"Crossing The Rip" by Dorothy Johnston - Part Two

Celebrated crime writer Dorothy Johnston, author of works such as The Swan Island Connection and Through a Camel's Eye continues her short story 'Crossing The Rip'. Missed the first part? Catch it here! And have you got your entry in for our short story competition yet?

The light was dull, the bay flat and grey, but there was a gap on the horizon, a hole between the clouds, with yellow and pink shining out of it. It seemed to Elspeth, waiting for the ferry, that if she stared long enough at the horizon she might pass right through the hole and out the other side. The girl taking tickets let her on even though she only had three dollars, and this unexpected kindness gave her heart.

Elspeth thought of what she’d learnt in the museum, hugging the knowledge to her sides as though it were her own secret, not just information that had been sitting there waiting for anyone to find. She looked up at the sky again, noting that the tear had widened. Now it seemed as though Simon Bantree might be waiting on the other side. Elspeth wondered if he’d looked up and seen his murderer before he died, and for the first time she felt sorry for him. She also felt so hungry that she began to wonder what the ferry did with its garbage and thought about walking around the cafeteria to see if any food had been left on plates.

A pilot boat passed them, moving swiftly, an orange arrow in the dusk. Elspeth was surprised to realise that she’d been gone all day. She could no longer make out where the water ended and the land began, and thought again of her ancestor crossing in his row boat, in the days when there had been no ferries, no container ships or pilots to guide them. The pilot approached a big ship, orange too, exactly the same colour. The small boat drew right alongside and they stayed like that, fixed like a mother and her baby for such a long time that Elspeth began to believe they would never separate. It disturbed her, like those bridesmaids and their escorts, with their hands flung out in a rhythm.

While they were docking, Elspeth remembered seeing the rug with the blue and purple pattern a second time, in the back of a mini van. There’d been quite a lot of cars in the parking area behind the pier, so that meant it was probably a Saturday or Sunday, but she could not remember which. The mini van had been white, but then they nearly always were.

By the time she left the ferry, it was already practically dark. In fact, it would have seemed dark to a person walking outside from a lighted room. But Elspeth had her night eyes, having stood in mist and drizzle on the upper deck. She walked all the way from the terminal to the parking lot behind the pier, no longer feeling tired or hungry, but filled with a strange inward light. Her hands glowed like those phosphorescent toys that seemed to belong to an age and kind of person she had never been. She recalled feeling envious of a girl who’d brought one to school, and the recollection brought nothing but contempt.

A white mini van was parked under the lighthouse, away from street lights, up against the tea-tree. A man was opening the door. Elspeth stood in the shadows watching.

There was something about the man that she felt she ought to recognise. His shadow was square-shaped. Could it be Mr Mahood? Mr Mahood was short, with broad shoulders and wide hips for a man. But Mr Mahood drove a big Toyota Landcruiser that Billy said was worth sixty thousand dollars. His wife drove a new white Hyundai and as soon as his kids were old enough, Elspeth knew they’d all have cars of their own.

Elspeth drew nearer to the van. She’d thought that she’d been moving silently, but now that she was quite close, the man suddenly straightened up from where he’d been arranging something in the back, and looked her in the face.

It was a stranger, somebody Elspeth had never seen before. His expression was blank underneath a beanie pulled close around his head.

‘Hello,’ he said. ‘Where are you off to?’

‘Nowhere,’ Elspeth said.

The man’s voice was mild, like water flowing from a tap that was neither hot nor cold.

Elspeth thought of the tea-tree all around them, the dark caverns and tunnels. The man was young and not very big.

‘What have you got in your van?’ she asked him, taking a step sideways.

‘Just my fishing gear.’

Elspeth felt soothed by the man’s voice, and very tired. She almost asked if he had anything to eat.

‘Did you catch anything?’ she asked, taking another step.

The man laughed and said in a soft voice, ‘Not yet.’

He took two quick steps towards her. Elspeth dived under the bushes.

She knew the place, having built cubbies there since she was five years old. She knew the steep drop down, where the tea-tree made a roof and where she could run bent double.

Torchlight parted and destroyed the cover of leaves and branches over Elspeth’s head. Down near the ground the undergrowth was thick and the man’s torch scarcely penetrated. Elspeth’s hands glowed. She scurried like a rat.

