Hentan House Novella

‘Get the scent. Whiff it. Catch it. Kill it. Hunt hunt hunt.’

They say when something sounds too good to be true – it usually is – but not here at Hentan House.

Weeks out before her sister is set to give birth, Aspen receives an invitation to visit their distant family at an idyllic spa retreat called Hentan House. But as the family traditions become more extreme, it quickly plunges Aspen into a violent and bizarre cult where the thrill of the hunt runs thicker than blood.

After some much needed rework and editing, I finally finished Hentan House. I had alot of fun with this story and pushing it towards an ultra bloody – heads will roll – ending. You can find Hentan House on Kindle or through Amazon.

The boat rocked gently over the green waters while I tried my best to relax. To just take a moment and breathe. Rick had handed me a beer from the cooler and the fishing lines we used countless times as an excuse to get away sat valiantly on the back. The amount of hours I had gotten away from the grind, the countless dietary meals Jane pushed onto all of us, the meaningless small-talk cluster headaches, was priceless. Just breeze, sunshine, and water. And maybe a few beers.
‘Daddy look. Daddy!’ Claudette screamed from her seat as she dangled over the water. Rick’s daughter Meg had hold of her ankles and was trying with all her might to stop Claudette from falling out.
‘Get back on-board sailors.’ I commanded from my seat. For a second, I imagined how I would react if she actually went overboard and my inner version simply took a sip of warm beer before getting up to drag her out. I knew Claudette could swim but was I that checked out for the day that a beer took priority over my own daughter. ‘Don’t make me come over there now.’
With a final tug Meg managed to yank Claudette back and the both of them gave bright milk bottle smiles.
‘I got it.’ Claudette said triumphantly as both girls looked down at the camera they had been playing with.
‘What have you got? Good picture of buried treasure?’
‘Maybe she found that fifty you owe me from the horses.’ Rick chimed in and ducked as I threw a bottle cap in his direction.
‘No, it’s the fish. Tonnes of them. It can help you catch them.’ Claudette said.
‘Aw sadly your dad can’t catch shit.’ Rick laughed and the two girls smirked at the sound of a rude word.
‘I’m telling mom.’ Meg chirped and pulled out her hand. ‘Unless…’ She didn’t have to wait long as Rick pulled out the cooler and placed two ice lollies into the girls’ hands.
‘She’s got you clocked Rick.’ I laughed.
‘Marnie’s got a swear jar in the house. These little trips end the moment the kids start repeating what I say.’ I felt something tug on shirt and saw Claudette looking very shy. I knew what that look meant.
‘You gotta go?’ I asked and she nodded. ‘Well then, we gotta go back.’
‘Wait we just got out here! How about we stop off on that island over there.’ Rick said and pointed over to the small lump of green across from us. The island was so dense with trees the place reminded me of the moss-covered rocks I would turn over as a kid. Nothing good was ever under those rocks. Nothing but cold mud and the wriggling, twitching, clump of bugs.
‘You ever heard of Lyme disease?’ I asked Rick.
‘Hold it – I’ve been there once and there’s a small clearing to stretch your legs. It’s five minutes and we are back on the water instead of lugging back to town. You want to go through all those people and the queues? Can you wait that long Claudette?’
‘Dad!’ Claudette was already twisting her legs so I knew I didn’t have long.
‘Let’s go to the island. Full speed Rick.’
‘Aye Aye captain!’ He replied and chugged the dregs of his beer before throwing back into the cooler. As the girls sat down, I could see Claudette pull out her Polaroid camera and try to get a good angle of the approaching island. The green scab grew larger and pathways became more noticeable. I waved across to Rick and pointed to a good place to set the boat. We circled it once more before Rick pulled in close and slowed down. I could see Claudette squeezing her legs together as she tried to hold it in.
I hopped out from the side and felt the water rise up to my ankles.
‘Let’s go girls I got you.’ I raised my arms as Claudette grabbed me first and I lowered her down before doing the same to Meg. The two squealed at the water and rushed to the land.
‘I’ll take a leak when you all get back. Someone has to look after the boat.’ Rick said before I had even thought of saying something.
I gave him the A-okay and made my way onto the land.
‘What is that?’ Meg said and Claudette shook her head. ‘It’s so annoying.’
‘What’s wrong?’
‘The noise.’
I couldn’t hear anything other than the lapping of the lake on the rocks and the kids Crocs scuffing up against the long grass.
‘It’s like a song.’ And the two hummed the repeating tune to themselves. I looked back to Rick who was already giving me that “kids say the darnedest things” face.
‘Crack me another beer open for when I get back.’ I called to Rick who replied with a grunt as I followed Claudette and Meg and watched their footing. We had got through the first clearing when I asked. ‘How about here?’
‘No! We need our privacy.’ Claudette said in a way I knew she was replicating something her mum had said.
‘This whole island is your private bathroom right now your majesties.’ I jested and they laughed. ‘How about you go over there behind those other bushes. Shout if you need me, okay?’
‘U-huh, Meg follow me.’ Claudette took Megs hand and they stepped off behind a few trees. I stepped back in the direction of the boat, found a nice spot against a bush, and took a long-needed leak. That mind-bending relief of taking a piss after such a long time was probably how meditation felt. When you are so lost in yourself that everything bleeds away and you’re left there for a moment as a blank slate. “Empty the bladder and the soul will speak” would be an awful mantra. Buttoning up my jeans I stepped across over a pile of leaves and felt my feet crunch through a brittle object. Shaking my foot loose the leaves parted and I saw the dried-out corpse of a bird. I lifted up my leg and it stayed stuck to the middle of my trainer. Somehow, it’s chest still clung to the ridge of the trainer. Eventually I managed to scrape it off against a tree closest to me.
‘Dad what are you doing?’ Claudette asked.
‘Nothing honey, I just stepped in something. You doing okay?’ The black birds head twisted off as I dragged it down against an upturned root like rotted wood.
‘We found something.’ Meg said and Claudette tried to hush her.
‘Oh yeah? What did you find? Treasure?’
‘Fairies!’ Meg chuckled and Claudette smiled. I frowned for a second and remembered how old they were.
‘I thought they had all flown away a long time ago.’
‘Not at all – they were here singing by the hole.’
‘What hole? You didn’t get too close to it right? Right Claudette?’ Claudette looked down and I knew she had done something bad.
‘I didn’t get close to the hole. I got close – just close enough to take a photo.’
‘On the boat you two. Now.’ I yelled out in my dad voice. The girls did as they were told and headed towards the boat but I noticed Claudette put the black slip of the Polaroid photo into her pocket.

We had returned home with the local catch I had bought quickly from the market. I didn’t want to argue about the waste of money it cost as Rick as it was better to lie than eat a bowl of grains without any meat. Jane had welcomed us back and questioned Claudette on her day. Claudette obliged and thankfully never mentioned the quick stop to buy our catch. She was caught up in telling her mum some story of fairies on the island. Jane had smiled and played along but once dinner was plated Claudette quickly lost all energy. She didn’t waste any time putting on her pyjamas and leaving all her photos strewn across the living room floor.
‘Can you clean up after Claudette?’ Jane called down from the stairs as she settles Claudette in for bed.
‘Sure thing.’ I yelled back as the newly opened beer bubbled up and over onto my hand. Setting it down on the coffee table I got down on my knees and began picking up the photos. As the sports new ended and a documentary on insects played on, I compiled the Polaroids and flicked through them. Claudette had taken some nice shots of the water and Meg holding up worms for the fish. A few photos were washed out from her exposing the photo too early. I placed the shot of me and Rick sat sipping our beers on my leg with the other nice shot of Claudette wearing my baseball cap. A few more were hard to decipher. It was overly dark but there were little streaks of white across a stone wall. The last photo caught my attention. It was the photo of a cave entrance but centered almost in the middle was the shape of a person. Caught hovering off the ground it had the shape of a human but much smaller. Its tiny body illuminated and thin, almost skeletal, with two blurs smears coming from its back. I stared at the image hard trying to decipher whether it was a toy or trick of the light. Its head was blurred due to moving but I could see the shape and features were the same as a Barbie or Ken with its hair pulled out. I placed my beer down and went upstairs to quickly check in on Claudette. I could hear Jane still talking to her so knew it wouldn’t be too crazy to ask her what the photo was of. I leant against the door frame waiting for a second or so to break their conversation. Claudette had been tucked in tight but her little head peeked out from the overly large teddy bear textured pillow. Jane was putting up a good fight to keep the story engaging as Claudette and her had both began to get tired. I could see the pages Jane had folded in the corner. It was our way of knowing we had skipped a scene or two that was either too boring or might be questionable. Claudette was a fan of fantasy books and so we had begun to read the classics. We quickly learned that even the tamest books we remember often had a monstrous scene; the pit of spiders cocooning the travellers, the horse drowning in quicksand, and the witches peeling their skin off. These were all day-time readings where Claudette wouldn’t be left in the darkness to have her mind play tricks. The skeletal thin body hovering in the photo must have been a trick.
‘You alright there? Come to say goodnight?’ Jane asked as the two of them stared at me.
‘I wanted to know if little lady enjoyed her time on the boat? You took some nice photos.’
‘The island of fairies was the best part.’
‘Did you take a photo of the fairies?’
‘Yes! Just one though I think. Meg wanted to go further into the cave but I said no.’ Claudette said as Jane gave me a stern look.
‘Oh, they live in the cave then?’
‘We could hear them flying and singing.
‘And did they sing a lovely song?’ Jane asked smiling as if me and Claudette were trying to play a trick on her.
‘No. They didn’t use words. More like a humming.’
‘Would you want to see them again if Daddy goes on another fishing trip?’
‘Of course!’
‘Maybe we can go again next weekend. I’ll speak to Rick.’ I said and Claudette smiled at the possibility of getting to be on the lake and eating ice-cream again.
I made my way down to the kitchen and grabbed my phone from its charger. As I scrolled through my contacts, I noticed a speck of black on my forearm. The black noodle body of a mosquito sat there calmly with its needle in my skin. Rick answered his phone.
‘How’s it going?’
‘Hey mate, you busy?’
‘Watching the game. Everything alright?’ He asked obviously unsure to why I would ring so late. The mosquito’s legs stretched out further as it got its belly full.
‘Claudette found something at the lake. I need you to take a look.’
‘Something bad?’
‘No – just strange.’
‘Huh…Come round and I’ll take us into my den.’
‘See you in fifteen.’
‘Sure, see ya.’
I hung up and slapped the back of my phone against my arm but it was no luck. The thing had had its meal and flew away to eat another day.

