Excerpt for Nowhere Man by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Nowhere Man

Crocodile Dreaming Series

Books 1 and 2 Box Set


Graham Wilson


Copyright

Nowhere Man

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2017

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

ISBN:




All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior approval of the author.

For permission to use contact Graham Wilson by email at grahambbbooks@gmail.com




Authors Note

This series is an updated version of the original Crocodile Spirit Dreaming Series, now just titled Crocodile Dreaming Series. The first book, previously titled Just Visiting is now titled “An English Visitor” and the second book previously titled “The Diary”, now is titled Creature of an Ancient Dreaming. In the previous edition this box set was titled Spirit of a Crocodile, to reflect the central role of the Crocodile in the story. Now the title has been changed to Nowhere Man to reflect the most central character is a man who nobody knows and has multiple identities. Those who are searching are trying to find out anything they can about this unknown man – this phantom man from nowhere, with no history and names which do not belong to him.




An English Visitor


Book 1

Crocodile Dreaming Series


Novel by

Graham Wilson




Copyright

An English Visitor

Graham Wilson

Copyright Graham Wilson 2017

BeyondBeyond Books Edition

Published by Smashwords

ISBN:




All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without prior approval of the author.

For permission to use contact Graham Wilson by email at grahambbbooks@gmail.com




ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS



Firstly thank you to the readers of the previous version of this book, ‘Just Visiting’. Your comments, mostly positive have encouraged me to keep going with this book and series. Reviews, in particular those negative, give great insight into how to improve the telling of a story and, along with professional editing advice, has proved most valuable in helping me see areas where both the story and the way it is told need to be improved.


Particular thanks to Alexandra Nahlous who did a structural review of the previous book. From this came many ideas for improvement which I have incorporated.


Thanks you to my family and close friends, particularly my wife, Mary, who supported me on my writing journey.


Thank you to the many backpackers and other foreign travellers I met while living in the Northern Territory. Some of you shared my travels, many shared your own experiences of both the world from which you came and of your experiences travelling in this land. From you came a major part of the idea for this story.


Most significantly thankyou to a large unseen crocodile, probably still living in a remote Arnhem Land billabong, who almost had me for dinner. The teeth marks are still visible on my leg today, giving me my own close encounter to recount in outback bars.


That sense of the silent power of this predator stays with me still and, along with aboriginal mythology and other stories, has fed my fascination for these huge ancient creatures, barely changed since the time of the dinosaurs. Some of the largest I have seen in very remote places rival those in my imagined stories.




Author’s Note


This is a novel set in Australia’s Northern Territory, a place where I lived and worked for four decades; including in small towns, aboriginal communities, cattle stations and among remote, rugged and beautiful natural places for which it is famous, places with names like Uluru and Kakadu. These provide the background to this story.

This novel is a work of fiction. The characters are not real people. However, elements of stories have a real basis, as experienced by myself, or as stories of the bush, told around campfires or over bars, somewhere in the Australian Outback. While the general locations described around the Northern Territory exist, many finer details are not accurate; they are created as a canvass on which to paint the story.

Backpackers are part of outback Australia. Occasional horror stories occur and get wide coverage. Some, like the Joanna Lees story, or the awful deeds of Ivan Milat contributed ideas to this novel. However these are rare events, as likely to happen in cities or other countries. They do not typify most people’s experiences of these places.

The setting of this novel is an external frame for the story. It tells of a journey of two people through places and within themselves. In bad situations they do awful things, despite desiring goodness. This reflects human experience. We all have the ability to make terrible choices and do great evil if we cease to value life, but even the worst of people may have parts that are good and decent. This book also tells impossible love story, where love is destined for destructive failure.

Alongside this story of two people this book seeks to capture the essence of a place called the Northern Territory of Australia, the centre and north of the Australian continent. This land remains alive in my imagination from when I lived and worked in it. Despite the coming of modern civilisation; with roads, air transport, communication and comfort; the intrinsic character of this place, the ‘Territory’, remains little altered. It is what Ernestine Hill called, in her famous book of that name, ‘a land too vast for human imagination.’ Wildlife remains abundant. Stations still muster cattle and buffalo for a living. Aboriginal people live off the land, as they have done for millennia past. Stockmen tell tales around campfires, gazing in awe at immense star filled skies. This is a place where life moves slowly, as befits a land where time is driven by nature. Brilliant desert colours, huge tropical storms and endless emptiness live on.

My thanks to innumerable real characters of the Northern Territory who contributed to the making and telling of this story, by lighting creative fires in my imagination through sharing their own stories and memories.

This is the first book in the Crocodile Dreaming Series of 5 novels published by this author. Books in this series which follow are:

Book 2 – Creature of an Ancient Dreaming

Book 3 – Girl in an Empty Cage

Book 4 – Lost Girl Diary

Book 5 –Dance of Sunlit Shadows


For those who wish to read those books in ebook form they are all available from major ebook retailers including Amazon, iBooks, Kobo and Smashwords.

If you wish to contact the author directly in relation to his books or other writing information please email the address below:

grahambbbooks@gmail.com




Chapter 1 – Prologue – The Watcher


He stands alone, part hidden by the foliage of a tree. He watches her and knows he wants her!

He returned to Cairns, landing early this morning, after tracking down a man and taking him far into the Arabian desert. This was a man whose end came there, a fitting end. What little remains of him now, after the birds and jackals have finished their pickings, will be bleached into a white colour, a matching shade with the white sands, soon to be covered and hidden from sight within the ever shifting dunes.

He feels no remorse, only satisfaction at what he has done.

Now he is back in his home, this vast empty sweep of his own, familiar land. It is mostly a harsh land, but with its odd fingers of civilisation like that here, a tourist mecca on the beach. This is a place of visitors, so very many visitors, many beautiful. He has known and sampled others alike to this one. Some have gone on their way; some have never left this land but become a permanent part of it, for some it was due to his actions.

He feels some regret at their passing, but it now feels separated from him by layers of far distance, the distances of time and loss and, moving beyond that, the distance of new experience.

And now he desires another. He has just seen her, right now, standing on the beach. She appears like some he has known before, breathtaking in her beauty and naivety. He senses a wanton abandon in her as he gazes, distant through the tree. He sees her dipping toes in wavelets, dark hair flowing back over and behind her arched body, like a Greek goddess. He senses she is ripe for the taking; that she will come willingly with him if he but asks, hungry for other experiences and adventure.

He must be more careful this time, lest some new bad thing happens to this one. He feels she is precious and breakable.




Chapter 2 – Safe Home – Day 31


Susan woke up with jolt, feeling she had been wrenched back into consciousness. Her head had slumped into an uncomfortable position and her neck ached. The large woman squashed into the seat next to her seemed to have given her a nudge to stop Susan falling onto her; not exactly friendly. But then she had barely spoken to this lady in the last fourteen hours, during which time they had sat side by side on the aeroplane.

Since Susan had come back onto the plane in Singapore, their one stopover after Darwin, it was like she had retreated into a cocoon. She had done little more than sleep the hours away, with occasional brief interludes for loo breaks and food, before retreating back to a respite of slumber.

She felt totally disorientated. Here she was, on a plane approaching London, and a month of her life had vanished into nothingness. Gradually her mind pulled her back to fragments of those last awful days; a memory of a smiling man’s almost handsome face, but devoid of normal emotion, memories of crocodiles, blood and torn body parts, memories of a large white four wheel drive with a built in cooler on the back. She suppressed them with a shudder.

She looked around. It could not be far now; people were waking up and making preparations for a scheduled 6 am touch down at Heathrow. Some had raised their slide windows; and early morning grey daylight squeezed in through the gaps.

Breakfast was now being served. She felt ravenous. A few minutes later, when the croissant and scrambled egg breakfast was served, she ate with relish.

There was urgency as stewards quickly removed breakfast trays.

Now the plane was in final descent. She raised her own plastic slide. It was mostly grey outside. They were flying under a blanket of cloud, but with lighter sky to her left and behind her; she supposed this was southeast England, somewhere over Kent. They were scooting over farmlands, roads and villages, lush green in the grey light. Further away were glimpses of busy roads and large towns. The grey matched an unquiet anxiety within her. Was it really over and was she was safe home? Or would police be waiting for her at the arrival gate?

Suddenly a shaft of sunlight pierced through. It lit up the countryside with glowing gold light. Her mood soared with the light. It was as if a connection with the horror was broken by light. She could feel herself smiling all over. She could not suppress the joy she felt. She was alive, and her life would be good again.

How great it would be to see her family and friends again. None of them need ever know. She had made a visit to Australia, travelled around, seen interesting and beautiful places; that was her story. If asked whether she would like to go back, or where to next, she would say, It is good to have done the trip, but the travel bug is gone. Now I am happy back home.

Her fellow traveller alongside her must have caught something of her musing smile. Susan looked at her and the lady smiled. Susan smiled back; joy is an infectious thing.

The lady, Annabel—she now remembered that was her name—seemed friendly. Susan knew that it was she, herself, not this lady, whose demeanour had changed. She let herself be drawn into a conversation about trips and travel. She explained that she had been exhausted from her trip, but now she felt much better, after that long, long sleep.

Soon they were making a final approach. There was a slight jolt and body push as the airliner braked on the black tarmac.

She felt amazingly refreshed and confident. It was like a bad dream had ended with the morning sunshine—those anxieties belonged to another time and place.

She gathered her minimal possessions—an overnight bag, book, cardigan, purse—and followed the slow procession of departing passengers down the aisle and out to the concourse. She wondered who would be here to meet her, Mum and Dad of course, perhaps Tim, her gawky brother, maybe Gran Elizabeth.

Suddenly there they all were; all her family members as expected. She rushed into an overwhelming group hug.

“How brown you are!”

“How’s my girl?”

“Hi Sis, no new Aussie boyfriends in tow?”

“You look at bit drawn around the eyes dear, must be all the bright sun and late nights.”

A bit of surprise arose with no big bags of luggage. But she had this story worked out.

“It went missing on the last leg of my trip. I only noticed getting off the bus, arriving in Darwin. Didn’t have time to try and find it before my plane left. I’ll make some calls as soon as I get the chance!”

They drove home, to Reading, through the increasingly lumpy early morning traffic.

Her room was just as she had left it—was it really only four weeks ago?

Her Dad had bacon and eggs sizzling away, they sat around over coffee and chatted. She told stories of her first two weeks—the reef, Sydney, Melbourne, but not much about the trip through the outback. It did not matter, plenty to tell before then.

Then it was time for Tim to head off to Uni. Mum and Dad both needed to get to their work, just a bit late. Dad said he would drop off Gran to her own house on the way, as Susan would want to sleep off her jetlag.

As she watched the last car turn out of the drive onto the suburban road, Susan felt her forced gaiety draining away. She went to her room, sat on her bed and picked up her favourite childhood teddy; so soft, so same, so stable.

Her body shook as a creeping horror and numbness washed over her. Then came tears streaming silently down her face. Soon her whole body was convulsing in wracking sobs. She hugged her teddy and sat there. After ten minutes the emotion subsided.

She went to the bathroom and ran a hot shower, shampooed her hair and washed herself all over, then did it a second time for good measure. She dried her hair standing in a bathrobe, made up her face and found her sassiest outfit: tight jeans and a sparkling top.

She opened the overnight bag that had accompanied her back from Australia. She removed a book, wrapped in a hankie, and a heavy small cloth pouch which clinked. She placed these under her jumpers in the bottom drawer of her dresser.

Susan looked at her underwater camera, the only item she still cared about that remained in the bag. It held a handful of photos on the memory card from her trip, as well as others from other trips and dives. She felt that she should throw it out, but then this camera held a big chunk of her past life and she loved it. So she decided to keep the camera but ditch the memory card. She took the memory card out and put the camera back in its normal place in her drawers. She slipped the memory card into her purse; she must copy any photos she wanted before she threw it away.

Then she found a large empty rubbish bag. Susan placed the overnight bag, with all its contents, inside and tied the top shut. She went to the garage, where her Ford Fiesta was parked, and put this rubbish bag in the boot. Tomorrow, it would go into an industrial bin at her work, the place where the lab samples went for incineration. This would bring an end to those last fragments linking her to that last month of her life on the other side of the world.

She was OK; today was a glorious English summer day and she was going out into it. She would enjoy the first day of the rest of her life. The other was a past and finished visit to another place.

She had closed that book. Now she would put it away, behind all the other stories of her life, at the back of the very highest shelf, unseen and forgotten. She intended to leave it there, never to be taken out or opened again.




Chapter 3Susan -Holiday Alone – Day 1


She pushed back into her airline seat and stretched. There was something delightful in finally being airborne and on her way. She felt like a kitten, unwinding her body into the warm sunshine, after having drunk a bowl of warm milk. The gin and tonics in the departure lounge were also helping to create this euphoric feeling.

Now she felt like she was really on a holiday and going to a fantastic, exciting, unknown new place—all by herself. There was something about doing it all on her own that was especially important to Susan. It was like a growing up ritual. But why was she thinking about growing up? She was twenty-four and had not lived at home, until recently, in more than two years.

Anne, Susan’s best friend, had offered to juggle her own holidays and come along too, but she knew that Anne already had her heart set on going to Greece with her boyfriend, James. Susan had insisted that Anne not change her plans. She wanted to do this trip by herself.

For four years it was as if Susan’s life had been taken over by Edward, her former boyfriend. They’d met in first year university; they had done history and archaeology together. They had just clicked; he the languid, tousled blond man with the slightly posh accent—as if he had gone to Eton; and she, the well read and exuberant daughter of professional working parents.

Edward’s father was a stockbroker in financial London and he had followed his family’s business flair with an Arts-Commerce Degree, focused on Commerce, with some psychology, history and archaeology thrown in.

Susan had studied Science, focusing on medical technology, but with an Arts anthropology and archaeology sideline. It was something to do with her fascination with early human history and civilisations and the way these societies had adapted to diseases and environmental catastrophes. She remembered, as a child, being fascinated by the Attenborough-Leakey stories of ‘Out of Africa’ and how the early humans moved across and colonised the world.

Really, she would have loved to go to Africa, perhaps Kenya or South Africa. But she had decided, with the stories of crime and violence, this was a step too far for a single woman’s first solo trip abroad. She didn’t want to give her Mum and Dad that sort of worry.

So Susan had turned to Australia, a country that held an almost equal fascination for her. The strange animals, the 50,000 years of aboriginal history, plus the Barrier Reef, diving, rainforests, and all those fabulous New Years pictures of Sydney Harbour Bridge, alive with fireworks.

And she knew it was a safe place to go. The people all spoke English—they had mostly come from her home country—and she liked the laid back laconic humour of the Aussies who frequented London pubs. It felt right. Sure there was the occasional story of backpacker murders and things like that. But she knew she was too smart for getting suckered like that.

Susan let her mind drift back to the last few months: she and Edward, living together, in their small north London flat, half an hour from her work. After university it seemed like the right thing to do, so they just did it. While they never really talked about it, it seemed like their life would go on linked together—in due course marriage, children and a settled life.

She had thought she loved that image, but then, deep inside, there had always been a slight restless streak in her. Perhaps it was that Edward was a bit of a snob. He didn’t like it when friends called him Ted or Eddie. Also, while he was very attractive, she did not think he was very manly. Edward was quick-witted with clever words. He was smart around money, with impeccable taste. But he was not very adventurous, not wanting to experience life beyond the normal bounds. At first it really did feel good together; nights in pubs, dinners with good wine and food, talk of success in their investments, trips to Europe and enjoying the good things of London. And their sex life had been great for the first year they lived together, lots of it and wild.

But then, as they each started to forge their careers—she as a medical technologist in a large hospital and then in a commercial testing lab; and he as a rising business man who looked likely to follow his father’s stockbroking career—they seemed to drift apart. They were often both working late, and while there was still sex, plenty of it, there was less real tender lovemaking. And there were the growing niggles that came from friends and families with different interests. However, she hadn’t thought there was a major problem.

One day Susan noticed a slip of paper lying on the bedroom floor. It seemed to have fallen out of his wallet. On it was written “Eva” and a mobile phone number. It was not a name he had ever mentioned before. It seemed a bit odd. There were also times when there seemed to be a strange perfume smell about him. But he worked in an office with lots of women, so she supposed that was to be expected.

