He watched her leave the schoolyard.

He had watched her every day that week. Secreted behind the hedgerow near the bottom of the paddock, he was well hidden amongst the bush.

His trousers were caked in mud from kneeling in his rain-soaked hide. He shook some water from his uncovered head and looked about the scrubby paddock.

From the top roadway near the school, the sloping overgrown paddock didn’t look as though it would provide much cover.  But once you were down the slope past the scraggy row of dying she-oaks, the shrubbery, thickets and rambling blackberry could hide anything.



*        *        *



He looked up towards the sparsely tarmaced top roadway leading from the school. It trailed along the ridgeline, past the row of terraced houses, turned down a further slope to become the High Street, and then carried on along to the railway square.

The serrated house roofs a flat black silhouette against the darkening grey of the winter sky, like smooth jet saw-teeth, no definition, no details, standing as a picket, protecting and enclosing the paddock.  

He turned to look down the slope, down the winding earthen path, now muddy after the rain, following the snaking footway until it disappeared amongst the thicker bracken at the bottom of the railway embankment.  He lifted his eyes to the embankment, dimly aware of the glistening rails and still-dripping stanchions.  Beyond the stanchions, even though it was still early afternoon, the sky was night-time black except for the thin white stripe where the storm seemed to have pulled itself from where it had been glued to the smudged procession of hills that lay on the horizon.  

He didn't notice the hills, or the intriguing white scar between the heavens and earth, he didn't really notice the rail-line, or even the storm, although he was aware that he was drenched to the skin.  He'd have to remember to bring an anorak next time… if it didn't happen today.  He crouched back into his hide to watch out for her.

She passed within six feet of him as she sauntered along the path that led down to the railway embankment. He continued to watch her as she made her way along the road, heading for the station where she would catch the 3.45 home.  She was sixteen, blond long hair held back in a school-rules correct ponytail.  He bet that it must hang down below her shoulders when it was released from the restraining elastic bands.  

He watched her sun-tanned legs as she moved flowingly, like a long-legged cat along the path. He watched those long legs as they flowed from below her very short school uniform down to the tops of the rolled-down white socks... long, long legs.

He moistened his lips with his tongue. His mouth had become very dry, and his breath short as he watched her. He steadied himself, ready to follow her.

He edged closer to the path, took a deep breath and just as he was about to step out she stopped and turned her head back in the direction from which she came.

He peered through the foliage and saw a gaggle of schoolgirls running along the path towards her.

Their high shrill voices reached him.  "Hey, Jenny, stop! Wait for us!"   He was close enough to her to hear her sigh.  

He slowly retreated back into the underbrush,  Tomorrow my pretty.. tomorrow.   He crouched in the bushes for a while listening to Jenny's friends as they caught up to her.

"Hey, Jenny, you shouldn't be walking through here by yourself, remember what Sister Beatrice said."

"Yeah," shrilled a short black haired girl with large tortoise-shelled glasses that magnified her eager eyes as they surveyed the surrounding bush.  He crouched even lower.  "Yeah, remember they haven't caught that fellow yet.  And they say that he raped her before he stabbed her.  Well they do Narelle, that's what they say. Raped her, he did."

Jenny tossed her ponytail about as she swung around and began to walk once more towards the railway embankment.  "Well, that doesn't worry me," she said haughtily. "I've always walked this way to the station and I'm not about to change just because some silly little girl from Year Eight got herself killed."

"But Jenny," the short black haired one panted. "He raped her."

"Well you needn't worry about that Pamela. No-one's that desperate that they're going to rape you," the red-haired Narelle sneered as she hefted her backpack onto her shoulders. "Hang on, Jenny I'll walk with you."

The black-haired one looked around the bush anxiously and then scurried to catch up with the rest of the group.  "Well, I'll come with you, too.  But my dad reckons the girl from our school wasn't the first one, you know.  He reckons that it was the same fellow that killed those three girls over at Parkvale."

From his concealed site amongst the bushes he had to strain to hear the girls as they disappeared down the track towards the embankment.  He could just make out the faint voice saying, ".. and they were raped, too.."  He crept from the bushes and slowly walked in the opposite direction.  Tomorrow.


*        *        *



"Terry," his mother called from the kitchen, "is that you?"

"Yeah, Mum. It's me," he smiled as he tramped inside from the rear veranda. He continued through the kitchen, his mother eyeing the track of muddy footprints that followed him.

"What am I going to do with him?" she sighed.  Terry's father looked up from his evening newspaper, and placed his teacup back on the kitchen table.  "Do with who?" he asked.

