Yuki: Hello again everyone! Another Saturday night, another look into this big ol’ messed up world around us.

Assistant: We’ve got drinks and snacks for…well, I think there’s enough for all of us.

Yuki: You seem to be doing a lot better compare to the last few excursions.

Assistant: I figured that what’s going on in The Void is well outside of my control. So, why bother fighting it. We’ll see what we see in there.

Yuki: Interesting.

Assistant: Yes.

Yuki: You’re being very careful about what you say. You think we’re being watched right now, don’t you?

Assistant: …I can neither confirm nor deny.

Yuki: Very well then. Are we ready to go?

Assistant: You bet!

Yuki: Alright kiddos, you know the drill. We’re hopping on in! 


‘C’mon, Ellie, keep up! We’re almost to the camp!’

‘Okay, Mummy!’

Barbara Smith watched as her daughter tore her focus from the patch of dandelions and hobbled her way over, excited and absolutely beaming. The two-year-old’s attention span had been non-existent for the length of the trip thus far, so it genuinely surprised the mother-in-training (what she often considered herself, compared to her sisters and their litters of children) that neither the butterflies nor the bubbling river stopped her daughter in her tiny tracks. Ellie ran right up to her mother and wrapped her stubby arms around her legs as much as she could. Pink, equally stubby fingers clutched at her jeans.

‘You wanna walk with Mummy?’

Ellie nodded her head, giggling. ‘Mhmm!’

‘Alright then. Stay beside me.’

Barbara shuffled around the remainder of supplies from the car, silently grateful she hadn’t offered Ellie the option of being carried the rest of the way as well (‘Don’t offer things you’re even slightly unsure of to your kid,’ her sisters’ had advised during her pregnancy. And they had offered so much unsolicited advice since the announcement). Two camping chairs—one slung over each shoulder in their respective carry-bags, one small satchel with toiletries and her camera, and a grocery bag with light snacks had her bogged down enough already.

As Ellie ambled up the path, Barbara had the presence of mind to put herself between her daughter and the water. It didn’t seem at all deep near the edge, but she did see some kayakers in the carpark—which meant those looks were most likely deceiving. She watched the current around the smooth rocks and convinced herself that even ankle-deep water might give her trouble.

Nothing went awry until the pair diverted from the concrete footpath to the well-trodden dirt trail that closer to the river. It was Barbara’s husband, Nathan, who spotted alternate route. She would have walked right on by the tall grasses the obscured the first two metres of trampled earth. If only he had missed it, too, and then their young family could have avoided the whole mess.

The neon blue of the tent stood out through the greens and yellows of the local flora. It was a jarring sight, Barbara thought, with a twinge of a frown. But at least the thing was easy to spot. And she had plenty more areas to work with her camera. Stone Beach Park sprawled over four square kilometres and one could follow the river even further out. The drive up to the park grounds showed even more promise. Farmland bordered their side of the river to the north, so there were plenty photo opportunities for grazing cows and horses. Across the river to the south, opposite of the carpark, were grounds for caravans and holiday homes—there had to be plenty of film fodder on that end too.

‘—look, a swing!’ Ellie shouted and ore around the backside of her mother and bolted straight for the water.

‘Ellie, no! Shit!’ Barbara yelled and dropped the supplies. She darted for the toddler, who was running alongside the embankment, staggering and leaning perilously toward the water.

Barbara’s knees crackled as they hit the ground and she slid to Ellie, wrapped her arm tight around the child’s waist, and yanked her away.

There was a beat where Ellie just sat on her little butt and stared at Barbara, stunned. And within a second her lips turned down and she began huffing and let out a piercing shriek as he tears and snot started flowing.

‘Oh, no, baby, shoosh!’ Barbara’s voice softened and raised in pitch—going into Mummy-mode. Her knees and ankles crackled as she stood and dusted herself off, noting the new tears on her pants. She swooped down and picked up Ellie in a single fluid motion like the pelican scooping up a fish (just like their outing to Hume Lake last month). Cradling her daughter in one arm, she bounced her lightly and put a reassuring hand at her back and rubbed gently. While she attempted to lull Ellie into a calmer state, Barbara looked down to see what had caught her child’s attention.

One of the trees right off the path had a rope dangling from a sturdy-looking branch arching over the river. At its end was a plank of wood, about half a metre in length. It swayed above the choppy water as if a ghost were getting in one more good swing before dark. From her current vantage point, Barbara couldn’t tell how deep the river was at that particular spot. Was the rope purely for swinging or did people use it for jumping out into the deep?

She did bring her cossie, just in case. No, she shook the thought away. No point in chancing it out there. Though, the visual was pretty good. There was still enough daylight left; after they finished setting up camp, she could come back with her camera and take one of her first shots of the trip.

‘Kid’s not even finished crying yet and she’s off in her own world again,’ her sisters’ voices echoed from a recent memory.

