Summer sizzler from Australian author
Day 12: Every day of this month we are publishing an extract from an Australian author. Today’s extract is from The Valley of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland, a journalist of 20 years’ and the author of The Lost Summers of Driftwood. Released in early December the novel is set in a beautiful but remote location west of the Blue Mountains. The story centres around four women, their children, and their visit to a beautiful Art Deco hotel haunted by a terrible secret after a fateful night in 1948.
Extract from the Valley of Lost Stories:
Mummy is lost. She never came down in the morning like the other mums came. All the adults had worried faces but happy voices. It’s a trick grown-ups always play but children can’t be tricked as easily as they think. They kept on saying she’ll be back, and she’s probably taken a little morning walk and got lost in the bush, but I could see by their faces that they weren’t sure. Police ladies even came. They were nice.
They told all the kids not to be scared but they looked like I feel when there’s a thunderstorm and I can feel the thunder grumbling in my tummy, like I’m sick but not sick. What if there’s another thunderstorm? It was the worst one I’ve ever been in. Mummy said it was because we were in a valley and the thunder was echoing off the cliffs. I called out to her in the night because I was scared being in this big old, strange house, with the thunder so loud I could still hear it under the covers.
And she came and did that thing where she pats my head but now there’s no one to come and pat my head when I’m scared. And now that she’s gone, I’m always scared.
She unwound the window and let the air rush in, caressing her face with its hot, dry breath. Nathalie inhaled deeply. Grass, eucalyptus, sunshine, dust. It felt like they were so far from everything. The last signs of civilisation had been 40 minutes ago. And now they were driving through a vast, empty valley with only green grass and bush on either side of the car. She felt a rush of emotion. Uncertainty at being somewhere so remote. Elation for the same reason.
She glanced in the rear-view mirror. The low roar of the engine had lulled the girls to sleep. The car rounded another bend and the countryside opened up like the pages of a children’s picture book. Hillsides covered in wildflowers and carpeted in green grass.
And then the foliage encroached. White-trunked gums gleamed as they formed a tunnel, steepled, like fingers. The sun flickered through the branches, light and shadow making a play for dominance. She was reminded of the stories of enchanted forests from her childhood. She shivered despite the warm air.
Now the cliffs were on either side of the car, sheer walls of rock honeycombed by the sun. The road petered out to a dirt track. It was the only way to go as the valley narrowed in the distance to an end point. No signage. No reception. She drove carefully, pebbles and rocks pinging against the body of the car.
She got out of the car and opened the gate. Beyond it the hotel crouched self consciously in the shadow of the cliffs, an anomaly of elegance in the middle of the bush. It was a structure from another time, another place. And yet here it was, like a lady all dressed up with nowhere to go.
The Valley of Lost Stories by Vanessa McCausland $32.99. Available now in all good bookshops and online.