Excerpt for Lost in the Never Never by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Missing in the

Never Never


Crocodile Dreaming Series

Books 4 and 5 Box Set


Book 4 – Lost Girl Diary

Book 5 – Dancing Shadows


Novels by

Graham Wilson




Copyright

Missing in the Never Never

Graham Wilson

Published by Smashwords

Copyright Graham Wilson 2018

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

ISBN


BOOKS IN CROCODILE DREAMING SERIES

Book 1 – An English Visitor

Book 2 – Crocodile Man

Book 3 – Girl in an Empty Cage

Book 4 – Lost Girl Diary

Book 5 – Dancing Shadows





Lost Girl Diary

Book 4

Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Series



Graham Wilson




Copyright

Lost Girl Diary

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2017

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

ISBN 9781370838493





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior approval of the author. For permission to use contact Graham Wilson by email at grahambbbooks@gmail.com




Acknowledgements



Firstly thank you to the readers of the previous version of this book,

Your comments, mostly positive have encouraged me to keep going with this book and series. Reviews, in particular those negative, give great insight into how to improve the telling of a story and, along with professional editing advice, has proved most valuable in helping me see areas where both the story and the way it is told need to be improved.

Particular thanks to Alexandra Nahlous who did a structural review of this book. From this came many ideas for improvement which I have incorporated.

Thanks you to my family and close friends, particularly my wife, Mary, who supported me on my writing journey.

Thank you to the many backpackers and other foreign travellers I met while living in the Northern Territory. Some of you shared my travels, many shared your own experiences of the world you came from and of your experiences travelling in this land. From you came a major part of the idea for this story.

Most significantly thankyou to a large unseen crocodile, probably still living in a remote Arnhem Land billabong, who almost had me for dinner. The teeth marks are still visible on my leg today, giving me my own close encounter to recount in outback bars.

silent power of this predator stays with me still and, along with aboriginal mythology and other stories, has fed my fascination for these huge ancient creatures, barely changed since the time of the dinosaurs. Some of the largest I have seen in very remote places rival those in my imagined stories.




Background to Story


This is the fourth book in a series of five books called the Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Series, named for the central role which a large and ferocious predator, the salt water crocodile, plays in these stories. This series is principally set in the Northern Territory, a huge undeveloped part of the north of Australia. Crocodiles dominate its coastline. Their danger is an ever present part of life, told in the stories of its aboriginal inhabitants.

In the first book an English backpacker, Susan, comes on holiday to Australia, and goes travelling in the outback with a local man, Mark. Too late she realises that this man has terrible secrets hidden, involving the disappearance of other travellers. She only just escapes with her life, but Mark dies. She hides this fact in the hope that no one will ever know.

In the second book Susan tries to get on with a new life back in England. But Mark’s body has been discovered and the police link her to his death and charge her with murder. She has this man’s diary and needs to understand what he did and why, which she hopes the diary will reveal.

In the third book Susan is in jail in Darwin, Australia, on trial for murder. She had decided to plead guilty but refuses to say what has happened, and actively seeks to conceal Mark’s role in the disappearance of other girls. She becomes suicidal in her desperation to escape from what appears a hopeless situation. The one person, a helicopter pilot, who could help her, has vanished too. Finally the police discover about the other missing girls and she is released on bail while they investigate what this all means.

This book picks up the story following Susan’s release from jail. It tells the story of four missing girls, at first only known from passport photos. Then Susan vanishes too. Now it is the search for five lost girls by Susan’s own best friend, Anne, who is full of guilt at her failure to save her friend.




Part 1 - Emily

Prologue - The Small Hours


It was a small hour of the morning, number around three or four. Her mind was sharply awake but, for a second, she did not know where her body was, except that it was in a bed and the bed was unfamiliar.

There was the sound of another person drawing breath, in and out, regular but not loud. She moved her arms around to explore the bed space. A body was lying near, source of breath sounds. It was hard and angular shaped; a body of elbows and bony protuberances. It was a man, and he was sharing her bed, now in this most alone hour.

As she felt his shape her memory returned. If he delayed his return a little longer neither she nor he would be here. She would be a cold object in a box; her spirit, if such existed, gone. Great tenderness for this man washed over her; it was as if he had reprieved her from death row a minute before execution, even if her demise would have been self-done.

She ran her fingers through his straggly hair and over a bony shoulder. She pushed her body tightly up against him, wrapped arms around and hugged herself to him. He was all bones and angles, so wasted from walking, but she loved his shape and comfort. Her body was so distended with her swollen child-full belly; his was so empty from three months of eating lizards and frogs. Yet he was here and he was hers. She loved his body, she loved him.

He stirred in his sleep. Coming half-awake he rolled towards her, speaking in a thick sleep filled voice.

“I can’t believe I am lying here with you. I have no words to say how wonderful it feels. It is something I half dreamed as I walked forever but never dared to imagine.”

Now she could feel his body rousing against her, his maleness was his one full part. She wanted it to fill her again. She rolled onto her back bringing his hand to that place. They made love, he trying to be careful of her enlarged belly. She laughed, telling him. “They are well protected in there. You are as light as a feather, you will do no harm.”

