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

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

Happy Endings

The sound of horses whinnying jolted Max awake. Groaning, he swung his long legs out of bed. There had been coyotes in the area, which was why his horses were stabled instead of grazing in the fields. He shimmied into his well-worn Levi’s, picked a t-shirt up off the floor and pulled it down over his broad shoulders. Padding sleepily to the door in his socked feet, he slid into his boots, grabbed his rifle and a torch, and stepped into the night.

With his torchlight bouncing across the ground, Max quickly made his way to the stables. Cocking his rifle, he gripped the iron handle of the heavy door and slowly yanked it open. Taking a breath to ready himself, he slipped inside and flicked on the lights.

“Oh!” came a voice to his left.

Max swung around; rifle raised. Standing before him, in a gown of blue satin and clouds of tulle, was a woman. She was startlingly beautiful, with brilliant eyes, and golden ringlets around her face. In her hand was an ivy wrapped twig with a large sunflower on the end, and though he knew it couldn’t be true, Max swore the woman was twinkling.

“Ma’am?” Max said, as calmly as possible, “Is there a reason you’re in my stables at two in the morning?”

The woman blinked.

“Ma’am?”

“I don’t suppose you were going to a ball?”

“Excuse me?”

“A ball?”

“Ma’am, the only kind of ball I know anything about, is a football.”

“Oh dear. I think I made a wrong turn,” she said, as she waved her twig above her head. A shower of stars burst from the sunflower and a map appeared in the air.

Max lurched backwards, tumbling over a bale of hay and landing with a thud.

“I see what happened,” the woman muttered to herself, “I zigged when I should have zagged.” She waved the sunflower again, causing the map to vanish with a ‘pop.’

“Who are you?” Max stammered, as he hoisted himself off the ground.

The woman glanced around the room, “Is this your kingdom?”

“My what?”

“Your kingdom. Your realm.”

“No Ma’am, this is Iowa.”

“So, you’re not a Prince?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Well you’re handsome enough to be a Prince,” she said, casting an appraising eye up and down Max’s tall form.

“Are you flirting with me, Ma’am?” Max said, a grin stretching across his face.

The woman threw her head back, laughing with a sound like wind chimes in a soft breeze. “Well, you are cute and very polite, so if you ever need a fairy godmother…” She handed Max a card.

Max looked at the card in his hand. “Ma’am. You may want to rethink this card.”

“Why?”

“Someone could…um…misunderstand.”

“Could they?”

“Yeah. ‘For a happy ending call 555-FAIRYGM?’” Max said, eyebrows raised. “Happy ending…?”

“But, doesn’t everyone love, a happy ending?” and with a wink the woman vanished in a spray of glitter.

Max looked down at the card again, “Well, I can’t argue with that,” he said, and shrugging, he slid the card into his pocket, and headed back to bed.

 

© Amy Hutton 2020

 

Spinning Her Wheels

God. Look at him rippling.

She puffed as she peddled, the beat of the music mixing with the throb in her butt cheeks.

He yelled empowering words, leaning forward on his handlebars, causing his shorts to ride up his muscular thighs.

Those legs. My god.

She caught his eye and he smiled.

She peddled harder while his gaze was on her, hoping she looked okay in her new leopard print shorts. Trying to make it all appear effortless. It wasn’t.

Sera had been working out at Soul Cycle ever since the day she met Chris. She had locked herself out of her apartment and was on the street waiting for a locksmith to arrive, when Chris walked by. He stopped to ask if she was okay. She answered yes and made an awkward joke about what an idiot she was. He tossed his head back and laughed, before saying, “We’ve all done it,” and smiling so bright, Sera nearly gasped.
He asked if he could wait with her and reached into his satchel, pulling out a bag of red liquorice vines. She said, that would be fine, and peeled a vine from the pack, holding it between her fingers, too shy to eat it. He placed a vine between his lips and Sera watched him twirl it, moving it in and out, as they chatted about the weather, and the oppressive summer heat. When help finally arrived, Chris handed Sera a card and invited her to, “Try me out.” He meant his spin class. Sera hoped he meant something else. Four weeks later, and she was the fittest she had ever been in her life.

