The King Rises from the Dead
The whir of computer keyboards being overworked, television screens pumping out the latest news and the rush of footsteps from cubicle to cubicle punctuates the small working environment. The newspaper organisation that she works for is a small operation, but effectual nevertheless.
Amber Harp looks up from her computer monitor, pulls her hands high above her head, outstretching her arms, and moves her head from side to side, delivering a hefty yawn. As the newspaper’s entertainment reporter, Amber has deadlines to meet and tomorrow’s copy is becoming increasingly nearer. But the entertainment report isn’t what she is worried about. She had completed her article and it had already been submitted – the latest hit TV shows, the latest blockbuster movies, the opening of the new cinema complex in town. No, that isn’t the article she is now working on.
“Harp!” Ian Reed, the editor of The Holgate Times, appears out of nowhere, startling Amber. “It’s late. What are you still doing here?”
Amber swivels her monitor so that it is facing her boss. “I know you said I shouldn’t, Ian, but I think I’ve got a story here.”
The balding editor squints at the screen. “I’ve lost my glasses again,” he says, patting his shirt pockets hopelessly.
“It’s about the English backpacker who recently went missing after a hike in Holgate National Park,” Amber explains.
“No, no, no,” Ian says, backing away from her desk. “Amber, I’ve already told you to stick to writing entertainment reports. Leave the heavy hitting stuff to the big guns.” Ian adverts his gaze over Amber’s left shoulder, motioning to the more experienced reporters in the corner of the office.
“Sir,” Amber says, “please let me finish this report. I can assure you that it will be worth printing. No-one is covering this case.”
“Backpackers go camping, Amber,” Ian tells her. “She’ll turn up in a few days, you’ll see.”
“And if she doesn’t?” Amber asks.
Ian Reed pats his shirt pocket again looking for his glasses. He thinks for a moment. “Okay, if this English backpacker doesn’t turn up in two days, you can have your story.”
Amber jumps to her feet and hugs her boss. “Thank you,” she says, smiling, before adding: “Your glasses are on your head, by the way.”
Amber’s article, English Backpacker Goes Missing in National Park, was published in The Holgate Times two days later.
A number of tip-offs came into the newspaper about the fate of the backpacker, who hadn’t been seen in over a week since entering the Holgate National Park on a lone hike.
One such tip-off peaked Amber’s interests more than any of the others. It was from a local resident who often went hiking by herself in the national park, often with no particular fears or worries. Except for this one time, the hiker recounted to Amber.
The hiker happened to stumble upon this makeshift house in the middle of the forest. At first she didn’t think it look occupied, but as she got closer to it, out of curiosity, she noticed that there was movement. She didn’t realise that people could live in the National Park, but quickly came to the conclusion that it was probably a hideout. Maybe a refuge for a homeless person, or perhaps being used for an illegal drug operation.
“I had no phone coverage out there,” the hiker recounted to Amber, “so I left a few markers so that I could try and find it again later. I used some of the bandage strips in my first aid kit and tied them around some of the trees I passed.”
“And then what happened?” Amber prodded.
“I think whoever was living there spotted me,” the hiker explained, suddenly a wave of fear coming over her as she recounted her real-life horror story. “I could hear dogs barking and the only thing I could think to do was run. I didn’t want to be attacked by whoever or whatever it was that was out there.”
“Did the dogs run after you?”
“I heard them for a bit, but after a while they disappeared. I think whoever was out there must have called them back. Maybe it was just to scare me off, but it certainly worked.”
When Amber went to her boss, Ian Reed, to propose her new story, she was met with disapproval.
“You’re an entertainment reporter, Amber, not a crime reporter,” Ian admonished her.
“And you think this isn’t entertainment?” Amber scoffed. “Our readers would get a kick out of reading something this wild!”
Amber’s article, Hiker’s Tale of Terror, was published the very next day.
Over the next few weeks, Amber Harp penned two more articles for The Holgate Times about the disappearance of local residents in the Holgate National Park.
Three Girls Remain Missing in Wilderness reported about three teenage girls who had decided to venture into the forest together but were never seen again.
