First 4 Chapters of new novel – Working title – “THE HUNTED”

Julie McCullough




“Ouch!” Delicate beauty of the tiny, orange and yellow lantana flowers had caught Grace’s eye, but the short, jagged thorns on the overhanging branches tore at her bare skin.

Face contorted in pain and frustration, she yanked her arm away before rubbing the fresh, reddening scratch that marked and stung her forearm. Wiping the dripping sweat from her face before taking a step back, one of her white joggers broke a stick. Snap seemed to echo around the endless bush she had been wandering through with no idea of direction or location. Exactly where in hell was she? The air hung thick, like a heavy stage curtain that needed to be opened. Stifling heat and humidity sucked the life out of her tightening lungs, as energy drained from her weary body.  A growl and flash of golden red to the right froze her to the spot. Daring not to so much as breathe or swipe away the bush flies that settled on her face, with deliberate care, she turned her gaze, dreading what was lurking. A fast movement could startle the animal.  Another deeper growl.   Simultaneous icy chills descended her spine. Her eyes widened. A breath halted in her throat.  Standing beside a full-grown ironbark tree, a huge, lean dog stared at her. Thank God, thought Grace with a relieved sob, someone has found me. This must be their German Shepherd.

“It’s okay boy, I won’t hurt you.”  She whistled, but it was barely audible. Holding out her dirty hand as she leant slightly forward.  Her long, auburn hair fell down the sides of her face. I was sure I had put it in a pony-tail before…before… Bits and pieces flashed through her brain. She straightened up and pushed the hair on one side back behind her ear before rubbing her aching temple. When she brought her hand down, Grace almost choked as her breath caught again. Sticky, dark blood mixed with sweat now covered her finger pads.  The car…my car, cruising along the highway. Talking and laughing, but to who?  I left home alone.

Her brow furrowed deep. She winced as it increased the dull ache in her head.  The dog walked away from the tree trunk that had been partially hiding its actual size. Saliva dripped from strong jaws. Yellowish menacing eyes never left Grace’s eyes. A golden ray of sunlight beamed through the trees, highlighting the striking tannish-red of the dog’s matted coat that covered prominent rib bones. The tail, relatively short-haired and leading to a dirty white tip, remained motionless.  It was hungry, very hungry.  Another dog, a little smaller and with the fairer coat of a pure dingo, came into view only metres from the first. It glanced at the alpha one in front then to Grace. Hunger showed in determined eyes and drooling jaws. Hunger showed in a hollow, tucked up belly. Hunger equalled desperation.

Grace’s heart thumped like an angry base drummer as she tried to crank her brain into working order. One thing for sure – these were not anyone’s pets. They were wild, ravenous dogs and she was on their menu. She knew damned well they could smell the blood on her. Where the hell am I? She spun around, taking in the 360 degrees to determine any sign of civilisation but there was nothing except endless bush – gum trees, iron-barks, wattles and lantana, bloody lantana. How she hated lantana after recently helping her parents clear acres of the pest from one of their back paddocks, but still admired the flowers. As a little girl, unaware of it being a noxious weed, she’d daydreamed of using lantana flowers as confetti at her wedding.

Realising there were no trees close by that were climbable, Grace searched for another saviour. Two steps to her left lay a metre-long stick. If she had that in her hand she had some hope of defending herself. She moved her left foot outwards a little.  The bigger dog growled again and took a step forward. Glancing down, she was grateful to have jeans on.  At least not too much of her fair, bare skin was showing. So what, her inner voice cried, they could rip them to shreds in seconds. She shuddered, fighting back the tears that stung her eyes, the lump forming in her throat.

“Look”, she said to the evil staring her down, “I won’t hurt you if you just leave me alone, okay.”  She inched her left foot further out toward the stick, followed by her right, dragging it through semi-dry, ankle-high grass. How on earth did I get here? Life was good then it all came crashing down…but why? Dammit, why couldn’t she remember?  The dog took another silent step toward Grace and lowered its head a little, but still its eyes bore deep into her soul.

A louder rumble came from the west. Oh great, another dog, thought Grace, but that thought quickly dissipated as the sun disappeared behind ominous, black clouds. More thunder followed.  Neither dog moved a muscle, obviously used to living in the bush with regular summer storms.

            What do I do now? The tears flowed freely down her cheeks. As if the dogs weren’t terrifying enough, now she also had to contend with a storm. Her legs weakened, threatening to crumple beneath her, but that would definitely be the end. She’d be ripped apart, eaten by bloody cross-bred dingoes, her bare bones left to bake in the Queensland heat.

            “Stuff you Kain Burrows!” she shouted until her lungs hurt and her throat stung. “I loved you and now look where I am!” She remembered Kain telling her they were over, no longer together after five years. Five years! She, ready to get married and start a family and he decided he needed to go out and find himself. Find himself? Who the hell will find ME here in THIS God-forsaken place? He’d told her she was too possessive, smothering him and that he wanted to get out and experience life. It was an emotional kick in the guts and she couldn’t, for the life of her, understand his reasoning. It has to all be one huge misunderstanding. He was her life, she couldn’t imagine being without him, but now forced to. In a brief moment she imagined him running through the bush, calling her name, assuring her what a big mistake he’d made and that he still loved her. Still loved her. That was the part that hurt the most. The part that shredded her heart into jagged pieces, like those dogs wanted to do to her body – when he’d told her he no longer loved her.

Grace wiped her tears with one hand. The other hand dived down and grabbed the stick. She grasped the end with both hands securely as she could and raised it high. High as the pain would allow. Searing pain ripped through her right shoulder as she lifted her arms. More tears flowed; she dropped her right arm with a defeated cry. How did I hurt that? Dozens of jumbled images continued swirling through her brain. She remembered feeling tired, so very tired after driving. Driving where?  The hitchhiker standing by the road crying, nothing in her hands. No bag…nothing. The hitchhiker in the car. What was her name again?  Grace thought hard while trying not to frown. Sally? Susie?

            A forked streak of chain lightning shot down to earth, immediately followed by the sharp crack of thunder. Thunder that seemed capable of slitting anything in two. Thunder that shot ions of fear through your bloodstream and left your ears ringing. The storm was building up fast and heading toward her. Keep it together, Grace. Again, neither dog flinched.

Damn you friggin’ things!” she screamed. “Why can’t you just run away and hide?”  Gritting her teeth, holding her breath, she raised her right arm to the stick and swung it around her head. “Go on, GET OUT!” A guttural scream escaped her throat, meant to frighten the dogs but they didn’t budge.  Instead her parched throat now felt like it was on fire.  Water! She needed water. Again, she dropped her throbbing right arm to her side, but continued to hold up the stick in her left hand. That scream was familiar, but why? She wanted to scream out longer, louder, harder but it wasn’t possible.  When she opened her mouth only a hoarse croak broke free. Then she remembered hearing that same scream as the car left the road and surged down an embankment. But I wasn’t driving. I saw Sally’s, (or Susie) head hit the steering wheel. Why was she driving? We tumbled over and over. Rocks, dirt and leaves were coming in the window at me. I smelt petrol. Then…nothing.  Everything  black.

            Phone! Grace immediately felt all her pockets, including the one in her black blouse. All empty. A crushing sigh escaped her dehydrated lips. Additional pain surged through the right shoulder and arm after the frantic searching movements. Of course not you idiot, that inner voice spoke again. You keep your phone in its hands-free holder when you are driving. No, wait… Had she been holding the phone in her hand? Yes. Against her better judgement she had been texting Kain to tell him she’d put in for special leave and was going… going where?

“No! Why can’t I remember?”  Anger over rode her fears.  Eyeing a large stone just in front of her she bent, grabbed it in her right hand without thinking, before standing and lifting that arm back. A grunt pierced the humid air as she hurled the stone at the menacing threat. The dog attempted to leap out of the way but the stone struck its front leg. A short, sharp yelp indicated its pain, before another louder growl sent more slivers of fear through her body.  The other, smaller dog, with mouth open and tongue hanging out, trotted forward until it stood beside the larger canine. Long white teeth showed. Teeth that would soon be tearing through her flesh, ripping out her innards. The tongue that would lap her blood then wipe the satiated jaws once bellies were full.

The breeze dropped.  What bird songs that had been filling the bush with a variety of melodies fell silent.  The growls fell silent. Even the thunder fell silent. The only noise Grace could hear was her breathing and her heart pounding in her chest, in her ears. Both dogs watched her. They were ready to go in for the kill. An unexpected, loud clap of thunder drew forth a scream as her body involuntarily jumped with fright. Her sweaty hands began to quiver, of which she had no control. If the dogs don’t eat me, lightning will strike one of these trees and kill me for sure. Either way, I’m dead.

Dropping the stick, she turned and fled the terror. No time to think and no choice anymore.  Luckily she was reasonably fit, remembering being a competent athlete at high school even though that was a few too many years ago now. One of her shoes slipped off. She didn’t stop, continuing with one socked foot.  She looked back. Both dogs were charging after her, mouths open and pink tongues exposed. A blinding bolt of lightning a little further behind lit up the bush. Thunder crashed all around.  The ground shook as the thunder continued on with its deep rumbling. Rumbling like a volcano with colic.  Mother Nature sure was angry. What a stupid thing to be thinking right now. Just bloody RUN!

Grace urged her body onward, ducking lower branches, jumping over fallen logs and rocks, hoping like hell she wouldn’t trip. Her right arm ached as it swung loosely. She grabbed the forearm with her left hand and continued running. Without her arms being free, she couldn’t seem to balance as well nor run as fast. A painful stitch stabbed into her side. All was quiet behind her.  She halted, bent forward and gasped for each painful breath as she turned around. Both dogs had stopped a little way back.  Why hadn’t they continued after her, knowing full well they could catch her?

The wind picked up from the west as several large raindrops hit her head and shoulders.  Eerie darkness descended over the bush as the heavy clouds approached at top speed.  More thunder clapped and rumbled after each flash of lightning. Wake me up from this nightmare, please, she begged to the universe. The raindrops became faster and heavier, soon washing away her tears of hopelessness and fear and her blood.

Emitting a short howl, the larger dog walked several metres toward her before crouching. The smaller one stood back, watching and waiting. Their coats ragged and pathetic as the rain pelted down. Grace brushed wet, clingy hair from her eyes but didn’t bother trying to wipe the tears.

“I love you Mum and Dad,” she muttered through trembling lips, glancing skywards. “And you Sophie, little sis.”  She choked back a sob and gasped for breath. “Steve, I love you too, big brother where ever you are. Wish we knew. You just left us. Why Steve?”  Grace sobbed as it took all the strength she could muster not to collapse. “And you, Kain, I’m an idiot but I will always love you, no matter what.”

The larger dog sprang forward, persistence and hunger in its eyes.  The younger one began to circle to the left. Grace opened her mouth to scream but her brain had gone mute. The dog was coming for her. This was it. There was no longer anywhere to run or hide. The pain she previously felt seemed to disappear as nothing seemed real anymore.  Spittle sprayed out of the dog’s mouth as the long canines bore. Nano-second images of her life flashed before her eyes. Her body seemed weightless as stomach acid burned her throat. I don’t want to die this way. Torn to bits by dogs.

A short, high-pitched whistle sound shot past her head.  Lightning flashed.  A sharp crack, but it wasn’t a crack of thunder. The dog, now only several metres from her, jerked into the air a little before crashing to the ground with a heavy thud. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. Was she dreaming? Grace’s jaw dropped as part of the dog’s skull exploded. Shards of bone, spurts of blood and tufts of fur along with brain matter splattered in all directions. One eye also disappeared as the other one remained open, watching her, but seeing nothing.  In her peripheral vision she noticed the other dog turn and bolt back the way they had come.  She spun around to ensure it had gone before returning her vision to the dead animal on the ground. The gaping head wound was filling with water. Grace felt a fleeting twinge of sympathy when she noticed the large teats along its belly. She shuddered before bending and dry retching. Standing back upright, her body trembled, both from cold and shock. What the hell just happened? More thunder growled overhead.

Then it hit her.  The dog had been shot! Spinning in her sodden shoe and socks, she saw him as yet another flash of lightning lit up the surrounds.  On a small ridge she could make out his outline. Black hat, long black coat, rifle raised to his shoulder.  She couldn’t miss him amidst the whiteness of the pouring rain. Why hadn’t she heard the gunshot? She didn’t know much about guns but knew that some had silencers. Who was he?  She didn’t care, he had saved her…or maybe it was her he was aiming for. Adrenaline and fear for her life coursed throughout her body again. No fight, just flight.  Again, she turned and ran as the torrential rain stung her face and arms. The wind roared through the tree tops, sending   branches crashing around her.  A white flash was followed by a blood-curdling CRACK.  Bark and branches from a large gum tree exploded a little to her right. The noise stabbed her eardrums. The explosion of sparks caught her eyes like a welder’s burn.  Blinding pain hit her back. She heard a scream. It had come from her burning lungs. Everything spun into a blurred abyss. Grace fell to the wet ground. Kain’s cheeky smile flashed through her mind as she plunged into blackness.



“Come on Kain, what the hell ya doin’?  That wall looks like shit! We can’t leave it like that. Turn the sander off.”

“What?” Kain frowned as he turned back to the gyprocked wall he’d just been working on. Sanding it back with the electric sander to a smooth finish before the painters were due to arrive and do their job. “What’s wrong with it, Eddie?  It’s done.”

“Looks like shit!” Eddie, with his greying, curly hair and pot belly, bent and picked up a piece of sand paper before reaching up and sanding the wall above his head. “You’ve completely missed this bit. Dunno how if you’re using the machine. You’re getting a bit slack these days Kain.  You used to be so neat and fussy with your work. What’s goin’ on, man?”  Eddie stopped sanding and looked directly up at Kain, who towered above the older man. “It’s like you’ve completely lost interest.  You want out?”

Kain stared into Eddie’s eyes. He saw an old man, although Eddie was probably only in his early fifties or so, he seemed older. He saw questions and worry and wondered if he would look like that in twenty odd years’ time when he reached middle age. When I reach middle age. That was something he hadn’t allowed himself to think about lately.

“Well?” urged Eddie, impatience evident in his voice, eyes growing angry. “We don’t have time to stuff around on this big job, Kain. We’re behind schedule now.  If our job isn’t done when the painters are ready to start, the shit hits the fan. We’re only half way through the thirty-six units yet.  You crook?  You wanna take the rest of the day off?”

“What?” Kain blinked and shook his head. That felt strange. He’d recently had his blond, wavy hair shorn down to a number two. It had to go, he had no choice.  It was better to be prepared.  He was still getting used to not feeling it about his ears and neck. “Shit, I’m sorry Eddie.  I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I’m all right.  Let me fix that.”  He grabbed another piece of sandpaper off the floor and rubbed the small areas he’d missed. The dried gyprock was soon down to a smooth finish.

Eddie stepped back. “Now that’s the enthusiasm I am used to from you, Kain Burrows. Get into it, mate.  I’m just going to go into the next unit and check on the other boys.  That new bloke, Chris, seems to be workin’ out okay don’t ya think?”

Kain glanced at Eddie. “Yeah”.  He nodded, but hadn’t really heard what Eddie had said. He looked back at the stark white wall and rubbed harder.  Fine dust floated about his whitened hands as they skilfully did their job. He heard Eddie leave the room, but his mind was already far removed from his daily job as a plasterer. Yes, he knew that he had slackened off a bit in the past two weeks.  He thought he’d been covering it well.  Hell, he’d been doing this job for over ten years and could most likely do it in his sleep.

Grace came into his mind.  Her smile – the way it made dimples appear in her cheeks – made him grin.  An involuntary tear stole the grin away as he remembered seeing her sweet face when he’d told her he no longer loved her.  Shock and disbelief had clouded her features.  The tears had immediately welled in her beautiful green eyes.  Eyes that, until that moment, had looked at him with so much love. Eyes that lit up with a sparkle every time she laughed, which was often.  Eyes that could see the good in everyone and the funny side of most things.

God, he missed her.  It had been a week since that fateful day when he knew he had no choice but to break it off. He hated life without her, but he had new things and new people in his life to focus on now and they were going to take a lot of his time and energy. There was no room for Grace anymore.  She would be better off without him.  His life had changed direction into unknown territory.  His stomach lurched and simmered, thinking of what lay ahead of him in these unchartered waters. It was a journey he had to take on his own, but knew he would need some people along the way.  Grace was not one of them. He couldn’t drag her through the certain hell.  That would be too cruel and she’d be devastated in the end. The end? He wondered where and when that would come.

A spark of energy surged through his veins, determination and optimism took over his depressed soul like a light had been switched on. It’s all good. It’s going to be one hell of a challenge…and adventure. “Bring it on. Hit me with the best you got, God, or whoever deals the cards in this life. I’ll jump every hurdle you throw at me!”

Kain stepped back and admired his finished work with a nod and a smile. He looked about the room he was sanding and found several more areas that needed redoing. In no time he was satisfied it was all completed to his normal high standard.

“Hey mate, you look like the cat that swallowed the canary,” laughed Joe, as he entered the room. “Ready for lunch?”

“What?” Kain turned toward his workmate. “Oh yep, sure am. Let’s go.” He dropped the sand paper and followed Joe out the way he’d entered.

“Where you two headed?” asked Eddie as Kain and Joe strode past him, over to the internal stair case that lead to the ground floor of the multi-level building.

“We’re going for a countery over at the pub today,” replied Joe.  “Wanna come?”

“Nah, you two can go, I’ve got some leftover lasagne. Bloody beautiful. Don’t be late back and don’t get pissed!”

“We’ll try not to,” Joe shouted back with a wave of his arm followed by a laugh.

Ten minutes later the two men were seated at a table, out the side the pub in the designated smoking area. They’d ordered their lunch when they’d entered the pub.  Kain took a sip of his light beer as Joe lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

“That’s better,” said Joe after he’d exhaled and swallowed several mouthfuls of his icy cold beer, leaving a frothy line on his dark moustache. “Second and third best things in life, hey Kain.”  He raised the hand that held the smoke and pointed to the beer with the other. “Hey, I notice you don’t seem to smoke much anymore.  Givin’ it up?”

“Yeah, trying to,” nodded Kain.

“What?  The misses been naggin’ a bit?  Speakin’ of which,” added Joe before Kain had a chance to answer. “How is that lovely lady of yours?  Don’t think you’ve even mentioned her once this week.  Now that’s unusual.”  He gave Kain a hard but playful punch in the upper arm.

“Piss off, Joe.”  Kain laughed. “No she hasn’t actually.  It’s been my choice. It’s not that hard really since I never used to smoke all that much anyway.”

“Well, what’s ya secret?” Joe took one last drag before stubbing the butt out in the ashtray on their small, round table.

Raucous laughter erupted at the next table. Kain turned to see what was going on. Several men of various ages were huddling back in together watching a small screen, most likely a phone that belonged to one of them.

“Geez, that wanker needs to be strung up by his balls,” laughed one of the men.

“Yeah,” laughed another. “If he had any.”

Kain turned back, trying to ignore what he was hearing. “What was that, Joe?”

“I said, what’s your secret?”

Kain almost choked on his beer. He swallowed quickly before coughing several times. “What the hell are you talking about? What secret?”  Joe’s question irritated him, but he couldn’t understand why.

“Steady on, mate.” Joe held up one had in a truce mode. “I’m talking about how you’re givin’ up the fags. Geez, anyone would think I was trying to get classified information from the bloody Red Army or something.  Keep ya shirt on.”

“Sorry Joe, I didn’t mean to snap. I just got a bit distracted listening to these blokes over here.”  He indicated with his thumb toward his shoulder. “No secret,” said Kain with a shrug.  I just got other things to concentrate on that are more important than smokes.”

“Fair enough,” said Joe. “Hey, how ‘bout you and Grace come over tomorrow arvo for a barbie and we’ll shoot some pool. I finally got the table re-covered the other week.  It hasn’t had a proper game on it yet. Sue’s not into playing pool that much. You haven’t been over for ages and the ladies can catch up while me and you let our hair down… well…”  He grinned and nodded toward Kain’s head. “You haven’t got any to let down any more, but my lovely locks can still bounce.”  He gently patted the bottom of his wavy, brown hair that almost reached his shoulders, while pulling his lips together and kissing thin air.

Kain laughed out loud. That felt so good. “You’re an idiot, Joe.”

“I know. Well…?” Joe’s eyes widened. “Do yous wanna come or not? There’s a spare bed with your name on it.”

Kain’s temporarily lightened shoulders dropped heavily. “Sounds good mate, but…” He thought hard. What do I tell Joe? He won’t be happy to know we’ve broken up. “I…I’ll have to check with Grace and get back to you.” Idiot! You can’t keep putting him off. One thing Kain knew about his friend Joe, he was determined and stubborn and he would keep asking and asking Kain and Grace over. They’d spent many fun times there in the past – playing pool, darts, cards, drinking and generally enjoying a great get together with lots of laughs.

“All right, well ring me tonight, but you’d better not say no.” Joe chuckled, got up and walked inside to get another two beers.

You have to tell him. The nagging voice in Kain’s head was growing annoyingly louder. How he wished there was an easy solution, but there simply wasn’t.

Their meal number was called over the speaker above the doorway. Kain picked up the meal ticket along with his now empty glass and took it to the bar inside.  Joe was just leaving the bar with two full beers.

“Food’s ready,” said Kain, placing his empty glass on the bar and taking the beer Joe handed him. They walked through the public bar where several patrons sat enjoying a good chinwag with each other. Full plates of fish, chips and salad awaited them from the servery.  The mates picked them up before heading to the outdoor dining area.

Families, couples and small groups patronised the eating area, enjoying the scrumptious food, beautiful clear day and views overlooking the bay.

“Great place,” said Joe as they found a vacant table for two and sat down. “You can never get sick of looking out at that.”  He nodded toward the Pacific Ocean, not more than half a kilometre from the hill on which the popular Pacific View pub was situated.  “Good ol’ PV.  When I win lotto, I’m gunna buy this place. Hey, you and Grace can come into it with us.  Whatcha reckon?”  He sprinkled a generous amount of salt and pepper on his meal before handing the glass shakers to Kain.

“Yep, gotta love it all right,” agreed Kain. He placed the shakers on the table without using them, took his cutlery out of its paper bag and began to eat.

In silence, they ate their lunch. Kain knew he had to say something to Joe about Grace and him, but just couldn’t find the words. Meanwhile he sensed Joe wanted to ask him something or say something to him.  The longer the silence went on, the more awkward Kain felt.  His appetite waned until, half way through the meal, he put his knife and fork together on the plate. The heavy beating of his heart seemed to drown out the din around him from the other diners.  His mouth felt dry so he had a gulp of beer before taking a deep breath.

Joe put the fork of food that he was about to place in his mouth, back on the plate.  “You got something to tell me, mate, haven’t you?  You’ve been acting weird for a while now.  What’s goin’ on?”  Joe took a swig of his beer.

Just as Kain was about to speak, a large, red-headed woman in a skin tight blue dress rushed past him and sat at the next table. Her hair reminded him of Grace’s a little.

“You’re late, Sam,” said her friend at the table. “You look a bit flustered. What’s happened?”

“Well,” began the late arrival, in a loud voice, “I was called out to the range earlier to do a story.”

Kain looked around and saw the other one open her mouth to speak, but the loud one continued.

“There was a bad car crash and someone was killed.”

“Oh no,” replied the other, bringing her hand to her mouth. “That’s terrible. Any name?”

“No, not yet, but the car rolled down a steep slope and burst into flames. Apparently the body is burnt beyond recognition.  It was not a pretty sight” She screwed up her large nose. “Or smell, I can tell you.”

Kain turned back. He didn’t want to hear of other people’s bad news. It was shocking and horrible but he had a few battles ahead of him and as long as Grace was well and safe, that was really all that mattered to him. Joe was a good mate, and after hearing that news of a life gone in an instant, he realised this may not be as hard as he thought it would. Toughen up mate. Eat a spoon of cement.

“Joe, Grace and I have separated.”

Joe splattered the mouthful of beer, over the table and plates of food. His eyeballs nearly jumped out of their sockets. Small beads of froth remained in his moustache. “What? Bullshiiiit!”  He shook his head and coughed. “Piss off Kain, you two are made for each other.  What the fuck is goin’ on, mate?”

Ok, now you’ve told him, are you going to tell him why? Kain took another deep breath, pushed his plate over to the side and tried to think of what to say next. He brought his elbows up to the table and clasped his hands together to his mouth. His brain was like a race car at the Grand Prix, yet blank. He had absolutely no idea what to say but knew he had to think of something fast. “It’s true, Joe. I broke it off.” Should he tell him the truth and risk Joe telling Grace, or spin him a yarn too. Joe knows you too well to do that, don’t be an idiot. He’ll see right through your lies. Grace had said she didn’t believe him, therefore he’d had to be more forceful and angry toward her.  How that broke his heart to see the hurt and horror in her eyes, but he had to get her out of his life.

“Why?” Joe shook his head, his thick eye-brows creasing together in a frown as his gaze hardened. “Have you lost your fuckin’ marbles?!”

Kain’s stomach agitated like his grandma’s old washing machine. The moment of truth had come. Thinking about it was bad enough, but saying it out loud – that was another thing. “I…I’m…I’ve got a problem.” Shit, that didn’t sound right. Joe’s dark eyes  questioned him. “A health problem.”

“What’s wrong?” Joe asked after several seconds. “You’re the picture of bloody health, mate. Look atcha – fit and muscly, nice white teeth and those sparkling baby blues. You put me to shame, that’s for sure. I’ll be pushin’ up daisies by the time I’m fifty.”

Kain’s body jolted at that thought. Not the best choice of words. “Umm…no, I’m not, mate.” Kain swallowed hard and blinked back a tear that was threatening. “I might not have long to live.” Joe put his glass back on the table as his eyes widened. “At best, I won’t be able to give Grace the kids she desperately wants.”

“What the fuck are you sayin’, Kain?” His eyes glassed over as his face paled.

“I’ve…I’ve got c-cancer.”

“No!” Joe whispered, shaking his head. “You’re too young.”

“It’s true,” nodded Kain. “There, I’ve said it. The big fucking C.”

“Where? What?  How long have you known?”

“A little while. I just can’t put Grace through the torture.  I have to start treatment soon and there’s no guarantee I’ll survive and if I do, I won’t be able to give her kids. They were pretty adamant about that possibility.” Kain forced in a deep breath while Joe continued staring at him in disbelief. “She deserves better.  I know she’d just put her own life on hold for me.  That’s one of the things I love about her so much.  She’s so beautiful and loving and caring and …”  The words could have easily continued flowing just as the tears now were, but the sudden wedge in Kain’s throat stopped them.

“What sort of cancer do you have?” Joe looked blank.

“Geez mate, do I have to spell it out to you?” Kain frowned, shook his head and leaned closer to Joe. “Testicular cancer. You know … cancer of the balls – B-A-double L-S, balls!”


A magpie’s cheerful warbling echoed through Grace’s head. Such a beautiful sound.  She tried to smile as the sound grew louder, but instead she grimaced as pain in her shoulder, head and back took over every one of her senses. Her eyes wouldn’t open but she could see red, the colour of her pain. No other sound could be heard except for a monotonous whirring. The faint odour of dirt and sweat teased her nostrils. She was engulfed in this dark enclave with pain and fear her only companions.  She tried to move her hand, but felt nothing. Then… relief washed over her aching body.  Kain was coming toward her with his arms outstretched.  A huge smile lit up his face and his eyes were full of love. He opened his mouth to speak.

“Kain…thank God you came.”  Grace heard her words, but they sounded so distant.  Who said them?  They were raspy and hoarse. “Kain.”  Kain turned and walked away from her. “Come back,” she begged.  “Please Kain, come back.”  He continued walking through the bushes until she could no longer see him. “KAIN.” She tried to shout, but her voice just wouldn’t work anymore. Then he was coming back, but his face was different. Eyes yellow and teeth large, not unlike that of a wild dog.  He came for Grace, saliva dripping from his mouth. He began to run.  As he was almost to her he reached out, but it wasn’t his hands. It was hairy paws with long claws.  Thick, darkened blood dripped from them.  She couldn’t run.  Her body wouldn’t move a muscle.  She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Closing her eyes, she waited for inevitable death.

“Wake up.  Hey…wake up.”

Grace finally forced open her heavy eyelids.  Blurred visions danced before her – a monster that spoke like a man. Dark eyes stared at her. Again, words emitted from the large being that loomed over her.

“Don’t be scared.”

Grace blinked her eyes several times to clear her vision. She wanted to scream, but instead only a loud gasp escaped her throat.  He was on her left so she jerked her head to the right and tried to bring her battered body with her.  She had to get away.  Her body wouldn’t budge. It seemed glued to the mattress. Her face saw nothing but a pale, blank wall. There was no hope of escaping. Trying to crank her dishevelled brain into motion, she focussed on a dirty smudge on the wall. Tears welled but she was determined they would not flow or show.  What happened?  Where am I?  Why can’t I move and who is this…this man here?  She remembered seeing Kain coming toward her. No, that was a dream, a horrible dream.

“You want a drink?”

A drink? Her throat scratched like a desert storm had whipped through leaving dusty sand particles in its wake. She didn’t want to look at him but what choice did she have but to respond? She was trapped and injured. Dreading what she would see, she forced her head toward him – her abductor. Or was he her saviour? An old, dirty, leather glove covered the hand that held a blue tin cup toward her. “What…what is it?” The croaky words hurt her parched throat as if she’d just swallowed a strip of sand paper.

“Water.” He moved the cup closer to her face.

With every ounce of energy she could summon, Grace dug her left elbow into the bedding and heaved herself up to a half-sitting positon. The single bed felt comfortable but she couldn’t help noticing the once bright and colourful cover was in need of a good wash. A stupid thing to think about right now. Without thinking, she went to reach for the cup with her right hand, but the pain dropped the hand back to the bed. The stab of pain also jolted her memory a little. Her body shuddered as she remembered running from the dogs while the thunder crashed around her.  She needed that water badly, but her head fell back on to the pillow as a short, sharp sob involuntarily filled the air. It was too much effort.  Another gloved hand reached beneath her pillow and lifted it and her as the cup came toward her mouth. She didn’t want to look at his face. Instead she concentrated on opening her cracked lips, ready for the life-saving liquid. Wait…what if it was some kind of poison? Grace closed her mouth firmly. She heard a small splosh as the cup stopped abruptly. Stuff it. I don’t care if it is poison, without water I’m dead anyway. She opened her mouth again as the cup tilted a little and came closer. She could see the precious water.  The metal edge of the cup cooled her lips as the refreshing liquid flowed through her sticky mouth and slid down her dry throat. She felt it go all the way down until it reached her stomach.  She forced a muffled sound as some of the water began dribbling out the sides of her mouth and down onto her neck and chest. The thought of any being wasted was too much.

“Sorry.” He took the cup away.

“Nooo.” Grace moved her face after the cup. “More please.”

The cup returned and she drank it all in two more gulps. The last of it went down the wrong way, forcing a cough. Grace bent her head down to meet her left hand as she rested on her left elbow and continued coughing.

“Are you right?”

Grace’s eyes watered and her nose began to run from the coughing, but several seconds later it subsided and she was able to breath normally again. “Yes.”  She tried to wipe her eyes and nose.  A clean hanky appeared in front of her face.


“Th-thanks.”  She lay back down and wiped her eyes and nose. As she handed the hanky back to him, her eyes followed until she found herself staring him straight in the face. Her body jerked in fright and she had no control over the gasp that broke free from her lips. A dark beard, flecked with grey, reached to his upper chest. His black hair, also sporting wisps of grey, was pulled back behind his head.  Grace briefly wondered how long it was. She tried not to look at his face, instead dropping her eyes to his large waist area.  A light blue, long-sleeved shirt strained to keep the buttons, that descended his chest and stomach, closed. The shirt was tucked into faded, blue jeans. She wondered where was the black coat that she had seen him wearing when he’d shot the dog.

“You want more water?”

Grace immediately looked back to his face. Her stomach liquefied slightly at the sight. One side of his head was almost hairless, except for the odd strand of hair that hung downwards.  She could see his ear, or what would have once been an ear. A knobbly, pale, stump protruded from the side of his head.  His other ear appeared perfectly normal.  His eyes looked dark brown, but she couldn’t be sure.  They were merely slits, surrounded by scarring that covered his upper cheeks, nose and most of his forehead. His eyebrows were sparse. Nowhere near as bushy as men’s usually are. Her first thought was to ask what had happened, but then she remembered he’d just asked her if she wanted another drink. Right now, that was more important.  “Yes, please.”

