It was only a light rain and had started to fall in the afternoon. By now it was growing dark. The Police had already removed her small body from the shallow grave, which was beside the train tracks, near the paper mill, where her father worked.
The Police were horrified by her injuries and were busy in discussion about how they had failed her and which one of them would notify her parents.
They had searched since the morning and the search party had long dispersed, the killer already in custody. Andrew Baker Hall had helped look for the girl, but when the sniffer dogs were brought in, Hall folded like a deck of cards. He killed her. He molested her and then shot her in the face with a twenty gauge shotgun hoping that the blast would remove traces of his semen.
Her name was Heidi Collister, she was ten years old, and her story is very much my own.
Let me begin with her parents.
Their names were Jennifer and Peter. She was a housewife, he worked a pulp press at the paper mill. Due to problems finding work, they had relocated to Dairy Creek, a small town seperated by a channel in the Princess River. The population was barely ten thousand people, but the locals loved their town. It had three schools, a Post Office, a medical centre, and two supermarkets. Having two supermarkets was a big deal to some of the old timers. Housing was always cheap and there was work to be found there. To Jennifer and Peter Collister, Dairy Creek was attractive.
They had three children. Melissa was turning thirteen, Stephen was eight, and Heidi was ten. The Collisters were an average family, never ones to make enemies easy, the children did well at school, and they were always well dressed.
Jennifer soon joined a weaving club and they ladies there made her feel welcome, noticing that she was shy, sometimes prone to over eating, and she often spoke of a diet she was on, but never really was. She was pretty, repeated jokes she had learned from her husband, and she loved her children dearly. She also hinted that Peter needed his space, especially when he was drinking, but he never hit her, or the kids.
He was a shouter, though. He would shout about any small slip in grades, shout at the dog, shout about his dinner, and he loved shouting his new friend Andrew Baker Hall to a drink. Both men worked at the paper mill.
Hall lived by the water on a block of land he owned. His house was an old bus and on occasion he liked to hunt feral pigs. He was thirty-five, a loner, enjoyed horror films, and collecting pornography. He never carried himself poorly and was convincing enough to have people think he was a man of high moral standard. He was dark haired, handsome, and quite tall.
The Collisters welcomed him in and Jennifer felt sorry for him, even more so after he told her about nursing his mother through her cancer, having to bury her, and being the only one present at her funeral. Hall was an only child and never met his father, because his father died in a car accident before he was born.
At first, the family were unaware that Hall had a wandering eye for Melissa. She was well built for her age, pretty like her mother, and after her thirteenth birthday Hall started writing to her in secret. She always wrote back.
He bought her a mobile phone, small gifts of jewellry, and provocative clothing. The clothes and jewellry she could never accept, because her parents would ask too many questions. A phone was easy to hide.
Hall bought the Collisters a new used car, helped them fix their utility accounts, payed school fees for the kids, took them fishing, staged wonderful outdoor dinners, and Heidi and Stephen even refered to him as Uncle Drew.
He and Peter went hunting one weekend and Jennifer would later tell Police that her husband changed after that. He was scared of Hall.
The relationship between Hall and Melissa intensified. He would come over after work, have dinner, act like he owned the place, and she would sit on his lap. Mother and daughter would argue openly. Peter was at a loss. The other children would think nothing of it, being too young to understand, and they would simply go and watch cartoons.
Heidi and Stephen were very close. Best of friends.
Often the two of them would sit together at school, play handball, and Heidi's friends never teased Stephen. He was one of them. He was always holding her hand, though, and some children thought that was funny.
At night, when the lights were fully out, and Hall had gone home, Stephen would cuddle up to Heidi, and they would peer through the window at the stars. She would tell him stories about them. In her mind, they were twinkling cities in the sky, invisible by day, because real magic only happens at night.
Heidi would be dead soon and all because Melissa stayed out all night. She was with Hall, at his home, and Heidi rode there on her bicycle, looking for her sister, only to catch them having sex, as she peeped through the window. Heidi knew that it was wrong, because Uncle Drew was a grown man.
She told her parents, but they were too defeated by it. Jennifer realised something terribly sinister was going on, because she had found some of Melissa's bloodied underwear in the mailbox. Peter was scared of being shot. They had found the letters, also, which went from loving odes, to threatening tirades. Hall retrieved the letters, burned them, and made it clear that he would have his way, or someone was going to die.
Heidi told the Police.
They questioned Hall and Melissa, but those two denied everything, lied blatantly. Hall was innocent, just a family friend, he was good to her parents, and for no particular reason they now hated him. Heidi was positive of what she saw, but her statement was written away anoyjer child's tall story.
Melissa called off the relationship with Hall, which angered him. He stopped coming to the house and life seemed to return to normal.
Peter became unafraid, slowed his drinking down, and was more interested in his family. Melissa started doing well at school again, even got a boyfriend her own age. Then, on a Saturday, Heidi and her bicycle went missing.
The next day a search party was assembled. Hall was part of it. He even found her bicycle. Some part of me thinks he wanted to be caught, his sick mind deriving pleasure from unravelling his crime in front of the Police. Maybe it made him feel somewhat intelligent.
Heidi's last steps were those of any bored child on a weekend. She went fishing. Little did her family know, but Hall had been following the girl since the split with Melissa. He hated Heidi.
The only thing working in his favour was that she knew him, that she knew he could be kind, and maybe what she saw didn't really happen. Children are very forgiving, easily confused.
With a punctured tyre, in need of a ride home, the arrival of Uncle Drew was a Godsend. He was very convincing that all the trouble was in the past. He still spoke to her dad at work, all the time, which is untrue, because Hall had lost his job at the mill.
He placed her bicycle in the back of his truck, then slipped into the driver's seat, placing a skinning knife to her throat. It slit her just a little bit and I know this from reading her autopsy report.
He drove her to the water's edge, forced her to throw her bicycle into the shallows. He took his shot gun from under the seat, then took her into the forest, and stood her against a tree. She was shaking, had wet her pants, was sobbing uncontrollably.
He told her at gunpoint, “ You have to do what Melissa does, that's if you want to live. “
Heidi wanted to live. She wanted to go home. She promised not to tell on him this time. He forced her mouth open, by grabbing her face, undid his zipper, and did what he did.
When he was finished, he told her to swallow, but a momentary panic went through his mind. Traces of him may remain and he couldn't trust her to keep quiet. Not at all.
“ Close your eyes, “ he said.
She did, and when she did, he shot her in the face. She died instantly. Hall buried her in that shallow grave by the train tracks.
After his trial, Hall went to his cell, he hung himself, a family destroyed.
Jennifer and Peter got divorced, both of them leaving Dairy Creek. Melissa and Stephen went to foster homes, because neither parent was mentally capable of caring for them. Heidi got a proper burial.
What happened to Melissa, where she went, what kind of woman she grew into, I just don't care to know.
As for Stephen? He fell into the clutches of a loving family, who already had children. They welcomed him in and eventually he adopted their name. He grew up, became a detective. He spent a lot of years erasing the past, but never could he erase the memory of Heidi.
She was beautiful and I loved her.
She was my sister.
BIO: I live in Orange, New South Wales, Australia. I have one child -a daughter. I was born in 1977. My poetry has appeared in anthologies worldwide and my short stories have appeared in men's magazines. I cite James Herbert, Tales from the Crypt, vintage Penny Dreadfuls, and Ripley's Believe It, or Not as an influence.