Crystal lives with her drug-dealer boyfriend, Rhys, in an isolated shack, south of Perth. After Crystal invests all her money in their large dope crop in the bush, she discovers Rhys’s dark past. Paranoia and violence escalate until she finds there’s a lot more at stake than just her savings. When local police officer Nick takes an interest in her safety, Crystal realises he is in her thrall and uses him as part of her plan to take back control, to save herself and her investment. It’s a life-and-death situation.
* This is an updated version of what first appeared in the Writing a Novel Anthology 2016.
For a moment I’m not sure where I am. It happens like this some times. Before I open my eyes, there’s the sense of my head splitting in two, the fur in my mouth, the sticky lips and tongue. A thirst so intense I’d kill my own mother for some water.
I half open one eye and immediately close it again. Raising my hand to shade my face, I have a second go at looking around. There’s the familiar timber walls, the window looking straight out on the bush, our black and white Celtic patterned bedspread.
I’m home. In bed. Rhys is beside me.
Even though it’s been a while since I woke up in some strange room or bed, it’s still a relief to wake up at home. It doesn’t matter how bad the hangover is, at least I know where I am.
I keep shading my eyes but it’s not just the light that hurts. My face aches all down the left hand side.
Rhys watches me stir. ‘Mornin’,’ he says.
Lifting my fingers to my temple, I groan in response. My jaw clicks as I open my mouth. ‘Ow. What the fuck happened to my face?’
He turns on his side. ‘You don’t remember?’
I search my mind but find only a vague memory of pain. ‘Nope, nothing.’
‘For real?’ he says. I’d swear relief washes across his face for a split second but then it’s gone and he shakes his head with a wry smile. ‘I can’t believe you don’t remember. You fell over. Slipped on the stairs coming in and hit the door frame.’
‘Motherfucker,’ I say, cradling my chin. ‘I must have fairly whopped it.’
‘Full throttle,’ he says and lifts himself on to his elbow to look at me. He tilts my face in to the light. ‘Poor baby. You’ll have a shiner for days I reckon.’
I frown and flinch at the pain of wrinkling my forehead. ‘We had stew,’ I say. ‘And beer.’
‘Yes,’ he nods.
‘Did Mullet come over? Suzie?’
He rolls on to his back again, puts an arm behind his head and stares at the ceiling, avoiding my eyes. ‘Nah.’
‘Did we go to their house then? We saw them, right?’ I ask.
He falters a second. ‘Why do you say that?’
‘I remember you serving up the stew. And I remember sitting out on the balcony looking at the stars, smoking cones and listening to Muddy Puddles.’ He’s nodding along. ‘And then it’s blank. But I’m sure I remember another face, someone yelling. Mullet, I think?’
‘Nah, it was a nothing kind of night really.‘ He reaches over to tuck a strand of my hair behind my ear. ‘Except for you clocking your head.’
‘That’s so weird. When did we come to bed?’
‘Not long after you tripped. Must’ve been eleven or so.’
Two hours missing. Happens all the time but I still find it strange that I can get around, saying stuff and doing shit and then not remember any of it. Sometimes, later, when I find out what I’ve done, I’m glad the memories aren’t there. It’s easier to pretend it didn’t really happen.
‘We didn’t see Mullet last night.’ Rhys says firmly, then pokes me in the ribs. ‘You’re not having dirty dreams about him are you?’
‘God, I hope not. Suzie would really mess me up then.’
‘She the type to stick the boot in?’
‘You tell me when you meet her.’ I wince. ‘You sure she didn’t come over and do this to me? Hurts like a motherfucker.’
‘I bet it does,’ he chuckles. ‘You want to be more careful.’
‘I really fell? How drunk was I?’
He rolls his eyes at me. ‘What do you reckon? You just said you don’t remember half the night.’
I smack my tongue against the roof of my mouth. ‘Did we have tequila?’
He presses his lips together.
I slap at him. ‘I told you, no more tequila. That shit’s lethal for me. I don’t want it in the shack.’
‘No problem there.’
‘It’s all gone?’
‘Every last drop.’
He stretches his arms above him, still avoiding my gaze.
‘There’s something you’re not telling me,’ I say.
‘Nope. Nothing.’ He puts a hand on his chest and stares at me wide eyed. ‘Scout’s honour.’
‘Did you even go to boy scouts?’
‘Nah, but I can still make an oath.’
‘You idiot.’ I give him a little shove.
‘Right,’ he says, leaping out of bed. ‘What you need is a fry up.’
I groan. The idea of eating anything makes me want to spew. He grabs his jeans off the floor, pulls them on, then picks up the Beretta handgun from beside the bed and tucks it in the back of his pants.
‘Always be prepared,’ he says with a mock salute before turning to leave the room.
I throw a pillow after him. ‘Get outta here.’
His laughter travels back to me as he heads to the kitchen and starts banging things around on the stove.
