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Hague Publishing
presents

Lights Over Emerald Creek

by

Shelley Davidow

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As strange lights appear in the sky over Emerald Creek, 16 year old paraplegic Lucy is drawn into a parallel universe where a newly emerging world trembles on the edge of disaster.

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The 'San Francisco Book Review' gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars and said ...

"I couldn't put this book down, and I can hardly wait to see where the author will take us next. This is a great new YA novel with an intriguing premise you won't want to miss!"

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Chapter One

Emerald Creek
North Queensland
Australia

AT SIXTEEN, Lucy believed she was a pragmatic realist, but what she’d seen twenty-four hours ago seemed to defy all logic.

It was so inexplicable that it had made the difference between wanting to die, and wanting to live.

The moon rose slowly in the east over hills that disappeared into veils of mist; it glowed huge in the humid, darkening sky.

‘Just stay back, Lucy!’

She stopped the wheelchair on the very edge of the veranda steps. Frogs filled the air with their insistent croaking. The moon vanished behind a cloud. Pine trees bent over the house like so many waving giants.

‘Dad, you’re totally crazy!’

‘Got him!’

Stephen Wright leaned forward in the dark shadow of the house and his body bent down swiftly, like a wind-blown tree over the gravel in front of the veranda steps, accustomed to bending. He had seemed eternally young to Lucy until this moment. His posture echoed the curve of the dying Eucalyptus tree behind the house. Grief shimmered just beneath his smile.

‘Wow! Handsome guy,’ he said. ‘Shine the light on him. He’s bloody enormous.’

For her admiration, Stephen held the Taipan up in the yellow light of the torch. The world’s most toxic viper was an easy catch as he lay there, all two metres of him, soaking up the heat of the sand on the gravel pathway to the house.

‘He’s not happy, Dad.’

‘No, Lu. Don’t worry. I got him good and proper by the head. But isn’t he good-looking?’

‘Yeah, really. Where’ll you take him?’

‘Operation Relocation. The bush.’

‘You’re insane, Dad!’

Stephen Wright and the deadly Taipan disappeared into the heavy Queensland night.

Stephen caught at least one a week at this time of year. He detested what he called the murder of innocents, and was firmly committed to the business of relocation. He’d been desperately upset when a guest visiting the camp three months back had used a shovel to decapitate a harmless python that had lived in their roof for years.

These days, it was easy for Stephen to sadden. Lucy wondered whether the pain would ever dissolve — for both of them.

‘The sheer cheek of it,’ Stephen had said. ‘Imagine me doing that to his bloody poodle back home! He’d have me in court. I’d prob’ly be in prison for twenty years. I’ve a mind to sue the pants off him. Ignorant bloody tourists. Honestly,’ he’d said. Lucy had felt for him, and their roof python, and agreed.

As a result, they informed all the groups visiting their nature camp that under no circumstances was anyone to touch any living creature.

Lucy Wright had been an adept snake catcher as a child. But Stephen had made her promise, long ago, to stay away from the truly venomous kind. ‘Pythons, tree snakes, all those guys, no problem,’ her dad had said. ‘There are very few snakebites every year in Australia, and most of them happen when idiots like Mr. Tourism try to kill them, or when even bigger idiots like me try to catch them.’

Lucy had had no desire to tackle snakes for a hobby. And now there was probably little opportunity. She’d always been fearless, but now she was both fearless and vulnerable.

Emerald Creek lay in a valley — a tiny hidden town that seemed, by its position, to be an apology for itself. Only fossickers and strange recluses went there on purpose. It did have a Main Street with a pharmacy, a fruit and veg shop, a butcher, a newsagent, and a Bi-Lo, where practically everything found in the other shops could be bought at half the price. It had a primary school and a high school, but everyone knew that if you wanted to achieve more than a head full of cattle, sugarcane and beer, you’d get yourself off to one of the private Catholic schools in Cairns, and board there, if necessary.

She’d been at home for two terms. Stephen had suggested it might be important to go back for her final year, after the December holidays. But she had no desire to go. It was increasingly impossible to have friends. Of course, it wasn’t anyone’s fault.

It was just that she now measured people’s worth by the amount they had suffered.

Craig Clarke’s idea of suffering, for example, was apparently limited to: one, getting his arse sunburnt whilst surfing naked; or two, driving all the way to the coast only to find the swell was less than ten centimetres. Kissing him eight months ago, on a steamy summer night under the swirling Milky Way, had been a big mistake. A mistake she wished she’d never made.

She looked up at the arc of deepening blue. She was trapped between earth and sky, a certain distance from a small town, in the middle of nowhere, on ten thousand acres. It was easy to believe in an individual’s utter insignificance.