Their bodies released in one of life’s tender moments.

He muttered, “Susan, my beautiful Susan.”

She felt happy; so, so, really, really, really happy; she felt new surprise at her ability to love, to know complete gladness after what had been. She must never lose this moment of surprise by joy.

Vic drifted back to sleep. Soon she could hear his regular breathing again. Her mind stayed in a dreamy wakefulness, remembering what had been, only bare hours before.

They had left the courtroom together, with a crowd of friends and family, walking the short distance to the hotel, all of them desiring a celebration and catch up. Vic hobbled beside her for his promised plate of steak and chips washed down with a cold beer.

The food was good but the night an anti-climax. Vic had eaten so little for weeks that he could only manage a third of his dinner. She had a numb mind from anxiety and exhaustion of spirit. Vic had barely slept for the past three nights as he had driven himself to keep walking. Now, with his mission accomplished and alcohol washing through his bloodstream, he could barely keep his eyes open. Others wanted to take Vic to hospital to recover and fix his leg and to take her to a hotel bed in a room next to her parents or Anne to protect her from herself.

But Susan declined, saying “Vic has walked for three months to get here today. I am staying with him tonight.” No one could argue with that.

So, ever reliable, Alan had the solution. “My flat is empty now that I am sharing with Sandy. Why don’t you both stay there tonight?”

They both nodded in gratitude. Soon they were there, alone. In a minute Vic was asleep, stretched out on the bed. Susan showered and found one of Sandy’s light dressing robes, wrapping it around her body. She sat on the bed beside Vic, one hand on his shoulder, the other fondling his hair, taking in simple pleasure from touching and looking.

After half an hour he stirred and looked up with an incredulous grin. “I dreamed of you. Here you are, way more beautiful than in my dream.”

She took off her robe, placing her naked body along his. His body was unwashed, dirty, skinny and smelt. She did not care. She wanted to join her body fully to his. Soon they were in a place of joined togetherness. Then they slept, bodies entwined, in a deep and dreamless sleep.




Chapter 1 - The Morning After


Emily woke with bright light streaming into bedroom.

She knew, with that certainty that comes with great clarity after crisis, that from today she would become a new person. She would leave behind her alter ego, the person in whose skin she had lived this last year. Like the way a snake sheds it skin and there is a new full formed skin underneath, but still an integral part of the whole.

She would remake herself, both anew and by a return to the life of her own happy childhood. Once this was done her Susan persona would soon fade from collective memory. It had happened that way for Mark’s identity when she had told the world of his real name. Mark Bennet had slid away, along with all the other Mark Bs. In their place the world now only remembered Vincent Bassingham. So too she would shed her Susan name, a name redolent of horror. Those she cared about would now only call her by her name from school.

It was an idea that had formed in her mind over dinner last night, an alternative way of escaping her own self now that Vic had come back. It seemed like a good plan, a way in which she could build a new life with her almost formed children.

She stretched in bed. This bed was unbelievably soft and luxurious after where she had slept over the last few months. Her brain was struggling to take in the changes that a day had made. Yesterday she had looked no future in the eye and convinced herself that this was what she wanted, an escape on any terms, even one of her own ending.

Today those last months had a surreal feel. She was glad to be alive, glad that somehow, whether through fluke, divine providence, or perhaps the efforts of friends, she had stepped through two doors. She could now look from outside into her two cages of yesterday, the cage inside her mind which refused to see other options, and the cage of a jail cell which had sealed away her body for months.

She climbed out of bed and stretched, revelling in a sense of freedom. It was true, all of a sudden she could come and go as she pleased; she could catch the hotel lift and walk outside without anybody to say not. A glance out of the window told her it was a bright sunny day. Her room was high up, a short walk from a cliff top. Beyond lay miles of water looking to a distant shore. This must be Darwin Harbour; it seemed big and empty with barely a handful of boats dotting the horizon.

She found a bathrobe and went into the shower. She stripped off in front of a full length mirror. Her body was much changed since the last time she had a full view of herself. Her arms, legs and face looked very thin, almost gaunt. They contrasted with her large, bloated belly. She felt the weight of her babies pushing down; it was a bare six weeks to go until the due date.

As she came out of the shower a discrete tap on the door signalled a visitor. She put the safety latch on and opened cautiously, not wanting to find a TV crew and camera in waiting. It was a breakfast tray someone must have ordered for her last night. She felt inordinately pleased with this simple service and brought it inside. A minute later her phone rang. It was Anne, checking she was awake and inquiring whether to come over to her room or, alternatively, inviting her to come out and join them for breakfast. She told Anne to come in five minutes and share her breakfast tray, but only for her to come.

Emily felt full of thanks to Anne, the friend who had stuck to her through thick and thin. She must to talk alone with Anne before she faced the wider world. Yesterday was a reprieve. Today a mass of unresolved issues bubbled below the surface that she needed time and more mental clearness to deal with. Last night she had pushed them away out of sheer relief, today she needed a clear head to think rationally about them.

Dealing with a whole lot of people who were no longer kept away by a prison and who now wanted to know her plans seemed too confronting. She and Anne could talk sensibly, one on one, about today and the days after, how to start taking baby steps back into this scary outside world.

