ESCA LIGHTS, Lwin Hingston

She had noticed it when she was just a child; the breathing. She had seen the way the walls in her house warped and bent with every inhale-exhale, just minute little movements no different than a house’s settling floorboards. But it was there, and it was eating. She watched them grate on each other day after day. It slid into routine as seamlessly as dinner or school.   

Her parents were snide and prickly with each other. It was like they had run out of patience finally, snapping at the slightest annoyance or huffing out of the room. Drawers were slammed, tables were thumped, books were thrown. 

The house wheezed after every meal, shuttering the windowpanes and adjusting its pillars. The plumbing bubbled like it was bloated. 

She remembered sitting on the floor in the living room, the carpet sluggishly pulsing under her while she watched the television, the documentary’s narrator spoke just over the slamming drawers in the other room. She watched, eyes bright with the screen’s light, as she was plunged deep under the sea and left to face whatever would come from the darkness. The screen flashed with words she didn’t know. The narrator scolded her for being distracted. ‘Evolution’, ‘Predator’, ‘Lure’, ‘Illicium Rod’, ‘Esca Light’.

Then it came out of the darkness, a little light in the deep dark. What followed were teeth. She saw that ugly angler fish, with its teeth as sharp as fences, mouth as agape as a corridor. Its scales looked slimy as wet carpet, and its illicium rod reached from its head like an antenna pole, craning for reception. 

And that dangling light, that esca light, gently swayed ahead like a lone lightbulb in an empty, dark room.


Her parents were fighting again, shrill demands and bellowed accusations echoed through the halls and down the very foundations. They cursed and sneered, threatened violence, threatened divorce. Their shadows cast over the wallpaper, flailing and wriggling like worms on a hook. 

They liked to say that. ‘I’m leaving! I’ve had enough of you!’

But they never left, no one did. The house wasn’t done with them, and they never struggled enough to break the illicium stemming from their napes.

She watched the house eat them through that tube made of mushy, slimy wallpaper and crumbly plasterboard bits. It ate their anger, their passion, their bitter thoughts of ‘all these years wasted’. 

Their anger grew, and with it, the house became greedier. It drooled every day until the bath never fully drained, the hall carpet was always slippery with salivation. 

They screamed and they screamed, around and around in circles over the smallest things.

‘You never answer your phone!’

‘You’re always so moody!’

‘The kitchen is a mess!’

‘Why don’t you listen to me?!’

She listened to these screams, trivial, routine and pick, pick, picking away at her ears until she gritted her teeth every time her parents spoke around her. She grew, and as she did, she stormed through the house, shoving her way through the writhing wallpaper and the groaning floorboards. She saw it more now, the shifting door handles and the lolling uvula of the hallway chandelier. It was like as she grew, as the years went by, the worse the house got – but that wasn’t true. It was just that she understood now.

Her mother screamed, her father rolled his eyes. There were threats, there was a knife. They screamed some more, arms up and out and shouting from deep in their chests until they fizzled out, nothing achieved and exhausted. The house’s plumbing bubbled with a good meal.

She ground her teeth until she felt like they were sharp; once again dismissed with her parents having the last word. She stomped her foot until the floorboards shivered. Her body felt stuffy, muscles wound up tight as she fought not to scream, to calm down – damn it. But she was so angry all the time now, had no patience for anything and everyone was absolutely crawling on every last one of her nerves-

Her phone let out a shrill beep and it was the last straw to break her back. All that tension snapped through her body like a charge and the girl reeled back her arm and punched a hole through the bedroom wall.

Her fist broke the plasterboard and swallowed her up to the shoulder. She heaved and caught herself against the wall, reeling. Drywall and plaster crumbled around her shoulder as she slowly pried her way out, arm covered in dust and scratches and the faintest of refracted white light.
Her parents were going to be pissed. She had made a hole straight into their bedroom. 

She bent and peered through the crack, expecting to see her parents on their feet and up in arms. An empty room peered back at her, bare down to the wooden framing like the constructor hadn’t bothered to do more than scaffold and insulate the room. Dust floated around, following some unseen wind that rocked back and forth, an inhale and exhale, as faint as settling floorboards.

And in the centre, hung a bare bulb, radiating a bright, white light.

It was the esca. The thing that lured. The light in the darkness, always followed by teeth. She felt her stomach bubble with a newly kindled wrath, her ears filled with a dull roar and her hands buzzing. The more she looked at it, was exposed to it, the louder the voices in her parents’ bedrooms became, until every single sound became jackhammers in her head. 

She remembered the shouting over stupid things, over piteous things, over tiny little things that didn’t need hours of screaming- 

She remembered raised hands that were more threats than beatings, just something to scare her, something to get a flinch another fucking powerplay- 

She remembered humiliation and confusion and fear-

She raged and she cursed, fingers gripping her hair and pulling to try and tear out the bubbling rage. Her eye caught the mirror and she froze, her reflection staring back in horror. There was some kind of chord made of what looked like soaked wallpaper and mushy plasterboard. 

