by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 26


Sebastian lived on a vast and virtually unmapped property previously owned by his dead mother's boss. The land varied from gently sloping rough grassland dotted with ancient eucalypts, to low hills and increasingly dense rainforest. Further to the west the land became very steep, well watered by streams and waterfalls that over the centuries had scoured out excellent pools. As a sixteen year-old he'd worked for the previous owner, taking young men for hikes in the forest, having no idea of their ultimate dreadful fate.

To delete all memories of the man he'd hated, he and his partner, Reginald, had bulldozed the large ugly house and pool and planted the area with a melaleuca forest. They then designed and built their ideal home near an all-seasons creek that they diverted to run through what looked like a perfect forest pool practically beside the house. They did all the work themselves; designing and building the house, garden and pool, and the result was both exotic and welcoming.

The house was a twelve-sided polygon constructed inside an imaginary twelve-metre diameter circle. Wooden poles sunk in the ground supported a hardwood floor a metre above the soil, so snakes and other wildlife could pass beneath without mistakenly entering the house. The twelve walls were crowned by a twelve-sided low-pitched tiled roof that extended beyond the walls to cover a three metre wide verandah that encircled the house, creating a spacious but surprisingly informal and homely environment. A lantern over an opening at the apex of the roof allowed light in and hot air to escape.

Inside, the large open space was cleverly furnished and divided so that each space was not visible until you were almost in it. Sitting in the lounge area one was not conscious of the study in the next space. On leaving the study, the large bedroom appeared unexpectedly, as did the bathroom, laundry and other services, followed by the kitchen. Then it was a surprise to take a few more steps and discover you'd arrived back in the lounge room.

Windows were small, keeping the interior pleasantly dim and cool and allowing plenty of wall space for paintings. As usual in the tropics, the wide verandah had become the most used area where Reginald and Sebastian would sit in the evenings and continue the conversation that seemed to have been going on seamlessly since they first fell in love at high school.

Chloe and her guests arrived early. Sebastian wasn't in the house so they strolled around to the vegetable patch. Wrought iron gates gave entry through a two metre high stone wall that enclosed the entire garden. Inside they found their host picking herbs for lunch. Jarek was rapt to be in a walled garden replete with fruit trees, bushes, herb gardens, neat paths and a bountiful vegetable patch! It was the secret garden he'd dreamed of since reading Edith Nesbit stories as a child. Being able to grow all one's fruit and vegetables without worrying about possums, bandicoots, hares and other wildlife appealed strongly, and within minutes he and Sebastian were deep in conversation.

The other four left the two men to talk, returning to the part of the verandah that faced the pool. Jettisoning clothes they cooled off in the water. About twenty minutes later, after giving Jarek a quick tour of the house that left him unable to find sufficient words of praise, Sebastian served a vegetarian lunch on the verandah. Over coffee he asked Jarek about his plans.

'No idea. Just about anything except teaching in a normal co-educational high school. That particular hell I never want to revisit.'

'He's too modest,' Stephen laughed. 'He's a great teacher, the kids love him, and he's just given sixty teenagers the greatest experience of their lives at a series of bush camps. Quite the best teaching I've seen in all my years.'

Jarek blushed and mumbled that he wasn't that good.

'He is that good, Seb,' Zeno said with feeling. 'Believe me.'

Sebastian, not wanting to frighten Jarek off by seeming too inquisitive, turned his gaze on Zeno. 'Apparently your teachers were right, young man. I infected you, then you infected Jarek, and not satisfied with that you've gone and infected Cador as well. It's like being a vampire! I should have been put down at birth.'

Zeno nearly fell off his chair laughing before explaining to the others. 'The teachers at the school I went to when we lived here told us that homosexuality was a disease and if we mixed with queers we'd turn into one. Seems they were right.'

It was a joke, but a sad one, so Stephen added to the mood by recounting Zeno's rape by the teacher and her unhappy end. Neither Jarek nor Zeno mentioned their little act of retribution. Then Cador's presence was explained. Sebastian congratulated him on his maturity and mentioned he'd had a similar experience with his mother, whom he'd disowned without regret. Fortunately, his father was the complete opposite and was now Principal of an alternative school nearby. He looked at Jarek. 'Could be just the place for you.' Before Jarek could respond he leaped to his feet and announced they were going for a walk.

'Do we need clothes?'

'Not on my property.'

Sebastian led the way diagonally up hill towards a stand of trees that became a dense forest. After nearly a kilometre the vegetation ended abruptly at a strong, seven-wire boundary fence. On the other side was a steep, barren slope that bottomed out onto sun-dried, mown grass flats, crossed by a stream flowing out of Sebastian's forest. The difference between the two properties was surreal. Instead of lush vegetation the creek now ran through an alien, desiccated world dotted with a few dead trees. A low house was visible on the far side of the property, and a row of sterile palms lined its driveway. After the rainforest the contrast was shocking. A brown line of herbicided grass and weeds followed the boundary and continued on each side of the stream, transforming it into an eroded drain flanked by cancerous brown dust.

Standing in the shade of their trees, Sebastian and his guests gazed down in sadness as the neighbour drove his ride-on mower up and down.

'He mows every day. Retired a couple of years ago. Used to be a primary school teacher. I dread to think what influence he must have had on the kids because he seems to hate nature. No wonder so many people misunderstand the 'Greens' if teachers are like him! Seems to have nothing to do now except sit on that bloody thing and mow whether it needs it or not. No one ever walks or plays on the land and no animals graze—except for a few brave kangaroos and crows that he chases away.'

They watched in fascinated horror.

'There are large lizards around my forest pools that climb trees then leap into the water and seem to walk across it, you've seen them, haven't you Zeno?'

'Yeah, they're real dags.'

'I was checking this boundary the other day and saw one sunbathing over there on the bank of the stream. He also saw it and deliberately diverted his mower to drive over it. Horrible death.'

'I feel sick,' Zeno whispered. 'The fucking fat bastard!'

'I can't bear it!' Cador said softly. 'Where can insects live? Where can spiders hang their webs? Where are the seed heads or nectar for birds? I don't want to even think about it!'

'And I can't bear to look. Let's go.' Chloe was about to lead them away when the mower turned towards the stream and began driving across a narrow plank bridge so he could mow the side nearest the watchers. Halfway across he must have sensed he was being watched and looked up. A loud crunch resounded as the mower slipped to one side and slowly tumbled into the stream two metres below—upside down, the blades still whirring like the wings of a giant insect. Shouts for help were audible above the noise of the motor.

'He's trapped,' Chloe said casually.

'Yes, but his head's obviously out of the water, so he won't drown.'

An arm appeared round the side of the blade cover, seeking something to grab hold of so he could haul himself out. The crunch as the blades smashed into the arm was audible. Blood spurted and the hand—now severed, flopped wildly on the end of the waving arm. His cries had attracted no attention so they continued walking back to Sebastian's house.

Soft-spoken Cador surprised everyone with the unsentimental observation that it was probably less than he deserved having caused the death of so many millions of other living things. Everyone nodded and the incident wasn't mentioned again.

Amanda's house was all but concealed behind a tall, unkempt hedge that brushed the sides of the vehicle as she negotiated the narrow entrance to the driveway. A lawn in need of mowing and a few diseased mango trees surrounded the old high-set house. The space underneath had been enclosed with unpainted concrete blocks and served as a garage and rumpus room. She parked, closed the garage doors, then led the way up an internal staircase to the house. The lounge was clean, somewhat bleak, and painted white. Three large 'art' photographs of their hostess in varying states of undress adorned the otherwise bare walls. Elaborate woven Indian rugs and colourful cushions on sleek modern furniture provided an unexpected warmth.

The three women drank coffee while Amanda scoffed at each of their suggestions.

'Shooting, garrotting, tampering with the car… the police aren't idiots. It can't look like a murder; it has to look like an accident. Round here, the best accident would be drowning; next best is falling off a cliff in the hinterland while bush walking.'

Her guests nodded dutifully and recalled with pleasure the memory of Bindi's struggle as she slowly drowned, a fitting punishment for insulting them with her fake liberation. In an attempt to impress Amanda, they told her about Bindi and her well-deserved exit.

'Did Bindi invite the men?'


'And then she took charge?'

'No! She was less than a doormat, just something for bored guys to stick their... things into. Immediately after satisfying their lusts they took off, leaving her unsatisfied, and their used condoms on the carpet.'

