Sarah Moon reclined in her lounge chair as she glanced around the crowded bar. The number of patrons had grown since she and her colleagues arrived for their weekly Thursday night drinks.
The pretty young red head with the heart-warming smile loved to socialize with her friends but for some reason, tonight she wasn’t feeling it.
The drunken conversation throughout the popular CBD bar made chatting all the more difficult. The noise was no different to any other Thursday night, but tonight, Ben’s Bar irritated her.
Whatever the reason, continually being asked to repeat herself, or asking her friends to repeat themselves grated on her as the evening wore on.
Sarah checked her watch, then emptied the last of her drink. She gestured towards the door. ‘I’m gonna hit the road guys…’
She stood from her chair and straightened her skirt. She shouldered her hand bag, ignoring the pleas to stay a little longer, or to have one more for the road.
Sarah brushed the fringe of her salon styled hair from her pale face. She forced a smile. ‘I’m just really tired tonight…It’s been a long day. I’ll catch you all tomorrow, OK.’
Her work friend, Melanie leapt to her feet. ‘I’ll walk you to your car, Sez…’
‘Don’t be silly…You stay.’ Sarah motioned for Melanie to sit back down. ‘You’re enjoying yourself.’
‘Are you sure?’ Melanie asked, slowly lowering herself into her seat.
‘Of course,’ she said with a dismissive wave of her hand. ‘My car’s not that far away, anyway.’
Following one last reassuring smile and a wave, Sarah zig-zagged her the room, through the gathering of mostly male patrons, to the street exit.
The summer breeze welcomed her as she stepped out, making a casual check of her surrounds. After a short stroll along the busy main street Sarah turned onto Park Street. She baulked briefly at the paucity of street lighting, conspiring with the cloudy moonless night to create dark shadows. She checked over her shoulders before slowly continuing.
Sarah’s eyes flicked from dark spot to dark spot. The deeper into the darkness she moved, the faster she walked, reassured all was well by the occasional check back over her shoulder.
She was deep down the lonely street before she was comforted by the sight of her car up ahead. Only two other cars were parked near Sarah’s. The isolation added to the eerie silence. She started to understand why she’d never parked down there before and never would again.
A sound caused her to stop and quickly turn towards the main street. Her darting eyes scanned the path behind her. So many dark shadows.
Sarah continued, this time her pace matched her heart rate — fast. She hadn’t travelled far when the sound of running footsteps caused Sarah to gasp. She stopped and turned back, clutching her hand bag close. Her wide eyes darted. Nothing there but dark shadows.
Sarah frowned at the darkness. She continued to her car, which was now close, all the while ruing her decision to refuse Melanie’s offer.
With a push of a button on her remote, she unlocked the doors as she approached. Her tension eased slightly when her vehicle’s indicator lights flashed twice, briefly tinging the darkness in yellow.
She heaved open her car door. Her small hand struggled to grip the car keys and the door handle. The keys fell from her hand. She cursed to herself as she bent down to collect them from the roadway.
When she stood back up, a leather-gloved hand came from behind her and covered her mouth. Before she could react, a large blade was thrust deep into her back.
The knife was like a hot iron. Its long blade struck a bone, possibly a rib. Blood flowed down her back while the gloved hand muffled Sarah’s agonized screams.
Sarah’s knees buckled. Before she could fall, the attacker withdrew the knife and plunged the bloodstained dagger twice more, deep into her back. The actions were so swift and clean Sarah did not feel any pain, only the force of the blows, followed by a tingling sensation in her back.
She hit the ground with a heavy thud. The balaclava wearing attacker stood over her with eerie eyes that peered at her through the narrows slits. Nothing was said to explain the attack.
Her terror-filled eyes dropped to the blood soaked knife held in the attacker’s gloved hand. She held up a hand. ‘I don’t want to die…Please…Why are you doing this?’
Her assailant did not respond.
All Sarah could do was watch helplessly as the attacker casually bent down and plunged the blade into her chest. Its blade pierced the sternum with ease before dissecting her heart. The intense pain she felt was short lived. The last thing Sarah would’ve seen was her attacker closely watching her as the light abandoned her eyes.
