by Michael Botur
Genre: Horror Short Stories
The award-winning author of acclaimed horror collection The Devil Took Her is back with ten fresh tales.
– – A South Island road trip turns murderous as a dangerous drifter smells a secret in her co-dependent partner.
Millionaire Kiwi conservationists learn too late how little Mother Earth cares for mankind.
— A Far North teen confronts the terrifying truth about why Mum separated from Dad years ago.
These stories address the challenges of life through the lens of horror: Struggling to bond with a savage stepchild, losing your son to a gang of ghostly boys, doing desperate things to get famous, battling bullies, surviving school, and getting good with God.
Bringing his award-winning narrative skill to the genre of horror, Botur delivers his most powerful stories yet.
A South Island road trip turns murderous as alcoholic drifter Tracey bullies her lover, the giant Adam, into killing for the ultimate drink – child blood – while Adam fights to keep a secret: his young son.
2. We Created a Country
Millionaire business owners Ross and Jennifer fall in love while trying to restore Northland to its pristine natural state through conservation and cleanups – but after borrowing billions to ban development from the Far North, the nature lovers learn what Mother Nature really thinks about mankind.
3.Weeks in the Woodshed
AJ was a young South Auckland teacher trying to provide for his wife and baby. Now, he’s had his privilege taken away, convicted of a crime while working at school – a crime he’s struggling to admit, a crime for which he’s been sentenced to complete Community Service in a remote countryside barn – and a crime which comes with unending punishment.
4. Butterfly Tongue
Lonely Kaitaia 14-year-old Venus asks her separated parents for the same simple birthday present every year. Venus just wants her hardened biker mum Marija to talk to her Dad again – and for Dad, a smooth-talking reporter, to be more sensitive with the women he romances.
As Venus counts down towards 18 and the end of school, she tries to intervene against her dad devouring dates – and finally confronts the terrifying truth about why Mum left Dad in the first place.
5. The Beast Released
Lonely Whangarei computer technician Christopher takes the challenging 11-year-old son of a woman he’s trying to impress on a hiking expedition through Northland forest to visit an old plane crash site and bond with the boy. Christopher finds that deep in the forest, however, one of them has a dark side eager to emerge, and the other is trapped.
Busy Northland high school teacher Āwhina tries to stop her son Nick sneaking out at night to join a gang of suicidal schoolboys who have discovered the ultimate thrill: killing oneself and frolicking as a ‘Lossboy.’ However, once the Lossboys take everything from her – including her son – Āwhina starts standing up against her untouchable tormentors.
Twentysomething Auckland singer-songwriter Anna Shrupali is desperate to make it in the performing arts world and escape the K Road rat race. But when husband-and-wife patrons offer to make Anna and her twin brother rich and famous, the deal takes Anna far outside her comfort zone and turns her into something monstrous.
13-year-old Christchurch vandals Richie and Sammy learn the limits of their friendship after they are influenced on weekend missions by the mysterious Jacob, who seems to never leave school. After Jacob takes a prank way too far, the boys part ways and Richard forgets what he did until years later Jacob reappears, reminding Richie if he doesn’t play, he’s going to pay.
9. Racing Hearts
We call it the Airing Cupboard: the chapel where I counsel former doctors suspended for breaking down on the job.
You see, I’m a screw-up just like them. I’m on probation from the hospital’s Review Board and I don’t know if I’ll ever be allowed to walk the wards as an anaesthesiologist again.
It’s because I raced too hard and I fell. Fell in love with a doctor as competitive as me. And we both fell in love with a deadly drug – until one of us fell in too deep.
10. Luke’s Lesson
Life is hard for Hamilton brothers Luke and Danny, whose father is a reformed addict trying to go straight. After Luke and Danny are inspired by a charismatic carnival pastor who gives them Bible comics warning of eternal damnation, Luke tries to improve his community’s favour with God by brutally cleansing the sins of everyone he can reach – beginning with his family.
Smiling apple postcard. Smiling apple-pickers.
‘If you dicks won’t let me party then FUCK THIS PLACE.’
The bony tornado biffed her wine bottle at the counsellor and knocked her folding chair over. Everyone in the hall went silent. ‘By the way, this party SUCKS.’
All that force packed into a tiny body in a skimpy singlet. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. A quarter of my size; completely in charge.
