squeaky wheel on the worn carpet, and out of the dimmed hallway came a uniformed orderly wheeling a blood pressure monitor.

 

“Good morning, Mister Spinner.” The orderly greeted him, too cheerfully for whatever early hour this was. “My name is Damien Everett, I’m going to take your obs. How are you feeling this morning?”

Walter nodded slightly and responded, his voice wavery and weak still, “Uhh, I’m feeling a bit better. I think I’d like a drink of water.”

Damien acknowledged the request with a nod, and turned to the table to pour a small glass from the opened bottle there. He helped Walter up into a sitting position and supported his back as he drank.

“What’s happened to your police escort, Mister Spinner? He seems to have left you alone for a bit.” he mentioned casually, making conversation.

Walter didn’t answer, he concentrated on drinking, and then lay back down with relief. Even that amount of pressure on his hip was painful. Damien helped him back down, and then withdrew a syringe from his pocket, already filled with a clear liquid. The orderly removed the orange cap from the point and moved quickly to the IV bag. He pierced the bag directly, watching as the liquid squirted into the saline sitting in the bottom of the near empty drip. He turned back to Walter as he recapped the syringe and put it back into his pocket. “That will help you with the pain, Mister Spinner. Now let’s get these obs underway, shall we?” he smiled broadly, and grabbed the blood pressure cuff to wrap around Walter’s arm.

 

As he watched the orderly pull the two ends of the cuff together around his bicep, Walter felt a strange sensation of paralysis wash over him. He went to say something, to get the orderly to help him, and felt his throat thicken. Panic started to wash over him as he felt his body stop responding to the commands his brain was issuing. He wanted to flap his arms, cry out, something to draw attention to the fact that something was seriously, terribly wrong. He could hear the orderly carry on with his easy banter as he turned away, arranging the thermometer to put into Walter’s mouth, and when he turned back he must have seen the panic in Walter’s eyes. Walter was relieved at first, the orderly would get help for him and it would be alright, but this temporary relief was swamped by a new wave of fear as he saw the smile appear on the orderly’s face. He couldn’t hear what the man said, but he saw that smile just before he turned away and casually pressed the emergency button by the bed head. Walter closed his eyes, trying to reassure himself that help was on its way, the emergency button had been pressed and they would be coming to save him, it was some dreadful mistake, surely. He was still thinking this as his brain started to shut down, all muscle functions ceasing. Damien started to yell for help, allowing a suitable level of panic to creep into his voice as he watched the old man pass away.

 

Elouise

 

Elouise’s eyes popped open, wondering why the radio wasn’t blaring bad morning radio in her ear. It was a second or two before she realised that she wasn’t at home, in bed, with Robert snoring beside her. And she wasn’t going to take the train early to spend time with Zach. She was in a cheap hotel room, the sheets rough on her skin and the smell and atmosphere unfamiliar and cloying in the pre-dawn air. She had decided when she arrived last night that she was going to call in to her office this morning and apply for leave for two weeks. The intention was to try and find herself a home and some internal solace. Both seemed unattainable. She was in constant dread that Robert would call the police about her actions on the station the day before, and the fear only served to remind her of the irrational act that she had committed. The vision of Zach’s broken body haunted her constantly, and sleep had been a fickle, restless beast all night – fraught with dreams, nightmares, irrational mental wanderings and terror beyond any she had ever known.

 

She sat up in the hard, concave bed, and rolled her upper body over her drawn-up knees, forming an almost perfect circle. Again, the tears began to flow. They were no longer tears for what had been lost – her family, her husband, her lover, her comfortable life – they were tears only of self pity.

Friday – 6:14am to the City

Megan

 

Dalton had gotten up early and left for the train as normal, and also as normal, Megan had woken long enough to receive a kiss in farewell and dropped back to sleep. She was lost in dreams when a noise cut in. She tried to incorporate the sound into her dreams at first, but it wasn’t long before she slowly came to the morning of her bedroom, the sun just starting to show through a chink in the curtains, and the phone beside the bed ringing incessantly. Struggling to sit upright she settled for a half rise, her abdominal muscles protesting, just long enough to snag the phone from its cradle. She sunk gratefully back into the covers as she brought it to her ear, “H’lo?” she murmured, her voice still thick with sleep.

“Oh, hello. Is that Mrs Richmond?” said an officious female voice on the other end.

Megan frowned, thinking that it was a solicitation, before checking the clock. The green led glowed 6:14 at her impassively, and she gave a start. Certainly not a sales person then – but who on earth could be ringing at this hour? The uncomfortable thought occurred to her that the only calls that came in the wee hours were harbingers of bad news. She pushed the thought aside, but not before instinctively wrapping an arm around her belly. She pushed herself up slightly in the bed and cleared her throat before answering, “Yes, that’s me.”