Alone in his room he stripped off his sodden clothes, tossing them carelessly into the corner. He stood naked in front of his mirror as he towelled himself dry, watching himself intently in the dark glass. He liked the full-length mirror on the ancient second hand wardrobe, the darkness of it emphasised his own dark colouring. Black lanky hair tossed across his brow.. dark brooding eyes, not black but as deep a brown as they could be before you called them black. And even though his skin was by contrast very white, the mirror gave it an even smoky tan. He dropped the towel, and in front of his dark mirror he flexed his muscles. Tomorrow, Jenny, I'll do it tomorrow..


*        *        *



The pale wintry afternoon sun struggled to cast some drying warmth over the paddock. The ground was still sodden from yesterday's rain, and in patches the underbrush still dripped it's horde of captured raindrops. The occasional plopping of raindrops in a puddle underneath the brush seemed extraordinarily loud in the silence of the tangled domain. The insects, the bees and the midges, hadn't yet returned to fuss around the decaying weeds.

From the roadway an infrequent motorcar broke the pervading silence with a low distant roar and the swish of it's passing. He could hear himself breathe, he could hear his heart beat, thumping against his chest, steady, strong. He felt proud that it wasn't racing, but continued to beat a steady, confident rhythm. His breathing was steady, controlled.  Today he wasn't scared. Excited, yes, but not trembling like he had when he had waited before.  He crouched beneath the bushes, and waited.

He heard the school-bell ring, its echo rolling over the paddock and back again.  He looked up the slope towards the roadway.  Although he couldn't see the actual road, he focused on the cutting where the path emerged over the ridge, trailed down past the she-oaks and meandered down the slope through the underbrush. He would see anyone coming down the path long before they reached the point parallel with his hidey-hole, long before they came close. He waited, looking out for her.

Presently he heard faint voices cascading over the edge of the ridge, their young shrill tones floating over the bramble to him.  They faded, and then floated towards him again, now from the direction of the terraced houses.

He waited for what seemed like ages, but there were no more voices, no one came down the path. A drop fell from a higher branch, splattering on his dark hair, breaking the spell, breaking his concentration on the path. He looked around.

The paddock was empty… no life, desolate, no breath of wind stirring the foliage… dead, empty. He felt so much a part of it, and he was reluctant to leave. The 3.45 train clattered along the tracks on the embankment, shattering the peace, blowing it apart with the moaning wail of it's air-horn, blowing an obscene raspberry over the paddock. The wind of the train's passing breathing over the bushes, stirring them, giving them life.

Now he needed to leave. He felt that maybe he might wander the streets, even venture into some adjoining suburbs, before going home. He crawled from the underbrush and climbed the path to the road. The sky was darkening as he brushed past a bush and another raindrop dripped. It ran down his cheek. It was supposed to be today.


*        *        *



"Oh, Terry, do wipe your feet before you go upstairs."

"Sure, Mum, sure.  Oh, hi, Dad."

"Hello, son, been out again?  Don't know what you get up to wandering around until this time of night."

"Come on, love, leave him alone.  Our Terry's a good boy.  Don't you go picking on him."

"I weren't picking on him, I were just making conversation, weren't I, lad?"

"Sure, Dad.  I'm just going up to clean up before supper."

Terry's mother turned back to the kitchen bench, and chopped some vegetables with the large, sharp kitchen knife, whilst his Dad went back to reading the late edition evening newspaper.

"Hmm, been another rape and murder over at Parkvale," he observed.

"Hmmm." Terry's mother replied distractedly.


*        *        *



The rain had returned during the morning, but now in the afternoon the storm had moved away to the west. The black clouds hung menacingly above the hills, blocking the weak rays of the winter sun. Shadows deepened within the paddock, and under the bracken where he crouched it was almost night-time dark. He heard the school bell ring, its echo dulled in the rain-laden gully. He waited, looking out for her.

He tensed as he saw her hesitate at the gap on the ridge, and then with a quick glance behind her, she made her way down the path past the dying trees, and on down the winding muddy path towards him.  She came abreast of his hiding place, and he jumped out onto the path beside. She screamed.

"Oh, Terry Jones!  You didn’t half scare me!  What are you doing hiding in the bushes like?"

"I've been looking out for you, Jenny. I mean, I been wanting to ask you, whether, you know, whether you'd like to, um, say come out with me. You know, like to the movies or something."

"You mean a date?"

"Yeah... yeah. I think you're really pretty, Jenny. And maybe, you know, we could like get to know each other."

She looked him up and down, and then smiled. "Yes, Terry. Yes, I'd like that.

“Tomorrow then?”

“Yes, that would be nice,” replied Jenny.

With a huge smile, Terry turned to go.

His heart was thumping with excitement as he headed home. Then something seemed to stir in the air. Something troubling. He turned, but there was no sign of Jenny. She couldn’t have reached the High Street already, surely? He thought he saw a bush moving by the side of the road. But he couldn’t be sure.

Then the storm returned…