Amanda shrugged, nodded and said, 'Serves her right then. Unfortunately, drowning's difficult to make seem like an accident. No one swims in the sea because of stingers, sharks and crocodiles, and there are always too many people at City pools. I haven't even got a bath, so as there's no way we could arrange an accidental drowning. I reckon we should kidnap Violet's husband, then use his phone to text that kid who raped his teacher, telling him he'd gone up to the lookout but was feeling ill, so would the kid come and get him. As soon as the kid arrives, we have fun cutting them both up slowly, then dispose of the bits by feeding them to the sharks, or tossing them over the fence into the crocodile enclosure of the wildlife park!'

Irma and Violet remained silent, then laughed nervously; unsure if it was a joke. Amanda's expression was inscrutable. Her plan was simple enough to seem plausible, so as they could think of nothing better they decided to go and reconnoitre the area where Stephen and Zeno were staying, note their movements if possible, and, like the intelligent and astute women they were, be ready to grab the first chance that presented itself.

As Sebastian and his guests wandered thoughtfully back to the house, he lagged behind and signalled Jarek to join him. Against all expectations he'd been attracted to the teacher from the first meeting, and what he'd learned today had only increased his interest. In the months since Reginald's death he had faced the truth that life for him had neither purpose nor aim when he was alone and unloved. He'd drifted aimlessly, unable to stop thinking about big, beautiful, tough, fighting-fit Reginald. His death had left a hole too large for anyone to fill. In despair and feeling somehow to blame by not being able to protect his partner, he'd returned to what Chloe called exotic dancing. It kept him busy and stopped him thinking. He was among people, his mind forgot its misery and he wasn't expected to mix socially afterwards.

Chloe had become his sole confidante, but even she had no idea how close he was to ending it all. His decision to invite her guests to lunch had surprised and delighted her, prompting hope that her dearest friend was on the mend. The flicker of interest when he was introduced to Jarek had not escaped her notice, and she was determined that nothing would get in the way of a possible romance, which was why she bustled everyone else back to the house, leaving the two men alone.

Sebastian warned himself not to get too hopeful. Jarek was everything he admired in a man. They were the same age; fit, respected nature, educated yet not precious about it. Quiet and reflective. Still waters run deep, he thought wryly. Perhaps… but no, why would anyone as successful as Jarek, the darling of his pupils as well as Zeno and Stephen, be interested in a twenty-six year old recluse? Realising he was talking himself out of doing something sensible he shut off all thought, stopped, grabbed Jarek's arm and asked abruptly, 'Can you fight?'

'If I have to, but not for pleasure.'

'What would you do if you were attacked on the street by a gang of toughs?'

'Run for my life.' There was no hesitation.

'If Zeno was being attacked?'

'Kill her!'

Sebastian paused, clearly surprised by Jarek's vehemence and choice of a female attacker. 'Have you killed someone?' he asked quietly.

It was Jarek's turn to hesitate. Did he trust Sebastian not to be shocked and tell the cops? He looked across at his host, searched his face and decided to risk it. 'Yes,' he stated bluntly.

'Wanna talk about it?'

'Wanna listen?'


Until that moment Jarek thought stabbing the young woman had left him emotionally untouched, but as he described the incident he discovered it was a great relief to talk about it.

Sebastian thought for a few seconds, nodded and grinned. 'You did the only thing possible. Zeno and Cador have no idea they narrowly missed being shot?'

'No. The fewer people who know the safer I'll feel. You're the only person who knows.'

'Sorry you told me?'

'No, relieved to share the secret. I don't feel bad about doing it, but it seems I needed confirmation that I was right.'

'You were absolutely correct, so will you stay with me tonight?'


'Do you want to know why?'

'No. I'm too happy to be invited. I've been wondering what I could do to get to know you better, so I'm not going to question good fortune.' He grinned and Sebastian's heart felt it would break from an odd mixture of sadness and hope.

They joined the others by the pool where everyone was relaxing and drinking fruit juice. After a few minutes, Chloe said she needed to get home to check on the chooks, so she, Stephen, Zeno and Cador gathered up their clothes ready to walk the two kilometres back along the track.