“Mrs Richmond, sorry for the early hour, but you’re marked down as the next of kin for Mister Walter Spinner?” The statement had the upward inflection of a question, as though the speaker was uncertain of the accuracy of her information, and Megan frowned. As far as she was aware, her great uncle wasn’t aware of her existence before yesterday and, if he was, he would not have known her by her married name.

“Umm,” she hesitated, “I guess I must be. May I ask who this is, please?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mrs Richmond. This is Leona Fardenson, I’m the duty nurse on the general ward at the hospital where your …” there was a pause and Megan heard a rustle of paper as the nurse flicked through records, “Where your great uncle was being looked after.”

Megan was still caught up in the fact that she had been named her great uncle’s next of kin, and missed the nurse’s use of the past tense. She couldn’t figure how the hospital had her details, she hadn’t given them, so Walter must have. In which case, he must have acted quickly, she thought wryly.

“Oh. Okay. I wasn’t aware that you had my details.” Megan said and then added, “and please call me Megan.”

“Thank you Megan. Mister Spinner apparently provided your information to us late yesterday afternoon.” The nurse paused slightly and gave a small cough, as though she were waiting for a response from Megan. Megan still slightly sleep-addled and having not immediately realised the purpose of the call, said cagily, “Was there something else?”

“Yes, Mrs Richmond,” the nurse said gravely, lapsing back to the formal name, and instantly Megan realised the purpose of the call. Her hand flew to her mouth as she heard the voice on the other end of the phone say, “I’m sorry to have to inform you that your great uncle passed away in the early hours of this morning.”

 

 

Dalton

 

Dalton was standing on top of a building, legs astride the peak of the roof, using a rivet gun to affix sheets of corrugated colorbond to the frame. The sun was starting to get warm on his back now and, while it was pleasurable for the moment, especially after the days of rain, he knew it would get unbearable before too long and it gave him an incentive to get this job done as soon as possible so he could get down into the shade. He was concentrating on getting the second last sheet down when he felt a tickling on his leg. He stamped his foot, thinking absently that it was a fly or other insect, and popped another rivet. The tickle came again, in the same spot and he switched the gun to the other hand to whack his leg and dislodge the bug. Instead of a bug however, the slap drove his mobile phone painfully into his thigh, and he realised what it was that was irritating him. His mouth set in a frustrated line at the interruption he fished the phone from his pocket and straightened up on the roof. He pressed the button to answer the call and snapped “Dalton Richmond”, his eyes taking in the view over the city distractedly as he heard his wife’s voice on the other end of the line. He listened impatiently as she told him about the phone call she had just received. He frowned a little, unsurprised that Walter was dead – he hadn’t looked on his death bed yesterday, exactly, but he certainly hadn’t been well, he thought.

“Listen, Meg, was that all? Can I call you back in ten?” he said abruptly.

There was a pause on the line and Dalton wondered if he’d upset her, before she said, “No, that’s ok. Sorry, I didn’t realise you were busy, honey. Call me back on the mobile ok?”

Dalton agreed to do so, and put the phone back into his pocket. He continued with the riveting, thinking over the phone call, and decided that he might have been a bit harsh. He would make a point to apologise to her when he called her back, he thought.

 

It was close to half an hour later that Dalton finally finished on the roof and climbed down into the shade he had created for himself. He stopped and discussed some plans with one of his work mates for a few minutes and suddenly remembered his promise to call Megan back in ten minutes. He pulled the phone from his pocket again and found a place to sit under the new roof, dialling the number of the house phone from memory. It rang and rang, eventually being picked up by his wife’s recorded voice on the answering machine. He frowned and hung up without leaving a message, and then remembered Megan’s peculiar instruction to call her on the mobile. He looked this number up in the memory of his phone and dialled, suddenly wondering what she was up to, leaving the house before seven in the morning. This number rang out too – there was no voicemail, just an abrupt click and the sound of a dead line in his ear – and he thought that she had either left the phone at home, or she couldn’t hear it in her handbag. Thinking to give her a second chance if the latter was the case, he hit redial and tried again, listening to the empty ringing at the other end. He was just about to give up when he heard Megan’s voice, low and breathless, “Tony!” she gasped, “Get to the hospital! The private one, I mean. We’re having a baby!”

Dalton had stood when Megan had answered, her frazzled voice sparking instant concern, and now a grin split his face as he realised the cause. He spared seconds to let the foreman know that he’d gone and sprinted to the station, heading home to get the car.

Friday – 8:23am to the City

Shannen

 

Shannen had been shocked and surprised by Brianna’s immense interest in Ariana’s novel. Somehow she had tagged her as a fickle teenager, and it had been pleasantly remarkable when it had turned out that Brianna held Ariana’s in such high regard. Shannen had discovered that Brianna had read some of Ariana’s books, not realising who she was or the connection to her own family, from the school library. She showed such enthusiasm and unrestrained passion for being so close to a novel-in-progress that Shannen found it easier to explain her own sudden interest in the project.

 

Brianna had called her mother on Thursday night, explained carefully that she was here with her Aunt Grace and that she had been invited to stay and, after Grace and Brianna’s mother had spoken at length, she had been given permission, provided she did not miss school the next day. And so, just like a teenage sleep over party, Brianna and Shannen had stayed up all night. Except instead of braiding each other’s hair and painting their toenails, they worked side by side on Ariana’s unfinished novel, Shannen typing away and Brianna giving advice on plot direction, what the characters might do next. By the time the early summer sun rose a combination of the amazing amount of content they had produced and extreme fatigue caused them both to fall asleep, heads resting on arms and hunched over the table.

 

They had lain like this for around two hours when the phone in the kitchen rung, and Shannen was startled awake. She got up and out of the chair, her stiff body protesting with the requests made of it. Brianna lifted her head, wincing as she turned to watch Shannen go to the other room and hunt for the ringing telephone.

 

Shannen found the phone lying on the kitchen table, surrounded by the paperwork of funerals, grave stones and estate settlements. She fished it out, hit the answer button, and said “Hello?” as she glanced at her watch. It was only just past six o’clock!

“Hello?” A polished Australian accent, almost English in its clipped tones, responded, “Who is this?”

Shannen sighed, already anticipating with dread the conversation that was to come, she had overheard Grace do it often enough to know that there was no easy way to get through it, “My name is Shannen. I’m – I was – Ariana’s friend.”

She waited for the puzzled silence, the torrent of questions, but was surprised when instead, the woman said, “Oh, right. That’s fine. I was expecting to speak to Grace. It’s Paige Bressler here, Ariana’s publisher. Miz Mathers said that there was a lot of paperwork and notes of Ariana’s there, and I was hoping I could organise to have someone pick it all up so that we can go through it and find out where her work was up to.”

Shannen felt an instant tightening in her chest as she sensed that someone was going to take Ariana’s notes away from her, and she reacted instantly, enforcing her inherited ownership of the work, “Well, you don’t need to. I’ve gone through it all already. Did you know that she had finished her next novel?”

“No, I thought she was far from finished it. Are you sure?” The voice was suspicious, but Shannen could hear the note of hope floating just below the surface.

“Yes she has. What’s the normal process for publishing her work? I think her fans deserve to read it.”

At that, the pair fell into a lengthy conversation about drafts and editing, proofing and publishing, and throughout it, Shannen chose not to reveal that she had in fact, written the final ten thousand words herself. She was fully convinced that Ariana had written it, her characters knew their destinies so well that all Shannen had to do was press the keys to form the words that fell into her head whole.

 

“Hello?”

“Hi. It’s me. Look, about Saturday night. I just wanted to check that, you know, everything was OK. You two were both pretty smashed when you got on the train. Did you get back to Hawkswater OK?”

“Yeah, it wasn’t far, I walked back. Sobered me up some.”

“OK. Cool. So, how was it?”

“Heh. OK. We were both pretty smashed, like you said.”

“I wasn’t sure she was going to go all the way, you know. She seemed a bit jumpy. Whatever the fuck she was taking was messing with her.”

“Yeah. Well. It was OK.”

“Heard from her since?”

“Ha! No, man. I wouldn’t expect to. I can’t even remember her damn name.”

“Oh, OK. Well, never mind. Just wanted to make sure you got back alright. Invited to the next one, though, I want a turn with her if she shows up.”

“Heh. Yeah, alright. You and everyone else that was here.”

“Yeah. See ya, man.”

“Bye.”

 

Brianna

 

Brianna had dropped back to sleep while Shannen spoke with the person on the phone, the soft tones of her voice as she discussed what needed to be done with the novel washing over her in an incomprehensible babble and soothing her back into her dreams effortlessly. When Shannen hung up and came back into the room, she opened one eye and watched her moving around, eventually murmuring, “Who were you talking to?”

Shannen looked up as though she had completely forgotten that Brianna was even there, pre-occupied as she was with her thoughts, “Hmm? Oh. On the phone? It was Paige Bressler, Ariana’s publisher.” Shannen broke into a grin, “She’s going to publish Ariana’s latest novel.”

Brianna frowned slightly and lifted her head, putting it on side as she took in the information, “But it’s not all Ariana’s work, you’ve written heaps. Did you tell her?”

