Caro had lied to him. He’d believed her flirting glances, her deliberate brushing of hands. The way she always used his full name, pursing her lips sensually as she mouthed it.
Caro had laughed at him. When at last he’d cautiously responded to her advances, she’d squealed with scorn, ‘How could you ever think I’d be interested in you … ugly, sad freak that you are. It was just a joke.’
Burning with humiliation as he hid in the bike shed, Eddie’s fingers dug into his palms. A seething fury engulfed him. His vision blurred and a scarlet film heated his eyelids. It looked like blood, it felt like blood, even tasted like blood. He swallowed a few more of the pills he’d been prescribed by the doctor.
‘What are you doing with that wood, Eddie?’ His mum’s tone was distrustful, accusing.
Without stopping as he crossed the garden, he called over his shoulder, ‘Making a bookshelf.’ then muttered, ‘can’t she bloody leave me alone for a bloody minute?’
Inside the shed, he shut the door firmly and snapped down the stout wooden toggle he’d nailed at the top. He took a much folded sheet of paper from his pocket and laid it flat. Checking he’d got all the wood he needed, he sniggered. ‘You won’t be doing much laughing soon, bitch. You’ll be screaming for mercy and I’ll have you just where I want you, filthy little whore. You shouldn’t have messed with me.’
Caro had thought she’d hate living in rural Canada when the family moved from Chicago. She didn’t dream she’d be so captivated by its untamed beauty. But her city-raised Mother constantly nagged, ‘Please come straight home, Caro, and never walk on your own. Also, there are bears around and you can’t be too careful.’
‘I’ll be ok, don’t worry so much.’ Caro secretly dismissed her mother as being over-emotional and over-cautious. She and Wendy, her new friend from next door, always came home from school together. Despite the warnings though, they took the path through the wood and along the river. It was their secret. Or so they thought.
When Caro had started leading him on, Eddie began to spy on her. How often since, had he hidden and watched his goddess, dreaming of how it would be with her.
Now he had his own plan. Moving stealthily through the forest, it wasn’t long before Eddie spotted the girls sitting dangling their legs in the water. He crept up silently behind them. The baseball bat swung and knocked Wendy sideways. She didn’t move. Caro froze, staring in horror at the blood oozing from her friend’s head. Quickly, Eddie slipped a rope noose over her head and pulled. Not too hard, not just yet. Caro’s scream gurgled in her throat, her hands grappled with the rope.
A high pitched giggle erupted from Eddie. ‘Shout all you like, bitch, no one’s coming.’
Her heart twisted. ‘Eddie, what the … what the hell are you doing?’
He raised the bat, then remembered he didn’t want to harm her … not just yet. He yanked the rope compelling Caro to stand, and pulled her up the bank.
Scrabbling to keep up, her fingers grazed in the dirt. Must stay calm. Maybe I can talk him round. ‘Eddie, please let me go, the rope’s hurting me. Why are you doing this?’
‘Shaddup bitch. Just do as you’re told.’
Caro struggled and tried tugging the rope that stretched between them.
‘You know you don’t really want to hurt me. Let’s talk … ‘ He turned and lashed out at her hands, the bat thudding down on one of them. She fell to her knees clasping her wrist.
Eddie cursed and jerked the rope, ‘Goddamit, get up. Get up you piece o’ shit.’ He glowed with power. It felt good not to be on the receiving end for a change.
Caro scrambled up, the rough noose grazing her neck forcing her to keep moving. Her stomach quivered then lurched in fear. He’s lost it … if he’s killed Wendy – but please God no – then why not me? Her trembling intensified.
Then she saw the box, a rough version of a coffin, next to it, a pile of earth. Caro unravelled.
Choking and crying she pleaded, ‘Eddie, please, please let me go. Whatever I have done, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Please Eddie I’ll do anything …’
He stopped and turned to her. His face scarlet and so distorted with hatred she could barely recognise him. Through gritted teeth he spat, ‘Too late, stuck-up Queen Bitch, too late. You shouldn’t have messed with me. Now get in that box, your coffin.’
Caro felt fear impale her chest. She collapsed … shaking violently … vomiting … writhing in the dirt … crazy with terror, she moaned … and prayed.
Eddie’s shrieking laughter pierced her brain. Then she felt him on top of her, punching and hitting her, all the while shouting Beg me, beg me, again and again. Something slammed shut in her brain and she clung to the spreading dark cloud, floating into infinity.