Her rage-out happened in the First Presbyterian, Main Street, Motueka, 30 minutes into one of the AA meetings Probation made us go to every week. We were sweaty and agitated, peeling and unpeeling our nametag-stickers, trying to not think about tangy beer and party ice. January, hottest month of the year, hottest end of the South Island. The sun was pressing on all sides and the room was punishing us for being desperate alcoholics. This chick was the only one with the guts to actually pull a bottle from her handbag– which is what’d got her told off by the counsellor.
‘WHO’S COMIN WITH ME FOR A ACTUAL PARTY?’ the angry little woman bellowed, kicking her way to the exit, pausing to sneer at the sticker on my chest reading Hi! My name is ___Big Adam___ and I’m an alcoholic.
She chucked her handbag on her shoulder, stormed out. Didn’t even get her attendance sheet signed. Leader of the resistance, for real.
She had one foot still inside the church hall when she spotted me, spoke at me, pretty much adopted my giant arse.
‘You’re coming, eh big boy. You don’t want these boring fucks slowing your shit down.’
I’m a fairly solid unit, six-six, 130 kilos, and I could’ve wrapped her in a bear hug, hauled her back in. Instead, I grabbed my keys and followed her out to the parking lot. Crazy little whitegirl was going to have a fast life. I wanted to protect her. Maybe have me an adventure too.
She fetched this black convertible from the parking lot, screeched to a stop one foot in front of me. I squeezed in, finding a place for my big python-arms, seatbelt battling to get across my belly. Wild Woman got me to hold the wheel while she gulped shots of Jim Beam from the bottle, me shaking my head, laughing ‘Jeeeez, man, if Probation finds out I skipped AA I’m in so much shit.’
‘So?’ she went, hooning through an orange light, ‘Stay ahead of the haters, Big Adam.’
We cruised past professional-looking wankers on the veranda of a swank restaurant, enjoying a single Golden Bay Chardonnay.
Up ahead, the Vicar of Liquor sign arose.
I’d never seen anyone use a trolley at a liquor store before, or seen anyone pack the car boot with 400 bucks worth of piss and drive back to Happy Apple Campground, rear axle sagging, slowing for speed bumps. I’d definitely never seen anybody hand out free bottles of Woodstock to a grateful mob like Santa.
But that was us. A year in hell with a woman whose nametag said Hi! My name is ____Tracey____ and I’m an alcoholic.
Shoulda slapped a second sticker on her.
And I’m about to soak your life in booze and blood.
Reason I was up Motueka-way was I was trying to give some space to Karla the ex and Wallace, my boy; well, I’d been ordered to give ‘em space, actually. Each day at the orchard that Jan I’d pluck around thirty apple trees, guide the fruit down, not chucking it too hard so the supe wouldn’t dock my pay. Get a sweat up during the day; come down feeling less fat, feeling appreciated when the bosses came round to collect our bins.
Tracey started staying at the campground too and we’d all cool down each night after work with a smoke and a box of Canadian Clubs and there would be Crazey Trazey, shitfaced, dancing on tables, mis-hearing people, starting fights, retarded laugh. Life of the party. If we filled a hundred two-tonne bins per week together, everybody got paid pretty decent money. Paid more than being a Southland signwriter at any rate, plus it was less stress-y, like I could stand up among the shining leaves, toke, sip liquor, eat decent apples, rock out to tunes.
I’s spending the season in Mot figurin out how to get my train back on the tracks cause my baby mama and her Nan had got a protection order meaning I wasn’t allowed down south in Invercargill else I’d get in trouble. It was supposedly about my car crash on Christmas Eve, rollin’ the Holden while I was liquored up, injuring Karla, endangering our son and shit. Truth be told, her family had wanted me gone before the crash anyway, cause of my drinkin. Dead, if possible. After the crash Uncle Wiremu had pulled me into the hospital café and poured out my flask into a trash can and told me either I had to leave town or he was gonna get the Road Knights to kneecap me. Didn’t matter that I’d paid for a decent house, three-ply toilet paper, a heated towel rail, automatic door opener so Karla could cram the garage with Wally’s basketballs and skipping ropes and whatnot. Uncle Wiremu emailed me a bus ticket from his phone and told me to go before sundown and that was us. House given to Karla. Me, sent away to the naughty north end of the island with no one to love me.
Cept Tracey, that was.
