Hud hitched his
dilapidated rucksack higher onto his shoulder as he stood staring at the
façade of Claudel, the grand old house before him.
Ivy trailed over
masonry outer walls, the front marble steps were steeped in mould, the
delicately framed picture windows layered in many years worth of
storm-splattered mud, the multi-gabled grey roof was now missing tiles and the
gutters were filled with rotting leaves.
But even the
decade worth of invading shabbiness couldn’t stop the memories of sunny days
spent with his Aunt in the big house from melting into one another; a dozen
summers during which his parents took off on adventures to far flung lands to
authenticate new discoveries about old civilisations, leaving him behind. He
pictured himself lying in the cool grass at the side of the house reading Aunt
Fay’s original editions of The Chronicles of Narnia wishing himself a
faun, or a lion, or even better, one the four Pevensie brothers and sisters
taking part in adventures. Together.
He sniffed in
deep through his nose, then leaving the house and her deluge of memories for
later he hooked a sharp left to head into Claudel’s colossal garden only to
discover far sorrier disarray.
What had once
been a perfect green lawn littered with croquet arches and bordered by a
dramatic garden boasting random marble sculptures worthy of any gallery, was
now overgrown weed-infested chaos. Once immaculately clipped conifers were
now untamed, with patches torn apart by storms leaving raw-looking wounds.
Chickweed, blackberries, and roses ran wild. Any patch of grass still visible
through the shrub was littered with wild daises. Had Aunt Fay been alive to
see how much he’d let the place go, she would have screamed bloody murder.
But after the
initial shock wore off, Hud began to notice the air had been made pungent with
a rich floral scent, and through the gaps in the brush bees and wattle dust
floated on the hazy summer air. As a photographer for Voyager Enterprises,
for both their documentary TV channel and magazine, he’d shot the gardens of
queens, rainforests which by now had been demolished, and thick, viny,
mystical swamps protected by rednecks with guns. But this place was so out of
control, so uncontaminated and crazy beautiful, Hud’s throat clogged with some
He cleared his
throat, shoved the feelings down deep inside of him where he’d kept every
other come-from-out-of-nowhere and too-hard-to-deal-with-right-now feeling
that had threatened to expose him over the past couple of months, and moved
on, forward through the undergrowth, not much caring that branches scratched
at his hands, or that his jeans collected spiky thorns. It only brought back
more memories of trailing Aunt Fay’s crazy Irish wolfhound through the same
gardens as the dog in turn had chased invisible air sprites.
Through a gap in
the seemingly never-ending wilderness, Hud was blinded by a pinpoint of
light. He held up a hand to shield his eyes and tugged his rucksack through
the heavy brush until he found himself face to face with the old pool house.
tugged at the corners of his mouth and pressed against the backs of his tired
eyes as echoes of more long forgotten recollections tickled at the corner of
his mind. Dive bombing. Performing pretty darned legendary back flips off
the diving board. Lying on his back in the water for hours simply watching
clouds shift past the pitched glass roof, wondering if his mum and dad looked
up if they would see the same clouds while trekking some thrilling spot on the
other side of the world.
Back then he’d
been full of hope and plans that when he grew up, when he was old enough to
set out on his own life adventure, then he’d finally understand what all the
fuss was all about. Why it had been so easy for his parents to leave him
behind. He wondered when all that impenetrable hope had become frustration.
When anticipation had become cold knowledge. When he had grown up after all.
Had it been
hiding with only his camera for company beneath a bush for eighteen hours in
the middle of a shootout in in Bosnia when he was barely twenty-one? Waking
to find that his team had been abandoned by their guide at Base Camp on K2
on his twenty-sixth birthday? Or when he’d woken in a London hospital less
than two months earlier barely strong enough to ask for a glass of water?
