The Cruel Sea

Should I tell Jackson what really happened? Should I confess to him my secret? 

The music from the ballroom wafted on the breeze as I breathed in the salty air, its sweet tang settling in the back of my throat. We stood alone on deck and took in the stars; the tiny pinpricks of light peaking through the swathe of darkness. It had been such a beautiful evening. Perfect. Dancing, laughing, singing, swaying in Jackson’s arms. It made the last time I was on a ship seem like a distant dream. A distant dream preceded by a nightmare.

~*~

Jackson knows nothing of the man I loved before him. The man who made my every day a living hell. Whose cruelty still marks my body and my soul. He knows nothing about what I endured. The humiliation. The brutality. Will he understand if I tell him everything? Will he understand if I tell him the truth about the night the man tumbled overboard and vanished into the inky ocean?

“Somebody, help me!” I remember screaming.

Eventually.

“No. Please. No,” I remember crying.

In public.

But behind closed doors, I secretly celebrated. The joy was almost painful, it was so acute. I didn’t feel sad about it. Not for minute. Not for a second. I mean, I wouldn’t have shoved him over the rail if I didn’t want him dead.

Sometimes I wonder how death claimed him. The man. Was he dragged into the frozen depths and sliced into tiny pieces by the ship’s giant propellers? Or did he scramble to the surface and bob in the great expanse of water until sharks despatched him in a bloodied frenzy?

These are the sweetest of musings.

Jackson never questions me about what happened that night. He never asks for details. He says with grief, he knows the score. He understands that sometimes, it’s easier to keep the pain hidden than it is to share it.

Dearest Jackson with his kind eyes and sweet smile. He saved me in so many ways. He brought brightness back into my bleak world.

~*~

I gaze up at him, the silvery glow of the moonlight illuminating his gentle face. For the first time I know love, and if I’m going to spend my life with this man, then he deserves the truth.

“Jackson,” I say. I notice the thump of my heart pounding against my chest. “There’s something I should tell you.”

Jackson smiles at me, “I know all I need to know.”

“But you don’t.” A quiver colours in my voice, as the beginnings of tears prick at the corners of my eyes. “I didn’t tell you everything…”

“About the man?” he says. “The one you killed?”

“What?” I breath out.

Jackson’s hands suddenly slam against my chest, and the force of his shove makes me stumble backwards.

“Jackson!” I cry, as I bash into the guardrail. The metal impacts across the middle of my back and I yelp in pain and shock.

He shoves me again, and this time my balance falters completely and I tumble over the side.

I somehow manage to grab one of the rails as I fall. But it’s cold and slippery from the spray of the sea and I struggle to hold on. My fingers ache with strain as my feet scramble wildly against the hull of the ship trying to find a hold.

“Help me! Please! What are you doing?”

“I’m doing to you what you did to my brother,” he says, coolly.

I hear myself gasp, and in that moment, I see his face switch from kind to cruel. They have the same sneer, Jackson and his brother. The same ugly, vile sneer.

“You don’t understand,” I say, as I plead for my life, hoping he has more compassion in his heart for me than I had for his brother. “I’m sorry, Jackson. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not,” he says, and his foot comes down and stamps on my knuckles.

I watch his smirking face get smaller and smaller as I plummet. My arms flailing in front of me, grasping at the air. My screams lost on the wind.

The surface of the ocean is like concrete when I hit it, and the shock of the impact explodes the air from my lungs.

I disappear beneath the waves and the foamy wake of the ship.

 I’m kicking now, kicking and kicking. My hands reaching for the light as I struggle for air. I break the surface briefly and glimpse the stern ship as it disappears into the black night. I wave frantically, but a whirlpool of freezing water is sucking at my legs and dragging me down, and I know I can’t fight it.

Will Jackson raise the alarm, I think, as my lungs start to burn from craving breath. Will he feign panicked devastation while he secretly celebrates?

I know he will. That’s what I did.

I’m dying now, my mind is dimming; my heartbeat slowing. And as the darkness of the inky ocean pulls me into its depths and swallows me, I no longer need to wonder about the man’s death.

Because I’m living it, and in a moment, I will understand everything.