This Tracey chick was a leader in the campground cause of two things, I found out: Rage and riches. As in, Tracey pays for everyone’s piss to buy influence and anyone that wasn’t on the Tracey Train got a growling, didn’t matter how staunch – team leaders, Noise Control, Samoan chiefs, prickly Mobsters, stabby skinheads. She mentioned a couple times, when we were on a sandbar in the middle of the booze-ocean, that after she’d partied her way through Happy Apple, she had a plan to go on the epic-est South Island road trip in history and I should totally come with. If I helped her out, I’d get free piss, parties, pills and someone to occasionally hug. Seemed like a sweet deal. Maybe I’d even walk away with a bit of coin to buy Wallace some decent prezzies. Maybe Karla would respect me again and drop the protection order.
The Tracey Tap, campground people called her – cause alcohol flowed from her and peeps were itching for a drink between paydays. The Tracey Tap had an account at Vicar of Liquor – thanks to this allowance from some old father who people said they’d seen visiting her, gripping her over in the woods or something – and twice a week she’d fetch a trunkload of Cody’s and Cruisers, Steiny, Stella, Smirnoff, giving her enough power to be loose with anyone, grabbing smokes out of Samoan chiefs’ mouths, aggravating the Israelis, cussing out the campground manager, taking the Indians’ chicken from their barbecue.
She gave more than she took, which was why she narrowly avoided getting smashed over. Trace would use Daddy’s Dollars to put on these Happy Apple parties and every cunt would come, big fuck-off rental sound system, people moshing in the swamp, bonfire, pig-on-a-spit, DOOFDOOFDOOF, backpackers and Islanders shaking their dreadlocks. Tracey made those broke-arse summer nights slide by, did she what.
End of Feb we had the party to end all parties. Peeps were celebrating filling our 500th bin of the season and we’d started on the piss and pills and pipes just after lunch so by dinner time most people were fairly sozzled, and when it actually got dark people started coma’ing out. Round 11 or so Tracey was dancing on the roof of this Mustang belonging to these Mongrel Mobsters who we mostly hadn’t had a problem with, two old blokes and a nineteen-ish grandson, winner of some amateur MMA/kickboxing title who wore his thick gold belt round the campground to psych people out. They told Trace to get the fuck off their ride and Tracey laughed right into their Ray-Bans, You softcocks don’t have the balls to smack a woman, hopping down and disappearing while the gangsters muttered about revenge and loaded a sawnoff with a red bandana wrapped round it and Kickboxer Boy pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted a one-out, telling me as I walked away that I was a pussy for letting my missus represent.
Epic night, that, lotta wild behaviour, but the fire had winked out by 4am and everyone was sleeping.
Everyone cept Tracey and me, that was.
I was taking a piss under the full moon when I looked up and there she was, in the tree. Legs wrapped around a bough. Perched. Plotting.
She glided down while I frantically zipped up my cock. Gave me a look that said I Want You Inside Me.
‘Hurry up,’ she went, tugging me towards her tent.
After she bit my neck and I came, we pulled our undies on and Trace became all business. Stuck a spear-tipped finger under my chin. Kaleidoscope eyes. Swirling gold.
‘Come. Get mama something to eat.’
My nervous balls floated up into my throat as I followed Trace through the moonlit blue campground, prowling between caravans, arriving at the Mustang.
Fuck. Tent of the Mongrel Mobs. All three of them packed in there like possums, wearing their sunglasses as they snored.
We could hear a weed whacker revving in one granddad’s throat. The other one, mumbling. Kickboxer Boy hugged his gold belt like a teddy bear. Their boots stuck out the end of the tent.
Tracey hefted a thick block into my arms. I was too woozy to make it out. A car engine?
‘Crush the cunt.’ Tracey had given me a 36-pack of beer bottles, so heavy I swooned a little.
‘TRACE, WHAT THE FU- ’
‘OI. Crush his fuckin head or I’ll crush yours.’
The box had to weigh nearly 20 kilos. Pointy cardboard corners. Could pop a man’s eye out. I tried to peer through the tent-fabric at where the guys’ heads were. Saw the shape of a man’s face. One of the grandfathers. No helmet.
I gave Tracey a look that said I seriously don’t wanna do this.
She met me with golden swirling eyes. Lifted my arms for me.
Slammed the box on his watermelon-skull.