Her head pounding and with the taste of blood in her mouth, Caro came to. Squinting into the intense darkness, she moved her hand up to touch her throbbing face. Her arm bumped something solid. She pushed against it. It didn’t give.
It was then she remembered. A sick taste of panic rose in her throat. Black shapes swivelled in front of her tightly closed eyes, ‘Oh my God, my God!’ She tried to sit up but immediately knocked her head. ‘Oh my God, he’s buried me … I’m gonna die.’ Sobbing and frantically clawing at the wood, claustrophobia overwhelming her, Caro now knew true terror. Her feral screams ricocheted in the terrible blackness of the box.
Soon exhausted, Caro lay gasping, her body running with sweat, yet she was shivering. This isn’t happening – gotta be, must be a dream – oh shit, get real. I’ve gotta get out of here … someone will find me … Wendy … oh God, Wendy. Please God, let her be ok, let her get help.
A scraping sound interrupted her gibbering. Caro listened, and the sound intensified. Someone had found her. ‘Help! Help me, for God’s sake, get me out of here.’ The sound stopped. She waited. Nothing. Whimpering, her face wet with tears and snot, she began kicking and scratching hysterically. No one responded.
It felt like a rumble, as if the earth was trembling. ‘What’s that?’ Caro peered into the darkness. It seemed lighter. Her eyes picked up a small stream of light near her feet. A surge of optimism flooded through her. ‘If I can see light, I can’t be buried.’ She kicked against the chink of light. Another shudder and Caro was jolted onto her side. Both terrified and hopeful, her throat now raw and parched, she rasped, ‘Help! Get me out of here, help me, please help me.’
More silence. Caro was confused. Why didn’t they open the box and free her? Was it Eddie playing games with her? She began hammering and shouting again, throwing herself from side to side. The box moved and then slid several feet. A snarling growl penetrated the walls. ‘Oh my God, it’s a bear.’ Waves of nausea swept over her, tears surged down her cheeks.
Suddenly she knew what she had to do. Each time she had yelled and pounded, it had gone quiet … possibly scared the bear away. She tried it once more. The box slid, more than a few feet this time, bumping over the uneven ground, then gained momentum. A chunk flew off near her feet as the small opening hooked onto something and then she was rolling over and over.
Almost unconscious at having been tossed mercilessly around in the box, Caro felt cold water seep onto her legs. She had fallen into the river. In a silent frenzy and finding extra desperate strength, she slammed her back repeatedly against the box. It cracked. She pushed with all the power she could find. The side splintered open. Caro didn’t feel the wooden shards stabbing her hands as she feverishly pulled at the broken pieces.
Without warning, a huge claw pushed through the gap.
Eddie ran back to the shed, threw the door shut behind him and collapsed in panic. She’s in mega trouble now. He’d achieved his plan to scare Caro but didn’t mean to kill her.
As he’d left the forest, intending to return in an hour or so, he’d looked back in triumph only to see a bear lumbering towards the coffin. ‘If it gets to her, she’s a gonna,’ he said aloud, fighting to think straight. ‘Maybe it won’t though. God, I can’t just leave it … have to do something.’ He made a decision, ‘Ok, across the road, he’s got guns.’
‘What’s the rush, Ed boy? Ma onto you again?’
‘Lou, you gotta help me. It’s a bear …’
That word was enough in these parts. No questions asked. The forest warden grabbed his powerful magnum shotgun and they sprinted out, Eddie leading the way. As they plunged wordlessly through the undergrowth, they heard blood curdling screams coming from the river. Several strides and Lou didn’t hesitate. He discharged the rifle into the animal. It faltered, then raised itself to full height, turned and lurched towards him. Lou reloaded and fired again. The bear staggered on then dropped within a few feet from him.
‘Quick,’ Eddie shouted, ‘get her, get her.’ Hurling themselves into the water, Lou grabbed the box while Eddie ripped the damaged planks open.
When Caro saw him, she started screaming again, ‘Get away from me, you bloody crazy weirdo. I should be dead – get away from me. Murderer.’
Lou stared at her, then at Eddie’s panic-stricken face. He shoved Eddie aside and pulled Caro from the box. ‘What’s going on here, Caro? Eddie, what the friggin’ hell’s bloody goin’ on here?’
The Australian Literature Review