Shannen bit her bottom lip, but somehow managed to smile through it. “Well.” She said finally, arching an eyebrow knowingly, “Do you think she would have published it if she knew that?”.

Brianna laughed and shook her head, then said “So you’re an author who started writing, what, twenty four hours ago? And already you’re getting published. That’s some feat!”

 

Shannen and Brianna locked eyes then, suddenly touched by how far they had come in what amounted to only a single evening, and Shannen suddenly laughed out loud, throwing her head back in the first feeling of mirth she had felt since she had discovered Ariana’s fate. She laughed at the bond she had formed with this stranger, at the absurdity of the writing she had completed throughout the sleepless night, and at the somehow fitting justice of the accomplishment. She felt as though, in some strange roundabout way, she had avenged her friend’s death. She had brought Ariana’s final act of creation fully to life, and set it free – flying across the ocean like a white dove.

Friday – 5:42pm Outbound

Lawrence

 

Lawrence swayed with the motion of the train, allowing the weight of his body to swing against the anchor point of both his hands on the overhead railing, knowing that the crush of people would stop him from swinging too far. He was thinking of everything, and nothing in particular, reflecting on Elouise’s recent oddness, and the strange confrontation that had occurred with Damien the night before. He thought about Ben and how convinced he was that Damien was covering something up, and how he just couldn’t see that it was true. Damien was clean these days, he wouldn’t have had anything to do with it if there were drugs involved. Lawrence knew he had been at home when he got there, but that hadn’t been until late on Sunday afternoon, and Damien had been leaving for work as Lawrence walked in. They hadn’t talked really at all, but Damien had seemed his normal self – tired and a bit hung over still maybe, but Lawrence could hardly talk. He thought about Damien’s joking remark to Ben, about him being there, and Ben’s reaction. He thought how strange it was that everyone around him had seemed to be acting so oddly recently, which made him think of Elouise. She hadn’t turned up for two days straight now, and no one had heard anything from her until late this morning, when she had called to apply for immediate leave. When she had last been in which had been on Wednesday, she had looked somehow shell-shocked, but Lawrence still felt way too intimidated by her to ask her if she was all right. Instead, he had offered her a coffee, which to his surprise she had accepted with a smile and a word of thanks. She had offered no explanation to him, but she owed him none, and the day had gone on as normal, except that she had been somehow less harsh, a bit more relaxed and forgiving than normal, yet far from happy, Lawrence thought. But since then, she seemed to have dropped into the ether somehow, which was weird.

 

As the train rolled on through the suburbs, trees and housing developments whizzing past the grimy windows, Lawrence wondered about the dead girl, Ariana. Ben had said she was a writer, although the pen name he told him she had used was not familiar to Lawrence. Lawrence wondered what kind of books she had written, what stories she had had to tell the world, what kind of artistic talent the world had lost. He wondered what had happened that night after the little group left the party. Damien’s story rung true to Lawrence, but he wondered what had happened after Damien left them at the station, whether they had taken the drugs, if it was a wilful murder, or a good time gone horribly wrong.

 

The train came to a stop at Redton and Lawrence let go of the hand railings above his head, grabbed his briefcase from where it stood between his ankles and elbowed his way to the doors, along with the rest of the crowd alighting at this station. He moved with the tidal flow of commuters towards the exit, not able to resist looking over his shoulder to the long grass at the opposite end of the station where they had found her body. The crowd thinned as he left the station and people dispersed to the car park, to the loading zone to wait for their lifts, or into the various roads leading away from the station to walk back to wherever they came from. Lawrence walked wearily up Station Road towards the flat that he shared with Damien, and was soon climbing the stairs to home. He opened the door, walked in and dropped his briefcase on the couch. Damien didn’t make an appearance, and Lawrence could hear the shower running in the bathroom as he walked into the kitchen to find a drink. He poured himself bourbon and was walking with it back into the lounge room to settle in front of the television for a bit, when he heard a knock on the door. He looked up, frowning, then put the drink down on the coffee table and walked over.

“Who is it?” he called as he unlocked the door, ready to pull it open.

“Police.” a deadpan voice answered.

Lawrence froze, a shiver of fear running through him and turning his knees to jelly. He fumbled, trying to get the door open with suddenly clumsy fingers, and eventually the door released and swung open to reveal two cops, one old and thick around the waist, the other young and tall. The older one held up a badge as Lawrence gaped at him. “Senior Constable John Mitchell.” he introduced himself, then indicating the young guy beside him with a jab of his thumb, “Constable Michael Platt.”

Lawrence’s voice had left him. He settled for nodding dumbly.

