The Question

Jessie sat in the lounge-room, a glow from the streetlight sneaking through the curtains. She watched the door, anxiously chewing her nails, waiting for James to come home. She wanted to ask him something, something she knew he wouldn’t like. She’d rehearsed the words in her mind, and though they sounded perfectly logical to her, she knew he’d still say no. There was no way James would let her date a cop.

James was Jessie’s older brother, by a whole four minutes, and he never let her forget it. He was always there, watching over her, and though she never doubted his love, she wished, just once, he’d let her make her own decisions. She knew dating a cop could be dangerous for them, but their parent’s death was ancient history. Why would they be discovered now?

 

Jessie heard the key in the lock and watched silently as James stepped into the hall, kicking off his greasy boots. She sat up a little straighter in her chair, swallowing hard as he flicked on the light. He jumped out of his skin when he saw her.

“What the hell Jessie! Why are you in the dark?”

He was obviously tired. Jessie wished she’d picked her moment more carefully.

“I’m waiting for you. I, um, want to ask you something,” she said, wringing her hands in her lap.

“Yeah, well, it can wait. I wanna take a shower.”

“Can you shower in a minute?” she asked. “I won’t take long.”

“I said it can wait!”

Jessie winced. “Okay, sure,” she said, forcing a smile. “You go shower.”

She closed her eyes and listened as James stomped up the stairs.

 

“There’s no way I’m allowing you to go out with that guy, Jess, he’s a cop, are you stupid?”

James was standing in Jessie’s bedroom, towering over her, making her feel even smaller than she was.

“I’m not stupid, James, please don’t say that,” she tried to sound assertive. “How will he find out about mum and dad, no-one else has, besides the case was closed years ago!”

She looked at her twin brother, her fists balled tightly by her sides. She wanted to scream at him, tell him she was 24, that he couldn’t control her anymore. She wanted to hit him, punch him until she forced him to say yes, but she knew it wasn’t worth it, his anger was too much for her to bear.

 

Jessie followed James onto the landing, trying to reason with him.

“He’s known me for nearly a year, James, don’t you think if he was secretly investigating us, we’d know by now? He just wants to take me to dinner. I’m 24, I should be able to go on a date!” She realised her voice was raised, but she didn’t care, she was done with this bullshit.

“You’re not seeing him and that’s it!” James literally stamped his foot.

They stood on the landing, a long, unspoken resentment rolling between them.

“So, is it just him? Or is it anyone?”Jessie asked calmly.

“What?” James said.

“Is it that you don’t want me to date a cop or is it that you don’t want me to date anyone?” She glared at him, challenging. “You can’t risk it can you, because I might leave, and who would you be then? Who are you if you’re not controlling me? You’re terrified that if I meet someone, I’ll finally see how pathetic you are! You need me!”

James flew forward, his face so close to hers she could feel the heat of his breath.

“I don’t need you,” he growled. “You’ve done nothing but hold me back my entire life. Protecting you, watching you, trapped in this shitty existence, all because of you! My psychopath sister! Maybe I should leave you, see how far you get.”

“But who other than me, would love a loser like you?” Jessie practically hissed.

James punched the wall by her head, he was fuming, but she no longer cared, it was time to own her life.

“Maybe I should tell your Officer Becket the truth about you,” James continued, through gritted teeth. “Or better still, take a leaf out of your book and just get rid of him completely.” He sneered down at her.

That was it. Jessie felt something explode inside. “You can’t control me anymore,” she screamed as her hands shot forward, hitting James with all her strength.

He stumbled backwards, realisation frozen on his face.

 

Jessie sat on the footpath, a sense of calm filling the space where rage just lived. She could hear the sirens. She knew what she was going to say, and she knew they’d believe her. She found James at the bottom of the stairs when she got home. A tragedy. She was pretty sure she could fake some tears, she’d faked them before. As she sat waiting for the ambulance, for the first time in her life she felt truly alone. But it wasn’t a sad feeling, it was exhilarating. After 24 years of sharing every emotion, every experience, now she could finally have something for herself. She thought about James’ body, broken on the floor and a rush of pleasure coursed through her. She’d forgotten what it felt like to kill, how liberating it was. James had tried to control her, but now she was free, now she could do whatever she wanted.

(c) Amy Hutton

Ten Second Hero

Crystal still couldn’t believe she was there, she still couldn’t believe she was doing it. Any minute now she was going to meet her favourite actor, she was going to say hello to him, maybe even touch him.

Her stomach felt like it had a flock of butterflies flapping around inside it and she was acutely aware that she was trembling. Her palms may even be sweating. She wiped them down the front of her dress just in case. She had wanted to come to one of these fan conventions forever, but she never seemed to be able to work up the nerve, her anxiety always getting in the way. And yet somehow here she was, waiting in line to take a photo with a guy she’d been in love with for years! What was she even thinking?

The energy in the room was electric, happiness bouncing off the walls. Music was playing, people were laughing, everyone was excited to be there. As Crystal made her way forward in the queue, she suddenly realised she could see him. There he was, standing in front of a back drop, looking more beautiful than she ever thought possible. It was surreal. Like her wildest dream.

A wave of panic gripped her, she was not emotionally prepared for this! Not even a little! What if she couldn’t do it? What if she couldn’t talk? Or worse, what if she fainted? She felt light headed just thinking about it. As she started to sway, a girl behind her grabbed her shoulder.

“Are you okay?” the girl asked. “Do you need to sit down?”

Crystal looked around, concerned faces staring in her direction. Please don’t let this be how it ends, she thought, with her in a pile on the floor, not when she’d come this far. She took in a steadying breath, determined not to humiliate herself. Determined not to miss this chance.

“Just a bit nervous,” she said with a shaky smile.

The girl smiled back understandingly, and then nodded towards the beginning of the line.

Crystal was next.

He turned as she stepped into the photo area, smiling warmly down at her. He was taller than she thought.

“Hi,” he said. “What are we doing today?”

She willed herself to speak, “Ah ah…”

He leant in closer so he could hear her.

“A hhhhhhhuuuu…,” she stumbled, trying her best to get out the word, just one word. She could feel her face starting to burn. “Aaaa..aaaaaa…A HUG?” she blurted so loud he actually started.

“You got it,” he said, gently guiding her into his arms. She bravely rested her head against the warmth of his broad chest.

As Crystal floated from the room, the noise of the fans and the music behind her, all she could hear was her heart singing. She did it. SHE DID IT! And it was the greatest ten seconds of her life.

(c) Amy Hutton

A Lucky Break

The bell rang. Straight away Tom’s tummy started to hurt. He subconsciously rubbed it, making tiny circles with the palm of his hand. As the other kids excitedly filed from the classroom, chatting about their lunchtime plans, Tom stayed seated, gazing out the window, wishing he could be anywhere but there. He hated lunchtime, it made him feel sick, for real.

Biting on a trembling lip he pushed out his chair with a large scrape. Waiting wouldn’t make any difference, it was going to happen no matter what he did. Might as well get it over with. He tried hard not to cry. No wonder everyone picked on him, he thought. Stupid cry-baby. He hugged his bag to his chest as he left the room.

He scuffed down the hall towards the door to the playground. He’d do anything not to go out there, but no one was allowed in the building at lunch, it was school rules, and he didn’t think the nurse would fall for another fake sickness. She got real mad at him last time.

Through the glass door at the end of the hall, Tom saw Garry, smirking. He was twice the size of Tom, probably because he always ate Tom’s lunch. It’s not that Garry beat Tom up, well not usually, he pushed Tom to the ground that one time when Tom tried to stand up to him like his dad told him to. It was worse than being beaten up though, they made fun of him. Garry and his friends called him Tom Thumb, because he was smaller than everyone else. They made chicken noises when Garry took his lunch, which was every single day. Tom hated them.

He looked at the floor and shuffled towards his destiny, sniffing back tears. He didn’t notice the garbage bin carelessly left in the middle of hall until he crashed right into it. He heard laughter as he flew through the air, before everything went black.
Tom lay on the couch his broken ankle propped on a pile of pillows, a PS4 controller in his hand.

“Well, I’ve called the school and told them you’ll be off for at least three weeks. They’ll send round some homework so you don’t fall behind.”

“Thanks mum,” Tom said, as he shot another zombie.

“Now, sweetheart, do you feel like you could eat a little lunch?” His mum pushed the hair gently out of Tom’s eyes.

“Yes please,” Tom said.

It felt like a year since he’d had lunch.

(c) Amy Hutton

The Pledge

Alec stepped carefully onto the creaking porch of the dilapidated house. He flicked on his flashlight, shining it on his face and turning towards the boys on the footpath, laughing at his good joke.

“You’re not getting out of it, Pledge,” one of the boys yelled.

Alec shrugged his shoulders as nonchalantly as possible. Turning back, he pushed open the heavy door, closing it behind him with a loud slam. He walked forward in to the dankness and shone the light around the broken-down room.

To be honest, he wished he’d said no to this stupid challenge. This place had always made his skin crawl. He knew the disappearances were only an urban legend, but fact or fiction, there was no denying his heart was beating pretty loud in his ears right now.

He couldn’t say no though, could he, not if he wanted to make the fraternity, and he really wanted to make the fraternity. He couldn’t believe they even accepted him as a Pledge, so he sure as shit wasn’t blowing it now. He had to do this, like it or not, if he wanted any kind of college existence. Basically, it was go into this creepy-ass house, or continuing being a nobody.

Alec took a steadying breath, he was determined to see this through. He pulled the paper out of his pocket and looked at the clue. Somewhere in here was what he was looking for, whatever that was. Something unexpected, was all they said. The room was all but empty, just a tatty chair and a few boxes strewn in the dust. He shone his torch into the blackness, spiderwebs glistening as the beam passed over them.

When he heard the noise, Alec was sure it was prank. He waited for Halloween decorations to drop from the ceiling, his future brothers to jump out laughing at his expense. He was so caught up in the scenario in his head, he didn’t notice the figure behind him.

As Alec lay strapped to the table, he could just make out another person in the room.

“Very funny, guys,” he said, hoping his shaky voice didn’t betray him.

“Shhhhhhhh,” was all that came back.

Alec felt fear bristle up his spine. “Come on, guys,” he said. “These things are starting to hurt.” He twisted against the ties on his arms and legs

Out of the shadows, a woman slowly stepped forward. Alec blinked hard, as light glinted off the edge of her knife.

“My boys brought me a pretty one this time,” she cooed, smiling sweetly as she gently passed the blade over Alec’s face.

As the shock of the cool metal pierced Alec’s heart, all he could think was, worst fraternity ever.

(c) Amy Hutton

The Eternal Fear

He hid in the shadows, listening. His eyes, used to the gloom, darted furtively back and forth.

After all these years, is this where it ends?

He remembered the first time he was hunted. A father and son. Farmers he thought. He’d taken their daughter, their sister. He’d led her to him, tricked her, seduced her, changed her. They fled together, travelling at night, hiding like animals in caves. But still the hunters came.

He remembered the moment the stake entered her body, the agony he felt in his undead soul. He remembered her guttural scream seconds before her head hit the ground.

She was his first creation. There’d been others since, but her destruction pained him the most.

He’d spent his eternity skulking, feigning humanity, even falling in love, a long time ago. She was young, her cheeks pink like the blossoms of a tree, her skin warm like the kiss of forgotten sunshine. Beautiful. Human. He was first her suitor, then husband, then son, then grandson, when after sixty years she died in his arms. Leathery skin pressed against his permanent youth.

He vowed to live his endless existence causing no more harm. He picked his prey, the bad people, the evil, the dregs that no-one wanted, and no-one missed. He believed this was his debt to pay for all who had died on his lips.

But now the hunters came again, and they were no longer afraid.

As he disappeared up a rickety fire escape, fleeing across rooftops, he wondered if it would be so bad to die? Wasn’t 352 years on this earth enough? The only thing that kept him going his the dread of the unknown. What would become of him when his head was finally separated from his shoulders. Could a vampire not fear death too?

(c) Amy Hutton

The Song

She held her breath as she waited for the music to begin. This song had come to mean so much to her. So much happiness, so much pain. It was love, it was friendship, it was crazy adventures. It was understanding. It was acceptance.

She knew its words like they were her mantra. The lyrics were tattooed on to her skin. She’d sung it at the top of her lungs, screaming out the chorus, arms slung about the shoulders of her besties, as the crowd swayed and chanted around her.

It was no longer just a song, it was an emotion, raw and powerful. It flooded her mind with images and flooded her heart with cherished memories.

As she sat there, holding the remote to her chest, leaning forward on her couch, her eyes fixed on the screen, tears already threatening to run down her cheeks, she whispered, “Here we go.”

The picture came up from black and music flooded her room…

Carry on my wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done, lay your weary head to rest, don’t you cry no more.

(c) Amy Hutton