Kyla always believed, if magic existed, it lived at Logan’s Pool. A calm wind ruffled the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, and the plaintive calls of currawongs rang in the distance. The sandstone cliffs formed a wall on one side of the waterhole, and fragrant Aussie bushland stretched out on all other sides, broken by a single dirt fire trail, the only vehicle access to this slice of heaven.
Although this was Kyla’s favourite place, she sat on a blanket, arms around her folded legs, head resting on her knees, wishing she was elsewhere.
“You okay, Ky?”
Kyla glanced up at Zoey’s freckled face. She’d known Zo since kindergarten, but their friendship had deteriorated since Bianca weaseled her way into their relationship. Bianca, the beautiful; Bianca, the boy magnet; Bianca, the bitch.
“I feel nauseous. Maybe something I ate,” Kyla said.
Bianca continued brushing her hair and rolled her eyes. “You’re such a drama queen for a geek.”
“Leave her alone,” said Zoey.
“If she doesn’t want to be here, she can go home. There’s a bus stop about a kilometer from the entrance.”
“I can wait,” said Kyla.
Bianca paused in applying her lip gloss to pout. “Yeah, well, just don’t ruin anything.”
Zoey’s face lit up with anticipation. “Why? What’s happening?”
Kyla marveled at how gorgeous her friend looked. No one rocked freckles and curly red hair like Zo.
Bianca said nothing, all her attention focused on a male figure standing by the pool. She stood and posed, showing off her body to the best effect before waving.
“Hi, Jacob,” she said.
Kyla hated the seductive twist Bianca added to those two simple words.
The guy waved back but did not move from his position. He wore only a pair of swimming trunks, and his body reminded Kyla of a prototype android she’d seen at a science fair; well-muscled but unnatural.
She shivered and turned her head toward the fire trail. “Where did he come from? Where’s his car?”
Bianca rolled her eyes again. “Who cares? He’s gorgeous.”
Zoey squeezed Kyla’s knee. “Don’t worry, Ky. Jacob’s okay.”
“Is that why you wanted to come here? To meet some bloke?”
Bianca spun round and thrust her face toward Kyla. “Some of us prefer partners with dicks. No one forced you to come.”
Kyla cringed, and Bi’s face contorted into a mean, ugly smile. “Oh, by the way, I lied. There’s no public transport nearby. You’ll have to wait until I’m ready to go.”
She straightened, flicked her hair, and then sashayed toward Jacob.
Zoey rose and brushed the leaves off her shorts.
Kyla gazed up, shoulders sagging. “You too, Zo?”
“I’m sorry, Ky. I love you, but I can’t be… Look, you’re my best friend. Can’t we leave it at that?”
Kyla rested her chin on her knees and stared at the ground, the words she wanted to say choking her.
“Whatever. Just go. I’m so over this.”
Zoey jumped up like she’d been stung and hurried to the pool’s edge, where Bianca and Jacob stood chatting, an air of intimacy surrounding them.
Kyla hoped they’d push Zo out of their circle of familiarity, but both welcomed her, and the three of them walked to the pool’s far end. Jacob slipped an arm around each young woman’s waist, and they giggled and snuggled into his body.
Kyla’s nausea multiplied, roiling and churning in her belly, before barreling upwards. She leaned over to the side and threw up.
The waves of illness diminished, and she fished in her bag for a bottle of water. Her hands shook as she opened it, as much from hurt and betrayal as the after-effects of vomiting.
She sipped the cool water, her rage and disgust growing as she watched the trio frolic, splashing each other and giggling. Jacob caressed Bianca’s neck before tugging the knot on her halter-neck dress. The fabric dropped, exposing her breasts. Without turning, she eased the dress to her ankles, brushing her buttocks against his thighs. He remained as still as a statue, moving only to place one hand on her waist, and as she stood, he pulled her body close to his torso.
Zoey removed her crop top, and Kyla winced as Jacob caressed her best friend’s pert breasts with his free hand. Zo squirmed in pleasure, then slid out of her shorts and panties.
Kyla snorted in disgust, then leapt up and stomped to the car, nursing her bruised emotions. She had to get away from here. Perhaps her parents would rescue her. She pulled out her mobile and almost cried. No reception. Now what? She didn’t feel well enough to go for a walk, but she couldn’t stay here and watch the woman she loved copulate with a strange man.
Frantic moaning floated from the pool, and Kyla realized the birds had stopped singing and that sound was the only one permeating the atmosphere. A chill snaked up her spine, but she told herself such noise must be typical of three people in orgiastic bliss. Yet something about its intensity, vibrating in the unearthly stillness, demanded her attention.
Against her better judgment, she turned to see what was going on. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment at the sight of three liquid silver forms, embracing and merging into and out of one another, sinuous and seductive.
She blinked, unable to believe her eyes. A masculine form stood and raised elongated arms before plunging back into the pool. A dreadful shrieking rent the air, and the water churned. Two female-shaped forms broke the surface, silver limbs reaching up and clawing the air, heads tilted back as if crying to the heavens as an unstoppable force dragged them back under the water.
Kyla’s heart pounded, her breath a series of shallow rasps. Then her eyes fixated in horror as the feminine forms split into blobs of silver that reformed and split again, each division accompanied by a soul-wrenching screech.
This isn’t real, she told herself and buried her head in her hands. But the screaming intensified, filling her head until she felt her skull would burst. She grabbed her bag and ran into the bush, not stopping to look back, convinced she’d gone insane but dreading that she’d never been saner.
