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The creature lay motionless on its back. It was attired Ninja-style in a black
long-sleeved skivvy and silk track pants. Its head was propped up by a small
khaki backpack, the type readily available from any military disposal store.
The pack contained a rolled up change of clothing, electrical tape,
a whetstone, a blue metal water bottle and two square plastic containers.
Each item was methodically packed, in the manner a doting mother orderly
assembles a child’s school lunch. The creature repeatedly shuffled a set of
During the late afternoon, an observant passer-by might have discerned
a hazy shape in the charcoal shadows beneath the giant Moreton Bay figs
in Brisbane’s Davies Park. Hardly unusual. It was a favourite retreat for
picnickers, an inner city sanctuary.
The pattern in this part of the reach was predictable at this time of day. As a reluctant sun dipped slowly to the west, a gentle wind cruised across the river forming a natural evaporative cooler. The breeze fanned the canopies of the grey figs creating a welcome respite from the summer heat.
Close to the riverbank, two canoeists lazily paddled by, their faces smeared with zinc cream. Innocuous banter drifted across the water¬way and the creature’s concentration was momentarily distracted. He refocused on the cards but his predatory eyes flicked from side-to-side, like a hunting panther, absorbing and evaluating every movement within his vision.
Fifty metres away a chunky young girl with shoulder-length mousey hair and wrapped in a creased emerald-green sarong was sitting in the shade of another spreading fig. He watched as she stuffed a sandwich into her chubby face. A can of soft drink was beside her. Between each bite and swig, she appeared to write something in a folder of some sort. He figured she was probably a student.
He willed her to remain until nightfall but considered that unlikely. An hour later, she stood up, dropped her pad into what appeared to be a beige hessian carry bag and casually waddled away from his lair, leaving a crunched up can and lunch wrappings behind.
‘Slovenly whore,’ he muttered.
His right hand reached under a pile of decaying leaves. He re¬trieved a six-inch bladed hunting knife and affectionately caressed the blade with his thumb and forefinger. He ran it across his cheek, kissing the cool steel as it passed by his lips. Removing the whetstone from the backpack, he started his methodical sharpening ritual. It was his battle hymn, a rhythmical, rasping dirge.
The veil of darkness was beginning to descend and like all nocturnal beasts he needed to be ready. Darkness offered the obscurity he desperately craved.
This was his arena.
The strident ring of the telephone startled and annoyed Julia Anders. She’d become engrossed with the last few chapters of Marcus Clarke’s For the Term of His Natural Life. A palpable tension consumed her. She’d conjured up two or three possible endings only one of which would satisfy a true romantic. The turn of every page was accompanied by a churning in the pit of her stomach. Clammy beads of perspiration trickled snail-like down her body, a legacy of the oppressive Brisbane summer. Yet she was oblivious to any distraction. A burning urge to sneak a look at the last chapter was resisted. After reading four hundred pages she despaired for the fairy tale ending she craved – for Rufus and Sylvia to finally find each other. It’ll be pathetic if anything happens to them. ‘Hello.’
‘Hi, Jules. Missing me?’
Her irritability evaporated. ‘You’re kidding aren’t you, Ray? You’ve caught me at a serious book moment.’
‘Thanks for the affection. Listen, Jules, this thing at home probably won’t finish until eight or so. Is nine okay?’
‘No problems. I haven’t lit the candles yet.’ She chuckled invitingly.
‘Actually it’ll work in well. Give me a chance to go for a run.’
‘You’re mad,’ said Ray. ‘In this heat?’
‘I’m not going now. I’ll head off when it cools down. Be back in time to dabble in some culinary voyeurism.’
‘Don’t tire yourself out too much. Remember, dessert awaits us.’
‘Settle down. Oh, and don’t forget the wine.’
‘All organised. Seeing you’re so special I’ve come up with something finely balanced, refined, with a flavour of blackberry, coffee bean and perfectly integrated oak.’
‘I hope you’re not describing a flagon.’
‘I’m offended by that comment. No, I was thinking more of a wine from the Eden Valley. Henschke’s Hill of Grace perhaps.’
‘Rubbish. Would be nice to have a man who could afford it though.
‘I have feelings too, Miss Anders.’
Julia smiled wickedly. ‘Poor Ray. I promise to be nice to you later. Bye.’ Julia hung up the phone, turned the overhead fan switch to high and eased herself onto the lounge. May as well discover the fate of Rufus and Sylvia.
An hour later, she flung the book onto the carpet, emotionally deflated. Both drowned. Both bloody drowned. What imbecile would finish it like that? These old books are just melodramatic crap. A classic, my hat!
Julia glanced at her watch and was surprised to see it was almost seven fifteen. Heck, I’d better get a move on.
Ray had a habit of introducing Julia as his fitness fanatic girlfriend. She loved the label. Reading was a passionate hobby but she had her sedentary limits. Too much inactivity engendered a guilt reaction. She didn’t know whether it was her brain stimulating her body to start moving or visa-versa. In any case a day without exercise was tantamount to mortal sin for an exercise junkie.
‘I’ve missed two aerobic classes and a netball game this week, Felix. Time for me to fly.’
The little blue budgie remained motionless on his perch, not even bothering to look in her direction.
Julia slipped into her coolest running outfit, a baggy pair of white shorts and a cream, sleeveless halter-neck top. She glimpsed her image in the bedroom mirror and gave a grunt of dissatisfaction.
She’d never been happy with her figure. As far as she was concerned, her breast development had stymied at the pubescent stage whilst her hips and bottom were too bulky for her liking. She realised that most women tended to berate their own body image but had long concluded that all the exercise and calorie counting had been to no avail.
