Riptides by Kirsten Alexander
English | 2020 | Fantasy | ePUB | 3.0 MB
Kirsten has worked as a nonfiction book editor, copywriter (inhouse four years for Aesop, also for Crumpler, M.L. Vintage, House Universe), and occasional article writer (for the Age, the Daily Beast, Notebook, the Melbourne Weekly, Atticus Review and others). She’s worked as a reviewer for ABC Radio National’s The Book Show, a magazine section editor, and content manager for several websites.
One bad decision can tear your world apart . . .
December 1974. Abby Campbell and her brother Charlie are driving to their father’s farm on a dark country road when they swerve into the path of another car, forcing it into a tree. The pregnant driver is killed instantly.
In the heat of the moment, Abby and Charlie make a fateful decision. They flee, hoping heavy rain will erase the fact they were there. They both have too much to lose.But they have no idea who they’ve just killed or how many lives will be affected by her death. Soon the truth is like a riptide they can’t escape, as their terrible secret pulls them down deeper by the day.
I wake when Abby shouts. She reaches across me and grabs the steering wheel. A car horn brays. White beams flare at us then pitch to the right. For an instant, a rump of blue metal shines in our headlights. I elbow my sister out of the way and take the wheel, leaning back hard so I don’t slam my head into it. Abby flattens her hands against the dashboard as I brake and strain to control our sideways skid. She screams my name. We sling to one side of the narrow dirt road and the other car slings the opposite way, like wrong ends of magnets made to meet. We slide to an angled stop, pointing into scrappy bushland.
Dust swirls in front of our headlights, the only movement in a frozen moment. My window is open but I don’t hear a sound from the surrounding bush, the cicadas and creaky eucalypts dumbstruck. Abby and I stare through the windscreen at the dust, panting, coughing.
Neither of us moves until the cassette ejects with a clunk, having played its silent end, giving way to static. Abby hits the off button, fumbles to get out of the car and walks through the settling dust. I don’t follow her straight away. I’m clocking what just happened. What the hell just happened? I turn off the engine, feel the thumping drum of my heart, the heat where my jeans sink into ridged vinyl, a breeze through the open door. I watch my sister walk away, her long hair splayed across the back of her singlet like a web.
Once I get out, I cross the road and stand on the thin verge, shaking my sore wrists. Down in the ditch, Abby stands next to the crumpled car. A blue Holden Premier, stopped on the cusp of a roll, one front wheel and one back not touching earth, the bonnet crunched against the trunk of a white gum, headlights still blazing. Abby’s on her toes, yanking at the driver’s-side doorhandle. I slide down to join her. ‘Help me,’ she says. Instead, I go to the front of the car, worried she’ll pull it down onto all fours, onto us. But it’s pushed so firmly into the tree, pug-faced, there’s no chance of that.
I can see the driver, a woman, slumped across the steering wheel, glowing under the internal light. She has thick blonde locks shot through with caramel and gold. Blood oozes from her head. She’s coated in shards of glass.
‘Charlie, help me. We have to get her out.’
‘You’re not supposed to move –’
‘It’ll blow up! I’ve seen it on TV.’
We stand side by side and pull on the handle, yelling at the woman to come to, poking her limp arm through the open window, until the door gives. I’m jammed into the join of door and car when she falls out onto Abby. They hit the ground together, a mess of bloodied skin and hair and glass. Abby screams. ‘Get her off me. Get her off.’
I shove the car door away from my chest, then squat beside them and lift the woman so my sister can get out from underneath her. We lay the woman on the ground’s coat of leaves, sticks and bark. She’s honey-skinned, with a spray of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and her hair is incandescent even away from the light. She’s beautiful, and heavily pregnant.
I look across at Abby. We’re both open-mouthed, mirror images of shock.