Free short fiction 


(winner Flash Fiction, Maureen Freer Literary Competition.)

Australia 1995

"It's necessary," the boy's father explains as he hauls himself into the cab, the length of the seat separating him from the nine-year-old huddled against the far window. "If we don't cull them they keep breeding until there's no grass left for the sheep."

The entry of his father's heavy body is accompanied by the smell of man-sweat overlaid with a hint of rum.

The boy stares into the night; skeletal trees black against a star-lit sky. He feels weight shift in the back as Uncle Harry and Cousin Joe clamber aboard. The thump of a rifle stock echoes on metal. Uncle Harry will be on the light, Joe on the rifle for the first time.

"You ready? Hang on tight, it will be fun!" His father cranks the motor and slips the truck into gear. Eyes to the front, he doesn't notice the sideways shake of the child's head.

'Go get 'em Bruce," Cousin Kevin yells from the other truck as motors roar and headlights split the night.

A cacophony of sound and flickering light assault the boy's senses as they tear through the paddock, engines roaring, spotlights sweeping, locking on frozen grey figures. Eyes glare satanic red, extinguished by the bark of angry rifles.

Silver spray glitters in the spotlight as the truck smashes through the river crossing. Dirty water flies across their windscreen. "Shit!" The boy's father frantically reaches for the wipers. There's a dull thud from the roo bar and a grey blur disappears beneath the wheels.

On and on the slaughter goes as the trucks herd a dance of death until, at last, all the roos are down and they slide to a noisy halt.

Standing by the trucks, voices unnaturally loud, the men discuss the kill as the rum bottle passes from hand to hand. Even Joe gets a slug.

"Good shooting lad!" Uncle Harry puts his arm around his son.

The boy watches from the truck in silence.

"Come on son. Time to tidy up." Baseball bat in hand, his father hauls the child from the cab. "You check the pouches, I'll deal with the joeys."

* * *
Morning light; carcasses piled high; the smell of death mingles with wood smoke as they huddle around a fire. The adults are somber now, only sound the wind in the trees.

"No, it wasn't fun," the boy says into the silence.

Afghanistan 2016

No longer a boy, the man stares down at the body in the basement, the familiar copper smell mixed this time with the acrid bite of explosive.

They'd cleared the house after taking fire, killing all inside. Then, hearing a sound from the basement, the man had opened the trapdoor and dropped in a grenade.

Now, as he focuses his flashlight on the body leaking fluids into the earthen floor, a child's unseeing eyes stare into his soul.

"It was necessary." The Sergeant places a rough hand on his shoulder as he drops a pistol near the body.


(shortlisted, Flash Fiction, Maureen Freer Literary Competition.)

I didn't want him to die!

Too bloody late. You wished it on him; couldn't wait for it to happen.

No I didn't!

Or did I? All those bitter-apple years … waiting … for what? An apology? Not bloody likely. Waiting for him to die, that's what.

No it isn't. At least it doesn't feel like it. I mean he's dead … He is dead isn't he, not playing some bloody sick game?

Of course he's dead. Here, put your hand on his face. See! He doesn't blink, doesn't flinch; doesn't even know you're here to gloat.

Do you really think that of me?

His skin is cold; the strange terrain of age, rough and knobbly.

I see it in you. You'd dance on his grave if you had the chance.

Stand in the queue? I don't think so.

Close his eyes! What's he looking at?

You, of course. All these years he's been looking and now you're here.

But he can't see, can he? His eyes are milky with cataracts and death.

Yet he sees me, I am sure of it. Sees through the carapace I've built to shelter me.

I can't bear it! Hesitantly I reach out and close each crepe-paper eyelid with the tip of my finger.

A tear rolls accusingly down his cheek.

* * *

An eternity later we're gathered round an open wound spilling red earth; myself, my sisters and my father's tribe in all their grandeur. A gnarled tree overburdened with the grief of a thousand graves gathers mist into cold tears and drips them unerringly down my collar.

As unflinching as he was in life, as incapable of change, I stand stolid as the tree before his coffin … and let the new bishop's lies wash by uncontested.

Finally it's over and they hand me the ceremonial shovel. Dust unto dust, ashes to ashes intones the bishop. But there is no dust, no ashes; just congealed mud that lands with a gratifying thud on the father I once adored.

In a frenzy I heap blood-red earth on the holy man who chose denial over the word of his son.

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