What really pissed her off though was that he was such a good liar. She had asked him the next day who Eva was. Without batting an eyelid he told her a story about a girl in another group who he had worked with on a couple business deals, how he had needed her number to hand in their final stage negotiations. It all sounded totally innocent.

But then Susan met the real Eva. She was lying on her back, in their double bed, with Edward’s naked body on top of her, moaning as Edward said her name in passionate grunts.

Susan had stood, open mouthed, too stunned to say anything. Then, finally, Eva’s eyes turned her way and she gave a little scream. There were no introductions but the identity was obvious.

Edward had climbed off her, silent, looking almost proud of his erect member. Eva at least had the good grace to look embarrassed, trying to cover her blond bimbo dolly face and small, full-breasted body. After a few seconds of stunned silence, Susan turned, closed the door and walked out of the flat.

That was the last time she had seen him. The next day, when Susan knew he was at work, she went to the flat and collected all her things. She left a one-line note on the table, “Don’t ever come near me again.”

Then she went to the bank, closed their joint account and cancelled their combined credit cards. She bought a new mobile phone, with a new number, and changed all her web logins and passwords. That was that; life together finished.

Susan hadn’t gone into details with her parents; she’d just said that they’d split up. Her parents accepted her back with a minimum of fuss. She took her old room, which was now the spare. She found all her old soft toys in the cupboard and re-installed them in their favourite places—best of all was her big soft teddy who, from her earliest memory, sat on her pillow. When Susan had left home she’d forgotten and neglected him; now he seemed to give her a genuine welcome home each day.

Mum and Dad were busy with their own lives. Mum was a senior lecturer in the medical school at Reading University, where her brother, Tim, was a student. Her Dad was a top level public servant to the government, in No 10, with a daily city trip on the fast train to Paddington, or sometimes, for big occasions, a chauffeur. However, despite his high role, he preferred ordinary things: a train to work, a beer at the pub, and the great outdoors.

Some of her best childhood memories were going hunting or fishing with him in Scotland where her cousins lived on a farm in the Highlands. They would make a summer trip for a couple weeks, as well as going at other odd times throughout the year.

Her father particularly loved to take her with him in the autumn, when the leaves were golden. They would head off, his gun in hand, hunting pheasants, grouse, rabbits and sometimes deer.

They would walk for miles across the high heather, plunging into glens, dark and mysterious. Sometimes they made a big fire out of turf and almost-dry branches, which smoked then burned brightly, while they roasted rabbit and ate it with their hands.

These were warm memories. Now he was like a rock; he didn’t say much, but was in her corner. With Mum and Tim she would talk about ordinary life, but Dad was just there.

Edward made a few attempts to contact her, but Susan told her parents she wouldn’t take his calls and that she didn’t want to see him.

One day Edward came to the door with a bunch of roses.

She heard her father say, “Lad, are you a bit thick? Can’t you tell she doesn’t want to see you?”

Some smart arsed reply came back.

Then, “If you come again I will wipe that smile of yer pretty boy face.”

After Dad had closed the door, Susan hugged him fiercely. His normal mild manner was creased in a scowl and he muttered, “Fucking wanker. Good riddance,” before he returned the hug. She knew then that he had never really thought that Edward deserved her, but had refrained from saying so.

After this she got one letter from Edward. She burned it, unopened, and that was that. So much for a relationship that had consumed over four years of her life.

With Edward gone, her life felt very hollowed out, but she buried herself in her work and gradually started to re-connect with old friends. Three months after the break-up, Susan was looking at a couple mags, one with pictures of an African safari and one with sparkling photos of the Great Barrier Reef.

That was it, that night after several hours of Googling she had plans made. Next day she booked her holidays and flights. Now, a further three months on, she was on her way, four glorious weeks in Australia: first the reef, then Sydney, and lastly the outback.

Susan felt, deep down, that this was something she had waited to do all her life and, that when she came back, she would have really grown up and have left those bad memories behind.

The one thing that she had really missed in the last few months though was sex. Susan felt like she wanted to meet a real man. Perhaps she would meet an Aussie bloke, someone rough and tough from the outback and this part of her would come alive again.

She stretched out again, ran her hands through her thick black hair, feeling herself purring like a kitten, all warm inside at the thought.




Chapter 4 – Cairns and Reef – Days 2-4


Susan had loved her day in the air. It had been a total chill out after the dreariness of English weather. She had felt cold to her bones, when outside, and roasted in the overheated labs and family house after she had left Edward.

Then, just as spring was beginning, the idea for a holiday had come. It was like a light turned on in her brain, something to look forward to and focus her daydreams on.

But it was another three months of hard work until she was free to leave. Endless hours spent getting reports up to date and cross-checked on thousands of laboratory sample test results. Computers were fine, but real human brainwork was required to interpret decisions on many findings. No one could delegate her responsibility to review these reports. Not to mention validation and quality control for the laboratory, done behind the scenes.

As she ground her way through this work Susan longed to be in the outdoors, relaxing in comfort. She would picture herself walking along deserted beaches, sand and warm water squelching between her toes, blue sea, gentle waves and shady palms along the edge. It was a romantic and exotic mind space that she used to feed her motivation.

Once airborne Susan let all that English dullness slide away. She watched movies, she flicked through magazines with those same holiday destination pictures she was dreaming of, read cheap trashy novels of others’ adventures, and chatted to passengers. Most were heading out for similar adventures that she felt sure would come her way.

Sometimes Susan just sat in solitude, enjoying the splendid isolation of being herself; alone, nothing to do, no-one to answer to.

The pilot announced that they were half an hour out of Cairns and beginning their descent. The route south from Japan would bring them over the reef with sights of the corral atolls.

Susan pressed her nose to the window and marvelled at the white sands, little islets and the multicoloured waters they passed over, starting as tiny dots in a picture book image; then, as the height stripped away, they became clear and sharp. She was able to make out tiny waves and occasional boats.

The plane banked hard and turned into its final approach. Susan was now looking at dark green forest-covered mountains, with flashes of water in streams and falls. This view too fell away as they settled into their descent. Glimpses of roads and ordinary houses flashed past as they came over the tarmac and landed with barely a bump.

Cairns was less hot than Susan expected, but then she remembered it was winter here. As she stepped out of the airport building, wearing a short sleeved top and light skirt, she felt a warm breeze caress her skin. It was good to be here, almost dreamy good, but with that light buzz and thrill of anticipation that comes with new discovery.

There were innumerable backpacker buses, all touting their wares, along with taxis and regular shuttle busses to the city, but the day was still early so Susan felt no hurry.

While Susan inclined to do the backpacker thing, she knew she could well afford a hotel for a night or two. She liked the idea of a bit more solitude yet. It was barely 11 am, so she had the whole day to sightsee and look around before she needed to find a place to stay.

Susan caught a shuttle bus to the city centre. By the time she arrived there she had decided that a hotel for two nights was the way to go. She booked herself into a mid-range discount offering: two nights with breakfast thrown in for only 100 pounds. That was all she needed, her base.

She left her bags and set out walking along the fringing beach promenade past the city, barefooted with sandals in hand. Before long a side path led her to the seashore. Susan found herself standing in clear water, the waves frothing and bubbling as they spilled over white sand. Wavelets washed around her ankles and little fish nibbled at her toes.

She stood soaking it in for some time. Then, as the sun was starting to burn into her fair English skin, she decided it was time to go uptown for ice cream, sun-cream, reef tour booking and lunch, in that order.

She gazed out across the low sea horizon for one final minute of enjoyment, before running her fingers through her abundant black curly hair. She felt in her bag for a hair tie; then a second thought, I am free, let it be free too.

Back on the promenade, a solitary tall figure could be seen, also gazing out to sea through a filter of green leaves. Susan felt unspoken kinship, stranger to stranger.

Walking leisurely along the foreshore Susan passed an ice-cream stall. She bought a double mango and cream in a cone and continued on her way, licking at the ice cream as it melted and trickled over her fingers.

Susan stopped in front of one of the innumerable tour shops, complete with big gaudy posters of ‘Green Island Underwater Coral Viewing’, ‘Jet Cat Outer Reef Tours’, ‘Michelmas Cay by Sail’, ‘Steam Trains to the Rainforest’, and so on. She picked up a handful of brochures and sat on a shady bench outside to peruse them while she finished the last of her ice cream. She licked off her fingers, finishing those last delicious drops and read what was on offer.

There was too much information; confusing to someone who barely knew the time of day out here, so she went inside seeking assistance. A helpful guide suggested that, with only two days in Cairns, an outer reef tour for day one and a train trip to Kuranda for day two was a good plan. He also booked her a bus ticket on to Townsville after the train returned on the second day. From there she could catch the Magnetic Island ferry.

Her idea to go to Magnetic Island first came from reading about it in Captain Cook’s discovery voyage. Then a girlfriend told her about this same quiet island where she had a lovely few days in a backpacker hostel, sitting right on the beach, including meeting a hot German tourist. Perhaps a place to start her own love life again, or at least relieve that ache of desire, which sprung up when she thought of Edward—the bastard!

As she left the tourist shop she was vaguely aware of a tall man, with a distinctive eagle motif cap and sunglasses, brushing past her. Susan, abstracted by her thoughts, imagining her travels, barely looked his way.

A steak and glass of wine were her lunch at a local café. They left her feeling warm and sleepy. She made her way back to her hotel and fell onto the bed in her cool shaded room.

She woke as dusk was falling; she blamed jetlag for her three hours of afternoon sleep. She felt mussy and her mouth was dry. Susan found a mineral water in the bar fridge and went onto the balcony while she sipped it in the dusk. Susan decided to pass on going out tonight, as she planned to be early away to the reef, and the bed had felt so good.

The bathroom had a Jacuzzi style bath in front of a large mirror. She eyed it thoughtfully then let the taps run. When it was half full of steaming water, Susan took a bottle of sparkling wine from the fridge and filled a glass with bubbles. She tossed off her light dress and knickers and stood, examining herself in the mirror.

Thick dark wavy hair framed her fair English complexion. Oval face, small nose and pointed chin. She was of average height, as a teenager she’d wished to be taller, but she liked her body now. The smallish well-shaped breasts, round hips and slender legs drew occasional catcalls, particularly from behind, when she walked down the street.

Most striking were her pale blue eyes, a Nordic feature that did not quite gel with her Mediterranean hair. They were the colour of a milky blue tropical sea—this morning’s sea. Her more poetic friends said the colour was that of an English summer sky bathed in bright sunshine. Men loved her eyes. Perhaps a Spanish sailor, wrecked with the Armada, had found his way into the family Anglo-Saxon gene pool. She did not think herself riveting, but liked the package and felt good about herself.