Max Higgins was mid-conversation on his mobile phone when a uniformed constable entered the office and approached his desk. Max held up a finger to the young cop while he completed his call.
‘What time was this…?’ Max said into his phone. ‘Aha…’ He quickly scribbled some notes. ‘And that was the last time you saw him…? OK. Great. I have your number if I need anything else. Thanks for your call.’
He pushed a button on his mobile phone and dropped it on to his desk. He sighed heavily. ‘What can I do for you, mate?’ He asked the young cop in a tone devoid of enthusiasm.
‘Sorry to bother you, Detective…’ The cop held out a single sheet of paper. ‘I think you might be interested in this.’
Max scanned the page. ’If you have anything other than a foot long Subway and a Pepsi there for me…I’m not interested. I haven’t had lunch yet.’
The young cop’s eyes lifted to the wall clock with its hands pointing to 2.55pm.
Max checked his watch then rolled his eyes. He accepted the page and reclined his chair. He crossed his legs while he read what was so important.
‘Hasn’t been seen since she left Ben’s Bar a little after 10.30 pm last night,’ the young cop said.
‘Last night…?’ Max blurted. He glared at the cop under a heavily furrowed brow.
‘When she failed to turn up at work this morning, her Manager called her mobile to check she was OK, because she didn’t call in sick. The call went to voice mail.’
‘How old is she…?’ Max asked, devoid of any interest. He scanned the report. ’26,’ he said, answering his own question. ‘She probably picked up some guy last night at the bar and has been at his place fuc—’
‘Her friends said she left alone…’ The young cop said firmly.
Max peered over the report at the cop. ‘Why are you showing me this…?’ Max said, holding a frowning glare. ‘I’m missing my lunch for this…’
‘Well, you handle missing persons…this woman is missing. Her friends were worried because her social media accounts have been inactive all day, which was unusual, apparently.’
Max glared at the cop. ‘All day…You mean…she hasn’t used social media for a whole day. My God… Quick, call in the special ops…’ he said oozing with sarcasm. ‘I still don’t understand why you brought this to me?’
‘Some of her colleagues visited her apartment and she wasn’t at home and her car was missing.’
Max rolled his eyes. ‘Did you consider she wasn’t home and her car wasn’t there because…she drove it somewhere…?’ Max said. His patience wore thin.
His experience was in trying to locate long term missing persons that were presumed murdered, and hopefully bring their killers to justice. He didn’t care about people that failed to turn up to work after one day. History usually showed these people were located alive and well within a short period of time.
The young cop continued. ‘Her friends were worried about her, so they drove to where she parked her car last night, to check she had actually driven it home…’
‘And…? I’m assuming there’s more to this…’
’She parked in Park Street, ‘round the corner from the bar, but the car was not in the car park when they arrived there this morning.’
Max’s shoulders slumped slightly. He lobbed the page back at the cop and fell back in his chair.
The cop watched the page come to rest in front of himself. ’What was there was a substantial amount of dried blood on the road,’ the cop said.
Max’s eyebrows lifted. ‘How substantial…?’
‘Substantial enough for it to have congealed…about one metre square.’
Max leaned his elbows on the desk. That volume of blood loss concerned the experienced Detective. ‘Do we know if the blood is from her…?’ He lifted his chin to the report on the desk.
‘OK. Let’s get crime scene down there to take a swab before it gets too contaminated. Is she married…? In a relationship…?’ Max asked.
‘No. Single. Lives on her own.’
‘She’s probably just gone home to visit mum and dad for the weekend…Are we looking for her car?’
‘Yeah, I informed the afternoon shift Sergeant and he mentioned it at the readout.’
‘And what do you think about the blood on the road then…?’ The young cop asked.
’I don’t know mate, I’m not clairvoyant… If it is hers…maybe she was assaulted or something. I don’t know.’ Max flicked a finger at the report on the desk. ‘So the friends have filed this missing person report because this…this…’ he gestured to the page.