On either side of the town, rain forest grew densely over the hills from which a river rushed down into the town, carrying flecks of gold and chips of quartz and emerald. The river meandered alongside Main Street and out into the bush again, where it became a creek. Emerald Creek ran through their ten thousand acres, before widening once more into a river that ended its journey in the Pacific Ocean.

The nature camp hosted a variety of guests from all over. Foreign tourists were hardly a rarity. What they found frequently interesting, even startling, was the late night cello music that drifted across the camp from Lucy’s bedroom.

But she hadn’t touched her cello in eight months.

Lucy had the knack of it now. One step at a time. Forget the homemade ramp from the kitchen door down to the drive. These stairs were wide enough, and not steep. It was pretty fast, she had to admit; a bit like mountain biking. She got to the bottom and rolled out onto the gravel. She could hear the crunch of Stephen’s boots heading up the drive. Geckoes made kissing noises on the veranda, and she looked up at the moon.

‘Where are you off to, Lu?’

‘The creek.’

‘It’s night, Lu.’

‘Yeah, Dad. I noticed. I’ll come back in a bit.’

His concern was palpable. She knew he wanted to say something protective. ‘It’s not a four-wheel drive, Lu,’ he said softly, pointing a thumb at the chair. Then he rubbed his chin and his eyes glistened in the night. ‘I’ll listen out for you. Yell if you need me.’

‘Okie dokie. Now get lost, Dad. You’ve done your good deed for the day.’

She felt his eyes on her back, on her long, tangled dusty blonde hair, which he now helped her wash and dry as if she were three again. She was desperate to get to the creek. After almost a year of wishing herself dead, something had happened less than twenty-four hours ago; something that was baffling enough to catch her attention. She had to return to the same spot.

Her arms were wiry and strong. She negotiated her way down the drive, over rough tufts of grass, forcing the chair to her will. The creek sparkled and reflected the moon, the mist and the stars.

Chapter Two

AN AGING paperbark tree stretched flaking arthritic fingers into the sky, and the water tumbling pebbles on its journey to the sea sounded like an elegy: soft, mournful, reminiscent. She looked behind her at the tree. The swing Stephen had put up ten years before moved slowly in the night breeze, as though supporting an invisible child.

Mist along the top of the Great Dividing Range evaporated, and the moon illuminated strips of white cloud that hung like wispy angel trails over the valley. She reached the creek and stopped the chair on uneven rocks and stones. Then, on impulse, she wheeled herself into the water until it was over her ankles.

She knew it would have been cool. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She was terrified that she’d forget — forget the sensations. Sand Island, in the middle of the creek, had turned to Mud Island after the recent rain. Imagining the feeling of dark ooze between her toes, Lucy lifted each leg off the chair, using both hands, and placed her disconnected and heavy feet into the mud. Water spiralled around her ankles. This used to feel cool and ticklish, she thought. And the mud would be starting to feel gluey, starting to suck and pull. It was all conjecture. Beyond her waist, there was a void, a black hole inhabited by foreign, heavy limbs. She leaned back to look at the stars, her heart a dead weight inside her.

High above her, the Milky Way was a splash of brilliance. Saturn was a bright object right overhead.

What she had seen a night ago had literally struck her dumb.

She’d told no one.

She wanted to know whether she’d simply been hallucinating, or whether she’d just been so tired that she hadn’t been able to make sense of what she was seeing. If it never happened again, she would put the memory away — leave it as something mysterious that would always remind her of how unreliable one’s perception of reality could be. Stars reflected as shards of light in the tumbling water. In front of her the mountains loomed, dark shapes against the night sky. The Milky Way slipped slowly towards the horizon, marking time in its nightly dance across heavens.

From here she could see the house with its golden glowing windows, indicating that Stephen was at work in his office. She could see giant shadow trees behind the house nodding and bending in a late evening wind.

She tried to imagine how, what she’d seen, could possibly be something with a clear explanation.

For the best part of an hour she waited and watched, but the only thing worth noting was that Stephen’s office light went out and the kitchen light went on.

The grass on the other side of the bank rustled. Moonlight caught small glittering eyes. Lucy grabbed her left leg and lifted it back out of the water. She did the same with her right leg and saw, but didn’t feel, that her feet were covered in mud. She negotiated the chair out of the creek and back onto the bank. Something hopped just within arm’s reach and, heart pounding, she leaned forward and caught it mid-air.

It was rough and rat-like, with small Mickey-Mouse ears and a dog-like nose. It had legs like a kangaroo. She’d caught it!

