Twilight is the story of Claire, a young woman in modern day Melbourne, and the unlikely connection she finds with a character from her favourite film. Although the whole thing must obviously be some kind of dream, Joe is a man who seems very rooted in his own reality - wherever that may be leading him. Should Claire tell him what she knows, and will it change anything for him if she does?
I wrote this story in 2004, because I wanted to read something like it, and it appeared - perhaps with good reason - that no such tale existed. It began life on the Beyond Fanfiction forum (now called the O-zone) as a two-chapter short story that I kept on adding to. Predictably therefore, it ended up as a bit of a mess. This re-write and major edit is my attempt to put that right. In order to make more sense of the (frankly nonsensical) plotline, I've extended it considerably with the addition of an entire new third part that slots in before the end.
Twilight is based on a film, which was based on a book called Our Sunshine by Robert Drewe, which in turn was based on a true story. I hope therefore that this removal from the original events excuses the levity. I am, if it is not painfully obvious, poking gentle fun here at those of us who enjoy a bit of cinematic Joe Byrne, and not at all at the real people for whom I have all due respect.
'Time' travel that owes more to wishful thinking than science fiction and a very enthusiastic physical relationship. Consider yourself warned.
Five Parts (13 Chapters) Complete.
Part 1 2
Part 2 1 2 3 4
Part 3 1 2 3
Part 4 1 2
Part 5 1 Epilogue
The noise of the sharp click can’t really have been what made her regain consciousness, but that was the first thing Claire was aware of. Before that, there was the branch smacking into her and sending her flying from the horse, and the passing thought that she must look ridiculous, making the classic beginner’s mistake, but that fortunately nobody could see her. Then nothing. And now she had what, even to her inexperienced and barely focussed eye, was clearly the barrel of a gun pointing in her face.
“Don’t shoot me,” she muttered, her voice feeble, partly because she was dazed, and partly because this wasn’t something she’d ever had to say before, and she felt silly saying it.
“Jesus Christ, it’s a woman,” came the disembodied reply. The voice was male, a surprised, gentle singsong Irish, but there was a steely edge to it that made her glad after all that she’d begged for her life. Perhaps, she hoped, the owner of the voice might have particular scruples about shooting the opposite sex.
Gradually her vision cleared and she found herself staring into a pair of intense dark brown eyes. Nicely shaped eyes, framed with a smoky smudge of lashes and watching her with an almost hypnotic expression. Not as cold as they might have been, considering that they were hovering just above a pistol that pointed at her nose. The late afternoon sun blurred around his other features, and this made her peer harder, squinting through a headache, trying to make sense of her situation. Her captor, or whatever he was, never took his eyes from her face. He seemed to be waiting for her to speak. Gradually, as he came into focus, she realised that there was something very familiar about him. Her sigh, partly relief, partly unbidden, sung out into the air around them. She was dreaming, and it looked like being a good dream!
“You’re Joe Byrne!” she said, struggling to keep an inappropriate delight out of her voice.
Two deep frown lines appeared between his black eyebrows.
“How do you know that? Is anyone with you? Did the coppers send you?” he asked, in a surprisingly harsh voice. Maybe she imagined he’d somehow recognise her too, but she knew that was stupid, even in a dream. Of course he’d be suspicious. She’d have to play along a bit.
“No, no. I’m alone,” she said hastily. “No-one sent me. I saw the film, that’s all.”
“The fillum?” Her answer obviously puzzled him, but just the same she noticed that the barrel of the gun drooped slightly in response.
“Never mind,” she muttered weakly. If she was going to be in a dream with Joe Byrne, it seemed a pity to spoil it by wasting time on existential conversation.
He shuffled a step closer on his haunches; his heeled boots scuffing up the leaves and leaving soft furrow marks in the earth. She inhaled deeply, vacuuming up his scent of tobacco and bush and intangible maleness, and hoping he would think she was just helping along her recovery with a few deep breaths.
“Well, whatever you saw,” he said, pride perhaps preventing him from admitting he didn’t know what she was talking about, “You can’t stay here now. It’ll be gettin’ dark in a while. What happened to you? Can ye walk?”
