A Devil Of A Romance

Longlisted for Australian Writers’ Centre October 2020 Furious Fiction competition

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“This is kinda romantic,” Callum said, nudging Holly. “A cabin by the lake. You and me…

“Tied up, waiting to die.”

“Well, I said kinda.”

They sat on the floor, back to back, wrists and feet bound, a band of rope pulled tight around their waists.

It was supposed to be a routine haunting. Holly would clear the spirit, and Callum would back her up. Except there was no spirit. Just an elaborate ruse by a pair of amateur Satanists looking to sacrifice a psychic to their dark lord. That’s where Holly came in. Only the idiots forgot the ritual candles and ran into town to pick some up, leaving Holly and Callum alone. Holly would laugh if she wasn’t so damn angry.

“You shouldn’t have come, Callum. They wanted me. Now we’ll both die.”

“We’re not gunna die. We’ve been in worse fixes than this.”

His pinky finger caressed hers, causing a familiar tingle to zip up her spine.

He was right, they had been in worse fixes. Like the time they were trapped in the basement of a condemned house with a furious spirit who sent Callum soaring across the room, splitting his head against a wall. He still carried the scar from that wound. It ran through his left eyebrow. Holly found it sexy.

“Can you wiggle out of the ties?” Callum said, bringing Holly back to the present.

Holly tried to move. “No. But what if we drop to the side?”

They rocked back and forth, falling sideways onto the fluffy white rug that covered the cabin floor.

“What Satanist buys a white rug,” Callum said, as he puffed the long pile away from his mouth. “I mean, blood sacrifices and white do not go.”

“Focus, Callum. Move around a bit. It might loosen the knot.”

They flipped and flopped like two fish beached on the sand until Callum squirmed out of the rope with a “Ta-da!”

“Give me your hands,” he said.

Something wet and warm ran along Holly’s wrist. “Did you just lick me?”

“Maybe.”

“Callum. Focus!” She tried to ignore the goosebumps that erupted across her skin.

“Couldn’t help it,” he mumbled, as he tugged on her ties with his teeth.

The second Holly was loose, she crushed her lips to Callum’s, kissing him hard and deep. He didn’t object.

She forced herself to pull away. “Later,” she said, through heavy breaths. “We need to go.”

They clamoured off the floor and darted to the door.

“Hang on,” Callum said as he dashed back inside. He returned brandishing a bottle of red wine.

“Is that their sacrificial wine?”

“They ain’t gunna need it now. Besides, they owe us. We can grab a pizza on the way home!” He flashed a dazzling grin.

“You are unbelievable.”

“That’s why you love me.”

“That’s why you’re lucky I love you.”

“To the moon and back,” Callum said, and he leaned over and kissed her cheek.

Holly smiled. “And then back to the moon.”

© Amy Hutton 2020

The Cruel Sea

Should I tell Jackson what really happened? Should I confess to him my secret? 

The music from the ballroom wafted on the breeze as I breathed in the salty air, its sweet tang settling in the back of my throat. We stood alone on deck and took in the stars; the tiny pinpricks of light peaking through the swathe of darkness. It had been such a beautiful evening. Perfect. Dancing, laughing, singing, swaying in Jackson’s arms. It made the last time I was on a ship seem like a distant dream. A distant dream preceded by a nightmare.

~*~

Jackson knows nothing of the man I loved before him. The man who made my every day a living hell. Whose cruelty still marks my body and my soul. He knows nothing about what I endured. The humiliation. The brutality. Will he understand if I tell him everything? Will he understand if I tell him the truth about the night the man tumbled overboard and vanished into the inky ocean?

“Somebody, help me!” I remember screaming.

Eventually.

“No. Please. No,” I remember crying.

In public.

But behind closed doors, I secretly celebrated. The joy was almost painful, it was so acute. I didn’t feel sad about it. Not for minute. Not for a second. I mean, I wouldn’t have shoved him over the rail if I didn’t want him dead.

Sometimes I wonder how death claimed him. The man. Was he dragged into the frozen depths and sliced into tiny pieces by the ship’s giant propellers? Or did he scramble to the surface and bob in the great expanse of water until sharks despatched him in a bloodied frenzy?

These are the sweetest of musings.

Jackson never questions me about what happened that night. He never asks for details. He says with grief, he knows the score. He understands that sometimes, it’s easier to keep the pain hidden than it is to share it.

Dearest Jackson with his kind eyes and sweet smile. He saved me in so many ways. He brought brightness back into my bleak world.

~*~

I gaze up at him, the silvery glow of the moonlight illuminating his gentle face. For the first time I know love, and if I’m going to spend my life with this man, then he deserves the truth.

“Jackson,” I say. I notice the thump of my heart pounding against my chest. “There’s something I should tell you.”

Jackson smiles at me, “I know all I need to know.”

“But you don’t.” A quiver colours in my voice, as the beginnings of tears prick at the corners of my eyes. “I didn’t tell you everything…”

“About the man?” he says. “The one you killed?”

“What?” I breath out.

Jackson’s hands suddenly slam against my chest, and the force of his shove makes me stumble backwards.

“Jackson!” I cry, as I bash into the guardrail. The metal impacts across the middle of my back and I yelp in pain and shock.

He shoves me again, and this time my balance falters completely and I tumble over the side.

I somehow manage to grab one of the rails as I fall. But it’s cold and slippery from the spray of the sea and I struggle to hold on. My fingers ache with strain as my feet scramble wildly against the hull of the ship trying to find a hold.

“Help me! Please! What are you doing?”

“I’m doing to you what you did to my brother,” he says, coolly.

I hear myself gasp, and in that moment, I see his face switch from kind to cruel. They have the same sneer, Jackson and his brother. The same ugly, vile sneer.

“You don’t understand,” I say, as I plead for my life, hoping he has more compassion in his heart for me than I had for his brother. “I’m sorry, Jackson. I’m so sorry.”

“I’m not,” he says, and his foot comes down and stamps on my knuckles.

I watch his smirking face get smaller and smaller as I plummet. My arms flailing in front of me, grasping at the air. My screams lost on the wind.

The surface of the ocean is like concrete when I hit it, and the shock of the impact explodes the air from my lungs.

I disappear beneath the waves and the foamy wake of the ship.

 I’m kicking now, kicking and kicking. My hands reaching for the light as I struggle for air. I break the surface briefly and glimpse the stern ship as it disappears into the black night. I wave frantically, but a whirlpool of freezing water is sucking at my legs and dragging me down, and I know I can’t fight it.

Will Jackson raise the alarm, I think, as my lungs start to burn from craving breath. Will he feign panicked devastation while he secretly celebrates?

I know he will. That’s what I did.

I’m dying now, my mind is dimming; my heartbeat slowing. And as the darkness of the inky ocean pulls me into its depths and swallows me, I no longer need to wonder about the man’s death.

Because I’m living it, and in a moment, I will understand everything.

© Amy Hutton 2020