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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #2314665
Psychotic axe-murderer stalks the Glen Hartwell area of the Victorian Countryside
February 2024

Ryan Milne, a craggy-faced farmer, who looked sixty, despite being only forty-eight, was checking his property, in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby region of the Victorian countryside, in late February 2024. He had some loggers coming in soon, but had to make certain that he had marked all old-growth trees with a large red 'X' so the loggers would know to leave them alone. He had had some trouble a few years ago when he had forgotten, and old-growth trees had been logged along with the rest. When the Department of Agriculture had sent around investigators to check reports that they had received, he had had a Devil of a job convincing them that it had been a mistake. He had narrowly avoided being fined into bankruptcy.

"Never again!" said Ryan to himself: "I'll never commit that kind of mistake again."

With a can of red spray paint in each hand, Ryan continued through the forest land. Until he heard a sound that stopped him. The unmistakable sound of an axe chopping wood.

They're not supposed to come until tomorrow! he thought: And they said they were going to use chainsaws, not axes. With a couple of thousand trees to cut down, it'll take forever with axes!

Trying to track where the chopping was coming from, Ryan did his best to hurry through the densely growing forest of red-, blue-, grey-, and ghost gums. It took him almost twenty-five minutes to track down the sound. Then, coming around a large red gum, he found himself face to face with a two-metre tall burly axeman, wearing denim overalls, a yellow-and-red checked shirt, black leather gloves, and brown leather work boots. Looking late fifties at least, he was using a double-headed huntsman's axe to chop down a giant red gum tree.

"Hi, mate," said Ryan: "You with the Mercantile Logging Company?"

"No, sir," said the tall man in a deep booming voice. Without bothering to stop chopping the tree: "I'm with no one but myself."

"You know you're on my land?"

"That so?" asked the axeman sounding uninterested.

"Yes, I'm Ryan Milne. This is the Milne Farm you're on."

"The name's Lucas Bass," said the woodsman: "Chopping down stuff is what I love doing."

"That's fine. But I got the Mercantile Logging Company coming in tomorrow to log my land."

"So you said."

"And they don't need any help from you."

"Sure they won't mind."

"Well, don't expect me to pay you anything. I didn't ask you..." said Ryan, stopping as he noticed the large red 'X' painted on the side of the tree: "You damned fool, that's an old-growth tree you're chopping."

"That so?"

"Don't you know you ain't allowed to chop down old-growth trees?"

"How come?" asked Lucas without stopping.

"Because it's the law!"

"Don't recognise no law except my own."

"What're you mean, you don't recognise no law except your own? I'm the one the Department of Agriculture will tear strips off!"

"Well, I'm terribly sorry to hear that," said Lucas Bass. He suddenly stopped, with the large tree half chopped through. Grinning broadly, he walked across toward Ryan Milne. For the first time, Ryan noticed the large red, cherry-shaped birthmark on the right side of the axeman's face.

"Thank God, at least..." began Ryan.

Stopping as Bass swung the woodsman's axe straight into his chest with all of the big man's strength.

"What...?" whispered Ryan, only staying on his feet, because of the axe in his chest holding him up.

Still grinning broadly, Bass pulled the axe sharply out of Ryan's chest, allowing him to fall face forward on the sweet-smelling carpet of dried gum leaves that coated the forest floor.

Then like a professional wood chopper striding a small log, Lucas Bass stood atop Ryan Milne. To start swinging the lethally sharp axe again and again, cutting deep into the already dead farmer's side. Before changing sides to start chopping him all the way through.

"Timber!" shouted the woodsman, still grinning broadly.

Stepping off his victim's back, bass turned round and stared at a gape-mouthed mousey blonde of fifty or so, watching him in horror. In her hands, she carried a wicker basket, clearly with sustenance for Ryan.

Screaming in terror, Judith Milne dropped the basket. Then spinning around, she took off back toward the farmhouse over a kilometre away.

"I'm gonna catch you!" shouted the woodsman: "So you might as well stop running and make it easy on yourself."

Although a fat woman, Judith was very fast on her feet. And had had a head start, so the killer did not find it as easy to catch her, as he had thought.

Deidre Morton's boarding house in Rochester Road, Merridale, was known by locals as the Yellow House -- although no one would have dared call it that to her face. Yellow was Deidre's favourite colour, or lemon as she insisted on calling it, so the house was painted yellow inside and out. Most of the fittings were yellow, the countertops were yellow, and the sofa, armchairs, and kitchen chairs were all yellow. The white cotton tablecloth on the kitchen table had yellow roses embroidered upon it. Even the teapot cosy (she abhorred teabags and still used loose-leaf tea) was crocheted in yellow. Even her refrigerator and cooker were yellow not the usual white.

As they sat down to breakfast, Tommy Turner, a short, obese, blond retire said: "I've always been meaning to ask you, Mrs. M ... what's with all the yellow?"

"Yellow?" asked Deidre Morton, sounding genuinely perplexed A short chubby brunette, sixty-something who could give Gordon Bloody Ramsey a run for his money -- at cooking, not swearing at people!

"Yes, the yellow ... everything," said Sheila Bennett. A thirty-five-year-old Goth chick with orange-and-black-striped hair. Recently promoted to Chief Constable, making her the second-top cop in the Glen Hartwell area.

"She won't admit knowing what you mean unless you say lemon," explained Natasha Lipzing. A tall, grey-haired woman of seventy, who had spent the last thirty-five years at Deidre Morton's boarding house.

"All right, the lemon everything," corrected Terri Scott. A thirty-five-year-old ash blonde, who as Senior Sergeant was the top cop of the region: "You know the chairs, the sofa, the walls, the fridge ... the everything."

"Well, I've always believed that lemon is a sunny, cheerful colour."

"Personally I can't stand yellow," said Freddy Kingston. A tall heavyset retiree, bald except for a Larry Fine-style ruff of curly black hair around the back and sides of his head.

"It's not yellow ... it's lemon," insisted Deidre.

"That's like saying it's not orange, it's orange," insisted Colin Klein. A tall, wiry redheaded man. A former London crime reporter, now employed by the Glen Hartwell Police. And Terri's lover.

"And having yellow goods, instead of white goods is taking it a bit far, Mrs. M.," insisted Sheila.

"They're not yellow ... they're lemon. And I paid extra to get them enamelled in lemon."

"You'll never convince her," warned Natasha.

As they ran through the sweet-smelling eucalyptus forest Lucas Bass began to slowly catch up with the fleeing widow. However, when less than two metres ahead of him, she leapt up onto the back patio of the grey weatherboard farmhouse with surprising agility for a big woman, raced into the kitchen. Slamming and locking the backdoor behind her.

Safe inside Judith Milne raced around checking that all of the doors and windows of the farmhouse were locked and shuttered, where possible.

Then she reached the landline phone and began to ring triple-zero.

"Why must they always make things harder than they need to be?" asked Lucas Bass. He raised his woodsman's axe and started chopping at the heavy oaken backdoor.

Inside the kitchen, Judith Milne was watching through the window as the axeman chopped at her backdoor.

"Emergency? Put me through to Mitchell Street Police Station," said Judith.

"Mitchell Street Police Station, Alice Walker speaking," said a forty-six-year-old brunette, an amateur weight-lifter and gym mate of Sheila Bennett, Alice was a tall, attractive widow. A pro rata policewoman, she was standing in while Paul Bell a local sergeant was away on a few days' leave: "What is the nature of your inquiry?"

"I'm being attacked by an axe-wielding..." began Judith Milne. Screaming as the kitchen door collapsed inward and the woodsman stepped through into the house.

Lucas Bass swung his axe to cut through the phone cable.

"Now, you shouldn't oughta have done that," chastised Bass: "Our business is our business!"

"Hello?" asked Alice Walker again. Then she hung up and quickly phoned through to Deidre Morton's yellow house in Rochester Road.

"You shouldn't oughta have done that," repeated Bass.

"Please don't ... don't kill me!"

"You shouldn't oughta have done that!" shouted Bass, swinging the woodsman's axe at her.

Judith shrieked once more, then died.

Bass stepped on her chest and crotch and started chopping her halfway through before turning to chop through her second side.

"Timber!" he shouted, smiling broadly as he severed her spine and she fell into two parts.

"I'm just saying..." started Tommy Turner, stopping as the phone rang.

Grateful for an opportunity to escape the argument over lemon versus yellow, Deidre Morton went out into the hallway to answer the yellow landline phone.

Returning almost immediately, she announced: "Alice Walker for you Terri. She thinks the Milnes have been murdered."

"Shit," said Sheila Bennett, as Terri raced out. She grabbed half a dozen vegemite crumpets which Deidre Morton packed along with a flask of coffee into a brown paper bag for her.

