“Look, Dad,” says Mika from the back. “Look at the faces!”
Scott adjusts the rear-view mirror. The last he checked, Mika was slumped in a chaos of Lego, two minifigures squabbling inches from his face. Now the boy is fully upright, forehead pressed to the window.
“What do you mean? What faces?”
“In the trees,” says the boy. “Bubbly heads poking out of the bark. Look, Dad, can you see?”
“What’re you talking about, retard?” Ashley is scooched way down in the passenger seat, semi-foetal with her toes on the glovebox. Scott would think she was asleep if it weren’t for the dance of thumbs over the screen of her phone.
“They’re probably galls,” says Scott. “Some trees grow them in response to bacteria, insects, that sort of thing. It’s a kind of symbiosis: the trees grow galls to protect themselves, but the galls also protect the wasps, or the greenfly or whatever, by drawing them in, growing around them.”
“Ha,” says Mika and smiles, stares out at the milky light strobing through the trees. “Galls.”
The car climbs, clings to the narrow snake of highway, winding upwards, out of the rainforest and the stop-motion fireworks of ancient tree-ferns, up into the dry alpine region and the edge of the burn zone…
Old Growth won the SQ Mag Story Quest Short Story Competition 2016 and the Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story in 2017.
Read the full story for free online in SQ Mag Edition 31.