‘Bandicoot,’ she said, holding it up in the night to see its little face. ‘If I were you, I’d get going. You’re not exactly top of the food chain.’ She held him carefully so he wouldn’t bite, momentarily excited by the fact that she’d managed the catch so easily. She hadn’t lost her touch, even though she’d lost so much else.

The moon suddenly seemed too bright. The bandicoot was getting restless. She let it go quickly in the long grass in front of her.

‘What the…’ Lucy whispered as she turned her head.

Out of the darkness, without any preparation or warning, a ball of white light appeared over the water.

It hung.

No, it hovered.

She could clearly see its reflection in the creek. The edges were fuzzy and ill-defined, and it seemed to have … dimension. It was, she thought, like a giant glowing dandelion. Her hand was over her mouth and she hadn’t taken a breath. When the light shot up vertically and hung in the sky about twenty meters over her head, Lucy let out a ragged gasp.

And then it rapidly diminished in size and vanished.

‘Oh. My. Gosh. Far out,’ she whispered to the night. ‘It wasn’t a mirage. It’s not me hallucinating. It’s … something …’

Her hands trembled. She held onto every detail tightly, and committed everything to memory; the way it hovered, the fuzzy texture, the rapid speed, the height. And then she blinked.

Soundlessly, rapidly, two more lights appeared dead ahead of her. The first light, to her amazement, was the size of a small plate. It hung in the night like a massive snowy Christmas decoration. To its left, a tennis-ball-sized light glowed orange. The plate-sized one moved to the right. The orange tennis ball light followed. Lucy stared, dumbfounded. The orange light hovered over the stream. Then it drifted slowly through the air towards her. It moved right over her head and waited there.

Her dad had once told her about the Min-Min Lights several hundred kilometres away, and explained how atmospheric conditions sometimes caused faraway car lights to appear as projections high above the horizon.

‘I’ve seen them, Lu. People think they’re UFOs. As in, spacecraft with tiny green men on board. They’re no such thing.’

She tried to imagine that what she was seeing was an atmospheric mirage.

The light occupied space in such a way that, to her eyes, it completely defied the theory of car lights and projections. The nearest big city was a two and a half hours drive away. There was a single road into Emerald Creek town centre, which could be seen from the house. No cars drove that road at this time of night without being heard, and the night was silent except for the millions of ticking, croaking, rattling frogs and crickets. As she stared, the light seemed, without a doubt, to be almost solid. It resembled a small beach ball, illuminated from somewhere within. Then as she counted slowly, breathlessly, to fifty-four, she began to hear, above the pulsing insect sounds, a low hum. Or perhaps she felt it. It made her head and chest tingle, and still, the lights hung in the air in front of her, over her. She saw their reflections in the creek.

The orange light suddenly grew brighter. Then the hum stopped. Noiselessly, at lightning speed, it raced backwards along the creek, leaving a blazing trail behind it, before it stopped still, and was gone. And when she turned her head back to where the other light had been, it too had disappeared.

Chapter Three

MORNING sun glittered on the gold in the creek. Lucy cleared the breakfast things from the table and put them all into her lap. Jaffa, her Golden Retriever-Collie mongrel lay on the cool tiles, between the porch and the kitchen, twitching his eyebrows with each move she made.

She wheeled herself into the kitchen and slid the dirty dishes into a plastic tub full of warm, soapy water. Stephen understood. She wanted to continue as before, doing the jobs she used to do. So he left her the means to do them, and she wordlessly kept them up. From the window, a dust trail down the road and the grumbling echo of a car engine announced Stephen’s departure for Cairns Airport. A group was arriving; some of the participants were from the States, he’d said.

The Emerald Creek van with her dad at the wheel emerged eventually from the dust cloud, and was swallowed up after a few minutes by the distant hills and low morning cloud.

Her feet were still stained with dark mud and she tied her hair back into a knot.

‘C’mon, Jaffa. Let’s go boy.’

She was less cautious than ever rolling herself down the veranda steps. Jaffa waited, wagging his gold and black tail, a question mark on his narrow face. She said the magic word. ‘Frogs!’

Well, they weren’t frogs. He could smell out a Cane Toad and catch one, turning it on its belly and ending its life with a single bite. He didn’t eat them — they were after all pretty toxic, but he enjoyed the praise lavished on him when he presented his conquests. Lucy liked to believe she loved all creatures, but Cane Toads had to be right at the bottom of her list, along with mosquitos and leeches. She felt a twinge of conscience and acknowledged the contradiction of valuing some species above others.