‘Sarah Moon never turned up to work this morning. Never answered her mobile phone and she was not home when they visited and her car was gone…’
‘So why do you think I would be interested in this?’
The cop nodded at the white board off to the side of Max’s desk.
Max’s eyes followed. He eyed each of the four photos spread horizontally across the whiteboard. Each photo was a head and shoulders shot from a drivers’ licence photo sourced from the VicRoads database. Each one was a missing person and each one was suspected of having encountered foul play.
’Those are missing persons, mate,’ Max said, lifting his chin to the photos. ‘They have all gone missing, disappeared under suspicious circumstances and have been missing for some time… Not one day like your Sarah Moon there,’ he said flicking a dismissive hand at the report.
’But doesn’t the blood on the road qualify as ‘suspicious circumstances’?’ the cop asked.
‘Is she actually missing? Does the blood belong to her? I don’t know and it is too early to tell at this stage.’
Max pushed himself from his seat and approached the whiteboard. ‘See here…’ He tapped the first photo. ‘Brian Taylor. 29. Last seen when he left home to buy some milk for his wife. Missing since March 2016.’
He pointed to photo number two. ’Jenny Cox. 26. Left to visit her parents in Bacchus Marsh. She never arrived. Missing since August 2016.
He moved along and tapped photo number three. ‘Libby Vassillou. 27. Last seen as she set out hiking in the Otways, near Lorne. Missing since December 2016 and Lance Edwards, 29. Last seen going for an evening jog and never returned. Missing since April 2017. No-one has seen or heard from any of them since they went missing.’ He waved a hand across the photos. ’That is what qualifies as a missing person…’
‘What do you want me to do with this?’ The Cop held up the missing person report.
‘File it. Let me know if we get a match on the blood type found on the road. If she’s still missing in a few weeks or so, come back and see me then.’ Max held his glare on the cop. ‘If there’s nothing else… I’m goin’ to get something to eat.’
Max watched the young cop traverse the bull pen and exit the room.
He rubbed a thoughtful hand across his mouth. The blood on the road concerned him, but until he was certain the girl was actually missing, he couldn’t take it much further.
In Australia, one person disappeared every fifteen minutes with more than 38,000 people reported missing each year. While most people were found within a short period of time, there remain over 1,600 long term missing persons.
Some people go missing with the intention of never being found again. For whatever reason, some faked their own deaths, while others, usually the loner types, had no idea people were looking for them until they were located.
Then there were those who had met with foul play. These were the ones from the region that involved Max. Invariably, those that were found after long term disappearances were often located deceased and became cold case homicides. However too many were never found again, leaving their loved ones, and cops like Max, wondering what happened to them.
It was this unknown that drove Max to try and find the answers to the mysterious puzzles of why these people went missing.
Max Higgins was a career cop working in the regional town of Geelong, located in the state of Victoria, in Australia’s south-east. His male pattern baldness, ‘standard issue’ police moustache and expanding waistline all conspired to give the stereotypical appearance of a cop with many years’ experience.
He would love to boast greater success in his missing person’s investigations, but sadly he can’t. His current case load of four missing persons had remained with him now for some time. The oldest case dated back to late 2016. So the last thing he wanted was to add Sarah Moon to this list.
‘Go away,’ Emily Davis screamed into the darkness, shattering the early morning serenity. She sat bolt upright in her bed. Her chest heaved under her oversized night t-shirt. Her wide eyes scanned the darkness in front of her while her resting brain awoke.
Boyd flicked on the bedside light. ‘Are you alright?’ Concern etched into his face as he regarded his wife sitting upright beside him.
Emily’s chest continued to heave under her heavy gasps for air. Her stare was blank.
Boyd rubbed a comforting hand across Emily’s back. ‘It’s OK. Breathe slowly…,’ he said. His tone was calm. He rubbed large circles around her back. ‘Did you have another one…?’ he asked knowingly.
Emily nodded slowly. Her shoulders slumped and her head dropped.