Her thoughts turned to Vic. She felt another welling up of affection. She had intended to spend the night with him, minding him and holding him close, giving comfort to his broken body, in a similar way to how he had begun to heal her broken mind, but exhaustion had intervened. He had come with her from the court to the nearby hotel bar where his cherished beer, steak and chips had been ordered. He had finished the beer quickly, perhaps too quickly. He had eaten some chips and a few mouthfuls of steak, but at that point the exhaustion overwhelmed him.

So Buck and his wife, Julie, took Vic to a hotel room next to theirs where they could give him the attention he needed. Really he should have gone to hospital, but he would not agree to that. So Buck, as a friend, took the responsibility to ensure his care. Emily felt pulled to go with Vic, to lay her body alongside his and hold him as he slept, but she knew she must find some time to talk with and thank the others, Anne and David, her Mum and Dad, Alan and Sandy. It was not deep conversation, but the togetherness and simple relief felt good to them all.

During the night she had dreamed of Vic, of loving him and joining her body to him. Tonight she must do it, make the dream become real. One thing she knew after her months locked away was that she would take the chances for happiness that came to her; she would not waste them or die wondering about what might have been. She was confident that Vic had real affection, maybe love, for her. She had spent too long on her own, now she wanted to be with him and she thought he wanted to be with her. So she would do all she could to make it happen without delay.

There was a knock on the door, it was Anne, she came inside and they hugged and giggled with girlish delight. Together they ate every morsel of food on the tray, then they found biscuits, chips and chocolate in the mini-bar and devoured them all too.They sat facing each other, knowing the time had come for honesty, not knowing quite where to start, each waiting for the other. Each started to talk and then stopped, not finding the words, walking around the edges of the elephant that sat between them.

Emily took a deep breath. The time to speak of this was now, now they must talk. Then Emily must face the world. But first she must see Vic again, to tell him she wanted to be with him and make plans for tonight. Her dream of last night would be tonight’s reality.

At last Anne spoke. “Can you tell me the truth now?”

Emily replied, “Yes, I think so, but I will only be brave enough to tell it once. It will cost too much of me if I ever have to go there again. My mind almost came apart yesterday, with me deciding to end it all. That person and place still sits looking over my shoulder, lurking in the shadows. I fear, if I let that person back into my mind for a second time, I will never be able to leave there again.

“So can you listen and maybe write it down. I will tell it like it happened, from my mind as I lived it. And, after that, I will speak of it no more. After I have told you I must then put it from my life and start to live again in another place where it cannot reach or touch me. I think that is the only way where its power of evil can be gone.”

Anne said. “In that case I must get a tape recorder. Then, as you speak, it is there for me later. So I need not remember it all at once. When you are finished the telling I will write it out in full as I do with my barristers’ tapes. After that you need speak of it no further.”

Emily nodded. “This will be the story of Susan, the other half of me. When it is told Susan will live only in words and paper. I will live again as Emily. No one else will know that Emily is my real name. To the readers of those words I will be Susan and Emily will disappear.

Anne nodded seriously. “OK Susan, no Em, if that is what you want then I will tell it that way.”

They agreed to meet after lunch and start the telling, to tell it in parts each afternoon until the telling was done.

Now, this morning, she would go and see Vic, David, her parents and all the others who had helped, not least Alan and Sandy. Until the story was done her nights would belong to Vic, her mornings with her friends and family and her afternoons would be with Anne for the telling.

She knew there were a few parts she would slide past unmentioned, the note she had discovered on the aeroplane which told her Mark’s true feelings, after she had killed him. That was private, just for her. With it went his will; she was not prepared to let others read it without her first knowing its full contents. Also she would tell no one the true location of the diary; they had the copy; that was enough. And she would not tell about the bag of jewels, they were Mark’s private present just to her and she was not ready to give them away. She really only wanted the pendant and ring he had given her, but it was linked with all the other things. She could not reveal one without the other being discovered too. Perhaps, in time, she could retrieve just those things.




Chapter 2 - The Telling


Anne and Emily enjoyed a morning of laughter with their other friends, first coffee and cakes in the hotel lobby, where Vic, David, Buck and Julie joined them, followed by her parents, cousins and Alan and Sandy, forming an ever increasing circle.

At first they just chatted and exchanged news and banter. Then she asked them all, if the media tried to get to her through them, to say she needed to rest and be left alone for now. They all agreed.

Next she told them all of her changed identity to Emily, saying it was her middle name and had been her childhood name. Her Mum and Dad were used to the dual identity, a part of how they saw their daughter.

At first Vic and the others were a bit perplexed, it seemed too simple and easy, but as it was explained by Anne who was now well used to her friend’s two faces it started to make more sense. They agreed that if it was what she wanted they would all play their part.

Vic had the most reservations; he said he knew her as Susan and he wanted to keep this person alive. She quelled that by taking his hand and asking him to come and walk with her, just him by himself. She said she wanted him to show her the town which she had never seen.

So they walked the town, she keeping hold of his hand. Once they were well alone she turned to face him, saying that now she was free she wanted to spend as much time as she could with him, both the days and nights together. It seemed a bit forward, inviting him to be her lover, but he had a huge grin as she said it and from then it seemed easy and natural, a promise of things to come.