‘Shut up,’ Barbara muttered under her breath, offended at the comment.

‘And did you hear your voice? Sis, you sounded more convincing in that year six play. Remember that one?’ another memory came forward.

Ellie was still crying and Barbara’s shirt was now damp at the shoulder. Great.

Heaving a sigh, Barbara gathered one of the camping chairs and the snacks bag with her free hand and briskly made her way over to Nathan, who was hammering the tent stakes into the ground. She handed her daughter over, who had slowed to a light sniffle.

Before she could answer her husband, she was bounding down the trail to gather the remainder of the supplies before any passers-by could nick them.

A wonderful start to the trip already, Barbara thought, frowning once more. She knelt down to get the second chair, but stopped herself short once her eyes locked on the satchel in which her camera was stowed. The perfect light would be gone soon enough…

Barbara went for the satchel and retrieved the Olympus. The viewfinder found the swing and she adjusted the zoom and focus. In thirty seconds she snapped eleven photos at varying angles. Casually, she slipped the camera back into the bag and collected the rest of their stuff and made way back to camp.

‘If you’re gonna ignore, Ellie, at least do something productive while she cries,’ the voices chided her again.

She wished she could tell them to fuck off.

Back at the tent, Ellie was all smiles again. Her cheeks were still pink and moist. It looked like she was trying to tell her daddy a story.

‘What’s she on about down there?’

Nathan was smiling too. He looked up at her with a shrug. ‘Something about a swing and a little boy, I think.’

‘Little boy? Huh. Don’t know where she got that from. We didn’t pass anyone on the way down, but we did see a swing.’


‘Mhmm. She noticed it before me and took off for it. I had to pull her away before she fell in to the water.’

‘Oh, so that’s what that was all about,’ Nathan said, turning back to Ellie. ‘Were you trying to go for a swim, young lady?’

Ellie smiled and shook her head bashfully.

‘Good, because a big ol’ fish might’ve come to gobble you up!’ Nathan pulled Ellie over and buried his face into her tummy and made nomming sounds as she laughed her head off.

Barbara couldn’t help but smile and laugh at the two. She set down the satchel and removed the camping chairs from their cases and placed them near the fire pit. Next she took out the sleeping bags and carefully spread them out evenly throughout the floor of the tent. That was everything for now. Nothing left to set up until dinner, still a couple hours away.

Barbara got the camera ready for a walk around the area. Nathan and Ellie were still playing. It was going to be all right.

‘She always seems to have more fun playing with him anyway.’

Maybe not.

A few hours later, after Barbara’s walk around the park land snapping photos, and the burgers and snags and Smiths chips, the family of three was bundled up tight. Mum and Dad on their sides with Kiddo snug in the middle.

Barbara was mostly asleep, but Nathan and Ellie had passed out long before her. The critical voices in her head finally went away for the night once she was off to fill up the rolls of film. Now that her daughter was a bit older, she had some more free time to snap the odd photo and sell them at the markets. She’d made some decent money on what had started as a hobby and eventually led to TAFE courses before and during her pregnancy. And after she had Ellie, she really thought her photography would help with the bills as she eased her way back into the workplace. With luck, the photography would be enough to keep her out of the workplace.

The sunset photos she took with the mountains lit up pink and the galloping horses would be best sellers for sure! They’d only started their holiday, but Barbara couldn’t wait to get back into the darkroom again. A good portion of the river photos would do well, but she had a feeling that she’d only use one or two of them; it all kind of looked the same to her. Except for the one with the swing. She was confident that any one of those would be big hits.

And while she was thinking about those pictures, she thought about Ellie. She normally would have chalked up running out toward it as just plain old curiosity. But then there was that thing she said about a boy being there. And then once they got dinner going she would have a bit of a fuss wanting to go back out there, back towards the swing. Nathan and Barbara both figured that once she had a full belly she’d tire herself out. Which she did do. But not before having another whinge about not being able to go back down that dirt path.

‘I think she might have got her first imaginary friend,’ Nathan joked after Ellie finally nodded off.

‘Maybe,’ she had replied, running her fingers through the sleeping girl’s auburn hair. She didn’t commit any more comment to the subject, it was weird, that was for sure and she didn’t know quite what to make of the whole thing.

A cold stabbing pain in Barbara’s foot woke her from sleep. For a moment she was confused, not remembering dozing off. With heavy eyes, she craned her neck toward the tent flap…which was half open.

As she watched the canvas flutter inward, her gut tied itself in knots. She blindly reached toward the centre of sleeping bag. Maybe it was the lack of heat she felt at her front, or the lack of weight subtly pulling at the fabric underneath them, but she knew Ellie was no longer between herself and Nathan. When the palm of her hand touched down on the cool blanket instead of her daughter, she bolted upright and switched on the electric lantern at their heads. Ellie hadn’t migrated to their feet and she hadn’t moved behind herself or her husband.

‘Nathan, wake up! Ellie’s gone!’

‘Whuzzat?’ He answered back, mostly asleep.

‘Ellie’s gone!’

Nathan sat upright, not even remotely asleep. Barbara was halfway out of the tent and looking around their camp no sign of Ellie at all. The lantern light jostled around behind her as her husband crawled out of the tent.

‘Do you see her?’ Nathan rasped.

‘No…but I’m pretty sure I know where she went.’

Barbara ran at full speed down the trail barefoot, rocks and bindies be damned. The cold air felt like sandpaper going down her throat and the stitch in her side seared just a few strides in.

‘You better make your choice. Once the kiddo’s here, that’s time from your life you ain’t getting back. You’ve never liked giving up what you have—even time. If you don’t have ‘em, you can just keep on doing what you’re doing—’

‘Shut the fuck up!’ Barbara hissed the gritted teeth. She never slowed her pace and kept her eye on the trees near the water, desperately searching for the spot. The young mother’s eyes frantically darted between the tree trunks. She could’ve sworn the damn swing was in the area she stopped.

Ellie’s laughter cut through the swishing of the leaves. Oh, god, she was close by!

‘Ellie!’ she called out. ‘Where are you? Ellie, Mummy and Daddy are here!’

Only the leaves and wind answered back.

A sob caught itself in Barbara’s throat and refused come out. Her tears did not have the same problem. She tried to figure out where the sound of her laughing was coming from. There was no splashing, so that was a good thing, right?

‘Mummy!’ the little girl’s voice finally called back. Her little head appeared above some overgrown grasses; all smiles.

‘Oh, god, Ellie!’ Barbara ran over and wrapped her arms around her daughter’s small frame and cried over her shoulder this time. ‘Where did you go?’

‘Over there,’ Ellie responded matter-of-factly, turning around and pointing to the swing. ‘The boy…the boy wanted to play.’

Nathan’s heavy breathing caught Barbara’s attention. The bobbling light from the lantern shone through the shrubs lining the concrete footpath.

‘Nate, we’re over here!’

‘Hang on! I’m coming through.’

A few seconds and a couple curses later, their little family was together again.

‘Ellie, baby!’ Nathan came in for a hug and gave the little girl a kiss on the top of her head. ‘Where did you go?’

‘The boy wanted to swing,’ Ellie replied, just as straight and innocent as the answer to her mother.

Nathan looked at Barbara, confused.

She lowered her voice. ‘Can you go check out the swing? See if someone’s there.’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Be right back.’

Barbara held her daughter close again and peppered her with kisses. ‘Don’t go running off into the night again, okay? It can be scary out here.’

‘Okay, Mummy.’

‘Hey!’ Nathan’s voice came from the riverbank. ‘Nothing. No one’s over here.’

The rest of the night, Barbara stayed awake by the fire pit while her husband and daughter slept. There wasn’t a way in hell she would have been able to sleep again unless she knew Ellie was being watched or they were away from the river.

Later in the morning, they all had breakfast and Barbara got a few hours of sleep in. Nathan took Ellie out for a hike (carrying her a decent portion of the way). And just after midday when Barbara woke, Mum and Dad decided to cut the camping trip short and stay at one of the local motels instead.

To the parents’ relief, nothing else of significance happened over the rest of the trip. Ellie never brought up the swing again.

The photolab assistant handed over the bag of prints and receipt to Barbara. ‘Here you go, have a nice day!’

‘Thanks, you too.’ Barbara smiled and walked over to the checkout lines at the front of Kmart. She spotted her friend, Heather, just leaving with her bags.

‘Oh, wow, you weren’t kidding about taking a whole bunch. Mind if I have a look through?’

‘Sure. Oh, there’s a couple seats free over by the noodle bar.’ The pair carefully crossed the food court and sat down.

Heather dove into the prints bag and lifted out the first envelope. ‘Ooh, I can’t wait to see what you got here!’ She took out the stack of prints and flipped through the first five or so. Her smile faded a little. ‘Cute kid…bit weird that you took so many.’

Barbara was put off by this. ‘Yeah, she is my daughter.’

‘What? No! Not Ellie, I mean this other kid…oh crap, you didn’t go up there with friends did you?’

‘No. It was just me, Ellie, and Nate. What kid are you talking about?’

‘The little boy on the swing. You’ve got like, ten pictures of him here.’


Assistant: Man, is it just me, or is it freezing here all of a sudden?

Yuki: Now that you mention it…yeah.

Assistant: I have a robe or something down here, don’t I?

Yuki: It’s in the lounge, draped over the back of the chair. Hmm…the thermostat history says it has dropped. Funny. It’s the same temperature as the air from Stone Beach Park.

Assistant: What’s that mean?

Yuki: The area inside The Void was starting to merge with the area directly around us.

Assistant: …and?

Yuki: I think whoever we were chasing has found their way into my lab.


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