It had taken Stella and Brian three hours to drive from Adelaide to Wirrabara in the mid-north of the state, where the local constable was waiting for them at the Wirrabara Police Station. After a comfort stop, they followed his patrol car out to the Wirrabara Forest Reserve, several kilometres west of the town, and then along narrow dirt tracks through a burnt-out pine forest to where a group of vehicles was parked.
The overpowering smell of burnt pine trees hit Stella when she stepped out of the car. As she looked around, she could see wisps of smoke snaking their way towards the clear blue sky. Stella thought she'd stepped into an alien landscape.
They walked over to where Forensics' crime scene investigators had cordoned off the area around the skeleton, which had been discovered by a local Country Fire Service crew conducting mopping up operations after the bushfire that had ripped the life out of the pine plantation.
Stella felt unnerved by the deathly silence of the place. It was the first time she'd been in a forest immediately after a fire where there were none of the usual sounds of nature. The only sound she could hear as they walked was the crunching of burnt pine needles under their boots.
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