She let out a sigh of relief as another wave of satisfaction floated through her. She'd finally returned home. Something that had arrived a bit earlier than planned, but she was here, alone, surrounded by nothing but open space and darkness.
The shiny blades of the toothless windmill stood out not too far from the house. It used to be an icon, a guiding light. If she ever got lost on the property, all she had to do was find a hill and she'd see the windmill stretching high into the sky, marking home. She breathed in the fresh clean air, satisfied she had made the trip with safety, satisfied she had finally made a long overdue change. A change she hoped for the better.
After closing the gate behind her and driving closer toward the house, what she saw disturbed her. A shadowy outline of a man was approaching. She leaned forward and squinted though the windscreen, studying the dark figure.
Not again. She couldn't take any more of these unexpected shocks to her system. She braced herself for what was about to come.
It wasn't until the image moved into the high beam of the headlights that she recognised him. She slowed the car. Dipping her lights, she hit the button for the automatic locks on all doors and eased the window down a crack.
??? she called through the gap. Name removed due to competition.
'Hey.' He came to a standstill beside the car.
'What are you doing here?' She eased the window half way down.
'I used to work for the owners. Peter and Rebecca Wellings.'
She figured her brain wasn't functioning properly and after a good night's sleep everything would seem a lot brighter, and she'd have something resembling a mind.
'So why are you still here? They...well...they're dead...three months.' She licked her dry lips.
He smiled, the white of his teeth standing out against his olive complexion. 'I worked here for a while as a Jackaroo. I'm collecting the rest of my belongings. I've got a few more loads and then I'll be on my way. You didn't tell me you were coming here.'
Savannah pulled a lopsided smirk. 'I'm the new owner. Rebecca was my mother.'
'No kidding. I'm sorry about your loss.'
'Thank you. It was hard to accept at first, but I guess things take time to heal.'
'Sure does. I should go about my business. No sense in wasting time. I used to stay in the shack on the hill, the one over there.' He turned and nodded, indicating the direction. 'I'll be gone soon.'
Savannah peered past him. The outline of a building sitting prominently on the hill certainly wasn't there when she'd left, although she gathered there would be many changes that had taken place during the last eight years.
'I thought you would have moved on by this...well it's been a while.'
He shot her a strange gaze, and his eyes deepened to an intense dark brown. 'As I said I left a few months back. I had been meaning to collect my stuff for a while but I've been busy working.'
'Do you want a hand to settle in?'
'Um...no thanks. I'll be fine.' Although her mother trusted him, she sat on the edge of her seat. He appeared genuine, but Savannah wasn't going to jeopardise their safety. It wasn't worth the risk.
'Okay. I'm off. I'll call over in the morning.'
'Okay. See you then.'
Savannah veered the car through the gate, pulling up beside the house. A quick glance in the mirror and she caught ?? silhouette, edged by soft moonlight as he strode through the tall, dry grass up the hill.
Her mother had spoken about him once. She said he was working at Grace Creek as a Jackaroo, as he stated, and he helped with odd jobs. She also said he was a decent man and could be trusted. Savannah felt better having someone else on the property if only for a few days. In a strange way she wished he was staying for a few weeks, at least until she got used to living alone out in the sticks. It seemed so far away from the city life she was accustomed to living.
She stared at the glow of headlights resting over the side of the house. It didn't seem much of a place now, but at least she'd have a roof over their head. The white paintwork showed signs of age, but houses could be transformed with a bit of imagination and muscle.
Savannah released a sigh as she dug around in her handbag for the key. Staring at it lying in her palm, she could scarcely believe that she'd actually returned home after all this time. She drew in a slow deep breath knowing it would be different, especially without her mother around. A lump formed in her throat and she gathered her handbag, opened the glove box and grabbed a torch.
When she opened the car door a disturbing quietness filled the atmosphere, a quietness that she'd never sensed before, especially here. She checked her back, checked to the left and right. Her body oozed with uneasiness as a mental image of Mark's brutish face sprung to mind.