So she stepped up close and kissed him mouth to mouth, telling him she wanted him the way that a woman does a man. She said she hoped he did not mind her full and bloated body, but that, if he would have her, she did not intend to let that stop them sharing their bodies as lovers.

She knew that Alan and Sandy had an empty flat and put it to him to ask if they could stay there together from tonight, just the two of them. Vic said Alan had already offered it for his use, said he could stay there while he recovered. Vic was sure it could accommodate two not one.

Then she asked him to walk with her down to the beach, below the cliff. She stood there with her feet in the wavelets, and asked him to put his arms around her from behind, to hold her tight to give her courage.

She could feel his maleness against her. She took his hands and placed them on her breasts, telling him this was how she wanted him to hold her, now and tonight when they were back together again.

After standing with him holding her like that for a long time she said. “Now it is time for me to become Susan, each afternoon to tell Anne her story until it is finished. Tonight, when I leave Anne, I want you to hold me again, encased in your arms like this. I will become your Emily again as you hold me. I need you to help me become her, new and whole again.”

She returned again to the lobby where her parents still sat, though her other friends were gone. She told them that from tonight she would be staying with Vic; he was special to her and she wanted to be with him.

Then she found Anne and began her story. On this first day, the Thursday, she told of the first meeting Mark until the leaving when she went to Sydney and then of the re-meeting in Alice Springs up until the big waterhole on the Frew River. This was the time when no clouds could be seen in her sky.

On the second day, the Friday, she told of her discoveries of the many identities and passports of the other girls and her sending the text Anne, then of the second last night on the crocodile river with the running tides, a deeper, but shadowed perfection.

On the third day, the Saturday, she told of the knowing from the text reply and the ending, the ending of his life, the ending of her innocence, and then of her first plan to escape through the hiding of it.

On the fourth day she told of her life in a cage, consumed by the crocodile spirit dreaming, until her whole life was but a part of by this madness. She told of how desire to go to the place of crocodile spirit had possessed her until it was the only way she saw to escape, that was until when the gods of fate opened a window and Vic was returned to her.

Then she looked up at Anne and said. “It is done; I have spoken all I know. It is not within my power to tell it again, or even to correct it or to change it in any way. You must take and tell this story of Mark and Susan to those who need to know. I want to know nothing of this or anything which comes from it. I will be only Emily and Emily will vanish from this story. I will no longer know Susan or share her memories. Perhaps that is enough to let me be free again.”

After she finished the telling each day she went out into the evening calmness and walked on the beach until the spirit of Susan and that of the crocodile faded from her into the harbour dusk. Then she found Vic and put her arms around him. He and she held each other through the night and through their joining she rebuilt her strength for another day.

In the mornings she would share coffee, breakfast and laughter with her friends, and walk with them and see the sights of the town. In the afternoons she would close her mind to Emily and be only Susan for the telling. In the nights she would try to become only Emily again, to give her love to Vic, who had need of her as she did of him. But in this giving and loving of the night a part of her always became Susan again. In the small hours it returned to a crocodile spirit dreaming. Here another man found a space in her dreams. Yet each morning when she awoke again it was Vic whose arms held her and she was glad it was him.

Anne found herself consumed by the story. She sat, both appalled and enthralled as it unfolded, occasionally forcing herself to ask questions to clarify odd bits of the monologue. The two faces of Emily-Susan were but a part of the larger tale.

Emily had been her friend from school, though her real name was Susan Emily McDonald. However, as a small girl she had adored her own Aunt Em; her father’s younger sister, who had died tragically when young. So, at that time, she had decided she wanted her Aunt’s name to be the name people called her and she took the name Emily to use. It was first year high school, the same year they first met, when their friendship had started. Anne had first known her as Susan. Then, only a couple months later, after her Aunt’s death, the name change occurred. It seemed weird at the time, but everyone soon got used to it. By the end of school her first name was forgotten, now all knew her only as Emily, even though she had never officially changed her name.

So her passport had Susan as her first name and when they had gone on holidays to the beaches of the Mediterranean she was Susan again. It began as a game; she remembered them sitting on the plane together as they left England for their first holiday together.

Emily had announced, part mocking, “Seeing my passport calls me Susan I will call myself that while I am away, you know, tell that name to any boys we meet. It will become a second me, my alter ego.”

Then, during her University years, she had used Susan more and more. She still responded to Emily, it was what family and close friends mostly called her, but the lecturers used Susan, and she made Edward call her Susan. She said it was too kitch for a couple to be Edward and Emily, shortened to Ed and Em.

It was strange, but as the years had gone by it was as if two people had started to live within the one, Susan the outgoing extrovert, party animal and traveller, and Emily, the quieter and more studious twin, careful and competent at everything she did. More and more Anne had called her friend Susan, but her family still mostly called her Em, and Anne lived in both worlds.

Once Anne had asked her what was the name she used for herself inside her head. She had replied, “Emily, but I like the idea of a braver and wilder me. That is who my friend Susan is.”

