An Australian Flash Horror
Eighty-eight days of sunflowers. That's what this was supposed to be.
Eighty-eight days of endless fields, and gold dust petals, and clear skies overhead—a frosty beverage at the end of a hard day's yakka. That's what I pictured when Gary suggested this gig and, as I look across the sea of headless flowers before me now, scorched and brown and so far from the white sand beaches of the Gold Coast, I can't help but feel duped.
We'd been dreading this part of our working holiday—the one every backpacker knows is lurking beyond the lazy days of freedom, the carrot dangled by the visa fun-police if we want it all to continue. Compulsory farm-work. Regional work. Far from the jumping bars and the busy shopping strips, and the places we'd come to call home. I think we were good at pretending for a while, fooling ourselves that we wouldn't have to leave the buzz of Cavill Avenue, but soon it was time, and Gary said if we had to do it let's do it somewhere that reminds us of what we're coming back to—somewhere golden.
So we chose sunflowers.
And then Gary went on one of his benders, and I was worried about my legalities so I made the journey alone in a van with no air and a driver's window that wouldn't budge. Sixteen hours and one cracked water pump later, and I'm standing in a scape of beheaded stalks, wondering how long eighty-eight days might feel in a wasteland.
"And where the hell are you, Gary?" I hiss down the line, fourth day in a row. "This place is the absolute pits. There's no sunflowers, Gary. Only seeds. Dead fields and lots and lots of seeds. The farmer is creepy. The wind won't stop howling–"
I am cut off by a dismissive beep, and his voicemail box is full, and I haven't even told him the worst of it. About the feeling of being watched as I work, sifting chaff from seed in that gaping shed, looking over my shoulder for the farmer who seems to appear from nowhere. And the spiders. The snakes—oh god, the snakes! Some of the deadliest in the world, out here and I found one of them on my first day, coiled on the wooden floor in the sunflower dust like it was tanning itself on a Surfer's Paradise beach.
And then there's that bird. That weird fucking bird.
Every day it's here, stalking. Talking. Ready to steal the seeds I harvest. It watches as I bash sunflower heads against metal buckets, excitement rising when I blow the dust from the crop, bobbing its head and flapping its wings, black eyes peering from beneath its sulphur crest. Blow! Blow! Blow! it cries, ready for the feast ahead, its voice always strained and breathless. I asked the farmer about it—the talking—he said it's just something cockatoos do. And he mumbled his answer in such quiet tones I knew it couldn't have been him who taught it to say the same damn word over and over, like a record stuck on loop.
I wonder if I should call Gary again, but my battery is low and the wind is picking up, so I trudge back to the shed.
The bird is there, as it always is, perched on the overhead beam with prime view of my yield. Beady eyes watching as I move to the pile of dried sunflower husks. I pick up a metal bucket and right on cue, it starts squawking. Blow! Blow! Blow!
I do my best to ignore it. Just keep separating seed from flower, dust from seed. Wondering, all the while, if Gary will ever grow up—if coming here might've hastened the inevitable end of us.
There's a sound nearby, like floorboards creaking. I check over my shoulder for the creeping farmer. Nothing but an empty shed.
Blow! Blow! Blow!
I ignore the bird. Keep working. The cockatoo flies down, and perches closer by.
Blow! Blow! Blow!
I shoo it away, but it hovers like a seagull, and suddenly all I want is a bag of hot chips and the ocean air, and to feed a hungry bird so I pick up a fistful of seeds and scatter them across the floor. The bird cocks its head, hops down, pecks at the seeds. Pecks at the cracks of a manhole, cut and concealed, in the wooden floor.
I move to inspect it. Crouch down as the bird is squawking, and I don't hear the creak this time...don't see the creeping farmer. Don't fight when he covers my face with cloth that smells like sweet sunflowers.
At first I think it's the sun—that I'm back on the sand, and my limbs are heavy from surfing, swimming, all the things I wish I were doing. But then I remember I'm looking up through the shed floor, catching slivers of light through the cracks. The first light in days. There are footsteps above. A familiar voice. Gary.
"So you haven't seen him since Friday, then?"
"No," says a second, quieter voice. "I assume he took the pineapple trail."