The tent jerked and shivered. Something oily oozed through the nylon, into the blue-black grass.
‘Move. I’ll show you how it’s done.’
Tracey hefted a cinderblock the Mongrels had used to hold down the lid of their ice chest. She dropped it on the head of a second man. Wet crunch, like a dropped tray of eggs.
Tracey moved around the front of the tent, next. Unzippedthe opening. Kneeled on the shoulders of the youngster, Mister Kickboxer. Strangled him in his sleep while he pawed her with useless seal flippers, puke oozing out his nostrils.
Tracey emerged from the tent, panting.
‘Take their shit, c’mon.’
‘Wanna end up like him, Adam?’
I tried to swallow. Felt Tracey sticking sharpness into my throat. The campground silent as ice.
I took their wallets and money-rolls. Tracey stole their weed, their booze, tobacco. She toed their shotgun with a smirk, tipping it over like it was a useless hunk of scrap. We didn’t talk. We’d both ripped off people before.
Stamps. Stamps tucked in wallets. That was what I really cared about. I pulled those wallets inside-out. Managed to score three postage stamps. Three postcards home to my son. I wasn’t allowed to ring or visit, but there was no law against sending postcards.
I moved metres away, calling her name, desperate to disappear. But Trace had one last thing to do.
Kickboxer Boy wasn’t fully dead, just spasming, quivering. She straddled his chest like she was riding him.
Tracey leaned in. I watched, arms full of loot. Tracey was giving him mouth-to-mouth, it looked like.
Then she tossed her head back, lips toward the moon.
Tracey’d grown a black beard – no, she’d puked tar all down her throat, no –
She’d slurped out of the crushed kid’s jaw. She was chewing, like it was thick. Syrupy.
‘Tastes good when they’re little.’
She wobbled upright, licking her lips, waiting to see if I’d scream.
Right hand, fingertips dripping. Left hand, holding the golden belt.
We loaded her convertible, spun it around.
Hooned out the gate. Vanished.
The Devil Took Her
by Michael Botur
Genre: Horror Short Stories
Melanie’s increasingly disturbing journal entries have to be delusional ravings—if they’re not, there’s something terrible out there, snatching runaways in the night and spiriting them off to somewhere unspeakable.
In his debut collection of horror stories, The Devil Took Her, short fiction writer Michael Botur, recognized in his native New Zealand as “one of the most original story writers of his generation,” offers twelve terrifying and bizarre tales that take us to the dark extremes of human imagination.
A woman trapped in a coal cellar discovers that in order to live, part of her needs to die. A teen prankster’s vicious joke against her tutor brings revenge served cold. Cutting class turns terrifying for two high school introverts. A powerful-yet-paranoid publisher turns a young man’s magazine internship into a nightmare. And more . . .
Praise for Michael Botur and The Devil Took Her
“Prolific, dope-as-tits writer Michael Botur is back, with a new collection. His writing in these twelve stories is pure, no-holds-barred revelry in the weird and genuinely scary. Each story is highly imaginative and, most importantly, fun to read.” —Jeremy Roberts, GingerNutsofHorror.com
“Michael Botur’s work grabs you by the throat and won’t let you go. His stories throb with what feel like real people, real conversations, real moments of pain and hope, misunderstanding and reconciliation, remorse and surprise.” —Maggie Trapp, New Zealand Listener
“Botur is a superb practitioner with the ability to bring to life these terrifying moments… It’s a little like a car crash, you don’t want to look – but you just can’t help yourself.” —Chris Reed, NZ Book Lovers
“Gritty, unsettling, and utterly intoxicating.”—Steffanie Holmes, USA Today bestselling and award-winning author
“Aside from the incredible inventiveness of its plot, Botur’s writing sings at times with fluency and vivacity. —Jenny Purchase, Kete NZ Books
“Botur is considered one of the most original story writers of his generation in New Zealand.” —Patricia Prime, Takahē 86
The Day I Skipped School by Michael Botur
Mr English’s gate opens smooth as a fridge door, closes cleanly. His yard is all paving stones and bird baths and sculptures of white cherubs. A fountain, a pond, lily pads, a pergola with roses, a hammock… .
Tsuru has a cute backpack of that puffy panda/cat beast Totoro. Just past the gate she kneels, opens it, pulls out a pack of smokes, a stolen-looking bottle of brandy, some men’s razor blades.
