Episode Seventy-Six

Avoid Spoilers! Read from Episode One

Act 1

“Has it been hidden?” Akemi Helling asks her assistant.

They both stand in the courtyard of the newly built hotel situated on the bank of the Helling River in the town of Peppercorn Patch. The complex towers them on all four sides and Akemi can see the numerous balconies of the apartments look down to where she is standing in its centre.

The assistant looks at Akemi and then points to the swimming pool in the middle of the courtyard. “It’s been buried.”

Akemi laughs, looking over to where the swimming pool is being filled with water pumped in from the local firefighting engine. “Buried?”

“Yes, underneath the pool,” the assistant confirms.

“That’s brilliant,” Akemi laughs again. “Under all that water and concrete, it will never come to the light of day again!”

The assistant gives Akemi a smile, before looking to his feet. “Preparations are on schedule for tomorrow’s grand opening, Ms Helling.”

“Wonderful!” Akemi says excitedly. “Just make sure you do a once over of all the rooms again and make sure nothing is out of place. We only get to make a first impression once, so it better be a good one. Our whole livelihoods may just depend on the success of this hotel.”

“Yes, Ms Helling,” the assistant says, before hurrying off to follow his boss’s orders.

Akemi Helling looks over to the pool again. The rushing water hitting the concrete brings a smile to her face. Soon enough this complex will be filled with families and holidaymakers oblivious to what is buried underneath the large concrete hole they will be swimming in.

Akemi turns to walk out and sees a gardener looking at his mobile phone. “I don’t pay you to stand there and do nothing!” Akemi shouts at him. “We open tomorrow morning. Hurry up and get these gardens finished!”

The gardener pushes his mobile phone begrudgingly into his pocket. He continues tending to the Japanese-inspired garden he has been busy preparing.


“Quick!” Joanne Evans calls out to her aunty, Valerie Pickering.

Valerie huffs as she tries to race up the hill behind her niece. “I’m…” she pants, “…coming as fast as I can.”

Joanne holds her 18 month year old son, Ricky, in her arms awkwardly as she too pants up the hill.

Before long, they reach their destination. They step up to the front door of the house. Breathing out heavily, Joanne looks at her aunty and knocks on the door with trepidation. “Let’s hope this works.”

There is a few seconds of silence before Joanne knocks again, this time impatiently.

An outside light illuminates the front of the house on the hill. Constance Helling opens the front door.


Crack.

The bolt sliding makes a loud noise. Amber Harp knows that noise well. It means that the door to the room would open.

Amber’s sister, Olivia, enters the windowless room carrying a tray of food for her sister and Amber’s ten-year-old son, Drake.

From their position on the bed, Amber and Drake rise slowly. The weeks of confinement meant that they were growing weaker.

Olivia places the tray on the table and heads to exit the room.

“When will we be allowed out?” Amber asks weakly, holding her son close to her.

“When it’s safe, Amber,” Olivia says. “I’m doing this to protect you both.”

“We need sunlight, Olivia,” Amber tries to plead to her sister. “We can’t stay in here indefinitely.”

Olivia turns to exit the room again, but stops. “Doctor Peter Smith is still out there, Amber. While he’s still allowed to roam freely around, neither Drake nor yourself are safe.”

“I can look after myself,” Amber retorts, trying to act strong.

“He’s too clever for you,” Olivia replies. “Look what happened to your husband, Steven.”

Amber looks to her hands. If she hadn’t noticed they were shaking before, she now did. She holds back tears as a memory of her late husband tries to take over her thoughts. She decides to hold her son closer to her.

“If I was out of here, Olivia, I’d be able to take care of myself. I’d be able to take care of Drake. I’d go hunting him down and kill that bastard myself!”

“That’s why I can’t let you out right now,” Olivia says. “I’m afraid that I’d lose you both if it didn’t work out the way you planned.”

Olivia closes the door behind her, exiting the room and silencing her sister’s pleas.


“Please, you need to help!” Joanne pleads to Constance Helling when the front door is opened.

“Joanne?” Constance is baffled.

“I need your help to save Ricky!” Joanne pleads again.

Constance looks down to see Ricky in Joanne’s arms. The young boy seems to be startled.

“I’m not sure how I can help you,” Constance says to Joanne.

“Constance, cut the crap!” Valerie suddenly interjects angrily. “You know how you can help Joanne and Ricky!”

Constance looks at Valerie, almost preparing to reply, but instead ushers the trio into her house. “How do you even know if this will work?” she asks.

“We won’t know unless we try,” Joanne replies, following Constance down the hallway and into the living room.

“Well, I’ll go see if she’s ready,” Constance says as she disappears down the back of the house.

Joanne stops at the large windows overlooking the town below them. The streetlights and lights of the buildings sparkle in the darkness. Valerie stands next to her and takes her hand, firmly giving her support.

Constance reappears a minute later. Another woman follows behind.

“Joanne?” the woman says timidly.

Joanne looks suddenly around at the direction of the voice. Joanne sees the woman for the first time. It was no longer just a myth. The woman was actually standing in front of her. Only recently she had learnt the truth. And at last she was able to see it with her own eyes.

