Episode Three

Ash

It is late and Valerie Pickering is walking home from the pub. Even though it is dark, Valerie has made this trek many times and knows the way well. The scattered streetlights usually guide her way.

Valerie doesn’t need the streetlights tonight, though, as the sky is unusually bright. At first she thinks there must be a full moon in the sky. She checks her watch to see what time it is. 11pm. Too early for sunrise.

She peers down the road. In the distance she can make out the large steel gates of the high school and the buildings behind. A large orange glow is coming from one of the large buildings. Valerie squints to try and get a better look. Her body suddenly rocks from side to side and she grabs hold of the closest letterbox to stop herself from falling. “Oh, my,” she whispers to herself. “One too many whiskeys tonight, old girl.”


Heritage listed, the high school’s buildings are some of the oldest structures in the small sleepy town. Built in the 1920s after the First World War, the buildings once served as factories for the largest business in town: Helling Bros. The Helling brothers, Robert and Edward, used their father’s inheritance to purchase a small parcel of unused land in a fairly secluded area. An adjacent river gave the land its own water source.

They were quick to establish the land as a farm and made some meagre profits growing apple trees. An accidental discovery one day lead the brothers’ profits to sky rocket. What Robert and Edward thought to be a weed amongst the apple orchard actually turned out to be the biggest money maker they ever could have imagined. It was a peppercorn tree.


Valerie is awoken by the sun shining on her face. The strong smell of pepper fills the air as she brushes the small pink peppercorns from her hair. She looks at her watch and it tells her that the time is 6am. Sunrise. She glances up and sees a large peppercorn tree hanging overhead. Her head thumps as she licks her dry lips. She giggles to herself as she recognises the letterbox that she attempted to hold herself up with the previous night. “That does it. No more whiskeys for you, old girl.”

Valerie pushes herself up from the garden bed she is laying in and brushes the dirt off her knees and hands. “What are the neighbours going to say, Val?” she asks herself. “Who cares!” she laughs. She suddenly arches her back in pain and places a hand on her lower back. “Ooh,” she grimaces. “Certainly chose the wrong bed to sleep in though. Ah well, it could be worse.”


In fact, it could be worse for Valerie Pickering. She had never spent a night locked up in the local police station, even though she was often drunk. Sergeant Michael Anders made sure that all of the residents were safe and, as it was a relatively quiet town, he ensured that his officers would routinely pick Valerie up on her wander home from the local pub, The Grand Hotel, and take her safely home.

Michael Anders liked Valerie and was genuinely concerned for her safety. Walking home that late at night was risky, and he liked to ensure that she made it home safely. He would often make that late night patrol himself and saw to it that Valerie was okay. He just wished he could do more for her. He was the local law enforcement after all but, other than drinking too much, he knew that Valerie wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Besides, he couldn’t see her lose her licence. If she lost her liquor licence she would have to close The Grand Hotel.


“I wonder where Sergeant Anders was last night, old girl?” Valerie says to herself as she gathers up her handbag laying in the garden bed. “One can never say no to Sergeant Anders,” she smiles. She likes the police officer and quickly realises that she has missed seeing him.

Valerie steps down onto the road and starts to make her way towards her home. She looks up and sees the high school down the end of the road. She can see black smoke rising from one of the buildings. She can also see a number of emergency vehicles. Police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance all surround the entrance to the school.

Curious, Valerie heads towards the chaotic scene. As she moves closer to the school, she can see Sergeant Michael Anders standing out the front talking with other police officers. He sees her and runs quickly over to greet her. His face looks grave.

“Val,” Sergeant Anders calls out to Valerie.

“Sergeant Anders,” Valerie greets the police officer. “What’s happened here?”

“Val, I’m afraid I have some bad news,” Michael Anders begins. “It’s about Joanne.”

“My Jo? What’s happened?” Valerie looks to the smouldering school building. It has been completely flattened and she can see the paramedics amongst the rubble.

