PUBLISHED:Aurealis | 4600 words | Reading time: 15 min
The bushfires drew closer that morning, thrusting splinters of dirty-red daylight through gaps in the loungeroom blinds. I wasn’t surprised when the knock at the door came. If the fire brigade was here to hustle me along, at least I’d get to clap eyes on a firm jawline or two. That’d do me a world of good. I rolled off the couch, yanked open the front door and snapped, “What?” To their credit, they didn’t flinch, these two G-men sweating out the forty-degree heat through charcoal suits. The younger one squinted, his shades perched atop his crisp haircut. He took in my bare feet and tracksuit pants, my lopsided bun ejecting greying strands of unwashed blonde, and hesitated. “...Dr Brigitta Vogel?” “Speaking.” Unenthusiastically. He flashed a badge. “We’re here from NPWS Cryptozoology. I’m Agent Bread, and this is Department Head Windemere.” Department Head? Making house calls? The older man, all salt-and-pepper and steel, offered me a sturdy hand. “Mind if we come in? It’s about a job.”
PUBLISHED:Beneath Ceaseless Skies | 5700 words | Reading time: 25 mins
With mother gone, the house falls to silence. Shon knows silence well. He and his father—just the two of them, now—live on what would have been called the edge of the woods, if it were possible to pinpoint where the village ends and the Black Forest begins. In truth, the woods begin in the heart of the village. There, in the square, an ancient oak bears witness to every coming and going. Beech limbs brush the steep jumble of houses surrounding the commons. Beyond those streets, the buildings dwindle, gradually relinquishing the land to the trees. The world becomes a press of green, interrupted only rarely by a cottage—and then, for quite a way, not interrupted at all. Just a little further still, Shon’s home stands. The cottage is taller than it is wide, with a roof that bows like an old nag’s back. Shon’s bedroom nestles in the angled attic space beneath the worn-out thatch, where a single window offers vigil over the trees. He knows the silence outside the house well. The silence inside the house is altogether new.
PUBLISHED: Reckoning Magazine | 4000 words | Reading time: 15 mins
Akari saw the restricted tree first. Wrestling the Agency’s sleek sedan around the treacherous holes in Zimmerman’s pitted rural driveway held my full attention. We’d passed the mailbox fifteen minutes back, leaving me certain we’d missed a turnoff to the old man’s place—then Akari slapped the dash. “Frank! Pull over!” Akari snapped off her seatbelt and lunged out the door into the bright summer heat before we stopped moving. Dust and ash-exhaust billowed over the car. My junior agent’s silhouette vanished in the rusted cloud. When the air cleared, I saw what she’d seen and fumbled my seatbelt off too. “Is that a—?” “Betula pendula ‘Laciniata’.” She stepped aside as I joined her in front of the young tree. “Weeping birch. A Level Four restricted cultivar.” Tendrils of leaves spilled over the pale bent trunk, curtaining it like stringy hair over the face of a cowering girl. I’d only seen this species in file photographs.
PUBLISHED: PodCastle, Andromeda Spaceways | 1000 words | Reading time: 5 mins
In Sesara, only the rich wear bright colours. My knight shines in the armour I buff for him nightly, glossy as a jewel. My clothes and skin are the colours of the earth. We stand together with two days of desert at our backs and a forest of black thorns before us. My heart is a bird in my chest. I was twelve when the slave traders came from the ocean and stole me. To the Sesarans we Arn all look the same. I was always tall and strong. An unscrupulous trader shaved my head and sold me as a boy to fetch a higher price, and I live as a boy still, because it is better than what waits for me as an Arn girl in this country. My new master is a field knight and I am the best help he can afford. Sesaran boys have been in no hurry to volunteer as pages since the dragon came.