Growing up I lived in a rural area of Australia, it was a quiet place with not much to do. Our closest neighbours were half an hour away, so it was mostly just my older brother Steven and I that would play on weekends. Often, we would spend hours going deeper into the bush that surrounded our property in search of places to fish or swim.
I was eleven at the time and my brother was fourteen. It was school holidays for us which meant if we finished our chores we could do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day. Our parents weren’t to worried about our adventures as long as we got back in time for dinner.
On this day my brother led the way and rather then the aimless wandering we would usually do he wanted to show me something he had been working on while I had been staying at my friend’s house. It took a few hours of walking, but we arrived near a creek. He had cut a decrepit tree down and used the log to make a ladder leading up a large red gum tree.
The branches were sturdy enough to hold us and we spent the day diving off it. Towards the afternoon I was skipping rocks while my brother sat lazily on the branches. I was searching for some more rocks when I heard a branch snap in the distance. It got my attention, but I didn’t think to much of it. There was always plenty of snakes, lizards and kangaroos around but if you left them alone and kept a safe distance they usually did the same.
I continued searching when I heard leaves rustling. As I looked up a pink shoe appeared from behind the tree and a small body followed it. About twenty metres from me there was a girl standing among the trees just staring at me. She looked about Steven’s age. I remember thinking it was weird how pale she was. Especially in this area, everyone had some sort of tan from the sun.
For a moment we just stared at each other. I was surprised to see someone else out here as we lived so far from anyone else. After a moment I called out to her and she started to walk towards us. I yelled to my brother, who climbed down to see who she was.
The closer she got, the more I noticed how dirty her clothes were and not only that, but they were way too big for her small frame. She was a few metres from us when she froze in place and continued to stare. My brother introduced us both, but she still didn’t say anything, I noticed her hands were shaking almost as if she feared us.
After a few awkward glances between each other, I told her if she wanted to play with us she could at least tell us her name. Her straight face suddenly became animated and she spoke quickly “I’m Bethany. Mother always told me to introduce myself. That’s my problem you know, I never listen.”
My brother asked her where she lived and why we had never seen her at school. She told us that she was visiting her Aunt. My brother asked her what her Aunties name was, but Bethany said she didn’t know, she just called her “Aunty”. It was strange, but we just moved on and kept talking.
Well Steven and I did most the talking and she just stood there awkwardly. Being late in the afternoon Steven told me that we needed to head back for dinner or we’d be late. Bethany suddenly became more vocal and asked, “Do you want to see something cool?”.
She smiled after she said it, but it seemed unnatural, this was the first time her face had shown any emotion and it made me feel uncomfortable and it still does when I think about it. My brother asked her what she wanted to show us and to this day I can still hear her voice in my head word for word.
“A dead body.”
I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to see less than a dead body, but it caught Stevens interest. “Where’d you find it?” he asked. When Bethany answered, she spoke so softly I could barely hear her. “Not far from here, if you want to see it”.
I didn’t like this at all, my brother would always make fun of me for being a wimp, but not only did I not want to see a dead body, I also didn’t want to get in trouble. Bethany insisted it wouldn’t take long and Steven told me I could go home if I was scared.
I begged him to come home with me, tittering on the edge of a tantrum. Steven called me a wimp and told me to go home if I wanted, but he was going to see it. I thought about it for a moment and decided I didn’t want to walk home alone and announced I would go but wasn’t going to look at it.
Bethany gave me a weak smile and without saying anything she started heading back through the bushes she had appeared from. I kept a safe distance, so I wouldn’t accidentally see the body, but Steven kept close to Bethany and wouldn’t stop talking. I was jealous at the time but in hindsight, he was trying to impress her.
After half an hour of walking through the bush it became apparent that it wasn’t close to us at all. Bethany said she had just found it in an abandoned house on the property and hadn’t told anyone about it yet. We walked for probably another half hour and the sun was beginning to go down.