Rick didn’t know what to think of the photograph. He flicked the corner of it over his knuckles back and forth in thought.
‘And she saw this at that little island we landed on to take a piss?’ He spoke.
‘Yeah, I saw the opening myself but thought nothing of it.’
‘Trick of the light? Never seen something like this before. What does the internet say?’
‘You think searching fairies would show up anything like this?’
‘I don’t know – and the girls – they couldn’t have faked this? Threw a doll in the air or something.’
‘Is there someone we can ask about this? Can you imagine if it was real?’
‘Tricky part is if it’s real we need better footage if we want to make some money. Those shitty good morning television shows will pay top dollar for that. Then perhaps you can pay me back that two grand for when you wrecked your car.’
‘Yeah, you know it.’ I looked away from Rick and diverted my eyes to the wide screen television playing a highlight reel of the past weeks football matches. ‘Nice surround sound piece you got installed. New?’ I tried to change the conversation for a moment. I had already paid Rick five hundred from the last two pay checks so it wasn’t like I had left him out to dry.
‘And no-one else knows about this? You haven’t popped this image on a forum or anything?’
‘No, you think we should?’
‘And have some piss-ant tell us it’s not real before we have even looked? It’s best to stay quiet. You leave this with me and we’ll take the girls on Saturday back to that island. And if it’s real -’
‘If it’s real…’
‘We will be sitting on a nice discovery.’ His words didn’t give me much hope but I imagining having some money to fall back on or place in Claudette’s savings would be worth it. Worst case scenario we find an emaciated hairless raccoon but I was sure Rick would still try to capture and sell it off.

Jane had rung me to ask why I hadn’t gone with Rick and his daughter back on the boat. His wife had mentioned it while they were out shopping. The bastard had left two days earlier than planned. I grabbed my car keys, strapped Claudette in, and drove off to the lake. His smug face span through my mind. It wasn’t the first time he had gone and his word and cheated me out. I thought a few years and a child would have matured him but he was still the same selfish prick and I was a sap for believing him.
Rick’s boat had already left. Only the slopping water hitting the neighbouring boats filled the space now. The afternoon heat was already upon us and I realised in the rush I had not even applied sunblock or bug repellent to Claudette. She was still dressed in her dungaree shorts and striped yellow top. I had even made the incorrect choice of letting her choose her own shoes which were her chunky unicorn wellies.
‘Let’s go Claudette.’ I said trying to take her attention away from the kids playing in the water.
‘Where are we going?’
‘Dad is going to hire a boat out really quick. We are going to go look at those fairies again. That’ll be nice right?’
‘Yeah.’ She said and grabbed my hand as we walked to the boat hires spot. The teenage boy working was quick to find me the cheapest boat and set it up. We left within five minutes and sped off round the bend towards the island. The string of little islands were more tufts of forestry left to grow wild and abandoned. Passing a few I now noticed the small private area signs. I could see Ricks boat hauled up on the opposite side of the island we had first approached it on. The boat was empty and bobbed to the rhythm of the water. Meg’s backpack was sprawled on the side and her crayons rolled across the lid of the water cooler.
‘Come on, there we go.’ I raised Claudette out the boat and picked up her little backpack. ‘Now do you remember the way to the cave?’ I asked.
‘You know it. Come and follow me.’ She slid the backpack on and stomped ahead through the foliage. I followed behind unsure whether to send her back to the boat while I had words with Rick. He had the gall to hype this scenario up as a good thing for both his family and mine, then tries to snatch it away immediately. Claudette lingered for a moment or so trying to get her bearings. I watched on as she eventually made the correct choice and patted her on the shoulder. I had to show her you can’t let people walk all over you. She was going to be the most headstrong and not let anyone tell her she wasn’t good enough.
The caves entrance was smaller than I remembered. It was barely large enough for me to walk in without lowering my head. The chalky stone walls were the same as what was in Claudette’s photo.
‘My ears hurt a little. Their singing very loudly.’ Claudette complained.
‘Are you feeling okay? Want to wait back at the boat while I go find Rick and Meg?’ There was a low rustling of the wind passing through the trees but nothing loud. Claudette pressed a finger to her ear and wriggled it around.
‘I want to come with you. But the fairies sound angry.’ She said and shuffled closer to my side. I could see further into the cave that it started to slope down.
‘Okay but if I ask you to go back on the boat you do it yeah?’ I watched as Claudette nodded and gripped a corner of my shirt. I shuffled forward with Claudette almost hooked to my waist. My half-bent legs throbbed as lactic acid already began to swirl around the joints. The cave was deceptive. Although the light from outside was beginning to dim, it was the smooth angle down-wards which picked the hairs on my neck. The ground had not been touched in such a long time I could easily make out the footprints of Rick and Meg. But there were also heavier marks in the fine soil from a long time ago where something heavy had been dragged or rolled in. The light from my phone beamed across the rocks but the path had dropped. I could hear it now. The low drumming of fluttering wings and shrill melody. Ahead of us the cave dropped into a small pit. I motioned Claudette to hug the wall as I edged closer. On the lip of the drop down my light reflected the sheen of a metal ladder. My body drew closer to the ground as I felt my fear of heights scratching my insides. Kneeling down against it I scanned the light down towards the darkness. Through the ether they reflected. Their small bodies just picking up as they flew around the pit. They were real and all I could do was stifle a laugh. They were maybe the size of my open hand but quick. Their translucent wings shimmered in their hundreds. Further down, below them, another light strobed in the pit. It seemed to be recording what was going on at the furthest corner. I crawled back to Claudette. She had her hands fully pressed on her ears. I placed my hands over hers to comfort the painful sound she could only hear.
‘I have to go down there and speak to Rick. I want you to go back to the boat now. You can do that right?’
‘What…what about Meg?’
‘I’ll tell her to come find you. Just wait for me on the boat, okay?’ She read my lips and stepped back towards the way we came in. She turned quickly to check on me. I gave her a thumbs up and smiled. She gave a thumbs up and made her way back up with my phone in her hand to light the way. I turned back and stepped down the ladder. As I descended down the fairies circled and flew like bats around the room almost circling it. I kept myself quiet, unsure how they would react if I shouted across to Rick who was most probably recording them. I noticed a wire across the wall. It had been fastened in place and seemed to lead to a small black box on a wall. I noticed another at my feet. The wire held tight as I tried to pick it up. The black box was smooth around the back and sides but it’s front was covered in a black soft mesh. It vibrated ever so softly on my fingers. With Rick’s camera light I could make out three more of the small boxes placed around the floor. Their wires all leading to the corner Rick was recording from. Darkness hid the rest from me. The fairies swirled closer, as if responding to my breathing. They darted forward over my head then flew back to behind the camera light. Shimmering white bodies and strange eyes. Their legs and arms dangling down as they flew.
I moved across the camera light and saw Ricks camera had been placed on top of a white box. It looked to be the source of what the black boxes were connected to. Several buttons had red lights over them. Two dials had been switched to their max.
‘Rick…’ I whispered out. ‘You hidden out of shot?’ There was no reply. I stepped over the box and saw a wire torn out from a little alcove. That was where they were hiding. I spotted Megs pink water bottle on the ground. Climbing over the rocks I heard a reeling of laughter. The fairies laughter lingered in my ears. A high-pitched warble like someone had clutched the strings of a violin and yanked it back and forth. I couldn’t see anything but shadows. I moved back and grabbed the camera. I turned back to the small alcove and everything lit up.
Clusters of the fairies bodies shone back at me. Prancing across the skin and cloth they festered like screaming roaches over trash. Swirling atop the bodies, sticking them, splitting out their legs and arms and pricking down into any open skin. Pricking and pricking a million times until every part of Rick was a patchwork of red. A few of them still lingered across where Rick had tried to block them from Meg. The vaguely human faces nothing but a guise, now split in half revealed their glass like needle mouth and feathered antennas. Their limbs spread apart when feeding to reveal six legs. Anchored into skin to feed more cleanly. They writhed atop the bodies in such a frenzy they did not notice me. Without any thought I tried to step back forgetting I was uneasily positioned on the rocks. My back foot slipped out from me and I fell back towards the white box. I felt the ground come up hard and knock the wind out of me. Then I noticed I had pulled out two of the black wires. The white box rang out in a deafening whistle. One of the creatures landed down on my arm. Splitting its legs apart and spread its body flat against me. The shell casing face unfolded and its needle mouth stuck me. Rooting through my skin it pulled out and plunged again. I smashed down on the fairies head but it held firm. I clutched its head and felt the shell and insides pop with a smearing of my blood. The legs still held firm even in death. I ran back to the ladder as their beating wings swooped across my head. I climbed up the ladder but their little legs and hands were already pressing on my bed. They stabbed through the shirt into my back. I could do nothing but push on up the ladder. My back burned like it was on fire. I could feel my own blood trickling down my lower back as they crawled around.
Finally, up from the pit and I ran towards the wall and smashed my back against it. I couldn’t wait. I ran up through the caves tunnel back to the entrance. My back numb and legs almost folding under me. Only the light of the outside spurring me on. I had to get back and get Claudette off the island. Get the army or whatever in to destroy every last thing living here. The cave opened up and I fell to my knees. I clawed at my back. Wrenching handfuls and parts of them off me.
‘Daddy!’ Claudette’s screams pushed me back onto my knees to face her. She was being held by a man in military gear. Another stood in-front of me. The open flame of the flamethrower settled two feet in front of me. They knew all along. The soldier stepped forward before I could yell to Claudette to look away.

It was the last weekend before Christmas and this was Gary’s night. Royally pickled from a swivel of beer and shots, he threatened to rip the Jägermeister soaked sleeves from his Christmas jumper clean off. The lads cheered him on in the donor kebab shop. Chanting his name as the cooks gave uneasy glances. All eyes were on Gary and he was loving it. There was no better place to end the night than tucking into a cheeky kebab and finding someone or something to smash. The peach styrofoam box slid his way as a cook shouted number twenty-one amongst the heaving mass of bubbling red-eyed geezers calling them twat or mate. Gary flapped open the lid and began shoveling handful of chips into his mouth.
‘Sauce mate. Sauce.’ Gary waved his hands out barely glancing to see if there was even a cook infront of him. ‘Fuckin’ sauce now mate.’ He ripped the soft bread apart and took a bite. He could taste nothing at this point. Snapping at the donor again he felt the slivers of onion smear out a bitter taste across his mouth. ‘Aww man what the fuck? Oi mate what is this? Mate… Oi twat – yeah what is this?’
‘Number twenty one.’ The man said as he looked at the permanent marker scribbled on the lid.
‘No salad, no this is all wrong. I want another now.’ Gary spat back.
‘Give me receipt.’ The cook said and Gary rummaged through his jean pockets. He pulled out a few receipts from the night of ordering shots and slammed them on the counter. The cook peered down.
‘Your thirty eight. Not twenty one.’ He then called across to the back counter in another language. Gary could feel his body hunching forward in an effort to decipher what they were saying. He couldn’t understand a word but it pissed him off.
‘Speak English and fix my meal. Why do we keep you here if you can’t do a simple thing.’
‘Get out now.’ The cook slammed the desk to the chant of “OI OI!”.
‘Make me.’ Gary could see the three men who worked there wading through the back to get him. He reached for the bottle of sauces and chucked them across the room. The shop erupted in laughs but he knew no-one was going to back him up. Mick and Harry had dissolved into the crowd of blank red faces that would happily kick his teeth in given the chance. Gary backed towards the door and in a final act of spite reached across the counter and grabbed another order. He backed out through the door and raced across the bus station. Shadows of others slid across the backdrop like foxes. Finally turning down another street he stopped to rest outside a John Lewis. Down in his lap he noticed the polystyrene box had been crushed by his grip. He peeled open his reward to find a torn apart veggie burger pooled in ketchup and mayonnaise. Just the sight of it threatened to have him puke his guts up. It wasn’t that the burger was in poor quality, he had eaten much worse happily, it was that the bean burger was a waste of a few hundred calories. To not fill yourself on meat was blasphemous to him.
‘Excuse me – I lost my train ticket home and I was wondering if you had a fiver?’ The man asked already beginning to nevrously mumble the last part. Gary eyed up the stranger and his shrinking words. There was an aura to a homeless man and Gary could see the lick of dirt that was inescapable when living on the streets. There was always an excuse to ask for change whether it was for the last bus or some pennies to get into the hospice. Gary never gave them change but he preferred it if they at-least told him the truth. Snow had began to fall and settle on the club fliers and illuminated Christmas decorations.
‘Nah mate,’ Gary replied and watched the man awkwardly work up the courage to speak again.
‘Ah right…do you atleast have any change?’
‘Mate, if I say nah don’t ask me for anything else. You see this?’ He opened the lid to the veggie burger. ‘I’m not even hungry and I wouldn’t share a crumb with you. You can have it though- if you pick it up from the floor.’ Gary chucked it across the street and watched as it smashed against the large glass doors of a Gap store. ‘It’s not worth the calories mate trust me.’
Gary laughed as he walked off from the man who was left standing by the benches unsure what to do with himself. The snow fell harder across the city causing the streets to become quieter. Gary dipped into an alleyway to take a shortcut to the taxis lined up near his bus route. He fumbled with his phone and felt his body slip on a wedge of day old lettuce. He slipped forward and hit a dumpster which caused his phone to skate across the ground. He lurched forward and followed the lit up screen until it slid behind the metal bars of a fence. Gary knelt down onto the gritted floor and reached through. He pushed harder and pressed his shoulder almost through the narrow lined fence. Through gritted teeth he scraped a corner of the phone with his finger tips. A bell jingled across from the non-lit alley. Gary ignored it and swore as he continued to scrape his nails across the phones frame.
The bell jingled once more.
Gary looked up across the ground and saw the boot of a large man press down on the back of his hand. Pinned to the floor Gary tried to pull but felt the tip of the other mans boot scrape through the bars. The steel-toe tip cracked the bridge of Gary’s nose. Blood burst from his nostrils and spewed out across his top lip. The man from across the bars hummed slowly to himself as he wrapped Gary’s hands together in wire. Gary glanced up to see a ragged looking man. The green and red glows of the Christmas lights barely reached into the alley but it vaguely illuminated some of his features. A long grayish beard had slipped out from the opening of his hood.
Gary tucked his knees up from the ground and tried to pull his hands free. The wiring tightened around his wrists and fingers threatening to slice them off if he continued. Defeated, Gary relaxed his arms.
‘You think you can get away with this? Because I wouldn’t give you any money.’ Gary spat the blood from his nostrils across the setting snow and trampled sandwich wrappers. The man did not reply, instead he continued to hum. The noise sifted through his throat like he was gargling rocks.
‘Within this month you will share. What extra givings cut and bared.’ The mans spoke but his voice was off. It was warped and tickled his brain. He could only describe as being deep fried; scrambled beyond belief yet the words whispered through clearly. The man laughed to himself as he rummaged through the thick black coat. Gary could heard the cling of his nails touch metal.
Gary screamed out to alert anyone from the once busy street.
The man knelt down and let the blade of the kitchen cleaver hang across Gary’s eyes. The thick slab of sharpened metal had a red runic pattern decorated along the ridge. Gary noticed the fingers of the man were brown and scarred. Wrinkled in a way closer to bark than skin.
‘Offer that in abundance to those left behind. Else have your own be minced and grind. You know these words yet they were abolished. The past generations may have hidden this but they still remain a message in your gut. In your soul.’
‘What? What are you talking about?’ Gary had never heard this rhyme before. ‘Hey, mister…there has been a misunderstanding. I’m not who you are looking for.’ The silver wisps of the mans beard gathered a few specks of snow as he listened to Gary. The unmoving shape hidden under the cloak seeming to absorb his pleas.
‘Two hundred.’
‘I don’t-’ Before Gary could say he didn’t carry that money around with him he felt the man uncurl his hand with ease. A slight pressure built at the tip of his middle finger just under the nail. Within a second he felt a snap and cold air fill the void. The pain came later, due to his hands becoming numb to the snow. It shot through his finger as the man separated and shucked the next finger. Gary kicked back and tried to squirm but it wasn’t enough. His finger nails were snapped and pulled off with vigor. The seeping snap and twist of the cuticle reminded Gary of opening pistachios. When done with the hand the man switched positions. Easily prying open Gary’s other clenched hand. The newly exposed flesh weeped and stung. With expertise the man was done with the second hand much faster than the first. Gary looked through the bars to see the glossy red holes where his nails once were.
‘One hundred and eighty left.’ The mans words garbled out and leaked into Gary’s ears. He began to move around the fence. Gary breathed in deep to compose himself. He hunkered down and began to work on the wiring. The mans padded steps crunched through the growing snow. Gary pressed his wrists against the metal bars and began to twist the wiring loose. He could see clearly now it was not normal wire but the plastic string of Christmas tree lights. The man must have tore them from the street decorations.
‘C’mon man. Just go before the police get here.’ Gary felt it in his bones that he would never be found.
‘It must be shared. One hundred and eighty owed for tonight.’ The man was atop of him now. The trench coat split open but Gary could not see anything but darkness. The mans hand gripped Gary’s lower jaw. Twisted to face him the red and green glows finally pierced through the hood. The long flowing beard was nothing but a trick. The wrinkled flaps of brow lined it’s chin and that were held in-place by string was actually a scalp fashioned into a fake beard. The lining where it had been cut from some poor fool had now tanned like leather. Before Gary could scream it’s fingers were inside mouth.
‘Within this month you will share. What extra givings cut and bared.’

The homeless man awoke to the feint sound of a bell ringing. Pulling himself out from his sleeping bag he looked around the dark corner of the parking lot. His stomach growled as he felt it had already began to eat itself. The parking lot was empty from movement but he swore he could hear the low hum from a wasps nest. Then he noticed it. A small red cloth bag placed in-front of where he slept. He moved forward unsure how a passerby could have placed it there without him noticing. The small red cloth was light but the bottom had darkened from being left in a puddle or liquid. He unfastened the string and tipped out the contents into his palm. The small pieces glinted from a streetlight on the road. Amongst the flecks of thin scales he saw five teeth; polished and uprooted, one shined gold amongst the stained ivory.

Coffee Confession

There was a secret in the Spring Beans cafe that only Andy and a select few customers knew. It was there waiting, it’s black spine distinct enough for the curious, to be plucked from the coffee stained hand-me down books that lined the corner of the café. A confessional for the coffee addict and day dreamer who found themselves alone in the reading corner; With the bookshelf and cosy armchair and table facing toward the window it gave the customer a privacy the rest of the café lacked. Every evening, after locking up and saying goodbye to Michelle and Lucas, he would go and read the confessional. It was a ritual he delighted in. Taking the black leather book from the shelf, he would rub his fingers on the cover like a priest patting their bible.

Andy did not expect to see someone sat quietly in the closed café. Due to the restrictive angle of the chair facing the window, Andy hadn’t noticed at first until he saw the grey chequered trousers and tanned brogue boots. The man was sat with his legs crossed deep in thought. He was an older man, well-groomed but with flecks of grey tinting the curled ends of his brown hair. Dark rings were gathered under his eyes, stretching out his somewhat long face to that of a character Andy would see on the front of a Grimm fairy tale book. They were always the devilish duke or cunning baron.

‘Excuse me? I’m sorry but we have now closed. Could you make your way to the exit?’

‘Do you own this cafe?’

‘I run it for the owner on the weekends. Would you like me to put the rest of your coffee in a to go cup?’

‘This belongs to you though correct?’ He uncrossed his legs and placed the little black book onto the table.

‘I’m sorry?’ Andy found himself saying to give himself enough time to find the right words that word could prevent any trouble. He had known since the first day he had decided to place the book amongst the others on the weekends he worked. He could still remember the first time he found it tucked between the leather seating of the armchair. There were only two secrets listed on it at the time, possibly from the creator themselves, and a scribbled blurb to leave a secret at the front. Since then Andy had found himself becoming the keeper of the coffee confessional. The unnamed man had found the second version after the first had become bloated with ink-blotched ramblings.

‘I’m sorry if anything in there offended you. It’s really just a bit of fun that’s all.’

‘Do you think this would cause problems if it got out? Do you think that’s why I want to know if you own it?’ The man asked and Andy could only nod. ‘Coffee confessional…and you would be the sin eater.’ The man leant down to his jacket, which was strewn across the arm of the chair, and rummaged through an inside pocket. Pulling out a wallet, he flicked through the folds, pinching together some fifty-pound notes. Finally settling for a second, he placed a neat amount on the table by the book.

‘What’s that for? You want to buy it from me?’ Andy felt such a pressure emanating from the man once those crisp notes were placed on the table, he couldn’t dare look him in the eyes.

‘I want to eat a sin myself. What I’m placing on the table is just a deposit so you can understand how serious I am.’

‘A sin. You want to buy the book? I’m sorry I just never saw this happening.’

‘Twenty thousand pounds for the sin I want to eat.’

‘Now you have to be joking with me. I’m really sorry if this book has caused offense. You know what, I’ll get rid of it.’ Andy reached down to grab the book. He could feel his scalp prickle and sting as he began to sweat heavily. The man reached out and pushed the money towards Andy’s hovering fingertips.

‘What are you afraid of?’ The man pressed the money harder until it began to curl up from the book and splay across the table.

‘That amount for the book. It’s too high.’ Andy couldn’t say it was the implication and unknown fear that he had now found himself in. This man, if not crazy, knew something far more disturbing about the book than him. At this angle Andy could do nothing but gaze back at the man and see those murky green eyes hiding his intent.

‘You’re wrong. It’s just right and I don’t want to buy the book. I just want to buy one page. One secret.’

‘You see why I’m worried now? Twenty thousand for just one secret.’

‘Never think lowly of a secret. Although you think what you are holding is a small book of jokes there could be some information in there which could ruin a life. It’s more a series of small grenades ready to pop and blow up a relationship, a career, a family.’

Andy had never grasped that aspect of the book. Settling into the sofa at closing he would skim through the pages and laugh at the silly secrets people had placed anonymously. Could a person really saying that they fancied their co-worker until they saw his belly button tattoo really be that devastating if it came out? The stranger sat across from him never wavered in his speech or decisions and it made his offer even more dangerous and enticing. Twenty thousand might not be anything to this man but it was almost life changing to Andy. It would allow him to finally rest and invest in a career he was interested in rather than the lifelong game of catchup he was playing to pay the rent.

‘How will you give me the money?’ Andy finally asked.

‘In a bag. It’s not that large if you have it in fifties. My driver will bring it up.’

‘You’ve got a deal.’ Andy said. He pulled up the sleeves of his jumper over his fingers like he used to at school before an exam. ‘Would you like a coffee while you choose the page? Don’t worry it’s on the house.’

‘I just need the other book first. The first version. The one you keep in your locker.’

‘Wait…’ Before Andy could finish his words, the man smiled and the lines around his eyes sharpened. He pointed out to the window as if waving to another. Andy followed the direction across the small road to the office complex opposite. The windows had almost turned black as they reflected the nights sky and dotted streetlights under them, but Andy could make out a shape on the other side. A small silhouette amongst the chairs and tables. Finally in reaction to the strangers pointing a lamp flicked on and a man was illuminated.

‘That’s my driver.’ The man explained but Andy knew from the build that driver was just a title that encompassed other jobs. ‘He had been watching this place a few months ago when he saw someone write in the book. He didn’t think much of it at first but seeing someone write in it really piqued his interest. Then he told me because I paid him to let me know what the person he was following did. Now you see I’m more interested in just one person’s secret. Does that change anything for you? I would pique my curiosity if anything.’

‘And what will you do to this person?’

‘Does it matter. I could lie to you and you would never know. You know you are pinching your hand, right?’

Andy gazed down and released his grip on the back of his hand. Only as the seconds passed did the pinched skin fade back to pink and his indecisiveness bubble to the surface.

‘Let me make you that coffee. What did you say you wanted again?’

‘I never did.’


‘You never asked what I wanted. I want a triple espresso please but place it in a large cup.’

‘S-sure thing.’ Andy felt every step as he walked back. He could feel the mans gaze scratch the back of his neck until he finally made his way around the counter and felt some small reassurance having a boundary between them. He poured the coffee grounds into the holder and tampered the grounds flat. His vision darted to the offices opposite but saw no one in sight. Twisting the shot in he turned on the espresso machine and watched as the inky black espresso dripped and pooled in the large mug. It was enough time for him to be left with thoughts. Enough time to push through his worries and shuffle into the staff room to grab the book.

Andy placed the mug of coffee down to the side and the first edition of the coffee confessional in centre place like he was offering a meal. The man nodded and took hold of the book. Those sharp eyes flickered as he skimmed through his selection of secrets. As the man skipped through the pages Andy tried to guess his choice. Could his wife be the one who stole the little sugar packets from cafes to eat in the middle of night? Was it his child who crashed the family car and blamed it on their brother who everyone hated? Was it a lover who confessed to only want to go on dates when they were hungry? Or was there something truly awful hidden away like he had said? Finally the mans finger settled on a page towards the end. He tapped the page several times never giving the slightest glimpse to an emotion on his face. Placing the book aside he unlocked his phone and sent a message. Almost instantly Andy heard a knock at the door as the man returned to the book and tore the paper from its binding. The driver was outside the café’s door holding a rucksack. Before Andy could move to let the driver in, he caught the man in the chair lean forward and dunk the paper into his coffee. Smothering the paper in the cooling espresso he stirred it with his fingers making sure to coat the paper fully. Stirring and dunking until the paper loosened and stained. Then, satisfied, the man scooped the secret out and placed it in his mouth. His lips smacked and neck twitched at the inedible object being forcibly swallowed down his gullet. The sin was eaten.

Thursdays were always hardest for the balloon artist. Scratch that word out. To link what Anton Smith did to art was a cruel jab to the great creatives. Anton was a public service clown. It was his job, his service, to the state until he could find some small lottery in learning a skill which could get him a real job. And it was his job to make people forget. On Thursday’s, people found it extra hard to forget the tragedy at Peanut Sunset estate where he patrolled. It was given its name after one of the most satisfactory colours a person could tolerate according to public survey. All the new estates were. They sounded more like fictional resorts on Sesame Street to Anton. Marble Hill was still there though. What was left of it would block the sun from covering the courtyard and playground around mid-day. Marbles was his meal ticket wage but a stain to everyone else. Was it the memory of that day that caused such grief or knowing that the place that had killed their family members would probably outlast them too?

Anton the balloon clown was watching the residents slowly crawl out from their apartments and head down to the post office. Thursday was national wage day for the innocent and forgotten. The old always left early for the blessing of being seen first. It was a wise thing to do. For as much as the nation loved to queue, they were always ready to jab those in front. It was a searing hatred for your fellow equal that was as insane as it was egotistical. Thursday was not just the tragedy of Marble Hill but the nations unbearable reminder of defeat. The service badge clipped to Anton’s yellow jacket flapped in the wind as he strode across the asphalt waiting for lunch. On the park bench he could see Harry walking back from the direction of the post office. Walking slowly as old men do. His small sausage dog following just a hairs breath behind trying not to outpace her master. They both settled on the bench across from the playground and took the same break they took everyday while having a walk.

‘Quick to get out of there. Thursdays you know.’ Harry said as Anton placed his rucksack down and took a seat.

‘Thursdays…’ Anton sighed.

‘They are doing it twice weekly now you know.’

‘No, what?’

‘Soap-tax shows. Mondays and now Thursday. Right here in just ten minutes.’ Harry said while pulling out three digestive biscuits from the white wrapper. He handed one to Anton before eating one himself. The last biscuit he snapped in half and raised his hand to the sausage dog. Chip – short for chipolata – a name given to it by Harry’s granddaughter. Dead. Death due to cost-cutting government refurbishments. Chip placed her head on Anton shoes like always. It must have been uncomfortable to rest on a steel capped work-shoe, but she always did it. Then, with wet nose wrinkling and twitching, her eyes lit up and she stood up to attention.

‘What do we do Chipo?’ Anton said encouraging the old lady. Chip pushed herself back and raised her tiny brown paw.

‘Good girl,’ Harry said as he shook her paw and offered her the biscuit. Chip waited almost a millisecond before snatching the biscuit and gloriously chewing it. Smacking her lips and hoovering up the crumbs. ‘I don’t know why they don’t use animals as state performers. Who can ignore a dog doing tricks.’

‘It’s animal abuse to force a dog to do the same thing over and over for no reward.’

‘You’re right.’ The two watched as three social officers arrived in reflective jackets and started creating a barrier around the court where the soap-tax show would start. Placing cones down and shooing away any lingering drug addicts. The soap-tax show was about to be set up.

They were led out from the community service van to the growing boos of the crowd. Seeing them clamber out made him thankful for the skill he had. The crowd was ready to watch the entertainment. Most had been coaxed by the spectacle and Amazen vouchers offered to those who really got stuck into the theatrics.

‘Welcome great people of the nation and thank you for being here today. Now we all know the rules to these shows but let me give you a reminder. You can boo, hiss, shove, pull at their clothes, even threaten with a little violence. But please don’t swear.’ The grey suited, weedy man said to an applause. You could tell he loved it. The first guest walked onto the zoned platform. A few pinched at her jacket and spat.

‘So darling, you know why you’re here but tell the great and lovely audience here.’ The grey suited twat spoke.

‘Couldn’t pay the payday loans.’ She said trying to pull her sleeves further over her hands.

‘Yeah – that’s why you’re all here. You take too much – greedy grinning buggers – and you don’t expect to pay back. Well unlike our respectable people here who do pay their taxes and loans, why don’t you tell em what you spent it on?’

‘Christmas gifts for my kids. And the leccy came out early.’ Her words were drowned by the anger of the same very people in her shoes. The electricity companies had been especially cruel by going on their contracted word and taking out all payments in hefty chunks a week before Christmas. Channel One said it was awful, but it was out of the prime ministers’ hands. What could just one man do against those corporations.

‘Your disgusting you know that. Cheating the system and for what? We had her tied to a lie detector ladies and gents and guess what?’

‘What?’ The crowd shouted.

‘When we asked her if she felt bad for using that loan on the kids she said yes. But she was lying!’ He made a point to hiss that last part out. ‘And you know what happens if she doesn’t pay?’

‘We all have to pay!’ They chimed back in unison.

‘You guessed right. Smart bunch we have today lads. Double the vouchers for everyone who makes sure to give this piece of work a good telling off. Place her in the convo point mates.’

Two of the security placed their arms around the woman’s side and lead her to a small zone where the crowd could berate her as they please. Just seeing the queue already gathering Anton knew it was going to be an awful day. He twiddled and pulled apart the stack of balloon shapes from the bag. Peeling them from one another he would have to try and appease these people as they wait to bollock the woman and the others in the van.

‘See you Harry. See you Chip.’ Anton said as he huffed and inflated the long red balloon in preparation to twist its shape into a heart.  

Hentan House – Three Cheers To The Hunt

I picked at the last shreds of the meal almost numb to the flavour. After a day of drinking the preparation and delicacy taken in creating the banquet had been wasted on me. All I wanted to do was fill myself with as much bread and offerings in the vain chance it would soak up any alcohol that had been stewing. I was pickled and buzzed. I pressed my forehead down onto the dining table and closed my eyes. The wood was cool and refreshed me more than any glass of water could. I hadn’t seen one glass of water the entire afternoon. Every time I requested one or reached for a jug it was always the same aniseed alcohol. A few cheered in the background as I kept my eyes shut. They were playing some game and I needed to rest for a brief moment before it was my turn. A loud bang shook through the room and the women cheered. I couldn’t look, I had to stay in this brief moment of peace before I was yanked up to play more games.

‘Are you sleeping? If you are then we can’t have that.’Rosemary said as I felt her hand stroke my back.

‘No – I’m just resting… Eugh how are you all so fine? You should all be passed out.’

‘You can’t sleep here. You’re next.’

‘I don’t want to be anything.’ I knew my head was going to feel like a pumpkin carved out by a fork tomorrow but I was enjoying myself. I could smell the gin and spa salts on my skin.

‘She’s wasted look at her.’ Yarrow shouted from across the banquet room. I could feel the breeze from the glass doors leading to the outside graze the back of my ankles. A gunshot went off again.

‘Aren’t you afraid of the police?’

‘No, not at all. We are real far out from any neighbors to complain. Yarrow she’s just resting for a moment before we begin.’ Rosemary said as she got up from her chair.

‘Get up and play. It’s your turn to hunt.’ Yarrow was behind me now. I could practically feel her towering over me. ‘Water is for the weak.’

I rose up and heard clapping from afar. I was ready what ever stupid drinking game they had in mind. Yarrow gave a big beaming smile and placed the rifle in my hands. I moved past the table as myself and a few others followed Yarrow through the glass doors and into the night. I padded over the cool grass as I saw three others ahead.

‘When do I pull the trigger.’ I asked.

‘First we spin you round…’ All at once I felt them grip me by the shoulders and twits me round catching my whole body off guard.

‘Get the scent. Whiff it. Catch it. Kill it. Hunt hunt hunt.’ They span me harder as the crowd jeered and emptied their glasses on the floor.

‘Catch it. Kill it. Hunt hunt hunt.’

Like a divination rod the rifle began to lower and I worried I might already fire the blank.

‘Catch it.’

The others had fired theirs before me. Running out after the white rabbit.

‘Kill it.’

The rabbit masked lady would skip out and always come back through the other door.

‘Hunt’ My mind was whirring. Their hands all over me making sure I kept on spinning. I clenched my jaw and hoped I wouldn’t puke.

‘Hunt…’ I settled my gaze down to the grass. A white blur stepped out. The plastic ears flopped down. Another’s hand twisting their arm. Faces. Rifle. Hunt. Hunt.


They shook me loose and my legs sprang to catch the ground. The rabbit was off. Darting from the light. I followed and fumbled but they were not quick. In the darkness we ran. I was lined up to them. Catching their scent amongst the cold air. Almost ready. I raised the gun but stumbled on a muddy patch. The rabbit increased the distance. I was losing sight of it now. The liquor was rising out from every place in my body. My lungs were burning. Legs shaking but still going. Never wavering. The rabbit twisted in the darkness and hit the ground. They had hit a low branch from the dotted trees. I slid forward and pressed the rifle down. Squeezed. Hunt hunt hunt. A crack ran through my arms. The rabbit flopped down and played dead. I had caught it.

I waited for the game to be over. I turned to hear screams for joy like a Guy Fawkes crowd finally hearing the bang from the rockets. I could see a few running over. Like a pack of dogs. Black eyes and smiling.

‘Come on now get up.’ I nudged the rabbit with my foot. It didn’t move. Kneeling down I looked at the still plastic face reflecting the moonlight. The seeping stain that was growing over the white shirt. The others bounded across the grass with abandon. Their feet drumming louder and louder. I placed my hand on the rabbit and felt the wet warm blood coat it. I brought it up close as I saw another rabbit broken against a tree. A few paces further another lied down face first with its mask blown off. The women were closer now but not slowing down. As if they had picked up the scent a new rabbit.


Hentan House – Feast Preparation

I finally felt like I could relax and not worry about how others saw me. These women had lifted me out of the ice chamber with praise and encouragement. They all smiled when I said I wanted to do it again because they too felt the same way. And just as I had been dunked into the ice it was me now who held the wooden lid shut as the rest took the plunge. “Hold down with all your weight.” A few said as I placed my palms on the wood in bated breath. I was pressing down with all my strength as the old lady scratched against the lid. I could feel some sort of exhilaration building in me, heavier than the fear I felt in the well, that lingered on the edge of my mind. Pushing me to think unnatural things; hold it just a little longer, just a few seconds that’s it.

I followed the crowd out into the garden. The stretch of land carried on until the red berried trees faded into a black line of woods that threatened to prick the sky. Birds chirped and the warmth from the sun pressed down on us heavy. A table had been prepared; At each seat was a large tankard of beer, one crystal shot glass, and a chopping block of white wood. In the center of the table was a dark oval bowl. As I sat down at the seat with my name I could the large bowl centerpiece was adorned with apple shavings and various sprigs of herbs.

‘Is it lunch time already?’ I asked Bay who was sat beside me. She was rolling her sleeves in preparation for the food. Bay stared at me for a few seconds, as if she was trying to read my face, and raised her shot glass to me.

‘We are preparing for the feast Aspen. Drink with me.’

I raised the shot glass to hers and slipped the drink down quickly. Aniseed washed over the tongue with a sweetness that plunged to bitterness quickly. Bay was already calling over Lily to pour another.

‘Another?’ Lily said already pouring the clear liquid back into the glasses.

‘Of-course, the girl needs strength.’ Bay replied. She slapped the table and Yarrow jumped from her chair in shock. ‘Yarrow is a bag of nerves!’ Even covered in a robe Yarrow could not hide her muscular frame. She had been quiet all morning, simply watching from the back for most of it. When it was her turn to drop in the well the others moved aside. Yarrow had plunged into the water and after a moments pause I saw her arm stretch out from the brick and slide the lid shut. When she was done she dragged herself out on her accord.

‘You want to play slaps with me while we wait?’ Yarrow smiled and I was reminded of those grinning cowboys in westerns. That smirk right before they pulled the trigger.

‘No she does not. Yarrow will smack the skin off your knuckles. Trust me.’ Lily chimed in as she poured a shot for Yarrow.

‘What is it you do Yarrow?’ I asked trying not to glance down at her forearms.

‘I coach.’

‘Sports?’ I asked.

‘Wrestling. I made it to Olympics in freestyle before the weight category restrictions. You ever tried it?’ I felt as if Yarrow was leading me down a path where I was going to end up knocked out on the ground.


‘I’m surprised. I trained with your mum all the time when we were younger before…before you that is.’

‘How was she? I couldn’t imagine her-’

‘She was a cocky shit. But good.’ Yarrow laughed. ‘It’s a shame she isn’t with us. I’d like to see if she still has the moves.’

‘When are her and Cora heading over.’

‘Yvonne and Cora have to take it easy. The babies and all.’ Yarrow spurted out.

‘Babies?’ I asked unsure if she knew something I didn’t. How could she?

‘Baby, Yarrow, it’s just the one I imagine. But Hentan’s are known to come out in twos.’ Bay replied in place for Yarrow. Yarrow raised her hand annoyed slightly.

‘Then Aspen here will have to drink for her sister and Yvonne. Ready…get that glass in your hand. Here we go. Cheers.’ I downed the clear mixture and thought that it tasted less bitter this time around.

I couldn’t handle another but before I could protest Lily lurched over and poured another.

‘Oh here we go. Time for work.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked but noticed them looking behind me. I turned from my seat to see three women carrying small wicker baskets in their hands. One of them smiled and placed the small bundle on the chopping block infront of me.

‘We honour our own strength this weekend. We prove we can fend for ourselves like those before us.’ Bay said as I tried to look through the tightly knitted basket. My fingertips dragged across the basket surface numb almost. The baskets had been placed on each of the guests seat. I could smell wafts of hay and fruit.

A hand gripped my shoulder jolting me. It was my mother smiling at me. A warm smile but like she was consoling a crying child.

‘Ladies. We are never given mercy so we must hunt for ourselves. This is how Dando taught the very first ladies of Hentan and we give thanks for that. Show Dando we can look after ourselves. Raise the lids and prepare the feast.’ The women lifted the lids off quickly with me following. As I slid the basket lid off the dropped it down onto the lawn as my stomach sank.

The rabbit twitched it’s head to the side and with black pearl eye stared at me. I glanced over to Yarrow to see her snap her rabbits head back. Bay had her fingers placed over her rabbits head as she quickly slit its neck. Mum squeezed my shoulder harder. She was urging me not to make her look bad infront of the others. Her sisters. My family. I had the runt of the litter – in an act of mercy to not have me slip up and let it run. The brown speckled rabbit did not twitch as my fingers nestled into the soft neck folds. My mothers hand drifted over my other hand and guided me to the knife. Bay and Yarrow and so many others were whispering me encouragement. It’s heart tapped against my thumb to a quickening beat. Drifting the knife over I wavered but Yarrow cheered me on. The whole table smiling at me like it was my first baby steps. I wanted to talk to you little rabbit. To place you on the grass and let you run free. To say a hundred sweet calming things as I did to the pets I owned as a child. But the knife was already parting your throat and your warmth was spraying out across the nestled hay. That tick tick ticking was now nothing but warm punctured meat.
When I looked back my mum had already left without a word. I continued to stroke the rabbit.

‘There is love from this Aspen.’ One of them, I think it was Bay, said to me. ‘You must honour them. Never let them go to waste. That’s the meaning of the hunt. Now turn them on their back and pinch the skin so your knife can make a slit easier.’

A few had already flung the skinned rabbits into the large bowl in the center. I followed the instructions and Yarrow helped hold it in place when I tugged at the flap of skin over the legs. Cutting through the sinew and strings. Into the dark oval bowl I placed it. Amongst it’s own as my own wiped their hands on paper towels and raised a glass. The deed was done. I scraped the purple viscera from my nails and downed another shot.

‘Now we de-core the apples and snap the rhubarb. Our work is never done.’

Hentan House – Heat & Ice

‘How is your foot holding up?’Cora asked me as the cleansing mists filled the stone room. The pills Rosemary had handed me must have kicked in as I barely felt the open wound anymore.

‘Can’t complain.’ I said, turning to catch a smirk on her face. ‘What? You know I can’t get it wet.’

‘Did you have to use a trash bag though? It’s bright orange. You look like a hobo.’

‘It’ll be even easier to see me swanning it up in the sauna then.’

‘Cora won’t be joining you in the sauna.’ Mum said as she finally opened her eyes after five minutes of sitting in the corner silent.

‘Why not?’ I asked.

‘Because she’s pregnant. It’s a risk for her to be doing anything that could harm the baby.’

‘So what will you be doing instead?’

‘A milk and honey massage followed by a facial.’ Cora chimed in. ‘Is it weird I can already smell the cucumber they’ll be putting on our eyes?’

‘And me?’

‘You’ll be heading into the sauna and pools with the others. Be careful Aspen, those women are a pack of wolves when they get together.’ I had always thought something had happened between her and her family for us to never speak with them but Rosemary had confessed to them speaking through letter.

‘Why are we even here then if you’d rather drop dead than speak to them.’

‘We have to be here. Cora’s pregnant and I couldn’t deny them of meeting her. Come on Cora.’My mother rose from the stone seating and held her hand out for Cora as I watched her wearily get to her feet as her occupied belly heaved slightly. I’d heard the expression that pregnant women glow but had never seen it before until Cora. She really did seem to shine with happiness. I wouldn’t want to ruin this experience for her even if it meant getting one up over my mum.

The plastic bag wrapped around my foot crinkled as I walked alongside the pool. Through the blue lights of the pool I could make out the symbol of an animal placed at the bottom in black tiles. I didn’t give it much thought until I entered the spa room. A fogged up glass door closed slightly as I entered from my right. The muted cream walls absorbed the orange glows surrounding the sauna before descending into a cool blue where a long stretch of glass invited you towards what looked like an ice cave.
I could hear two women whisper from the sauna. Stepping over I bit the bullet and pulled the door open. The heat reached out to me first but it was the womens eyes that burned into my core.

‘Make room to Aspen.’ A voice said amongst the steam and pile of naked bodies. I grew even more self-conscious at my own defensiveness to wear a swimsuit. The stretched out legs and arms reeled into their wet bodies like tentacles feeling their way out the coral. I stepped in and found a spot closest to the door. The wooden panels stung as I pressed down trying to make myself comfortable. All sound and chats had been sucked from the room in my presence. Everything came down to how I handled myself here with the group. From how they would treat me all weekend to how they treated my family. Although my mum had likened them to wolves I felt that I was the mouse in the hen house.

‘How is your foot Aspen? It was quite a shock to see you fall down.’ A lady spoke out into the sizzling dry void. I spotted her sat beside the ladle and recognised her as the woman who welcomed us. Even in the intense heat her skin remained tight and unblemished.

‘It’s doing much better thanks. I can’t have it slow me down.’I could see her eyes scanning my features. It was like she was looking for the tiny similarities between us. ‘So I guess we are all related here?’ A few of the women chuckled as we continued to sweat out our impurities.

‘Some more than others.’ A lady I hadn’t met yet replied as another nodded.

‘Have we always had this place?’ I asked. The ladies eyes all moved towards the lady who had welcomed us here.

‘This house was believe it or not a place of God. A monk once lived here. He only had one passion that rivaled his love for God and that was hunting. Our ancestors, two sisters, helped with the cleaning and tended to his dogs. As one of the monks last requests he handed them the deed. We have ran it ever since and continue the traditions.’


‘Yes. Dando taught those two sisters the ways of the hunt. And those sisters taught their daughters and so on. They lived for the hunt much like Dando and we honour that. The hunt can bring many riches for those that brave the challenge.’ A few of the ladies nodded and a few kept their eyes on me. I wondered if they were trying to gauge how I would react. The whole notion of hunting foxes made me feel disgusted. Fairytales were often sodden in the blood of women.

‘You hunt foxes then?’

‘Not at all. That isn’t hunting – it’s a cowards game. Are you ready for the next step?’

‘What’s the next step?’

‘We’ve been stewing in here for quite some time now. Now we plunge ourselves into the ice. You’ll need to trust us.’

‘Why would I need to do that?’ I had heard of people running through snow after Jacuzzis in an effort to shock their bodies. The dry air was beginning to get thicker as I breathed in through my nose. The women rose up all at once and the great wall of skin trickled with sweat as it approached me. I rose up with them and opened the door. The cool air from outside the sauna welcomed me. The group of women hurried to the ice room as I purposely followed behind. My skin tingled with the freshness of a newborn as I watched the women gather around a small brick well. Surrounded by a large gathering of ice, two women took hold of the wooden white lid and pulled it off.

‘Whose first?’ One asked to the crowd as an Grey-haired woman raised out her hand for another to help hold her up as she stepped onto the rim.

‘There’s nothing to worry about.’ Rosemary said form behind me. I hadn’t noticed her in the darkly lit sauna, perhaps she was the one laying on her back row.

‘You’re all going to jump in there?’ They were mad and they were going to pressure me into doing it too. With one quick hop the lady pencil dived into the icy well. Before I could call out I saw the two women holding the lid clamber forward. In one quick motion they slid the lid over the top and closed her in. ‘What the hell are you doing?’ Three of the women turned towards me, instinctively blocking me from intervening.

‘Please wait Aspen. This is an old ritual we perform to bring out a deep sensory journey. The dry heat opens up your body and flows the blood. Then the ice snaps and flushes your body.’ A tapping came from inside the wooden lid and the women peeled it back once more. Open hands waited around the rim as two arms finally reached out. As the lady was pulled out and left to breath another took her place and more ice was poured in.

‘You will be next Aspen. Keep your jaw closed tight as you enter.’ The lady who welcomed us said.

‘And why is that?’

‘To stop you biting your tongue off.’ She smiled and Rosemary laughed. Three knocks touched the wood and the lid came free. The woman heaved herself out with her own strength and padded over to the towels. It was me next. I took off the plastic bag from my foot and edged towards the well. Ice sloshed back and forth over the deep blue that descended into black. I couldn’t make out where the bottom was but it couldn’t be that deep if these women stayed in it so long. Bandaged toe hooked over the brick like a hawks foot as I began to worry.

‘I just have to knock right?’

‘That’s all.’ Rosemary replied.

‘Okay then…’ I could feel my body trying to step back but I couldn’t not participate. These women were just trying to tease me. I plunged down with both arms clenched beside me. The water rushed up and sliced through my core. My arms shot out and hit the sides of the walls. Rushing up I saw nothing but black. Scrambling, I kicked my buckling legs out to find the floor but found no bottom. Ice slid into my mouth and lodged itself. I was a metal rod being struck; Ringing out painful vibrations. I sputtered out and slammed my hands against the stone. My legs continued to flap and shrink as the ice took hold of them. All sensation was beginning to recoil in. My feet were already lost. The fingered it’s way into my nose, threatening to slip inwards further. I slammed my hand across the stone again. The lid remained closed. I kicked my frozen legs harder and swung up. The fingers tapped against the wood. It wasn’t far from me. I could see nothing but feel the walls getting closer. Choking me. I spat the water from my face. Light breached through and hands rushed in, wrapping round my arms like molten chains, to pull me up. I sputtered for my breath as I saw a towel embrace me. Following the unseen person guiding me I finally sat down.

Breath returned. The rush subsided.

My thoughts gathered.

I wanted to do it again.

Hentan House – Welcome

Sunlight rippled overhead in long shimmering streaks as my head bobbed up. No. It was not my head. I was tethered to a weighted body. We floated in the warming water until inky blotches of blood spurted out from between our legs. Clouding the sunlight I felt the water breach. Wrenching inward it gripped my feet and sucked me out. Out into the murky waters where cannonballs of people splashed deep to join me. Scrambling in their dozens they all reached out as if to catch me. Claim me for themselves. But I floated on simply watching. Waiting for the large eye permeating through the deep to see me. It wriggled for a moment, irked by my discovery of it. Were you happy to see me? Very soon I would have to breathe. Breathe and drink deep.

A mix of vinegar and bleach tickled my nose before wrenching me up into the very real world. I gasped and felt the glass bottle push against my upper lip. In that burst of consciousness my vision was filled with women. Peering down at me as if from heaven. From the snake-tailed tips, their tendrils of slick wet hair dripped down onto my chest like warm summer rain. Over them I saw the sunlight refract off the glass ceiling. Playfully shimmering over the deep blue sky in a way I couldn’t help feeling odd and familiar.
‘You gave us quite a shock. Take two of these quickly before your body wakes up.’ A woman with a ginger plait pushed out her hand to offer me the pills. I didn’t hesitate and took them into my mouth before gulping down a glass of water she handed me from her other hand. The other women began to spread out and wander off.
‘I passed out?’ I said out loud but it was more to confirm it to myself.
‘You have a nasty cut on your toe. Do you usually pass out at the sight of blood?’ The woman asked. I shuffled out across the white make-do stretcher that was really a sun bed draped in white towels and felt my toe spasm again. Wrapped in several bandages my once normal toe was now bulbous and a hazard to my weekend of enjoying free spa facilities. It was fat like a tick ready to be popped. Seeing it only made the resonating pain throb a little harder.
‘Not at all. It was just so nasty-looking.’
‘Here…’ The lady gave me a little plastic container with four pills inside. ‘These should do you for now. Do not take them all in one day okay.’
‘Will I still be able to use the services here?’
‘Ofcourse you can’t go swimming but anything dry you can do.’
‘I was hoping to just hang out by the pool.’
‘No, no no. Everyone is excited to have you join in the festivities.’
‘You know me and my sister? I thought you worked here.’
‘No but I am a doctor. Here at Hentan-House we are all a big family so they asked me to check on you. Did Yvonne never speak of us?’ There was a puzzling frown over the womans face. It was unmistakable that mum had problems with the family but were they really so surprised? I had never seen or heard her talk to anyone from that side. She never really spoke of our dad either. Other than that he deserted us. I shook my head and winced as the pulsing pain shoot across my toe.
‘Strange. She writes to me atleast once a year. And many more to my sisters.’ This couldn’t be true. She was piecing things together I had no clue over but I felt some need to defend mum. To stop any ill will being sent her way.
‘Oh, I think she’s mentioned a doctor before. I sometimes drift off about that sort of stuff.’ I lied. The ladies plait dripped once more. She smiled in response and patted her knee as if to confirm something.
‘She might have mentioned a Rosemary?’
‘Her and Janet don’t often talk about family. Is Janet here by the way?’ Rosemary shook her head but opened her mouth slightly before closing.
‘I don’t think so darling. Is there anything else I can help with?’
‘I think I’ll be fine thanks. Oh maybe- where is reception? I still need to unpack in my room.’
‘Of course, you haven’t been here before. You’re in the meditation garden right now. If you take those doors over there you can turn left and follow it down to the main hall.’ Rosemary gave a small smile and patted my hand. I tried to give a genuine smile back but what was there to be happy about? My foot was killing me and I couldn’t spend the whole trip ignoring strangers conversations by doing laps in the pool. Stepping off from the sun bed I eased my weight onto my weak foot. Gradually I got used to the pressure but I wouldn’t be running anytime soon. Hopping out across the grass I had to turn back to Rosemary who was thumbing through a thin black book.
‘Is this real grass?’ Once I said it I knew it sounded dumb but we were inside what I thought to be the middle of the building. The green stretch of grass covered the entire floor of the glass domed room. Through another glass panel wall I could see a few women bobbing about in the indoor swimming pool.
‘Yeah you aren’t the first to ask. Before renovations this was a courtyard garden for the priest that lived here so they decided to turn it into an inside garden. Can you feel the positive energy rising from the grass?’
‘Feels great.’ I nodded but couldn’t feel anything other than a throbbing pain. The inside garden was beautiful; Along the walls of glass were shoots of tall plants left to fan out and potted lavender. In the center stood a wide tree stump painted white. Once I saw that I noticed the smaller white stumps dotted around it in a circle. A woman was sat on one of the smaller ones with her eyes closed and bare feet nestled in the perfectly cut grass. I noticed a small glint of metal in her hands. She had been sharpening an ornate knife. She resembled a chiseled statue; a garden ornament left to gather small birds. As I walked past I noticed the wrinkle slits of her eyes peel open to see me intruding in on her zen vibes. I tried not to look her in the eyes but I could still feel hers and Rosemary’s on me. I could feel invisible eyes follow me as I hobbled through the halls.

The lobby was mostly empty except for a lone secretary ruffling through a stack of papers on the desk. I could see she was frustrated but I really needed to get to my room and decompress. The lady was fiddling with her white shirts top button awkwardly, as if trying to pry it loose. I slowly approached to the table in hopes she would notice me and enter polite mode.
‘Hey there, I’ll just be one moment.’ She said as she finally loosened the collar. ‘Ah that’s better…so how can I help you?’
‘I am trying to find my room number? My sister and mum have already gone ahead of me.’
‘Sure thing, I think I can find it on the computer for you… so what’s your name?’
‘Aspen Hund,’
‘Hund… Hund… There’s quite alot of you lot here. Sorry it’s my first day.’ She wriggled with the shirt collar as her other hand continued to scroll down with the mouse.
‘No problem. Kinda sucks you’re here by yourself.’
‘I know right! They really did a number on me. This is just a weekend gig apparently. Most of the staff are off for the weekend.’
‘Huh, that’s weird right?’
‘A gig is a gig. I actually got recommended by Lucile. She runs the agency I’m part of. Oh I found it.’ She double clicked and leaned in to read the screen. ‘You are in room 12. It’s just up these stairs.’
‘Awesome, thanks. I’ll go there now.’
‘Wait, you need this too.’ She pulled out a small stack of papers and handed it to me. The paper was cream and had a soft texture that reminded me of cotton. The top had been decorated with small drawings of red berries in the corner and a rabbit being chased by dogs at the bottom. The following words had been handwritten beautifully.

Hentan-House Welcomes You

Heat & Ice

Feast Preparation

Three Cheers to the Hunt

The Beat Around the Bush

The Scrub

Appeasement & Meditation

Hentan House: Daybreak

A knot gathered in my throat. It held me there motionless as my eyes bulged with an intense heat. Threatening to burst all I saw was my body hover over the cobbled ground. All I felt was cloth and rope. I had been hung. But it wasn’t me. No. I was somewhere else in a car. This was another person and I was merely inside. Shallow enough to feel just an echo of the throbbing violent pain. A passerby watching, with chin tucked to chest, as urine sprayed out across the rocks. A great shift and I felt myself slipping through the folds of skin. Falling out. My vision covered in a wet red and purple smear until light breached and I was free. Ejected, I looked up at the hung woman I was once inside. I knew those swollen blue eyes were vacant, but the feeling of her watching was so powerful I wanted to just weep there in the pool of blood and juices. A clacking of shoes approached.

A buzzer scraped through my head jolting me up. A large gate to the front of a property was retracting back automatically.

‘Play that song again Mum.’ Cora said from the back seat. I wondered just how long had I drifted off for.

‘No I can’t listen to it for a third time. We’re almost there so just let the next track come on.’

‘Come on, it’s my weekend. Let’s arrive there upbeat. I don’t want to listen to this old stuff.’ Cora continued as I pressed my temple against the cold glass of the door just waiting for it to end. If I could sleep in the car I would.

‘Let Aspen choose. You there Aspen?’ Mum waved her hand towards me but I barely moved. I grunted to show I was awake. My body body felt off. It was tight like breaking in a smaller pair of gloves. You could feel the second skin stretch.

‘What are the choices?’ I asked.

‘I want Spice Up Your Life but mum wants some Talking Heads old thing.’

‘It came out in the eighties. It’s not old at all. You know it Aspen, it’s Road to Nowhere.’

‘You know Spice Up Your Life is about crack right?’

‘Shut up!’ Cora shouted.

‘You and your friends all dressed up and sang it all the time. You made us watch you perform it.’

‘Yeah it’s got instructions on cooking meth.’

‘You’re talking shit Aspen.’ Cora said as mum beeped the horn.

‘No arguments. Okay. Aspen you’ve ruined it so we’ll just press random and listen to whatever comes on the playlist next.’ Mum fiddled with the buttons as I spotted another car approaching the gate too.

‘Here, I’ll sort that out while you drive.’ I clicked the small skip track button as we ventured onto the private land. As the gospel singing of mums choice ran through the car I stared out the window. Past the gate yellowing trees were fat and heavy with clusters of red berries. Like a pox the berries had filled the entire woods with a bloody sheen. And just as I began to wonder what they were the trees parted and the spa house stood proud over the trimmed green grass.

‘You used to live here?’Cora asked as she stuck her head forward to get a better look. I was surprised she could move so well considering she was as swollen as a gourd. I couldn’t believe a person could live in a place that large. You could house a small convent inside. It was amazing we had never heard of it let alone visited it.

‘The family still owns it. We rent it out mostly for private events.’

‘How come this is the first time we’re visiting it? I’d come here every summer if I had the chance.’ Cora said as she stroked her belly.

‘Because I like our space.’ Mum said. I could see on her face that there was more to it. We rarely saw our family except for Christmas when our Aunt Janet and her kids would visit. Janet was the youngest and was quite care free. Her two kids on the other hand were spoiled rotten. Maybe that was why Mum kept us removed from this side of the family, to protect us from becoming self-entitled brats. But there was a moment when I spied on Janet and mum talking about the past. Everyone except those two had gone to bed but I couldn’t sleep. I had caught sight of them on the decking in the back garden stood in the snow as Janet pressed her hand on our tree. As steam rose from their mouths I heard them speak about another sister called Lana. It was the first time I had seen my mother cry as she flung the last glass of red wine over the snow like a blood spatter. After that I rooted through all the house to find anything related to Lana but there was nothing.

The manor house turned spa stood proud over the gravel entrance and surrounding twice a week trimmed grass. A red streak of ivy ran across the front like a deep cut across the face that had been wrenched open and left to bleed down across the yellowing stone. The front of the building reminded me of the Jane Austen films Cora would make us watch when we were hungover in our teens. The clacking of the horse-drawn carriage and Cora’s deep sighs at those being the better times. I twisted my head and Cora was wide-eyed and dreaming. I had to check where her hands were to see if she was pinching herself. It made me happy to see her forget everything for even just a second. To not have to delve deep back into that hole filled with missing posters and baby worries.

‘Can we live here?’ Cora asked but Mum said nothing. She kept her eyes on the end of the road where the other cars had parked. There were six parked and one behind us. I had always wanted to ask her why she never spoke of her dead sister. But then she would change again. Further turning inward on herself until all we saw of our mum was this hard shell. My mum turned into the closest spot on the driveway and I went to the boot as her and Cora gathered their things. Just stepping down on the ground filled me with this overwhelming sense of comfort. If there was anything stressing me out or I needed healing then I would slide my shoes off and step barefoot onto the ground. It was electric.

‘Put your shoes back on.’ Mum said as she helped Cora wrangle herself and the belly full of baby out the car.

‘No need for shoes here. Hey there!’ A ladies voice bellowed out from the concrete steps leading to the large door. To call her an old lady was a disservice. She was the woman from the denture commercials, the actress who grew old with grace, those yogi woman who lived her life one pose at a time. She was definitely the right person to run a spa hotel. Turning to greet her too quickly I felt Cora’s suitcase slip from the boot. Suddenly I was not all smiles as the reinforced hard shell suitcase corner cracked my big toe.

‘Fuck,’ I shouted as the suitcase tumbled onto it’s side and I reeled back.

‘Jesus Christ Aspen,’ Mum spat out without even craning her neck around to check on me. I stared down in disbelief as my throbbing toe began to bleed out like a burst zit.

‘Are you okay there?’ The spa lady said as I continued to stare down. My face tingled and began to chill as the cracked half-open nail started to drain me like I had sprung a leak. Almost a perfect split across the top half of my toe nail. It reminded me of the hard boiled egg I had had for breakfast. The tip of the shell had been botched open you could see the cracks and runny yolk. It all went white.