Carrying the cup, he walked out of the room in slow but determined strides on long legs. The ‘clomp clomp’ of his boots could be heard continuing but slowly faded. Holy hell! What a mess. She couldn’t get his face and head out of her mind. In an attempt to, she gazed about the room – nothing startling.  A slow turning, dusty fan whirred from the mouldy ceiling above her.  A large, brown wardrobe was against the opposite wall to the bed, while a matching, high-set dutchess stood against the wall to her left. She couldn’t see anything on it, but two vertical bits of matching wood, obviously that a mirror should be attached between.  On the opposite wall was a slightly-open window of clouded glass, with bars on it. Bars? Grace frowned as she wondered why.  They didn’t look like your average security bars.  The magpie started singing again, not far from her window.  Thick, cream curtains swayed a little in the breeze that carried the beautiful sound to Grace’s ears. Under different circumstances she would certainly find it relaxing, but those bars. They frightened her. Stifling a grunt, she painfully pulled her body up to a sitting position, dropping her feet to the bare, wooden floor. I need to see if those bars are real. Are they there to keep people out… or to keep people IN?

The approaching footsteps grew louder before he walked into the room. Grace hoped he couldn’t tell what she was thinking. He handed her the cup which she gratefully accepted in her left hand and drank it all down before passing it back to him. She noticed he still wore the slightly rank gloves. Carefully she wiped the sweat from her forehead, then wiped her damp hand on her shirt. She realised she probably wouldn’t smell any better at that moment. I’d love a shower.  “Thankyou…what’s your name?”  She’d asked it without even thinking about it.  Part of her felt terrified of what was going on and what this grotesque human may do to her, while the other part was curious, itching to know more about this scarred, hulk of a man. This enigmatic man who was a top shot and, somewhere in that solid chest, seemed to have a heart of gold.

He stared at her for several moments. He seemed to be thinking hard. “Seth,” he replied, sounding more like he was clearing his throat. “You want a cup of tea or some food?”

“How long have I been here…Seth?” Grace asked, hoping that was, in fact, his name and that he hadn’t just been moving phlegm. “I’m Grace. I remember a car rolling down a slope and the dogs.  Then there was a storm and I was running away.” She stopped speaking, remembering what he’d just asked. “Yes please, a cup of tea would be nice and…” She tried to recall when and what she’d last eaten, but nothing came to mind. “Yes, some food too.”  She didn’t feel hungry but realised if he had to prepare some food it would give her time to get to the window and try to escape.

“Not long.”  He turned and went out the room again.

Not long? Grace added frustrated to her list of thoughts and feelings. Did he mean she hadn’t been there long or that he wouldn’t be long getting her some tea and food?  From another room, presumably the kitchen, she heard a tap run briefly followed by some minor clattering and clanging. Taking a deep breath, she pushed both hands down on the side of the bed and urged her body up on to her feet. The pain had not lessened in that shoulder, that was for sure. She gritted her teeth until the pain from pushing herself up subsided a little.  She was on her feet, a good start.  Grace looked down to discover she only had her socks on.  They were damp and dirty. Where were her shoes?  A flash of a shoe dislodging while she was running flicked through her mind but was gone as quickly as it had come.

Bringing her right hand up toward her chest, she turned toward the window. It was only several metres but it seemed so much further. A sharp pain in her back made her wince as she put one foot forward. Grace took a deep breath and reached around under her shirt to find, what felt like, a wound dressing. How did that get there? She frowned, which only reminded her of the soreness in her head. Must stop frowning, she chided herself as she reached upward and touched her temple. Her fingers found a padded dressing there as well. What the…? She looked out the door, but could only see another wall on the opposite side of a hallway.  Other noises were still coming from another room. He must be still getting her some food. Sure hope it’s edible. The window. Just get to the window. She clenched her teeth, focussed her eyes on those bars and pushed her battered body forward.  Leg muscles hurt, like she’d run a marathon, then she briefly remembered running hard through the rain. As she finally neared the window, Grace reached out and grabbed one of the bars. More to steady herself, but she also pulled it then let go and pulled on another and another.  No use, they were solid as a jail. A jail? Nausea overcame her as numerous fears swam through her already muddled brain.  She leaned forward and opened her watery mouth to vomit.

“What are you doing?”

The abruptness of the loud and unexpected words made her bolt upright. Her heart started like a hammermill in her chest and almost as loud. She closed her mouth and swallowed the saliva. The fright seemed to have erased the nausea. She didn’t know which one was worse.  Her sweaty fingers that grasped the window bars began to slip downwards. “I…I was going to open the window wider so…I could get some more breeze. It’s…it’s just too hot.” She pulled her hand off the bars and wiped it on the side of her jeans while staring at him, mesmerised. Her eyes had a mind of their own, drawn to his frightful scarring like iron filings to a magnet.

“Here.”  He set the black, TV lap tray on the dutchess and came toward her, holding out a gloved hand.

“Why do you wear gloves when it’s so hot?” Oh shit! She couldn’t believe she just blurted that out without thinking.  Grace finally managed to draw her eyes away from his face, like a mother dragging away an inquisitive, nosey-parker child.

He stopped just before her and looked at his outstretched hand, then to Grace. “I have to.”

Grace realised that was all the info she was going to get on that subject but she longed to know more. “Where are we, Seth?”  She allowed him to hold her hand and help her back to the bed. Just as she was about to sit on it she turned to him. “Can I come and sit at the table?”

“Not yet. Sit here and eat.”

She sat on the edge of the bed, afraid to disobey him, before he placed the tray on her lap. Something smelt good; in fact it smelt so good it reminded her of her mum’s cooking. It looked good too. Grace’s eyes widened at the contents of the large plate on her tray. Steam and a delicious smell wafted off a colourful omelette.  She could see carrot, broccoli, mushrooms and other vegies in it while cheese was slowly melting on top. To the side, chopped tomato sat on a bed of crispy lettuce.  She may not have felt hungry a minute earlier but at this sight and aroma she was ravenous. Seth took the mug of white tea from the tray and placed it on the dutchess within easy reach. “This looks really good.  Did you just make this?”

“Yep. Hope you like milk in your tea. Sugar?” From the tray Seth picked up a small brown bowl containing a protruding teaspoon handle.