Trying not to concentrate on something that gave her the jitters, she gathered Amy in the baby capsule, and followed the glow of the torchlight making her way around to the back of the house. She checked on Amy, confirming she remained asleep. Savannah was positive she'd picked up the wrong child, as the one that lay in the capsule didn't resemble the child she'd raised during the last three months. Amy had sensed the hostility in the house, sensed her father's anger and spent many hours crying. Nothing Savannah did would settle her, and it took sometime before she'd drift off to sleep.
Mark was now far away. She repeated. Instilling it in her mind, and gave herself a shake. Her shoulders loosened and the tension that had been with her for weeks began to dissolve. This time she would see to it that her life turned around and big time. She smiled, knowing she'd done the right thing by fleeing Sydney.
She opened a fly screen door and lodged the key into the lock. The door resembled the exterior of the house signalling years of neglect. She couldn't understand why her mother hadn't keep up with the maintenance. It was out of character. Perhaps one day she could have it painted with a fresh coat of white paint and re-paint the faded blue shutters.
After pushing the door open with one hand, she searched for the light switch and flicked it on. Nothing happened. She stilled and let out a whoosh of air with frustration. She suspected someone had turned off the generator and had the electricity disconnected, as no one had lived in the house for three months. Electricity wasn't something she had thought about in her hasty dash to flee Sydney.
Struggling against tiredness, she placed Amy on the kitchen floor in the baby capsule and searched for a candle. Her mother always had candles, so why was it taking so long to find them?
Sliding drawers in and out one after the other, she discovered a candle and a box of matches. No electricity meant no hot water. Then again, she wasn't sure if the place ever had a hot water system. She recalled bucketing water from the copper to take a bath. God, she hated that old thing. It took some time for the water to heat. She cringed, and the thought of a cold shower gave her the shivers. A good hot bath was what she needed, somewhere to relax in the peace and quiet and dream of their future.
When she settled Amy, she'd take a walk to the powerhouse. She shook her head knowing she should have realised the place wasn't modern in any fashion compared to her living standards in Sydney.
After lighting the candle and holding it in her hand, she glanced around and drew in a slow breath. It was habitable. A slow combustion stove sat in the corner of the kitchen. For a moment she closed her eyes and snapped them opened. Although her mother managed to cook in this kitchen, turning out some heart-warming meals, she imagined the dilemma she'd face trying to cook. The thing was totally prehistoric. Lemon painted cupboards protruded from the walls allowing some room for bench space, which spanned along one wall in front of the cupboards.
Her gaze wandered around the room. She remembered waking up early on a cold winter's morning and breathing the aroma of freshly cooked toast, with the sound of wood crackling in the open fireplace from the lounge room.
She placed a hand over her mouth. She could scarcely believe after so many years of being away she had returned. Although in the back of her mind a dream to restore the sapphire mine was something she never thought would come to fruition. She only thought of it as a dream.
Musty odour reached her nostrils when she walked into the living room. There wasn't much she could do about that right now. Airing the house out during the day was the safer option. Mark could make a show and she wasn't about to risk their safety by making his entry any easier.
In the centre of the room sat a timber table. It wasn't fancy but at least it was a table and appeared to have four sturdy legs. She'd cover it with a nice tablecloth. Beyond the table windows filled two walls. It seemed dust weighed the lace curtains and she screwed up her nose. They didn't provide privacy, but who needed it out there in the middle of the bush.
She explored the house one room at a time. Satisfied that she could make it nice one day, she set Amy on the lounge room floor and went to unpack the few things she had grabbed before leaving Sydney. As she did so, her hand objected and ached in protest under the strain. She finished unpacking and gave Amy a warmish bottle, thanks to the thermos she'd filled at a garage on the way. As she swung around in the lounge room she caught her reflection in a gold, circular mirror above the brick fireplace. Taking a few hesitant steps for a closer look, she raised the candle and sucked back a startled breath. Savannah no longer recognised the face she once knew. 'Hell,' she muttered staring at the bruising. She reached for the tape over her brow and peeled it away.
It didn't look pretty. The zigzag of stitches in cross-stitch fashion tattooed a line almost the length of her eyebrow. The bruising to her left cheek, plus the band of black under her eye gave the impression she wore half a black mask. She stilled, her breathing slowed, and she wondered what he had thought, although she did tell him a car accident was responsible. The little tell tale signs in his eyes stated he didn't quite believe her.
Closing her eyes for a few short moments she realised what she had gone through. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth and she ground her teeth together. Mark had disfigured her for life. Although the doctor said she'd end up with a fine scar, it would always be a reminder of the days she'd spent in hell. She'd be carrying his mark with her for the rest of her life. She cringed and opened her eyes. The bastard.
She walked into her mother's room, and her brows drew together as she stood with bewilderment. Her gaze ping ponged the room. Gone were the little things on her dresser. Even the music box that she loved so much as a child had vanished. The cream lace doilies had also disappeared. A brass four-poster bed covered with a mattress lay bare. She rolled her lips together as she opened a dark timber cupboard, revealing nothing but dust.
An uncomfortable feeling swept through her. Who could have packed up her mother's belongings? Who had the right to sneak in there and do such a thing? She wanted those items, needed them to remember her mother. How did they get access into the house? She'd ask ??? tomorrow. Perhaps he had answers.
Making her way back into the lounge room, she peeked into Amy's capsule. Her little chest rose and sunk with angelic peacefulness. Savannah took a few moments, and her gaze settled over Amy's cute bow lips. Contentment poured through her heart. It was one of the few times she had witnessed the calm that seemed to have overcome Amy. It was almost as though they'd stepped into a dream. She smiled before tiptoeing from the room to head to the powerhouse.
Warm air seeped into her lungs, and the moon dwarfed the tall, dry grass in the paddock behind the house. Her heart tapped a little faster, as her gaze glided with the sweeping motion of the torch light. She eyed the large door to the powerhouse and gave it a hard shove before pushing it opened, the rusty hinges creaking in protest.
A strange feeling overcame her as she recalled standing in this very shed with her mother when she was ten years old, not long after her father had died. It seemed such a long time ago, a different lifetime.
Her heart dipped as she gazed around, and she blew air from her lips. What did she know about generators? Either they started or they didn't. With that deflating thought, a small voice inside her head insisted she learn and right then. She needed hot water to sterilise Amy's bottles, as well as having warm milk for her feeds, and that warm bath wouldn't go astray either.
Following the torch light she stepped with caution, her gaze running over assorted tools she gathered were used in the upkeep of the generator. Fuel containers and oil containers sat on a bench to one side. Drawing to a standstill, she spotted large batteries that stored the power for the generator. Her gaze settled on a silver generator. She squinted. This one was new, as the old red one she remembered started with a pulley.
Bending her knees to take a closer look, she shook her head before reaching out, running her fingers over its surface. They stopped when her fingers rested on a key. She peered to one side and let out a sigh.
'Too easy,' she muttered and turned the key, but reeled back with a startle, landing on her butt.
'Shit,' she mumbled as the engine spluttered and choked, appearing to want to start, but soon died. Scrambling to her feet, she turned the key once again. The roar startled her and kicked her back a few steps. She slammed one hand over her ear as it clunked with a loud noise before the revves slowed into an even hum.
'There. Piece of cake.' She spun on one foot and left the powerhouse only to notice lights illuminating the inside of the house. Again, she felt proud of such a small achievement and lazily swung the torch by her side. Half way toward the back door, she jerked to a standstill and sucked back a gasp.
The sound of a car idling down the road drew closer. Her gaze tore through the dark images of the pine trees as she tried to spot headlights, but there wasn't a sign of light or movement.
Who could it possibly be at that time of night? Chills raced over her skin. 'Mark,' she mouthed, but not a sound disturbed the quietness surrounding her except for the constant humming of a car's engine. The sound drew closer and her heart missed a beat before jolting with deep thuds.
Her feet rooted to the spot. Dread caught in her throat and wrapped around her as though a python had taken a deathly hold.