Present day, the Great Western Tiers, Tasmania
The rain woke her.
She needs you.
Eliza opened her eyes. She was facedown in the gravel of the hiking track, the smell of wet earth in her nose.
You have to get up.
She sucked a breath through her teeth. Everything ached. The back of her head stung. Her glasses dug into her temple, the left lens cracked. Her puffer jacket and hiking tights were soaked through to the skin.
The icy mountain rain grew heavy, slapping against the gum leaves with the wind. A yellow wattlebird called off in the bush: the sound like a cork pulled from a bottle.
Get up. She needs you.
At the edge of the track grew a native laurel, peppered with white flowers. She leaned on it, dragging herself to her feet, spiky leaves cutting her palm, the crushed flowers releasing their sweet wild scent.
Her hiking boots were gone, her socks were gone, her feet numb and tinged blue in the alpine cold.
She spun, scanning the fog. The motion caused her skull to throb. She put her hand to the back of her head and it came away red.
She realised her honey hair was stuck to her cheeks by something sticky-brown. She pinched it away from her cheek, confused.
A human voice – distant, but growing closer.
Eliza froze. All her half-thoughts snapped into one decision. She lifted a white gum branch off the track: thick and smooth. She stepped into the ferns at the edge of the path, her clothes catching on the laurel. Was there a place she could hide? Did she really want to leave the track?