"The pineapple trail. Why didn't I think of that?"
Then the farmer puts him to work above me, leaving him to bash seed from flower, and I want to scream out but my voice is hoarse from dust, and it's been so long since I've had water. I kick feebly. Knock my heel against the cellar wall. Gary pauses.
"Hello?" he calls out.
"Below," I whisper back. Strained and breathless. "Below."
He doesn't hear me. Starts deseeding again.
And as I drift into the grey, right there under the floor with all the others who came before me, I can hear that damn bird calling from the overhead beams, as it always has. Ignored as it always will be.
Below! Below! Below!
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Red sunflowers are a lovely variety of the customary sunflower, known for their striking blood red tones and eye-getting excellence. While not too known as their yellow partners, red sunflowers are turning out to be progressively famous among grounds-keepers and botanical devotees the same. Read more: https://vocal.media/fiction/red-sunflowers
You packed in a lot for a short story. I'm not into horror. But I cna handle this type. Congratulations on your Top Story!
Ahhhhh, that was so creepy and freaky and well done!!! Geez, you had my heart thumping. Excellent work, congratulations on Top Story!!
FANTASTIC! Such a wonderful take on the theme. So cleverly plotted and beautifully executed. I enjoyed every word. 👏👏👏
You have a craft to tell a tale with calming intensity, lured into the hopelessness, but eager to see what happens next. Congratulations on a Top Story!
Congrats on the very well deserved Top Story
Another great one ! I could feel the agony of the character.
Yes!!! Congratulations! This one was so good! 😁😁
Sunflowers are and have been my hands down favorite flower, they are magical to me! You have blown me away with your very exciting sensory descriptions! Very well done. Nightmares abound. Hearted. Congratulations on top story
Wow! This is absolutely fantastic. Really, really well done.
😱😱 that was soooo good and so creepy! Your descriptions of being in these fields were amazing…..and that ending!!! 🤯
Great job ❤️💯
Wow! This is excellent.
Wow, wow, wow! I am blown away (YET AGAIN) by your storytelling capabilities. This is a masterful horror story, and I eagerly await your next tale.
You are a fricken genius. I absolutely love it. Every detail and description is so perfectly placed. Your work is so satisfying to read. Just wow. Fantastic work once again and I can definitely see another win in your near future!
This story is a powerful and emotional portrayal of the realities of compulsory farm-work for backpackers in Australia. The protagonist's initial excitement about spending 88 days surrounded by sunflowers quickly turns to despair as they find themselves alone in a desolate wasteland, with nothing but dead fields and a creepy farmer for company. The sense of isolation and vulnerability is palpable throughout the story, and the constant presence of danger from deadly spiders and snakes only adds to the feeling of dread. The strange talking bird is a particularly haunting presence, with its incessant cries of "Blow! Blow! Blow!" creating an eerie and unsettling atmosphere. The story takes a dark turn when the protagonist is attacked and abducted by the farmer, leaving the reader with a sense of shock and horror. The sudden and unexpected violence serves as a stark reminder of the dangers that can lurk in even the most innocuous-seeming situations. Overall, this is a powerful and evocative piece of writing that captures the raw emotion and sense of danger that can accompany travel and adventure. It serves as a cautionary tale for anyone considering embarking on a working holiday, reminding us that even the most idyllic of settings can hide dark and deadly secrets. If you feel like it, you can read my take on the challenge: https://vocal.media/fiction/the-abyssal-harbinger
Brilliant. You create such a distinctive world in all your stories immediately. It pulls you in from the very beginning. Love it.
Wow! Horrifyingly brilliant. I really love this story.
When I say "brilliant as usual" I hate the way the "as usual" part sounds. Sort of dismissive, even somehow condescending. But please know that when I see you've put up a new story I immediately drop what I'm doing to read it — all the way through, at once! — and I have yet to not be floored by how good it is. So yeah: brilliant as usual!
Love this! Very Aussie story that makes you get a real feel for what backpackers in Australia experience (perhaps not the outcome here lol). The ending blew me away. Thanks for another amazing story!
This suspenseful and vividly descriptive story left me on the edge of my seat, eagerly wanting to know what happens next.