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

In the Fervour of the Moon

Rayna’s basket bumped against her knee as she walked along the rocky path. “Granny and her damn goodies, she grumbled, glancing angrily at the hamper with its jaunty gingham cover. She spied a run in her tights where the rough cane had snagged a thread, creating a ladder up the side of her leg, disappearing under the petticoat ruffles that hung beneath her red velvet skirt. “Great,” she thought as she traipsed deeper into the forest.

The fallen leaves crunched beneath her feet as the trees became denser, the shadows darker, and the air cooler. When she gazed upwards, only a tiny patch of sky was visible beyond the branches high above.

A rustling noise sounded from the undergrowth and she stopped and peered into the gloom.

“Who’s there?” she said, a quiver in her voice.

A deep growl rumbled in return and an enormous grey wolf stepped onto the path in front of her.

She stood perfectly still, as the beast slunk towards her, its huge paws padding silently on the dirt, its brilliant amber eyes locked on her face. Her heart began to pound, thundering against her ribcage, and she furtively looked around to see if she was still alone.

“Please,” Rayna cried, as Granny’s basket trembled in her hand. “Please… Please… Please hurry up I have an appointment in town at three.”

The wolf rose up on its hind legs, its powerful form towering over her. A rush of heat surged through Rayna’s body and she watched excitedly as her unconventional lover transformed.

In just moments, he stood before her, naked and human, thick muscles rippling and glistening with sweat from the exertion of the change; a brilliant smile spread across his impossibly handsome face.

“My what big… everything you have,” she said, as she shrugged off her cape, dropped her basket to the ground and practically sprinted towards him.

He reached out a hulking arm, encircling her neck and drawing her in, holding her against his bare torso. Their lips crashed together, hungry and urgent, all wetness and teeth as they savoured each other’s taste.  Fireworks exploded behind Rayna’s eyes, like a shower of brilliant stars falling from the heavens, His long fingers artfully unlaced her bodice, his kiss never faltering, his mouth never leaving hers, and as she wiggled her dress from her shoulders and let it fall to her feet, they tumbled to the ground in a tangled mass of limbs and dizzy passion.

***

Rayna bit into the sandwich that she pulled from her picnic basket. “Michael, you really need to get over this twisted Little Red Riding hood kink of yours.”

His teeth were already starting to change; razor sharp canines poking over his still puffy from kissing lips. “Maybe next time I can blow your house down,” he said, with a grin.

“As long as there’s blowing involved babe, I’m all for it.”

Michael threw his head back and howled.

***

Rayna sighed as she watched Michael lope into the cover of the trees, the early afternoon breeze ruffling his soft, grey fur. She called after him. “Until the next waning moon,” and a shiver of anticipation ran down her spine when he turned and snarled, his amber eyes glowing with promise against the darkness of the forest.

 

© 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

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

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