"Breakfast is over," said Terri after returning to the kitchen.

Grabbing her brown paper bag, Sheila also grabbed the keys to Terri's police-blue Lexus as Sheila, Terri, and Colin raced toward the front door.

"Now what about my tot of breakfast rum?" asked Tommy.

"From the black cabinet in my beautiful lemon-coloured kitchen?" asked Deidre Morton.

"Yes, all right, I'll agree to anything to get my rum," agreed Tommy.

Forty minutes later, the Lexus pulled up outside the wire mesh fence surrounding the farmhouse yard at the Milne farm. Where two ambulances were already parked.

"Chezza, Strong Arm," said Sheila to two paramedics as they approached the ambulances. Derek Armstrong and Cheryl Pritchard were the two most senior paramedics in the Glen Hartwell to Willamby area. They were also close friends of Sheila and often spent their Saturdays with her at the Muscle Up Gym in Glen Hartwell.

"Sheils," they both responded.

"Sheesh," said Sheila as they approached the grey-painted farmhouse: "I think I prefer the yellow house to the grey house."

"The lemon house," corrected Terri Scott and Colin Klein together.

Inside they found the local coroner, Elvis Green, checking over the two halves of the late Judith Milne.

"King," said Sheila, since he was nicknamed for his devotion to the late King of Rock and Roll.

Beside him knelt the chief surgeon of the Glen Hartwell and Daley Community Hospital, Jesus Costello -- pronounced 'Hee-Zeus'. And his second in charge, Tilly Lombstrom, a tall, attractive fifty-something brunette.

"Tils, Lord," said Sheila.

"Ha-ha, it is to laugh," said Jesus.

"Hey, he stole my bit," complained the Goth policewoman.

"You stole it from Daffy Duck first," reminded Colin Klein.

"Daffy and I have a swap deal over it," said Sheila, making them all laugh.

"So, other than the fact that she's obviously been cut in half, what can you tell us?" asked Terri, bending over to examine the two halves of Judith Milne's corpse.

"The murderer seems to have used an axe," said Tilly.

"And there's evidence that he stood on her chest and groin while chopping her," said Elvis.

"Like an old-fashioned log chopping competition?" asked Alice Walker, who had reached the farmhouse before anyone else.

"Seems like it," agreed the coroner.

"Has anyone seen her husband Ryan?" asked Colin Klein.

"No, no sign of him at the farmhouse," said Alice Walker: "I checked all the rooms after confirming that she was dead; before anyone else arrived."

"Maybe we should get Bulam Bulam involved?" suggested Colin Klein.

"So much for the last few cents in this season's police budget," said Terri.

"You're down to cents now?" asked Alice.

"Yeah, but don't worry, you'll get paid ... but it might not be until July."

"Then after we've paid off everyone we owe, next year's budget will be in trouble too," pointed out Sheila.

Leaving Alice and the others in the kitchen Terri, Colin, and Sheila went outside to ring Bulam Bulam, a grey-haired elder of the Gooladoo tribe, outside the township of Harpertown. Also, he was a close friend of Terri and the others and sometimes acted as a pro-rata police tracker for the Glen Hartwell Police Force.

When the Aboriginal man arrived, Sheila went across to him and asked: "How's my favourite old bugger in the whole Glen Hartwell area?"

"How dare you, I'm only sixty-five," he protested: "Since sixty is the new forty, that makes me forty-five; so I'm only a middle-aged bugger."

Patting him on the shoulder, Sheila said: "Keep telling yourself that old timer ... one day you might actually believe it."

"There are times when I could kill that Goth chick," joked Bulam Bulam.

"We know how you feel," said Terri and Colin as one.

"How dare you all?" said Sheila.

As they watched, Bulam Bulam quickly picked up the two sets of footprints -- from Judith Milne and Lucas Bass -- and started following them back down through the farmhouse yard. Then out toward the forestland beyond.

After twenty minutes or so, they had located the remains of Ryan Milne and the shattered remains of the lunch basket that Judith had dropped.

"Okay, it's official," said Terri, as she reached for her mobile phone to ring Jesus Costello: "We've got an axe-murderer on the loose in the Glen."