Before setting off, Chloe smiled at Jarek lounging in a deck chair wearing a slightly nervous grin and said softly, 'Stop worrying, Jarek. Sebastian really likes you. I haven't seen that look on his face since Reginald died. Just be yourself and he'll tell you everything in his own time.' With a light tap on his cheek she followed the others, who turned and waved.

While Chloe and her guests were visiting Sebastian, her house and grounds were being visited by Irma, Amanda and Violet. They spent the afternoon testing doors which were strong and well locked, peering through windows that revealed nothing useful, and wandering around the garden, delighted to see there was no security and plenty of places to conceal themselves.

Violet suggested they hide near the pool and wait for a chance to grab either Stephen or Zeno, immobilise and then drown them, making it look like an accident.

'Of course they won't shout and attract the others,' Amanda sneered. 'You're obsessed with drowning. Get over it!'

'Just a thought,' Violet muttered irritably, hurt by the woman's tone. 'We're not stupid. It's best to have lots of ideas so if an opportunity arises we can act quickly.'

Violet was becoming an embarrassment to Irma. Back home the principal's wife had conferred a certain prestige, but here in the city surrounded by people more her own age, Irma saw the real Violet—elderly, unfit, overweight, unattractive and prone to whining self-pity. They were obviously wasting their time. The house was isolated, which had the advantage of no nosy neighbours, but the disadvantage of being on a private road so they had to leave their vehicle far away and creep through the bushes along the sides of the track so as not to be seen approaching.

Irritation turned to panic when they heard voices from the front of the house. Amanda and Irma had no trouble squirming under the broken paling of a fence and creeping through bushes to the roadside a few hundred metres away, but Violet was neither so flexible nor slim, and became wedged between two stout wooden planks. She was forced to withdraw and sit hunched in mulch, barely concealed by thin shrubbery, terrified of being discovered, bitten by ants, crawled over by spiders, afraid to move or breathe.

The voices entered the house, then two naked young men came out holding hands. One must be Zeno, she surmised. Who the other was she had no idea, no one having told her that Stephen had unofficially adopted Cador. Even Violet had to admit they were handsome. They dived in, chased each other through the water then dragged themselves out and lay wrestling on the side of the pool. At least it looked like wrestling until she realised they were kissing. She tried to be shocked, but no suitable emotion arrived. They were beautiful—there was no other word to describe the lithe, golden brown young men locked in an embrace more sexual than anything she had ever experienced in her own life. She wanted to cry.

The urge to weep turned to despair greater than she could ever have imagined possible when Stephen, naked, looking wonderfully fit, lean and handsome, appeared with a woman as slim and healthy as he. They watched the young men, smiled, then they too kissed and the woman fondled Stephen's penis, causing him to have an erection. He laughed, completely at ease. The youths looked across and joined in the laughter.

'Stephen, you're a randy old goat,' the taller youth called.

'You're just jealous you can't keep up with your elders, Zeno' Stephen replied before diving cleanly into the pool, followed by the woman.

At that moment Violet wanted to die. She had never touched Stephen's penis. Never aroused him or fondled his erection. He had asked her to pleasure him in the first months of their marriage, but a severely Catholic upbringing had made that impossible. Sex was dirty. It was a mortal sin to engage in sexual intercourse unless it was for making children. However the thought of children was nauseating to her. The idea of Stephen forcing his flesh into her private and sensitive parts, causing a parasite to grow inside her body, had triggered an hysterical reaction that terrified her husband.

On returning from their honeymoon they agreed to have separate bedrooms until she overcame her revulsion. She never did, and only now did she realise what she had missed—what Stephen had missed! That was perhaps the hardest thing to acknowledge. She had always thought of herself as a caring, compassionate woman, administering God's will, but the truth was suddenly obvious. She had been cold, unfeeling and unreceptive to the warmth and love of a wonderful man. And now it was too late. She had lost him forever.

After what seemed an age the laughing couples wandered into the house. Noisy conversation, the clink of plates and cooking smells only added to Violet's misery.

Thirsty, hungry, aching, itching and sick at heart, she wriggled from the shrubbery and massaged her painful varicose veins, then sat in utter wretchedness until it was dark enough to pass in front of the house and regain the roadway. By the time she arrived at the spot they'd left Amanda's vehicle she was too exhausted to even cry on discovering it was gone. Stoically, she set off to plod the five kilometres back to the city. At least it was mostly downhill.

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