© Amy Hutton 2020

In the Fervour of the Moon

Rayna’s basket bumped against her knee as she walked along the rocky path. “Granny and her damn goodies, she grumbled, glancing angrily at the hamper with its jaunty gingham cover. She spied a run in her tights where the rough cane had snagged a thread, creating a ladder up the side of her leg, disappearing under the petticoat ruffles that hung beneath her red velvet skirt. “Great,” she thought as she traipsed deeper into the forest.

The fallen leaves crunched beneath her feet as the trees became denser, the shadows darker, and the air cooler. When she gazed upwards, only a tiny patch of sky was visible beyond the branches high above.

A rustling noise sounded from the undergrowth and she stopped and peered into the gloom.

“Who’s there?” she said, a quiver in her voice.

A deep growl rumbled in return and an enormous grey wolf stepped onto the path in front of her.

She stood perfectly still, as the beast slunk towards her, its huge paws padding silently on the dirt, its brilliant amber eyes locked on her face. Her heart began to pound, thundering against her ribcage, and she furtively looked around to see if she was still alone.

“Please,” Rayna cried, as Granny’s basket trembled in her hand. “Please… Please… Please hurry up I have an appointment in town at three.”

The wolf rose up on its hind legs, its powerful form towering over her. A rush of heat surged through Rayna’s body and she watched excitedly as her unconventional lover transformed.

In just moments, he stood before her, naked and human, thick muscles rippling and glistening with sweat from the exertion of the change; a brilliant smile spread across his impossibly handsome face.

“My what big… everything you have,” she said, as she shrugged off her cape, dropped her basket to the ground and practically sprinted towards him.

He reached out a hulking arm, encircling her neck and drawing her in, holding her against his bare torso. Their lips crashed together, hungry and urgent, all wetness and teeth as they savoured each other’s taste.  Fireworks exploded behind Rayna’s eyes, like a shower of brilliant stars falling from the heavens, His long fingers artfully unlaced her bodice, his kiss never faltering, his mouth never leaving hers, and as she wiggled her dress from her shoulders and let it fall to her feet, they tumbled to the ground in a tangled mass of limbs and dizzy passion.

***

Rayna bit into the sandwich that she pulled from her picnic basket. “Michael, you really need to get over this twisted Little Red Riding hood kink of yours.”

His teeth were already starting to change; razor sharp canines poking over his still puffy from kissing lips. “Maybe next time I can blow your house down,” he said, with a grin.

“As long as there’s blowing involved babe, I’m all for it.”

Michael threw his head back and howled.

***

Rayna sighed as she watched Michael lope into the cover of the trees, the early afternoon breeze ruffling his soft, grey fur. She called after him. “Until the next waning moon,” and a shiver of anticipation ran down her spine when he turned and snarled, his amber eyes glowing with promise against the darkness of the forest.

 

© Amy Hutton 2020

 

Void

Longlisted for Australian Writers’ Centre July 2020 Furious Fiction competition 


 

The girl could recall the exact second she died. She was shocked only by how unremarkable it was. There was no last gasp. No life flashing before her eyes. One moment she could feel the freezing snow under her body. The next, she couldn’t. It was anticlimactic to say the least.

She moved unseen between the clusters of people dressed in black, as they talked in hushed tones and tried not to mention the murder.

She didn’t know why the man had chosen her. Why he decided to end her life on that cold, Wednesday morning. She remembered her surprise when his knife first entered her body. The sound it made as it cut through her flesh. A squelching noise that was almost comical. She wasn’t sure how many times he plunged his blade into her before it was over, but she knew it was a lot.

She supposed she should be angry at the man for stealing her life. Angry that she would never live out her dreams, go to college or travel the world. Angry that she was left in a crumpled, discarded heap as if she meant nothing. But she wasn’t angry. She didn’t feel anything at all, and she wondered if being dead was like this for everyone; empty of not just blood, but of everything that once made her human.

The girl stood at the window watching as the mourners left. Hugging each other before they returned to their unsullied lives. When silence finally enveloped the house, the girl sat on a stool in the corner of the kitchen and watched her mother and brother stack casserole dishes in the fridge. Tomorrow she would watch them eat a reheated lasagne. The next day they would manage a sandwich.

Before long, her mother would return to work. Her brother would go back to college. She would see them drift apart under the strain of their grief. Her mother would grow old and tired, and her broken heart would eventually stop. Then one day there would be another funeral, and more mourners dressed in black.