The next day the first of a number of lumber trucks arrived at the back of the Milne Farm, ready to start logging. Right behind it was a bright silver Honda2 with four burly loggers inside: Lonny, Donny, and Ronny Pattinson, and their foreman Erick Fielding, who was driving. After the drivers parked the vehicles, the Pattinson brothers alighted and took enormous chainsaws out of the rear of the Honda2. But then the Pattinson brothers were enormous men, not one under two metres tall. Looking as much like powerlifters as loggers, the brothers wore white denim overalls, leather work boots and gloves, and sleeveless shirts saying, 'Mercantile Logging'.

Talking on his mobile phone for a moment, Erick Fielding hung up and said: "The other crews have been delayed in traffic, could be a couple more hours before they get here. So I'm having a cuppa before anything else."

"Well, we're paid by the tree, not the hour," said Donny Pattinson: "So we'll start right away."

And with that three enormous chainsaws roared into life, as the brothers selected their first trees for felling.

Nearly an hour later Donny's chainsaw started to sputter, so he stopped to check the fuel left. And to his surprise, he could hear the distinct sound of chopping.

"Who the Hell would be using an axe?" he wondered aloud: "Lonny and Ronny both had their saws."

Forgetting his chainsaw for the moment, the enormous man started walking in the general direction of the chopping, through the forest of red-, grey-, blue-, and ghost gums.

After eight minutes or so he came to a small clearing, where Lucas Bass was swinging his double-headed woodsman's axe, chopping at a massive red gum.

"Whatcha doing?" demanded Donny.

"Chopping," said Lucas without stopping.

"I can see that," said Donny: "But I can't see any 'Mercantile Logging Company' logo on your duds.

"Don't work for the Mercantile Logging Company," explained Lucas.

"Well, you oughta. They've got the logging permit for the Milne Farm."

"That right?" asked the woodsman.

"Yes. So who do you work for?"

"Don't work for nobody at the moment."

"Then why you chopping?"

"I like chopping."

"So I notice," said Donny, suddenly noticing the large red "X" spray painted onto the tree's bark: "You bloody fool! That's an old-growth tree!"


"So they're protected! You'll get us all shit-canned!"

"Not my concern," said Lucas, continuing to chop away.

"Whatcha mean, it's not your concern?" demanded Donny. Striding across to the woodsman, he grabbed him by the left shoulder, to pull him away from the large red gum tree.

"Shouldn't oughta have done that," said Lucas, swinging his axe hard into Donny's powerful chest: "Don't like to be interfered with when I'm chopping." As though that explained everything.

Then Donny fell to the ground, his flowing blood staining the forest floor red.

"Urgh!" whimpered Donny, trying to cry out in pain, but unable to.

"I Don't like to be interfered with when I'm chopping," repeated Lucas.

Standing astride the powerful man, Lucas Bass began swinging his axe, chopping the big man halfway through. Before turning around to chop him from the other side.

"Timber!" shouted Lucas, as he finally cut the big man in half: "Now that one sure took a lotta chopping."

He giggled at his own humour as he started off onto the forest, following Donny's footprints back to where he had abandoned his chainsaw.

As he approached the spot, he saw Erick Fielding looking puzzled as he checked over the chainsaw.

Hearing footsteps, Erick looked up and saw Lucas approaching.

"Who the hell are you?" asked Fielding.

"The name's Bass, Lucas Bass," said the axeman.

"You don't know what happened to Donny ... the man supposed to be using this chainsaw?"

"Yes, he's back there aways," said the woodsman pointing to where Donny's tracks led away into the forest.

"Thanks," said Erick starting after the footprints.

Until Lucas Bass swung his axe hard into his back, making him scream and collapse to the forest floor.

Climbing astride Erick's prone form, Lucas began swinging his axe until the big man stopped screaming. Then he switched sides to cut him all the way through.

"Timber!" he said, not so loudly this time, for fear of being overheard, as he stepped down onto the carpet of dried gum leaves.

He stood listening for a moment and could hear the sounds of other chainsaws in the distance. It sounded like only a couple, but he couldn't be certain, so he had to be careful.

Listening for a moment longer to get his direction, Lucas started off in the direction of the Milne Farm.

Lonny Pattinson was too hard at work sawing down trees to even notice that Donny and Fielding were missing. There had always been a friendly rivalry between the three brothers to see who could fell the most trees in a single day. Lonny had been on a losing streak to Donny and Ronny for a while now. But he felt his luck was ready to change soon and he was determined to saw down the most trees of the brothers on the first day of the Milne Farm assignment.

