1. “Dale?” Called his mother’s worried voice. Carrying on the wind over the empty field. “Dale? Where are you?” Tess lumbers over another low-lying fence and gets her shoelace, caught in the out sticking wire before taking a quick spill to the ground and sconning her chin. Stars swim over her eyes as she clambers back to her feet, brushing the dirt off with one hand, and peeling off a loose scrape between her teeth on her other, she winces slightly at the pain and her worry becomes annoyance. Annoyed at herself for not watching her step, annoyed at Dale for taking off over the way just before dinner, and annoyed at her husband and his running away 2 years ago. Just straight out vanished without a word or even a hint as to him leaving. They were a happily married couple for 15 years. And then, he was gone. She could only assume he has left, she couldn’t consider the possibility of him being dead, or worse. But there was never any indication of any of them, and to Tess, she just hopes whatever it is, he’s safe.
1 hour earlier
A young Dale pulls on his Velcro strapped boots and pulls the tethers tight. Blue eyes and blonde hair accompanied by rosey cheeks greet him in his little bed side mirror. Flicking loose strands from his eyes he deliberately takes the soft woollen, sky-blue beanie with the words, My Boy stitched into the front and stuffs his shaggy hair and meaty head inside. —It’s cold out, you’d be a fool to go anywhere without a jacket, rang his mothers voice in the back of his mind. That was 6 hours ago, when the sun was before its peak, before the serious cold crept in and claimed the night as its own, smothering his world in a blanket of frost. And in a few more weeks, snow would come, to once again bury old tracks of bigger feet, lost in the dark.
The sun was setting, the already thick clouds, changing to look as though they’re nothing less than compressed tar and spider webs spread across the entire expanse of the sky. Tess could feel her ears start to ache with the dropping winds and her nose start to freeze. She screams “DALE!! DALE!! WHERE ARE YOU?!!” into the rallying winds, her throat getting coarse with her efforts and panic starting to set in. I think I might have a heart attack… I… I —DALE!! DALE!! She roars with all her might. Please, let me find my boy. Please. Wiping her eyes leading to temporary blurred vision, leads to Tess taking another spill. This time as she is stepping over another fence, her leg catches, gravity switches to drive her chin and all her weight, into the steel fence post. Tasting blood and hearing soft bells ring, Tess takes a long blink followed by a cold sleep, losing her hold in the growing storm, left to the mercies of fate.
Short fingers grabbed at red mittens. Dale giggled as he slid his fingers against the tickling fibres of his winter gloves, the outsides are shaggy like little paws and the inside are smoothest, softest sheepskin. Snug fitting and usually used as an accessory to playtime than anything else. Dale was finally dressed and ready to go over the fields to the old quarry. The old quarry was shut down 100 years ago and has since flooded with water from the river that runs parallel to it. A small channel cut in to speed the flow and a low dam at the other end. It was magnificent. This was Dale’s favourite place. A place his father brought him before he wasn’t here anymore. Not even the police knew.
Making his way from his soft carpet to the hard wood floor, Dale tugs open his bedroom door and grins as it creaks, —creeeeeeeeeak copies Dale and he giggles again. Mum always said the house made funny sounds. Especially at night when it settles again after the action of the day. Mum said dinner will be ready soon so I better be quick. And if she sends me to bed without dinner, well… I’m starving so I’ll be quick. She’ll never know.
Stepping through the hallway and into the kitchen he can smell it now, pizza and chips with garlic bread. Dale drools just a little. Resisting the urge to grab a snack, he sneaks out the laundry and into the back yard.
The sun is about to set and he only has 20 minutes at most. He takes off running, clears the first small back fence and hits the paddock, continuing at full speed.
Little knees being driven by skinny legs pumping like pistons, a bird chest with young lungs absorbing oxygen then burning it like fuel as he gulps down his next lung of energy. It’s cold. It’s wet. It’s nearly dark and here is Dale. Running full piss through the first field and clearing the fence between the latter and the second like an athletic star, Dale can see the outcrop of trees circling the quarry, also known as, “The Diamond”.
Darkness has fallen and so has silence over the Diamond, with her surrounding woods and occasional paddocks. Dale has been coming here every day for the last 6 months, and let us tell you why. About 18 months after his dad vanished, Dale was walking through the field on his way to the Diamond. “There was a short gold rush here 150 years ago, son.” Gruffed his father. “But they didn’t find more than a couple of nuggets while they were here and so they gave up. They sold the land and your great grandfather bought these acres we live on. He tamed it for farming and settled here. So did his children, and his children, all the way up until your generation.” His dad’s eyes sparkled in the light at the private memories of his childhood.
That’s almost as clear as it gets. His Da occasionally found a small fleck of gold here and there but never anything life changing, but that all changed 2 years ago. On the day he went for a walk, got sidetracked and discovered a small cave system on his property. But he is a story for another time. For now, Dale is walking back from the diamond when the winds pick up.
Talk about frosty. Dales nose was getting dusted by the oncoming winds and his eyes were watery. He was starting to panic. A Storm leered out of nowhere and swept all light aside in a single breath. Dales heart starts to race as he imagines trees being torn from their roots and flung through the air in dizzying cartwheels. Fearing lightning striking as he makes his steps back to the fence. Fearing his mother coming and looking for him and the resulting punishment. And just as his mother crossed his mind, he heard her shrill screams of his name being whipped past on the wind. A few seconds pass and he hears her again, hysterical. He bolts towards the fence line and stops after a dozen feet to listen again. Winds scream but no sounds from Mum. Now he panics. Now Dale runs along the fence as fast as he can.
