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

Panic

Panic: Noun. A sudden and overwhelming fear, which may or may not have a cause.

Five letters.

Panic: That feeling of utter dread when you know you’ve totally fucked up.

P-A-N-I-C.

Lydia scrawled the word out on a notepad, underlining it with angry, black scribble that ripped through the page, and continued determinedly onto the page below. She was currently experiencing an attack of the word, complete with sweaty palms, elevated heart rate and a loss of control over her breathing that saw her gulping at the air like a possessed guppy.

“Calm down, stupid. Don’t be such a moron. It’s no biggie. You screwed up the monthly report. So what? People make mistakes. And hey, if you get fired, well you don’t like this job anyway? You hate this stupid job. Fuck this job. Fuck everyone here. You should get up and walk out before they escort you out.”

She reached for her bag and attempted to shove her half-full mug of tea inside. Tepid, brown liquid splashed across the white leather, running down her arm, and dripping off her elbow.

“Shit. Idiot. IDIOT!”

She dropped the soggy bag to the floor and peered furtively over the top of her computer monitor towards the glass walled corner office and the meeting being held inside.

“Shit shit shit. Shit to everything.”

Suppressing the urge to run to the bathroom and puke, she instead closed her eyes and kneaded the sides of her temples in aggressive circles, causing the hair around her face to ball up in messy clumps.

“You alright, Lydia?”

Lydia jumped. Her lids sprung open to see the alarmed face of her co-worker Jeff.

“What? Oh yeah. Fine Jeff. Fine. Just spilled some tea. Like a moron. Ha ha.” She gave him a smile which she hoped looked reassuring and not like some crazed, maniacal clown.

Jeff’s eyebrows soared towards the ceiling. “Ohhh-kay,” he said, as he inched slowly away.

“Crazed maniacal clown it was then.”

The door to the corner office opened, and her manager’s head popped out.

“Oh shit. This is it.”

“Lydia, you got a minute,” her manager called, waving Lydia in.

“Sure,” Lydia sung out cheerfully. A little too cheerfully it happens, as all eyes swung in her direction. She smiled brightly about the room, quickly gathered up her scratched up pad and a pen and sauntered as casually as possible towards the office whistling “When the Saints.” Like a demented parrot.

“Ah Lydia, take a seat,” her boss said.

Lydia silently slid into the seat beside her manager.

“We just wanted to go over last month’s financial report with you…”

“Here we go Lydia, get ready for that dole queue.”

“…We found a discrepancy…”

“Told you, you shouldn’t spend all your money on clothes.”

“…In your role, you must ensure absolute accuracy, I can’t stress this enough…”

“At least when you become homeless, you’ll be chic homeless.”

“…But everyone makes mistakes. So, we wanted to go over it with you, and make sure you see where you went wrong. Okay?”

If Lydia’s life had a soundtrack, this is where the record scratch would have happened.

*Screeeeech*

“What?”

“Please make sure you double and triple check everything next month.”

“Um, yes.” Lydia spluttered. “Of course. I’m Sorry.”

“Excellent. Janet will run these numbers with you, so you can see where they went awry.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“Is everything else alright?”

Lydia looked around the room at the expectant faces.

“Um. Yes?” she said, sounding more like she was asking a question than giving an answer.

“Good. Well, let us know if you need anything.”

Lydia walked back to her desk and dropped into her chair looking like a relieved stunned mullet. She stared at the notepad that was still in her hands, with its angry, black writing and furious, page-tearing scribble.

“Told you it was no biggie. Also, you should probably try to do better with that self-love stuff.”

Picking up her pen, she added in all caps;

IDIOT.

 

© Amy Hutton 2020

Meet Cute Puppy

A panicky voice yelled out “Grab him!” just as Julia saw a blur of black and white fur dash past her legs. Without thinking, she lunged for the escaping dog and missed, tripping instead on a rise in the pavement and falling heavily to the ground with an “Ooof” and a thud. She was lying sprawled inelegantly across the concrete, half frozen with embarrassment, half too scared to move in case she was hurt, when something warm slurped her cheek. Gingerly rolling over, Julia saw a ridiculously fluffy puppy and reached out, drawing it onto her chest.

“Are you okay?” a man’s voice called. She saw a pair of bare feet come to a stop beside her and heard puffing like someone was trying to catch their breath.

Julia pushed a strand of her auburn hair out of her eyes and gaze upwards following the direction of the voice. She squinted into the glare of the clear blue sky until a handsome man’s face came into view and blocked out the sun.

“I am so sorry,” he said, “Are you okay? Can you move?”

Julia wasn’t exactly sure, but she nodded anyway.

“I opened the door and whoosh, he was gone,” he continued as he bent down and helped her to her feet. “Thank you so much for grabbing him.”

She nodded again; feeling slightly dazed and still clinging to the pup.

“Ooo, ouch,” the man said, wincing as he pointed to her leg. “Can I sort that out for you? I’m just around the corner.”

She followed his eyes to an angry, bloodied graze on her knee. Until that moment, she hadn’t even noticed that she was injured, but now that she had seen the wound, her knee began to sting and throb.

“You can trust me,” he added. “I’m a nurse.”

And as he smiled, she saw an adorable set of dimples appear in his cheeks.

Julia wasn’t sure if it was the shock of the fall or his dimples, but she suddenly felt woozy and rocked back on her heels.

“Whoa,” he said, reaching out with a steadying hand. “Let’s get you sat down and patched up.” He slipped his arm around her waist. “I’m Luke.”

She leaned into the security of his body. “Julia,” she said.

“Nice to meet you Julia. That troublemaker you’re holding is Wilbur.”

“Hi Wilbur,” she said, and she nuzzled his soft fur.

 

Julia was sitting on a chair in Luke’s kitchen with Wilbur on her lap looking up at her like he knew it was all his fault. She watched as a trickle of blood dribbled down her shin towards her sock. She was thankful she didn’t put on the skirt she was thinking about wearing that day, instead choosing a pair of shorts. At least as she lay spreadeagle on the footpath, she thought, she hadn’t been accidentally flashing anyone.

“Okay, let’s take a look at that knee,” Luke said as he walked into the room, squatted in front of her and opened-up his first aid kit.

While Luke checked out Julia’s wound, Julia checked out Luke. He was a bit of a knockout. Tall and pretty, with sparkling blue eyes and lashes Julia would kill for. His brown hair was short and spiky, and he was wearing a chest hugging, white t-shirt and what Julia suddenly realised was his underwear; tight, black boxer-briefs that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. She blushed and looked away, but not before Luke noticed and glanced down.

“Oh my god. I’m sorry. I didn’t even…”

Julia shook her head.  “No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“I ran out the door without…”

“No, really. I shouldn’t have…”

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then started to laugh.

 

Luke stuck the final strip of tape to the gauze on Julia’s knee. “I think you’ll live,” he said, as he stood and smoothed out the front of his jeans. “So… Wilbur was thinking he’d like to make it up to you, and… um…buy you a coffee.”

“I would love that, Wilbur,” Julia said, looking at Luke.

“Wilbur also hopes you don’t think he’s an idiot.” Luke said, looking a Julia.

“No. Not at all. In fact, I think we could become…good friends,” she said, as she ruffled Wilbur’s fur.

“Man, I sure hope so,” Luke said, and flashed her another dimply smile.

Julia felt woozy again, but this time, she knew exactly why.

© Amy Hutton 2020