Her attraction was in her freckled, expressive face. Her eyes mirrored an enthusiasm and sincerity that was endearing and captivating. Her smile was infectious. If intelligence and personality were as marketable as physical beauty, Julia could have been a Miss Universe contestant.
The searing temperatures had dropped but the humidity was still stifling. She strapped her father’s old leather fishing belt around her firm waist and clipped on her water bottle. She had a sentimental attachment to her father’s cast-offs. In some obscure way, it gave her a sense of nostalgic security. She carefully adjusted a black and white checked sweatband on her forehead. If it helped Pat Cash cope with the heat on centre court, it was good enough for her.
‘Time I pensioned you blokes off,’ she said as she examined the soles of her Reeboks. The tread had almost disappeared after endless hours of pounding the pavement. Still they were the most comfortable sports shoes she’d ever worn.
At seven–thirty Julia locked the screen door of her Highgate Hill unit and hid the keys under the glossy leaves of a pink flowering Anthurium. It was a house-warming present from her mother. She’d recently re-potted the plant and placed it strategically outside her front door. It softened the entrance, gave it a tropical look.
At the main gate to the unit block she paused, and, for a moment, wallowed in her own contentment. She couldn’t believe how far she’d grown since leaving Killarney at eighteen years of age. She’d never forget that date. It was the day after her father’s birthday, the eleventh of February 1973. After completing her degree at the University of Queensland, she’d planned to return home and set up a podiatry practice. Her father had offered to help with costs. But the lure of the city, its excitement and opportunities had been irresistible. At twenty-seven, she was working for a thriving podiatry business at Wickham Terrace and had recently become a proud property owner. Most importantly she was about to become engaged to the most compassionate man alive. 1982 was to be her year.
Her plan was to run to the Davies Park jetty and back, a distance of about eight kilometres by a circuitous route down the main drive, past the West End Primary school and into Riverside Drive. It was a testing course especially the steep gradient up Highgate Hill.
Years of running had given her a fluid running style. Ray had likened her smooth action to a Shakespearian sonnet. He was biased of course. Poetry in motion he’d called her. With her long brown hair tied back in a ponytail, she was a familiar sight on the streets of Highgate Hill. A few admiring glances came her way as she scampered around the hills, but she failed to notice, never considering for a moment that, as a woman, she was anything out of the ordinary.
By the time she reached the jetty, she was drenched in perspiration. She paused to take a few sips from her water bottle and stretch her hamstrings on the rickety, weather-beaten handrails.
Across the river, the lights of Brisbane were starting to twinkle as the last light of day surrendered. Soon the city would resemble a million fireflies, illuminated by flickering movement and frenetic energy. The traffic along Coronation Drive was increasing as the early Saturday night revellers flooded the access routes bent on hedonistic pursuits. Vestiges of petrol and diesel fumes wafted across the river reminding Julia that her new world had its imperfections.
She checked her watch. Geez, Ray will be there in an hour.
Normally Julia would have stuck to the streets, but darkness was falling quickly and storm clouds were building in the South West. She decided to take a short cut through Davies Park. It would only take her a few minutes to run through the grove of Moreton Bay figs and onto the circuit leading to Montague Road. From there she could take a direct course to Dornoch Terrace.
He absorbed the contour of Julia’s statuesque form, his eyes feeding on every movement. Come to me, come to me … come to me.
He sensed the excitement and anticipation fermenting inside him. They were familiar feelings. During the early years, he’d struggled to control them. He’d succeeded, at least until his prey was disabled. The urges then over-ruled logical thought and the drive for gratification consumed him.
It hadn’t always been this way. But hours locked in that foul-smelling cupboard had forced him to master his panic and adjust. At first he’d sobbed, a flood of tears rolling down his pasty cheeks. Then the flood became silent trickles.
Eventually the stream dried completely. He found enjoyment in his incarceration. He could sit for hours in the gloom listening only to the raspy sound of his own breath. Eventually he taught himself abdominal breathing. He found that deep, rhythmical breaths through the nose were inaudible. Blackness, silence and solitude became his cloak of security.
It was a time when his mind could lapse into vengeful fantasies. On one occasion, the woman had ordered him out of his dark recess after a three-hour confinement. He’d remained motionless, ignoring the open door and the encroaching rays of light. A blotchy face, breath reeking of alcohol and tobacco poked itself into his haven.
‘Get out here. you little bastard.’
He’d struck then, like a coiled viper, sinking his small teeth into the exposed throat. He’d taken a savage beating for that but considered it a triumph. The screams of shock and pain and the taste of salty, warm blood in his mouth had been exhilarating. It was the first time he’d acted out a fantasy. The people had removed him from his cupboard after that. He was four years old at the time.
Placing him in the home had been like transferring him from one hellhole to another. He had plans for that place - especially Sister Mary.
His thoughts returned to his prey and he considered retracing his steps and snaring her in one of the streets. It was only a fleeting idea and he quickly rejected it. Too dangerous, too stupid.
When Julia started jogging towards him, he experienced familiar pangs of anticipation. He’d expected it. Chance was not part of his strategy. He believed that opportunities are created. Planning and patience are crucial components for a successful hunt.
Once, in the bush near the home, he’d come upon a python wrapped around the branch of a Lilly Pilly tree. The Penguins fed wild birds by placing seed in a tin plate suspended by wire from an overhanging limb. The wily python had waited for days above the feeding dish, its head arched like an extension of the branch. He never saw the kill but the absence of the snake and the pile of black and white feathers on the ground confirmed that the marauder had been satiated.
His body quivered slightly as he moved to a crouching stance, like a panther preparing for the fatal strike.
Excerpt from Chapter 1