Never Follow the Lights

Submitted into Contest #209 in response to: Write a story about someone going on a life-changing journey.... view prompt


Adventure Holiday Indigenous

Deidre from accounting is going on a year long tour of Europe. The boss made everyone squeeze into the break room to toast pale, flabby Deidre goodbye on her last day. Everyone raised their plastic cup of warm fizzy wine while Deidre clutched a supermarket bouquet of carnations and smiled.

Back at your desk you snap your laptop shut, slide it into your satchel and grant yourself an Irish goodbye. You don’t particularly like anyone at this company that you’ve been working at for 8 years now. You walk to the underground station, descend the stairs and ride a crowded train home. So much for thank god it’s Friday.

On Sunday, you visit your mum’s place, for tea.

“Do you want another cuppa love?” Your mum asks.

You stare out the kitchen window and watch as the wind whips drying tea towels that hang from the hills hoist. You used to swing around on that hills hoist when you were a kid and the mum who is now offering you tea, used to yell at you.

“What’s up love?” Your mum asks, “what’s on your mind?”

She lights one of the burners on her stove and places down a pan.

“Is sausages okay?” 

You nod, and sigh, and think about chubby happy Deidre having more of a life than you do.

At the table, over sausages and mash, your mum starts talking about some train that takes you right across Australia, across the Nullabour Plain. 

“Apparently it’s incredible out there, it’s not JUST a desert like you think it is. I think it would be fun. What do you think love?”

“What do you mean it’s not just a desert?”

“Oh, according to the article I read, the center of Australia has all kinds of things going on”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know love, that’s why you should go, to see”

“Me?” You ask, “I thought you wanted to go”

“Love, you need to get out of your rut a bit. Your father, god bless him, would say so as well. You’re too young to be spending all your time with your old mum. Go on, I’ll get the article”

Your mum sends you home with a plate of leftovers and last weeks Sunday Supplement. There, you thumb through to the page about the Nullabour, and read a story about a travel writer’s envious adventures Out Back. You’re so jealous, your toes curl. You’re always the bloody bridesmaid and never the bloody bride. You remember Deidre’s pathetic smile and it makes you angrier. Goddamit! You think to yourself, I’m doing it.

The rest of the office raises their plastic cups of warm fizzy wine while you hold a teddy bear with the words “miss you already” embroidered onto its stomach. You smile while the boss says a few trite words about your contribution to the culture of the terrible organization you work….check that…USED to work for. Back at your desk you snap your laptop closed, bin the polyester Teddy and practically glide down the stairs with joy. You’re going to cross the Nullabour.

Instead of the train your mum suggested, you’re going to drive. Just you, your Jeep and the out back road. A one man Bourke and Wills. It’s a bright and windy Saturday morning, and you feel high and free; turning onto the on-ramp, pressing the accelerator down a little further. You imagine the empty road, the endless space, the Stary nights. It’s calling you.

All at once it seems, the wide expanse around you opens to the reddest earth you’ve ever imagined. The highway becomes two, dead straight lanes- one lane forward, one lane back. The road shimmers under the brutal Australian sun.

Up ahead you see a building, like a shed. A hand painted sign by the highway declares “the last pub before Ullaru” and you swerve off the road to park your Jeep out front. 

Real outback Aussies you think, despite being an Aussie yourself. The long drive has made you romanticize a harsh and stunning landscape.

Inside the pub is almost black until your eye’s adjust. You see the humped backs of bushmen sitting at the bar, you hear a staticy radio playing a song you don’t recognize, you smell sticky, piss stained carpet, you feel the light breeze of the ceiling fan.

“Gday love” screetches out the bar mistress. “Get you a beer?”

A couple of the humped backs twist slightly, glancing at you from under the brims of Acubras.

“Ahh, yes. Yes thanks” you say.

“Come on love, come sit up here by me”. She taps the bar with her beefy hands and you walk up to lean on the sticky wooden ledge.

She puts a glass of beer in front of you, frosty, straight from the keg. Condensation immediately beads all over it. You take a sip and she smiles at you and says “now, what’s a city slicker like you doing out here?”

You take another sip. “I’m crossing the Nullabour in my Jeep” you reply.

The humpbacks laugh.

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I’ve come all the way from Sydney”

“All the way from Sydney ay? You hear this boys?” She says. “This one’s come all the way from Sydney”

The humpbacks laugh at you again.

“What do you know about the Nullabour plain?” You ask her. And what’s so funny you think.

The bar mistress leans in close, so close you can see the widened pores across her nose.

“Never follow the lights”.

“Never follow the lights?” you ask, “what do you mean?”

But she has turned away and is pouring another beer.

The humpback beside you croaks out “she mean’s don’t follow them lights. You’d be best minding her you hear”

“Yes, of course. Never follow the lights. Right. Well, thanks for the beer” you leave your money on the bar and leave. What a weird place you think. Freaks. You steer yourself back onto the highway lane going forward.

As the sun starts to set you pull off the road and set up camp for the night. You light a small fire and pump your air mattress to life. You lie on it and stare into the sky. There exists nothing between you and the Milky Way.