For Sera, every day revolved around the heart pounding hour she spent with Chris. Hot and sweaty. Grinding. Pumping. Up and down. Bodies glistening. Moving as one.
She arrived at the studio early to make sure she was always in the front row. She remembered the tracks he played and downloaded them, so she could learn the words and sing along. She made a mental note of every moment with him. Every shoulder-squeeze. Every wink. She told herself each day would be the day he would ask her out. And each day, she went home disappointed.

“Great work, guys,” Chris yelled, when the class was over, and everyone was packing up.

Sera slowly pulled her gear together, taking her time, hoping to be the last to leave. She felt her stomach flip as Chris approached.

“You’re looking great, Sera.”

She blushed through her already beet red face. “All because of you, Chris.”

He smiled his bright smile.

“Um. Chris?”

I’m going to do it. I’m going to ask him out.

He looked down at her, his sandy blonde hair hanging in his too blue eyes. “Yeah?”

“Um…um…” She sighed. “See you tomorrow?”

“You know you will!” and he squeezed her shoulder and winked.

Sera picked up her bag and hobbled out the door. Every part of her ached.

But mostly… her heart.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Killing Christmas

Celeste stuck the last bow on the last gift with a satisfied sigh. She had promised to be more Christmassy this year. Put up decorations. Buy presents not vouchers. Send cards not texts. She even went to the post office for Christ’s sake. Like it was 1985 or something!

Pouring herself another wine, she proudly surveyed the room. It looked like a Christmas warehouse had thrown up all over the place, leaving sparkly puke dripping off every surface. Checking her phone, she was shocked to see it was nearly midnight. She had to get up in six hours to put a damn turkey in the oven. Why had she agreed to do the family lunch? Because she was being Christmassy! She was surprised when she wobbled a bit as she lifted herself off the chair. She’d downed a whole bottle of red without noticing. Probably be hungover tomorrow. As she stumbled to bed, she pictured her sister rolling her eyes.

Celeste woke with a start. She was parched. Like a desert had decided to take over her mouth. She was reaching for the glass of water beside her bed, when she heard a noise below her. A bump. Her arm froze mid-stretch. Another noise. Was that a jingle?

She fumbled around for her phone. It wasn’t there. She cursed herself. Another noise. This time a dragging sound. Celeste sat bolt upright. Someone was in her house. Worse still, someone was stealing the presents from under her tree. The one’s she’d battled the Christmas crowds at the shopping mall for. Fuck that!

She silently rolled out of bed and tiptoed to her wardrobe. Groping around in the dark, she found a metal box, opened it and removed a small pistol. She bought the gun last summer after a spate of home invasions. At the time she wondered if it was an over reaction, but as she heard another sound from the floor below, she was suddenly glad she had it.

As quietly as possible, she stepped onto the pitch-black landing. Then onto the stairs, one hand grasping the banister, the other the gun. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Her hands, trembling. As she reached the final step she froze. There was the hulking shape of a man crouched in front of her Christmas tree, backlit by the fairy lights she’d failed to turn off. Celeste panicked. She stumbled backwards, accidentally squeezing the trigger as she fell. A shot rang out. A wisp of smoke sizzled into the air. She heard an “ooff”, followed by a groan, then a thud, then silence.

Celeste pushed herself up and carefully felt her way around the wall to the light switch, flicking it on with a click. A large sack lay beside the fireplace, brightly wrapped boxes spewing across the rug. A smear of blood trailed from the tree to the the sofa. A pair of black boots poked out from behind it. Shiny. Black. Boots.

The gun dropped from Celeste’s hand hitting the floor with a clunk. Her knees buckled, and she landed heavily beside it. She gaped at the grisly scene in front of her. Behind her sofa, eyes open but unseeing, blood splatter staining his snow-white beard, was a very dead, very fat man. In a red suit.

Well fuck, she said, as she hoisted herself up off the floor. After all shopping. After all the decorating. After all the work she put in to making Christmas perfect, what does she go and do?

She kills Santa.

Typical.

© Amy Hutton 2020