Anyway, the toads were everywhere. They hadn’t eaten the cane beetles they were supposed to enjoy when they were first introduced into Australia, but they bred and spread, and competed with native wildlife for insects, and even precious bees. Sometimes after rains, the dirt roads were black with hopping toadlets. Lucy had a surreal fear that the toads would one day swamp the entire continent.

‘Get frogs, Jaffa!’ Lucy said as the chair bumped rapidly down the drive towards the creek. Jaffa raced on ahead.

Steam rose over the bush. Sweat ran in small beads down her back. She followed Jaffa along the edge of the creek upstream, her arms thin and muscular and tanned as they propelled her over the rough ground. He pounced and growled, and brought his prize to Lucy.

‘Good boy!’ she said. ‘Drop it.’ It was huge — the size of a kitten.

‘Ugh, Jaffa, that’s really pretty gross. Drop it, boy!’ He did and she patted his head.

The toad hunt deliberately followed the trajectory of the lights from the night before. She stopped next to the soft, sandy bank where the white light had hovered. The sky was reflected in the water, and because of the white sand beneath, the creek was an emerald colour — magical, translucent. Her eyes then came to rest on the sand right in front of her wheelchair, over which she was about to travel.

In the fine white grains, a delicate, six-sided geometric shape had imprinted itself, as though someone with a mould the size of a soccer ball had been playing on the banks of the stream. Only, the shape was hexagonal.

Lucy leaned closer and inspected what was in front of her. For all she knew, it could have been Craig and his buddies having a bit of fun.

Craig lived next door, although next door was a twenty minute bike ride over the hill. Until eight months ago, he’d been a hovering, exciting presence. She’d fallen for him, and watched herself with disbelief as she slowly allowed his charming, good-looking, humorous and charismatic personality to creep under her skin. She knew he pretty much expected everyone to be drawn to him. Most people were. Guys wanted to be around him because girls always wanted to be around him, and girls were because … they just were. Even as she’d assured herself that his faults were many and mostly incurable, she’d felt herself falling for him. He’d been gentle and sexy in the moonlight one night. He’d held her close, and pulled her under his spell And even as she knew it was a mistake, she’d allowed herself to be one of the approximately fifty million girls to have succumbed to his evidently Much-Practiced-on-Many-girls passionate kiss. It was a moment worth regretting forever.

She focused on the shape in front of her and wedged the chair into the sand. Gingerly she leaned forward as far as she could, and reached out with her pointer to touch the shape, but the section she touched collapsed. The six-sided mandala with a circle at its centre was visible easily because the morning sun cast shadows on the one side. By midday, Lucy guessed, with the sun overhead, it would be far more difficult to see.

It was such a delicate structure that some extremely fine implement had to have made it. The idea of her seventeen-year-old neighbour building sand castles did not exactly spring immediately to mind when she considered possible explanations.

First lights, and now, a perfect geometric shape in the sand, Lucy thought. A small butterfly of joy returned to her leaden heart. Not everything was as it seemed. And that, for now, was something.

Back at the house, Lucy contemplated the hours that stretched out, python-like, in front of her. She couldn’t wait to get in front of the computer.

Time vanished as Lucy lost herself on the internet. She quickly found a series of articles based on a New Scientist report from 2010, about two green balls of light seen descending from the sky by a Queensland farmer in 2006. But this was not the only account of strange lights that had been observed in Queensland’s skies. Missiles, rockets, meteors and atmospheric conditions were some of the explanations Lucy found for the lights. Nothing was conclusive though.

Time vanished as Lucy began to discover page after page on the internet that pointed to something profound and specific; that made her discovery seem less like an hallucination and more like a piece of a very complicated puzzle.

And then she discovered that sounds could be made to vibrate grains of sand or salt, creating geometric patterns, something called ‘cymatics’. Questions multiplied in her head. For the first time in months a delicate flower of anticipation began to unfurl inside her.

Chapter Four

THE more Lucy read, the more fascinated she became. In the USA, a young woman had done some experiments with cymatics using a metal tray, sprinkled with salt, hooked up to a microphone. As she sang different notes into the microphone, the vibrations caused the salt to arrange itself in intricate geometric patterns across the metal tray. The most interesting website belonged to someone called Jonathan Barkley, who also went by the name of Cymaticsguy. Jonathan, who apparently lived in Scotland, had experimented with sand, exposing the sand on a glass plate to various vibrations of different wavelengths. His short films of his experiments mesmerized Lucy and she found herself wanting to talk to him. She found his contact details at the top of his webpage and emailed him.

