by Jenny Brigalow
The sky was bright with diamante light and a silvery moon. A sly breeze slid through a gap in the warped window frame. A curtain flicked and brushed across Jack’s face. He sat bolt upright in bed, senses on red alert. A cry of dismay slipped through his teeth as blackness spread over the window pane.
Inside his chest, his heart raced like a hot-rod. It was back! His teeth clenched at the sound of the moth’s frantic, desperate tap, tap, tap, tapping. On and on it went as the beast gyrated up and down. He felt as if its wings were in his head brushing across his brain. It drove him mental. Completely crackers. Then his mind conjured up his father’s gun. A flush of relief rippled through him. Of course. He would shoot the shite.
The moth froze. Jack observed it nervously. Was it his imagination or was it bigger? His eyes swept over the thick furry body, the groping, slender feelers and wide wings. The brilliant pink tip of its abdomen scraped over the glass, swollen, glistening and pulsating. Gross. It was bigger; the velvety wings extended past the glass and beat their crazy tattoo on the wooden frames.
And then it was gone.
Jack let out his breath and sagged down onto the bed. His whole body quivered like a spot lit wallaby. Then his spine stiffened as the moonlight blotted out. Like a cannon ball, the moth came back. It hit the window like a missile. The pane cracked.
“Shit!” Jack shot back and slithered over the edge of his bed. For one mad moment he considered waking his dad. But he swallowed the idea like an undissolved aspirin. That would be an embarrassing conversation. “Hey, Dad, will you just come and kill this scary moth for me please?” A man had his pride. No. He’d just have to sort this himself.
Before he lost his nerve he slid out the bedroom door, padded barefoot down the creaking boards and onto the back veranda. There he paused, senses probing the familiar landscape. All seemed quiet. Gum trees slumbered and cast long moon shadows. The only sound was his breath rasping in and out of his lips. A pulse hammered in his neck and Jack slapped a hand over the spot, scared the moth would hear. He nearly pissed himself when a soulful howl slapped the silence. Dingo. He forced his feet down the steps, leapt across the gravel path and flew inside the shed door. Too scared to switch on the light, he fumbled and stumbled until his fingers found the smooth comforting length of the rifle. He lifted it, broke it down, and peered down the sights. Loaded.
Jack stepped back outside and raced down the long length of the house. At the corner he paused, suddenly unsure. Maybe he’d just sneak back in and kip on the sofa. But then his ears caught the familiar sound of wings buffeting his window. Frustration and fury ignited in his belly and he set off with newfound determination. Rifle ready, he moved swiftly, circling around. With luck it’d never see him and he would blast it with both barrels.
And, for one deeply satisfying minute, Jack felt a wave of victory. The moth seemed insensible to all but its own frenzied quest. Smoothly, carefully, he lifted the rifle and took aim. But, as his finger squeezed the trigger, the moth dropped away and took flight. Jack swore violently. He lost sight of it. And then he spotted it silhouetted against the sky. He took off, racing across the garden and the paddock. At the boundary fence he paused. He peered into the forest. It was dark. The moth, if it was there, was hidden. As Jack turned to go, his eye caught a glistening thread of light upon the forest floor. Curious, he wiggled through the sagging strands of barbed wire and crouched down to see. It was a silk road. A long string of caterpillars moved sinuously along the silk strand away into the trees. Without hesitation he followed.
On and on it wondered, through clumps of lantana, down dry creek beds and across dusty dirt roads. A burned out shell of a house loomed like a cluster of broken teeth. The MacDonald’s old place. The old ruin was a long way from home. Maybe he should turn back. It was then that he realised that he no longer had the gun. He continued on. Finally, behind the ruined homestead, the trail ended. Jack looked up at the ghost gum that gleamed softly in the moon light. His eyes roved up its smooth skin and into the gnarled and ancient head, adorned with mistletoe and stag horns. Cicadas strummed a ghostly serenade and the wind whispered secrets into the ears of leaves. He looked down at the forest floor. At his feet the ground dappled. Half hidden in shadow, a shimmering metallic mound hugged the bole of the tree. Jack sucked in a lungful of eucalyptus air and stepped back, sweat bursting from his pores as the mound split apart.
His mouth opened wide as a dark shadow emerged from the cocoon. He waited, taut as high tensile wire. She stretched, and her feelers unfurled. Beneath the dark, downy skin her sinews flexed and rippled. On thin, bony feet she came. Jack could smell her. Like fruit and honey.
Sharp fingers flickered across his chest. Jack held his breath. Shadow fell across his face as her wings unfolded and wrapped him in a velveteen embrace. Jack looked up into eyes that glittered like wet coal. And he waited to see if this was heaven or if it was hell.