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

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

Tidal Flow

A kaleidoscope of colours swirled before her. Vibrant streaks of red and daubs of yellow. Azure splashes reminded her of the sea; flecks of shimmering white, the foam of the surf. Her head swam with the dizzying image, and she rocked back and forth as cool ocean memories washed over her.

“Is everything okay?” a voice said, as if from far away.

Julia blinked at the intrusion as glaring down-lights and clinking glasses leaked into her solitude.

“Do you need to sit down?” the voice came again.

She pulled her gaze from the painting and turned towards the interruption. “Huh?” she said, as she slowly focused on the man standing in front of her. He was tall, and fair, with concern etched into his rather handsome face

“You were swaying.”

Heat rushed to Julia’s cheeks, and she unintentionally fussed with her hair, pushing a ginger strand behind one ear “Oh. No,” she said. “I’m fine. I just… I got kind of lost in this piece.”

The man lit up. “Really? That’s pretty cool. I’m the artist,” and he reached out his hand. “Alec Masters.”

Julia shook Alec’s hand, their grasp lingering a little longer than it should, as a squeak of something almost intangible passed between them.

“You’re the artist?” she said, trying to ignore the goosebumps that had erupted along her arms. “Well, I love it. What did you call it?”

“Summers at Freshie.”

“Like, Freshwater Beach?”

“Yeah. You know it?”

Julia nodded.

“I painted it from my memories as a kid,” Alec said. “Going to Freshie at Christmastime. The gentle waves. The scorching sand!”

“The smell of pies wafting from the canteen at the surf club. The chocolate paddle pops. Or Icy Poles!”

“Yes! The lemonade ones!”

They both laughed.

Silence rested easily between them, as reflections of their childhoods rippled through the air.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Alec said, breaking the stillness, and shifting closer to her.

“It’s Julia.”

“Hi Julia,” and he turned towards his painting. “I dug those summers. The carefree, lazy days. Hanging with my mates. I even fell in love one year. Though, I don’t think she knew I existed.”

Julia watched him as he considered his work. “I get the yellows, blues and whites,” she said. “But what does the red represent?”

“That’s the love part. She wore the cutest red bikini and her hair was… like yours, actually. Ginger.”

A whole raft of butterflies started flapping inside Julia’s stomach. She studied Alec out the corner of her eye. His sandy locks, the freckles across the bridge of his nose, the familiar way he chewed on his lip.

“I fell in love too,” she said, her voice so soft it was barely audible. “With a boy in bright orange boardies.” She held her breath as Alec turned towards her.

“I wore bright orange boardies.”

“I wore a red bikini.”

“I never knew your name,” he said.

She smiled. “Now you do.”

Alec stepped up to the piece of card on the wall beside his painting and took a Sharpie from his pocket. “Now I do,” he said, and he crossed out the title, and in its place wrote a new one. Julia.

© 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

A Composition of Death

“So, they’re dead?”

“Yes Sir.”

“All of them?”

“All of them..”

Detective Page scrutinised the room. “Ironic, don’t you think? Writers murdered at a murder mystery writing conference?”

There were at least 20 people slumped over desks, most face down on their laptop keyboards.

“What do you call a group of writers anyway?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” the Constable said.

“You know – like a cluster?”

“A mob?”

“That’s kangaroos.”

“A gaggle?”

“Geese.”

“A circle, a society…a…does it matter?”

“Not really. Any suspects? Where’s the teacher?”

“Behind the desk at the front.”

The Detective crouched down and peered around the desk legs. “Ah, also dead.”

“Yes, also dead.”

“Weapons? Injuries?”

“Nothing obvious. The coroner is leaning towards poisoning, but we won’t know until tests are done.”

“In their water?” Detective Page picked up a bottle and took a sniff.

“Could have been the water, or their lunch?”

“Hmmm.  Do we have a list of the victims?”

“Yes Sir.”

“Well, first step is contact their families. Then we’ll start checking backgrounds. I’ll also need the names of every person who attended the conference. Can you handle that?”

“Of course.”

“Okay. Let’s allow forensics to do their job.”

The Detective took one last look around the room. He clicked his fingers. “I’ve got it,” he said. “A composition of writers!”

“Sir?”

“Never mind.”

© Amy Hutton 2019