“I fell off my horse, and yeah, I think I can walk a bit, it’s just my ankle. I wrenched it when I fell. My head’s not too bad”.
He looked round again and shook his head slightly, in disapproval of her incompetence, she supposed. All around them the forest was quiet and still. The horse had obviously bolted and there was no way either of them could know how long Claire been lying there.
“Well, come on;” he said, obviously reaching a decision. “You’ll have to come with me. It’s too dangerous to stay here and I’m not about to be caught for you, or anyone else, whether or not they’re dressed as a lad.”
Dressed as a lad? Now it was her turn to be puzzled. She sat up, brushing away leaves, and looked down at her jeans and the leather jodhpur boots that still gleamed under their coating of dust. Joe extended one lean brown hand towards her, and she grasped it, allowing him to get a purchase on her wrist and pull her upright. He waited until she gained her balance and then stepped away again, pushing the gun into his trousers and shaking his jacket straight with a small sigh. Apparently, she was just one more problem for him to solve and he had no particular intention of being friendly towards her.
There’s no harm in being friendly, she thought to herself as she experimentally lowered her left foot to the ground. A shock of pain flashed up her leg. She cried out and raised it once more. The pain did not stop but its intensity lessened, and she hovered helplessly on her toe.
Joe looked around in surprise, almost as if noticing her for the first time. Gratifyingly, she noted a brief sympathetic smile crossing his face.
“Hey, ” he said, not unkindly. “Don’t try to do too much now. It’s not far we’ve to go. Here, lean on me.”
She took his arm gratefully. The fabric of his jacket, which looked like it had been part of a suit that had seen better days, felt rough under her hand, more coarsely woven and hairy than it appeared. The day was warm, and it struck her as strange that he would wear such a thing. Clearly her clothes interested him too because he glanced at the full length of her before turning to the path and muttered something to himself that she couldn’t quite make out, but which sounded like ‘Mary, Mother of God, what is she wearing?’
Although Joe may have been speaking the truth that wherever they were going was not far to walk, it certainly seemed a long way to limp. He didn’t speak again, but continued to look warily around him as they picked their way between skinny trees and boulders and shards of rock thrusting up from the dry, uneven ground. The only sound was that made by their footsteps and presently by Claire’s labouring breath in the still air as she struggled to limit the amount of weight she put on both her foot and on Joe’s arm. Perhaps he noticed this because he stopped quite suddenly and lifted her arm around his neck, placing his own around her waist. This allowed them to progress a little faster, but his fingers resting on her hip, the gentle caress of his hair on her forearm, and his warm, silent proximity were all a little disturbing, and she was glad when at last they rounded a thicket and came to a small, rudimentary encampment cunningly arranged behind a shelf of rock so as to be invisible from any angle other than the one they were approaching from.
Joe helped her to sit down on a fallen tree trunk, handling her with care but in a distracted way, still primarily alert to any sound or movement in the bush. A horse tethered nearby, its pale coat milky in the hazy light, lifted its head from cropping at the scrappy grass and whinnied softly. Joe crossed over and fondled its nose and it nuzzled at his hand. His back was to her now, and she considered him with ill-concealed lust. His frame was slight but hard and muscular, his shoulders straight as he stood at ease in the sun’s low rays, alone with the creature, his surroundings and himself. Claire congratulated herself on her good fortune. He’d looked good enough to eat when she’d seen him on film. In the flesh, if that’s what he now was, he was ten times more glorious. His gentle familiarity with the horse, contrasted with the distant casualness with which he was treating her, made her swallow involuntarily. He looked around at her with a thoughtful expression on his face, and she hastily composed herself.
“Treat them right and they don’t leave you,” he said. There seemed no answer to that, so she said nothing.
He returned to her side and knelt in front of her.
“Here, let me look. Do you think your ankle is broken?” he enquired, sitting back on his heels and cupping her foot in his hand, lifting it slowly until her foot rested on the slope of his thigh.
“We should take this boot off.”
“No!” she cried out in alarm, momentarily distracted from enjoying the intimacy. “If you do that I’ll never get it back on again!”
“Ah, sure you will.” His words were light but there was a threat there. She realised that if she allowed him to do this, then she would be unable to leave on foot alone until the swelling subsided again, and that this was undoubtedly the thought that lay behind the veneer of his concern. This way he could be certain that she was not going to betray him, either deliberately or inadvertently. On the other hand, since this wasn’t really happening at all, where was the harm in playing along with him? And where would she go anyway?
He was examining her boot carefully now. He seemed confused as he ran his hands round the back of her ankle and then fingered the elastic sides.
“Here,” she said, resigning herself to whatever fate the dream had in store for her. “Like this”. She bent forward and showed him how the front unzipped. He looked up in delight, the first entirely natural smile he had given her.
“Now isn’t that a grand idea? It must be the finest shops in Melbourne you’d need to visit to find something like that!”
“Hardly,” she muttered, panting a little with the exertion of wriggling her foot free of the boot. She sat back to rest before doing the same with her good ankle. The pain was not as bad as she had anticipated, although without the boot’s support it was just beginning to throb. She felt more optimistic that it wasn’t broken after all.
Joe had crossed to one of the tents and squatted down to fiddle with something. He returned almost immediately and proffered an open metal billycan towards her. A slop of brownish liquid was just visible inside it.
“Do you want to drink some water?” he asked politely.
Claire smiled and shook her head and reached into her jacket, pulling out her own bottle and showing him she had some of her own. Telling herself that she was only declining his offer because his own supply might be a bit scarce, she pulled the cap up with her teeth and took a long swig until the water cascaded down her hot chin and ran in rivulets down her throat. After Joe’s wonder at the zip on her boots, she wondered if he might ask to see the soft plastic bottle with its crystal contents, but he said nothing. Instead, he sat down a little further along the tree trunk, removed a small tin from the pocket of his dirty waistcoat and began, expertly, to roll a cigarette with one hand. When he’d finished, he tapped it on the tin then bent down, struck a match on the heel of his boot and lit it. It obviously didn’t occur to him to offer one to her or to ask if she minded.
After a few moments of earnest smoking, during which he seemed intent on a small patch of earth in front of him, he threw back his head, exposing the long white curve of his throat with its hard bump of Adam’s apple, and blew smoke high into the air.
“I don’t suppose you’ve anything to eat about you, have you now?” he asked.
Claire rummaged through her jacket pockets and produced a rather squashed bar of chocolate and a half-pack of chewing gum which she passed to him without comment. Presumably it wasn’t what he had in mind, because he merely nodded his acknowledgement of her offering, laid them to one side and returned to his cigarette.
An insistent banging at her temples reminded Claire that she was still wearing her hard hat. She unclipped it and laid it on the log between them and ran her hands through her hair, enjoying the feeling of the cool air on it and coaxing it with her fingers back to its customary spikes. She still felt a little dizzy, but she was cheered that she had escaped relatively unscathed from her fall. Joe gave her a long, considering look and raised his eyebrows ever so slightly.
“Ye realise you’re going to have to stay her ‘til morning?” he commented. “The others will be back by then, and we’ll see what can be done with you. I can’t risk taking you back to town tonight. Is anyone going to come looking for you if they find your horse?” He paused and cleared his throat. “Maybe your husband?” His emphasis on the last word was almost undetectable, but Claire heard it clearly and felt a tingle of anticipation tripping through her body. He was harder work that he appeared to be on film, but he did seem finally to have noticed she was a woman.
“No. No-one,” she replied, crossing her fingers that she could prevent her subconscious from summoning up a vast army of friends, family and acquaintances storming through the bush to rescue her from her fantasy.
She met and held his gaze for a fraction longer than necessary and then when she was sure he had caught the message, deliberately allowed her eyes to wander across his body. Under his jacket and tightly fastened waistcoat he was wearing a surprisingly clean vest, the buttons of which disappeared tantalisingly under the other layers. She couldn’t help wondering if what she was seeing was the top edge of a union suit, and the idea led her to hide a smile. Well, that would certainly be something different. Her eyes slid up again to meet his. He was, she could see, neither amused nor discomfited, merely effortlessly accepting of the implied compliment and invitation. He dropped the cigarette end to the earth and ground it in without taking his eyes off her.
“Since I’m to have the pleasure of the company of such a charming lady this evening,” he said, more quietly, “And she already knows who I am, I’m thinking that perhaps you should introduce yourself?”
“I’m Claire,” she said, extending her right hand for him to shake.
“Claire”. He rolled the name thoughtfully around his mouth. It sounded deeper and warmer the way he said it. “Well Claire, I’m very pleased to meet you.” He grasped her hand and shook it, and they both laughed a little, perhaps in acknowledgement of the strangeness of this formality after he had already half-carried her through the woods. His eyes, full of knowing humour now, drifted over her in the same way she had done to him. She realised that she must look half naked to him, and the knowledge made her self-conscious. She wondered what he’d think if she removed her jacket and exposed her bare shoulders and the straps of her fuchsia pink bra. It seemed probable that provided she didn’t suddenly wake up in bed at home, she’d be finding out soon enough.
The moment broke as Joe moved his head sharply to the right, detecting some sound she’d missed. She made to speak, but he put his index finger out and touched it to her lips to warn her as he strained to listen. All traces of flirtatiousness had vanished, and his touch was casual, his mind occupied elsewhere. The way he did this made her yearn to recapture his full attention, and the place where his finger had brushed retained the sensation of his touch. Meanwhile, he had stood up, pulled his pistol from his trousers and cocked it in readiness. Memories of how that very same gun had been pointed in her face so recently made her start, and she moved a little further backwards. Without another word or glance towards her he began to walk away, and within a few steps had disappeared behind one of the tents. She had no idea what was going to happen. The delicious feeling of being in a dream with a man she could only, well, dream about, evaporated, and a terrible foreboding overcame her. What if he didn’t come back? What if someone else found her here?
A shot rang out, and she screamed.
Almost instantly he reappeared, grinning and carrying not only the pistol, which was still smoking, but also a dead rabbit.
“What was all that about?” he enquired cheerfully, throwing the rabbit on the ground near the log and pushing the pistol back inside his waistband. “Did ye think the traps had got me, or were you worrying you’d not get any tea?”
He bent down and rummaged on the ground, straightening up with a slim, straight stick in one hand. He took out a knife and began to sharpen the end to a point. Claire watched him with interest, wondering what part this would play in transforming the dead rabbit into dinner. Finally satisfying himself as to the sharpness of the stick by testing it on his palm, he picked up the animal and with difficulty forced the pointed end through its back legs. Next, he felt in his pocket and produced a long piece of string, which he tied to each end of the stick, then hung the whole thing up over a nail in a tree. She looked on in horrified fascination as he slid his knife cleanly into the abdomen of the carcass, slitting it open. Unhesitatingly, he reached in with both hands and yanked out the warm entrails. The dying sun caught at them and they glistened almost prettily as he tossed them to one side and stooped to the grass to wipe away the worst of the blood from his hands. Claire watched the blades compress under the unexpected moisture and the weight of his fingers, then unfurl again, stained now and blindly seeking the sun. She felt bile rise in her throat and knew that she must have blanched. She liked her meat to come in a little plastic tray from the supermarket, or better still, cooked by someone else out of her sight. Resolutely looking at a clear patch of ground and willing herself not to heave, she didn’t see him turn to observe her. He gave a little smirk to himself, but returned to his task without comment. Blood continued to drip round his feet and he wiped the front of one boot down the back of his calf.
When she could bring herself to take another look, Joe had cut a slit in the fur round both hind legs, and with his knife working under the skin, he was peeling it back over the meat in one piece. His hands were strong and practiced, and despite her revulsion, she found the sight of him working so skillfully and with such concentration to be strangely attractive. She became mesmerized as he removed the entire hide with the smooth movement of someone taking off a glove, and an inappropriate vision of him stripping her of her clothes with the same expertise rose before her eyes. She began to feel impatience that none of his absorbed attention was for her. There he stood, apparently rooted to the spot, almost with his back to her, completely engrossed in his gruesome task as if he’d forgotten she existed. She was shocked that she found watching him at such grisly work so arousing. The muscles in his arm suddenly stiffened as he brought more force to bear. With a jolt, she realized he was severing the head and the legs, tossing the latter together with the rest of the body, into a small iron cooking pot. He slung it over a low, smouldering fire, poured some of the water over his fingers and began to wipe them fastidiously on a piece of rag.
He looked up at her and gestured behind him at one of a pair of shabby, basic canvas tents and continued to work the rag in his hands.
“Over there, that is my tent,” he told her. “You can sleep in there. I’ll take the other.” He paused as if a thought was just occurring to him, then added, “If you want me to, that is. I wouldn’t want you getting scared now”. His implied suggestion hung thickly in the air between them.
Claire wondered if that final ambiguity was deliberate or not. Did he mean, as the words suggested, that she might be scared to be alone in there, or was he asking if she was scared of him? His eyes laughed as he watched her trying to decide. Resolving not to let him tease her or get the better of her, she looked boldly into his face.
“Is there something up here I should be scared of then?”
He shook his head and held out one hand to help her up from the log.
“Them big spiders and poisonous snakes and the vultures and wild animals know better than to mess with the Kelly gang,” he said mockingly. They were both openly flirting now, yet the mutual acknowledgement of this did nothing to dent the tension between them.
She took his outstretched hand and lifted herself up. Within a few steps though, she had to drop clumsily to her knees in order to crawl through the flap of the tent, which he held back for her. She was aware that he must be availing himself of the opportunity to watch her backside as she made her undignified entrance. The hard ground was impacted under her knees, and she paused on all fours, waiting for her eyes to accustom to the yellowish gloom within. She’d had some experience of camping, but the inside of this tent bore as little resemblance to modern canvas as the outside had done. For a dream, the smell was certainly very realistic, and there didn’t seem to be anywhere she might reasonably describe as a bed. Just a pile of old blankets at the far end. A few carelessly slung leather saddlebags, a few cooking tools and a bulging hessian sack completed the furnishings. There was no cover on the ground of course. For a few seconds, the paucity of it all overwhelmed her. This was how he lived. This for a few days, then maybe a hut somewhere else, nights in the open, snatched hours in warmth and comfort to remind him of what he had forsaken. She pushed the thought from her mind. None of this was real. She crawled into a corner and sat down heavily wondering what would happen now. Maybe he just intended her to take a look and then come out again? Almost straightway though, Joe’s head and shoulders appeared through the opening and he followed her inside.
Truth told, despite her empathy with his situation and her resolution to stand up to him, she was a little scared. He exuded an air of self-contained charm, but there was a certain wariness too which lent him an edge of menace. He seemed to switch between these aspects of his personality in the space of a few sentences, and this unpredictability made her nervous too. And of course, she was not used to flirting with men who carried loaded pistols and were apparently only too happy to use them. She watched him while he adjusted himself to sit opposite her, noting that he’d not waited for an answer to his question about the sleeping arrangements before following her in. Well, she’d be safe enough, she told herself. She mustn’t forget that this was a dream, and so she could do whatever she wanted and still choose to wake up at any time if it got out of hand. Come to that, because she was in control, he would do whatever she wanted too, and what she wanted, of course, was for him to desire her as desperately as she now desired him and for the two of them to come together without awkwardness or misunderstanding or consequence – and preferably without much further preamble.
And yet, as they sat there looking at each other, she somehow did not feel quite as liberated from the cautious dance of would-be lovers as she might have expected. There was something very real and solid about Joe, not least a clear and firm mind of his own, which made her doubt her own ability to bend his will. And that, of course, made him even more attractive.
Claire abandoned her attempts to make sense of all this, and tried a more conventional, if unsubtle, approach.
“You know, I reckon it looks like we’re in for a cold night – and you never know what might be roaming around. I think I’d feel safer if you stayed here.”