Susan was never short of men trying it on; but that meant men liked only one thing she had to offer. She wanted a bit more depth. In hindsight, her relationship with Edward had a big shallow edge. Still, for now, a man to pleasure her would suffice. Deeper things could wait.

Before she stepped into the bath, she rang room service and ordered salt and pepper squid—the house specialty. On being told of a half hour wait, she plunged into the bath. Water up to her neck, Susan lay dreaming as she glanced through mags with pictures of rainforest, fish, exotic animals and Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bubbles of her wine slowly fizzed on the tip of her tongue.

Before she knew it the bell rang for room service. Susan dried quickly, donning a bathrobe, and then the door was opened and food brought in. By the end of dinner she was struggling to stay awake, that cursed jetlag, but what the hell. Leaving the plates, she cast her bathrobe aside and fell, naked, onto the bed and into a deep dreamless sleep.

She woke, cold, at 3 am. She snuggled under the covers with a novel until faint light on the horizon told her the new day was come. She stood on her balcony watching the sky go through its colours, deep purple with pink edges, then reds and oranges, and finally that brilliant gold as the sun burst over the horizon, somewhere far out in the Pacific Ocean. It offered the promise of excitement for a brand new day.

She had a quick shower then found her bikini, the pale blue skimpy one that Edward had bought her on a trip to Greece. He had loved it because he said she looked “So-o Sexy” and it particularly matched the colour of her eyes, it was the almost cornflower blue of a tropical sea, the one thing from him that she still had. She liked it and would keep it.

Susan admired herself in the mirror. She had to admit, even if she felt vain for thinking it, that she did really look good in this bikini, it worked for her. She liked the idea of being eye-catching for handsome blokes on the reef tour. Then, feeling a self-conscious at the direction her imagination was taking, she put on a T-shirt and shorts.

She came down at 7 am to the breakfast café in the hotel lobby. Boat departure was 8:30, so she ate well, but with purpose—resisting the temptation to dawdle over the papers.

Soon she was heading out, with an underwater camera and backpack of tourist accessories.

Susan had gained her diving qualification with Edward in the Mediterranean. Now diving was a great love, that separate underwater world, completely removed from all else.

On the wharf she joined a hundred other passengers milling around. Someone checked her ticket and asked her whether she wanted to participate in snorkelling or scuba diving. She said yes to both, and her name went on the list for the second dive.

Soon they were motoring slowly across the glassy water of the sheltered bay. The captain came over the intercom giving an outline of their day: an hour and a half to the outer reef where the best coral was to be seen, five hours of free time to swim, dive, and enjoy, home by 5 pm.

Everyone was fitted with masks and flippers. For the divers there was a check of existing qualifications and an introductory brief to the day’s dive from their dive master. It was followed by an instruction to assemble on the back deck at 11:15 for an 11:30 dive.

Now, outside the port, the jet engines powered up to a throaty roar. The Jet Cat surged across the wave tops of the half metre south-easterly swell. Susan felt the wind and salt spray whip her face. It was exhilarating and felt good to be alive.

The intercom announced that tea, coffee and biscuits were available, along with reef videos to show people what they may see. Susan was so absorbed by videos of fish and corral that she barely noticed the trip or the other guests. It seemed too soon when she felt the motors slowing as they nosed into their pontoon; it was arrival on the outer reef.

She had an hour for a snorkel before she had to be back for the dive. She was almost first in the water. The tide was low. She felt protected in the shallow water around the fringing reefs.

Susan kept the boat in sight and slowly worked her way around, trying to identify and keep a count of the myriad different fish types she saw. She was blown away by colour. She loved the different corals and the homes they formed for fish. The highlight was a large stingray, more than a metre across; it slowly flapped on its way above the sandy sea floor, stirring up little sand eddies in its wake. Then, seeing the divers from the first group returning to the boat, she realised her hour must be almost gone. She swum back and boarded.

There were two instructors and ten divers in her group. They were broken into groups of two, buddies for the dive, to stay together and watch out for each other. Her buddy was a lanky man, probably in his early thirties, lean and fit without the body builder look.

“Hoho,” he mumbled, as he fumbled with his snorkel fitting, “I’m Mark.” He held out his hand and she grasped it, a firm strong hand, callused from manual work.

“Susan,” she replied. She liked his smile, friendly and composed, not trying for over-the-top charm excess, a person who kept his own counsel. She thought the accent was probably Aussie—not really definite; perhaps he had lived or worked elsewhere.

“Have you done this before?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said, “got my ticket in the Med a couple years back. I love it. You?”

“A long time ago, so I am a bit rusty. Looks like you will be bringing me up to date.”

They went off the boat deck into the water, a second apart. They swam side by side, following the lead instructor a few metres ahead. They swam slowly, slowing their breathing to an even pace as they relaxed. Mark waved to her and she signalled back, “All good.”

The instructor pointed to his left, down into a big hole in the reef, where there was a huge cod, guarding his patch. Small brightly coloured fish swam around its massive head, staying just out of reach. Susan felt her face break into a smile at the cheekiness of the little fish. Mark seemed to be grinning too. They swam on. She noticed a disguised power in his long body; he diverted slightly then rocketed back towards her with powerful kicks.

The hour passed much too fast. It seemed only minutes before they were back at the boat. But wow, so much to see in this place: turtles, huge reef fish lazily working around the deeper holes, a group of white tipped reef sharks scouting the reef’s edge, and so, so many brilliant fish and corrals. She completely lost count of all their types, but just loved it all.

Susan could not help watching Mark as he pulled off his wet suit top. He had lean hard muscles and a scar, several inches long, running high across his back and shoulder. She turned away before he looked around, putting her own gear in the tub.

