by Steven Cavanagh

Joseph's thick fingers wrenched an offending plant from the garden. He studied the witch's-broom tangle of roots and imagined them writhing feebly as life ebbed from the weed.

Hearing a bicycle bell, he looked up. A little girl, perhaps six years old, wobbled up the street on training wheels. A silky terrier trailed behind.

Joseph tossed the weed aside and reached for the gardening fork. The girl was not one of the usual children in the neighborhood. He knew; he watched them all.

"Little girl! Hey!"

The girl brought the bike to a halt by scraping her shoes on the road. Almond eyes peered at Joseph through a black fringe. The terrier flicked its ears.

Joseph stooped like a diving pelican. He plucked a runner of kikuyu from the soil and threw it onto the compost pile.

"You look funny, girl," said Joseph. "Do you know you look funny?"

The girl made no reply. Joseph jerked at a stubborn tap root.

"Where you from? You look Chinese to me. Is that right, missy? You a little Chinee girl?"

The girl remained silent, looking at him. The little terrier scratched its neck.

Joseph grunted, stabbing at the soil with a garden fork, "I'm wasting my time. As if you people could speak English prop-"

"Laos," said the girl.


"We're from Laos."

"Louse?" said Joseph, a smirk creeping across his face. "That's like a flea, innit?"

He thrust the fork into the compost and left it there, the handle pointing like an accusing finger. "New in the neighborhood, huh?"

The girl nodded.

Joseph stood up, brushing soil from his knees. He scanned the street to make sure it was empty.

"Well listen, louse girl. I've lived in the area for forty-seven years. I go shooting with three council members and know how to get the whole district to shake their fist. I know what to put on paper, and what not to."

The girl made no reply. Joseph stooped and wrenched a paspalum plant from the garden as if retrieving a bayonet.

"I stopped them putting in a skate park. I blocked the housing commission development. If you people think I'm gonna just sit here while my place is overrun by a boatload of slo..."

Joseph's voice of intimidation trailed off when he saw the twinkle in the girl's eye. The twinkle became a spark, then a star, then a galaxy.

Energy streamed from the girl's eyes, eating at Joseph's arms and face like boiling water on butter. He only managed a gargling hiss before being reduced to component particles. A red-brown cloud settled over the compost like dandruff.

"That's the last one in this geographical segment," said the girl. "The humans should grow unimpeded now."

The dog looked up. "Your human disguise is coming off," it said.

The girl rubbed at her hand as she turned it over, then thrust it into the folds of her dress to hide the green thumb.

This story was the first place winner of the Magic Casements 2006 Flash Fiction competition. First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, April 2006. More on Steven Cavanagh.

Copyright © 2006 Steven Cavanagh.

This page last updated 16th September 2008.