So, weird as it sounded, it made a strange sort of sense, this girl who was two people, choosing to split herself and pass the bad memories and experiences to the one part which she would shed, while she returned to her earlier self again, the person too cautious for this to ever happen to.

Anne found that swapping between the two personas of her friend was almost effortless, it was like using someone’s name and nickname interchangeably. So she slid into this narrative form without effort. As her friend spoke, she saw the person sitting there as Emily but she heard the words which came from Susan’s mouth.

So Anne sat and listened as the tape recorded. It was a story which began like a bright shaft of sunlight. But, even before the first day was done, she could see roiling dark clouds form, climbing up the horizon and rolling relentlessly forward. As later days unfolded this darkness became all encompassing.

Sometimes she tried to test what happened through her own moral code and her sense of courage. Would she have gone to the police earlier? Would she have acted to save herself by killing a man she loved in the way her friend had or would she have stayed, frozen in terror, become passive as a victim? Could she have accepted the punishment meted out to her for what she perceived as the greater good to save a man’s reputation and to protect her children?

Some parts she found incomprehensible, at other times she found herself marvelling at the bravery of personal choices, never did she form the view she could have acted better or feel entitled to sit in judgement. Her friend was a harsher judge of her own actions than another could be. A part of Anne felt privileged that she had been entrusted with this story. Mostly she just listened.

It was so good to have her friend back, to see the real Emily standing behind Susan. But she knew this Emily was in a fragile place, that she must be protected and kept away from shocks which would damage her slowly rebuilding self-esteem.

By the end of the fourth day, when the telling was done, Anne began to feel easier. It seemed as if a huge weight had been lifted off Emily as Susan separated from her. Now Emily walked with lighter and brighter feet, the skip returned to her step.

As the story unfolded, as well as compiling the tapes, Anne wrote notes of urgent follow up actions to undertake, based on the knowledge imparted. Highest on the list was to retrieve a small metal box which held passports of four lost girls. While she had never been to the site she had a clear description of the location, the place where the little hill was. She knew where the box was buried in relation to the hill. So, once the telling was finished, as Emily went off to find Vic on the Sunday night, to spend a last night with him before he was taken to hospital to have his broken leg set straight, she picked up the phone and called Alan on his mobile.

She told him she had the full story on a set of tapes that she would transcribe over the next week or two. But, in the meantime, the one most significant thing he needed to know was about was the box which Emily had buried. She described the hill as told by her friend.

Alan remembered Susan's little slip, her unintended revelation of something hidden made in the pre-trial meeting. He knew immediately that this was it, recounting his own futile search of a few days before.

Anne described the square flat stone where the hill ended at its furthest edge, alongside which the box was buried.

Alan even remembered this place, saying “I stood on it, looking out across the surrounding country wondering where else to search. It is hard to believe it was at my feet the whole time.”

Then Alan asked her if she and David would like to come with him when he went to this place to retrieve the box. He would get on the phone to his boss now and organise it for the morning. It was the highest priority so he was sure it would happen.

Anne and David had planned a picnic together for tomorrow, their last day before David returned to Sydney. Anne would then stay on to provide company and support for her friend until the babies were born.

While Alan had given Vic and Emily the use of his flat for as long as needed, Anne was hoping that Emily could be persuaded to soon come to Sydney and stay there with them until the babies were born. Emily’s cousins lived there too. Together they would provide a stronger support network than what was here in Darwin. It would be good to put distance between Emily and this place of horrors.

So Anne’s initial inclination was to decline, begging a prior picnic engagement. But another part of her had a strong curiosity to see the site of the events which had consumed so much of her life. So she said she would check with David.

Alan said he would be leaving at eight o’clock tomorrow morning, with a couple vehicles, accompanied by Sandy and two other men. So if they wished to come they should be at Sandy's place before then.

Anne felt comfortable in leaving Emily alone tomorrow. As well as Emily’s own parents being there she would be spending the day with Vic who was booked into surgery after lunch. Emily would stay with him in recovery until the evening before returning to a quiet night on her own, by which time they should be back in town.

So she made her pitch to David, “How about we take our picnic out on a site visit to that buried box place with Alan and Sandy tomorrow. Alan is organising to excavate the box I told you about last night. I would really like to see the place with my own eyes, not just as exhibit photos.”

She could feel David’s interest was as piqued as her own. He readily agreed. Instead they decided to have a night out on their own tonight, time for a celebration for just them two, a first step towards planning their future life together. They could at last think of this with enjoyment now that Susan-Emily was no longer the centre of both their lives.




Chapter 3 - The Crocodiles and the Box


Despite spending more than a month in Darwin, neither David nor Anne had ever travelled beyond its rural outskirts. So they had a real sense of adventure as they drove out of town with Alan and Sandy, sitting in the back of a large Toyota Landcruiser Station wagon. They went down the Stuart Highway, the same way they went to Berry Springs last Christmas. They came to a big sign left, proclaiming ‘Arnhem Highway’, pointing to Kakadu. They took this road. From here it was all new to them.

First they passed through a town called Humpty Doo, just a few shops and a string of houses and larger blocks. The name gave it a picture book feel, akin to a Humpty Dumpty place in a children’s story. After it was left behind there was only featureless scrubby land until they rounded a small hill and came out onto a wide expanse of swampy plains.