Chapter Five

LUCY was lost in cyberspace for ages. She was in the midst of attempting to think up words that would adequately describe what she’d found, and ask the right questions, when a loud insistent knocking on the door pulled her reluctantly back to reality from some other dimension. At that moment a truck roared past the house on the dirt road. Probably Craig, who treated the lane like a race track. He passed by every day on his way back to his parent’s banana farm behind the hill, but of course, she no longer cared.

‘Who is it?’ she called out, rolling back from the computer.

‘It’s Nel. Do I get to come in?’

‘Nel? Really? Yeah, of course! How in the wide world did you get here?’

‘I caught a wild ride with Craig. Saw him in town this morning. Where are you?’

‘Dad’s study. Wait, I’m coming out.’

Nelson was the only single person, the only friend who remained — because she didn’t pity Lucy, and because as she’d said, she understood: her life was no picnic either, thank you very much.

The minute Lucy rolled into the living room and saw Nelson’s face, she knew something wasn’t right. Nel dumped her bag on the floor at her feet.

‘Shit. What’s going on?’

Nel had never, in the six years Lucy had known her, shed a tear. Yet tears shimmered on her eyelashes while she stood, stony-faced, and spoke in the low tone of someone who has nothing to lose. ‘I’ve run away,’ she said. ‘Left. Can’t go back this time. You’re my refuge.’

‘Jeez, Nel.’

‘No worries. Minimal amounts of damage, really, considering,’ she said. ‘Look, no visible injuries, no bruises.’

Lucy knew the root cause. Any father who wanted a boy so badly that he’d name a pretty daughter ‘Nelson’ had a serious screw loose to begin with.

‘Mum’s had it with Dad. She’s going to Bali to find herself.’ Nel said with detectable irony, and sat down on a well-worn couch. ‘She wanted to take me with her, but I can’t. My life’s here, Lu. I’m sixteen and a half. I’ve got to make my own decisions.’

‘But you can’t live with your old man Nel, he’s off his rocker,’ Lucy said.

‘You’re dead right there,’ Nel said. ‘I swear I don’t know what Mum ever saw in him. If I had to stay with him, I’ll probably kill him.’

‘I somehow don’t see you being cut out for committing any kind of violent crime,’ Lucy said gently.

Nelson leaned back and looked around the room, noting the cobwebs gathering in all four corners near the ceiling. ‘This place is gathering moss,’ she said.

‘I suppose,’ Lucy said. ‘Listen Nel, I’m pretty sure you can stay here. The cabins are never full.’

Nel had spent many weekends at Lucy’s, but this time, it looked like it might be a lot longer than that.

‘Really?’ Nel’s eyes went from vacant to hopeful. Lucy felt for her more than for anything or anyone at this moment.

‘Don’t see why not. I’ll ask Dad when he gets back. Hey, do you want to put the kettle on? I’ll get the tea.’

Nel slapped her knees and slowly got to her feet, pulling herself together.

‘Okay. Hey Lu, if I can wash some of my clothes sometime, that’d be great. My jeans are so bad they pretty much stand up on their own.’

‘Of course.’

Lucy rolled after Nel into the kitchen. Nel briskly went about opening cupboards and banging things down onto the kitchen counter. The girl was a survivor, and Lucy envied her. When things got heavy, Nel’s tendency was to float, whilst hers was to sink.

‘I feel much better now. On to more interesting things: when he dropped me off, Craig asked about you.’

Lucy took a deep breath and forced away the distant memory of a moonlit grin, of big, strong fingers running softly along her jaw.

‘He’s a loser, Nel. A bastard and an idiot who has been conspicuous by his cowardly eight-month absence. The less I hear about him, the better.’

A pause followed while Nel dropped two teabags into two mugs.

‘Right,’ Nel said, clunking the mugs together on the kitchen counter.

‘So, what did you tell him?’ Lucy jammed the wheelchair under the kitchen table and put sugar and a jug of milk at the centre.

Nel filled the kettle and switched it on. It roared to life.

‘I told him you were just great, Lu.’

‘Thanks. It’s a small lie, but I suppose from the waist up, there’s some truth to that.’

‘Shut up, Lu. You’re a survivor.’

Lucy looked out of the window and tied her heavy blonde hair into a loose knot.

‘Did you tell him I killed my mother?’

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About The Author

Shelley Davidow is the author of 37 books including ‘In the Shadow of Inyangani,’ a young adult novel nominated for the 2003 Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. She was born in South Africa, has lived on five continents and now lives in Queensland, Australia.

For more information see www.shelleydavidow.com.

 

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Lights Over Emerald Creek
Copyright © 2014 by Shelley Davidow
All rights reserved.
ISBN 978-0-9872652-6-5
Cover Art: Lights Over Emerald Creek by David Lecossu

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