“We’re looking for Damien Everett,”

Lawrence nodded again, tried to work out what was required of him, and eventually stammered, “He’s … he’s in the shower. Uh. Yeah, in the shower.” he pointed with his left hand over his right shoulder, the right hand still holding on to the door as though it were the only thing keeping him upright.

 

Megan

 

Megan was exhausted, in pain and feeling somewhat like she had been run over by a fully loaded truck. She hardly noticed though, because there were other things competing for her attention. The main thing, of course, was the small infant screaming at her bedside, the other thing was trying to work out how to get said infant and swollen, leaking nipple attached to one another without causing excruciating pain, a feat she had not yet managed with any success. She swung her legs over the side of the high hospital bed, and, cooing and humming in an effort to soothe the hungry child, she slipped both hands underneath the tiny arched back. She waited a second, as the nurses had taught her, and using one hand to support her head and the other to lift her out of the plastic sided cot, she lifted her daughter and gently repositioned her in the crook of her right arm. She then used her free arm to lift her nightie, and unclipped the maternity bra. A bunch of damp tissue fell out and she ignored them – she was too new to this to even contemplate trying to pick them up. Following the nurses instructions to the letter Megan pointed her nipple at her daughter’s wide open mouth. Megan was struck yet again at the resemblance to a baby bird, and suppressed a chuckle, feeling that laughing at her offspring only hours after she was born was slightly taboo, somehow. The baby latched on and Megan breathed a sigh of relief as she realised that everything seemed to have worked this time – there was no pain. She smiled down at her new baby daughter, her heart swelling with pride at her own accomplishments and, for the first time, love for the newborn. She hadn’t realised that she wouldn’t fall in love with her daughter instantly, there was too much going on, and too much to learn so quickly that there hadn’t been the time so just sit and look at the tiny thing she had produced. But now she was able to just sit, and look. She used her free hand to very lightly brush the downy dark hair, and had a chance to watch the fontanelle pulsing with life. She tightened her hold slightly, in a half hug, and the baby threw her free arm out in protest, which made Megan smile. As she loosened her grip a bit the little hand came back down to rest on Megan’s exposed breast, and Megan thought her heart was going to burst with the joy of it all.

 

Dalton burst through the door then, followed closely by a nurse, and Megan looked up, shaken out of her dreamy reverie. Dalton’s face looked suddenly concerned and he went immediately to Megan’s side, “Is everything OK, honey? You’re upset.”

“Upset?” Megan said confused, and Dalton lifted a hand to her cheek. It was only when he showed her the wet drops on his forefinger that she realised she had been crying, and she smiled at the misunderstanding and shook her head. “I’m fine, Tony, honestly. I was just thinking how happy I am, and how much in love I am with this little creature we made.” She lifted her shoulder slightly in a shrug, to indicate the child happily feeding in the crook of her arm, and Dalton switched his focus to the baby also. Mimicking her earlier gesture brushing his big hands along the tiny head, he smiled also, seemingly lost for words.

 

The nurse abruptly moved from the chart where she had been filling in observations, and over to the bed where the new family sat.

“How are you Mrs. Richmond?” she said officiously.

“Well, thank you.” Megan answered, just as formally, before breaking into a grin, “I think I’m getting the knack of this finally!”

The nurse bent to inspect the baby’s attachment and nodded her head approvingly, “Well done, there’s no discomfort?”

“None at all.” Megan answered happily, and seemingly satisfied, the nurse made a few final marks in the chart and moved on to the next room in the ward.

 

Megan returned her attention to her husband, whose gaze was firmly fixed on the baby. The child was still sucking quite happily, but her eyelids were drooping, and Megan thought she would be asleep any minute. Looking back up into Dalton’s face she asked what he had been up to while she and the baby had been sleeping off the rigours of the birth. It turned out that he had made a mad dash over to the public hospital to collect Walter’s things and, in the process, had been given a note that he had written after their visit the night before.

“What did it say?” Megan said, curious.

“Well, that’s the interesting thing,” Dalton said, “You’re not going to believe this, but it was a will.”

Megan snapped her head up and looked him in the eye, “A will? He wrote a new will in the hospital?”

“Yes. Apparently he had a doctor and a nurse witness it. That was when he put us down officially as next of kin also.”

“So what does it say?” Megan pressed.

Dalton produced a single piece of paper from his breast pocket, unfolded it and smoothed it out on his knee. It was the same stationery that Megan had used to write Ariana Mather’s name on the night before, and, it seemed, he had used the same scratchy cheap pen to cover the page with spidery, cursive handwriting.

“I can’t read it, Tony, what does it say?” she said impatiently.

