Unstuck by Hamish McIntyre

She was unstuck in time.

She wasn’t sure exactly how it happened. There was no secret military experiment, no toxic waste spill, and no magical McGuffin. One day she just felt a low rumble before being flung back three hours, as if she was the only person on Earth not wearing a seatbelt.

There was no rumble the second time around, but the damage was already done. The next day she woke up and got ready for class seven times before it finally stuck and she was able to continue her day as normal.

She kept quiet at first. If she started thinking about it too much, she’d have to accept that either it was real, or she was going mad. So she tried ignoring the problem, occasionally just gritting her teeth and repeating moments over and over without complaint. But gradually it wore her down.

*

A few days after it started, she was having lunch with her girlfriends, Mel and Hannah, when they finally noticed something was wrong. Mel looked up and saw her scrolling through her phone in boredom, silently mouthing along to what Hannah was saying. Mel put a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Mel asked.

She raised her head with a slight look of panic in her eyes and gave a strained smile. “I’ve already heard this shit fifteen times.”

Hannah’s face fell.

“Fuck, no that’s not what I meant,” she said quickly. “Look, can we talk about it at your place?”

The trio walked to Hannah’s apartment to discuss everything. It took a long time and several pots of tea, but after a while they believed her. They couldn’t work out the cause, but maybe it didn’t matter. Sometimes weird shit just happens to cute people, they reasoned before retiring to bed.

*

She was much more cheerful the next day. She didn’t have to face this alone anymore, Mel and Hannah were surprisingly understanding and patient. They barely even reacted when she refused to eat the pancakes Mel made because she’d already eaten them half-a-dozen times that morning. They knew it was uncontrollable, so why make her feel bad about it?

She tried not to let it get to her when she fell back through time, but it was hard. One day she interrupted a conversation by throwing her head back, closing her eyes and letting out an exaggerated groan of frustration.

“Sorry, are we boring you?” Mel crossed her arms and glared.

Hannah was a bit more observant.

“How many times?” Hannah asked quietly.

“Twenty-seven”, she mumbled.

Mel’s eyes widened. “Shit. I’m sorry.”

After a minute of silence, Hannah spoke up.

“You normally seem really calm about the whole thing. Doesn’t it just freak you out, repeating stuff all the time?”

She shook her head. “Reliving a moment over and over isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s the best!”

As if to emphasise her response, she pointed a finger-gun at each of her girlfriends, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. Mel smirked and threw her a wink, while Hannah went bright red and buried her face in her hands.

She looked at them both and smiled widely. If she had to choose, this would be a good moment to get stuck in. Maybe she could learn to control it. Maybe if she relaxed enough, she could just-

“Sorry, are we boring you?” Mel crossed her arms and glared.

Her eyes snapped open.

“Not this time.”

 

 

Originally published in CQ5: Poetry

Hamish McIntyre | he/him/his
Ham is especially interested in writing interactive fiction text adventures. He is not a real ham, but can be found on Twitter as @zombieham

Ginger by Katherine Back

Ginger always yowled.

He yowled when he was hungry, he yowled when he was tired, he yowled at nothing at all. Jem used to joke that he was yowling because he could see things that we couldn’t; that he was trying to warn us about the things lurking in the shadows.

Jem was an asshole like that.

Ginger always yowled, but he yowled his loudest the night of the first summer storm. The thunder rattled the window panes and the lightning lit up the house better than daylight; the wind tore at the walls and the trees and the garden, trying to find a way in. And Ginger screamed and howled and bawled, loud enough to be heard over the storm, loud enough to wake the dead. He yowled right up until the lights went out, right up to when the whole house fell into darkness.

He stopped yowling then.

The storm finally broke and a silence fell over the whole house. Despite the blackout, we all slept the sleep of the relieved.

When we woke the next day the power was still out and Ginger was still silent. We fed him his food and gave him his medication, but not a single sound left his body.

“Maybe he saw something in the storm that terrified him into silence,” Jem said.

But he wasn’t scared and he wasn’t afraid. He was calm in a way he’d never been before. He seemed … content. For the first time since he’d moved in he seemed happy to just be. Confused, but grateful, we all began to clean up after the storm. The wind had thrown leaves and branches all over the yard, and torn palings from the fence and hurled them around like they were balsa. One had burst through the wall of the shed, tearing a hole large enough for Alison to climb through.

“I bet it let the ghosts escape,” Jem said.

“Don’t even joke!” Alison replied, but tweeted about it anyway.

We decided not to tell them about the child’s footprint that had appeared on the floor.

Ginger didn’t yowl for a week, for two weeks, for an entire month. The landlord finally sent someone to patch up the fence and the shed. The tradies announced their arrival and, disappointed that it wasn’t Jem who greeted them, set about working almost immediately. They never announced their departure, but when Jem got home we went outside and inspected their work and found it was immaculate. The fence palings had all been replaced, and the shed wall looked like it had never even been damaged. We went back inside to find Laura had three missed calls from her mother. She called back, but the phone rang out each time. She sent her mother a text asking what was wrong. The reply she received just made her all the more confused: driving there. important. see you soon. 

Laura read it out and we looked at each other in confusion.

“What the heck could be so important? It’s nearly 10.”

In Alison’s room, Ginger began to yowl. Nothing we did calmed him; when Laura went to comfort him he lashed out at her, his claws drawing trails of blood along her arm. Eventually we managed to throw a blanket over him and bundle him into the laundry, but the yowling continued.

We waited in the lounge room and after what felt like an eternity we heard a car pull into the driveway. We gathered in the hallway, all of us in our pyjamas, exhausted and irritable. Laura’s mother knocked on the door and it was Laura that pulled it open, the rest of us gathered behind her like a guard. Her mother stood there, wind whipping around her, holding something in her hand.

“You’ll never guess who made it home today!” she said, hoisting the box aloft. “Someone must have gotten scared in that big storm a while back. He finally made it home though!”

From inside the box, a thin, ragged Ginger meowed softly at us.

In the laundry, the yowling stopped. We huddled together as we pushed open the door, but the room was empty.

Outside, we heard the shed door creak.

 

Originally published in CQ3: Horror.

Katherine Back | she/her
Katherine is a Melbourne-based writer and editor who loves trashy horror, trashy food and trashy people. For complaints about trams and pictures of dogs follow her on Twitter: @tideoftrash