Dread made her arms and legs so heavy that, after the first rush, she felt that she could scarcely lift them. She knew she should have run back along the road to the nearest house. Her secret way was slow, and even if she yelled her lungs out nobody would hear her. Elspeth sobbed with fear and anger, for having gone anywhere near the van, for choosing the wrong way.

For what seemed like a long time after that, she thought of nothing but running and falling. A branch tore at her mouth and she swallowed blood. But then she was out and there was only the street to cross, and she was she was on the other side and climbing the dark porch of her own house, beating on the door and yelling.

Elspeth ate a bowl of cornflakes, but went on feeling hungry, not only in her stomach, but in every other part as well. She noticed that the policeman had strange-coloured eyes, and that his cheeks hung down as though he expected everyone to disappoint him.

The policeman made phone calls, then asked Elspeth to go back to the beginning and tell him everything again. When she described the tea-tree tunnel, he looked annoyed and frowned.

Elspeth’s mother stood with crossed arms in the doorway and a face full of spite. The twins half hid behind her in their matching dressing gowns. Only Billy was fully in the room with her. Billy kept his face blank, but when the policeman asked Elspeth something for the third time, he got up and fetched her a glass of water.

‘Why didn’t you tell us about the body straight away?’

‘I was scared.’

‘Of what?’

Elspeth couldn’t say, everybody knew I hated Simon. She made herself not look at Billy.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said.

The phone rang in the hallway. When their mother came back from answering it, there were red lines along her cheekbones and her eyes looked as though they’d been polished.

The policeman closed his notebook, frowned again and said, ‘That’ll be all for now, young Miss.’

For the rest of that night, Elspeth felt detached from what was going on, from whether the policeman had believed her, and the fact that her mother shut herself in her room and did not come again.

There was a soft knock on her door; Elspeth knew that it was Billy. She rolled over in her narrow bed and squeezed her eyes shut.

In the silence of the house after Billy gave up and went away, between the wood and plaster of its walls, Elspeth returned to her holes and tunnels in the tea-tree, crouching there, cold and hungry and afraid to move. She tried to summon Harry Tregear as a comfort, and went over her discoveries in the museum. Harry had been sentenced and convicted for stealing a rabbit, though he was only nine.

Elspeth felt exhausted, yet afraid to sleep.

The fear didn’t leave her after she got up next morning and went off to school. The past could not be relied on, and she didn’t see how she could prevent herself from repeating her mistakes.

Over the next few days, Elspeth saw quite a lot of the police. She stepped warily around her mother, and was careful not to say anything to set her off.

For a short while, at school, she found herself a heroine, especially among kids like herself, who’d been bullied by Simon. They knew about child molesters. They’d had it all drummed into them. But Simon had seemed indestructible.

They were sober, the children, Elspeth and Billy too, when they heard the driver of the mini van had been arrested. Their small sisters, though conversant with Simon’s cruelty, as well as the dangers of talking to strangers, were content to leave it there, that a menace had been lifted. This relief that the tyrant was dead - none of them dared speak about it to grown-ups - kept the children close, and closely gathered around Elspeth, who was touched by the magic of deliverance. She had run away and then come back. She had had the presence of mind to recall the colours of a rug.

Though Elspeth did not turn away from the attentions of the other children, she did not encourage them.

Billy cornered her in the backyard one afternoon, knowing, with the instinct he had for an advantage, that Elspeth was scared to hide under the fig tree. She was crouched down in the open by the fence.

Billy squatted beside his sister, near enough to touch.

‘What did he look like?’

Elspeth moved away and scratched in the dirt with a stick.

She said without turning round, ‘Did you ever want to kill him?’


Elspeth thought again about how Simon had left Billy alone. ‘What’s Mum doing?’ she asked.

Billy was relaxed. Her questions hadn’t bothered him. Brother and sister sat in a silence which gradually lost its threat.

Finally, Billy said, ‘I wouldn’t have done it.’

‘Done what?’

‘Picked up the rug and looked.’

Elspeth wanted to ask her brother how he knew what he would, or would not have done. But she understood, even as she began to form the question, that Billy would not have been the least bit bothered by the wedding party; he would not have needed to go and sit by himself near the gun emplacement. The whole chain of events which followed would never have happened to him.

It seemed pointless to say any of this. Elspeth thought of things growing in dark places where she couldn’t see, but where torchlight might pick out her form. She thought of roots grown huge in torchlight, whose sole purpose was to trip her up. It made her sick to think how she’d once played in the bunker, running up and down the filthy steps, how she’d been deaf to the twins calling out to her to come back.  She heard their shrieks behind her, then ahead, then knew the shrieks were real, and coming from the house.


