Episode 2 of The Intruder Serial is below after The Tree and the Sky
The Tree and the Sky
by Kate Murdoch
It took Marcus six tries. He threw the rope as high as his strength allowed, only to see it tumble to the bleached grass below in a tangled heap. The fig tree cast long shadows, its thick branches extending out, concealed in places by dense leaves.
On the final try the rope looped over the branch, and he sank down on his haunches. Sweat drenched his singlet.
Marcus climbed the tree, wrapped his legs around the rough surface and shimmied upwards, using the depressions in the trunk as footholds. He crawled on all fours along the branch until he reached the rope. Muttering under his breath he formed the knot, fumbling with the rope. At the edge of his vision the sun descended. The clusters of deep green leaves, the ochre branches and his forearms were bathed in apricot light.
As he worked, the words of people he loved danced in his mind. Words of rejection and love intermingled—were the same. He no longer knew why he was there. All the reasons joined in a miasma of wretchedness. His wife was gone, taking the children with her. Once she had treasured him. These days her disdain was clear—he was worthless, irrelevant. All she cared about was his ability to provide child support. The week after she left he was made redundant. He pressed his palms to his face, pain needling his chest. Emotion wedged in his throat.
Light filtered through the gaps in Marcus’s fingers and he opened his eyes. He squinted at the deep gold sun. Wisps of fuchsia and butter yellow bled around it, streaked with cobalt. The rope slipped from his hand and he sat on the branch. High in the sky, the indigo of night encroached. As night comes, I go, he thought, unable to look away from the sunset.
At that moment something soft brushed against his arm. It was Yala, his cat, stippled black and white. She purred as he stroked the underside of her chin, and climbed onto his lap, settling herself into a half moon. The opalescent sky and the smoothness of Yala’s fur beneath his fingers lulled him.
A breeze rustled the leaves and they whispered, forming a protective cocoon. The wood supporting his weight was a friend, steeling him. Yala’s body vibrated with pleasure. She was passing him joy like a baton, as was the tree, as was the sky.
A fog lifted from his mind. He remained there until the sky darkened, lit by a sliver of moon. Yala’s work was done. She sprang up and looked at him. He saw the glitter of her eyes before she leapt away.
Marcus felt his way along the branch and found the trunk. He hugged it close, shuffling his body down its length. Peering down, he saw the faint delineation where the base of the tree met grass, and let go. A clumsy landing left him sprawled on his side. He rubbed his stinging thigh. I am alive, he thought and chuckled. I am alive.
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Kate Murdoch is a Melbourne writer and artist. Kate exhibited widely as a painter before turning her hand to writing. In between writing historical fiction, she enjoys writing short stories and flash fiction.
Kate studied Professional Writing and Editing at Swinburne University, and has completed short courses in creative writing at RMIT. She is currently writing The Orange Grove, a novel about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in eighteenth-century France. Kate’s novel Stone Circle was on the Harper Collins website Authonomy and was selected by the Harper Collins editors as the ‘One to Watch’ in March 2015.
A Serial in Five Parts
Previous Episode 1
She fought back the panic. She had to hide. She couldn’t use the stairs if they were in the downstairs hall. She couldn’t climb out the windows. They were too high off the ground. She had to hide. Where could she hide. Her mind blank, she stood shaking by the bedroom door. She clenched her fists, nails biting into her palms as she struggled to focus.
Try to think.
Get out of the bedroom. The intruder would see the bed where she had been sleeping. He’d search here first. Quickly she slipped down the dark hall to the guest bedroom, feeling along the wall with her hand. She could barely make out the furnishings in the dim light offered by the window. She struggled to think about the room and where she could possible hide. Her mind would barely work. It was hard to think with the rising panic. There was no good hiding place here.
She quickly went out into the hall and across to Davy’s room. His room was darker yet with the huge oak tree outside the window. She looked at the branches outside the window, but there was nothing close enough for her to reach. She searched the room, as much from memory as from what she could see in the dim light. There was no good place here to hide either. She turned and went to the door. Her hand was on the knob when she heard steps in the hall at the head of the stairs. It was too late to go out. Oh God. What now. Panic closed around her. She turned first one way and then another. She wanted to run, but there was no place to run to. She was trapped in the small room.
She put her ear to the door, but could hear nothing except her heart. It felt like it would burst from her chest. She opened her mouth, tried to control her breathing, and listened. Nothing. She put her hand on the door handle, but couldn’t make herself turn it. She stood with her head leaning against the door.
A noise in the hall outside.
To be continued