“Have we made the right decision?” Anna-Maree Axe asks her husband as they unpack the contents of their car.
“How many times have we been through this?” Joseph Axe tries to reassure his wife. “Our past is now behind us. We don’t have anything to worry about here.”
“I know,” Anna-Maree sighs, pulling the large suitcase out of the boot of the car. “It’s just that we’ve made such a big decision. We’ve left everything and run away.”
“We had no choice. You know that,” Joseph reasons.
“And I’m sorry for that,” Anna-Maree says. “It was all my fault.”
“Don’t apologise,” Joseph tells his wife. He takes the suitcase from her and it drops to the footpath. He takes her hand and pulls her in towards him, putting his arms around her. “We’re in this together, remember. No matter what happened in the past, we’re going to move on.”
“Okay,” Anna-Maree agrees.
“That’s why we moved here, remember. The past is behind us. No-one here in this town knows about us. It’s a fresh start for the both of us.”
“Yes,” Anna-Maree leans her head against her husband’s chest. “Yes, a fresh start.” If only it was that simple, she thinks to herself.
She charges down the hospital’s corridor. The overnight bag she has packed is slung over one shoulder. Her eyes dart from one door to another, constantly searching for the right room.
“How’s she doing?” Geraldine Jenkins asks the doctor standing outside her daughter’s hospital room.
“I take it your Cathy Gilmore’s mother?” Joel Prasad, Peppercorn Patch’s new local doctor, asks.
“Yes, how’s my daughter?” Geraldine asks again.
“She was very lucky,” Joel informs her. “The poison she ingested could have killed her.”
“She’s lucky she vomited it up, otherwise I’d hate to think what would have happened,” Joel continues.
“I don’t understand.” Geraldine is confused. “How was she poisoned?”
“We believe it may have been arsenic poisoning. The box of cookies she had been eating were sent for testing and were found to have traces of it,” Joel explains.
“Yes, from her husband.”
“Mark?” Geraldine says, exasperated. “Mark poisoned her?”
“Well, that’s what we initially thought…”
“That bastard!” Geraldine screams. “He’s put my poor girl through so much misery! And then he tried to kill her?”
“Please, Ms Jenkins.” Joel tries to hush the woman. “We don’t believe it was Mark.”
“What do you mean?” Geraldine asks. Joel ushers her to a seat outside of Cathy’s room.
“Mark denies having sent the box,” Joel explains. “It seems someone else may have tried to harm your daughter.”
Douglas Lawson had lived in Peppercorn Patch his entire life. He inherited the old house that he lived in from his late parents. The house was showing much wear and tear, but Douglas still loved it nonetheless. It was the only house he ever knew. He had never lived anywhere else. Besides, it was a charming house. And he loved it.
Douglas Lawson was also showing wear and tear. In his late fifties, Douglas was a labourer and had been all his life. He was in and out of employment, as the small town often did not provide enough work for him to make a decent living. He didn’t mind that, though, as he owned his house and liked to keep to himself. The house was pretty secluded and his nearest neighbour was far enough away. Douglas would often drive himself to his mailbox. It was a long walk and, as a labourer, he didn’t need the exercise.
Douglas steps outside onto his back verandah. The washing basket under his arm is full of overalls and work gear. He had been fortunate enough to be employed recently by Akemi Helling’s construction company. He was involved in building the town’s new hotel. It had been a controversial decision to join the crew, as many of the local townspeople were opposed to the new development. But he knew he couldn’t say no to the opportunity. He needed the work.
Douglas takes a shirt out of the basket and pegs it to the makeshift clothesline under the verandah awning. He never did get around to constructing a permanent one. As he goes to take another piece of clothing from the basket, he notices something strange in his backyard. The chickens in the coop seem to be acting strangely, clucking furiously at the dog house. The dog house, Douglas knew, was no longer inhabited as his beloved Retriever had died 18 months earlier.
Douglas puts the clothes he has in his hands back into the basket and steps down off the verandah into the backyard. He steps closer to the dog house.
The dog house, Douglas notices as he gets closer to it, is occupied.
“Oi,” Douglas shouts, grabbing the garden rake off the ground. From a safe distance, he stretches the rake out and pushes it into the dog house, prodding it hard into the unwelcome guest. “This is my property!”
The unwelcome guest stirs, Douglas can hear. He sees movement from inside the dog house and backs away suddenly, almost tripping over the garden hose sprawled carelessly on the grass. “Get out of here!” Douglas tries to act brave.
From inside the dog house, the unwelcome guest appears.
Douglas sees the unwelcome guest, shouts out in horror, and continues to back away quickly. This time he trips up the verandah’s steps and falls down.
“Hello, Dad,” Thomas Helling says, taking in a big breath of fresh air. “It’s so good to be home.”
Anna-Maree is sheltered by the cover of darkness. Just to be sure she wears a large black jacket, the hood up over her head to cover her face.
As she walks to her meeting point, she avoids the streetlights. She knows she can’t ruin everything now by being seen.
She steps down to the river’s edge, close to the large peppercorn tree. She looks around in the darkness. The only sound she can hear is the flow of the water. The person she is meeting is late.
“Is it really you?” Anna-Maree can suddenly hear a voice behind her. She turns towards the voice and hears footsteps come closer.
“Thanks for meeting with me,” Anna-Maree says.
“I can’t believe it’s really you,” her acquaintance says. “Welcome back to the Patch.”
“It’s been a very long time,” Anna-Maree says.
“Yes, it has.”
“I haven’t even told my husband why I’m really back here,” Anna-Maree continues.
“New name. New husband,” her acquaintance sniggers. “New life too?”
Anna-Maree steps closer to the visitor in the darkness. She can see an old friend under the hood of their own jacket looking back at her.
Anna-Maree reaches up and pulls her own hood off. “No one must know I am here,” she whispers. “No one must know who I really am.”
Next Episode – Monday August 8