If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that Rhys is an excellent liar. I’ve seen him in action lying to Mum and our mates. It rolls off his tongue without even the bat of an eyelid. Most of the time I think he believes it himself. They’re usually harmless fibs. Like the time he told Mum her cooking was delicious then went outside and put his fingers down his throat when she wasn’t looking. Or when he swore to the cops he didn’t know anything about the ounce of pot or the ten inch hunting knife they’d found in his bike bag.
It’s different with us though. We’ve always told each other the truth. We swore it from the beginning. You can’t go in to a business like ours without trust. I would never lie to him and he would never lie to me.
He just wouldn’t do that.
The smell of bacon drifts out of the shack while I stand under the outdoor shower. I let the hot water pour down over my head, praying it will wash the hangover and pain of my face away. It’s so soothing, it almost works. I could stay under here forever.
After I twist off the taps, I hurry to grab a towel from the hook on the wall to dry myself. It’s still March but the mornings are getting colder every day. Goosebumps line my skin as water streams from my hair. After I’ve dried myself, yanked on some jeans and slipped a t-shirt gingerly over my head, I wrap my hair up in a towel and edge towards the small square mirror on the wall.
Holding my breath I look in to see my bruised face. My left cheek is mottled red and purple. I turn my head first one way and then the other, peering closely. I’m surprised not to see any grazing or wooden splinters from the doorway. It looks more like I was hit by something smoother. I step back and shake my head at myself. Rhys is always saying I’m too paranoid. ‘Don’t be stupid,’ I say to my reflection.
‘Crystal!’ Rhys calls from the kitchen. ‘Grubs up!’
I pull the towel from my head, letting my hair tumble down over my shoulders. ‘Coming!’
When I walk in he’s at the table, sliding eggs and bacon on to a plate. He looks up and hands me the tomato sauce. ‘A fry up and some dead horse is just what the doctor ordered.’
My stomach turns. ‘I don’t know if I can.’
‘You’ll feel better for it.’ He plonks the frying pan off to the side of the stove, opens the fridge and grabs a UDL of bourbon and coke. ‘And a hair of the dog will definitely sort you out.’
He flicks the pull tab back on top and twists it to the side before he hands the can to me. ‘Go on,’ he says.
I look down at the eggs and bacon in a greasy pool on my plate. Closing my eyes, I take a long guzzle from the can. Rhys sometimes gets a bit shitty if I don’t eat his food so I pick up my knife and fork, grit my teeth and dig in.
He’s right, of course. After an hour or so I do start to feel a bit better. We share a joint on the balcony and then he sets off with the nets to try his luck at the creek for marron.
I go out to the garden to get some work done. It’s the perfect kind of day for it. The sun is shining, there’s a light breeze. There’s no noise from traffic or civilization out here, just the sound of birds calling out in the trees. It’s at least half an hour’s drive to my home town, Holyoak, down winding dirt tracks and then the highway.
The only reminder other people are in the world is when it’s really still and the sound travels from the farmhouse a few miles down the road. Like a cow bellowing in the mist or the sound of Mullet and the boys letting off a few rounds in gun practice or shooting at rabbits and roos.
I soak up the warmth as I dig my fingers in to the earth. The soil is so good here. Rich and loamy because we’re deep in amongst the karri forest. It’s perfect for the crop too, just a few kilometres away down the track along the creek.
I press the broccoli seedlings in to the dirt, the sweet strains of dope flowing through me. If I focus on all the good feelings, I can almost forget how much my face hurts. I rest back on my heels and check out the patch. The tomatoes and corn are almost done for the season. I’ll be pulling them up soon and putting in celery, beans and onions.
After working for a couple of hours, I sit on the ground to the side of the neat rows of my garden to roll a cigarette. I lean my head back and raise my face to the air just as the sun goes behind a cloud. The birds go silent and it’s eerily quiet and dark all of a sudden.
The hairs on the back of my neck stir and I sit up straight. I’ve got that feeling of being watched again. I’ve been getting it a lot lately. Rhys says I’m crazy, that I’m imagining things, but it mainly seems to happen when he’s not here. I swivel around on the spot, looking out in to the trees. Nothing. But I don’t stop looking. After everything that happened with Tobin, I reckon I know what it feels like when I’m being watched.
Nothing. A lone crow calls out from the south side of the garden. I’m down on my haunches, hands rested on the ground. A twig snaps in the bush behind me. I stand up quick, blood rushing to my head.
‘Who’s there?’ I pick up the shovel out of the ground next to me. ‘Rhys? Is that you?’ I try to keep my voice light. It’s got to be him. He’s just come back to mess with me. He knows I’m skittish about this shit. He just wants to tease.
‘Rhys?’ my voice squeaks a little so I say louder, ‘You fucking with me Rhys Jackson? Come on, it’s not funny. Come out already.’
A flock of cockatoos lift in the air squawking loudly and I swing around, shovel raised.
Narelle Hill has lived and written in Australia, England and the United States. Her non-fiction and fiction writing have been published in multiple publications including Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Flashflood and Lake Anthology. She currently lives in Melbourne where she is working on her first novel.
* If you are interested in contacting the author please email firstname.lastname@example.org.