All this week, Kill Your Darlings is showcasing extracts from this year’s KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award shortlist. Designed to support the development of an early-career author, the Award offer $5000 prize money and mentorship with industry professionals. The following extract comes from Nicole McAlinden’s shortlisted manuscript, ‘Little Did I Know’.
Fliss’ life in Green Brook is quiet and safe – the government’s No Second Chances crackdown on crime doesn’t really affect her small farming town. That is until the shock arrival of a young man on the run, who knows her secret. Albey is the child Fliss illegally terminated two decades before, implanted into female prisoners in the remote and forgotten West Australian mining town of Barren Creek. Not knowing who to trust and with Albey’s captors on their tail, Fliss flees Green Brook and follows Albey to Barren Creek, where she uncovers the startling truth behind the detention and exploitation of both women and unborns, risking her own freedom in the process.
‘Damn it!’ Fliss pressed down hard on the kitchen soap dispenser, to no avail. She glanced at her upturned palms, blackened and waxy from checking on her newest lambs. Her slim fingers looked aged, the creases and valleys highlighted by traces of dirt, sealed to the skin by lanolin. Black grit lay embedded beneath her nails.
She reached for the soap refill from the laminex cupboard beneath the sink, poured liberally onto her palms and scrubbed with the scrutiny of a surgeon. It was still early. The sticky sweet scent of acacias drifted in and she inhaled. She’d never tire of that smell. Through the window she could see small clusters of green buds unfurl into a startling yellow.
Reaching for a clean towel to dry her hands, Fliss registered a movement down the rusty gravel driveway, beside a row of towering eucalypts. She flinched, looked again. What was that? A rabbit perhaps? Though she hadn’t seen one in months. Not with all the baits they laid.
Her stomach growled, demanding attention, so she made a mental note to tell Roger over breakfast and began carving the home-made bread and slotting slices into the toaster. Watching and waiting, she allowed herself to slow in the moment. She loved this time of morning, before the air became tarnished by exhaust from the tractor coming to life, or the reawakening of sheep manure in the warmth of day.
She settled her gaze on the fragile, grey skeleton of a seahorse lying on the window sill. The sockets where the eyes once were, now lifeless voids. Its delicately curling bone structures were beautiful, she thought. They’d shatter so easily in her fingers, if she wasn’t careful.
She loved this time of morning, before the air became tarnished by exhaust from the tractor coming to life, or the reawakening of sheep manure in the warmth of day.
Soon, the smell of bread toasting filled the kitchen. It was the smell of mornings, and of home. She took the butter and marmalade from the fridge, then leaned on the bench, still waiting, lengthening her gaze along a stretch of pasture where the land fell away at just the right angle without interruption, allowing sight all the way to the boundary fence. Years ago she hated those black metal bars, so different from the fence that used to be there when she was young. Short timber poles, connected by mesh metal wire. She remembered helping her parents replace the rotten timbers, red gum boots on feet, toy spade in hand. There was a whole world of life on those poles, furry green mosses, ants scurrying, and spiders spinning webs. But now when she looks at those metal bars, she’s grateful. It reminds her that they are safe. Bringing her focus closer, she glanced at the rocky outcrops dotting the pastures, then let her eyes wander to the grevilleas in the garden bed that replaced most of her Mum’s roses, and there it was again, another movement, a dark shape or perhaps just a shadow. This time, at the far side of the lawn that sprawled out in front of the house, between a golden flowering acacia and an old ghost gum. The creamy bark curled and folded down on itself in large ragged sheets until the weight of it pulled it free.
Years ago she hated those black metal bars, so different from the fence that used to be there when she was young. Short timber poles, connected by mesh metal wire.
Fliss thought of Roger. He was down by the farm shed. It couldn’t have been him. And it wouldn’t be a person. Not here. Surely.
She pressed her hand to her lips, blinked quickly, holding in her breath, trying to remember if the automatic gate at the bottom of the driveway had closed after returning from town the day before.
‘Goddammit.’ There was a blank spot in her memory that was unsettling.
The thought of the gate failing made her shiver. Gripping the edge of the bench, she leaned in closer to the bay window to look again. Thin clouds to the east glowed with just a hint of apricot, the first glimpse of morning sun, its light still too gentle to cast shadows. There was no wind. No movement anywhere. The sparse grey eucalypt branches provided little cover. If there was anything or anyone, she’d see. Surely.
‘Those trees will be the death of you,’ Roger would say. ‘You never know when they’ll drop a branch.’ His warning delivered each time a small branch fell to the ground following a storm, or a strong gust of wind. ‘Next time it’ll be a big one.’
Well, Fliss loved those trees and wasn’t about to be rid of them. But right now, she wished they weren’t there. She closed the pantry and moved to stand by the open timber kitchen door, peering through the fly screen, straining to see better, conscious of her own visibility. She focused long and hard, but nothing. Maybe she needed glasses. Or perhaps it was a fox. It was larger than a fox though. More like a man.
Fliss breathed fast, trying to hold back the sensation of something unravelling, trying to convince herself it was nothing. Stories of crime on the news didn’t affect them. The farm, at least, had always remained safe. There was nothing to worry about. Until now.
Looking out the window, Fliss felt like a fool. In a rush of adrenalin, she moved to the screen and switched it to the security vision, to see what the camera might have picked up at the gate. She fast forwarded through the last five minutes, then again, looking for a sign of what she’d seen, but nothing. Only still images of the high black gate, the occasional bird swooping past.
Stories of crime on the news didn’t affect them. The farm, at least, had always remained safe. There was nothing to worry about. Until now.
The two-way sat on the kitchen bench by the phone. She looked at it, hesitated. Maybe she was over reacting. Perhaps it was just a shadow.
Forcing herself to remain calm, she exhaled and returned to the task of preparing breakfast. Moments later, pouring water from the kettle into two cups, she sensed a presence. An almost inaudible sound near the verandah, definitely footsteps though, one slow step followed by another, as if the person were treading slowly, deliberately to prevent the crunch of sand under foot.
The winner of the 2018 KYD Unpublished Manuscript Award will be announced on 6 July.