CHAPTER ONE - THE GREAT ESCAPE
The sound of my bare feet pounding on the uneven ground matched my racing heart as I ran through the bush. The night sky was covered in cloud, blocking out the moon and stars making my surroundings pitch black. I could barely see my hand in front of me, but still I ran as fast and as hard as I could.
The thick bush tore at my clothes and skin. The rough ground shredded the soles of my feet. My lungs were screaming in my chest as I breathed in the freezing cold air. But I didn't stop, I couldn't.
“GENEVIEVE!” The voices calling behind me pushed me to run faster. I stumbled through the bush, tripping over fallen branches and the thick undergrowth continued to rip me to shreds. The smell of eucalyptus leaves invaded my senses. I could see the quick flashes from their torch lights to my right so I veered left, praying I could put some distance between us.
My flannelette pyjamas were in tatters, my skin scratched and grazed. Sweat pooled down my face and neck, mixing with the cold July air, freezing my skin.
“GENEVIEVE!” The sound of bubbling water gets closer as I ran, drawing me towards it. The Murrumbidgee River. My only hope, my only salvation.
I ran harder and faster towards it, pushing low hanging branches out of the way. The lights continue to dance through the bush to my right, they are too close for comfort.
“GENEVIEVE!” The sound of the river is upon me, I can make out a small clearing and a high bank up ahead. I don't slow down, running straight towards the bank. I leap off the bank and take a deep breath as I plunge into the freezing cold water, thanking god that I didn't hit a rock or log in the river.
The sudden cold takes my breath away as I get pulled under by the current. I make my way to the surface and gasp for air as I'm whisked downstream.
The Murrumbidgee River is cold at the best of times. But, on a freezing July night in the middle of winter? It's beyond cold, like plunging into an ice bath. I bring my legs up, floating on my back allowing my body to be taken by the current, the much needed break soothing my aching muscles.
The first signs of dawn are breaking the pitch black far off in the horizon. I keep my head up, listening out for any sounds of my chasers. My eyes scan my dark surroundings as I pray for an easy escape.
I see their lights dancing close to the river. As they grow closer, I flip myself over and take a deep breath. I dive under the water, swimming with the current, hoping I don't hit a snag and become stuck. The current pushes me faster as I swim as hard as I can.
I know on a hot summer’s day in cool water I can hold my breath for over 2 minutes. In cold weather in a freezing river? I'd be lucky to last half that time. I stay under until my lungs are completely empty and burning for oxygen. Pushing myself to the surface I gasp for air, taking the freezing oxygen into my lungs.
I scan my surroundings to find the lights far off behind me. I can make out the faint sounds of the voices calling me, but they are growing further and further away. My toes and fingers have become numb and I know I need to get out of the water soon.
I look to the far bank, covered in thick bush and willow trees. The breaking dawn casting eerie shadows in the undergrowth. I make my way slowly to the other side, looking ahead to find a clearing where I can get out. A small clearing comes up ahead and I allow the current to drag me towards it as I push myself closer to the bank. My feet touch the muddy ground, as I get closer to the clearing.
I stand and walk in the water as it flows around me to the small bank. Pulling my aching body out of the water, I climb up onto the bank and collapse on top of it. I lay and look up at the sky as it slowly turns from black to grey.
I know I can't stay here, my soaked clothes are freezing my skin through to the bone. I slowly pull myself up and stumble away from the river. The bush is a little thinner on this side, allowing an easier passage through.
I push myself further away from the river until I come across a barbed wire fence. The fence is rusty and old. I walk along it for a while, shivering, until I find a small gap to squeeze through.
I squeeze through the gap, the wire scratching my raw skin. I'm in a paddock of some sort, the bush thinning as I go deeper into it. I come out of the trees to a flat clear block of land.
I walk across, hitting another fence and climbing through it. I know I'm on private property but that's the least of my worries. I walk for over an hour, the sun coming over the horizon, my body shivering from the cold.
The sky is overcast, the clouds heavy, I know I need to find shelter before the heavens open and I end up more wet than I already am. I climb fence after fence, walking through cows and sheep before coming to an orange orchid.
My stomach grumbles as I look at the delicious fruit hanging from the tender branches. I reach up and pick one, allowing it to fall softly into my hand.
“GENEVIEVE!” The voice is distant but my heart still sinks. They're tracking me. I turn quickly away from the voice. And, come face to face with the sawn off barrel of a shotgun.