Her brother would finally pack up her room, keeping only one thing. A photo of his long dead sister on her fifteenth birthday, just days before a mad man killed her and left her body in tatters in a pool of blood by the side of the road.

The girl would watch as the house was sold, and a new family moved in. Another young girl would decorate her room with pictures of a Korean pop band. She would watch that girl grow up and move out to start a new life. Her bedroom would become a home office, then a gym, before the parents decided to sell. Then, another family would move in. Then another. And another.

All the time the girl was there, watching everything and feeling nothing.

She should have been angry.

But she wasn’t.

© Amy Hutton 2020

A Devil of a Romance

“This is kinda romantic,” Alec said, nudging Emily with his shoulder. “A cabin. A lake. The leaves turning gold outside. You and me, cosy together…”

“Tied up. Waiting for a couple of Satanists to murder us.”

“Well, I did say kinda.”

They were sitting back to back on the floor; their wrists and feet bound, and a rope wrapped tightly around their waists.

 

It was supposed to be a routine haunting. Emily was called in to clear the spirit, and Alec, her too-brave-for-his-own-good paranormal investigator boyfriend, had decided to tag along as backup. Except there was no spirit. Just a couple of amateur devil worshipers out to sacrifice someone like Emily – someone with psychic powers – as a gift for their dark lord. Just one hiccup, they forgot the ritual candles, and in an act of infinite stupidity, decided to run into town to pick some up, leaving Emily and Alec in the cabin alone. “Idiots,” Emily thought. She’d laugh if she wasn’t so angry.

“You shouldn’t have come, Alec. They want me. Now we’re both going to die.”

“We’re not gunna die, Emily. We’ve been in worse fixes than this.”

She felt his pinky finger caress hers, causing a pleasant tingle to run the length of her spine.

He was right, of course, they’d been in worse fixes. Like the time they were stuck in the basement of an old house with a raging spirit, who managed to throw Alec across the room with such force, it broke his arm. Or when they had to exorcise a demon from a giant teddy bear, after a thirteen-year-old boy who just wanted a friend, got tricked into letting the evil presence in. Their life was weird. To say the least.

 

“Can you wiggle out of the rope?” Alec asked.

Emily tried to move. “No. But maybe if we drop to the side?”

They rocked back and forth, launching themselves sideways and falling onto a fluffy white rug that covered the cabin floor.

“What kinda Satanist gets a white rug,” Alec said, as he puffed the long pile away from his mouth. “I mean, blood sacrifices and white do not go.”

“Alec. Concentrate. Move around a bit. Maybe it’ll loosen the knot.”

They flipped and flopped like a couple of fish beached on the sand.

“This is embarrassing,” Emily moaned.

“Embarrassing. But… Ta-da!” Alec said, as he squirmed out of the rope. “Give me your hands.”

As Emily sat with her back to Alec, her hands tied behind her, something wet and warm ran along her wrist. “Alec, did you just lick me?”

“Maybe. No. Okay, maybe.”

“Alec. Focus!” she said, trying to ignore the goosebumps that had erupted along her arms.

“Couldn’t help it,” he mumbled, as he tugged on her ties with his teeth.

It only took a moment until Emily was free. She bent forward, quickly releasing her ankles before turning around to help Alec.

The second he was loose, they fell into each other’s arms, crushing their lips together, kissing hard and deep and wet, almost forgetting where they were. Danger always did that to them.

Emily forced herself to pull away. “Later,” she said, through heavy breaths. “We need to go.”

Alec stood and lifted Emily off the floor. “We need to stay. Kick their idiot asses.”

“I’ll kick their idiot asses another time,” she said, as she dragged him towards the door.

“Ooof.” he practically growled in her ear. “You know I love it when you talk tough.” Then with a, “Wait here,” he dashed back inside and returned brandishing a bottle of red wine.

Emily laughed. “Did you just steal their sacrificial wine?”

“Well, they ain’t gunna need it now.” He flashed her a dazzling smile. “Besides, they owe us,” he said. “We can grab a pizza to go with it on the way home.”

“You are unbelievable.”

“That’s why you love me.”

“That’s why you’re lucky I love you.” She hooked a finger in the neck of his t-shirt and pulled him towards her, kissing him tenderly on the lips.