“She’s in hospital, Val. She’s been attacked.” Michael Anders can see tears forming in Valerie’s eyes. “I’ll get one of my officers to take you to the hospital.”

Valerie stares at the building’s ruins without saying a word. She can see the paramedics lift something up onto a stretcher.

“I’m sorry, Val,” Michael Anders continues, “but the doctor says that Joanne may never walk again.”

Sergeant Michael Anders tries to hold Valerie up as she falls to the ground. Behind them the paramedics lift a body bag up into the back of the ambulance.


Next Episode – Monday 9th February

Episode Two

Ache

The light that she can see is bright white in colour. She can see her angel. Above her.

Joanne blinks her eyes a few times to adjust to the bright light. As her eyes begin to focus she can see that her angel is not of the spiritual kind. It is a medical angel. A nurse. She quickly realises she is in a hospital.

“Joanne, honey. Can you hear me?” She can hear the familiar voice of a friend. It is Cathy Gilmore, a nurse at the hospital, and one of her closest friends.

“What happened?” Joanne struggles to say. Her head is groggy and she cannot remember much.

“You were found lying on the ground outside the front of the hospital Joanne,” Cathy explains. “Do you remember what happened?”

Joanne is confused and she looks down at her hands. They are dirty. She cannot remember what happened. Her face is sore and her body aches.

“Jo, honey, you have been attacked,” Cathy starts to play with Joanne’s hair. Her dirty blonde locks lay in a mess across the hospital pillow. “Any idea who did this to you or how you got here?”

Joanne cannot think straight. She does not remember what happened. Her head is still groggy and she is sore all over. “Where’s Richard?” she struggles to ask Cathy.

“He’s not answering his phone. I’ve tried several times,” Cathy tells Joanne.

“Please try again,” Joanne sighs and closes her eyes. She feels like she could sleep for years.


No one would ever say that Joanne Evans was a lucky person. She had more than her fair share of misfortune. Her mother died when she gave birth to Joanne. Her father died when she was only 12. She was forced to grow up quickly when she went to live with her aunty. Her father’s sister, Aunty Val, was supposed to be her guardian, but her heavy reliance on alcohol saw Joanne cook and care for herself at a young age. She made it through somehow. And most admired her for it. Most of all Thomas admired her.

Thomas admired her.

Thomas.

Thomas.

“Thomas!” Joanne sits up quickly, scaring herself out of her heavy sleep. “Thomas has Richard!”


Richard’s shoulders and back are aching from having his arms twisted behind his body. He can feel his wrists behind him bound together by something hard and made of plastic. He can see nothing as the blindfold over his face has blocked out any light. The only thing he can hear is the short shallow breaths his own body is taking.

“Thomas?” Richard whispers. “Are you still there?”

“I’ve always been here Richard! Here in this world. Here in this town. Here now with you.” Thomas almost sounds like an evil cartoon character to Richard.

“Please let me go. You don’t want to hurt me, Tom.”

“Hurt? I’ll tell you about hurt!” screams Thomas.

Richard begins to sob.

“Tears won’t help you Richard,” laughs Thomas. “Trust me. Tears won’t get you anywhere in life.”

Thomas walks towards Richard and removes the blindfold covering Richard’s face. Richard’s darkness turns to immediate light. Candlelight. Hundreds of candles. Maybe even thousands. Richard sees books. Books lined up in rows, on shelves. A library.

“I asked Joanne to be my girlfriend in here,” Thomas says quietly. Richard realises that they are in the local high school’s library. He catches a glimpse of a tear rolling down Thomas’ face. “Joanne was mine then. And life was perfect.”


Thomas had never seen Joanne look so amazing. The blue dress wrapped perfectly around her body and matched her dazzling blue eyes. Her long blonde hair rested in a neat bun perfectly on her head and the tiara shone in the moonlight.