Dalton took a deep breath, choosing his words carefully, and then let it out in a rush, “He left us everything. Well, not us, the baby.” he pointed at the child in Megan’s arms, and watched as Megan’s eyebrows shot up, “What’s everything consist of I wonder?” she mused

“Well, that’s not exactly spelt out here, but as far as I can tell, it’s a house, a train set and an undisclosed amount in a bank account. All to go into trust for the daughter of Megan and Dalton Richmond, with a monthly stipend to be paid until the child reaches 18, at which time she may have full and unfettered access.”

“The daughter?” Megan said, “How did he …”

Dalton shook his head, “I have no idea.”

 

Megan looked down at the little girl that Walter had somehow pre-empted – she was asleep, pupils moving slowly beneath her translucent lids, fontanelle pulsing gently and a little dribble of milk running down her chin.

 

Damien

 

Senior Constable Mitchell was sitting across from Damien in the stark interview room, staring at him with an interrogator’s smile. Damien returned it with a steely glare.

“How did you kill her, Damien?” Mitchell asked calmly.

“Who?” Damien responded, archly.

“You know who I mean.”

“No. I don’t know who you mean. I didn’t kill anybody.”

The police officer didn’t respond, choosing to simply stare at him. Damien wasn’t fooled, and he waited out the silence. The two stared at each other across the table in a crazy contest where the first person to speak lost the game. Damien was determined, but eventually the game was declared no-contest, because the door opened and Detective Sergeant David Ward walked in. Ward looked from one to the other, sensing the challenge that lay in the air like fog. He pulled one of the plastic chairs away from the table, reversed it, and sat down in a single fluid motion. He rested his forearms along the top of the chair back and lowered his head to stare at Damien.

“Tell me what happened in the hospital, Damien. Start with how you got the drug.” It wasn’t a question, it was an order. Damien decided to try and play the silence-lets-see-who-speaks-first game with Ward, but he wasn’t going to fall for it. After only a few minutes, Ward stood suddenly, startling Damien with the squeak of the flimsy metal chair legs against the worn, bare floor.

“Okay.” he stated, starting to pace, “How about I tell you what happened instead. That way you only have to agree with me as we go along.” Ward stopped mere inches away from Damien’s right ear, and he leant down to put his face as Damien’s as possible. His hot breath tickled Damien’s cheek when he ejected the words, “Got it, buddy?”, and Damien nodded dumbly.

“Right.” Ward straightened, and begun pacing the length of the short wall. He appeared to gather his thoughts for a moment, although Damien suspected it was an act – Ward had clearly been living and breathing this case all week. “Well, the drug you used was Pancuronium – Pavulon.” Ward started. “Poor old Mister Spinner was practically swimming with it when the mortician checked him out. That drug was last used on your shift the day before for a Code Blue emergency involving a female patient at the opposite end of the hallway. You helped clean up after that incident, didn’t you Damien?”

Damien didn’t answer, and Ward stopped mid-step, wheeling to glare at him, “Didn’t you, Mister Everett?” he said with force. Damien nodded again and Mitchell spoke up, asking him to say it out loud for the benefit of the recording. Damien obliged weakly, and Ward continued pacing apparently satisfied.

“So, you manage to find yourself a nice little half empty vial of Pavulon. Now, you could have just gotten so excited by your little find that you decided to use it on the next available patient – just for kicks. But you know what, I don’t think you did that, did you Damien?” This time, he didn’t wait for a response, and Damien wasn’t intending to offer one. “No, you know why I think that, Damien? Because you showed just a little bit too much interest in Mister Spinner from the get-go. I think that Mister Spinner was a threat to you, Damien. I think he was a threat to you so you got rid of him. Finding the drug just gave you the means to do it. Didn’t it, Damien?”

This time he was after an answer, and Damien hesitated at first, then nodded again, knowing when he was defeated. Mitchell slapped the table to get his attention, and barked, “For the tape, Mister Everett,” and Damien croaked, “Uh. I guess.”

“Well, Mister Spinner is just an old man, what could he possibly have threatened you with?” Ward’s tone had become mocking now, playing up to his role as antagonist and seemingly enjoying it immensely. Damien just continued to feel miserable, knowing now that he was going down. He had no hope of recovery from this. “Well, it just so happens that we spoke to Mister Spinner only a few days ago, and I think that there may be a bit of a link here Damien. I think that Mister Spinner saw something down at Redton railway station.” Ward had stopped pacing again, and he moved back to the table where Damien sat, his head buried in his hands. Ward placed his hands flat on the edge of the table and put his head close to Damien’s, he dropped his voice and laced it with brutal accusation, “I think he saw you, Mister Everett. He saw you murder Ariana Mathers, and so you murdered him to shut him up.”

Damien looked up, deciding finally that if he was going to go down, he’d better do it in a blaze of glory, he opened his mouth to speak and, when the words wouldn’t come, he cleared his throat, then tried again. “I didn’t kill Ariana Mathers. I was with her and couple of other guys, but when I left to go home she was well and truly alive. Sir.” he added as an afterthought.

Ward sat back down on the reversed chair as though he was settling in for a nice bit of storytelling, and asked Damien to continue. Damien slowly warmed up to his story, and as the day wore on, more and more details came to light. By the time they had arrested Damien for the murder of Mister Walter Albert Spinner and returned him to his six by four holding cell, it was after ten in the evening and Damien was shaking and exhausted, knowing that he had just made either the biggest mistake or the greatest confession of his life. Possibly both, he thought miserably.

 

Ben

 

Ben had spent most of the day at home, indeed most of the week, surfing the internet for more information on Ariana and completely ignoring the load of study he had for his final exams for the year. He was in no doubt that he would fail the classes he had taken this year, but that was not particularly surprising and at least it meant he would get funding from his parents for another semester. He lived in dread of the day that he actually managed to graduate and his parents forced him to go and get a job. He was 23 now, and he saw no problem with living under parental funding for many years to come yet, provided he could work out a way to successfully do so.

 

He was busy ratting through the freezer looking for something he could reheat and consume in front of the computer, when he heard a knock on the door. He closed the freezer door and went through to the front of the house, calling out as he did so, “Coming!”

 

Ben got to the door and opened it but, instead of the friend he was expecting to see, he saw two uniformed police officers. His eyes narrowed as he looked at them, first one, then the other, “What the …?” he stammered, before the elder of the two interrupted him.

“Senior Constable Mitchell,” he stated, holding up a badge. He stabbed a thumb at the lanky officer beside him, “And Constable Platt.”

Ben opened his mouth, but had not yet worked out what words to speak, when Mitchell continued, his notebook open as he spoke, “We have reason to believe that you were involved with the murder of one Ariana Grace Mathers last Saturday evening at Redton railway station. You are not obliged to say or do anything unless you wish to do so, but whatever you say or do may be used in evidence. Do you understand?”

Ben closed his mouth, and nodded his assent. Mitchell asked him to verbally confirm his understanding and Ben, fighting a throat closing in terror, croaked, “I understand.”

With that, Constable Platt produced a set of handcuffs and moved towards Ben, who did not resist. Once he was suitably detained, Ben allowed himself to be led to the police vehicle parked in his driveway. He settled himself in the back seat of the vehicle, laid his head back on the bench seat and closed his eyes to block out the sight of the reinforced partition between the seats, the uniformed officers in the front, the handcuffs around his wrist. His mind instead showed him a stage – the stage where he had been dancing for so long. And then, without warning, the curtains started closing. He felt tears well up behind his closed lids. He let them come.

Epilogue

The house was still, the baby finally sound asleep in her cot after a long night awake. Megan fought the urge to sleep herself, and sat down at the table with a strong cup of tea instead. There was a pile of papers on the table – a collection of junk mail and this morning’s newspaper, as well the baby photos that Dalton had printed off last night. Megan smoothed the paper out as she sipped her tea, idly flicking through the articles, trying to find the crossword. Suddenly distracted, her eyes flicked towards the photographs – she had gone through them all already but she pulled them towards her again, flicking through and admiring the perfect eyes, the perfect hands, the perfect toes of her little girl. Almost unconsciously she started sorting them into groups, laying them out on the newsprint: in the hospital; with Dalton; with other relatives and friends; in the car for the first time; at home with all the new equipment; Dalton puzzling over various pieces of baby-related paraphernalia. She was creating scrapbook pages as she went, mentally picking colours, styles and embellishments. As she moved the photographs around on the newspaper, words suddenly jumped out at her: “Mathers Murderer Found Yet Mystery Remains”. She slowly cleared the photographs away from the article and, dreamlike, read the short piece:

 

“The murder of the young woman behind the award-winning A.M. Alston novels, Ariana Mathers, has officially been solved, but there remains questions over the gruesome death that may never be answered. Benjamin Eliot Morgan, 23, of Hawkswater, was taken into custody last Friday night after a tip-off from an un-named person helping the police with their enquiries. Morgan faces court early next week on a range of charges. In a situation that appears to be a one-night-stand turned nasty, Morgan allegedly had travelled with Mathers on the train from Hawkswater to Redton stations and, once there, raped and strangled her in the dark brush near the station grounds. Police refused to comment on whether others were involved, or if Morgan had used drugs prior to the murder.

