Turning The Page

The door opened with its usual creak. The bell chimed cheerily from above, as it had for fifty years. Sarah reached down and gathered up the letters strewn across the floor, flinching at the envelope with overdue emblazoned across it. She side stepped the untouched boxes on her way to the counter. She meant to sort them yesterday. But she could no longer see the point.

Heading to the backroom she put on the kettle and sniffed the milk from the mini fridge to make sure it hadn’t curdled. She poured herself a tea and blew on it as she walked back to the store counter. Dropping into the well-worn chair, she sipped her tea, and wistfully glanced around.

 

She knew every inch of the bookstore. Every nook. Every cranny. She grew up there. Had adventures there. She visited Narnia from the grubby old seat by the window. Fought the pirates of Neverland on the floor in the history section. Went on a journey with Bilbo on the sofa by the magazine rack.

She had her first kiss in the same back room where she had just made tea. Sarah was twelve, he was thirteen. He held her face and pressed his lips tenderly to hers. She still remembers the tingling sensation that rippled along her entire body. She touched a finger to her mouth at the memory of it.

 

She wandered through the shelves, running her hands along the rows of bindings. Opening a copy of Misery, she breathed in the pages. How she loved the way books smelt. The feel of the paper between her fingers. The promise of what was to come. Nothing could ever replace a good book, she thought. Except it had.

When Sarah’s father passed away, he left the store to her. With all its memories, and all its debts. She tried to turn the business around. Tried to make it work. She put in a few computers. Added a coffee bar. Ran some book signings with upcoming authors and hosted a series of poetry readings. Anything she could do to get people across her threshold. But who was she kidding, no one wanted books anymore. They had their Kindles, their podcasts, their quick hit of entertainment on their phones. Books were obsolete, and now, Sarah was too.

Tomorrow she would meet the men who would buy her stock, and Monday, she would hand the keys to the new owners. They were going to open a cafe, with organic beans, and vegan muffins. Or something like that.

 

Sarah sighed deeply. She took the copy of Misery and tucked it into her bag. A keepsake to hold onto. She flicked off the lights and turned the open sign around to closed for one last time. Then steeling herself, she stepped onto the street and shut the door behind her.

The bell chimed cheerily from above, as it had for fifty years.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Crime and Sacrifice – A Flash Fiction

Five bodies lay sprawled across the small auditorium stage. The rest were slumped inelegantly in their seats. Senior Detective Wesson did a rough count. He figured there was twenty plus people in the room. Twenty plus very dead people. He pulled on his gloves with a sigh, and made his way towards Remington, who he nicknamed Steele, even though Remington was too young to get the joke.

“What’s the story, Steele?”

“Twenty-three people deceased. Cause unknown.”

“A mystery! That should be right up your alley.” Wesson slapped Remington on the back. “By the way, how’s the book coming?”

“Slowly,” Remington said, picking up a water bottle. He unscrewed the lid and put the bottle to his nose.

“What are you looking for? Poison? You’ve read too much Agatha Christie.”

“Poison, or airborne,” Remington said, ignoring the jibe. “Something killed these people, and it was either ingested, or inhaled.” He replaced the lid and carefully repositioned the bottle on the fold-out table attached to the arm of the chair.

Wesson surveyed the crime scene. He hated a mystery. Never understood why people read them. He liked things cut and dried. Questions led to more questions, which led to long nights, and he was too old for long nights. “Where’s the person in charge?” he said. His mood already beginning to colour his voice.

“Over there. The one with puke on his shoes.”

***

Wesson walked towards the gentlemen with the puked-on shoes, who was sitting by the door with a paramedic crouched at his feet.

“You in charge here?” Wesson said. His mood already making him brusque. “Up for some questions?”

The man wiped a handkerchief across his face camouflaging a sob. “I’m not sure what I can tell you?” he said.

“Let’s start with why they were here.”

“For a writing workshop. True crime”

Wesson stifled a laugh. “Well there’s some irony for you,” he muttered. “Hey, Steele,” he called to the younger man, “You should include this one in your book! A silver lining, yes?” He nodded enthusiastically.

***

Remington gave Wesson a tight smile. He hated Wesson. The moron. The man had never opened a book in his life. Remington was sure of it.

He cast an eye around the room. Twenty-three bodies with no obvious cause of death. The press will have a field day, he thought. He could see the headlines now. “The True Crime Murder Mystery.” He’d make sure to drop that line in the interviews he was bound to do. Then naturally, that would become the title of his book. His best-selling book. He smiled to himself at the genius of it all. Write a brilliant true crime story, and then turn that story into a reality. All it took was a little research and a dab of poison on a heating grate. He’d have to wait a while before he could publish, of course. He wouldn’t want to raise suspicions. But he should have the book on the shelves by Christmas. Then there would be the television appearances. The podcasts. Fame and fortune were in his grasp. And all he had to do was kill a few people. Well, twenty-three people.

But then, doesn’t all good writing require sacrifice?

© Amy Hutton 2020

Freedom Ride

The glow of the moon peeked through a small, rust hole in the corner of the trunk of the car. It was the only light The Boy could see. A tiny ray of hope in the darkness. The air was full of dirt and gasoline, their fetid odour mixing with his own sweet and pungent stench. Tiny droplets of sweat trickled off his hair, stinging the corners of his eyes. His jeans were wet from urinating where he lay. In that trunk. That trunk to freedom.

This Younger Man said that he was there to help. Told The Boy he would get him out. Help him escape from the cage The Boy had lived in since the Older Man took him all those months ago. The Boy didn’t know exactly how long it had been. He had stopped counting after a while.

This Younger Man had come to fix the generator, the one that lit The Boy’s dank cell. He told The Boy to hide in the trunk of his car; to lay silently on the cold and greasy metal. He told him he would take The Boy to the cops. That everything would be okay. That the next town was only an hour away. But now it was night time and The Boy was starting to wonder if he’d made another stupid mistake.

The Boy should never have got into the Older Man’s car all those months ago. Should never have been so trusting. But he was desperate. Desperate to escape a father who turned his fist to his son, once his wife was no longer alive to beat on. He’d seemed nice, the Older Man. He wore a crisp, white shirt, with a pen poking out of an ink-stained pocket. “Damn pen,” the he had said. “I’m just going to drop by my place to change, then we’ll be on our way.”

The Boy had sat on a scratched and weather-worn sofa on the Older Man’s porch, sipping lemonade. He was on a farm. Land spreading out as far as he could see. The Boy had never been on a farm. Never been out of the city. He was enjoying the warmth of the sun, the cool liquid running down his throat.

Then, he awoke in that cage.

The Older Man never touched him. Never spoke even spoke to him. Not even when The Boy screamed and cried and beat his head against the bars until he bled. He kept The Boy fed. Even gave him a TV. The Boy asked why he was there. He begged to be set free. But the Older Man only ever smiled. The same smile The Boy had trusted the day he got into that car all those months ago.

“Not long now,” The Boy heard whispered through the steel above him. Then the thud of footsteps, followed by the metallic slam of the door. As the engine came to life with a shrill squeal followed by a roar, fumes seeped through the small, rust hole that had given The Boy such hope. Then the car started to move again. But towards what, The Boy didn’t know.

© Amy Hutton 2019

The Family Business

Longlisted for Australian Writers’ Centre July 2019 Furious Fiction competition


 

Based on a true story – sort of…

Harry pressed his nose to the glass and squinted through the window as the train pulled away. “That’s my bag,” he said, turning to face the other passengers. “My bag got left on the platform!”

They regarded him with vague disdain; the loud American pointing wildly and yelling in English.

 

He rushed down the aisle towards the doors and attempted to pry them apart. They didn’t shift. Not an inch. Not even one.

“They won’t open when the train is moving?” a woman said from behind him.

He spun around. “My bag. It’s on the platform!”

“You can get off at the next stop and return for it.”

“But everything is in that bag. My clothes, my computer, my,” his shoulders sagged. “My passport. Dammit! I put my passport in my jacket, then shoved my jacket in my bag so I wouldn’t have to lug it around!”

“That was stupid,” the woman said, and shrugged as she walked away.

 

Harry raced back to his seat. “What should I do. What should I do?” he muttered to himself.

“Press the emergency button?” a man beside him said.

Harry looked at the guy with the brilliant idea. “Is that allowed?”

“Is it an emergency?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I guess it’s allowed.”

 

He dashed back through the carriage. Everyone was watching him; the loud American with sweat dripping down his neck. The emergency button was covered in glass, so he pulled his shirt sleeve over his knuckles and punched as hard as he could, slamming his fist through the cover, into the button. The train jolted to a violent stop, propelling Harry into the wall.

 

Harry woke up to someone slapping his face.

“Put this on your hand,” the man said.

A frozen gel pack dropped into Harry’s lap. He held the cold compress to his bloodied knuckles. “What happened?” he said, “Did I stop the train or something?”

“No sir, you stopped ALL the trains.”

Harry looked up, still slightly groggy. “I did what?” he said, and peered around the man in front of him. Fifty angry faces were staring back at him; their luggage spilled across the floor.

“When you stop one train in Europe sir, you stop ALL the trains.”

“I stopped all the trains?” Harry said.

“In Europe,” the man repeated, “Which is a 575€ fine.” He handed Harry a slip of paper and helped him to his feet.

 

Harry got off at the next station, pulled his phone from his pocket and dialled.

“It’s true Bobby,” he said. “Every train in Europe. Just one button. Yep, stop ‘em all in the right place, and they’re easy pickins.” He hung up and went to the ticket booth, “I gotta go back for my bag,” he said to the woman at the counter. “Left it behind like an idiot.” he flashed her a smile.

Soon the front pages would belong to Bobby and Harry. It was a train robbery like the world had never seen. Across the whole of Europe. The press would dub the duo a modern day Butch and Sundance.

If only everyone knew the truth to that name.

Bobby and Harry’s great-great uncles would have been so proud…

 

© Amy Hutton 2019

Anaphylaxis

The dining room was laid out perfectly. The knives and forks evenly spaced, the elegant plates emerald green with a splash of red around the edges, the napkins folded neatly in the glasses. A giant bowl of salad sat in the middle of the table like the star of the show, a small pot of oily dressing beside it. By the window was a vase of bright yellow daisies, their petals turning joyfully towards the sun. Everywhere was colour, echoing the brightness of the day.

When the man arrived, he happily looked around, oblivious to the trap that had been laid. He was sweating of course and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. His thin, black hair plastered around the sides of his puffy face. He smiled and took the chair opposite mine as he thanked me for the kind invitation. I smiled back, making sure he felt welcome. As he sat, I noticed a button was missing from his shirt. I could glimpse his hairy gut oozing through the gap in the thin, cheap material. I could see the stains under his armpits. I shuddered as I remembered his stench.

Outside the sky was clear and the kind of deep blue that accompanies a steamy day. The air was heavy with the scent of jasmine and the promise of the afternoon offered no relief from the oppressive heat of the summer sun. People spoke of the cool change that must be coming, as cicadas chirped merrily – their ever-present drone laying the background to season.

I could hear the family next door laughing, living their normal, happy lives, as the children ran about the lawn, their giggles floating towards me on the warm breeze. How I envied them in that moment. How I envied their innocence.

At first it sounded like he was clearing his throat; a small noise that no-one noticed but me. I calmly placed another fork full of food in my mouth. He reached for his glass as he began to cough violently. He tried to drink, but the water spilled out over his lips, splashing down his shirt and on to his trousers. As he gasped and clawed at his throat, people rushed to his side, loosening his tie, and slapping his back. His face changed colour like a confused chameleon. First white, then pink, then red, now purple. I was waiting for blue.

He was on the floor now, his eyes bulging and bloodshot, his doughy face finally the colour I’d been waiting for. Someone with a phone was shouting, asking if the man had any allergies. I feigned panic, and in a fabricated display of terror worthy of an Oscar, I shook my head “no,” while thinking, peanuts, he’s allergic to peanuts.

The ambulance was coming now, I could hear its siren’s song. But it would be too late.

As I took a sip of my wine and quietly enjoyed the chaos swirling around me, I thought about how peanut oil made such an excellent addition to salad dressing.

© Amy Hutton 2019