“Told you this case was kinda romantic,” he said, after she’d pulled away. “Maybe when we come back to kick their asses, we should stay a few days. Do a bit of boating. Enjoy nature. Build a campfire or something.”

Emily laughed again. “Just get in the car,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, with a wink and a salute.

She started the engine and sped, wheels squealing, towards home and the passion that she knew would follow. Danger always did that to them.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Sibling Rivalry

The bunny slippers hit the floor with a cheery squeak. Long, fuzzy ears bouncing merrily.

Brandon smirked. “What’s the matter, Alex? You’re always complaining your feet get cold. Happy birthday, baby bro.”  He watched as his little brother squirmed in his seat as his eyes flicked across the room towards his date

“Ha-ha, Brandon. You’re hilarious. And stop with the baby bit. I’m 24.”

Brandon picked up the offending gift and tugged on the whiskers, “I may be hilarious, but I’m also older and wiser, and I think they’re adorable. The colour matches your eyes, perfectly.”

“They’re pink.”

“I know.”

Alex sighed. “Can we go? We’re going to be late.”

Brandon tossed the slippers across the room with an exaggerated pout, “You’re not even going to try them on?” He turned to Alex’s date. “What do you think, Kristy?”

“I think they’re adorable, Alex” she said. “They’ll look cute on you!”

“There you go Alex. They’ll look cute on you.”

Alex glared. “Maybe later. Can we just leave? Please?”

Brandon shrugged, and gave the slippers one last squeak before heading out the door.

 

Brandon flopped in a drunken heap onto the sofa. “She’s nice,” he said, not being able to cover the slur in his voice. “I like her.”

“Yeah, she’s great,” Alex said. “Thanks for nearly blowing it for me by the way. Making me look like an idiot. With the slippers.”

“What are you talking about? She loved them. Chicks dig sensitive guys, and what says sensitive more than a pair of fluffy bunny slippers?”

“Well, maybe you should wear them.”

“Well, maybe I should. I’d make them look good.” He stretched out, trying to reach the slippers with his toes, instead losing his balance and rolling sideways onto the cushions.

“You’re drunk. Go to bed.”

Brandon staggered to his feet, “I’m drunk. I’m going to bed.” He waved over his shoulder as he swayed up the hall. “Happy birthday baby bro.”

 

The alarm jerked Brandon awake. He moaned, flashing to hazy memories of tequila shots and whiskey chasers. Reaching for a glass on his nightstand, he guzzled back some water, before lifting himself gingerly from the mattress, and slowly swinging his legs out of bed. His feet hit the floor with a surprising squeak. Puzzled, Brandon looked down and saw Alex’s bunny slippers looking merrily back at him. He wiggled his toes, and the ears flopped. He stared at them as his foggy brain took a moment to catch up. Why was he wearing Alex’s slippers? He rolled his eyes as he suddenly realised the gag. “Hilarious,” he said, as he reached down and grabbed the ears, giving them a good yank. Pain shot through his toes. “Ow. Shit! What the hell?” He gave it another try. “Motherffff…” Panicking, he grabbed the ears on the other foot and gave them a tug. “Ow! Man!” What’s going on? Why aren’t they coming off? It feels like…

 

He looked at his watch, it was just before ten, Alex would be at work. Grabbing his phone, he called his brother. It went straight to voicemail. He hung up and tried again.

“Hey, you’ve reached Alex, please leave your name and num…”

 Brandon hung up again and furiously texted one word. DEAD. His phone rang almost immediately.

“Good morning,” Alex’s voice said.

“Dude. Did you glue them to my feet?”

“I’m sorry, Brandon, what are we talking about?”

“The bunny slippers Alex. The Goddam bunny slippers.”

“Oh right. The slippers. Well you seemed to like them…so”

“So, you glued them? TO MY FEET?”

“They’ll come off. Just give them a good tug.”

“I tried that. If I want to keep any skin, that ain’t happening. What kind of glue did you use?”

“Um. Super glue.”

“Super glue? Alex.”

Alex was silent for a moment. “Maybe I didn’t think it through.”

“Maybe? Dude. I have a meeting in an hour. And I have rabbits glued to my feet!” The phone went quiet again, but this time Brandon could hear muffled laughter. “This isn’t funny.”

“It’s kinda funny.”