Then he was standing alongside her, and he looked at her. “Don’t know about you, but I am starved. Are you travelling with others or do you want to join me for some lunch?”

“No, just me, yes let’s have lunch.”

They both piled plates high with prawns, ham, salad, and bread rolls. They found a table with two seats facing. For the first few minutes they were both too hungry to talk, as they crammed their mouths.

Then she noticed he had stopped eating. She looked up from a huge bite as he smiled. The smile crinkled around the edges of his eyes. Captured in that moment he was striking.

“Looks like you needed that; must have been even hungrier than me,” he said.

Her mouth was too full to reply. She pointed to her mouth and they both laughed.

Soon they were both talking together, the way complete strangers do, exchanging details about lives, trips, plans, work; he said he had just come across from the Kimberley after a stint in the mines.

It appeared Mark was a jack of all trades: stockman, miner, bush mechanic—mostly in the outback but he knew big cities like Sydney and Melbourne as well. He had also spent time overseas, in the Middle East and Africa, but with a couple trips to Europe and England. So now the accent made sense.

He seemed warm and personable, but there was also a hard edge to him, something she could not fathom—not quite dangerous, but at the far edge of unpredictable wildness. Before their meal had finished she had told him briefly about her breakup with her boyfriend in England, and that this trip was part of getting on with her life, just her alone.

He said he’d always found he moved around too much to have long term steady girlfriends, but who knew, perhaps the right one would turn up, and he would find himself settling down. In the meantime there was so much to see and do.

Susan found herself really liking something about him; it drew her in like a magnet. Perhaps it was his understated way, his willingness to go anywhere and do anything, not tied to rules. He wasn’t classically handsome, but a raw vitality came from him that Susan found winsome and appealing. She also sensed a resilient tough independence, as if here was a man who took hard knocks and bounced up with an undiminished life force. She liked the way he told his stories with an edge of sardonic humour, hidden behind a slightly weather-beaten face and a self-deprecating grin.

As they were finishing lunch she got into a conversation with another girl, sitting by herself at the table next to them. She was English and her name was Maggie. The two of them had the same English humour and soon were swapping stories of London. Mark drifted off; he seemed to have lost interest in being part of this conversation. There was something solitary and a bit asocial in the way he just got up, left and moved away.

Then it was time to go back in the water; she and Maggie had agreed to go snorkelling together. As they came out of the lunchroom, Mark was on the back boat deck. They smiled to each other and she told him their plans, half expecting him to offer to swim with them. He nodded and went off in a different direction, apparently content to do his own thing.

She didn’t talk to Mark again that afternoon, just a brief nod as they departed their own separate ways. She felt faintly regretful, she was sure if Maggie had not been there they would have continued doing things together for the day. She felt a definite spark of mutual interest and wondered what might have been.

But she and Maggie really hit it off. They had both come out from England for a short holiday. Maggie had another friend, Jane, who had come with her. They had separated for this leg and would meet again in Alice Springs next week to go on together to Darwin and Kakadu. In the meantime Maggie was backpacking in Cairns before going to the Daintree in two days and travelling on from there.

Susan and Maggie arranged to meet for a drink, in a bar they both knew, an hour after the boat returned. After a quick shower at her hotel she put on a fresh dress: light but classy, and suitable for day or night, then headed out.

Sure enough, Maggie was there having a drink with two others from her hostel, Ryan and Trish, who seemed to be an item. Drinks became dinner.

Well into the evening, after a night of wide ranging conversation, lubricated by many drinks, Susan and Maggie discovered they were both going to Kuranda on the train the next morning. Mobile numbers were exchanged, and an arrangement was made to meet up on the platform before the train left next morning.

When Susan arrived back at her hotel, she felt light-headed from the drinks. As she passed through reception the concierge called her over.

In his hand was a pastel envelope. Inside was a slip of notepaper with a brief scrawl,


Sorry I missed you,

I called to invite you for a drink.

I enjoyed our dive together and lunch.

Hope your trip goes well.

Mark Bennet


Susan thought about what might have been, Ships that pass in the night.




Chapter 5 – Magnetic Island – Days 5-9


Maggie and Susan had a lovely day at Kuranda and were both sad to say goodbye on their return, but Susan had a bus to catch. After a promise to keep in touch and an exchange of English addresses, they went their separate ways.

Susan didn’t know why, but as she climbed onto the bus she felt a bit down—perhaps it was just coming down after all the excitement of the last two days. She and Maggie had such a great time together and the thought of them going in different directions was a downer.

Susan also felt a twinge of regret for missing Mark last night. She mentioned his note to Maggie today, who responded with a raised eyebrow. Still she wondered what might have been there? Maybe a one-night fling, but there was a definite spark. She would have liked to see where it led.

She settled into a seat by herself and watched the green countryside, with the mountains to the west, slipping by. It would be four hours to Townsville, with a half hour stopover mid-way. She had booked a room for the night and would go on to Magnetic Island tomorrow for three days before flying south to Sydney.

As the bus rolled along Susan felt her mood lift again; there were new places to see, new things to do. The mountains faded into deep shadow, then final flares of light on their tips with a departing sun—an eerie and distinctly Australian beauty. Travel was such a mood aphrodisiac.

By the time they made it to Townsville she was yawning. But at least the jetlag was gone. Susan tumbled into bed and did not stir until bright daylight brought her awake.

