As a blood-red sun rose above the mountains, sending orange hues across a cloudless sky, a shadowy figure crept silently beneath the canopy as it inched its way deep into the rainforest, its intent unclear. Birds nesting in the treetops rose in alarm, startled by the intrusion before making a hasty retreat from its stench. Kangaroos and emus rummaging among the low-lying grasses bounded for cover, hearts beating frantically as the alien apparition wound its way into the solitude of the isolated gully.
Startled, Accalia opened her eyes, uncurling her long legs as she sat bolt upright. She heaved a loud sigh, trying to steady her thoughts. Already, warmth-filled rays had begun to seep through the open window. Oh, I forgot to close the damn thing. Accalia grimaced, recalling the many times her mother had warned her about leaving the window ajar after returning from her nightly forays into the forest. It seemed her mother had a phobia about the creatures that roamed the forest after dark, a misguided fear, Accalia thought, shaking her head.
There was nothing to fear.
Flinging her bedspread aside, Accalia rolled off the bed, her feet coming to rest on polished boards. With a weary smile she glanced out the window, mesmerised by how easy it was to get lost in the beauty of her forested world. For a short time she sat breathing in the distinctive aromas of the forest, sensing it wasn’t simply her dreams that had unsettled her.
Rising slowly, Accalia reached for the bedside table, a relic that had once belonged to her grandmother, its fine mahogany surface now covered in a thin layer of porcelain-coloured dust. Accalia ran a finger slowly through the fine particles, pausing to stroke the rabbit’s tail, a memento from her friend Petra. She couldn’t help but smile as she gave thought to her young friend.
Petra was born with Down syndrome, and was a few years younger than Accalia. Because Petra too found life a challenge, the two had become close friends. Whenever the opportunity arose, Petra would slip away from her overzealous parents to join Accalia on one of her nightly escapades into the rainforest. A time both friends enjoyed immensely.
Dismissing those thoughts, Accalia sat tracing long fingers through her hair, forever mindful of the peculiar white streak running through the centre of her otherwise jet-black locks. It was an unusual marking, a feature she’d had since birth. Mostly because of its shape, the marking reminded Accalia of a bolt of lightning, an oddity that even hair dye had never been able to erase. Just another abnormality that others find weird about me, Accalia thought to herself as she glanced towards the mirror. She sat staring at her reflection, aware that her appearance made others uncomfortable. Apart from the unusual marking in her hair, her body was covered in a fine layer of downy black hair, a peculiarity others had teased and belittled her about throughout her formative years. It was just one reason why her mother had closeted her away in this pristine valley in the Gold Coast hinterland that they now called home.
Suddenly, memories surfaced from her childhood.
A few houses from where she and Jenna, her mother, had once lived, resided an elderly couple named Fred and Nancy Paterson. Often the old couple would come to Accalia’s assistance when bullies followed her from school, which unfortunately happened far too often. Nancy would wait with Fred at their front fence and escort Accalia to her home, making sure no harm came to her.
One afternoon as Accalia passed by the couple’s home she felt an overwhelming sensation that something was wrong. Acting on that impulse Accalia made her way around the back and through the rear door of the couple’s home. Inside she found a young man standing over Fred and Nancy. He had tied the couple up and was threatening them with a knife. What happened next was something Accalia could not explain, even to this day. From somewhere deep within came a frightening sound, a fierce growl, something that was anything but human. When the young man turned he noticed Accalia and ran screaming, clearly horrified. He was so afraid that he dropped his weapon as he fled. Fred and Nancy were the only ones to witness what took place that day and Accalia remembered well the look they gave as she stood staring at them. The couple were clearly shaken by what they had seen and gossip quickly spread about the existence of a wolf-child. The repercussions were enough to force Accalia and her mother to leave their home and take up residence far away.
As Accalia’s thoughts drifted back to the present, she felt those same anxious feelings beginning to build that she had felt that day, a sense of foreboding. She couldn’t help but wonder what the day ahead held in store for her. The nightmare that had forced her from sleep, a dream fuelled by dark shadows, surely that had to be the reason she was feeling this way.
‘Oh … I almost forgot,’ Accalia exclaimed as she stood, ‘today is my birthday.’ She prayed the day would be marked by nothing more than a quiet celebration with her mother, or perhaps a chocolate cake or a hand-made gift from Petra. Yet uncertainty continued to occupy her thoughts as Accalia wrestled with her feelings, attributing her concerns to nothing more than an overactive teenage imagination. Yet, as the sun’s rays continued to edge deeper into her room, those feelings of gloom intensified.
Something about her world felt intrinsically altered.