Thomas had borrowed his father’s car that night. He wanted to drive his darling Joanne and himself to their high school formal. He arrived at her Aunty Val’s house to take her to the event. They both looked amazing. Thomas thought so anyway. Even if the bow tie he was wearing felt like it was choking him.

“Good evening madam,” Thomas greeted Joanne, and opened the front passenger door of the car to allow her to step inside.

“A gentleman,” Joanne laughed as she stepped inside.

Driving along the dark road that night, all Thomas could think about was Joanne. How beautiful she looked and how much he loved her. Her hand reached for his thigh and he rested his own hand on top of hers. His thoughts turned to all the wonderful years growing up they had spent together and the pain that Joanne had been through with the loss of both her parents. He couldn’t wait to make everything right for her. He could picture what his future would look like: his marriage to Joanne, the house they would someday live in together and the children they would raise.

He looked over to Joanne sitting next to him and she met his eyes with a smile. Joanne’s smile quickly turned to horror as she screamed something at Thomas. Thomas looked back to the road to see something blocking his way. A kangaroo had bounded out of nowhere. Before he knew it, Thomas’ life had changed forever.


“Thomas,” Richard tries to reason. “Things have changed. Many years have passed. Joanne loved you once. But things are different now.”

Thomas has turned his back to Richard and things are eerily silent. Thomas is no longer moving.

“Thomas?” Richard blinks to hold back tears.

“You know, I was visited by someone that night,” Thomas says quietly without moving. “Or something.”

Thomas turns to face Richard. Richard sees the flicker of candlelight in Thomas’ eyes.

Without warning, Thomas lets out a blood curdling scream that sends shivers down Richard’s spine. Thomas runs around the room and starts grabbing books off shelves and throwing them to the floor violently. He knocks over candles as he goes, and Richard can see the flames igniting the books scattered over the floor.

Before long the room is filled with smoke and the fire licks up the shelves to the highest books. Richard tries to free himself from the bounds around his wrists, but to no avail. The smoke filling the room makes it hard to see anything.

Richard feels air on the back of his neck. Thomas’ breath. Thomas leans in close from behind. “You know what that something said to me that night, Rich?”

“What night?” Richard struggles to ask.

“The night that I died.” Thomas screams as he kicks the legs of the chair that Richard is sitting on. It crashes, along with Richard, to the floor.

Richard hears Thomas scream once again, and then the sound of him laughing. Through the smoke he can make out Thomas’s face. His eyes flicker with firelight.

“An angel visited me that night, Richard,” Thomas laughs. “And it told me to kill you!”


Next Episode – Monday 2nd February

Episode One

Plunge

It is hot. All of the windows are open to allow any cool air from outside into the house. The flyscreens are doing their best to keep any flying insects out. The mosquito bites on their ankles and toes tell them that they are still getting inside the house somehow.

Joanne and Richard are relaxing on their lounge after a long day at work. Their empty dinner plates sit on the coffee table and they are both now enjoying a glass of wine. In fact they have just finished the bottle. The wine is cool and refreshing on this hot February evening.

The house is dark apart from the flicker of the television screen. The television is humming the tunes of a brainwashing commercial about junk food when, all of a sudden, they both hear a noise coming from their back door. The unlocked screen door is being opened.

Startled, Joanne and Richard both look at each other. “Who’s that?” whispers Joanne.

“Sssh!” hushes Richard as he gets up quickly, but quietly, from the lounge. His glass of wine, which was sitting on the coffee table, is knocked to the floor. Joanne, startled by the noise, screams out as the glass smashes to the floor and sends the liquid flying.

For a moment their attention is diverted to the spilt wine and glass now covering the floor. Richard’s bare feet dance delicately over the broken pieces of glass. They threaten to pierce his skin.

Another noise takes them both by surprise. A gurgling noise.  Liquid splashing. The potent smell of kerosene. The smell of smoke.

They can see the fire take hold quickly from over near the kitchen. From it a figure emerges. A male figure. Strong. Tall. Menacing.