So transfixed by his sawing was he, that Lonny did not even notice as Lucas Bass came out of the forest and stepped up beside him.

Lucas watched the logger in interest for a moment, half wondering whether he should take one of their chainsaws. As a means to modernise his craft and possibly increase his output. Over the last decade he had been all around Australia, New Zealand, Papua/New Guinea, Fiji, and a number of Australasian islands chopping his special 'timber'. But a chainsaw would sure speed things up a bit. Which could be good news or bad, he thought. It would increase his output noticeably. Possibly too noticeably so that the Australian Federal Police might open a file on him. If they hadn't already!

Besides, he thought: I'd have to risk buying fuel for a saw, and might be more noticeable that way. Hate to get caught due to trying to upgrade. Better to just stick to my ever-reliable axe.

His father and grandfather had both been axemen before him. They had slaughtered hundreds of people between them, right across Australasia, without ever being caught. Dating right back to the start of the 1900s.

No, I'll stick to Old Reliable, he thought.

His mind made up, he crept up behind Lonny Pattinson and swung his axe straight into the big man's spine. Having to jump back as the massive chainsaw went flying ... nowhere near Lucas as it turned out.

Lonny feebly tried to push his way back up from the forest floor, not understanding what had happened to him. But as Lucas Bass started chopping at his prone form, Lonny began screaming. Until the axeman chopped right through to his heart.

Climbing aboard the prone man belatedly, Lucas chopped him in half as expertly as previously. Not bothering to say timber this time, as he looked at his handiwork, he thought: I reckon I would've got the gold medal at the wood chop at the Olympic Games later this year! Not knowing that wood chopping was not an Olympic sport.

Ronny Pattinson was sawing away at his latest eucalypt, happy in his conviction that his tally for the first hour was well above that of his two brothers. Then, he stopped ... overwhelmed by the feeling that something was wrong.

He stopped his chainsaw and listened.

"Nothing!" he said. Then he realised that that was what was wrong. He should have been able to hear his brothers' two chainsaws. But even the local wildlife was strangely silent ... probably scared away by the sound of the chainsaws.

"Lonny? Donny?" he called. Then, after a moment he dropped his chainsaw and continued into the forest, away from the Milne Farm.

"Lonny? Donny?" he called again. Then every minute or so, as he started to stray deeper and deeper into the forestland.

At first not certain of his direction, Lucas Bass was puzzled when the last chainsaw stopped. Then as Ronny Pattinson started calling out his brothers' names, the killer used the sound of the logger's voice to zero in on him.

"Lonny? Donny?" Ronny called again. Starting as he suddenly came face to face with Lucas Bass. "Sorry ... I seem to have lost my two brothers. I don't suppose you've seen two big burly...?"

That was all he got out before Lucas swung his axe straight into his chest.

"What...?" cried the startled logger, falling face forward as the woodsman pulled his axe from his chest.

Then Lucas Bass stepped onto the big man's back and began systematically chopping him in half.

When he had finished, he stepped down and looked about himself. Wondering whether there were any more easy victims to be got in the area.

Then hearing the sound of revving engines, as the other logging trucks belatedly arrived, he decided to settle for a count of four for the moment.

"Plus two yesterday," he said as he turned to start walking deeper into the forest. Away from the sound of the approaching vehicles: "That's six for this area. Not bad for two days' work!"

As the trucks pulled up, the boss of the job, Larry Tomlinson stepped out of his vehicle and asked the driver of the original truck:

"Why can't I hear any sawing?"

"Don't ask me. I'm a driver, not works' foreman."

"Speaking of which, where the hell is Erick Fielding."

"How should I know? He went into the forest looking for them. Then soon after the chainsaws stopped one after the other, at perhaps fifteen-minute intervals."

"And that never struck you as strange?"

"Of course it did, but..."

"You're just a truck driver," Larry Tomlinson finished for him.

"Exactly," said the driver.

However, Larry had already started forward into the eerily silent forest. Looking for the four missing men.

Over at the Yellow House in Rochester Road, Merridale, they were all sitting down for a much-needed lunch. Provided by Deidre Morton. This time everyone was careful not to debate the difference between yellow and lemon as decor.

"So what culinary delights have you got for us today?" asked Colin Klein as they all gathered around the dining room table.

