Dinner was arranged for a little earlier than usual for Heidi and her excited vacation bound family to allow sufficient time to drive to LAX and check in the required three hours before flying.
‘It’ll be interesting when we hire a car down there Heides...’ Her Dad, Karl said. ‘They drive on the other side of the road down there…and their steering wheels are actually where our passengers sit,’ he chuckled.
‘And here’s there weird thing…it’s already tomorrow down there… DOO Do DOO Do DOO Do DOO,’ he said waving his hands and attempting to make spooky, sci-fi sounds, like something out of The X-Files.
Heidi smiled and shook her head at her Dad’s failed attempted humor. ‘Where in Australia did you say you were going…?’
Well…’ Dad began. ‘We arrive in Sydney first. While there we will check out the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge.’
‘Sydney is the capital of Australia, right…?’ Heidi’s brother Hans ignorantly asked.
’No, it isn’t buddy. The capital is a town called Canberra, which is in the Australian Capital Territory…’bout an hour’s flight south of Sydney.’
Hans nodded in understanding. ‘For some reason I thought it was Sydney,’ he said with furrowed brow.
Heidi smiled at Hans before asking, ‘Where to from there?’
‘Um…’ Dad began. ‘From there we head north to a state called Queensland where we will get to see the Great Barrier Reef,’ he said. ‘I was reading up on it recently…it must be truly amazing. It’s actually one of the seven wonders of the natural world. They say it is bigger than the Great Wall of China…’ he said shaking his head in amazement. ‘And it is apparently the only living thing on earth that is visible from space…’ He said.
‘It sounds really big Dad...but…what is it though...? Just a reef…?’ Hans asked.
‘From what I read…’ Dad began. ‘They say it’s the world’s largest coral system composed of over…I think it was…almost 3,000 different reefs,’ he recalled. ‘It stretches over an area of about 2,600 kilometres…which is about…what’s that…?’ he asked rhetorically as he performed a mental conversion. ‘Oh, about one thousand six hundred miles...give or take,’ he said.
Mom shook her head. ‘Your memory recall never ceases to amaze me Darling.’
Karl smiled and placed his hand over Marjorie’s hand.
‘Do you remember that man from outback Australia we used to watch on TV?’ Karl asked.
‘Crocodile Dundee..?’ Hans replied with a confident smile.
Karl laughed. ‘No…not Crocodile Dundee.’ Hans’ smile instantly wiped. ‘You know the show I’m talking about…’ Dad continued. ‘The young man who wrestled crocodiles in Australia…and caught snakes with his bare hands…He had a show we all used to watch together on TV…’ He clicked his fingers trying to recall.
‘Oh…’ Heidi pointed. ‘That was um…’ she tapped her lip in contemplation. ‘That was…wasn’t he the man that was unfortunately killed by one of those stinger ray things they have in Australia?’ Heidi asked.
‘Stingrays…’ Karl corrected. ‘But that’s right…oh, got it…’ he raised a finger. ‘Steve Irwin...’ he recalled. ’That was his name…Steve Irwin. Well, he had a zoo called Australia Zoo which is now run by his wife…so we will be going there as well.’
‘It sounds like it will be a fantastic trip Dad,’ Heidi said.
‘It would be even better if you were coming with us though Heides,’ Mom said, still ruing their daughter’s decision not to accompany them.
Heidi smiled. ‘Maybe next time Mom.’
Karl slammed the trunk lid and dusted off his hands. ‘Well, that’s the last of them,’ he said having loaded their luggage into their family car. ‘We’re all ready to rock and roll,’ he said with a little jig and twist of his hips.
He lobbed the car keys a couple of feet into the air before snatching them again. He held out his closed hand to Heidi and smiled. He opened his hand to reveal the keys.
Heidi’s eyes fell to the keys. She frowned. ’Aren’t you driving to the airport Dad…? She said,
’No… You are,’
Heidi nervously accepted the keys.
‘You’ll be fine…I trust you…’ Karl said over his shoulder as he ran to check the front door was locked.
Marjorie and Hans climbed into the back seat of their midnight blue luxury Series 7 BMW, while Heidi nervously climbed in behind the wheel.
Karl jogged back to the car and climbed into the front passenger seat. As he fastened his seat belt he turned to the back seat. ‘All set…?’
The excited smiles that were returned was all he needed for an answer.
He looked across at Heidi. He smiled. ‘Well driver…let’s go.’ He rubbed his hands together.
’Which way should we go Dad…the 1-5N…? She asked.
‘It’s as good as any…’ Karl pointed to the dashboard digital clock. The bright blue digits glowed 6.00pm. ‘We’re looking at about a two hour drive…so we have plenty of time Heides. So you go the way you are most comfortable with.’
Heidi started the car. She rarely drove her dad’s car, so she was quietly excited at the opportunity.
The engine revved then purred. She looked across at her Dad who smiled back at her. She moved the shift to Drive and they were on their way.
Although her family will only be away for four weeks, the good-byes at the airport were still very emotional. Tears flowed freely from both Heidi and her Mom.
Dad gave her a list of dates and the contact numbers of hotels they were staying in, in case she needed to reach them and had trouble reaching their cells. She later placed them on the fridge under a takeout pizza magnet.
Before they left, Mom told her that she had ensured the pantry was sufficiently stacked with food, and Dad told her he deposited $2000 into her bank account for her to use for anything she needed over the next four weeks.
Then they were gone, disappearing through the customs departure doors on their way.
Walking through the quiet house on Friday morning seemed a little strange for Heidi. In reality though, it was no different to any other Friday morning where she slept in because she didn’t have classes. Her brother was usually at school by the time she got up and Mom and Dad were both at work.
On this occasion though, because she knew her family was on a plane somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, everything seemed a little surreal to her. She was now on her own.
As the realization started to sink in, she began to feel a little excited at the prospect of all this independence; not having to answer to anyone. This could actually be fun.
After breakfast she showered and hit the books for some much needed study, which took her through lunch to mid-afternoon.
Realizing she needed to come up for some air, she decided to head to the gym for her Friday workout. She rarely missed her Friday gym sessions; it was only the time she attended that varied.
Following a muscle toning weight session and a thirty minute run on the treadmill, Heidi sat on the exercise mats talking with a college friend she bumped into at the gym, while they stretched down from their workouts.
During the casual chatting that ensued amongst the stretching, Heidi told her friend of her recent independence.
‘Did I tell you I am on my own for the next four weeks…?’ Heidi said.
‘My family left on a vacation to Australia yesterday, so I have the place to myself.’
Her friend’s eyes widened. ‘Australia..? Your family is on vacation in Australia and you didn’t go with them…?’
Heidi nodded and smiled.
‘Why didn’t you go? Are you Crazy?’
‘Don’t get me wrong. I would love to have gone, but my studies are more important at this time,’ Heidi said.
‘I would love to go to Australia,’ her friend said.
One of the male Gym instructors approached the girls stretching and warming down on the floor. He squatted down beside them and briefly engaged in friendly, but standard gym instructor repertoire such as, “training hard girls?” and “are you enjoying your workouts?”
Following their starry-eyed, school-girl giggles and one word responses backed up by lots of smiles, the instructor moved on with the customary line of “enjoy your work out girls.”
Heidi’s friend watched the instructor walk away, eyeing him favorably. ‘He is sooo cute…don’t you think?’ Heidi’s friend asked.
Heidi looked at the instructor who was now talking to other gym patrons. Heidi shrugged. ‘He’s not bad.’
Heidi’s friend noticed the time. ‘Shoot. I’ve gotta go if I’m going to catch my bus.’ She started to get up from the floor.
Heidi lifted her hand to her friend. ‘Don’t be silly…I’ll drive you home,’ Heidi said. She flicked her finger at her friend. ‘Relax…Finish your work out properly,’ she said with a relaxed smiled.
