Drawing a yellow shape, similar to a human, on blackened dead grass. Caption reads: “A pile of yellow powder in a vaguely human shape.”

Sulphur short story by Iris Carden

Five storeys below Brisbane’s Roma Street Police Station, is the headquarters for the Human Defence Unit. Its members are drawn from among the highest performing members of military, intelligence, and police forces throughout Australia, along with select highly specialised members of the civilian population. The Human Defence Unit and its elite staff are neither police, military nor intelligence. They do not exist.

“Well that’s a new one on me,” Senior Agent Jo Burns said, looking down at the vaguely human-shaped pile of yellow dust, noticing the grass around it was dead and burned.

Trainee Agent Kate Murdoch gagged. “Rotten egg.  Sometimes having a super-sensitive nose isn’t helpful.”

“Sulphur,” Jo said, “Can’t see why anyone would bury someone in it. It’s weird, but I’m not really sure it’s a case for us.  We’ll check it out, probably hand it back to the police.  You go back to the office if the smell’s too much, and send Harry out. Send Helen and Andrew as well to pick up the body.

Kate gratefully left, while Jo searched the surrounding area, and found nothing of use, no sign of a killer, human or otherwise.

When Agent Harry Smythe arrived, with Pathologist Helen Thompson, and her assistant Andrew Harrison, Jo directed them to sift through the pile of sulphur, to gather any evidence in it.  

There was nothing but the yellow powder until they dug down to the body.

In the man’s pocket, they found his wallet, giving his name and address.

Jo and Harry left the pathology team to continue dealing with the scene and the body, while they went to advise the victim’s wife.

Using fake police ID, they introduced themselves to the man’s wife.

The first thing Jo noticed about Mary Rivers, was a huge black eye, and the plaster cast on her arm.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Mrs Rivers, but your husband Bill’s body has just been found.”

The woman nodded and sat down.  “How did he die?”

“We’re still trying to work that out.”

She hung her head and said, “I didn’t think she would do it.”

“You didn’t think who would do what?”

“My son’s teacher.  She saw the bruises on my son, and on me.  Yesterday, when I went to pick him up, she pulled me aside and asked if I wanted her to stop Bill.”

“You think she killed him?”

“She said weird things then.  She said there was a fee.”

“A fee.  You paid your son’s teacher to kill your husband?”

“No.  She said she was a demon, and the fee was a soul.”

“You agreed to give your soul to kill your husband?”

“No.  She said she’d take his soul.  She said he deserved it.”

“Let me get this straight, your child’s teacher claimed to be a demon, and said she’d kill your husband, and take his soul in payment? That’s what you’re saying?”

“Yes.  I didn’t really believe her.  Or I don’t think I believed her.  I mean people don’t really say that type of thing do they?  I didn’t think she really would kill him, but he always said he’d kill me if I tried to leave, especially if I tried to take little Billy away. Will I go to jail now? What will happen to Billy?”

“Well, I’m not arresting you now. I don’t know a story like that even counts as soliciting someone to commit murder. Pretty sure no jury’s ever going to believe you took her seriously. I will need the teacher’s name and the school.”

At the school, they were advised Billy’s teacher, Miss Pritchard, had not appeared for work that day, but the principal was happy to cooperate with the police and gave Jo the teacher’s home address.

Jo sent Harry to watch the back door as she knocked on the front. 

The back door flew open and a young woman almost, carrying a large backpack and another bag,  ran into Harry.

“Let me go,” she said, quietly.  “You know you want to.  He deserved it.  They all deserve it. I’m saving women and children.  Saving them from torture.  You know what torture is, I see your soul.  I know what was given to you and taken from you.  Let me go, then go free yourself.”

Harry nodded, and let her go. She jumped the back fence, ran off through the rear neighbour’s yard and disappeared from view.

Jo knocked a couple more times. Then she walked around to the back.  

“No answer,” she said.

“Back door’s open,” he answered.

They entered the house, saw drawers and the wardrobe hanging open, signs of someone packing hastily.

“She’s definitely gone,” Jo said. “We can ask all the regular agencies to look out for her.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, “but the person she killed was a horrible person, and she was protecting a woman and a kid, so maybe…”

“Maybe we don’t put a lot of effort into finding her?”


“We don’t really want supernatural vigilantes running around. But it’s only this once that we know of.”

“Yeah, it was an extreme situation.”

Jo thought about her daughter Katie, who had been murdered, and how she had killed the monster which had done it. “We’ll put out the request to all the regular agencies, tomorrow, maybe the next day, won’t flag it as urgent.”

Human Defence Unit Stories

By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.


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