Elspeth sighed and wondered for the millionth time why it fell to her to break up her sisters’ fights, when Billy was much better at it.

He confounded her by jumping to his feet in one smooth movement, saying, ‘I’ll go.’

Elspeth looked at her brother with surprise, then sat back and crossed her legs.

After a while, Billy came back to the fence. He didn’t say what he’d done to shut the twins up, and Elspeth didn’t ask. They watched the kitchen light come on behind closed curtains.

‘Dad’s not coming back,’ Elspeth said.

‘How do you know?’

‘I just do.’

Billy was looking at her oddly, not in a Billy way at all. Elspeth realised that this was because he couldn’t dismiss her opinions as easily as he had before.

When he repeated his question, Elspeth said, ‘Mum knows.’

She waited for the words to sink into her own brain as well as Billy’s, who’d never had to think about what it meant to be replaced. And indeed, he might not be. If her father kept in touch with any of them, it would be his son.

‘Why doesn’t she tell us?’

‘She’s scared to.’

‘I’ll find out where Dad is,’ Billy said. ‘I’ll go and bring him home.’

Elspeth would have liked to say, ‘I’ll come too’, but she didn’t. She thought that Billy would have to make his own mistakes.

The two children stood up. Elspeth went to their mother, while Billy waited for a moment then followed her indoors.

"Life with Claude" by Peter Yeldham

One of our most celebrated authors, the legendary Peter Yeldham, has a new book coming soon. In fact, "The Last Double Sunrise" is now available for pre-order! While waiting for your copy to arrive, it's worth visiting some of Peter's memories about one of his more mischievous family members: 'Claude'. Peter spent many years in the United Kingdom, writing celebrated scripts for radio and television, and even working with Spike Milligan.  Peter's story presents plenty of inspirational fodder for the theme 'new beginnings', which is the focus of our very first short story competition. Since we announced last week, our inbox has been filled with exciting entries! We're looking forward to receiving even more and bringing you the winning entry before Christmas. If you're stuck for ideas, we think this post from Peter presents plenty of opportunities for inspiration. 

My wife and children decided it was time for a dog when we moved from a flat in Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, to a house with ten acres, just a half hour from London.  We’d had various pets since Marjorie and I married; first a cat, when we lived in North Sydney, where our daughter Lyn was born.  This was in  the days before computers, when I typed on a portable.  The cat, her name was Cleopatra, found a cosy spot to park herself.  Each day she sat on my desk, inches from me and the typewriter, purring as I wrote radio scripts. When I finished each page I had to lift her, since her chosen  residence was on the typed pages of dialogue which she kept warm. If I got stuck at this point, and paused for thought, she’d start to purr again, as if to say ‘do get on with it.’

We had to leave Cleo with friends when television was about to be imminent,  and our government gave both licenses to media moguls Packer and Fairfax, who then expressed little faith in local actors and writers being able to handle this new attraction.  “I’ll treat Australians the way I’ve always treated them,” promised Packer.

“In that case let’s go to England,” I said to my wife, and three months later we were on a ship with our children, Lyn aged five, and Perry two years old. We were mad, our friends and family said, but they had no idea how mad.   It was our secret, we had no return fare, and not much spare cash for when we arrived in London.

But this is about Claude, so let’s skip the  two hard years when we might have fled home, but couldn’t afford it. Our bank, The Bank of NSW, now Westpac, refused to lend us the fare. We had no collateral they said, and we are still very grateful to them.  If they’d been generous enough to help, I’d have been back home writing radio scripts and listening to Cleopatra purring.

Instead we stayed another eighteen years in England, the kids went to school there, and after twelve years in London, we found the perfect house in Surrey, and decided it needed a dog.  Marge and Lyn went out one day to buy a small sweet doggy.  At least that was their intention; he may have looked small and sweet to them, but it was clear he wouldn’t stay that way, as he had enormous feet. We christened him Claude, and from the day of his arrival he grew. They had clearly been won over by his friendly demeanour, but they’d brought home a bloodhound, a breed who not only grow, they also follow scents. Before long Claude was living up to this status, tracing aromas he’d detected all over most of southern England.