Her friend sat back down as instructed. ‘Cool. Thanks. I appreciate that.’ Her friend smiled her appreciation.
For dinner Friday night Heidi decided to prepare some pasta for one. Penne was her choice on this occasion, complimented by a creamy bacon sauce.
Once the preparation was completed she decided to leave the pasta boiling and the sauce simmering while she stepped from the kitchen into the back yard for some fresh coastal air.
She loved the serenity of the coast and found it relaxing, even a little hypnotic to stand and watch the rhythmic motion of the rolling waves and listening to the breaking surf.
Heidi made her way to the back of their pool landing and leaned her arms on the handrail overlooking the shore line below.
She briefly closed her eyes and lifted her chin to welcome the refreshing breeze that appeared to gently caress her face.
Heidi remained leaning on the handrails in the full moon-lit darkness overlooking the ocean and the beach below from their cliff top elevation. A smile of satisfaction emerged across her face while she waited for her pasta to reach al dente.
Her trance-like state snapped back to reality when she heard the piercing cheeps of the alarm she set to remind her to check the pasta. She quickly jogged back to the kitchen to silence the irritating alarm and turn off the pasta and the sauce.
Heidi stood at the kitchen sink rinsing the pasta. She heard a noise. Her head snapped towards the back yard. While holding her gaze on the rear door, she turned off the tap.
She didn’t know what she heard but it was out of place and it caused her heart to beat heavily in her chest. Squirts of adrenalin pulsed through her body.
With her eyes fixed on the back door she wiped her hands on a cloth before discarding it onto the bench. She moved towards the back door. She frowned. The sliding back door was wide open. Did I leave the door open? Heidi scanned the family room and kitchen before turning her focus to the rear yard.
She flicked on the outside lights. The bright flood lights lit up the pool and its surrounds like day. Normally ideal for pool parties and barbecues, tonight they were her security; her peace of mind that what she heard was nothing.
She slid the glass patio door closed and locked it. She remained at the locked door scanning the floodlit yard one last time, until she felt reassured.
She returned to rinsing her pasta.
It was all a little too quiet in the house and she was starting to imagine things; creepy sounds.
On the way back to the sink she detoured via the family room and pushed the Play button on their CD player. Whatever was already in there will do, to add some background music for a little company.
Walking back to the sink she smiled to herself when she recognized the track booming through their surround sound speakers was Carol King’s You’ve Got a Friend. The Tapestry CD was her dad’s favorite. It’s a wonder he hasn’t worn it out by now.
While singing along to Carol King, Heidi continued rinsing her pasta under the hot water. A floorboard creaked. Heidi’s head suddenly shot up like a startled deer. What was that? She left the water running over the pasta as she slowly checked over her shoulder. Her pulse raced. Her mouth was dry. Her apprehensive eyes scanned the kitchen and adjoining family room.
Nothing was out of the ordinary. She frowned and slowly returned to finish rinsing her pasta. Her ears remained peeled to any foreign sounds. But in reality, all she could hear was the blood pumping in her ears.
Heidi turned off the tap and shook the excess water from the colander. She placed it on the sink to drain. She lifted the pasta sauce from the cooker top and placed it on the kitchen bench where she had laid out a dinner-for-one setting.
Heidi lifted her dinner plate and returned to the pasta draining on the sink where she shoveled out a small serving of pasta.
Something suddenly caught her eye. The kitchen window over the sink was slightly fogged from the hot water earlier running over the pasta, but it started to clear. Something in the window’s reflection distracted her.
Heidi lifted her eyes to the window. She tried to focus, looking through the thinning steam. Her eyes suddenly widened and she quickly inhaled. Someone was behind her. Her plate of pasta fell from her grasp. The plate of food smashed into pieces sending fragmented pieces of china and pasta across the kitchen floor. She quickly spun around.
The last thing she would have seen was a person wearing a black ski mask under a dark hoodie rushing towards her, only inches away.
Before she could react and instinctively scream out in fear, her mind would’ve turned black from the resultant blow. She would not feel or know anything else.