An illicium, connected by the nape.  

The house was eating her.

Her hands snapped up and grabbed at the illicium, snagging hair and pinching skin as she clawed and tugged. Every tug burnt her skin and sent lightning through her head, bringing tears to her eyes as she gritted her teeth against it. She tried to hook her nails under the seal and tore until her nail popped. She stumbled across her room, threw apart her drawers and then grabbed a pallet knife from her art kit, prying in desperation, feeling whatever teeth underneath, sharp as picket fences, sink in retaliation. A huge gasp passed her lips as she paused her prying, her shirt covered in sweat and tears staining her cheeks.

God, she didn’t want to do it – why did she have to do it? Maybe she should just let it stay, it couldn’t be that bad. She had lived with it so far, she could handle it more. It wouldn’t kill her at least? If she gave it time, maybe she could find a better way to get rid of it. Or it would fall off on its own! If it hurt so much, maybe it wasn’t meant to be taken out – at least like the way she was going about it. Or maybe this was normal, maybe she was just being a baby about it. So she didn’t need to do anything, she could just leave it there. Chewing at her neck. She didn’t need to tear apart her own neck to get it out…Get it out, get it out, get it out – Get out! It was eating her!

She grabbed the scissors from her table and started blindly cutting at the sopping plasterboard illicium. Hair and pieces of wallpaper scrunched all about her floors, getting underfoot and between her toes as she stumbled about, pulling her head forward and snapping the scissor blades.

She heard the sound like a rusty faucet turned on too high, a shrill shriek of plumbing that rattled the whole bathroom. 

The illicium rod lay there on the carpet, oozing some off-colour fluid. 

The house gave a great groan and shifted its weight like a lumbering giant. The doors popped open from warping frames, the wallpaper crawled across the ceilings, and floorboards crossed and flipped. 

From down the hall, she heard voices pick up. The screams hit a crescendo, abrupt and erratic. The hole in her wall glowed bright, light crawled from between the cracks as the house fed again, awake and alert that it had lost one.

The illicium on the floor twitched. Then it began to crawl forward, following the beams of esca light towards her feet.

She jolted with a shock and blindly made a grab for everything she could. Her phone, her computer, a pile of dirty laundry, she shoved it all in a bag as she ran down the stairs. She kept running, passed the warping floorboards, over the salivating rug, and out passed the teeth that lined the frame of the front door threshold.

She ran through the suburb, the night air so cold it stung the inside of her nose. Cool and fresh, she took the lungfuls greedily, finally able to breathe after so long living inside a mouth. 

But the fences just kept going. Rows upon rows of windows and doors, blinking and slamming. Her brain grappled with how many there were, in her town, in her city, in the world. How many of those houses with white-picket fences and manicured lawns had teeth in their thresholds and esca illuminating their window eyes? How many of these houses ate the families inside them?

Her bags barely weighed her down as she fled the glow of esca-lit houses and the screams and gurgles as they fed.


Boxes piled high and the rumble of a moving truck faded off into obscurity. It had been years since she had lived in a house for more than a few months. She never wanted to give it a chance, to let the venom take hold and let it breed into a new house. A new house where children hid in their rooms, and couples gritted their teeth at each other’s presence. A new house with esca lights and wriggling walls. 

Two children pushed their way around her and ran deeper into the barren house with quiet floorboards, loudly claiming bedrooms and asking if they could paint the walls. Her partner called from the living room to tell her the Lego models had broken in the move. 

The house was quiet as she moved through it, rapping her knuckles against the walls. She listened to the hollows and the studs behind the drywall façade. Then she knocked on the wall just between the master and second bedrooms and heard the hollow reverberation, feeling the thin, brittle bow of the plasterboard.  

She knew there was something inside her. That years in the womb of her parents’ monster had left something inside her, injected like a venom, lingering like a parasite. There were times she felt that venom in her blood burn, a wave of familiar anger crawling up her throat and searing at her nape. When the kids would scream so loudly, when her partner just wouldn’t see her way, when everything kept adding up and weighing down. 

And every time she’d climb those stairs all the way up to the door carved into place by her partner. Sometimes she’d have her partner by her side, sometimes by herself. But every time she entered that room, she’d stare down the esca bulb that hung from the bare ceiling, just barely a dim light and trying so hard to take hold and glow. It urged her, to snap, to go back to it, to do as she had seen and corral her household under her thumb and its illicium. To let its venom take hold of her, and spread to her children. Make a new house with teeth. 

She turned the light off and closed the door.

Lwin Hingston found her start writing in fanfiction, and has yet to find her way out, delivering varying quality and flawless self-indulgence across niches of the internet. She is currently studying Primary Education at MQU, with an interest in English and Creative Writing. Her dog, Mephy, is her pride and joy. Long-listed for the Future Leaders Writing Prize 2022.