We lived in Surrey, but his nose took him to Hampshire and Sussex, from where we'd get phone calls saying: "We have your gorgeous dog, but we'll keep him safe until you collect him." In vain Marge asked them to turn him loose, just don't feed him and, he'll find his own way home.  The reply was always that he was much too precious to do that.   So off she went, to the next county or the county after that, and Claude would come home in the car, flop down to rest for a brief time, then set off on another journey.  When he did come home our cat who was perched on a kitchen bench, would whack him across the ear as he went past.  It became easier for her to reach him, because this small sweet doggie had grown so large.  For instance, when I was sitting at meal times I could feel his hot breath as he peered over my shoulder to check what was on my plate.

"Sit down, Claude," I'd say.

"Dad, he is sitting down," the kids liked to point out.

There was an invitation from the lady where we’d bought him, we called her “Mrs B-Hound” because she raised them and, looked a bit like some of her merchandise.  She was having a Sunday gathering of the faithful, at least thirty bloodhounds who all looked identical to Claude were meeting in a forest near Chessington Zoo with their owners.  It was a bizarre and hilarious day.  A canine picnic where thirty hounds all chased scents and got lost in the process, where our son and daughter said the owners all looked like their pets, and poor Mrs B-Hound who’d invited us all, had to call an early end to the meet as everyone was having difficulty identifying which bloodhound was theirs.  The humans were becoming terse and the dogs barked and seemed to have trouble working out who owned them.  Claude, as if deciding the whole thing was a debacle, took off in search of somewhere more interesting and, of course, we were the last home, as we had to go in search of him.

After some months, finding the trips to collect him from other counties becoming even more frequent, we sent him to an obedience school who vowed promised to control his roving.   Two weeks later he came back with a new best friend called Jason; the owner had been taken ill and somehow we’d inherited Jason, a peaceful Labrador.  The school told us the two spent all day together and, such a friendship would be a calming influence.  So we adopted Jason and hoped for the best.  The next day Claude disproved the theory by going on his longest exploratory trip, almost reaching Brighton.

Marjorie had to drive there to collect him.  Our son Perry attempted a solution.  He rode his horse to Epsom Downs, with Claude loosely following them. When they reached the Downs Perry rode at a furious gallop to exhaust the hound.  Claude raced alongside them, enjoying it immensely.  When they returned home, the horse and Perry were exhausted.  Claude had a brief rest, but by the time the horse was unsaddled Claude had sniffed the wind and was gone again.   It seemed the British Isles might soon be unable to contain him.

Some weeks later Marge was driving home, when she saw the back view of the village policeman who appeared to have a large animal on a leash.

"Oh, thank you.  That's my dog," she said, pulling up beside him.

"Is it, Madam?" the copper said, turning to face her.  He was covered in slime from the village duck pond and so was Claude, wagging his tail in cheerful recognition.  Seeing him splashing among the ducks, the cop set out to catch him and had fallen in. A bunch of school kids had witnessed this and roared laughing at the sight, leaving the law wet, bedraggled, and seriously displeased.    He stumped off, threatening that Claude could face arrest, and a large fine if his behaviour continued.

That night we held a high level conference on his future.   It seemed there was no way we could confine him to Surrey. Soon he'd be on his way to Devon, after that Cornwall or Wales. A heart-breaking decision was reached after some gin and tonics.  Claude had to go.  We took him back to the breeder, to Mrs B-Hound, who found him a new owner in Kansas.   We never forgot him, and often wondered where he might be now.  We couldn’t help imagining him at full stretch across the prairies, headed for the next state, or perhaps on his way north to Canada.


'As the Lonely Fly' - Audio Teaser!

Sara Dowse’s new blockbuster, historical saga As The Lonely Fly, has been enjoying rave reviews. We’re thrilled to announce that As The Lonely Fly will be one of many titles coming to For Pity Sake’s line of audio books very soon. Read by our very own CEO and founder, Jennifer McDonald, As The Lonely Fly tells the breath-taking story of three sisters separated by the surge of history’s tide. Listen to the first chapter below for free! And if you can’t wait to hear the rest, you can buy the paperback right now!

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Barbie Robinson Interviews Jennifer McDonald

In December of 2016, Barbie Robinson of Artsound Fm interviewed Jennifer McDonald about her latest book, My Big Breast Adventure.  Hear Barbie and Jennifer's discussion of this moving, inspiring work below.  

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Copy's of Jennifer's book are available here.