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Highly Commended from the Summer Flash Fiction Competition
A high-pitched scream. We freeze. Put down our cups of tea. Mute the television. Slip on our slippers and tip toe into the dark.
We stand on the veranda. In the moonlight the white-bellied gums rise up like giant ghosts from the humming undergrowth. We listen. Let the cicadas’ thrum merge with the shallow tune of our breaths and the drumming of our startled hearts.
So hot. So still. The kind of night that kills. The kind of night where the sky might whip the earth with hot dry ropes of thunderous light – just for fun, and to remind us who has the final say in this world.
The kind of night, too, where anyone might strike a spark – just for fun, and to remind us what can become of those who feel unseen and unheard by this world.
A boo-book owl calls from far away. Boooo-book?
Seconds stretch. From the other side of the sky, the echoed reply. Boooo-book?
What are they saying? I am here! Where are you?
We listen. We’re here too.
This kind of night can kill in other ways: Summer is the season of widow-makers. We’ve seen branches as big as suburban trees plummet to the dirt at our feet. In this heat, the gums shrug off their limbs as moodily as we tear off our clothes. (We’d rip off our skins, if we could.)
Some risks, we’ve agreed, are intrinsic to a place: Accept them.
Some risks are incalculable: Don’t worry about them.
Another scream jolts us. Blood bursts in our heads: deafening; choking.
This scream? It’s almost verbal, as if words – hurled up from a gut – have been trapped in a mouth gagged shut.
Slowly, the cicadas’ song reclaims us. We exhale. The boo-book calls: I’m still here! Are you?
We turn. Go inside. Slip off our slippers. Pick up our cups of tea. Unmute the gentle chatter of the TV and stare into its hypnotising screen.
We accept nothing. We worry about everything. All we know for sure is that we’re still here – still living in the heart of this beautiful, terrible darkness.
About H.C. Gildfind
H.C. Gildfind is the author of the prize-winning novella Born Sleeping (Miami University Press, 2021) and the short fiction collection The Worry Front (Margaret River Press, 2018).
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