Joe’s mouth twitched into a half smile which contained an unmistakeable hint of triumph that he hastily hid. But not before she had noticed, even in the dim light filtering through the dirty canvas, that his teeth were perfectly even and very white.
“Well, that’s grand,” he said, “I was preparing for an evening alone, and now I’ve … such unexpected and charming company. I’m not sure that our surroundings are fit for, uh, entertaining a lady, but I’ll do what I can to make ye comfortable.”
“I’m sure you will Joe.”
They relapsed into another, more awkward silence: having thus conveyed their desire to each other, there were no further barriers to doing what they both clearly wanted to do but this knowledge seemed to have created an impasse. In other circumstances, Claire pondered, he would be offering to buy her a drink now, or she would be commenting on something she had noticed, but the tent was bereft of inspiration for either of them. It was only early evening, so there would be no ambiguity in a suggestion that it was time to turn in. How did people start these things anyway? An unexpected breeze slapped noisily across the tent and they both looked up. Joe coughed. If they did not act now, the moment would be lost.
Claire shuffled on her bottom so she was directly opposite him. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” she said.
“Have ye now?” He was laughing at her, but she could see that he was flattered by the idea of his notoriety.
“The papers say you have the facial features of a creature born to crime,” she offered.
“Is that right?” he asked, amused and not noticeably offended. “And there’s me always reckoning I’m the handsome one of the bunch”.
Claire flinched at his response, and then remembered. Of course, this was a dream. Her subconscious mind was bound to borrow from the plot and dialogue a little.
Joe rocked onto his haunches, a movement which in the limited interior of the tent had the effect of crossing the space between them and leaving him kneeling at her side. He fixed her gaze in the same intense way he had when she’d first encountered him, except that the suspicion had been replaced by something more seductive. She was mesmerised, and aware that he knew it. His eyes dared her to make the first contact and her hands answered with a tingling desire to feel him under her fingers . A stray black curl had flopped onto his forehead and she reached over and gently pushed it back from his forehead. The first touch that had no purpose beyond touching.
Having coerced her into the first move, his reaction was swift and decisive. He leaned forward and kissed her. In the split second between realising what he as going to do and his lips brushing hers, her heart started to thud in her chest. Yet when it actually happened, it was a surprisingly and disappointingly chaste kiss. More promise than a peck, but tentative and devoid of any of the raw passion she assumed they were both feeling. What was wrong? Were the signals she gave off not explicit enough for him? Claire widened her mouth a little, pressuring his lips with hers and offering a tentative tip of her tongue. To her relief, he responded instantly, sliding his hand behind her head, and revealing himself, thankfully, as an experienced, not to say accomplished and enthusiastic kisser.
“Well, you’ve been dipped in the Shannon right enough,” he murmured after a few moments, and she felt his slow smile drag over her mouth. “I can see I’m going to have to be on my guard around here”.
Claire’s mind was racing even faster than her heart. Everything he’d said and done made it clear that he knew exactly what he wanted – he’d suggested spending the night together for Christ’s sake - and yet here he was implying she was a bit forward because she’d turned his kiss into a snog. Maybe in his day nice girls didn’t, but she had no doubt whatsoever that Joe managed to track down a fair number who did. Exactly how carefully did he have to tread with them? Surely, having decided to welcome his advances – and it was hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t - they were driven on by the same natural desires as anybody in any century? And how much did he know? The beautiful, razor-sharp planes of his face, the pooling dark eyes and the amused, sardonic manner indicated a certain experience and sophistication, and yet she couldn’t be sure. Certainly, the ‘ladies’ he ‘entertained’ had never had the benefit of reading Cosmopolitan. It seemed unlikely they’d be confidently demanding multiple orgasms and issuing clear instructions in pursuit of their own pleasure. She couldn’t manage anyone lying under Joe as he made love and wiling away the time considering tomorrow night’s dinner, but they perhaps had fairly low expectations nevertheless. As she sank into his renewed kiss, Claire knew that this was either going to be more fun than she’d possibly imagined, or else the biggest let down of her life.