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News & Features » June 2020 » “Murder by Glowworm” by JJ Munro

“Murder by Glowworm” by JJ Munro

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, a dastardly plan and a glowing tourist attraction.

Murder by Croc
by JJ Munro
The Glowworm Tunnel, Newnes, Australia

If you stand in the Newnes glowworm tunnel, you can almost hear the old steam locos roaring through. Back in the day, those wet black walls must have vibrated with the thunder of wheels and the clang of couplings, the air thick with coal smoke. The abandoned railroad tunnel—all 1,968 feet of it—was cut through solid sandstone in the Wolgan Valley of New South Wales. The rails were lifted when the local shale oil mine closed in 1932.

Since then, the glowworms have moved in.

Well, they’re not actually worms but a fungus gnat, a kind of ancient fly, that clings to the wet rock walls and spins long threads of mucous to trap its prey. A chemical reaction between an enzyme and a pigment with the oxygen in the air causes them to emit a blue-green light visible through the transparent skin of their bellies. The beautiful blue-green light attracts more than tourists—it lures mosquitoes and midges closer and closer until they meet, literally, a sticky end.

Thanks to the glowworms, I planned to lure my own prey into that tunnel—my half-brother Jeremy Holt—a young man I’d grown to despise.

At first, Jeremy was reluctant to see the glowworm tunnel. Suspicious, even. In the end, though, he agreed to make the trip. We planned our visit in midwinter when the tourists stayed away. We’d meet at the lonely old Newnes Hotel, explore the ruins of the mine, then ride our Harleys down through the tunnel.

That was our plan. My plan was slightly different. I got there the day before, and strung a wire across the tunnel. It would sever Jeremy’s head when he rode through ahead of me. Not so brotherly? Well, we shared our father’s inheritance, and I’m not the sharing kind.

It was late afternoon when we set out for the tunnel. We rode our Harleys down through the old railroad cuttings that curved through the dense forest. It must have been the world’s most desolate railroad—sheer, bleak rock walls, waterlogged ground, surrounded by the silence of the Australian bush. At last, gigantic ferns told me we were nearing the tunnel entrance.

“You’ve got to keep your lights off, Jeremy, otherwise we won’t be able to see the glowworms,” I called to him.

“But it’s pitch-black in there.”

“No problem. The tunnel runs dead straight,” I lied. “There are no obstructions.” Then I challenged him. “Race you to the other end!”

We sped into the black void, Jeremy leading the way. Within minutes, the ceiling was alight with glowworms.

“Wow,” my half-brother shouted. “I see what you mean.”

Suddenly he pitched from his bike and rolled against the tunnel wall, his Harley slamming into the rock nearby.

I rode on. My plan had worked. Next phase: speed through to the next town and report the tragic “accident.”

I gunned my Harley. By the glow of the worms, I caught sight of the second trip wire. Too late! It slashed across my throat. A hot stinging sensation. Then blood swamped over my chest. I rolled off my bike and hit the ground.

Footsteps running. Jeremy stood over me. “You’re not a good liar,” he said. “I wondered why you suggested we come up here. So I figured I’d come up last night. Before I got to the hotel I searched the tunnel, saw your trip wire. So I cut yours and set up my own. I faked my fall, knowing you’d keep going.” He smiled. “Adios, pal.”

What could I say? Anyway, it’s hard to talk when your throat is slashed wide open.


JAMES AITCHISON is an Australian author and poet. He writes noir fiction under his pseudonym JJ Munro. Under another pseudonym, James Lee, he writes horror and mystery stories for middle readers in Asia; published in Singapore, these books have sold more than three million copies and have been translated into Chinese, Malay, Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian. A former advertising creative director, Aitchison judged many award shows, including those in New York. Following the example of global consumer marketing corporations, he believes that using pseudonyms allows one author to span many genres without confusing readers.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Jun 22, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,