Drawing, tree against a multicoloured sky. Sacks are hanging in the tree, underneath are two bodies seen from behind. One body is a little girl in a Red Riding Hood cloak, and the other is a hairy grey hominid, with horns, and pointed ears, and a bleeding hole in the back of its head. Caption reads: “Jo remembered the day when everything changed.”

Memories short story by Iris Carden

Five storeys below Brisbane’s Roma Street Police Station, is the headquarters for the Human Defence Unit. Its members are drawn from among the highest performing members of military, intelligence, and police forces throughout Australia, along with select highly specialised members of the civilian population. The Human Defence Unit and its elite staff are neither police, military nor intelligence. They do not exist.

The funerals were over.  Jo had convinced both Harry’s parents and Kurt’s wife, of the wisdom of cremation.  She’d even suggested where to scatter their ashes, scatter being the important part.

She hoped her colleagues were able to rest in peace, a thing never completely guaranteed with vampires.

Jo sat in her office remembering both Kurt and Harry, and how they had become a part of her life.

It had begun with Katie.

Jo had been a police officer.  After time as a detective, she’d gone back to uniform after her maternity leave. She’d been allowed to stay on day shift if she went back to uniform, so that was the deal.  That way Katie could go to day care and Jo could go back to work.  

Having had her career on hold for a year, her husband, David, who had gone through the police academy with her had been promoted ahead of her.  She tried not to be jealous. After all, Katie was worth it.

Each day, she would take Katie to day care, and go on to the Roma Street station from there to clock in for work.  At the end of the day, she’d go pick Katie up, and hear all about her day, as they drove home.

On the day that changed everything, day care was having a costume party, and Katie was dressed as Red Riding Hood.  

When Jo clocked out that day, she’d entered her code at the day care centre to get in, and found the carers tied up, the children missing.  She untied the centre manager, ascertained the offender had just left and which way staff watching through the large window had seen him go, with tiny children in sacks. Jo and left the manager to free her staff, and ran after the offender, while calling on her radio for back up.

She caught up, found someone in a strange hairy costume, with pointed ears and horns, hanging wiggling sacks on a tree. 

She drew her service weapon and called out for the offender to freeze, the call was unheeded, so she fired, hitting the offender in the back of the head.

As other police officers arrived, the offender lay bleeding out, while Jo pulled down the sacks and released the children. Twenty toddlers were safely released, but one, her Katie, was dead.

That day, Jo had sat, after reporting to her superiors, on a bench seat in a hallway in the station, not knowing what to do.

A man she didn’t know, sat beside her. 

“A Krampus,” he said, quietly.  “That’s the word for the thing you killed this afternoon.  You took it down with a single shot. That’s impressive.  I’m sorry for your loss, but you saved a lot of children from a monster today, and there are more monsters out there.  I know you’ll take time off after this, but when you’re ready, I want you to consider transferring to my unit, where you can learn what’s really out there.”

He gave her a card which identified him as Senior Agent Kurt Davison of the Human Defence Unit.

Three months later, with her marriage failing as Jo and David’s grief pulled them apart, Jo joined the unit.  

Kurt made it clear he was training Jo to be his replacement, as he was approaching retirement age.  The other person Jo worked most closely with was then Trainee Agent Marissa Tyler. Marissa’s pet project then was a Yowie.  She was teaching it to work as an office cleaner, and some nights taking it out so it could run in its native bush land.

In time, Kurt had retired, Jo had taken over as Senior Agent, Marissa had been promoted to full agent, and Jo had taken on a new trainee Harry Smythe.

Harry had been hired on the basis of potential Jo had seen, not already having particular skills. He’d been enthusiastic, and an avid learner, always amazed at the new things he learned about the world hidden from most of society.

Harry had been through hell, hexed by a witch, turned by a vampire, betrayed by a mentor, unexpectedly turned human again. He’d been unable to cope, and had resurrected the vampire who’d originally turned him, so she could turn him back into a fang.

He’d attacked Marissa, and she’d killed him in self defence, being injured so badly herself that a week later she was still in a coma.

In the aftermath, Jo had turned to Kurt to help her deal with everything. Kurt was also then a fang, and Jo was saved from his attack by Katie’s ghost.

Jo went over and over it all in his mind. 

She wasn’t sure she’d ever got over the pain of losing Katie. Even now, she regularly dreamed of chasing Katie, always in her Red Riding Hood cloak , but never catching her. These other losses on top of that were unbearable. Like Katie, Harry and Marissa were her responsibility, and she felt she’d let them down. 

The tears flowed freely, as she sat at her desk, staring at the opposite wall, remembering. 

How much was too much? Would this overwhelming misery end her career, or worse? Would she end up doing something as self-destructive as Harry had done? What if Marissa died? How would she cope with that?

Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on the office door.

Trainee Agent Kate Murdoch said, “Sorry to interrupt, boss. But you’re going to want the news.  Helen just got a call from the hospital. Marissa’s awake. They say she’s going to be OK.”

Jo slowly dabbed her tears and blew her nose.  She took a deep breath, hoping her voice wouldn’t quaver. “OK,” she said. “Let’s go see her.”

Human Defence Unit Stories

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By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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