A minute later they crossed a wide expanse of brown water signed “Adelaide River” and advertising tours to see the jumping crocodiles. This gave Anne goose bumps as it brought home to her the reality of this place, this wide placid river with a sense of hidden danger.

Soon the open plains were left behind and scrub land resumed. They rounded more low hills and, before she realised where they were, they were crossing another river. The sign ‘Mary River’ flashed past. Anne saw a broad tree lined river pass below.

She called out to Alan in the front. “Could you stop for a minute, Susan told me something about this place. I need to remember it.”

It came to her. Susan described discarding tools and heavy items from Marks truck, stopping in the middle of this bridge and throwing them into the water. She suspected most things did not really matter but they might want to try and search for the number plates and the guns left here.

She recounted her memory of Susan’s words while Alan and Sandy listened attentively, “Susan said she stopped at the far end of the bridge, behind us. Then, after listening and looking for sign of anyone else nearby, she realised it was a good place to dispose of all these last heavy things of Mark’s that she could not burn and had not thrown in the waterhole. So she reversed back onto the bridge, far enough to be fully out over the water, and then the threw them all into the water.”

Alan was nodding. “Yes worth checking out. Maybe it is a needle in a haystack, but who knows. I doubt we will find number plates but the guns are worth looking for. Even some of the boxes and tools may tell us where they came from and help us track other places where Mark has been.”

They reversed back, got out and peered over the side.

Anne tried to imagine her friend standing here on that dark night, exhausted, terrified, fleeing for her life, but almost to safety. It felt surreal as she gazed over the water below, with only reflected trees, sunlight, and an occasional bird and insect to break the calm. She could not reconcile these two competing images in her mind.

They drove on. In half an hour they were at the billabong. It looked like nothing much at all; an open car parking space, a few blackened stone piles, some dense shady trees with a papery bark and, on the other side, a pool of dark blue-green water, about a hundred yards wide, extending out of view in both directions.

Alan walked them around the site. He pointed out the hill low on the horizon. It matched Susan’s description. He showed them the locations from the main features of their investigation.

As he talked on Anne was overcome by a huge sense of unreality. How could she align this beautiful, peaceful place with the horror seen through Susan’s eyes and told to her?

She said, “Where are the crocodiles? I feel I should be able to see them. The way Susan talked this place is full of them. Yet instead I hear birds singing, the water is still and there is nothing in sight."

Alan replied, “You are right, it takes a long time before those of us who live her get a real sense the hidden danger we cannot see. After we search at the hill we will come back here for lunch, Sandy has packed a picnic. Then, if you sit quietly and watch, you will begin to understand. It is hard for visitors to grasp what lies below the surface of these places.”

They walked over to the hill, along with a police photographer and a man carrying a pick and shovel. Alan carried a thin metal rod to probe the soil for soft areas. At the far side of the hill Alan pointed to a flat rock in the place where the ground became level. It was singular and distinctive. He asked Anne, “Do you think this is the place she described?”

Anne looked carefully and shrugged, "Maybe." As she came close, she saw a smaller flat rock, about a half a metre across, resting of the earth surface, right next to the large flat rock. She pointed to it. “That is the place, I am sure.”

Alan walked over and stood alongside, “Isn’t it amazing, Only three weeks ago I stood right here, on the bigger rock and looked all around, wondering where to search to try and find whatever it was that Susan had hidden. The one place I did not look was at my feet. If I had I might have guessed this was a hiding place.

The photographer clicked his camera several times as he recorded it all. Then Alan bent over, lifted the smaller flat rock and placed it aside. With the steel rod he probed the ground underneath. At the edges it was hard but in the centre it went straight in. About a foot down it hit something hard which sounded metallic.

Anne’s heart pounded. Everyone else had the same tense look on their faces that she was feeling.

The man with the shovel carefully dug the soft centre soil away, an inch at a time. When the hole was knee deep Anne heard the shovel make a scraping sound. That was definitely metallic.

A shiny metal corner was exposed. More photographs. Alan bent down. He pushed away the remaining dirt. A rectangular metal box object, around ten by fifteen centimetres, was revealed.

He turned to Sandy, “Yours from here, I think.”

Sandy put on disposable gloves. Then, grasping the very edges with the fingers of opposite hands, she lifted the box out and placed it on the dirt beside the hole. She took a plastic specimen bag and carefully slid it inside.

They all stood around, looking, knowing that inside was a story of vanished lives. It seemed too easy, almost unreal.

It was a remarkably ordinary box, shiny metal with traces of rust in a few places. And, as Anne had described, recounting Susan’s words, they saw transparent tape around the edges to seal the lid to the bottom part. Sandy would take it back to the laboratory to open. That was really it, the end of the search, a mere ten minutes work. A few more photographs, but the evidence gathering was done.

They returned to the billabong for their picnic, all sombre now. They sat in a patch of deep shade ten metres back from the edge of the water, under a large paperbark tree leaning back over the land. There was a muted sound of fruit bats squabbling in some distant trees alongside the billabong and a few bird noises.

Nobody spoke. They all sat facing and gazing out over the still water. There was barely a breath of breeze. The day was hot but not sweltering in the shade.

Anne was lost in her own thoughts and the others appeared the same. Finally she spoke, perhaps reflecting other thoughts. “It is strange being here now that Susan has told me what happened and how it all unfolded. So far I am the only one with that full story inside my head. I have told David some parts. In a few days I will have it transcribed. Then you will all be able to read her own words, hear her own voice and relive her actual experience.

"But, even though I know it happened inside my head, I can’t make it feel real. I can’t see her reality, feel her panic, feel her complete terror. I should be able to see it through her eyes, now that she has told me. My eyes see only a picture of shady trees and an empty billabong, pretty but with nothing else.

As she spoke Anne saw a movement in her furthest vision, far across towards the distant shore, in a place where tree leaves hung low on the water and formed the deepest shade. The movement slid slowly from deep shade to bright sunlight. As light reflected she saw eyes glisten. They watched her with implacable patience.

Now it was real, her mind had connected with this being, the hairs on her arms stood up and goose bumps ran down her spine. She took David’s hand and pointed; the creature, still far out, was sliding and gliding in an empty water-space with no apparent motion. It was a shape shifting shape that moved inexorably towards them.

Now they all watched, mesmerised, gripped by strange inability to move. It came to half way and kept on coming; now it was closing on the bank where they were. They stayed paralysed, barely able to breathe, still fully unable to move, while it slid without visible motion towards them. It seemed to have a power to make the invisible water flow in their direction and it sat within this invisible flow. As it shape shifted forwards, first its scales separated and became discrete things, then the knobs on its head and eyes took shapes of their own.

Finally Anne realised that the invisible motion had stopped. Before them, resting in the water a bare ten metres away, was an object of ancient saurian stock, her mind labelled it as a creature pulled out of ancient aboriginal dreamtime legend. Its length equalled the distance which separated them. Its girth surpassed the biggest river trees. It rested, unmoving, save for an occasional eye flick. It made no other move, it was at rest, now parallel to the bank, watching with a single eye.

None of the other watchers spoke or moved, all seemed trapped in this mesmeric miasma. Finally it sunk beneath the waters, inch by inch, and was no more.

Anne shook her head. She said to David, “Was that real? Or was it something that only I saw, an imaginary creature inside my mind.”

“No it was real. Hard to believe any creature could be so big, still and silent. And, although it is undoubtedly dangerous, I felt no sense of danger as it looked at us. Do you think that is the crocodile Susan tells of, the one that came and took Mark’s body away from the others?”

Anne nodded, “Yes it must be, I cannot imagine there are any other crocodiles here that big. What do you think Alan?”

He replied, “Yes, that must be the one, it is far and away the biggest I have ever seen. Sandy and I have seen it once before. I have never heard others tell of it. It did something similar the day they found and removed the other part of Mark’s body, the forearm. That day only Sandy and I saw it. We did not tell others of it then, of how it came close by and watched us, as if trying to communicate, it sounded mad.

“That day it stopped close by the edge, motionless, like now, and it looked at us the same way before it went away. I could have sworn that day it was trying to tell us something, perhaps seeking the return of the body parts we had taken, signalling its loss.

“Today it does not seem to be trying to send another message, only telling us it is still here and it is waiting, waiting for us to return what we have taken away.”

They looked out over the water again. Of this huge crocodile there was no more sign. But now two other large sets of eyes and noses had taken its place, slowly cruising up and down in the middle of the billabong, separate and yet linked through some commonality of presence.

Anne wondered if these were the other two crocodiles Susan had spoken of, participants in the human feast on that fateful day. Their size matched Susan’s description and their joint purposeful patrol seemed to connect them. However, she felt these were only crocodiles; large and dangerous, but without the mind-numbing life presence of the other.

Now they all started talking as they ate their sandwiches. The ordinariness of the day returned. They talked of other things, each unwilling to try and put words around what they had seen.

But this place would never feel the same for Anne; she knew there was something here, like a spirit of this place. It was seeking and calling for a kindred spirit. She thought of Susan and of her crocodile spirit dreams. A chill washed over her. She did not think she was superstitious, but here there was something no ordinary words could fit around.

Anne now felt a strange, unfathomable anxiety for Susan-Emily. It was as if this creature was telling her, mind to mind, there was unfinished business, and it would never release the hold over what it owned.

Anne’s mind told her that Emily had created a separate life from the Susan of that day. But her emotions told her that this link was not so easily broken. The spirit of the creature of this place would keep calling to Susan, like a restless soul it would not let her find peace. She shivered and tried to dispel her morbid imagination, the idea that this crocodile being could summon its own.




Chapter 4 – Secrets of a Box


Alan and Sandy delivered the box to Police Forensic Section before they returned to work in the mid afternoon. They were told that Forensics would first check the external surfaces for fingerprints and other residue and would open it about 4 pm. They were invited them to witness the opening and see what the box’s contents were. They shared a cup of coffee as they waited and chatted about their day, deciding they would have time for an hour in bed together before they joined Anne and David for an agreed two couple dinner.