“Anna-Maree?” Joanne asks the woman.

“That’s what I go by these days, but most people know me by the name of Heather Strong,” the woman replies.

“You claim to be my mother?” Joanne asks Anna-Maree Axe.

“Yes, your biological mother,” Anna-Maree confirms. “You were involved in an unfortunate mix-up at the hospital. Annette Pickering never died having you, Joanne. She died giving birth to Melody Walker.”


The courtyard lights illuminate the swimming pool complex. Akemi Helling is proud of what she had achieved. A little over two years ago, this land was little more than a flailing caravan park. Now it was home to a multi-million dollar apartment complex that was sure to be Akemi’s defining feat.

Akemi strolls through the courtyard’s garden, checking one last time before tomorrow morning’s official opening. A large number of residents from both Peppercorn Patch and Holgate were due to be in attendance. The hotel was the exact tourism boost the town needed.

As Akemi is about to head inside the building, she catches a flash of light from the building’s roof. She squints up to the building’s fourth-storey roof-top. The light is gone.

Suddenly there is a scream.

Akemi rushes to the side of the building, running over newly laid turf that sinks a little under her feet.

Akemi tries to hold her breath to hear any other sounds. Silence.

The building should be empty, except for the security guards manning the boundary.

Another scream.

Akemi leaps into the pool just in time. The falling body plummets to the ground where she was once standing.

Akemi struggles in the water for a few moments before pulling herself out over the side of the pool. She crawls over to the side of the building. A body lying on the pavement is still. Blood is quickly beginning to pool beneath it.

Akemi instinctively looks up to the roof and sees a dark figure back away from the edge quickly.

“Help!” Akemi calls out loudly. “I need help!”

In front of her, Akemi can see a lifeless body. She rolls the body over to face her and recognises who it is immediately.

“Oh, my God!” Akemi screams. “Help! Somebody! Help!”


Next Episode – Monday April 30

Episode Seventy-Five

Avoid Spoilers! Read from Episode One

Prologue

It hadn’t always been this way for Charles King.

But, alas, this is how it now was.

The reclusive 45 year old had kept to himself for many years. The only companions he had were his three dogs – all greyhounds – Mist, Jade and Indigo.

Charles King’s house was hidden from the outside world, nestled in the Holgate National Park and surrounded on every side by forest.

This is how he had chosen to live. And he couldn’t see how his life could be any different.

That is, of course, until the stranger arrived.

The stranger would change everything for Charles King.


The wet muddy ground is compressed under the weight of Charles King’s hiking boots. The heavy rain drums down fiercely upon his raincoat. The endless rain seems to penetrate the waterproof material.

“You three!” Charles King calls out to his dogs as they continue to race away from him. “Get back here!”

In his hand, Charles holds the dogs’ leads. He usually lets them off to go for a run around freely, but they seem to have a mind of their own today. The storm seemed to be making them have a mind of their own.

Charles King continues to chase after the dogs through the forest. Wet branches scratch his face as he tries to shield it with his hands.

He couldn’t let these three get away. There was no way of knowing where they would end up out here. He also knew the park rangers around here carried rifles and would probably shoot the dogs on the spot if they approached them.

“Mist! Jade! Indigo!” he calls out again, becoming impatient. He is slowed by the thick mud forming on the ground. It is becoming difficult to hear as well because of the ferocious noise of the rain falling on the trees. The sound of drumming water becomes deafening as Charles steps up to the water’s edge. He has reached the river. It is the same river that runs through the small township downstream; it is known as The Helling River.

He sees the dogs upstream. The three of them are pulling at something on the river’s bank.

It is slippery and as Charles King edges closer to where the dogs are located, he sinks in the mud. He worries that he’s going to lose a boot.

“Get over here!” he yells at the dogs again. The dogs ignore him and continue to pull at something, sniffing the area meticulously.

Charles King gets closer, squinting through the rain trying to see what the dogs are so curious about. He wipes the rain off his face, grunting to himself as he does so. The dogs suddenly back off. They know their place in this family, and Charles is boss.

Charles reaches down to the pile of drenched clothing.

“Good find, girls,” he says to his dogs as he lifts the almost lifeless body up onto his shoulders. “Let’s get this one inside before they expire.”

Charles King has just altered his destiny.

Charles King has just rescued the stranger.


Charles King grew up with two loving parents and received the best education available to him. Throughout his schooling, there was a small group of students whom he considered to be his friends. His parents had assisted him with gaining employment on his graduation from high school and he was even enrolled to undertake a university degree in medicine.

Despite all this, Charles King’s life was so different to how everyone, including himself, expected it to be.

He didn’t need anyone else, he had often told himself, for he had his canine companions.


The old wooden house was small, but Charles King made do with what he had. The three dogs slept together on the floor at the end of his bed. His bed was nothing much – just an old mattress that had seen better days, but it didn’t bother him as he did not sleep much. He just hoped the stranger wouldn’t find the sleeping arrangements too uncomfortable. Though, in honesty, anything was better than lying face down on the riverbed with endless rain making your skin soggy. He felt as if he could slide the stranger’s skin off straight off their body.