He levered his
heavy rucksack to the ground, and left it where it lay. Claudel was fifty
metres off the road, behind a ten foot brick wall, and a ten minute walk
through a pine forest to the nearby township of Saffron. If anybody was lucky
enough to find his shabby old khaki bag they were welcome to the raggedy
clothes, and just as threadbare passport within. It wasn’t as though he’d be
needing them to head through a different kind of wilderness with his trusty
Nikon camera slung over one shoulder and a hunting knife slung over the other
with his team of documentary filmmakers at his back any time soon.
He cricked his
neck, pressed his hands into the tight small of his back and glanced upwards
to find brilliant red bougainvillea creepers seemed to have swallowed half the
long building, leaving the hundred odd remaining white-framed glass panels
that had survived the tests of time, thick with dust and mould. He could only
hazard to guess how foul the inside might be after not having been blessed by
a human touch for a good ten years.
‘If memory serves
correctly...’ he said out loud, the sound of his voice raspy and deep in his
ears after hours of non-use. Then he made his way around the back of the
building to find the door was ajar, at an odd angle, askew on rusted hinges,
as though it had been yanked open.
Instinct born of
years spent stepping unannounced into dark, secret places he stepped quietly -
toe to heel - over a small pile of worn broken glass and inside the pool house
where his feet came to a giveaway scraping halt of boot soles on tessellated
The pool house
was clean. The mottled green tiles around the margins sparkled and the dozen
white marble benches were spotless. Miniature palm trees in plant boxes
edging the length of the room were luscious with good health. And the water
in the pool shimmered dark and inviting against the black-painted concrete
A sound broke
through Hud’s reverie. A soft ripple as water lapped gently against the edge
of the pool. And he was hit with the sense that something was about to break
the dark surface. He held his breath, squared his stance, squinted into the
shadows and watched in practised silence as...
A mermaid rose
from the depths.
everything seemed to slow; his breaths, his heartbeat, the dust floating
through shards of sunlight, as the nymph waded through the water, away from
him, leaving a trail of leisurely wavelets in her wake.
over hair the colour of brandy. It ran adoringly over pale, lean, youthful
arms. And as she swayed up the steps, water gripped to her willowy form as
long as it could before cruel gravity claimed it back to the dark depths.
Hud felt like he
ought to avert his gaze. Like he was too old, too cynical, too jaded to be
allowed such a vision. But those same qualities only meant that his curiosity
far outweighed his humility, and his eyes remained riveted to the back of the
Once she was land
bound her hair sprang into heavy waves that reached all the way to the small
of her back, covering the expanse of skin not so covered by her simple
swimsuit. It was functional. Black. One piece. But with its low cut back
and high cut leg the whole thing was just sexy enough that Hud’s pulse beat so
loudly in his ears he feared she might hear it too.
Her feet made
soft slapping sounds as she padded over to grab a soft peach-coloured
paisley-patterned towel draped over the far marble bench, revealing a bundle
of clothes beneath.
She then lifted a
foot and bent over to run the soft towel down one leg. One long lean leg that
went all the way to the floor. A drip of sweat slithered slowly down Hud’s
When she repeated
the move with the other leg, her movements relaxed and unhurried, he closed
his eyes and swallowed to avert the risk of coughing on his suddenly dry
She lifted the
towel and ran it slowly over her hair, wringing out the bulk of the moisture,
kicking out her right hip as she did so. Several golden beams of light
slicing through the windows above picked up the rich colour of her dark red
hair. Dappled sunshine played across her milky skin like a caress. And all
Hud could think was that if this wasn’t a moment that needed to be captured on
film for all eternity, then he didn’t know what was.
He was so taken
the aesthetics, mentally calculating focal length and film speed, that he
didn’t actually notice her begin to spin to face him until it was too late.
She turned. She
saw him. And she screamed.
And he didn’t
half blame her. He hadn’t shaved in a fortnight. He was wearing clothes
better suited to a London winter than to the thirty degree Melbourne heat.
And she was
trespassing on his land and by the looks of the place had been for some time.