“No thanks.” Grace shook her head. “Just milk is all I have in it. This reminds me of the omelettes Mum used to make when I as a kid. We loved them.” A twinge of sadness needled Grace’s heart as she remembered Steve, Sophie and herself sitting down to scrumptious meals in their home on the farm, laughter always filling the air. Things changed so much after Steve had left. She shook her head to disperse the memories and picked up the knife and fork before tucking into the much needed food.

Seth walked out of the room without saying a word. Hope I didn’t just upset him. In no time he was back with another drink of water for Grace, but this time it was cold and in a glass. “Thank you,” Grace mumbled, her mouth full of food, as he placed it beside the mug of tea. He walked out, again without saying a single word.

Grace watched him disappear out the door, wondering what he was all about. Oh well. She shrugged then winced in pain, before concentrating on finishing every delicious morsel on her plate.

Just as she lifted the tray, containing the empty plate, on to the dutchess, Seth entered the room. That seemed weird. Grace hadn’t heard any footsteps. Had he been standing just outside the door?  In silence, he took the tray back to the kitchen, leaving the teaspoon by her cup while Grace drank most of the water and started on the tea.  Then he was back. What the hell do you want from me? She wanted to scream out at him, but something, she had no idea what, told her to stay calm and take another approach.

“Did you dress my wounds, Seth?” She looked him square in the eyes.


Grace nodded, before taking another sip of tea and swallowing. “What happened to my back?”

“Lightning struck the tree and blew it to bits. One of the bits hit your back and knocked you down and out.”

“H-how bad is it?”

“It’s cut and bruised, but not real bad.” He pulled a white cloth out of his jeans pocket and flicked it to open it out.

“What’s that for?” Grace felt panic rise from her feet, snake up her spine and into every square millimetre of her body. Her throat soured. Is he going to gag me? Tie me up?

“It’s a sling for your arm and shoulder.”

“Woo back.” Grace tried to lean away from him. Something was terribly wrong here. “Why don’t you just call me an ambulance? I think I need to go to hospital.” Enough was enough. Her father’s strong determination channelled through her. “Where the hell are we?  I need medical help!  You have no right to deny me that!”

No ambulance and no hospital.”  His previous firm but gentle voice rose in anger. He shot her a look that made the hairs on her arms rise. The fire in his dark eyes could ignite an inferno.  “We are here and that’s all you need to know.”  He dropped the sling material on the bed and strode out the room, this time pulling the door shut behind him. Grace’s heart dropped to her feet. Terror splintered her empty chest as she heard a key turn, locking her in – she glanced at the barred windows – jail!


Joe pushed his unfinished plate to the side of the small table. His eyes were downcast, avoiding Kain. He sniffled and wiped his nose, as if it had been itchy.

“It’s…it’s all right, mate,” said Kain. “I’m gunna get treatment and fight it as hard as I can. I’m not done yet!”  He laughed. “Did you think I was going to just lay down and die?”

Joe looked up at him. “What? You?” He laughed. “Not a chance. I know you’ll fight it.” He leaned closer to Kain. “You friggin’ better mate, or I’ll kick your arse.”  He picked up his beer and swallowed down the last mouthfuls. “Finish your lunch.  I’ll get us another beer.” After grabbing Kain’s not-yet-empty glass and his own empty one, Joe stood and rushed inside toward the bar.

Kain looked at his plate. It was delicious, but he no longer had any appetite.  A weight was lifted though, with him having told his best mate the shocking news. Kain no longer felt so alone in what lay ahead for him. He looked about at the other diners.  They were old, young, middle-aged, various colours and all sorts of shapes and sizes. I wonder how many here have cancer. How many men here have the cancer I have? I wonder if they know.  How many have survived it? Part of him wanted to stand up and shout it out to everyone, just to find answers to those questions, but the other part never wanted to tell another soul. He looked at the two women at the nearest table. The red-head who’d reported on the fatal accident was leaning over her plate and tucking into a huge hamburger. Sauce and beetroot juice dripped from her wrists, while the other laughed at something she was watching on her phone.  They didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Neither did I until recently. Kain’s stomach began to spiral at the fear that intermittently crept through his veins. It was when he was alone that he worried and, as much as he hated it, cried. He felt better and more positive when he had company.

Joe placed the beers in the middle of the table before plonking himself on his chair. “You right?”

“Yeah, why?” asked Kain, before he realised a tear was trickling down his cheek. He quickly wiped it.

“So,” Joe drank a good sized mouthful.  “What happens now? As in treatment, I mean. Are they one hundred percent sure it’s cancer?”

He put his glass down and frowned hard at Kain, making him appear to have one long bushy eyebrow. This always made Kain smile to himself, even to the point of some friendly teasing about it in the past, but he didn’t feel like laughing at that moment.  “Yep, it’s fair dinkum,” replied Kain with a nod followed by a heavy sigh. A dead weight wrapped around his heart and shoulders. “I felt a lump, or…Grace did.  It wasn’t sore or anything, so I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t.  I went to the doc and they sent me for an ultrasound which showed up suspicious.”

Joe nodded, still frowning although not as severe. “Is that all you’ve had?  It might just be a…”

“No,” Kain cut in. “Earlier this week they gave me an MRI and I went back to the doctor day before yesterday for the results and they,” he swallowed hard, “showed it up clearly. There’s no mistake, Joe.”  He bit down on his bottom lip, attempting to stop the tears that were threatening.

“But there are options aren’t there?” Joe’s voice cracked, eager, desperate, tinged with pleading. “I mean, geez these days they can do all sorts of wonders.”

“When I went back to the doctor the other day for the results and he told me it was definitely cancer, I kind of freaked out a bit and now I don’t really remember everything he said to me. I remember him saying something about surgery and chemo but it was all a bit of a blur. I have to go back tomorrow morning and get the full picture. I just walked out in a daze that afternoon.  Lucky they realised and rang me later on to make this other appointment for tomorrow.”

“True. Also lucky they’ll see you on a Saturday. Hey, mate, forget about tomorrow arvo, unless…you want to come around.”  Joe looked Kain directly in the eyes. “Anything we can do for you, mate, just name it, okay?”

Kain grinned. Joe may be crazy at times, but he was a good mate. “Okay! Thanks Joe. I probably will.  Just depends on what happens at the doctors tomorrow.”

“Now, about this Grace-and-you-separating shit,” Joe said in a stern, fatherly voice. “I reckon you’re mad. For Christ’s sake, Kain, she adores you. She worships the bloody ground you walk on. Blind Freddy with half a brain could see that. Are you sure you did the right thing?”

“Yes,” Kain nodded. “No…I don’t know.” His shoulders dropped. His bones felt like jelly. He wanted to let his whole body just slump into a heap. “I miss her like crazy but she wants kids and I can’t give her any.  Shit, I might not even be around by this time next year.”

