Ignoring my surrounds, I hurried along a neat, narrow path leading from the cottage up to the road. Legs feeling like jelly, I lent on a wooden fence post for support.
A hundred questions raced around my mind, trying hard to make sense of it all. His home? Never been vacant? Trespassing? And what about the fireplace? The dust? The garden?
The light-headedness retuned and my stomach was churning with anxiety. With a firmer grip on the fence post, it took all my strength to remain upright, until I realised the fence was no longer a tangled mess of barbed wire on the ground.
Feet collapsing under me, I blacked out and dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
"Miss. Miss. Are you all right, Miss?" A quiet voice echoed in the distance, growing louder as I gained consciousness. Were they talking to me? Are they calling me Miss? Someone was shaking me. My eyes fluttered open, then slammed shut, stinging from the bright sun above me. My head pounded. I think I'll stay in bed a little longer, I thought. Wait, the sun. Was I outside? Someone shook me again. "Miss, open your eyes. I think you may have had a fainting spell." I opened one eye, preparing myself for another blinding attack of the sun, but whoever was speaking and shaking me, was leaning over, shielding my face from it. I was thankful for that and the other eye popped open. My eyes came into focus and it was the man from inside the cottage. Memories flooding back, I began to panic all over again. When I attempted to sit up, he placed a hand on my shoulder. "Wait, you've had a fall. Do you feel any pain?"
I wiggled my fingers and toes. Everything felt normal.
Shaking my head, I replied, "I'm okay. Just a pounding headache."
He nodded once, giving me permission to sit up. As I did, he backed away, keeping his distance.
"Are you well, Miss?" His body language indicated he was anxious or perhaps even a little afraid of me? I bet he was desperately hoping I'd say yes so he could run back inside and hide.
"Physically, yes. Mentally, I'm not sure," I replied.
That was not the right thing to say. His anxiety skyrocketed. "Ah, all right, um- D-Do you need assistance of-of some sort? Do you need help getting back to town?"
"Um, no, thanks. I have my car," I said, waving behind me in the general direction of where I parked my car. He glanced past me and blankly looked left then right. I twisted the upper part of my body and looked behind me, jaw dropping. In an instant I was on my feet, ignoring the throbbing in my head. "Where is my car?" I yelled, and turned back to him. He didn't reply. "What have you done with my car?" I took a couple of steps forward and he took a couple back.
"I don't know what you are talking about, Miss," he said, both hands raised, as though protecting himself from me. "What is this car you speak of? Is that the name of your horse?" He genuinely looked confused. Was this guy dense or what?
"Don't play dumb with me," I said, pointing my index finger at him. "And stop calling me Miss. I drove here today in my car and I parked it right there. Now it's gone. Look, I even have the keys." I reached down into my jeans front pocket. No keys. I tried all other pockets. No keys. Damn. Did I leave them in the ignition?
"You are wearing the most unusual clothes," he commented, eyeing me up and down.
I glanced down at myself, seeing nothing wrong with my dark jeans and beige knitted jumper. "Excuse me? I'm not the one dressed up like Banjo Paterson."
"I don't believe I know anyone by that name."
"Oh, come on. Waltzing Matilda, the guy on the $10 note?" He shook his head. And then it dawned on me. This was all a set up. I was going to strangle Anna when I saw her. "My friend Anna put you up to this, didn't she? You're probably one of Bradley's friends. I can't believe I nearly fell for it. Okay, ha ha, very funny. Joke's over."
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Clay's Cottage (Book 1)Historical Fiction
[COMPLETED] Seeking inspiration for her next historical romance novel, Tilly Fletcher visits a mysterious 19th century Tasmanian cottage, abandoned suddenly over a century ago by a sad and lonely recluse. As Tilly steps through the still and silent...