‘It’s OK…Just breathe…’ Boyd pressed a button on his mobile phone beside his bed. 3.23am lit up on the display. He briefly shook a disapproving head at yet another early morning interruption.
Emily cupped her forehead as she fell back onto her bed. ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take…’ she said.
Boyd lifted himself onto an elbow as he regarded his wife. ’I know… I know. They appear real… but they’re not. You know they’re not real. They’re just dreams…’
She draped an arm across her eyes, as Boyd’s words resonated. When awake her logic brain reassured her she just had a vivid dream. But it was her sub-conscious brain that presented these realistic nocturnal visions and they were frightening.
Boyd slipped out of bed, returning a short time later with a glass of water and a pill. He handed them to Emily.
Her hand shook as she raised the glass to her chapped lips. The first sip was like gravel in her parched throat.
Boyd gently eased the glass back to her mouth. Emily took another sip. This time the water passed more freely; it moistened her dry mouth.
‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Boyd asked.
Emily took another sip. She shook her head.
‘It’s OK,’ Boyd reassured.
Emily took comfort from her next sip of water. With a big gulp, she emptied the glass.
Boyd held out his hand. ‘Do you think you will be able get back to sleep?’
Emily handed him the empty glass. ‘I can try…’ She reclined back and snuggled under her covers.
Boyd watched her settle. He placed the glass beside his phone and turned out the bed side light.
The next morning, Boyd was sitting at the breakfast bench reading the Saturday morning newspaper when Emily shuffled her way into the kitchen.
‘Good morning, Hun,’ she said. Her dishevelled, matted hair was evidence of yet another restless night.
Boyd lifted his eyes from the paper. ‘Good morning. How’d you sleep…?’ He said, watching her move through the kitchen.
Emily grabbed a mug. ‘I’m so sorry for waking you up, again.’
‘Don’t worry about it. I keep telling you that.’
Emily forced out a smile. ‘I slept OK. Once I fell back to sleep, I slept pretty solid. There were no more disruptions.’ She poured a coffee from the percolator.
‘Good to hear.’ Boyd watched her slip onto the stool beside him.
Emily held her mug with both hands as she sought comfort from her early morning coffee. The black rings under her eyes and ashen appearance were testament to the affect these night time interruptions had on her health.
For some time now, too long for her to remember, Emily had been visited in her sleep by these unknown people; often a different one each time. She knew they were there because she felt them nudge her, or tap her on the shoulder. At least that was what her sub-conscious brain told her while she slept. To her, it all appeared so real.
For the most, these visitors, all adults, usually stood beside her bed and stared at her, only leaving when she woke in fright. Nothing was said and no reason was given for these recurring nocturnal visits.
In recent weeks the visits occurred more regularly. The stress they caused impacted Emily’s general wellbeing. It wasn’t so much the sleep deprivation these visits caused, although Boyd would probably argue otherwise, it was the psychological stress that affected Emily.
Who were these people? Why did they visit her in her sleep? Were they nothing more than figments of her over active imagination? Were they people that had passed on? Did they want some help from her? These questions and more occupied her waking thoughts for hours following each nightly episode.
‘Which one was it last night…?’ Boyd asked while he regarded his wife.
Emily sipped on her coffee for courage. History had taught her that she felt better if she talked about it the morning after it happened. It seemed to help purge them from her conscious thoughts.
‘The man with the full-faced beard…’ Emily said.
Boyd nodded. He was fully aware of all Emily’s nocturnal visitors; their physical descriptions at least. ‘He hasn’t been back for a while, has he?’
Emily shook her head. ‘No. No he hasn’t. Last night he woke me then stared at me for so long. Then he moved to the foot of the bed where he continued to stare at me in complete silence. I wish I knew what they wanted from me.’ Her fixed glare shifted to her husband. ‘Do you think I am being haunted by ghosts, or something?’
‘All I know is…they are not real. They are manifestations in your sub-conscious brain while you sleep. They can’t hurt you because they do not exist. They are not really standing there.’
Emily sipped on her coffee as she silently wished they would all leave her alone.