“Don’t you think she’s old enough to make that decision herself? She’s not stupid.”

“I never said she was, Joe!” Kain felt his shackles rise. “You have no idea what this is like, so don’t friggin’ tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, okay!” Kain skolled the last of his beer as Joe sat back in his chair and looked hurt. “Ah, sorry mate, I didn’t mean it like that.”

Joe shrugged. “You’re right, I don’t have any idea what it’s like. I’m just trying to help. You’re miserable without Grace and I’ll bet a million bucks she’s just as miserable without you. She’s such a caring, loving person, I bet she’d love to look after you and get you through this.”

“Yes she is that and more.” Kain couldn’t help smiling at the beautiful memories swimming through his mind. “I remember when we first met; she had just finished her teaching degree at uni.” He laughed out loud. “She had a flat tyre and I stopped to help her. She was all dressed up and here was me in my white-stained work clothes, sweaty and grubby.  I actually thought she was a bit of a snob at first.”  He shook his head at the irony of those words. “Nothing could have been further from the truth and I soon realised she was more than capable of changing that bloody tyre herself.”  He smiled, but felt the tears welling. “Little Miss Capable, that’s for sure. When I got to know her a bit and she told me she’d grown up on a farm, I knew then she was tough as nails with a heart of pure gold.”

“I remember you telling me once that you had to chase her a bit before she agreed to go out with you,” Joe chuckled.

“Yep,” Kain grinned. “I asked her if she would be interested in going out that night, but she said no, she was busy.  Luckily she did agree to give me her number and I pestered her for days before I saw her again. We used to laugh about those early days but what I didn’t know then was that her older brother, her only brother, had not long vanished without any trace. She was pretty stressed.”

“That’s right, I remember hearing that on the news and you talking about it too. Bloody hell, it was the talk of the town for a while,” said Joe. “Did they ever find him?”

Kain shook his head sadly. “No, nothing. When the police gave up and closed the case her parents hired private detectives to try and find him but they came up dry too. It was like he just disappeared into thin air. I don’t think her parents, or her and her little sister, ever got over it. He was living and working on the farm and one morning,” Kain let out a breath and his gaze went to someplace far across the large dining area, “he simply didn’t come out of his bedroom.”

Joe frowned again. “What do ya mean?”

“Well, he didn’t come out because he wasn’t in there. His bed hadn’t been slept in, or was made up.  All his gear was still there, only his wallet was gone.  It’s one of those mysteries that never seem to get solved.”

“Had he been in any trouble or something like that? Shitty relationship maybe?”

“Grace said he hadn’t been seeing anyone and everything was normal. Apparently he and his father had a bit of a disagreement the day before, about some cattle, but it wasn’t serious.” Kain shrugged again. “I don’t know. Just sorry I never got to meet him.  The way Grace talks about him, he must have been a top bloke.”

“Every time you mention her name your face lights up, Burrows, and don’t tell me your heart doesn’t because I’d call you a liar.”

Kain thought for a moment. “Yep, you’re right, Joe. It does feel good to talk about her and think about her.  Sometimes I even forget for a few seconds that I broke it off and I think of how much I look forward to seeing her when I get home from work, but then…” he sighed again. “I remember what’s happening and that I moved back to Mum and Dad’s.”

“Do they know?”

“No, not yet,” replied Kain. “They’re still away on holidays. I’m not going to ruin it for them. I offered to go around and look after the dogs and cat while they’re away and sleep there sometimes. I’ve just moved some of my stuff back into my old room.” He laughed, followed by Joe.

“Yeah, they were probably enjoying being empty nesters. Seriously mate, you love her so much, why not just ring her and…and…” Joe’s eyes sparkled.

“C’mon, Mr Know-It-All, and what?” urged Kain.

“Well…” Kain could see Joe’s grey matter working overtime. His face lit up and his cheeks parted in a wide grin. Snap! He clicked his fingers. “They can freeze your tadpoles these days, can’t they? You can still have kids later on.”

Kain took a couple of seconds before he realised what Joe meant. “Hmm, I vaguely remember the doctor saying something like that but also that it wasn’t a definite thing. Tadpoles are no good without their father, Joe and that’s the worst case scenario. That’s the main thing I don’t want to put Grace through.”

“Look, I know you don’t want me telling you what to do, but please think about calling Grace and telling her you made a monumental stuff up and you want her back.  I’ll bet you a million bucks you’ll both be happier. What sort of lame excuse did you give her anyway?” He rolled his eyes. “For breaking it off.”

“I told her that I was feeling cramped in the relationship and that I wanted to be a free man to…find myself.” He rolled his own eyes at the absurdity of his words. “And that…that I didn’t love her anymore.”

Find yourself?” Joe laughed out loud. “You’re a dick and a half, Kain. As if she would have believed that New Age bullshit!”

“Actually, she’s right into that sort of stuff and natural therapies. Truth be known, she’d probably be able to suggest something in nature to cure this bloody problem.”  He discreetly pointed toward his crotch.

“All right, you might have a point there, but the Grace I know would never believe you no longer loved her. For Christ’s sake mate, you lavished her – geez, that’s a big word for me, so it must be true, hey?”

Kain sat back in his chair, placed his hands behind his head and thought about everything he and Joe had just talked about. He missed her so much. Maybe I was too quick to break it off with her. Wonder if she’ll forgive me? “All right, you win Joe Miller. I’ll call her now and ask her if I can come and see her after work this afternoon.”  His burden felt considerably lighter all of a sudden. He felt good. All will be good. “We’ll battle this bloody thing together.”  He leaned forward a little to take his phone from the back of his shorts as Joe gave the thumbs up signal while sporting the biggest grin Kain had ever seen.  Kain rolled his eyes, shook his head and laughed. He felt lighter, happier, but most of all, positive. Of course Grace would forgive him and they could have good laugh about what an idiot he was.

His phone rang out with its shrill ring tone just as he was bringing it out of its holder. Looking at the number, he frowned. It was Linda, Grace’s mother. Oh shit, she’s probably ringing me to get up me for hurting her daughter. Hope she lets me explain that it’s only temporary. “Hi Linda.”  He waited for the scolding but she was crying.  “Linda…Linda, what’s wrong?”  This wasn’t good. His stomach bottomed out as his heart pumped harder. She definitely sounded much more upset than just from them breaking up.

“Kain…it’s Grace…” She cried louder.

“What’s…what’s happened?” Panic almost prevented the words coming out as Kain felt his already-crumbling world shatter into a million pieces.

“She’s…she was killed in a car accident. This morning. Up on the range.”

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