The nights were the worst. During the day he could take whatever the place threw at him. There were flies in plague proportions and blankets of locusts with writhing legs. And then there were the dust storms that wiped out all vision.

When the dust came there was no option but to retreat into the hut. It had slab timber walls and old hessian bags stretched across gaps were the windows had been. The dogs joined him, curling up in their respective corners. Their ears twitched as the sheep bleated and brayed outside.

On dust storm days, he held off on lighting the lantern until he was sure that the day had ended. He peered outside through a gap in one of the hessian windows. He blinked rapidly as the dust seemed intent on finding its way in through any crack or hole.

He’d taken the job on as there was scant work around. And after blowing his money in town there wasn’t much choice. He thought the isolation would do him good. He’d sober up, sort his head out. A couple of his mates had tried to talk him out of it, but it was only a three month spell. He’d been sure he could handle it.

But of a night he found himself at the table, a banged-up wooden crate, with a match poised near the lantern. He needed the light to see, even if the room only held his swag, his tinned provisions and the dogs. But the light scared him. The way the soft flame flickered and flared, creating shapes and shadows in the room. He was grateful when his bottles of rum were empty. After a drink the light’s glow seemed to pick up spectres of shepherds who’d come before.

He’d given himself a firm talking to in the blazing light of day. It was nonsense, his imagination was getting away from him. But of a night it was different. Twisted shapes danced across his wooden walls. Images seeped into his dreams. They filled his waking moments with an uneasy sense of impending dread.

{Photo: old fettler’s lantern, used as a writing prompt}