Wallflower.

I’d never imagined living in an attic.

Frank was the only one to come up here – twice a year to fetch and return the Christmas lights. Like everything else, he stopped doing that the year I died. Frank simply sunk deeper into his couch, unable to hear or see me, irrespective of how many chairs I upended or windows I rattled. He’d filtered my voice out long ago – why on earth had I expected him to hear me when I was dead? I spent the following months watching him and my houseplants gradually die. My Monstera outlasted him by a month. When the paramedics wheeled his body away, I was trapped alone in the house.

A young family eventually bought it. They seemed nice enough, but every time I attempted to befriend them, the house shook with their children’s screams. Their fear, mixed with my sadness of seeing my home erased beneath the wife’s ghoulish wallpaper, forced me into the only place I didn’t feel haunted. So for decades, I’ve dwelled here in the attic, where my only friends have been the spiders, whose knitted webs have slowly filled with blundering moths.

And then, one day, the house fell quiet.

Initially, I assumed it was just another of their family holidays. But when the weeks seeped into months, I ventured downstairs. A woman stood over a stove in the kitchen. A young girl next to her passed ingredients to her. I watched the two strangers sit at the table; they ate their dinner with chopsticks. Afterwards, the girl stood on two stacked telephone books and washed the dishes in the sink. Her mother reappeared from the hallway, now dressed in a waitress’ uniform.

‘In bed by 8 o’clock.’

The front door closed behind her. I followed the little girl, no older than ten, around my disfigured home. She brushed her teeth and lay in bed, reading a book about dinosaurs. Her eyelids had begun growing heavy when I clumsily knocked a snow-globe from her bedside table onto the floorboards. The girl sat up rigid; her dark eyes pierced me. I retreated to the hallway, noticing the name on her bedroom door.

Ruth.

I lingered in the attic for several days, pondering the new tenants. When I crept downstairs again, the girl was alone in the kitchen. She climbed down her telephone books from a sizzling pan of vegetables on the stove over to the pantry’s spice rack. I watched her little fingers wind their way past jars of herbs. The stove growled. I turned toward a plume of flame leaping from the pan into the air. The little girl panicked and snatched a nearby jug of water.

‘Ruth, no.’

I slammed the nearby glass lid down onto the pan – the fire hissed as it died – and turned to ensure the girl was safe. The jug trembled in her hand.

‘It’s you again,’ she said.


© Matthew S. Wilson, September 2021

This piece was originally written for October’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre.

Woozy Bankers.

‘Coming, Tim?’

I logged off and followed my colleagues out of the office; attending company social events inadvertently influenced our bonuses. The downstairs function room of the nearby pub reeked of beer and despair; like a fallen tree, its scratched tables could be aged by the rings staining their surfaces. The only person happy to be there was Greg, our self-designated quizmaster. Wearing a tie covered in question marks, he resembled a white-collar variant of the Riddler.

‘Don’t forget, the winning team shares a dinner for two at Vue de Monde,’ he beamed, repeating the sales pitch he’d carpet-bombed our inboxes with for the past month. ‘This will be our best quiz night yet.’

Greg’s pledge was immediately broken when I was paired with Darren Jenkins, a lumbering investment banker with ruddy cheeks and cufflinks inscribed with ‘JFDI’.

‘It’s because my approach to making deals is like Nike’s,’ he’d explain to anyone who’d ever asked him about the acronym. ‘Just F’ing do it.’

People submitted their team names, most choosing cringey puns from Google. Darren proudly christened us the Woozy Bankers. I looked wistfully across the room to Hannah, the girl from Accounting with whom I traded witty emails at the end of each financial quarter. Why couldn’t we be teammates?

Round 1 was a disaster, with Darren fog-horning most of our answers to neighbouring tables. At the end of the round, we swapped our sheets with adjacent tables, and Greg read the answers aloud; the crowd whooped and groaned as if watching a Christmas pantomime. When we received our sheet back, Let’s Get Fiscal had penalised us half a mark for forgetting the squiggly line in São Paulo.

