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.

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.