I originally wrote a set of five fantasy stories as my final assessment assignment at UTS in 2003. This was one of the stories. The tutor liked it, but felt it needed more detail and backstory regarding who “they” were. I didn’t agree then, and I still don’t. It is an open-ended story, in a similar style to Stephen King. The reader can let the story rest there, or create their own story on the mystery of the disappearance. In fact, if the mood took me – or takes me, for that matter – I could write a story that goes right back to the beginning. But I don’t like to rob a reader of their own imagination, their own ability to place themselves within the story. I don’t believe a writer always has to tell the complete story!
Andrew Terence Lonegan disappeared at approximately 7.18am, on that very ordinary Saturday morning. Newspapers had been delivered – some made their destination near the front door; yet others hid in garden beds, behind trees or wherever Matt Driver threw them as he made his rounds on his bicycle. You could imagine the scowls of the supposed recipients already as they searched them out to read, over their morning coffee. The milkman had been and gone, in a clank of bottles and a plume of backfired smoke from his old delivery van. With the chill now gone from the morning air, it was indeed a very ordinary Saturday.
We can be fairly sure it was about that time because Joe Dickson, out walking his dog Jackson as usual in the morning, passed by at 7.15am, and saw Andy doing a morning stretch on the verandah of their Ivy Street home. Joe was sure it was 7.15. He had taken a look at his watch, somewhat surprised that Andy, a notorious late-riser, was out and about at such an early hour.
We know that he was still there at 7.16, when Joanna, his mother (and a habitual watcher of the digital clock in their neat, laminex dominated kitchen) had called to him from the hallway, asking if he wanted a cup of tea. He had answered in the affirmative, and she had returned to the kitchen to place the kettle on the stove. At 7.19am, Steve Dobson, a local deliveryman, had been delivering an express package to the Sheens, who lived adjacent to the Lonegans. He had written the time on his delivery docket, and glancing across the road as he came back out the gate, he was sure he would have noticed if anyone stood on the verandah. It was empty!
At 7.20am, Joanna carried a cup and saucer, with a Twinings tea bag label draped neatly onto the saucer, onto the verandah. Andy loved a morning cup of ‘Russian Caravan’. As she carefully pushed her way around the squeaky screen door, she noticed that he wasn’t there.
Nor was he about to return!
There was much conjecture around town over the next couple of days as to what everyone thought had happened to Andy – and much quiet blustering from those who said they knew! Being a small white-washed country town, everyone was an expert, and had an opinion. Over at the Post Office, Joyce Mathers claimed, in her prim behind-her-hand way, that he had fallen in love, and had eloped with a lady friend. The reason for the elopement was, according to Joyce, a bid at freedom by Andy from the clutches of the very possessive Joanna. This was also the way Joyce would have liked it to have been, having her own name prefixed by a Miss, and being well past the age when she should have retired. It was a constant rebuttal to her of her inability to find a partner in a town where primness was associated with spinster. In larger places, rumours of lesbian may also have been bandied about, but Joyce would have defended herself, saying loudly to all who would listen that her very close friendship – they were almost inseparable –with her neighbour, Tilly Mason, was just that – a close friendship. If you wanted to snicker at Joyce’s defensive tirades, make sure you were well away from the Post-Office, cause she could be a mean bitch when crossed. When asked why none of the local ladies had disappeared as well, she simply threw a mysterious smile, and shrugged her thin shoulders. Could have been a young thing passing through, she ventured, but by this time, whoever she was talking to would have collected their parcel, or stamped their mail, and probably, with their eyes turned heavenward, would have quickly exited the Post Office, leaving Joyce to her romantic fancies.
George Stokes, the local mechanic, liked the idea of a kidnapping. The fact that the Lonegans didn’t have two pennies to rub together didn’t seem to come into the equation. Nor did the fact that there was no earthly reason why anyone would want to kidnap Andy, leaving his mother in the deepest despair. Besides, surely either Joe or Steve would have noticed somebody hanging around, or a strange vehicle on the street! If there had been a struggle, and everyone agreed that Andy wouldn’t have been taken quietly, then nothing had been heard. George eventually found himself talking to thin air, as no one even bothered to consider his opinion. He continued, nonetheless, to believe in his theory.
Now Greg Barnes had a theory that everyone at least listened to. In fact, most of the towns’ people thought he was closest to the mark. It didn’t matter that he propped up the local bar from opening to closing, and had been doing so for so long now that a corner if the bar held his name. Sometimes the greatest words of wisdom came from the most unlikely people, and if ever there was an unlikely philosopher in this town, then Greg fitted the mould. He reckoned that Andy had, plain and simply, run away from home. Everyone knew Joanna clung to the boy tighter than ivy tendrils, smothered him with so much motherly love and devotion that it was a wonder he could even breathe. There was no way that Joanna would ever allow any other woman near her son, as that would have been competition, the ultimate battle for possession. That she lived for Andy no one disputed, though many felt that Andy stayed more from obligation – and the fear of what Joanna would do if he left – than affection. He was at an age where freedom and a life of his own would have been foremost in his mind, and though nobody doubted that he loved her, he wouldn’t want to be spending his life in this nowhere town. He was a smart boy, and quite a good looker – as his daddy had been – and the fact that many of the local girls had their eyes on him would not have been enough to keep him confined here. Knowing this just made Joanna even more clutchy, and her devotion had become almost an obsession.
Knowing this to be the case, 13-year-old Ben McGeogh, the neighbour to the left of the Lonegans, phoned around all his friends from school and arranged to meet them in the local park. Young Ben had a story of murder and mayhem to convey, and he wanted a captive audience for his tale. When the four youngsters – Sally Jacobson, Damien Durese, Shane Tolliver and Andy Froman – gathered on a bench under a willow tree in the park, Ben was winding up for the yarn of his life. He was privy to the most intimate details, he claimed. He knew Joanna had murdered Andy, and he was sure he had heard digging in the basement of the Lonegan house the night before the disappearance. He was sure that this was Joanna digging a hole to put the body of her poor, unfortunate son into. Ben knew that Andy had been seeing Selena Jackson, the school principals daughter, and that Joanna was not happy about that arrangement. In a fit of sheer jealousy, Joanna had hit Andy over the head that morning. Had, indeed, managed to pick a split-second interval when nobody was looking. She had dragged him down the hallway, down the stairs from the kitchen to the basement, and had buried him. She then quickly returned upstairs, got a bucket of hot, soapy water and a mop, had cleaned up the gallons of blood that had poured out of poor Andy’s smashed in head, than acted as if nothing had happened. The group of four sat under the tree, bug-eyed, transfixed by this tale of blood and gore. Ben sat back, satisfied that he had impressed them greatly with his story, with the intimate details that only he knew. His request that they wait until Joanna went out to the local store, then they would all break into the house and dig up the body, was met with horrified stares. No bloody way were they going to dig up no dead body! What if he really wasn’t dead! What if he reached up his arms from the grave and grabbed them as they went to pull him out! What if he had dug himself out of the grave and was just waiting, hiding in a dark corner, for someone to come down! What if he wanted revenge! All four of Ben’s friends faced the prospect of many sleepless nights to come, and they all went out of their way to cross over the road when approaching the Lonegan house, and went out of their way to avoid running into Joanna.
Selena Jackson was, apart from Joanna, perhaps the saddest of all the town folk, and the only one who truly missed Andy. They had been dating for 8 months now, though Andy had gone out of his way to make sure his mother never found out – or so he thought. Selena understood his reasons, though it made her doubtful of just where their relationship was going to go. Andy was a wonderful man, and Selena found him both a kind and considerate lover, and her mental equal. She knew for a fact that in a town like this, her chances of encountering that combination in anybody else was about zero. Andy had talked about getting out of the town; about going to the city and attending a university. As they lay quietly on the rumpled sheets in Selena’s bedroom, the scent of love-making still in the air, a sheen of perspiration still drying on their bodies, he planned a life far from this small town, a life of uncomplicated simplicity and peace. He wanted to be a lawyer, and though his mother knew of his ambition, she wanted him to get a job in the town, to settle down and raise a family in the area he had been raised in. Selena knew that he wanted a wider view of the world, and he had, in fact, asked her if she would go with him. Up until his disappearance, she had been seriously considering the offer. If fact, even with Andy gone, she could see the wisdom in escaping this choking place. What hope was there here for youth! She hoped Andy had just run away; had just found his mothers enveloping arms to smothering, and he had just run; run far and fast. She suspected that this was not the story. She was sure he would have at least said goodbye to her; would have spent one last night in her intimate embrace. Because he hadn’t said goodbye, Selena thought that he would probably come back, and if that was the case, she wanted to wait for him. If she had been given the gift of prophecy, she may never have made that decision.
Joanna was the only one in the town who knew what really happened. She held that truth close to her breast. It was bad enough that they had taken her husband as well, though the town scandalmongers still insisted that he had run away with that hussy who had been passing through town at the time. They had snuck in during the day, and taken her John away, the only man she had ever loved. She had been waiting for this day, just as her mother had waited, and her mother before her. It was the deal. It had been made in a time long ago, and despite crossing oceans, moving from country to country, from city to city, from town to more remote town, they always found them, always bound them back to the promise. The women were safe, but the men were doomed. A debt from ancient times was still being repaid. She didn’t know how they had got here, or even where they hid. They could be in the very garden that surrounded her home, could be in the very air she breathed. All she knew was that the debt had been paid. They would leave her alone now, as there was no longer anything left to give. She was sad that Selena would never have her son as a husband. He would have been a good husband, just as her John had been. The two of them would have had beautiful children, and then the curse would have gone on. They were an impatient lot, and this was why they had taken Andy long before his time. They were scared that he would escape, he would get away, and that they would have to continue the chase again into the future. They would not be upset that there were no men left alive to take away. They were far from their home, and had been for several generations now, and they hated it here! She didn’t know how she knew this, she just did. They hated it here, and wanted to return to their own place.
Joanna got up off the verandah chair. The cup that had held the tea on the day of Andy’s disappearance still sat here, the cold, black liquid a testament to his going. She picked up the cup, and opened the screen door. On a quick breath of wind that followed her through, she thought she heard a faint laugh, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. Perhaps it was just the spring on the door. Sighing deeply, she entered into the twilight cool of the house.