The Further Shore

The Further Shore

Renault was out beyond the littoral when the fear bloomed.

Drifting with the currents, he bobbed above the reef. The sun warmed his back, cast a spangled net of iridescent white on the ocean floor. The only sound was the rasp of his breath in the snorkel, the faint pop pop of unseen creatures in the labyrinth of black coral below.

The black reef, with its oil-slick glimmer, stretched as far as he could see. Crooked spires. Towers that jutted and curled like obsidian fingers. Was it a trick of distance, or movements of the water that made the coral writhe and sway? It was profoundly hypnotic, drew him out over ever-deeper waters, farther from the shore.

Renault had noticed the pattern two days before. It was madness to think there should be order out here, among these chaotic accretions; yet there it was. The deep grooves of shadow that drew together, converging like vast, curved spokes around a distant axis. It had been too late to explore that first afternoon, and yesterday had been overcast, the light too diffuse to make out any detail in the reef. This morning he had woken early, determined to swim out to the point where those dark channels met.

His excitement mounted as each stroke brought him closer to the centre. The crevasse he was following narrowed, its arc tightening around smooth plates that resembled the petals of an obscene black flower. These segments overlapped uniformly, interlocking at the hub around something that glinted, that refracted light in soft, shimmering rainbows. It looked very much like a pearl. A pearl the size of a boulder.

Renault strained to make it out, unable to believe what he was seeing. But his mask had fogged and his sight was confined to a blurred rectangle. Just outside this frame of vision, he caught a movement.

He spun, scanning the water around, below.

There was nothing. He could see nothing. But his back tingled, his chest tightened.

Something was there. Something…

The Further Shore was shortlisted for Aurealis Awards in both the Best Horror and Best Fantasy Short Story categories in 2017 and won Best Fantasy.

Read the full story for free in Bourbon Penn 15 .

Or listen to the full story on the Tales To Terrify podcast, read by Pete Lutz:

On The Line

On The Line

The toy phone shrilled and shrilled.

Mike watched his daughter from behind the Sunday paper. He’d started on the crossword, but the sound of the phone hacked at his concentration like jagged glass. He tried to focus on the grid, at the handful of words inked in blue biro, but his attention was across the room, on the play mat with Janie and the damn phone. She’d found it in the 50c box at Vinnies, a lump of red and yellow plastic moulded to look like an old-school flip-top mobile. She loved that toy phone almost as much as Mike hated it.

With every chirrup, Mike felt his tenuous calm splinter. Janie had been playing with that bloody thing non-stop since they got back last month, and it was really starting to grate.

“Hello, Janie speaking.”

It didn’t seem to bother Mandi. She had a talent for tuning out all that was unpleasant in the world, leaving only those details that kept her happy: coffee, music, the mysteries of the human heart, and the wonder of their angelic, sandy-haired Janie. But he just didn’t have Mandi’s patience. No matter how hard he tried to ignore the bleeps and ditties of every bit of plastic crap Janie was given each year, something always cut through, always managed to jangle his nerves, sustaining that constant of low-level stress, which along with the never-to-be-satisfied hunger for sleep, seemed to define Mike’s experience of parenthood…

On The Line was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award for Best Horror Short Story in 2017.

Read more in Issue 12 of Midnight Echo.

Duplicity

Duplicity

Tad was lying. Again.

Not that anything gave him away. His grey eyes did not waver. His lips did not twitch, only pushed forward into the half-pout he’d studied, rehearsed, perfected over hours before the mirror. He could dissemble with all the finesse of a double agent.

“I would’ve called, Bae, but you know how it is. Derek kept me and the others back, talking motivation. Actor stuff.”

He curled butter onto a knife, scraped it to every corner of his sourdough toast. It was like an act of worship, the way he smoothed the expensive marmalade with such precision. It nauseated me.

Tad could have been a “ten”. He had pale, smooth skin over high, sharp cheekbones, raffish dark hair, painstakingly unkempt, and a physique at once delicate and masculine. Even dressed down, in khaki slacks and a cream polo shirt, he was impeccable, with creases taut and collars erect. He could have been perfect, but was held back by an air of smug self-satisfaction that kept each practised smile from ever touching his eyes…

Duplicity was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story in 2017.

Read the full story for free in Issue 11 of Dimension6.

Old Growth

Old Growth

“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.