The sky was bespeckled with tiny, glistening dots. The glowing moon illuminated the shadowy darkness of the night. All was quiet but for the rustling of the trees that shrouded the town and the distant crashing of waves against the cliffs. The town was sleeping, as it had been when each child disappeared. It had become customary to wake to a blood-curdling scream as a mother discovered her child gone, their bed empty. Elyse was glad to be awake. She feared the night. Who would disappear into it next, leaving her behind forever?
Elyse stuck a cigarette in her mouth. Shivering in the chilly air, she cupped her bruised hand protectively around the lighter’s flame as she fumbled to ignite it. She took a long drag and exhaled, drawing out the smoke. It floated in the air before her, a grey cloud. Then it flitted away, dispersing into the wind. Elyse sighed as the nicotine rushed through her bloodstream. Her light-headedness became a pleasant, comforting sensation. Holding the cigarette between two fingers, she folded her arms over her coat and surveyed the deserted street. Stonewashed and crumbling, the houses at the edge of town were abandoned. Now, only she remained beside the forest of trees that led to the cliffs.
She took another drag of her cigarette as eleven chimes reverberated from the town clock. The residents, who were accustomed to the noise, slept on. But moments later, the pattering of small footsteps neared. The Jones’ boy, Billy, appeared in the street and scurried past her towards the trees. She stared at the direction in which he had vanished. What was he doing? Did he not understand how dangerous it was to be out at night? She would have to go after him. She could not bear another disappearance. Taking one last drag of her cigarette, she flung it to the ground with slight annoyance before extinguishing it with the toe of her boot. Then, she hurried after Billy.
As she strode towards the trees, the cemented ground beneath her feet gave way to rock and dust. Staring precariously around, she wondered if the young boy had ventured elsewhere. Suddenly, she heard the distinct cracking of twigs and the crunching of dried leaves from within the trees.
Elyse stepped into the forest. Black spruce trees encircled her, rigid trunks of thin scaly bark towering up to the sky. The light breeze slipped through the virescent needle-like leaves, swirling past her and towards the sea. The trees swayed lazily, creating monsters in the shadows of the night. Through the darkness, Elyse spotted Billy. She ran after him, thrashing through the shrubbery, her coat catching on the fallen branches sprawled across the forest floor. She hurriedly yanked the coat free before sprinting after Billy, the branches grazing her flesh with tiny red scratches. Grass sprouting from cracks in the rocky ground slid against her legs, soothing the sting of the cuts with their touch. As she neared the forest’s edge, the grass withered, the shrubbery shrivelled, and the tree trunks grew blacker, their leaves drooping.
Elyse stopped. They were beyond the trees now. Rugged vertical cliffs stood precipitously over the sea, scrutinising the water. Chalky white, they glinted with the reflection of the silvery moon. Below, foamy wave crests crashed over the beach of barnacled rock against the jagged cliffs. Gazing out in wonderment at the magnificent azure water, Elyse sighed as the waves rolled and reeled over one another. She inhaled the salty sea air and smiled as the wind caressed her face.
Billy’s footsteps pulled her attention away from the tranquillity of the landscape. Peering at him closely, she only now realised that he too bore injury from the journey. His pyjamas were torn, his face raw with cuts, and his bare feet red with blood. Elyse gaped at him, perplexed. As he strode past her towards the cliff’s edge, his attention remained fixated on the horizon. Elyse staggered towards him, tripping over her own feet in her haste. She grabbed him with her outstretched hands, clinging to his nightshirt, just as he made to step over the edge.
“What are you doing?” she demanded, pulling him towards her, away from the cliff’s edge. Billy turned to face her for the first time, his eyes, as black as night, stared at her blankly. A chill skirted along her spine as she stared back at him. “Billy,” she said again, cautiously, “What are you doing here?”
This time, the boy opened his mouth to reply. “He is mine!” he shrieked like a banshee.
“What?” stammered Elyse, shrinking away from him slightly. “Billy, come back home with me.” He ignored her. She turned towards the trees, dragging Billy away from the cliff. She tightened her grip on his arm as he struggled to escape her grasp. Then, she stopped. She sensed it. A change in the atmosphere. The swallows sensed it as well, suddenly erupting from within the trees and bursting into the sky, flying higher and higher. The trees stilled their rustling, and the sea calmed. The air rippled with anticipation.
It happened all at once. Heavy grey storm clouds materialised above the cliffs, racing across the sky to obscure the moon. The air became thick with forest debris, and the waves slammed forcefully against the cliff sides as the wind roared ferociously. Elyse fell to the ground, knocked off her feet by the strong gusts. She clutched desperately at Billy, holding him tightly against her chest, as he continued his attempts to escape. Around them, the trees flailed about violently in the wind, lashing against each other, threatening to erupt from their roots. Sheets of icy rain crashed upon the ground as purple light illuminated the sky. Through the treacherous wind and rain, Elyse peered over the cliff’s edge to see a girl emerging from the ocean, her thin figure clinging to the rocky surface as she scaled the cliff wall.
“Come on, Billy!” screamed Elyse through the howling wind. She tried desperately to push him away from the cliff, but the wind and rain pulled them back, shoving them to the ground.
Elyse watched in terror as the girl hoisted her body over the edge and onto the ground, inches away from them. Water dripped off her, though her skin remained matted with dirt and grime. Her long dark hair brushed against the ground as it hung in curtains over her face, concealing it from view. The girl rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet, moving like a jack-in-the-box. Her hair moved slightly in the wind to unveil her mouth, which upturned into a chilling smile. Then to Elyse’s horror, the girl opened her mouth, and a terrifying laugh escaped. It echoed through the clearing, rebounding off the cliff walls. Elyse instantly released her hold on Billy and clasped her hands over her ears to drown out the harrowing noise. The boy did not move. He merely gazed at the girl, awestruck.
Someone must have woken, thought Elyse. Someone must have heard. Someone will come.
The girl lunged at her. Scrambling on top of Elyse, she grabbed her head and pushed it up to face her. Elyse trembled as the girl wrapped a hand around her throat. Squeezing tightly, the girl’s long, black nails pierced through Elyse’s skin, creating punctures in her neck. Elyse screamed silently as pain engulfed her. She desperately clawed at the girl’s hand to pull it away. The girl did not falter. Instead, she tilted her head slightly so her hair no longer hid her face.
A choked sob emanated from Elyse as she stared at the girl’s haunting appearance. Thick black veins snaked across her translucent grey skin. An abyss of darkness, her protruding eyes bled inky black tears that streamed down her gaunt face and onto her dirty nightdress. Horror-stricken, Elyse tried to kick the girl away. The girl chuckled. Bending her head low towards Elyse’s ear, she snarled in a screeching voice, harsh, like the crashing of the waves, “He is mine!”
Elyse shook uncontrollably, tears rolling down her face. Her lungs burned. Her heart slowed. Her vision grew dark. She felt herself slip away. Then, a boy’s voice pierced through the wind, drawing the attention of both Elyse and the girl.
“Where am I?” cried Billy, shivering at the cliff’s edge, his brown eyes scanning his surroundings.
The girl released her hold on Elyse and bounded towards Billy. Grabbing his arm, she pulled him towards her as she leapt off the cliff, the pair plummeting into the water with a loud crash.
The wind slowed. The rain stopped. The clouds dispersed.
All was still.
We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present and emerging. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.