The dogs didn’t seem to be happy either, as Charles King had given the stranger all the blankets he could manage to find – including theirs. They looked at him suspiciously when he took it from their bed. “Well you found our stranger,” Charles King had said to them when they give him an incredulous look, “it’s your fault I’m taking these blankets.”

The stranger hadn’t awoken yet, but it had only been half an hour since they had returned from outside. Charles King was patient. He would wait as long as it would take.

Besides, it wasn’t every day that he was able to rescue someone from their ultimate death.

The stranger, for now, slept peacefully.


The storm passed that evening and the heavy rain eventually subdued. Only a light spray continued on into the evening and into the next morning.

Charles King busily emptied the five buckets situated around the building to collect the leaking rainwater into the water tank on the side of the house. He left one of the buckets for the dogs to drink out of. “From the heavens,” he says to the stranger as he fills an empty glass jar full of the water. He pushes it to the stranger’s lips. The still sleeping visitor does not respond by drinking and the water spills down the stranger’s face. Impatiently, Charles King pours the remaining water over them. “Wake up!”

The three dogs howl in unison.


Charles King was growing impatient. He no longer wanted to wait. He wanted the stranger to wake up. Wake up now.


When the stranger awoke, Charles King wanted to know about it. He didn’t want to miss out on finding out about his new companion.

The rope he tied around the stranger’s hands and feet and attached to the bed frame ensured the stranger could not escape.

The stranger belonged to him now.


“Wakey, wakey!” Charles King pours more water on the stranger’s face.

The stranger is sure to wake any day now. How much longer is he going to have to wait?

The stranger stirs, trying not to drown in the onslaught of water. Not able to move their hands or feet, their face twitches and contorts as the water invades their eyes, nose and mouth.

Mist, the largest of the dogs, jumps on the bed and licks the water from the stranger’s face.

“Well,” Charles King laughs heartily, looking at all three of his dogs, “at least you’ll have some food if this one never wakes up.”

All three dogs lick their lips in anticipation. Charles King can’t help but lick his lips in unison.


The stranger murmurs.

The stranger tries to pull their hands to their face, but the ropes hinder them.

“Good morning,” Charles King says, placing a bowl of pumpkin soup on the bedside table. “Made with pumpkins grown from my garden.”

The stranger opens their eyes, made harder by the fact they can’t rub them.

“Here,” Charles King says, using a wet cloth to wipe the stranger’s face, “let me help.”

The stranger looks around the room, confused. The three dogs sit uninterested in the corner. Charles King strokes the stranger’s legs. “I’m Charles.” He smiles at the stranger. His rotten teeth force the stranger to grimace, if only for a moment.

“What’s your name?” Charles King asks.

The stranger pulls at an arm, realising their captivity. The stranger is uncertain.

“I will let you free you soon,” Charles King tries to comfort his visitor. “I didn’t want you to hurt yourself.”

The stranger lets out another murmur. Charles King pushes a glass jar of water to the stranger’s mouth and the water is drained instantly. “You must be thirsty,” Charles King says. “Let me get you another.”

Charles King leaves the room.

The stranger can’t help but keep an eye on the dogs.

Where am I? the stranger thinks. Their head is still fuzzy and they’re not sure of anything.

The stranger looks around the room, trying to take everything in. They pull at the ropes holding them captive on the bed.

How did I get here? the stranger thinks.

The stranger tries to talk, but a raspy sound only escapes from a sore throat.

“Hush, now!” Charles King says as he enters the room with more water. “You need to rest. You’ve been here for almost a week now. If it wasn’t for me, who knows what would have happened to you.”

Charles King pushes the glass jar to the stranger’s mouth and the stranger swallows the water greedily, feeling the comfort taking hold over the parchedness of their mouth.

“Thanks,” the stranger utters, knowing they probably have to stay on the good side of their captor.

“You talk?” Charles King laughs. “Do you know who you are?”

The stranger sees flashes of a past life. Nothing clear. Nothing in focus.

The stranger can’t remember.

“You have a fractured memory,” Charles King smiles. “I’m here to help you remember.”

The stranger attempts to pull at the ropes again, unsuccessfully.

“Maybe this will help!” Charles King produces a driver’s licence. “Here’s some photo identification.”

The stranger blinks. The stranger blinks again. The stranger tries to take in the photo.

Charles King holds a small mirror up the to the stranger’s face.

The stranger looks into it.

“Recognise anyone?” Charles King asks.

The stranger can see their own reflection in the mirror. Beside the mirror they can see their photo identification. Their name is printed on it.

“It seems you’re quite famous where you’re from,” Charles King says. “Welcome to my humble abode.”


It’s true, it hadn’t always been this way for Charles King.

But, alas, this is how it now was.

This is how he had chosen to live. And he couldn’t see how his life could be any different.

That is, of course, until the stranger arrived.

The stranger would change everything for Charles King.


Welcome back to Peppercorn Patch! Season Seven has begun!

Next Episode – Monday April 23