Hope Fades for Missing Mother of Two told of how the mother of one of the missing girls’ had headed into the forest herself a few days later in search of the girls but had never returned herself.
Grave fears were now being held by the local community of Holgate and the residents of Peppercorn Patch, whose town was close to where the disappearances were taking place. People were wondering whether there was actually a monster on the loose.
“I need to go check it out,” Amber confronted her boss. “Let me go into the National Park so I can check it out for myself.”
“Certainly not,” Ian Reed shook his head. “Too dangerous. You can report from here.”
“You’ve put me on this case, Ian,” Amber said, “so I need to go an investigate everything I can about it. And that means actually going in there myself.”
“It’s not going to happen. You’re crazy.”
Amber Harp parks her car at the entrance to the walking track leading into the Holgate National Park. She can see that the metal gate is closed and locked, police tape covering the entrance to the park. Local authorities are taking every precaution they can, including the prevention of people entering the park. There are now too many missing people to justify allowing anyone else to enter and jeopardise public safety.
From the car, Amber dials her home phone. After a few rings, her husband, Steven Harp, answers.
“Honey, where are you?” Steven asks.
“I’m just out investigating a case,” Amber tells him. “I’ll be home soon, I promise.”
“Don’t be too late, okay?” Steven says. “Dinner is almost ready and I’m sure Drake wants to see you before his bedtime.”
Amber holds her mobile phone closer to her ear as she hears the sounds of her eighteen month old son, Drake Harp, in the background.
“I promise I won’t be long,” Amber tells her husband what he wants to hear.
As if on cue, the clouds gather overhead and the rain begins bucketing down upon the National Park. Luckily Amber had packed a water proof jacket which is keeping her dry, for now.
She doesn’t know exactly where she is headed, but she is keen to go on a search of her own – even if it isn’t officially sanctioned by her boss and her husband wouldn’t have allowed her to do it if he had known. The pocket knife in the front section of her backpack is the only thing she has that would stand in the way of her and a potential attacker.
In her head, Amber can hear the hiker she had interviewed a few weeks ago recount the direction she took once she was through the park’s gate. The walking tracks become narrow here and it is hard to see through the heavy rain, but Amber is sure she is on the right track.
Amber doesn’t want to admit it to herself at first, but she is lost.
She has been walking around aimlessly for a few hours through the thick rainforest and heavy rain and has lost all sense of direction.
Amber has become exhausted and the rain is relentless. She pulls her mobile phone from her pocket, but there is no coverage. She can’t call for help. As she fumbles with her wet hands to put her phone back into her pocket, it falls to the ground. She drops to her hands and knees to pick it up.
As she goes to stand up, she squints up into the rain. That’s when she sees it. Wrapped around the tree above her is a white ribbon – no, not a ribbon – a bandage. Amber realises she is close. She picks herself up and continues her walk.
Her feet are heavy in the developing mud and suddenly she happens across a heavy stream of water. Helling River flows in the way of her path. The downpour has made the river too dangerous to cross, she knows. She would be swept away in the torrent of water.
Amber looks for an alternative to cross and upstream sees a fallen log across the river. She weakly walks towards it and steadies herself as she attempts to cross over it. She sits on the log and pulls herself across, quickly at first, but then slowly as she loses strength.
Amber loses all her strength.
She falls from the log into the rushing water.
She struggles downstream in the torrent before grabbing onto the side of the river. A rock is her handle as she holds onto it, gasping for air as she tries to pull herself up. Exhausted, and after multiple attempts, Amber pulls herself up over the side of the river and collapses into the mud.
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.
Amber Harp lies in the silence. The only thing that she can hear is her own breath. Short and shallow, she tries as hard as she can to control it.
She hadn’t seen her captor, Charles King, in two days. The dried blood from his mouth still stains her lips and chin from where she had bitten him. He had run from the room and slammed the door. He had not yet returned.
Though dark, her eyes have adjusted. She looks down to her feet, tied by rope to the bottom of the bed.
She feels weak, but somehow something inside her is willing her to keep going. An internal will to survive has taken hold of her.
The lack of food and exercise means that she has lost weight, and she can feel the binds around her wrists are now loose.
Amber Harp twists her left hand slowly, edging it out of its hold. She reaches over and unties her right hand, then unties her feet.
For the first time in two weeks, Amber Harp’s feet touch the wooden floor boards.
Amber Harp places her feet on the wooden floorboards. She steadies herself using the bed for support. She still feels weak from being trapped for so long.
She makes her way over to the bedroom door and fumbles for the handle in the darkness. The door is locked. She cannot open it.
She fumbles again in the darkness, this time finding the light switch next to the door. The room is awash with light and Amber is suddenly blinded.
She sees the window on the other side of the room and rushes over to it. She tries the handle and it swings open a fraction. Amber’s excitement lasts only a moment as she realises that bars have been fitted to the outside of the window. There’s no escaping out of it.
There must be a key for the door in here somewhere, Amber thinks to herself. She looks around the room to see what’s in there.
Two large cardboard boxes in one corner of the room get her attention. She moves over to them and opens the first one. Odds and ends fill it. She rips out the contents furiously, but there is nothing of interest.
She pulls the other box close to her and opens it. Photographs fill the box and Amber sees a young boy of varying ages present in all of them. Charles King has a son? Amber thinks to herself.
She continues pulling out the photographs and comes across a photo album. She pulls it out of the box and places it on her lap, leaning her body against the wall.
Multiple newspaper clippings fill the album, and Amber immediately recognises them. The headlines are unforgettable.
No-one will be writing a newspaper article about her disappearance, she decides.
Amber remembers the pocket knife she has in her backpack, which is hanging from the bed’s end post. She pulls the knife out of the pack, exposing the blade and then boldly bangs on the bedroom door.
“Let me out of here, you arsehole!” Amber screams.
There is no movement at first, but then she hears it. A scuffling sound. She knows Charles King is going to open the door any moment and she is going to lunge at him with the knife with all the energy she has left in her weakened body.
“Amber?” she hears her name being called from the other side of the door.
Amber stops breathing. She holds her breath and listens again for the voice. “Amber, is that you?”
Amber begins to cry. She falls to the ground sobbing as the bedroom door opens and she can see for herself that it is true. The voice belongs to that of her husband, Steven Harp.
“Quickly!” Steven calls out. “She’s in here!”
Amber Harp sits at the dining table inside Charles King’s makeshift house surrounded by her rescuers, including residents of Holgate and Peppercorn Patch. Her boss, Ian Reed, stands close to her while her husband, Steven, sits by her side and a local doctor checks her health.
“You were so lucky, Amber,” Steven says to his wife as he pulls the shiny shock blanket she has over her back up to her neck. “The others weren’t so lucky.”
Amber peers out into the vegetable garden and sees police digging up a cordoned off area, photographing and tagging evidence as it is brought to the surface.
“There was already a grave dug for you,” Ian says. “We all could have lost you forever.”
“Where is he?” Amber asks. “Where is Charles King?”
“No sign of him,” Ian tells her. “Disappeared without a trace.”
“And the dogs?” Amber asks.
“They’ve been located a few kilometres from here,” Ian says. “He must have let them go after a while, but the authorities will continue their search for him. He can’t have gone far.”
“We’ll find that bastard, Amber,” Steven says to his wife, “and he’ll be held responsible for everything he’s done to you and those poor women and girls.”
The couple hold each other tightly for what seems like an eternity, broken only by the doctor.
“You’ve held up quite well,” the doctor informs Amber. “You’re dehydrated, of course, but that is to be expected. I’d imagine the physical scars will heal quickly, but it’s the emotional ones that you’re going to have to look after.”
“We’ll work through it together,” Steven says, shedding a tear for his wife.
“You name it, The Holgate Times will help with whatever you need, Amber,” Ian Reed declares.
“Sounds like you’ve got a lot of support around you, Ms Harp,” the doctor says. “If I can be of any service, please let me know.”
“Thank you,” Amber whispers genuinely.
“Remember, I’m one of the good guys,” the doctor continues. “I’m here to help.”
Amber Harp looks up into the good doctor’s eyes and smiles gently. Doctor Peter Smith smiles back at her.
Obnoxious Weeds returns soon with Season Eight!