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Short Story - The Tighes Hill Mob

(Submitted to the Best Australian Yarn short story competition 2022)


It was day three, and he wasn’t sure whether he’d made the right decision. In the new guard’s mind, the recruiting officer’s closing words rocked back and forth; a guard is always focused and scanning for dangers.

Okay. No problems.

If you called someone Focus, then Focus would become this guard’s middle name. His aunty said he was the most focused kid she’d ever seen. One time after a big meal, his uncle had challenged him to a staring competition.

‘Look here, lad!’ the old man said while industriously digging a nail between his teeth.

‘Yes, Uncle?’

‘Your aunt tells me you can concentrate like no-one else. Says you’re like a carrot.’

‘A carrot, Uncle Stan?’

‘Rooted to the spot! You’ll stare anything to death.’

His aunt’s description sat heavily on the young mind for a moment. ‘A carrot?’

‘Never mind that. What do you say we have a competition? Let’s see who can out stare a rock.’ It wasn’t until long after everyone had gone to bed that the poor fellow realised he’d been left alone.

However, right now, it was the other advice the recruiting officer had said that bothered him even more; guards must be on the lookout for opportunities. What on earth did that mean? What opportunities could there be? In the 4,320 minutes he’d worked as an entrance guard, the recruit hadn’t seen an opportunity jump out and grab him.

‘Hey!’ said his partner for the morning, guard #381.

‘What?’

‘Did you see that?’

The recently hatched guard unglued his eyes from the pebble he’d been watching. ‘Did I see what?’

‘The thing that kid just dropped.’

After forty-five minutes of staring, the new guard was struggling to adjust his sight to an object capable of movement. ‘What kid?’ he said, rubbing his eyes.

‘Over there! The kid dropped a huge popsicle on the ground.’

South Entrance security detachment officer third class #747 blinked into the distance. Immeasurably far away, a small boy was looking at the ground and crying.

‘What’s a pop-C-col?’

Guard #381 grunted as he turned to race down the tunnel, wishing to himself they’d stop advertising for new recruits. #747 was left squinting and wondering whether popsicle might be another word for opportunity.


‘Sergeant!’ an aging colonel bellowed at a passing soldier, even though he was within talking distance.

‘Yessir?’

‘Get a squad ready, double-quick. Now, man! Don’t dawdle.’

The sergeant stopped picking at a piece of fluff that had mysteriously collected around his ankle and mooched off to find some others. It didn’t take long to spot six of them dutifully collecting moss for one of the nameless princesses. A trip outside was all the convincing they needed to stop what they were doing.

The colonel glared at the group, in the way he thought made everything happen faster.

‘Quick smart, we haven’t all day!’

The assembly of workers huddled behind the sergeant.

‘Right, very good. All in order.’

The sergeant wondered why the colonel put on a voice as though he was part of the royal family. After all, wasn’t the Queen everyone’s mum.

‘Stand up straight when an officer addresses you!’

‘Yessir!’

There was a messy slapping of legs to heads. The colonel’s antennae bristled at his audience, his eyes alight with authority.

‘Right! A message has come in from Signals. Large sugar deposit a hundred feet from the South Entrance. I need you out there to check, and then report back. Double-time. No dilly dallying. I want to see feet moving and moving fast!’

‘Yessir!’

That doesn’t sound too bad, the sergeant thought as he led the way to the South Entrance. It wasn’t every day you got to scout a sugar deposit. But it was as likely to be a hundred feet away as he was to grow wings and become a queen. More like a thousand, or worse still, it might even be a trap.

Like yesterday when Theta reconnaissance squad tracked down a dead sea gull. As soon as the message got back, it was the same old story: hurry up everyone, get out there before those nasty red sods over at the Tighes Hill colony get to it before us. Our Signals guys need to get out of their den and into the sunlight, the sergeant muttered under his breath. What a bunch of moss-jockeys!

The sergeant missed his friend Charlie#434 from Theta squad; with his dirty sense of humour and that weird thing he could do with his back legs. Such a pity about the crow snatching the carcass with Charlie and his mates clinging on for dear life. He could still hear Charlie shouting as the crow flapped away - trust me to pick the —ing wishbone!

‘C’mon lads, let’s get it done,’ he moaned.

The ants fell into single file as they scurried along service tunnel S-3A that led to the junction with the main trunk line beneath the giant tree root pasted with lost ‘n found signs. From there, just a double jump to reach the colossal South Entrance, and out to the world beyond the colony. The others sensed he wasn’t keen. The middle of the day was never a good time to be in the open.

When they hit the outside, the concrete plain scorched them like a kid with a magnifying glass. The sergeant called out for everyone to double-time as he glanced skyward.

Would you believe those Signals boys had got it right! There it was, as obvious as the Queen’s bum. An enormous sugary lake on the horizon. The squad got the blast up their noses and with the synchronised beauty of drunken camels, they legged it across the terrifying expanse in case the Tighes Hill mob got there before them.

‘Remember boys,’ the sergeant shouted as they broke formation. ‘You know the drill. No straight lines, only crazy ziggy-zaggy.’

Half-way along the footpath, he realised they were onto something huge. The air was so heavy with sugarmones he got that dizzy sensation, like after eating too many puffballs. He called at the fellow closest to him to go back and tell the colonel they’d need at least two battalions. The worker hesitated. That’s how strong the desire was to keep going, but like all obedient soldiers, he feared his officers more than the enemy and reluctantly turned around. It was crucial he got help fast because there was no chance this lake of lusciousness would go unnoticed by others. The Tighes Hill mob would be onto the scent at any moment. Then before you could say—your dad’s a caterpillar and smells like pee, they were upon it. The sergeant drove his face into the syrup and sucked like crazy. Lemon sugar. They couldn’t have asked for better.

‘Steady boys, pace yourselves. This is powerful stuff,’ he said through a mouthful. ‘Once you’ve had your fill, form a perimeter.’

‘A perimeter?’ said a worker, whose name he didn’t know.

‘With only the six of us?’ said another. He didn’t know him either; they all looked the same.

The sergeant wiped a leg across his sticky mouth. ‘Is there a problem? And it’s, Sir to you.’

‘There sure is, Sir. You want just six ants to protect a lake the size of the Eastern nurseries?’

The sergeant looked hard at their glistening faces. Then he realised he’d grabbed the wrong bunch. He’d brought with him a gang of underground storage workers, not field operatives. Oh, this was going to be tough.

‘Well, just spread out then. And, err ... do your best to look menacing!’ Which after filling themselves as much as possible, they duly did. At least, the sergeant assumed they had. In order to surround the melted popsicle, they were spread so far apart he couldn’t see them anymore.

The first thing to interrupt his watch, as he waited for the troops to appear, were thugs from the Beer Bong Gang. Those low-life imbeciles who’d been kicked out of the Tighes Hill colony, and now spent their time roaming the park eating from garbage bins. The brute who led the pack liked to be called Tex. At last count, the Beer Bong Gang had five members. Of all of them, Tex had the most letters in his name.

‘Wha ‘u got ‘ere?’ The crowd watched Tex’s eyes fold inwards with concentration. ‘Dis is … duh, ‘u know, it’s…’

There followed a long silence.

In one abbreviated sentence, Tex had exhausted his daily word limit. While the sergeant waited, a couple of his fellow black ants returned to stare as angrily as they could at objects twice their size. Sensing this was not how things were meant to go, Tex’s deputy stepped in.

‘Dis is our turf, titch. Git!’

‘It’s not turf; it’s concrete. You colossal-headed twerp.’ The suicidally brave sergeant said in the faint hope that at any moment the colonel would arrive with a swarm of hardened soldiers. Turbocharged by ten days’ worth of sugar in his system meant he was concentrating on stopping his head from floating away.

Before the Beer Bong Gang could process this act of defiance, there came the refreshing sound of hurrying feet.


At the South Entrance, security detachment officer third class #747 watched as the battalions of hard-faced soldiers raced past him. The vibrations caused by hundreds of legs pounding the earthen floor were making his eyes wobble. #747 had wanted to join the army, but the recruiting officer had said he was too big. Soldiers needed to be strong and fast, and weighing in at a whopping twenty-five milligrams meant #747 was three times the size of any ant in the colony’s history.

‘I’m sorry, son. It’s the guard’s life for you. If anything with half a brain catches sight of you guarding our home, they’ll think twice.’ The recruiting officer had kindly added that if they ever needed a siege weapon, they’d call him.

As the last line of soldiers rumbled away, #747 thought he’d find out what the fuss was about. His fellow guard, whose number he’d already forgotten, hadn’t returned and #747 figured no-one would notice if he went to take a peek. And so, with a coordinated effort, he pointed his colossal legs all in the same direction and gently lumbered along behind the back of the army.

The sight he saw moments later took his breath away.

Spread out to the horizon was a lake of sugar water and hundreds of black bodies swarming around the edges. To one side of the lake there were five larger red ants. Figuring that’s where the action must be, #747 made his way towards them.

‘Wha’ da ’ell is dat?!‘ Tex’s power of speech returned at the sight of an approaching #747.

‘Eh, what?’ The colonel stopped sizing up the gang and turned to see what Tex was gawking at.

Appearing from the heat haze came an ant the size of a house. The colonel didn’t know whether it was friend or foe, but upon reflection thought he’d seen a similar looking branch propped up outside the South Entrance. He must be one of ours, by Gad. It gave the commanding officer an idea.

‘That, my garbage-eating friend, is our champion wrestler,’ said the quick-thinking colonel. ‘If you don’t sod off right now, I’ll set him on you!’

#747 came to an awkward halt beside his soldier buddies as those closest made a path to prevent being squashed. To his surprise, he was looking almost eye-to-eye with another ant that had a head as big as his, but a body much smaller. #747 suddenly felt unsure whether he would get in trouble for leaving his post. His eyes locked on Tex as he wondered what to do next.

‘Why ‘e lookin’ at me all weird?’

Tex’s left eye began to twitch as #747 stared at his reflection on Tex’s forehead. For those enjoying the standoff, it appeared #747 had gone to sleep with his eyes open.

‘Make ‘im stop, Ug!’

But Ug wasn’t there. Every member of the Beer Bong Gang had turned tail and bolted when they saw the colossal black ant. The small part of Tex’s brain wired for self-preservation instructed the rest of his body to go join them. The colonel turned a beaming face at #747.

‘Welcome to the army, lad. What’s your name?’

The colonel tried to look his recruit in the eye, but it hurt his neck to bend that far back. #747 was stunned to silence when he heard he was to become one of the venerated colony soldiers.

‘Speak up!’ the colonel barked.

‘It’s South Entrance security detachment officer third class #747,’ #747 said in a small voice.

‘That name’s a bit long for a soldier. Can’t call that out across the quadrangle every time I want your attention, eh what!’ the colonel chuckled. ‘Pick another one. And remember to call me, Sir. You’re in the army now.’

#747 looked hard at the colonel as he wracked his brain for something snappy. A name that everyone might remember, including him. Until, like a glow-worm in the tunnel darkness, he hit upon the answer.

‘Carrot, Sir. My name is Carrot.’

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