 

Mathers’ mother, Grace, however, has revealed that she received an anonymous cheque over the weekend. They discovered the hand-delivered envelope in their letterbox on Sunday afternoon, containing a cheque made out to “The Estate of Ariana Mathers” for a sum of $1.6 Million. There was a typed note in the envelope, stating only “From an old man who wanted to say “sorry”. I don’t know what happened, but no young person deserves what Ariana suffered, and no parent deserves to have a child taken from them in that manner. I wish I could have done more”. The letter was unsigned, and Ms Mathers is appealing to the public for the sender to step forward, so that she can offer her thanks and gratitude.

 

In related news, City Rail have pledged to upgrade the surroundings of 14 suburban train stations, including Redton, within the next 18 months. Upgrades will include cutting back the brush surrounding the stations and installing 24 hour lighting. If you have any information on the Mathers case, please contact this newspaper, or Crime Stoppers.”

 

Megan smiled as she thought about how they had argued over the wording of the letter, and the amount of the cheque. But in the end, they had agreed to keep it as close to Walter’s own words as possible, and there was still plenty of funds left over so that their little girl would have a good education, and one hell of an eighteenth birthday party.

 

 

Shannen set the tall glass coffee cup down gently on the saucer, as though she were afraid it would break. She stared at the empty cup for a while, her latte finished now and remnants of milk froth clinging to her lip, and tried to gather her thoughts. Sitting across from her, Briana stared into her own cup of half finished coffee. The small coffee shop was buzzing with people who had finished work for the week and were winding up to the weekend. Briana and Shannen were sitting at a small table on the very perimeter of the street dining area, where they been observing not only the coffee shop full of people, but the cars going past and the pedestrians carefully sidestepping the chairs and tables pushed onto the footpath. Briana had just finished relating the story her mother had told her only days ago, about her father, Grace and Ariana and the relationship she was trying to establish with her unknown cousin. As the final words had dropped from her mouth, silence had descended, broken only by the background buzzing of people deep in their own conversations, and now Briana waited, hardly breathing, for Shannen’s response.

 

Shannen continued to look into her cup, but her head was not bowed with solemnity for Briana’s story, as the teenager thought. Instead, she was recalling her own teenaged years, and how serious everything was when you were sixteen. She trawled back through her own memories, and could recall the emotions more than she could recall the events that triggered them. She remembered how every love was the one, every break up was suicide-worthy, every friendship was till the end of the world, and every heartache warranted days in bed with ‘depression’. It occurred to her that it was this roller coaster of emotion that had turned her into the hard partyer that she had become … somehow the days of supposed depression, and the heartaches and breakups had been real enough that she had felt the need to escape them. Had the emotions really been that painful, or was she just finding that she dealt with things better these days? Somehow it seemed as though the emotions really had been painful – more painful than she thought she would be able to bear some days. And then she realised that, as a teenager, she had never had to deal with anything even remotely like what she had had to deal with in the past week – tripping over a dead body, only to discover later that it was your best friend, and then having to cope with the loss, the grief and the guilt all at once. Yet she had not at any point since learning of Ariana’s death, wanted a drink, she had not craved a drug and she had not had to lean on others for support. The thought stopped her in her tracks – when had this change come over her?

 

As she looked through the thick glass of her latte cup, she saw an image on the saucer beneath it, and moved the glass for a better view. Sitting on the saucer was a serviette, bearing the logo of the coffee shop they were in, and suddenly Shannen smiled. She picked up the folded napkin, stained by spilt coffee and with a distinctive ring where her cup had sat, and held it up for Brianna to see.

 

Brianna looked blankly at the serviette that Shannen was holding up, and shook her head frowning. Shannen spoke finally, pointing to the logo and searching Briana’s face for realisation, “It’s a phoenix!”

Briana shook her head again, saying only, “Um, yeah, that’s the name of the coffee shop,”

It was Shannen’s turn to shake her head. She put the serviette down on the table, and smoothed it out, almost caressing the image of the phoenix printed on it. She had thought that her phoenix days were in the past two years, but now she realised that, while those were stepping stones, and they were certainly necessary, the day she rose from the ashes was the day she finished Ariana’s story – the day she had discovered that she really didn’t need a crutch, she didn’t need external support. The day of her arising from the ashes was today, the day that she had discovered that she had the inner strength to cope with anything the world could throw at her, and that all it took to have that strength, was to know that she had it. She looked skyward and smiled, really smiled, for the first time in weeks, months, maybe even years. And although she still had a lot of grieving to do yet, she also knew that she could, and she would, be able to get through it. And silently, she thanked Ariana, for her best friend had given her the ultimate gift, she had given her the strength to carry on, and the strength that Shannen had been struggling to find in others, she had finally found, with Ariana’s help, within herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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