A low, crunching noise reverberated from the road as the car’s thick wheels powered through the dust and gravel. This irregular rhythm was almost therapeutic to hear as each member of the family wallowed in their own myriad of thoughts, the conversation having trailed off about two hours north of Sydney.
Damien’s hands gripped the steering wheel firmly to avoid losing control over bumps as the farm scenery rushed by them; endless meadows holding all manner of livestock, a scent of manure accompanying them. The farm they were travelling to had become obsolete and the owner, Damien’s father, had hastily sold it for well below its worth to Damien, who had never been keen on the agricultural life. The farm was to be turned into a holiday house for his family so he and Maria could recover from the crushing workload of city desk jobs and his children could wander the fields to please their blossoming desire for adventure and ensure that they young bodies were thriving with the endless energy of youth.
The car ground to a halt on the long driveway and the family stepped out as one, the three kids recoiling from the crushing heat which was made even more overwhelming by the roar of millions of crickets, tucked away from sight inn the dark green melee of the bush. Minutes later they had lugged their suitcases inside and in the cool of the house, Damien’s attention was captured by his childhood bedroom. A red ribbon from an athletics carnival many years ago was pinned above the bed, a selection of spy novels scattered on the bedside table, and Damien knew that if he opened his desk drawers he would still find Juliette’s love letters from when he was 13. The room had remained completely untouched since he had left at the invincible age of 19.
Maria padded quietly down the hallway; the varnished floorboards cool to the touch in the house which was a sanctuary from the hot sun. She didn’t want to disturb her family as she could hear the soft tumble of her children’s voices quizzing their father on every item in his room, especially intrigued by the loose floorboards in the southern corner of the room which used to hide sherbet lemons from Piccard’s Sweets in town. She knew there was one object in there which he would not speak about, the photo of him and Jasper resting in the shade of the willow beside the Agnes Creek on the day his brother met his premature end. The children had seen the photo many times, but they were yet to ask him who the boy pictured hugging his waist was, they had never heard the story of their Uncle Jasper.
After an hour of intense questioning, the curious minds of Ned, Ella and Aiden became distracted by the allure of the unexplored terrain outside and after applying copious amounts of sunscreen they were released into the wild with strict instructions to return before dinner. Damien stretched out on his bed alone and allowed a relaxed sigh to escape him. For the most part he was...