Micro fiction*: On Valas Rock the Seals Cry

seascape off Phillip Island Victoria

The sea was all he had and if he couldn’t escape it, he’d die.

Callan hated the sea, and the life it forced on him. He hated the house which crouched by the shingle, caught between rock and water. It was no pearl, of smooth layers built by that friction, only damp and dank as a cave. He hated the land behind it – all brackish pools and stunted grass, and far in the distance a line of trees which taunted him.

Most of all, he hated the roar of Valas Rock. It voiced its pain across half a mile of cold sea, as the waves broke on it, and the seals cried, and the gulls screamed, wheeling overhead.

Callan woke each night, choking on salt spray. He lay in the dark, thinking about the death at his side and listening to the rock’s cry and the tide of his brothers’ sleep-drenched breaths. He didn’t fit there. His family fished, until the sea took them. She gave up her quicksilver harvest, but netted their lives in return. He wouldn’t pay the tithe, as his grandfather had done, and his uncle. He wouldn’t go out in the boats.

“What do we do with him?” his mother asked.
“He’s no use to anyone,” said his father. “Like one shoe, when the other’s lost.”
Her answer had been tears. Did she think, as Callan did, of the other shoe? Mhara, who had slipped from the womb at his heels, gasped for air, and died.

His sister, Mhara, who waited beside him in the dark.

He wandered among the sedge, moving closer to the dark trees, willing them to make sense. Each day he resolved to walk to the trees and keep on walking. Each night found him on the shingle, staring at the sea. What would happen if he left? Would Mhara remain? Would he always be alone?

On the last night of his sixteenth year, the sea lay quiet, like a whipped dog. A mist rose, moaned, and swelled with a sound both soft and unbearably sweet. Did it call wilful girls to swim to Valas Rock and take on fur – which they later shed so they might dance in the moonlight for the Sea Queens?

At Callan’s shoulder the air sighed. Did they call to his sister’s ghost? Had Mhara kept him by the sea, so she might hear the song and leave him? Was it Mhara who urged him to the boats, and Mhara who sped them across the black water, so he wouldn’t think on what he did?

Valas Rock basked silent in the moonlight. He clambered over its broad back, to crouch by its crescent of sand. A cold touch caressed his shoulder, then nothing stood behind him.

Alone, he shivered.

The seal girls danced at the edge of the water. They were luminous and beautiful, with unbound hair and lithe naked bodies, sinuous as kelp. Their fur skins lay on the sand, discarded where the girls had stepped from them. Callan inched towards the nearest pelt. It was softer than anything he’d held, and warm to his touch.

He tucked it inside his shirt, feeling the delicious weight of it above his belt. The fur caressed his bare skin. It was fair exchange, wasn’t it? He gave his sister’s ghost, and in return he’d take a seal girl. Then he wouldn’t be alone. He’d go away from the hated sea, past the dark trees, and take the girl with him. Callan studied each of them, willing the dance to end so he might discover whose fur he held.

The Sea Queens breached, water streaming over their majestic forms. Rona raised her arms to welcome them from the deep. They rolled and leapt. Flukes slapped the surf and barnacled tails flashed in the moonlight. Their whistling song praised the dance, and called the selkies to slip into their skins and join them in the water.

Rona ran towards her fur, but it was gone. She turned and turned again, frantic. The others splashed and leapt – back to the inky depths without her.

A young man stood, from the shadow of the rocks, and held out his arms. Rona’s gaze travelled from his smug grin to the lump in his shirt. She whirled to the sea, and a cry tore from her. His arms came around her, and he clamped a hand across her mouth.

“You’re mine now, my beauty,” he whispered against her ear.

But the sea was everything, and without it she’d die.


* Ah, selkies! I love them so. I wrote this piece for the recent Gamma.Con micro science fiction story competition. It had to be under 800 words and sci-fi or fantasy. I didn’t make the shortlist of ten (you can read them here), but I was happy with my tale – even if my heart hurts for poor Rona.



Flash fiction* – Taskforce Z


They come in the night.

They always do.

You wake, blinking against glare. Sunlight shouts off the white plastic shroud which encases your neighbours’ house.

You stand at the window, your fingers splayed on the glass like a gecko’s translucent pads. Your gaze traces the line of the temporary fencing to the front barrier, where a pale blue banner is attached to the metal mesh.

You can’t read it from your window, but you know what it says. You have seen dozens like it, scattered across the suburbs. The government insignia is white, and so are the words – Viral Response Taskforce.

First the plastic. Then the droning whine of the generator as it pumps in the decontaminants. Later, the demolition team will scrape the site bare, leaving a gap in the street like a missing tooth.

There’s no sign of the neighbours.

There never is.


*Another Tiny Treasure I wrote for Noted Festival. This one won’t have the same resonance away from Canberra, which currently has lots of houses like this – although it’s the Asbestos Response Taskforce at work, removing the houses which were insulated by “Mr Fluffy”. Creepiest name ever…

Flash fiction* – Autumn Witch


She preferred maple leaves of fiery orange and yellow, or heart’s blood red. Sometimes, she found a perfect bruised purple leaf, veined with red-gold arteries.

She placed them all on her wide, white windowsills, for the sun to dry. Their memories of moisture evaporated, and they became brittle and bitter. As they baked, she seasoned them with regret.

No more dancing in the fresh breezes of Spring. No more whispering through Summer’s lazy heat. They crinkled, arthritic and crabbed, as she crooned to them of lost vitality, and stolen joy.

By the time the trees were bare, she had an army of clawed furies, which her winds could send to do her bidding. Their desiccated hearts yearned to scratch at tender flesh, and spill the hot blood which might, she promised them, be as sweet as the sap they remembered.


*Last week I mentioned writing some flash fiction for a Tiny Treasures event at Noted Festival. I thought I’d share my pre-prepared tiny stories here, rather than have them whirled away and lost, like fallen leaves…

Sew ready for stories?

patchwork I love knowing the names for things.

If you’ve read The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin you will already know that, of course, the true names for things have power. Sometimes, all those names, all those lovely words, can be overwhelming….

Fowler’s Cut is a short story (under 3000 words) that takes place in an archaic city where magic and trade and crime converge.

I submitted it (unsuccessfully) to the Small Owl Workshop’s Lane of Unusual Traders world building project. What a lovely thing it is that they are making! I’ve edited my story to remove the identifiers that placed it in their world.

It’s immersive. I got carried away with words – with the names of colours and fabric, just as I get carried away with the tactile enjoyment of sewing something like the patchwork throw in the picture.

And, fair warning, there’s dialect. Sorry. I won’t do it again, I promise.