Her feet pounded down the fire trail, away from the pool, until she reached the road. She no longer heard the screaming, but the terror it invoked lingered. Willing her hands to work, she pulled out her phone. Still no reception.
The narrow single-lane bitumen road existed for those wishing to walk the many trails or enjoy being outdoors in nature. The connecting street leading to civilization lay several kilometers away. But which way? Kyla scrunched her forehead, trying to remember from which direction they’d driven here. It had to be to the left, didn’t it? Her head felt full of cotton wool. Water would help. She rummaged in her bag for her water bottle and cried out in dismay, realizing she’d left it on the blanket.
“Are you all right?”
She swung around to find a kindly-looking older man with a black Labrador on a leash. The dog wagged its tail and gazed up at her with liquid brown eyes.
“Yes,” Kyla said. “Actually, no.” The man seemed friendly enough, but how would any normal person react to a description of what she’d experienced? Even now, his concerned expression held a tinge of doubt. “I have to get to the main road to ring my parents, and I’ve lost my water bottle.”
“Why there? The cafe is closer.”
“Yes. It opened a month ago at the Lookout. It’s only a kilometer away. I drive there with Angus, and we use it as a base to explore. Don’t we, boy?”
The dog wagged its tail harder and licked the man’s hand. Kyla fought a sudden urge to cry, remembering Zoey’s dog, Midnight, who might now be a canine orphan. No, that was silly. Nothing terrible had happened to Zo. It couldn’t have.
She swallowed her growing hysteria. “Do you know if it has mobile reception?”
“It does,” said the man. “I might be an old fogey, but I do use a mobile phone.”
“Sorry,” she said, “and thanks.”
Kyla hurried down the road, and as soon as she spotted the cafe, her feet increased their speed with little input from her brain. She plopped down at a table and pulled out her phone. Hurrah! Reception at last.
A waitress wandered over as Kyla dialed her parents. She knew it would take at least forty minutes for them to arrive, so she ordered a peppermint tea and a bottle of water and settled back to wait.
Kyla tapped the wooden table with a forefinger and wondered whether to order something to eat. An hour had passed with no parents arriving, and the waitress glared at her like she was taking up space. Not that there was anyone else in the cafe. Some toast and Vegemite might soothe her wayward tummy.
As she beckoned to the waitress, her phone buzzed,
“Hey, Mum. What’s happening?”
“We’re at the entrance to the access road, but the police won’t let us go any further. Something about an accident.”
Kyla’s heart froze in her chest. “Where?”
“They wouldn’t say. Honey, is everything all right?”
“Like I said, Mum. Just a bit queasy.”
“No, I mean with your friends.”
“I hope so, Mum. They were fine when I left.” Her stomach gurgled in protest at the lie.
“Okay. Well, we’ll be there as soon as we can. I’ll call you when we’re moving again. And I’m going to try for the sympathy vote with the constable. Sick daughter, blah, blah, blah.”
“You go for it, Mum,”
Kyla put down the phone and glowered at the waitress hovering over her.
“Toast and Vegemite. No butter.”
Another twenty minutes had ticked by with no further word from her parents. The toast arrived, and Kyla munched, savoring the salty taste.
The word “accident” rattled around inside her head. Had something happened to Zo and Bi? The sound of screaming, accompanied by a vision of silver bodies ripping apart, played out in her head. What if she’d seen something so traumatic that her mind refused to accept the truth, instead masking the horror in visual effects?
No, it could not be real.
A 4WD pulled up outside the cafe. A ranger hopped out and then helped his two passengers exit the vehicle. Kyla sat up straight at the sight of the older man and his dog. No doubt the old guy could tell her what was happening.
She waved at him, but he didn’t respond, so she ran outside, catching up with him as he opened the back door of his parked sedan.
“Hi,” she said.
He ignored her and encouraged the dog to jump in the back seat before securing the animal with a safety harness.
Kyla leaned down to peer inside the vehicle.
“It’s me from the road. You told me about this place, remember?”
The man extracted himself from the back seat and rested one hand on the roof.
“Of course, I remember. I’m not senile.”
“Sorry. But can you tell me what’s happening? My parents can’t get here. Something to do with an accident?”
He shut the back door and walked around to the driver’s side.
“Is that what they’re saying? An accident?’ He took a ragged breath and shook his head. “What I saw was no accident.”
Kyla clenched her fists, not wanting to ask her next question but driven to know.
“What did you see? Was it down by Logan’s Pool?”
He stared at her, his eyes hard, searching. “What were you doing in that area?”
She gulped. “I went there with my friends but was sick and wanted to go home. They met up with some guy, so I left.”
The man’s expression changed to sympathy tinged with suspicion.
“Then the police will want to talk to you,” he said, opening the car door.
Kyla stood dumbfounded as he drove off.
The ranger appeared at her side, clutching a coffee cup. “Won’t be getting out of here any time soon. Police have blocked anyone from coming in or out.”
“Two young women are dead.”
Kyla’s heart sank.
“How? Did they drown?”
“No. Nasty business. It seems there’s a killer in the area. I’d stay here if I were you.”
She nodded, numbness a barrier to words. When she turned to speak to the ranger, he and his vehicle were gone.
She headed back into the cafe to wait for her parents, but her knees turned to water, and she collapsed on the stairs.
It couldn’t be true. Her lovely Zoey was alive and would walk down the road to greet her. They’d laugh about Bianca’s obsession with men and makeup, not always in that order.
A police siren heading toward the cafe brought her back to reality. She couldn’t avoid the truth. Kyla knew her friends were dead no matter how much she wanted to believe Zo and Bi were okay.
She cradled her head in her arms and cried.