A few minutes pass before he sees a darkened clump staggered against the fence, Mum! Thank God you’re OK Mum, Mum? Are you OK? She sits slumped against the fence, her face a bloody mess with a gapped smile and grazed forehead. Her eyes unfocused and dark around the edges. “Mum? Are you OK? Mum?” Finally Tess starts to stir again, she looks up and sees the frozen face standing a few inches from her own. She hears “Mum? Mum are you OK?” She nods her head. Slowly she makes it back to her feet, staggers slightly then stands up straight. “Fuck —touching her face— that’s already tender. Let’s get home Dale, well discuss this tomorrow. Let’s get you fed and ready for bed. I need to clean up.” Taking his mothers hand, the magnitude of what lies ahead goes to waste on this 8 year old’s head. And that, is also another time.
2… Come the dawn of the next day, Dale is still asleep come 9am and Tess is feeling pretty sore. Her chin has a slice from the pressure of the impact, she has 2 chipped teeth from kissing the second pole. A busted lip that goes well with her black eye and swollen nose. Tess looked a right fucking mess, and she felt none too better either. Boiling the kettle, she grabs 2 mugs, a tin of Milo, full cream milk from the fridge and two teaspoons from the top draw in the bench to her left. Tess walks to the pantry, pulls open the soft sticking door and scans the shelves for the giant marshmallows. Spotting her prize and seizing it with a small “Haha”, Tess slides the door shut with her bum as she turns back around, almost startled to see Dale standing there in his Shawn the Sheep pyjamas and clutching his stuffed teddy to his chest with an arm, while rubbing an eye with his other, yawning.
“Mornjng mum” mumbled a tired Dale. “Morning sweetheart, would you like a Milo? I’ve just boiled the pot so its still hot and I’ll toast a marsh for you too, get you nice and warm” Little blue eyes peer up over the fuzzy ears of the chocolate brown bear. “Yes please.” Comes the semi smothered and velvet voice reply. “I’m sorry about last night Mum, I shouldn’t have gone off so late.” Tess gets to one knee and takes his hand in hers, green jade looking level with his sharp blue and her other hand holding onto his bear then she tells him, “No you shouldn’t have. Nor should you have gone anywhere without telling me. It’s not as simple as ‘You can run off and everything will be fine because you’ll come back’. It doesn’t work like that honey, you have to tell me, you’re my flesh and blood. I couldn’t imagine if I called you for dinner or bed and you didn’t come back. That’s a parents worst nightmare. Do you understand sweetie?”
Dales eyes had moistened and the gravity of his mothers words hit him harder than he expected and without even thinking about it, he blurts out, “I think I found a big chunk of gold. That’s where I’ve been going. For a while now I’ve been collecting gold rocks and hiding them in my room.” Tess has gone from stern and serious, to gobsmacked and disbelieving. Her eyes as wide as they can get given the circumstances and her jaw skack, “what do you mean, Dale? Show mummy”.
Dale takes his mother’s hand with the Milo forgotten and leads her down the hall to his bedroom. Flicking in the light, Dale saunters over to his small dresser draws, and wriggles it away from the wall. He slips behind the dresser and takes three small, loose boards off the floor and places them delicately on the plush carpet that silences his secret movements, Tess can’t believe it. After a few more seconds Dale pops his little noggin up again with his eyes shining. In his hands is a shoebox. Tess still can’t believe it. Surely he must only have normal rocks in there. Or at least something that looks golden in the light. Dale takes the lid off the box and steps back so his mother can see, and what she sees almost stops her heart. Her pupils dialate to the size of small coins and her breath catches in her throat. She is stunned.
2 years ago
It was a calm winter morning. Light snows blanketed the preexisting patches to new and filled the footsteps from yesterday’s trudge down to The Diamond. Standing at his window to gaze over the flat lands of his farm and the forest that lies beyond it, he can see the frozen face of Dime, with the strained sun reflecting diamond bright shards of light in all directions. To say Gerald wasn’t happy would be a lie. He has a beautiful and devoted wife, with an adorable little man running around in dads shoes, trying to help mum. For Gerald, life couldn’t get any better, his tea couldn’t be any sweeter, and his bed couldn’t be any warmer. Perfect. And today, he was off to the Diamond, to see how far off it was from freezing over.
Thick Explorer socks, old, rugged boots and a Driza-Bone to keep the chill out was standard for him this time of year. But to be safe, he stuffed gloves into his pockets, and his cigarette tobacco, papers and filters, into his breast pocket. Chances are, he’s gonna want a smoke while out, maybe even burn a joint in the splendour of the old quarry, surrounding snowy trees and frozen lake. A habit his wife was aware of, and didn’t mind one bit. After all, she is perfect. And he knows it.
Wrapped up, boots on (should have put em on outside, wake the whole fucking house up walking on those wooden floors) and Thermos full off coffee delight, Gerald sets off into the early winter morning and her promise of a cold embrace.