We came to a clearing where the thick trees ended and the tall grass started. A few hundred metres in front of us was a decrepit wooden farmhouse, the wood was rotting and the rusted tin roof looked like it would fall if a slight breeze passed.
I had second thoughts about going in and watched Steven and Bethany start walking towards the house. I had stopped walking and couldn’t take my eyes off the house when suddenly the outline of a man’s body moved past one of the windows. They were only a hundred metres from the house when I caught up and grabbed Stevens arm and told him I had seen someone in there.
As the words left my mouth Bethany let out a loud whistle and attached herself to Stevens free arm. He started yelling and spun around trying to throw her off. To my horror a man burst out of the doorway of the house and started to run towards us.
In desperation I started kicking and punching Bethany as Steven started pushing her off. Eventually her grip loosened and he ripped his arm free. I looked up and saw the man more clearly, he was just as pale as Bethany and was the thinnest person I’d ever seen. He was wielding a machete above his head as he ran towards us.
Steven screamed at me to run and we both took off running as fast as we could. I looked over my shoulder in pure terror to see this man run past Bethany as she was getting up. All his teeth were baring, I can only describe his look as one of a predator closing in on his prey.
I looked back in front of me and continued to run when suddenly I felt an arm grab the back of my shirt. and let out a yelp only to find it was Steven making sure he didn’t lose me. We crashed through the bushes scraping our legs and arms as we pushed through anything that was in our way. I could hear the sticks and brush break as the man charged through after us.
I had no idea where we were going, I just continued to follow my brother who was dragging me by my shirt. We came to a creek and he practically threw me in and we started swimming across as fast we could. I heard the water splash behind us moments later, Steven had made it to the creek bed before me and as I got to my feet I saw him with a rock in his hand.
The man was over halfway across when Steven started throwing rocks. He yelled at me to keep running and I did. I heard the man scream as one of Steven’s rocks hit him. I turned around to see the man swimming back across as my brother kept throwing rocks. The man got back out of the water and I watched him and my brother stare at each other.
The look this man gave us was one of absolute evil and hatred. Steven turned and started running towards me, I saw Bethany join the man on the side of the creek as they both continued staring. Steven ordered me to keep running and that’s exactly what I did.
Eventually we had to stop and Steven dragged me to the ground as we took deep rapid breaths, still trying to hide just in case they were following us. It took hours to find our way back in the dark and was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. When we finally got home my Mum was there, but my Dad was out looking for us. We told her what had happened and she locked all the doors then called the police.
This was before mobile phones, so we just sat inside with all the doors locked and waited for my Dad to come home. My mother called our neighbours and they were freaked out, nothing like this happened in our town. Our neighbours knew the house we were talking about immediately, it was on their property.
When my dad got home he sat in a chair in front of our door with his hunting rifle all night and into the morning. Our town had a very small police force, so they came to our property that night, but it took till about 8AM the next morning for another two officers to come out.
When they got to the farm house, no one was there. They said the squatters left in a hurry because there was so much left behind. The most chilling part was that Bethany wasn’t lying, in the house they found the body of a woman. I only learned this as I got older but the machete the man was wielding had been used before.
What was strange is that they couldn’t identify this woman, she wasn’t a local and DNA wasn’t a thing back then. They posted a sketch of her but to my knowledge nothing ever came of it. Our neighbours and police checked any other abandoned buildings known on surrounding properties but there were no sign of them. It was as if they vanished into thin air. I still wonder about Bethany, there is so many questions. Was that woman her mother? Was she being forced to do what she did?
We moved closer into the city a few years after that, but it took a long time before I stopped having nightmares about it. Steven beat himself up over it for many years and stopped calling me a wimp after that day. We are both very protective parents of our own children and even though mine have moved out I still get this urge to call or drop by every so often to see if everything’s okay. It’s kind of a family joke between my wife and kids but it’s something I will never stop doing.