‘Details matter, Timothy,’ said Judy, shaking her head with genuine disappointment. I didn’t press the point; nobody ever won an argument against the Audit team.

We fared better in Rounds 2 and 3, mainly because Darren was busy flinging himself at waiters carrying trays of beers or satay skewers, allowing me to focus. The night nearly ground to a halt over Greg’s adjudication that Crowded House was an Australian band, not a Kiwi one. When the final scores were eventually tallied, the Woozy Bankers and the EXCEL-erators were tied in first place. A member of each was invited up to answer a tie-breaker question. With Darren wrestling someone for the final pork slider, I rose to face my opponent, Hannah. We shared an embarrassed smile. The question was the distance between Earth and Saturn. Hannah’s guess was half a galaxy nearer the truth than mine, and Greg proudly awarded her the voucher like a novelty cheque at a golf tournament.

‘Congratulations,’ I said, awkwardly offering her a Covid-Safe elbow bump. ‘The food is supposed to be terrific.’

‘Nigel has already been,’ said Hannah, nodding to her teammate at their table, who was yawning and checking his watch. ‘Perhaps you and I could go together?’

It was the easiest question of the night.


© Matthew S. Wilson, July 2021

This piece was originally written for July’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre.

Storm Damage.

As I arrived back at the house, the radio reported the cyclone had made landfall. I fought through the sheets of rain and wrestled the door open. Molly appeared, dressed in pyjamas.

‘Daddy!’

Her battle-cry summoned her younger sister, Hannah, who was followed down the hall by their mother.

‘What are you doing here?’ asked Trish.

‘The storm’s hit the entire coast; they evacuated the rig yesterday.’

I helped finish boarding up the windows with whatever plywood was left in the garage while Trish blew up the air mattresses in the hallway for the girls.

‘These are for camping, Mummy,’ said Hannah.

‘Tonight we’re camping inside, Ok?’

We lost the power at 9. The girls lay on their mattresses with our iPads and headphones, distracted from the storm by Disney and apple juice. Trish and I watched our daughters from the far end of the hallway. The cyclone whipped around us like a wild animal circling a tent. I poured two tumblers of bourbon.

‘How’ve the girls been, anyway?’ I asked.

‘Fine.’

Somewhere, the metallic screech of a torn gutter cried out. Trish didn’t look up from her glass when she spoke.

‘You didn’t call.’

‘There wasn’t time; I had to beat the storm.’

She scoffed. ‘You haven’t called in two bloody weeks. You didn’t even ring to see how Hannah’s recital went.’

‘I’m working; it’s not easy being away.’

‘And sometimes it’s not easy having you back.’

A barrage of rain smashed down upon the old tin roof above us. I tried to decipher Trish’s face in the dull glow of the camping lantern. ‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying, if you want to be here – you need to be here. You can’t just sit on the fence anymore; it’s not fair.’

‘You really want to talk about this now?’

The ceiling groaned.

‘When do we ever talk about anything anymore, Darren?’

‘Fine’. I threw back my drink. ‘Looks like we’re stuck here anyway.’

We fought for an hour, trading bourbon-laced accusations and insults. The storm blew, and both of us thundered; our little weatherboard shook on its precarious foundations. We might have fought until dawn had the girl’s iPads not finally drained of power.

‘Why are you shouting?’ asked Molly, her panicked face illuminated beneath her headtorch.

‘We’re not, sweetie.’ Trish pulled the girl into her arms. ‘I was just telling Daddy how much we miss him, that’s all.’

‘Yeah, we miss you, Daddy,’ said Hannah, crawling onto my lap. ‘Lots.’

The four of us huddled together on the floor, entwined. The girls shook each time some part of the neighbourhood crashed against our house, but Trish and I squeezed our daughters tightly and promised them they were safe. After a few hours, the rain relented, and the wind softened. Trish waited for the girls to fall asleep before nodding off on my shoulder.

In the morning, I went outside and inspected the house. The damage was extensive but with some work – fixable.


© Matthew S. Wilson, May 2021

This piece was originally written for May’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre.