I glimpse him from a distance, a Drizaboned mirage on the road. He tips his flask upside-down and his shoulders drop.
Do I stop? I shouldn’t leave him here.
My vehicle slides past. He is an iron statue, powder coated in russet. He makes no eye contact. I stop and check my rear-view mirror. Nothing but red dust haze.
The windscreen amplifies the sun. I emerge sweltering. My boots crunch on the gravel.
I hear a crow. Perched on the fragile limb of a solitary tree, clothed in black, it caws. “Waaa Waaa Waaaaaaaaaa.” It ruffles its feathers and stares.
I look back for the man. I can’t make out his silhouette.
My vision stretches across the featureless land. Death belongs out here and I pick up its stench before I see the evidence. Few remains are scattered, the trucks and birds having reduced the corpse to dust.
Outback Sentinel was runner-up in the Fellowship of Australian Writers (FAW) Microfiction Award – National Literary Awards 2015
“Outback Sentinel was remarkable for the writer’s ability to distil atmosphere using the sights and sounds of a deserted country road.” Lynn Smailes, FAW judge
Thanks to Spineless Wonders for this beautiful video reading of my story.
This microfiction piece was published in the 2015 Spineless Wonders Anthology ‘Out of Place’
Evie lies on her back. The noise-cancelling headphones squeeze her skull. Her surging thoughts press from the inside. Everyone reminds her she has to sleep. The relaxation CD plays but the bewitching voice and tinkling new-age music heighten her frustration.
It isn’t the baby. She’s pretty good, doing what’s expected.
Everything is amplified. At night, through closed doors, she can still hear the dog breathing in the hallway. Drifting doof music competes with her heartbeat. A skateboarder sounds like a freight train on the footpath. Fruit bats arguing in the fig tree sound like pterodactyls.
He brings the baby in for a feed.
Afterwards father and daughter sleep again. Evie doesn’t.
The first train triggers the boom gate’s bells at 04.52 and every twenty minutes thereafter. It heralds the morning cacophony: wattlebirds choking, lorikeets shrieking, magpies gargling.
Every sound shoots an arrow of adrenaline through her body. Her vision is in pixels. Kaleidoscopic windmills twirl under her eyelids. Her chest may explode with her trapped breath.
Oh, to drop off that knife-edge into sleep.
She’s made a mistake.
The baby is hers, but she wants to give it back.
Or run away.
He won’t be happy either way.
The strobe lights cast robotic shadows as the crowd seethes to the music.
It started with the inquisitive black one chasing my canoe. I thought it was a water-dragon until it stood, cobra-like, above the water.