Original Sin - Preview
Dire Conditions - Preview
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Karen struggled to see. She’d opened her eyes, but everything remained black. She tried moving, but couldn’t. She was restrained. Confined. Trapped! The tight space was hard and limiting and her body was cramped and curled uncomfortably around itself. The air in her nostrils was dry and pregnant with dust and her ears filled with the deep throaty hum of a vehicle travelling on bitumen. The vibrations thrummed through her body. Understanding and terror exploded through Karen like a lightning bolt. She was in the boot of a car, bound and blindfolded.
With horror her mind tried to make sense of the reality of the all too real nightmare she found herself in. She must be dreaming. She had to be dreaming!
With escalating hysteria, Karen willed herself to wake up, but the painful bouncing of her body within the vehicular compartment made a lie of her theory. Panic overtook rational thought and rampaged through her, taking control of her bound limbs. She beat her arms against the boot lid and a raw, primal scream tore from her throat. When her lungs ran out of air she drew another breath and screamed again, until the miasma of fine dust saturating the air caught in her airways and she choked and spasmed into a fit of coughing.
When her breathing and body eventually calmed, and more time passed, and nothing else happened, Karen’s rational mind began to reassert itself and began to take in what all her senses could tell her. The low thrum of the car moving didn’t change. The sound was loud and monotonous in the storage space. It filled the compartment. Karen could make out no other sounds. She tested her bonds. Her wrists were bound together with what seemed to be duct tape, wrapped tight and allowing no give, and there was no room for her legs to kick out with any real force either. She was trapped.
Denied the power of sight, Karen’s other senses began to step up. She became aware of the temperature. It was hot. More than hot, it was stifling, and she could taste the fine powdery dust that permeated the air. Combined with the heat, it added to the discomfort of her now hoarse throat. Karen also realised she was thirsty. Really thirsty. How long had she been unconscious for? How long had she been caged and trussed up like some piece of meat? How the hell did she even get here?
Her mind leapt from one frantic thought to another, the first unanswerable question barely forming before the next raced into her head. She tried to calm herself, to think through the actualness of what was happening, but it was near impossible. She recalled the breathing exercises her most recent therapist had coached her through to deal with her anxiety, but this was light years beyond anxiety. Karen’s anxiety usually manifested itself in fantasised social situations and anticipating daily problems that might never happen. This reality she’d woken into was very, very real.
She frantically shuffled through what memories she could remember, desperate for anything that would make sense and explain what was happening to her. She’d been driving from Perth to Kalgoorlie to visit her sister. She could remember that much. Her husband Robert had bitched incessantly about the cost of airfare - even though they could easily afford them - so she’d decided to drive. It also meant having her own car and not having to rely on Evie once she got there. She’d even thought of it as a little independent adventure. She rarely got out of the city - not that she ever really desired to leave its metropolitan luxuries - but Evie had insisted, wanting her big sister to see the new house and spend some time with her rapidly growing nieces.
At four and six, the two girls had met their aunty only a handful of times and the visits too far apart for them to remember much about her. Karen’s relationship with her sister was complicated. Karen’s relationship with all her family members was complicated, including the one with her husband.
Sifting through the jumbled recollections, Karen remembered stopping at a roadhouse roughly midway through the six and a half hour trip. It had been a dive. By Karen’s standards, anything not five star was a dive. She hated mediocre and had spent most of her life embracing everything that wasn’t. And, thanks to a substantial family inheritance and fortuitous marriage, she could afford to.
Against her better judgement she’d chosen one of the pre-made wraps for an early lunch and ordered a flat white made from an instant coffee machine that had no right to call what it spewed out coffee. She shouldn’t have bothered. Both were as disappointing as she’d feared they’d be and Karen resented the unsatisfying calories. Ironic that the very forgettable meal was the last thing she could remember.
Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t recall anything more recent than the rest stop. Something must have happened. She hadn’t just magically materialised in the boot of a car, blindfolded, with her wrists taped together. The blindfold! Unlike her wrists, the texture of whatever was tied across her face was clearly recognisable as cloth. The duct tape she might not be able to do anything about, but the binding over her eyes she could. Her wrists were bound, but her fingers were still free, and she used them, claw-like, to shift the blindfold from over her eyes to down around her neck. Now she could see! It wasn’t much.
It was still dark, but Karen was surprised how much light filtered into the confined space. Cracks of sunlight blazoned through the joins of the boot lid and around the brake light casings. The brightness, limited as it was, still hurt her eyes and again she wondered how long she’d been unconscious. Her body hurt from the unnatural position it was forced into, and her throat hurt from the screaming.
The movement of the car did not change, nor did its speed or direction. It seemed to be travelling on a long straight road. If there were any bends, they were too mild or ongoing for Karen to be able to tell, and despite her terror, the monotonousness of the journey and unchanging stimulus carried her back into a light sleep.
The bumping of the car jolted her awake. The gradient of the road had changed and the sound was different. They’d turned onto a rougher, less finished one. They’d also slowed. The droning hum was gone and Karen could hear the crunch of pebbly rock beneath the tyres. Her unknown driver had left the main highway and they were now travelling down some less maintained offshoot. The vehicle’s speed was reduced and cautious; the new road rough and winding.
Where the hell was she being taken?
Long moments crawled by and more meandering turns were made before the car stopped and the engine shut down. Karen ears felt stunned at the sudden absence of sound, and her sense of dread flared back into the full blown terror she had felt when she’d first woken. She heard and felt the car’s door opening and shutting, then heavy steps crunching toward her. Seconds later the boot lid was flung open and intense sunlight seared her eyes. Karen winced.
A featureless, man-shape loomed over her, it blocked the harsh sun from her face, but meant her captor remained an unidentified dark mass.
“Please,” she rasped.
“Uh uh uh.”
The voice was male, soft, and strangely gentle.
“Please. What do-”
The voice cut her off.
“No talking,” he barked, no longer sounding soft or gentle. It was all rage, and with lighting speed a hand reached down and ripped her up out of the car. Flecks of spit hit her cheeks with the force of his words.
Karen squeezed her eyes shut against the searing brightness. She could feel the man’s face inches from her own, his breath even hotter than the surrounding air. It smelled of smoke and dead things.
Fresh waves of shock and fear exploded through her and she started to sob hysterically. He held her suspended in front of him for a few moments longer. Against the strength of the sunlight and the tears welling in her eyes, Karen could see nothing, but the tension of his anger radiated out to her. She shook uncontrollably in his grip. Then he seemed to instantly relax.
“Hey. Hey,” cooed the once more friendly voice. “It’s fine. You’re fine. This way. We’re nearly there.”
The abrupt change in his demeanour and speech was jarring, and it terrified and confused Karen even more. Her mind could not comprehend what was happening.
He started to lead her away from the car and Karen tried looking around to see where he’d brought her. It was obviously some sort of bushland, but beyond that she couldn’t recognise anything. Confusion raged through her as much as panic.
“Wha… wha… do-?” Karen tried to sob out her question, but he silenced her stuttering by placing a thick, dusty finger to her lips. She understood the gesture and immediately quietened, petrified of angering him again.
“Now, let’s get you inside,” he said happily, as if she were an expected guest.
Karen’s legs were wobbly from her confinement, and while she didn’t want to touch him in any way, she was forced to lean into the crook of his arm as he half supported, half dragged her forward.
Her eyes began to adjust to the afternoon light and she could see what was around them. They were walking away from a barely-there track, no longer even wide enough for the shit-coloured car he’d just pulled her from. The ground was the orange-brown colour people called red, and so fine it was more dust than dirt. Tall trees and scrub filled the landscape and bird and animal noises filled her ears. The air was full of them, and blended with the rustling of a light wind in the leaves to make a continuous soundtrack. Her nostrils filled with the smells of eucalyptus, dirt and nature. They were in the middle of nowhere.
Karen’s heart lurched again as she began to understand exactly how isolated they were. This was the kind of bushland people buried bodies in. This was the place where she was going to die.