I spot a trio of comics in there. Bio-Meat. Ichi The Killer. Uzumaki, the one about the deadly spiral. Unless Tsuru’s gone and shoplifted in my bedroom, I think this crazy bitch has got the same taste as me.
“We fill, yes?”
“What, fill your backpack with Mr. English’s shit? Like, rip him off?”
Tsuru is nodding and about to blurt something when I spot Mr. English and stick a finger against her lips. Sssh. Time to roll the old rich fuck.
He’s waiting at the top of the stone stairs. Must’ve seen us out in the alley looking directionless. He’s stirring his coffee and finishing a conversation on his Bluetooth headset. Black lizard eyes under squares of uniformly-caramel skin like he’s had skin grafts or plastic surgery. The hair on top of his cooked pink head is squelched down with some kind of sticky wax, though it springs out of his chest in fuzzy curls.
Sure, I’m concerned about getting tongue-raped and manipulated, but we have to be off the street so Truancy Services doesn’t tackle us. Being in a rich guy’s house with shag carpet and a dark-wood spiral staircase with a library and a drinks cabinet is relatively okay, I guess.
He presses the device in his ear, says “Girls, top of the morning to ya,” as if it’s totally not unusual for teenagers to appear in his front yard. He waves us in, walking behind presumably so he can get an eyeful of our asses. He locks and bolts the ranchslider behind us. We sit on his hard leather couch while he puts Pop-Tarts in the toaster for us. He mixes us a drink each in a martini glass. I’m bunched up against Tsuru, sitting so close that the barcode-scars on our thighs press together. I glance sidelong at her, sitting upright and anxious. Tsuru’s lips are nervous, puckered pin-points. They need to be kissed, I think, weirdly.
Mr. English is away talking smack, roaming the parlour and kitchen, mentioning five or six times that we’re welcome to help ourselves to the champagne he’s put in the ice bucket on the coffee table.
The ice cubes in his glass clink as he paints with his hands.
“. . .Aaaand that’s when I realized the wisest thing to do is acquire tranche number three, considering the all-time nadir in volatility, you’d be an imbecile not to, know what I mean?” he says, settling into an armchair with his third drink, folding one knee over the other, adjusting his dressing gown over his fat thighs. “We all remember what happened to prices in oh-eight, obviously. But enough about my passion.” A smile leaks across his face. His eyes crease until they’re black lines. “Tell me, Ladies: tell me what gets you off.”
Tsuru’s eyebrows are so high up, I’m worried they’re going to burst out the top of her head. She’s been given a glass of stinky schnapps, but she doesn’t know where to put it. “I am liking . . . swimming in the ocean?” she goes. “When this is warm water, is warming?”
“My daughter, Annika, she was swimming at Summer Bay four years ago and she—” Bent over, he’s melting, warbling, warping, like water is falling through his body. Pinching his nose, bottom lips shiny with moisture . . . Jesus. The dude’s crying! And rolling forwards out of his chair, knees on the floor like he’s praying to Allah! What the fuck? I’ve only taken one bite of my Pop-Tart and already the day’s an abortion.
I was hoping to get propositioned, kind of, or robbed, but here me and Tsuru are, side-stepping African statuettes and Javanese idols to get to an old caveman hunched over in a half-somersault to rub his back and cheer him up. Tsuru is murmuring soothing things to the creep. We share a gaze, then our heads turn mutually to the wine rack.
Tsuru unzips her backpack. I begin filling it.
After a minute, the drunk, hairy, dressing-gowned wreck looks up from his puddle of tears on the carpet, startled, shocked, seizes Tsuru’s wrist as she tries to step over him and grab the champagne. “Take me to my room. Down those stairs. Please. You have to.”
He snatches both our forearms. We have no choice but to park our bags of loot and help him up. The guy is shorter than me and his pale-yellow throat bulges like a fat frog. He says, “The Burgundy,” turns and grabs a bottle of wine and a corkscrew and has a final glug of blood-dark stinky alcohol before we let him descend the few steps to his sunken bedroom.
Bronze wood panels. Thick carpet. Mirrors above the bed. Low ceiling, like we’re on a yacht.
The sheets we peel off his California superking waterbed are rich black silk. We urge him into the sloshing bed, and he hands his Burgundy and corkscrew to Tsuru. She studies the objects she’s been handed. She looks like she’s never used a corkscrew before. Its point is so sharp that it twists into a needle then disappears.
“Cheers for having us over, I guess.” I ask Tsuru a question with my eyes, like Why are we still here, this guy’s a drunken loser, what are you hoping for?
“Tsu. It’s first period. We’ve got to cruise. Right?”
Dumped on the bed, Mr. English is lying on his back, smiling, teeth sticking out over his lip like an alligator. He doesn’t look upset any more. His eyes gleam in their wet pink patches.
I shouldn’t be standing this close to his bed.
He snatches my wrist, crushing my white shirtsleeve.
“Nurse,” he says, yanking. “You have to look after me.”
I splat into his bed and the covers close on top of me, and even though he’s shorter, Mr. English is twice as heavy as me, squishing me as he rolls on top, licking and nibbling and sucking my throat, pushing my hands against the headboard.
In the mirror on the ceiling, I watch the sheets slide off his furry black back as his legs push my knee-high socks out to the sides, starfish-wide, his arms mirroring mine, keeping my hands pressed away from his eyes so I don’t claw him. I don’t scratch or scream or bite. My brain’s still half in the alleyway, stunned. Still thinking I can control what’s going to happen in my day.
Mr. English pulls his lips off me, leans back, shrugging out of his dressing gown, tugging at the elastic band of his boxer shorts, revealing a stripe of veiny blubber as he begins to yank his undies over one leg. There is a pen in his neck, suddenly, a silver pen I’ve never noticed, or it’s grown there just now, a pen or a torch or a crank, something with a black plastic handle, sticking to his froggy throat-sac with black paint, no, dark-purple blackcurrant juice that spasms, squirting across the room. Blood, dark as ink. Dripping down the cupboard doors thick and slow as barbecue sauce.
Mr. English falls backward off me and kicks, fingering whatever’s stuck in his neck. His crusty toes bash my chin and I bite my tongue. I roll out of bed, clutching my school uniform against me like armour, too breathless to scream. Tsuru reaches to pull the corkscrew out of the man’s neck. I slap her hand away, shove her towards the exit. We pause, turn, watch him struggle. Mr. English’s legs push away from wherever he thinks the corkscrew is. He kicks himself off the bed, lands heavily on the corkscrew side. He speckles the carpet with a dozen dark puddles as he tries to stand, one hand on the flap of his dressing gown, modest. He gropes his neck but can’t grasp the slippery corkscrew handle between his stained fingers. The corkscrew is deep, almost inside him. Buried.
“Ambulis,” he croaks. Bending, folding, sitting on his butt in a pool of oil spreading so thickly there are little ripples and rapids in the blood. His eyes attempt to meet ours, but they’re flicking in two separate directions.
“You fill bag.”
While I’ve been frozen, Tsuru has gone up to the kitchen, brought down wine carriers and canvas shopping bags, as well as her fluffy Totoro backpack.
She dumps the sacks at my feet.
“HEY. Filling bag, NOW.”
Mr. English gurgles, tries to crawl towards us through the red sticky swamp, hairy bum in the air as if he’s pretending to be a worm.
“Ev-e-rything,” she orders me.
“Is he—is he dead? He—he—he—can’t be— ”
“EV-E-RYTHING. SOO-SIN. BAG.”
I scurry up to the kitchen. We open another liquor cabinet. I stuff two sacks with Bacardi, Jim Beam, VSOP, Courvoisier. I toss in a silver cheese knife, a mortar and pestle, steak knives, a candlestick, postage stamps, a restaurant voucher, a meat thermometer, think think think, girl, what’s gonna make you rich? What do you need, what will you regret not taking? Thinking, grabbing, shit, um, this china plate, yeah, fuck, dropped it, pour out the parking coins from the fruit bowl, yeah, a metronome, okay, weird, car keys, a crystal ashtray, a letter opener, a butter dish, fuck—
I’m so busy stacking bags of loot by the ranch slider, preparing to escape into the alleyway, that I realize I haven’t seen my friend in minutes.
I freeze. Cold shiver. Fuck was that noise? A hand cracking walnuts? No. Somebody ripping a fish in half? No. Water balloons smacking on concrete? Wet, tearing, dripping, juicy. Splatty-crunch.