“No. It really isn’t.”

“Brandon, you’ve been playing gags on me my whole life, and you embarrassed the hell out of me last night. I figured I owe you.”

Brandon bit his lip. He’d thump him later, but right now… “How do I get them off?”

“I guess you’ll have to go to the hardware store and get some acetone or something. You’ll figure it out,” Alex said, adding before hanging up, “You’re older and wiser, remember?”

 

Brandon stormed through the apartment, a chorus of squeaks accompanying him. He tossed everything out of the kitchen cupboards, hoping there might be something, anything that would shift the slippers. But there wasn’t. He went to the bathroom, put his feet in the tub and thought about soaking them off. But knowing his luck he’d just wind up with soggy slippers that squelched as well as squeaked. He tried one more time to heave them off his feet, but it hurt too damn much. Defeated, he threw himself on the sofa and fumed. Sure, he’d pulled some pretty bad jokes on his brother over the years. There was the Nair in his shampoo, the itching powder in his gym shorts, that time he sent him on a date with the old lady down the road. But this? Even he thought this was a gag too far.

He called his client to postpone their meeting, stating a family emergency. His brother had done something stupid, and Brandon had to sort it out. It wasn’t a lie.

He glared at his feet and moved his toes watching the whiskers move along with them. The way he saw it, he had two options, wait for Alex to get home and suffer the indignity of having his little brother rescue him, or drive into town and get something that will do the job, and suffer the indignity of wearing bunny slippers to a hardware store. Brandon decided on door number two.

 

Getting his jeans on over the slippers was far more difficult than he anticipated. “Damn these skinny jeans,” he growled, as he shimmied the tight denim over the fluffy noses. He pulled on a black t-shirt and plaid over-shirt, trying to maintain a least some level of cool. He squeaked down the hall and out the door onto the street, sliding into his car as quickly as humanly possible. He started the engine and gently put his fuzzy foot down, slowly navigating the short trip into town. The last thing he needed was to be pulled over.

Of course, there wasn’t a car space right outside the hardware store, that would be too much to ask, so he parked in the lot on the corner, took a deep breath and squeaked his way down the footpath.

“Look at his feet!” a little girl yelled. “Bunnies!”

“Don’t point at the strange man, darling,” Brandon heard the mother hiss as she rushed her daughter past.

He swung the door to the hardware store open and winced as a loud ding-dong ricocheted off the walls.

Mr. Jackson, who owned the store, looked up. “Brandon,” he said from behind the counter. “What can I do for you?”

“Hi Mr. Jackson. I had a bit of an, um, accident.”

The old man looked confused, “An accident?”

“In the shape of an idiot brother who glued these to my feet,” Brandon wiggled his toes. Bunny ears bouncing.

Mr. Jackson chortled. “From what I remember of you two growing up, you might have had it coming.”

“Yeah, yeah. He owed me. Blah blah.”

“I’d say this makes you square for the Nair in his shampoo, wouldn’t you? Come on, I’ve got something that’ll shift that glue.”

Brandon followed him up the aisle. Squeaking all the way.

 

He was sitting on the sofa, feet wrapped in soft, cotton socks, when Alex came home.

“I see you got it sorted,” Alex said, pointing at Brandon’s bunny-less feet.

“Yeah, no dramas,” Brandon lied. “Didn’t take much to get them off.” No way he was letting his brother know the day he really had, or that his feet were going to take a couple of weeks to fully recover. “You want a beer?” he asked, limping towards the kitchen.

“No thanks. I’ve got another date with Kristy. I just came home to change.”

 

Brandon was back on the sofa when his brother came out of his bedroom, buttoning up a crisp, white shirt.

“Anyway,” Alex said. “I was thinking. How about we call a truce? On the pranks, I mean.”

“Probably a good idea,” Brandon said, standing up. “Let’s put a stop to it here and now.” He saw Alex’s face break into a relieved smile.

“Great. Thanks Brandon.”

“You got it, little bro,” he said, slapping his brother hard on the back. “You go and enjoy your date. Tell Kristy I said, hi.”

 

As Alex walked out the door, Brandon wondered what the chances were that the kick me sign he just stuck to his brother’s back, would make it all the way to the restaurant. He figured he’d find out later. He grinned to himself and opened another beer.

@ Amy Hutton 2020