Never follow the lights

But you did

And now

Your body is pulled downwards

Your lungs burn

The light

That damned light twinkles across the surface of the pool.

Such a non descriptive word for its fetid murderous truth

You have never seen light on water from the underside before 

Into the darkness, 


drowning tugs your ankles

You hair tangles in the water, as it floats from your scalp like weeds

 Never follow the lights

It made no sense how bleary sun stroked men

Who had scars like earthquake fissures 

Carved into them

Their trophies from the daily fight with fearlessness 

Warned you 

A low voice at the outback pub repeating

Never follow the lights

But you did

At first it seemed as though a single head light from a motorbike 

Which was ridden with no sound 

A ghost ride

Coming towards you and your fire and your Jeep 

Then that headlight rose up above you from the ground 

It was in the sky

And suddenly multiplied 

You have no idea how many lights had been called to find you but 

They changed and danced with you.

While you threw your hands up to greet them, or moved whenever the lights seemed to touch the land.

Nothing had ever filled the lust in you- just you, the lights, and silence 

Never follow the lights

The ancient mistress serving beers had told you 

She had braless tits which lay like flaps

Her upper arms gelatinous 

You preferred to take your chances 

With dancing lights

That made the stars behind them

Look like cheap glitter 

Spilt carelessly behind diamonds 

Your face turned up towards the lights 

A premonition of you now

You stood and took the worst step of your remaining minutes alive, you were only going to see what the big deal was about 

Never follow the lights

As your body decends deeper 

Into the pool of water which is killing you

Your brain still fires thoughts 

You had hoped would have more meaning

Instead your final moments kicking

The last thing you are thinking

Is of the lights

And how they led you to the water

To watch you drown 

While twinkling above you

Why on earth can’t I follow them now?

Them lights’ll kill you said the beery pub wench

Before they do

You see the last glimpses 

Of the lights

That you followed 

Like they are magnetic 

You refuse to die like this.

As you break through the surface of the water you gasp, loudly, splashing your way back to life. Your blood has been replaced with terror, pulsing through your kicking legs and flailing arms, swimming towards the bank. You pull yourself out into the cold night air and lay, chest heaving as it draws oxygen back into your body.

The lights are gone.

Only a billion stars shine above you, watching you pass out, uselessly, from far far away.

The world turns slowly, revealing the sun, which brings the light and warmth that wakes you, on the bank beside a small, shallow pond. On hands and knees you look into it, wondering how something so shallow could be so deep. You feel the bright desert sun start to burn the back of your neck so you stand and begin to search for your abandoned campsite and Jeep.

It doesn’t take long to find them, not as long as the dance to follow the lights felt. You drink from your canteen and kick desert dust onto the last embers of your forgotten fire. Once seated in your Jeep you turn the wheel towards the one lane going back. 

At the last pub before ulluru, you stop and walk inside again. It feels like de ja vous- the same grimy floor, the same scarred bushmen, the same fat mistress. 

“Gday love” she cries out. “You look like you followed some lights”.

July 29, 2023 17:31

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Russell Mickler
00:46 Aug 08, 2023

Hi Caroline! Cool 2nd person POV, present tense; unusual. Good description, especially on the intro describing Deidre from Accounting. Huh another Nullabour Plain reference - Chris just wrote a story about that, how weird. "She taps the bar with her beefy hands-" nice imagery. Huh, poetry? Cool! I think that really adds to the idea of being by a fire. I liked the ending - reminds us that there's something holy and magical and dangerous about the night sky. Really cool, good tone, interesting narrator ... R


Caroline Tuohy
01:32 Aug 08, 2023

Thank you Russell. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’ve just started to use the second person point of view storytelling technique and I’ve found my writing flows much better. Every story I’ve read which uses the technique I’ve enjoyed as well. The poetry is the basis of the story. I wrote the poem about 6 months ago and the prompt made me think about incorporating it into a short story somehow. The min min lights have always fascinated me. I really appreciate you taking the time to write a review and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed my story. ...


Russell Mickler
01:37 Aug 08, 2023

Hey, your work was great - unusual and distinctive - 2nd person is often considered a risk in writing contests so it's not something you see all the time :) Myself, I think you played it well in this piece. Hope to see more of your stuff around here in the weeks ahead! R


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Kevin Logue
14:34 Aug 07, 2023

Your use of second person enhanced your captivating prose. I was fully engaged. The mood was set so well and broke free from when she began her journey. I did find the section with lights a little confusing as to what had/was happening but I see you've posted a link to the actual phenomena I will check out. From a narrative point though you could stayed in the pub a little longer and have the locals explain it, and have the MC decide their brains were warped from the sun or such. Kind of the city slicker knows best only to drown in her own ...


Caroline Tuohy
01:28 Aug 08, 2023

Thank you so much for your review. I can definitely see from a reader perspective I may have wasted the pub scene as a narrative tool. You’ve made a really good observation here. Otherwise, I’m really grateful you took the time to let me know what you think of my writing. And I’m really glad you enjoyed it. Thank you.


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Caroline Tuohy
02:04 Jul 30, 2023

This story is based around the Min Min lights. Find out more about them here:


Russell Mickler
00:47 Aug 08, 2023

Even cooler!


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