I tiptoe down the three carpeted stairs to Mr. English’s sunken bedroom. I peer around the corner. I see a pelican, yellow beak thick as half a kayak, too large for the room, hunched under the ceiling, pulling off chunks of red-stained robe and gulping them down. An enormous seabird, giraffe-sized, crammed in a tiny space, bumping its head, beak like two surfboards, eyes black frisbees. Its wings are white curtains stained grey, bunched, quivering. Its rear end spans meters, reaches into the en suite bathroom. Tail feathers big as paddles.
The giant bird twists its head to pull a chunk of flesh inside it. It has Mr. English’s arm in its beak. A webbed grey foot like a rubbery stingray is clawing, holding Mr. English’s body while it pulls him apart, beginning with his left arm. His free hand is trying to hold on to a bedsheet. He’s looking at me with drowning eyes. The pelican-thing makes the choking, sucking sound of a blocked vacuum cleaner then gulps the arm into its mouth, sucking up the black silk sheet like a napkin, and Mr. English’s head disappears. His shoulder blades are folded and squashed as he trickles headfirst down its sticky throat. After his shoulders, it swallows his back and belly, his hairy butt, his butter thighs. I watch the shape of his body stretch the gullet of the bird.
Lastly, the cord of his dressing gown whispers, flaps, as if asking us to fetch help, then the slippers fall from his toes as he disappears.
The bird chokes, pulls, swallows, and when it has finished swallowing, it turns to me. Its eyes are my equal. It knows who I am.
Big Bird. Big Bird from Sesame Street. Big Bird with black eyes. Big Bird with a mouth of stiff plastic. That’s what its beak looks like as it talks.
“Now you’ve seen.”
The giant bird’s cheeks flex. As it swallows, its eyes blink, huge and slow. Eyelids of skin from elsewhere. From a dimension of sea-bottom beasts asleep in the deep.
My scream tears the air in two.
The bird stomps, revolves, grunts. Its head smacks the lampshade. How—-how—how did it even get in? Pelican, yes? No? Heron. Stork. Swamp-bird. Eater of snakes and tadpoles and—sad—sadlonelydesperatedeserve—
“Susan. Promise you’ll keep me secret.”
I back up the stairs, leave my bag of kitchen loot. I rattle the ranch slider ’til I’m screaming and throttling and praying and the ranch slider handle breaks and I sprint down Mr. English’s garden stairs, slipping on expensive white stones, gasping as I bump over a gnome and it shatters and I leave my heart throbbing behind me.
Tsuru appears from somewhere, dropping a computer monitor in the goldfish pond, her fingers tense like claws as she catches up and grasps my shoulder, sacks of loot rattling at her side.
My school bag, heavy with rattling metal and stone.
We sprint to my house, shower together, put our clothes in the washing machine, set the cycle for 8 hours and hide under my bed. We cry and bite our knuckles, weep into my mum’s belly, watch my dad thump the wall and turn away, wait for detectives who never come, watch the news for reports of Mr. English missing, read his obituary in my dad’s Property Investors Federation newsletter, slowly return to school. I have a skeleton of steel, now. A hardness in me.
I sit beside Tsuru every class and let her lean on my shoulder and whisper and when Ms. Bowker tells us to get a room, I tell her to go fuck herself, challenge her to a one-out. The same week, I push Connie into a pile of desks, hold a sharp pencil against Francine’s eye, crush Hannah’s scalp in front of 50 girls in the hall and scream in her terrified face, “I ain’t afraid of nothing no more, specially not you, you bully-bitch-cunt-FUCK,” laugh and pash, sip vodka from our drink bottles in the toilets, accept a bundle of correspondence school papers, battle my exams lying on my bedroom floor sipping alcohol and popping Prozac and bleaching my hair and listening to Baroque music and studying, sending secret forbidden texts to my BFF, and I realize, opening my university results one morning two years later, wondering how the fuck I got an A+ for accounting in the first place when I resent keeping records and remembering things, I realize I’ve drifted down a river of time far from where I used to be, and my counselor has taught me how to ground myself, how to stop letting people rock me off my perch, and I realize it’s safe now; no more cognitive distortions, no more hallucinations, no more waking up at 4am whimpering. There is no monster chasing me, and there probably never was.
I can stop running.
Michael Botur, born 1984, is a writer originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, who now lives in Whangarei with his wife and two kids.
My beauty my books
The Scratching Post
Twisted Book Ramblings
Bedazzled By Books
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