Richard grabs hold of Joanne and pushes her towards the front door. “Go!” he screams after her. They both head towards the front door. Confused.

The figure grabs hold of Richard around his neck and he crashes to the floor. “What do you want?” screams Richard.

Thomas holds Richard down on the ground. He knows he is stronger. Richard doesn’t stand a chance against him. He holds Richard down and begins strangling him with his huge hands. The fire in the kitchen has taken hold and explodes behind him. “You ruined everything!” Thomas is angry.

“Tom?” Richard chokes.

“You ruined everything!” Thomas bellows again.

Without warning Thomas is knocked to the ground. A strike to the back of his head sends him off balance, releasing his strong hold. Joanne throws the cricket bat down as she rushes to help her husband to his feet. “Rich, are you okay?” she cries.

There is another explosion from the kitchen. Joanne helps Richard to his feet. Thomas isn’t going to give up that easily, though, and grabs at Richard again. “Why?” screams a petrified Joanne.

In the firelight, Joanne can see a stream of tears flowing down Thomas’ face. “I loved you, Joanne. You were mine.” Thomas cries as he begins to throttle Richard again. “You were mine!”

“Tom! That was years ago!” Joanne’s tears are flowing as she tries to grab the cricket bat again. “So long ago!”


In fact, it was years ago. Their families were close and Thomas and Joanne grew up together. They went to primary school together and were best friends and spent many afternoons after school together. During high school they became even closer. Everyone commented on what a great couple they made. Until the night that changed it all.

It was an accident that left Thomas in a coma for months. He was at the wheel of his father’s car with Joanne as his passenger. They were both 18. The car swerved to miss a kangaroo that bounded from beyond the bushes and went careening down the bank into the river.

Thomas was trapped, unconscious in the wreckage. Joanne fought to free herself and struggled to make her way to the bank of the river. It was dark on that stretch of road and Joanne could see no other car in sight. No help in sight.

Joanne had only one decision to make that night. A decision to save her boyfriend. Her best friend. She plunged herself back into the dark cold water. The car was slowly sinking into the river and it wouldn’t be long until the car, along with Thomas, would be gone.


“Tom, that was so long ago!” Joanne screams again at Thomas. She lifts the bat to swing at Thomas. Thomas grabs it and throws the bat aside. “I loved you!” he roars, as he rushes towards her. “And now you have to pay!”

“Pay? Thomas, I don’t understand,” Joanne cries. Thomas stops and starts brushing away the tears on Joanne’s face.

“You should’ve loved me. You should’ve loved me like I loved you!”

“But Tom! I did love you!”

“Love me now Jo.”

“Tom, I can’t. Things are different now. I’m with Rich now.”

Thomas’ fingers stop brushing away the tears on Joanne’s cheeks. He slaps his palm across her face. “And that’s why you have to pay!”


Joanne could see the water rushing into the broken windscreen. Thomas was trapped inside. His forehead was covered with blood from where his head had smashed into the windscreen. “Tom!” she cried as she tried to wake him. She could see the water pouring in and covering Thomas. It was dark and the water was cold. She was struggling to move around in it.

The car was almost fully under water and she felt helpless. There was nothing she could do for Thomas without being dragged under the water herself.

It was then that she saw the angel arrive. It came from out of nowhere but she knew it was sent to help her. “Help!” she hoped the angel could hear her.


Joanne is awoken by the smell of smoke. It is making it more difficult to breathe and she can’t see through the thick air. She finds herself lying on the floor but she can’t see anything around her. Her face is sore. She tries to move but her legs cry out in pain. She tries to scream but the thick smoky air just makes her cough instead. The cricket bat sits splintered next to her feet. “Richard?” she struggles to sing out. There is no reply.

There is another explosion as Joanne hears objects crashing down around her. She can’t see. She can’t speak. She can’t move. She summons all her strength to call on her angel.


 Next Episode – Monday 26th January

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