Chapter Three

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Not long after, driving cautiously down a dirt road, I was surrounded by panoramic views of rural farmland. Houses were perched on top of rolling hills in the far distance, and cattle were scattered dots grazing peacefully in their pastures.

It was beautiful area; so peaceful. I hadn't passed another car since I'd left Hettie's.

The cottage was supposedly located in the western part of town, and taking the left road at the intersection should have led me straight to it.

Tempted to turn back to ask for directions, I decided to keep going and finally found a place that matched the photo. Turned out it wasn't very far from town, after all.

I pulled off the road as far as I could manage, but the dry, straw-like grass hindered my attempt to drive over it in my sedan. Not to mention the possible nails or barbed wire hidden under it all. The last thing I needed was a punctured tyre all the way out in the middle of nowhere.

Ignoring the trapped vegetation in my car door after slamming it shut, I stepped away cautiously, thankful for a second time that day that I had worn my boots. Who knew what sorts of slithery creatures lurked within.

The small house stood not too far from the road, and I felt compelled to admire it from afar for a moment. It seemed so alone, so empty, and that saddened me. A house once loved, now abandoned, whether by choice, we may never know.

I imagined the cottage as it once was; full of life, bustling with people, the laughter of young Nicholas echoing within its walls. Ghosts didn't haunt the rooms of this house, simply the memories of what once was.

I was hesitant to go inside, not quite ready to disturb the peace. Curious to see what remained around the back, I decided to go for a wander first.

I dodged the tangled remains of a barbed wire fence and made my way past the side of the house. The grass was still thick, but not as long, making it easier to walk through. I wondered if the neighbouring farmers allowed their cows to graze here.

There was a dilapidated, timber barn nearby, roof caving in, surrendering itself to the pull of gravity. Further down, I passed a messy pile of timber and wire, possibly once a chicken coop.

It really was a beautiful place. The sun bathed the open land in a warm, golden glow, while scattered Eucalyptus trees reached for the clear, blue sky. The melodious voice of Black Currawongs called in the distance.

I didn't think it wise to roam too far away, but as I turned, something caught my eye. Under one of the gum trees was an odd-shaped rock, tall and narrow. Not seeing any other rocks around, curiosity got the better of me, so I moved towards it. As I got closer, there was no mistaking what it was. A lone headstone, weathered and chipped over time, nothing but a single gum tree to protect it from the elements.

The inscription had faded but was still legible.

In Loving Memory Of

Thomas Clay

Died 4th July 1854

Aged 40

and wife Mary Ellen Clay

Died 2nd July 1854

Aged 38

Beloved parents of Nicholas

The dates sent a tingle down my spine, goosebumps rising on the surface of my arms and legs. They had died two days apart. Poor Nicholas. Losing his parents so close together. It seemed appropriate to bury them here; the place they built with their bare hands, the place they called home. I wondered if Nicholas visited them every day or watched them from afar through one of the cottage's windows.

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