They returned at the due time and watched as a forensic technician carefully examined a thin layer of clear sticky tape which sealed the lid to the base of the box. At first he tried to lift it off as a single piece, the way Susan had described to Anne, but this proved impossible, the months in the ground had caused it to deteriorate. So he sliced through the join with a very fine scalpel, separating the lid from the base and lifting it off. Inside the only contents were two envelopes, each about an inch thick.

He lifted out the first envelope, lifted the flap and disgorged four packages, each a series of identity documents fronted by a driver’s license, two from the Northern Territory, one from Queensland and one from Western Australia. With each license was a range of other documents, the sort required for an identity check, an electricity bill, a rates notice, a credit card and a couple other variable items.

Each group was held together by a rubber band and each was an MB name in the way that Susan had described through Anne. Mark Butler came first, with a Katherine address and seemed to be the most used. Mark Bennet came next and seemed to also be well used, then, little used, appeared to be the identities of Mark Brown and Mark Brooks.

There was nothing remarkable about any of this though it would give many days of work for the various state police forces running to ground all these aliases, checking bank accounts, license and address details and any connections which flowed from them. Alan had an officer reporting to him who was responsible for this part. This person now clicked a digital image of each document bundle and then of each document as it was separated.

Then they came to the second envelope. Alan had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, mixed with anticipation. He knew that once he had these identities of the girls, assuming it was as told by Susan, he would need to contact the police forces of their home countries, seek assistance and soon he would be having agonising conversations with their next of kin. At one level he would be giving them new information which may resolve long uncertainty. At the same time he would be dealing a hammer blow to whatever fragile threads of hope they still held.

As expected this envelope held four passports. He watched as they fell onto the table. First came one from Sweden, followed by a French one, both with the EU insignia, then came one from the USA and finally one bearing the distinctive United Kingdom insignia. As each hit the table it felt like a blow, the unknown identity of a person, once vibrant and alive, now likely dead and buried in some distant corner of this country.

He watched with morbid fascination as the technician opened each passport and held it carefully by its edges as the photographer clicked away, page by page. The first, the Swedish woman named Elin Tordquist, looking to be in her mid twenties, strikingly beautiful with golden Nordic hair in dense tresses and a face with a striking intensity; words like elfin, and Viking Queen would have been the first words that tripped of his tongue if he was asked to describe her. The assurance in her eyes was no childlike girl but a woman used to being decisive, organising, taking risks but keeping control. He wondered about her story, where was gone.

Then came a girl with long black hair, Mediterranean but softer, she too looked self-contained; more understated beauty than the classic form. There was a soft femininity to her face but also an edge of mischief and a sharp appraising intelligence. Her name was Isabelle followed by what looked like a typical French surname that he would have to ask Sandy how to pronounce, she had studied French at school.

Then came the American girl, she must be the Amanda of the text message that Susan had sent to Anne, she was pretty in a conventional way, the typical post high school girl image of one of those innumerable American TV soaps.

Last came the UK girl, with a Scottish place of birth in Inverness. She had similar long black hair and looks to the French girl though a bit more groomed and poised looking, as if had she spent time getting her hair done and her face made up before her photo.

There was something tugging at the edge of Alan consciousness, a resemblance that he could not quite place, it was part the face, but most strongly a look, she really reminded him of someone else, he compared her photo again to the French girl. Despite some differences the similarity was striking. He wondered if it was this, the strong resemblance between the faces and the look of these two girls which ran a bell in his brain. No he knew it was more than that.

It came to him like an outside image projected into his eyes, he realised what it was. If one superimposed the images of the two girls and blended a few of the differences what one was left with was an almost exact replica of the face of Susan Emily MacDonald. But even more it was the look, as if Susan was looking directly at him from a merging of these two photos. It was so clear it gave him goosebumps.

He looked at Sandy, she had seen it too. She said, “They look so like Susan it is scary, there is something strikingly similar and compelling in the faces of those girls, these could almost be the same person’s picture, taken in different times and places with different hair styling and makeup. But, most of all, they have the same look; it is the way they look out at the world; with a dreamy but searchingly intent look out to a distant horizon, it must have caught Mark’s attention, like a re-meeting sequence.

“And I have not told you of the photos I was sent of Mark’s mother, Rosita, from her brother Antonio. In early photos as a teenager and young mother, she had that look too. It was gone in later photos when she had the look of a battered housewife but it was there as a young mother.

I showed it to Susan last time I visited her in jail but she did not seem to see it, she was fixated on the pictures of Mark as a boy. She mostly just looked at the one photo of him with his Uncle, smiling proudly as he held up a fish he had caught. She connected more with photos of Rosita near the end, when she was defeated by life, had lost hope and walked a path of no return. I think she saw herself in them, what she was becoming.

So I think it is right, that a thread runs from Mark’s early childhood mother to his girlfriends, a look and faded memory he carried that he was always trying to recapture. Even the Swedish girl, Elin, despite many other differences, shares something of the searching intensity of that captured look, though I cannot see it in the American.




Chapter 5 - Four Day Interlude


After a first night of loving Emily and Vic settled into a comfortable and almost entirely private existence. They both went out with their groups of friends and family, sometimes alone, sometimes together, but the rest of the time, apart from storytelling with Anne, it was just them and they desired no one else.


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