"Roast leg of lamb, with roast potatoes, roast pumpkin, and assorted steamed veggies. Plus rich homemade meat gravy. Then for afters, a lovely Pavlova topped with cherry jam and diced cherries from Brian Horne's Cherrytree Farm over at Glen Hartwell.

"Sounds delish," enthused Sheila Bennett.

"Yes, indeed," agreed Natasha Lipzing.

"Exquisite as always, Mrs. M," said Terri Scott.

"Excelente," said Freddy Kingston.

"Magnifique," said Colin Klein.

"Is there any rum on it?" asked Tommy Turner.

"No!" said everyone except Tommy.

"But if you're barbaric enough you can pour your tot of rum across yours," said Deidre Morton, going to get his tot from a tall black wood cabinet. One of the few furnishings in the whole house that wasn't yellow.

"I'm barbaric enough," said Tommy with a broad grin.

"That's news to no one," said Sheila, making everyone at the table laugh.

December 1993

Leon Hutchinson lived in East Merridale, in the Victorian countryside, with his parents Desmond and Elizabeth Hutchinson, who owned a small Merino sheep station. When he was eleven he would often traipse across the country, wading his way through bushes and wild grasses that were almost as tall as he was, until he was tired and scarred after trekking the three kilometres that separated the Hutchinson station from its nearest neighbour Cherrytree Farm, owned by a middle-aged couple named Horne.

Young Leon would stand at the boundary fence of the Horne property and gaze in fascination at the fields of trees laden with juicy red cherries, and bushes covered with strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and just about every other kind of berry a boy's heart could desire.

Often Helen Horne, a titian-haired beauty, or her husband Clement, a tall, powerhouse of a man, two metres in height and one hundred and forty kilograms of solid muscle; would notice the fair-haired young boy standing away in the distance and would beckon him over with a wave of an arm and a cry of, "Hey, boy!" from Clem, or "Come on over!" from his wife; to sample their tasty crops.

These treats had ended unexpectedly shortly before Leon's twelfth birthday. That time he did not meet either of the Hornes, but as he approached the boundary fence, Leon could hear the sound of chopping, so he detoured around to the back of the farmhouse, where the Hornes used an old tree stump as a chopping block.

When he was a hundred metres or so away from the metre-high woodpile, Leon could see a dark-haired man of about thirty using the Hornes' axe, chopping up something behind the woodpile. Thinking that the man must be a hired hand cutting up logs, Leon headed across toward him. However, seeing the long red hair blowing in the wind, and hearing the crunching of bones each time the axe descended, Leon realised that it was not a log that the man was chopping up, but the body of Helen Horne, which he had already virtually chopped in two.

The murderer was Lucas Bass, public enemy number three. A psychotic killer who had been gaoled in December 1991 for the axe murders of three Melbourne schoolgirls. Sentenced to life in prison for the murders, he escaped soon after and had been on the run for the last twelve months.

While Bass chopped up his victim, Leon stood watching from behind a grey-white ghost gum, only twenty metres away. Though sickened by the sight of Helen Horne's brutal murder, at the same time he was gripped by a morbid fascination that held him rooted to the spot.

At last, the axeman finished his bloody task and placed the double-headed woodsman's axe against the tall stack of firewood.

As the murderer started to turn in his direction, Leon ducked behind the ghost gum, hoping he had not been seen. He crouched behind the tree for a few seconds, then hearing the crunch-crunch-crunch of approaching footsteps he peaked around the tree trunk and saw Lucas Bass standing only metres away, holding the axe in both hands.

Seeing the young boy, the killer rushed across toward him. However, Leon leapt away and started to run as fast as his legs would carry him, back toward his parents' sheep station three long kilometres away.

All the way back Leon could hear the sound of the murderer thundering through the bushes behind him, could hear his heavy, panting breathing, could hear his curses every time the man tripped over a tree root, or was nearly whacked in the face by a low hanging branch. Every once in awhile Leon would hear the crash of a bush or snap of a low branch as the man swung the axe. He did not know whether the man was swinging the axe at him, or merely using it to clear a path, but either way, each time he heard the swish of the axe, Leon managed to produce an extra burst of speed somehow, even though his heart was already pounding from his exertions.

At the outskirts of his parents' station Leon almost fell crossing the boundary fence, but just managed to steady himself. He had travelled half the distance from the fence to the farmhouse before realising he could no longer hear the sound of footsteps chasing him.

Looking back, Leon saw the killer standing outside the boundary fence, staring hard across at him. Then, as he watched the man turned and began loping across the countryside, back toward Cherrytree Farm.

At the farmhouse, Leon struggled to convince his parents that the murder had really happened:

"Imagination," insisted his father. "The boy is still too young to be able to distinguish between fact and fantasy."

"I'm not so sure, Des," said Elizabeth Hutchinson. "You know how fond Leon is of Helen, why would he fantasise about her death, of all people?"

"Maybe she got tired of feeding all their best crops to him, so he decided to get even by killing her off in his imagination?"

"Or maybe someone really did kill her? Don't you think you ought to take a run over there in the Rover, just in case? You could be there and back in ten minutes."

"Look, Liz, I'm too damn tired to go running off on wild goose chases!"

An hour later Des was sitting at the kitchen table, leafing through the latest issue of the Glen Hartwell Farmers' Digest and listening to the radio on the mantelpiece behind him, while waiting for his supper, which was cooking upon the pot-bellied stove in its niche beneath the mantel.

"We interrupt this programme for a special news bulletin," the radio broadcaster suddenly announced. "Dangerous prison escapee Donald William Bass -- who escaped from Jika Jika, the maximum security wing of Pentridge Prison, late last year --was sighted a short time ago in the Merridale area. Bass was reported to have been driving a blue and white Ford Fairlane, licence plate number BJZ...."

"Leon!" called Des Hutchinson. He threw down his magazine as he started to run toward the back door. "Come on son, we're going over to the Horne farm."

It took them only a couple of minutes to drive the three kilometres to the Horne property in their Land Rover. They arrived at the orchard just as an ambulance was leaving, and had to pull over to the side of the road to allow the ambulance to pass out through the gateway. Then they drove up the winding dirt track to the small, weatherboard farmhouse.

Uniformed and plain-clothed police were everywhere, photographing and poring over everything in sight.

Clement Horne stood sobbing hysterically over near a white police Cortina, being comforted by his two adult sons, Warren and Brian, who were also in tears. "If I ever get my hands on the bastard who did this...!" sobbed Clem, leaving the sentence unfinished.

Two young constables, Jessie Baker, a huge redheaded man, and Paul Bell, a tall, wiry raven-haired man, standing nearby raised their eyebrows at each other, but both knew better than to contradict a man swearing vengeance for the murder of his wife.

Noting the arrival of the Hutchinsons, police sergeant Danny 'Bear' Ross, a huge barrel-chested man, went across to wave them away.

"We're here about the murder of Helen Horne," explained Des. They told him what Leon had witnessed and the sergeant led them across so Leon could repeat his tale while a constable took notes.

Leon's description of the murderer was vague, however, he did remember one important thing, which eventually helped convict Lucas Bass of the murder of Helen Horne. "I remember he had a large red birthmark on his right cheek," said the twelve-year-old boy. "I remember thinking it was funny, cause the Hornes' farm is called Cherrytree and that's exactly what it looked like: a large, red cherry."

Leon had to tell his story twice more. Before the coroner's court at the inquest into the death of Helen Horne, then again at the trial of Lucas Bass. Who had been caught the next day in Ballarat, still driving the Hornes' Fairlane.

February 2024

By the time Terri, Sheila, and Colin returned to the Milne Farm, four ambulances already awaited at the beginning of the forest. Along with numerous logging trucks, impatient loggers, and paramedics.

"Chezza, Strong Arm," said Sheila to her two friends, as they approached: "So what's going down in Groove Town?"

"They've found four more corpses," explained Derek Armstrong, pointing at the loggers: "Of loggers who arrived before the main crews."

"Same MO as the Milnes yesterday," said Cheryl Pritchard.

"So when are we gonna be able to start logging?" demanded Larry Tomlinson from the Mercantile Logging Company, approaching Terri and the others.

"Not until we've finished with the murder site," said Terri: "Which could be a number of days."

"What?" demanded Tomlinson.

"So you might as well move on to your next job," offered Sheila.

"Our next job is in New South Wales," pointed out the Mercantile Logging Company rep.

"Then, you'd better get started," said Colin Klein as they headed off into the forest. Stopping as Elvis Green, Tilly Lombstrom, and Jesus Costello strode out of the forest.

"About time," said Larry Tomlinson.

Glad to be able to burst his bubble, Terri said: "The medics might be finished here, but we haven't."

"If you're heading up to New South Wales, you might as well get started," teased Sheila Bennett.

Grumbling under his breath, Tomlinson took out his mobile phone to ring Mercantile Logging H.Q. in Tamworth to get instructions.

As they reached the body of Erick Fielding, they could hear the roar of the logging trucks starting up, leaving for their next job interstate.

"Wouldn't it be funny," said Sheila: "if we were finished here by tomorrow?"

"You have a wicked sense of humour, Goth chick," said Colin Klein.

"You speak much wisdom, lover boy," said Terri Scott.

Over at the sacred grounds of the Gooladoo tribe, ten kilometres outside Harpertown, Danny Oolalonga was leading a small hunting party of half a dozen bucks back from a successful day's hunt. They had netted two kangaroos, plus a large wallaroo, to add to the tribe's dinner of store-bought lamb loin chops and fish and chips.

"Not much further," said Danny, pretending, as the leader of the small party, not to be as exhausted as the others looked.

"Thank Mamaragan," said Lenny Mullatunga, referring to the Great Rain Serpent creator/destroyer god of their tribe.

Danny was about to comment when they suddenly heard the sound of chopping not far away.

"Who could be chopping out here?" asked Lenny.

"Sounds close to our corroboree site," said Wally Dunabin.

"Too close," said Danny.

Dropping his end of the Wallaroo, he took off after the sound of the chopping.

Lucas Bass was happily chopping at the huge sacred red gum that was the centre piece of the Gooladoo tribe's religious ceremonies.

An exhausted Danny Oolalonga suddenly appeared from out of the forest and stared in horror as the axeman continued chopping at the ritual tree.

"Whatcha think you're doing?" demanded Danny, as Lenny Mullatunga arrived panting, from out of the forest.

"Chopping! What's it look like?" asked Lucas without stopping.

"You can't chop down our sacred tree!" insisted Lenny.

"Why not?" demanded Lucas.

"It's a religious ikon of our tribe," said Danny.

"Native mumbo-jumbo," said Lucas without stopping: "It's just a tree. And trees are for chopping down."

"Not that one!" shouted Lenny, making the mistake of charging Lucas.

Without giving any sign, the Axeman swung around and landed a lethal blow of the axe into Lenny Mullatunga's chest.

"Trees are for chopping down," said Lucas Bass: "And some superstitious savages too."

Lenny tried to scream, but it came out as gurgling as he died.

"Silly superstition," insisted the Woodsman advancing upon a horrified Danny, who wished he had brought his spear with him.

Fortunately, Wally Dunabin and the other young bucks had. Running out of the forest, they stopped, staring, uncertain of what was going on.

"He murdered Lenny," said Danny, pointing at Lucas Bass.

The madman advanced upon the young bucks, axe raised. As they unleashed their spears at him.

Two went well wide, one almost spearing Danny Oolalonga. But the others connected. One a glancing blow to the left thigh. The other a more telling blow to the midriff.

Pulling the two spears out, ignoring the blood that squirted from his midriff. Lucas turned to run away.

Then three bucks threw more spears, which landed in the middle of the big man's back.

Screaming in pain and rage, Lucas fell to the forest floor...

And Died.

Nearly an hour later Terri, Sheila, and Colin were at the site. Ahead of the ambulances, they could hear approaching from the distance.

"Poor Lenny," said Sheila. Kneeling on the dried gum leaves, she placed a hand upon his left shoulder, saying: "Goodbye mate."

Walking across to the sacred tree, Terri said: "Shit he's made a mess of it."

"And of poor Lenny," said Colin Klein.

"What did he have against our tribe?" asked Danny.

"Nothing, far as we know," said Terri: "He was just a nutter who loved chopping things down. And didn't care whether it was trees or people."

The next morning they entered Lucas Bass's fingerprints into Victoria Police's database and soon got a match. Detailing the murder of Helen Horne over thirty years earlier.

"I knew Brian and Warren's mother had been murdered," said Terri: "But not the details until now."

"Well they can finally get some closure with their Mum's killer having finally been brought to justice," said Colin Klein.

Shocked as Sheila Bennett started giggling, Terri asked: "Sheils, what the Hell is so funny?"

"I just remembered what I said yesterday: How it would be funny if after they had headed up to New South Wales yesterday, we could let the loggers back into the Milne Forest today."

"So?" asked Colin.

"So now we can," said Sheila, and they all started laughing.

© Copyright 2024 Philip Roberts
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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