Eddie turned up the hill, his engine screaming in protest as he forced his dirt bike faster, faster. He loved this bike, loved riding the firebreaks in the forest that filled the national park behind his father's farm. He'd never admit it, not even to his trail-riding mates, but the reason this machine had always been his favourite, even though he had a more powerful one, was the tortured howl of this particular two stroke engine when he wound it out to its limit. Of course, that screaming wail was exactly what upset all the people who thought that it was wrong to ride trail bikes through the national park, and Eddie could understand that too. But it wasn't going stop him.
Today was a great day to be riding the trails in the national park up in the hinterland southwest of Sydney. Not only was it a lovely day, not a cloud in the sky and nice and warm without having a stinking hot westerly blowing from inland, but yesterday Eddie had finished school completely. No more, never going back. It was a little bittersweet, actually. Eddie had never been going to do well at school, he just wasn't that way inclined, though history had really caught his fancy. Nor was he particularly good at sports; he enjoyed them, but he was never going to play on seriously once he finished school. Not that it really mattered; Eddie had known as long as he could remember that he wanted to work with his dad on the farm and then one day own it. So it hadn't truly mattered that he wasn't going to set the world on fire. Instead Eddie had found his own niche - generally a nice guy, friends with everyone, someone you could rely on to strike the right balance between having fun and being responsible.
Finishing school meant that he'd be free from homework, free from exams, able to spend time outdoors instead of locked up inside. But finishing school also meant working on the farm, losing contact with his friends, no more playing sports at lunch times. So there was a lot to miss; but today - today was for fun. His sister and parents had gone down to Sydney to catch a Saturday evening show, and then to stay overnight, and he'd volunteered to stay home and look after the farm. It was a pretty light day with not many chores, and he'd spent much of the morning yakking over a couple of tinnies to a couple of friends who'd come round - drinking beer in the morning, how cool! - and late in the afternoon he'd put on his high-visibility red, yellow and black leather outfit and then its matching helmet over his green hair (the remnant of a gag he and a few mates had played for the last day of school), fired the bike up and headed up into the national park to let it rip.
Late in the afternoon, Eddie leaned forward as the bike crested a steep hill, preparing for the jump that followed it. He launched the bike into the air, purposely letting the throttle stay open so that the engine screamed before he landed. It wasn't good for the bike, but this one was nearly beat anyway, and he'd long promised himself a new bike when he finished school. He landed heavily, and then, as he looked up, he was distracted by an unexpected flash of motion in the corner of his eye. Eddie slammed the brakes on, and as soon as he'd controlled the sliding stop, he looked up to where he'd seen the movement.
Through the scattered shrub and trees he saw a girl, maybe fifteen years old, wearing a plain white ankle-length dress that was gathered a little across her chest. She had tawny blonde hair, bare feet, and her dress was badly torn. He turned the bike off the trail towards her and gunned the engine, bouncing over the rough ground. She turned and ran, but she was a lot slower than his bike, and he was catching up to her rapidly.
She stumbled and fell heavily in front of him, so he stopped and dropped the bike on the ground, hopped off and approached closer to the girl. When she looked up at him, he stopped. The girl was clearly frightened. Not just afraid, but truly terrified out of her wits, as if she was a bunny about to eaten by his dog.
"Are you okay? I'm not going to hurt you."
The girl gasped and shook. He lifted the visor of his helmet so he could see her more clearly. If anything, the girl became even more afraid, shaking and barely able to breathe. Eddie was starting to become quite worried. He wasn't that scary, was he?
"Look, I won't hurt you. How about I take you to the police?"
The girl let out a tortured terrified scream, then scrambled to her feet and ran for a thick stand of bush behind her, sobbing and gasping as she ran. Eddie stood in surprise watching her go, and then sighed. It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon.