A.J. Humpage has a lot to answer for. She not only writes the most disturbing of dark fiction she also unselfishly helps her fellow-writers with honest critiques.
In mid-2009 she was kind enough to read a story I'd written for a competition - the first competition I'd ever entered. Using the constructive advice she gave, I rewrote it using her suggestions and the story went on to win a national competition out of 1200 entries. Thank you Ally!
If you contribute to or follow my weekly Prediction, or have dallied at the marvellous Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers you will no doubt have read Ally's extraordinary prose.
Her words are poetry, they dance in your mind dealing out danger and dread. She exposes the horrors and atrocities of human behaviour, all the while using her uncanny ability to touch your innermost fears before laying them bare to be teased, again and again.
In Driftwood, the first of four contributions to the FFF showcase Ally takes us to the sea around Crete - the favourite island of several of the Feb Femmes Fatales, myself included. Dare you step into the water?
Driftwood by A J Humpage
Amphitrite glided gracefully through the water, unaware of the jagged darkness hovering just over the horizon.
Stella Harris peered over the side of the yacht, watched the swirling dark water. Childhood fears bubbled at the bottom of her stomach - the thought of what lurked beneath the surface. She hated the water.
And now she was stuck on a boat drifting around the Mediterranean, her husband’s idea of a holiday, even though he knew the water terrified her, but she always caved in to his forceful ideas. It was easier to do that than have his hands rip at her skin in a drunken, violent haze. It was easier to absorb the pain, something she’d done for 23 years.
Every holiday revolved around the yacht, but this was their first foray around Greece.
His voice punched through her reverie. ‘Don’t just stand there, get me a drink.’
She looked up, her mind catching up with her.
Her husband stood at the helm, faux captain’s cap glinting beneath the last of the ruby-tainted sunlight that shimmered in the distance, his hands caressing the wheel as though it was his mistress.
Amphitrite’s deck moaned against the swell. The deep shudder made him smile.
Stella moved away from the rail, inched across the deck towards the steps to the lower cabin. Her voice bristled with caution. ‘It looks quite squally in the distance.’
‘Nothing unusual in these waters,’ he grunted. ‘It’s the Med, for Christ’s sake. It can turn on you.’
Her stomach pitched. ‘Perhaps we c--’
‘Just shut up and get me a drink, yeah?’
She recoiled against his sting, silently descended the steps to the galley and grabbed a beer from the fridge. She gazed at a framed picture hanging on the wall near the steps, two people laughing beneath a cherry blossom tree in full, lusty bloom.
Her wedding day, 23 years ago.
They had no children. He didn’t want them, but she was too lost to the ideal of love that, eventually, her needs became redundant. And now familiarity bred contempt, like a rotting corpse beneath a hot sun. Maggots writhed beneath the surface.
She went back up the steps. A vermillion scar stretched across the horizon to her left, steadily devoured by a creeping darkness to her right. The wind had picked up, no longer satiated by the sunlight.
She handed him the beer, watched as he steered Amphitrite into the speckled grey clouds clinging to the ocean.
The sound of the sails made her look up. They flapped like a flock of stricken birds, became loud. She fastened her life jacket.
He didn’t wear one. He hated wearing them. Confident as always.
Soft spittle grazed her face; the squall rolled in from the distance. The yacht sailed headlong into the approaching theatre of darkness. The sickly swell in her stomach rose up her gullet and threatened to make her vomit, but somehow she managed to keep it down by sucking in the cool air.
The yacht creaked, rolled a little.
He fought with the wheel.
The dark crept in quickly, brought rain with it.
Something across the ocean rumbled. Her insides shuddered as the storm rushed toward them. ‘Perhaps we should turn the yacht around and go back.’
‘No way. You wanted to go to Crete. This was your stupid idea, so that’s where we’re going.’
‘We can still turn back,’ she said. ‘No point in being foolish.’
‘Foolish? No point turning back, we might as well sail through it get out of it as soon as we can. Besides, the yacht is strong; she can face a moderate storm.’
The water around them gurgled with agitation. Something groaned; a dark, malignant shadow quickly rose above the stern and smashed into the deck, washing them both towards the guardrails. The boat listed, heaved by the engorged swell.
Their voices melted into the night. Screams...like dust particles, swept across the bow.
She clung tight to a capstan, saw a blur of colour sweep by as her husband shot across the deck, snatched by the force of the wave. He clung to the handrail; his eyes bright with dread through the darkness.
The sea was cold against her skin, callous against her eyes.
The ocean heaved again, sucked him down.
She lurched as the yacht panned. She gazed down; saw him clinging to the ladder.
The ladder parried against the side of the boat and the frothy swell undulated as though drawing the strength to wrench him from his security. His knuckles whitened against a savage God of the sea, a grotesque creature that rose up and snarled, lashing at his feet.
Her fretful expression melted. Her expression melted. She could almost see the trident rising from the depths, the shape of Poseidon lurching beneath the surface.
His voice cleanly sliced through the darkness. ‘Help...Christ!’
She leaned over the rail, barely able to cling on, her fingers outstretched.
The yacht pitched.
Her life with him inked her conscience; memories dulled the numbness in her fingertips. The cold closed in around them.
He reached out for her.
Grasping fingers lured him; her deviant invitation, but a malignant demon squatted in her expression, shuddered with rancour, hungry for spite.
He reached up. Fear dribbled from his face.
She saw through the thin thread of his panic. Saw fear of a different kind. Fear that she had often felt; the closeted pain inside, and out. The stifling feeling of him on her, in her.
Stomach swill threatened. Fingers touched.
His pulse was strong and fearful against hers, bulging with panic.
The God of the sea growled, churned with effortless cruelty, as demons of the deep gathered beneath her husband’s feet like a shoal of foul, rotten-mouthed sharks.
The slight upturn of her mouth betrayed her intention. She let go.
He dropped into the water, sucked down by a devious current.
The lightning stole a glimpse of her relief.
Then, above the storm, she heard his screams. Drifting.
A J Humpage has stories published in many anthologies like 6 Sentences, Pill Hill Press, Static Movement and many e-zines. She also writes articles and dispenses writing advice at http://allwritefictionadvice.blogspot.com. She has completed her first novel and some of her stories and poetry can be found at http://ajhumpage.blogspot.com.