After a leisurely breakfast she made her way to the ferry jetty. There was a 9:30 ferry to the island. Once on the island she caught a bus to Horseshoe Bay, which on her map faced out towards the great Pacific Ocean.

Here she found a backpackers hostel, recommended by somebody in Cairns who had said it was the best on the island. No one was in sight so she dropped her pack on a vacant bed. She put on her pale blue bikini and walked to the beach with a book. She sat gazing out over the vast blue expanse, soaking in the pleasure of the warm, endless ocean space. There were only a couple other people on the beach and they were far away. It was her own private piece of paradise.

Susan moved back under the shade and stretched out on a towel. Her novel told of someone else’s imaginary life. Her own life, whenever she looked up, also felt like it sat inside a holiday storybook.

Finally hunger brought her back to the hostel. In Townsville she had bought a loaf of unsliced bread, a pack of ham, and tomatoes. Now she made herself an oversized sandwich, with two thick bread slabs layered with ham and tomato.

There were bedroom noises but otherwise she had the place to herself. She carried her plate to a bench table by the window and sat facing out, away from the kitchen. Her view was along the beach towards a green headland. She ate with ravenous hunger.

Like an electric tingling up her spine, she became aware of soft footsteps behind her. Something else, familiar but not, had also caught her subconscious attention.

She turned around. As her eyes adjusted from bright light, she realised it was him, Mark. He was standing a few feet behind her, tall and broad in the gloom. Her gaze was drawn to his direct eyes and mid brown hair with sun-bleached tips. He was looking at her with what seemed like hopeful recognition.

Their eyes connected. She felt a jolt pass between them, tightness in the pit of her stomach, a raw emotion of physical connection. She knew he felt it too.

While this emotion washed over her, Susan’s face flashed in a smile of delight, attraction and pleasure, re-meeting someone familiar in this country of strangers.

Mark smiled back, but with guarded hesitancy, and said, “I thought it was you, but then I thought it was just imagination. You look great, even better than the picture in my memory. But, of course, absence of a face mask improves us all, even me.”

Susan burst out laughing, a kind of giggle fit. She felt breathless and flushed, like an adrenaline rush. She was also self-conscious that she was only clothed in her skimpiest bikini. It showed off lots of her body that he was clearly aware of.

She pulled herself back from embarrassment and, pointing to her sandwich, said, “Have you eaten?” Mark shook his head. “I have plenty of bread, ham and tomato, can I make you one?”

Mark nodded and said, “Yes that would be great.” They settled down to eat, side by side, facing the bay.

Susan could not help herself from chatting away and telling Mark what she had done in the last two days. Then she looked at him and said, “I was really disappointed I missed you that night at the hotel. It would have been great to go and have a drink together.”

“I felt a bit silly asking you, like I barely met you with diving and lunch. But I found you interesting and we seemed to like the same things. You’d said where you were staying in Cairns. So, I thought, what the hell, no harm in asking.”

“Well I am glad you did even though it didn’t work out. Now here you are. We have a second chance tonight.”

They sat there while a few minutes went by, both gazing at the view while they ate. Susan was very aware of Mark’s body. It was close, almost touching her. A couple times they brushed each other and she felt a little thrill.

Mark turned to her, saying, “What are your plans for the afternoon?”

“I hadn’t thought about it yet. What about you, do you know your way around this place?”

“I have been here a couple times. There is a lot to do, horse riding, jet skis, sea kayaks and more. But one thing that is particularly good in the afternoon is to go walking in the national park, out to the head of the bay. You often see dolphins and turtles in the sea; sometimes you see a koala in the bush. There is a lovely little sheltered beach at the end where you can swim.”

“That sounds like a great idea, shall we do the walk this afternoon then perhaps something more adventurous tomorrow?” said Susan

“Why not,” said Mark, in his slightly droll way.

He filled a water bottle, put it in a light pack which he dropped over one shoulder, and they headed off. He led the way, following the top of the beach. After a few minutes they reached a path into the forest, a mixture of gum trees and other scrabbly ones, with funny pointed cones that poked out at odd angles.

“What are they?” she asked.

“That’s a banksia tree,” he replied, “and those are the banksia men that live on it.” Mark added pointing to the cone-like things, “They attach themselves and wait until someone like you comes along. Then they jump out onto you.”

Susan widened her eyes, and said, “Oh really! I know I am just a dumb Pommie visitor, but even I know when I am being had.”

“Just testing you,” he said.

They walked on, climbing a rocky ridge. On their descent down the other side a breathtaking view unfolded: a little indented rocky bay with crystal clear water and a sweeping horizon of sea and sky, blending together far into the distance.

“Wow, this is really something,” said Susan.

Just as she spoke, barely twenty yards out, two dolphins, side by side, came leaping out of the water, frozen in a split second of perfect symmetry. Susan shook her head in wonder.

“I knew you’d like it,” said Mark, then added, “but that was amazing, like they turned it on, just for us.”

She linked her arm through his and gave a squeeze of delight.

He brushed her hair back from her face and touched her cheek. Then he pulled away. “Let’s keep going, it’s a bit of a way yet.”

They went on, mostly him leading and her following. Sometimes, when the path widened, she would come alongside. A couple times he lightly rested his hand on her shoulder. It felt good and Susan responded by placing a hand on his hip.

They came down off the ridge into a green depression: a small swamp that the path tracked around. It was open, with paperbarks in the centre, and huge forest gums at the edge.

Mark motioned quiet with a finger to lips. He paused, standing stationary for perhaps thirty seconds. Then he took her hand and raised it to point at a high branch of one of the big gums.


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