Traces of Us, Hot Enough for Dinner

On the anniversary of her fiancee's death, our protagonist finds herself in a time loop where demons flood in every night and tear everyone to shreds.

Terribly rude of Georgia and Tim to get married on the first anniversary of my fiancée’s death.

When I wake on the 14th of April, there’s already a text from my mother: I have to promise I’ll arrive in time for the ceremony, or they’ll swing by on the way and physically bundle me into the car.

I squint in the sunlight and unpeel myself from the torso-sized pool of sweat on the fitted sheet.

All I actually want to do today is linger in bed, take an extended shower, and then bring tulips to the place where Lucy bled out in her car a year ago. Instead, I tap back, “Fine,” and rifle through my closet for something acceptable to wear to this damn wedding.

I settle on a kelly green dress with a mesh collar and mesh sleeves. Most of my lone tattoo is visible through the sleeves: the speech-bubble rectangle of Lucy’s last text: “See you soon! Love you!” Mum will say some variant of “That’s hideously morbid” when she sees it, but she’s welcome to.

I tuck on some shoes, brush my teeth, and paint on some lipstick. Then I stand frozen in a sunspot until I can bear to step outside.


Georgia and Tim’s wedding is like most other weddings until we reach the reception dinner. You know the kind: they meet each other’s minimum expectations (his are high, hers are low), and they’ll raise kids together, but there’s nothing about the ceremony or speeches that are particularly personal, nothing that says you’re my soulmate or implies that thousands of other people wouldn’t do just as good a job in the roles of their husband or wife.

But the dinner mixes it up. Just as the waiter is serving my shriveled quail, the floor-length windows in front of us shatter, and in pour dozens of monsters—demons, I think. Child-size and muscular and lean, in all of the colors of obsidian and charcoal and dusky blood. Sharp eyes and sharp claws and sharp teeth. They descend on the wedding guests like a wave, and there is barely time for any running or shrieking before they are upon us.

I see swirls of frantic glitter and sequins, and crockery and glassware upended into the air, and then the shining points of demonic teeth before they sink into my jugular.


Fuck Georgia and Tim.

When I wake on the 14th of April, there’s already a text from my mother. I sit on the bed cradling my phone, trying to shrug off the nightmare of the violently interrupted wedding reception.

When my heartbeat finally slows, I text back “Fine” and pull on the kelly green dress.

The ceremony is exactly the way I remember it. When I arrive, Mum scolds me for my unbrushed hair and the existence of my tattoo, and she’s showing off the infinity brooch Dad gave her for their 20th wedding anniversary. The church aisle is steeped in that new biodegradable glitter: white and silver. Georgia walks down the aisle to Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” (a very questionable choice) and carries a bouquet of waratahs. The priest talks for seemingly hours, and my little brother’s hands keep twitching towards the 3DS in his suit jacket pocket. The bride and groom say the standard vows. My sister Tamsin loses one of her hoop earrings under the pews and never gets it back.

By the time we’ve all filed out into the parking lot, there are sizable sweat stains on my dress, and my mind is overwhelmed with visions of demons filling the reception hall next door.

“Mum,” I say, tugging on her sleeve with shaking fingers. “Please, can we go home? I don’t feel well at all.”

“Amber,” she whisper-hisses. “You will not ruin this day for us.”

“I’m not trying to ruin it,” I say, and promptly throw up onto the nature strip.

Tamsin pulls a handful of tissues from her handbag and shoves them towards me.

“Please,” I say. “I’d drive myself home, but I don’t think I can manage it.”

The four of us climb into my mother’s four-wheel drive. Jason is much happier playing on his 3DS, and Tamsin is only a little irritated that she won’t get the chance to flirt with the boys at the reception. I feel my entire body starting to unwind as we drive away from the scene of Demon Apocalypse 2020.

Back at the family home, Mum bakes us a lasagne and sends Jason and me outside to fetch parsley while Tamsin sets the table. Jason’s 3DS screen is a bright spot in the garden as the last sliver of sun dawdles above the horizon. I settle my hand on his shoulder to help guide him as we near the parsley patch near the river.

But there are other spots of light in the garden. I tighten my grip on Jason’s shoulder and reach around with my other arm to flick his 3DS screen closed. He starts to protest until he sees them too—dozens of shining eyes around us, getting closer and closer, white and red and silver pairs, emerging in a rough circle around us. Demons with goat’s horns or four arms or mouths gaping out of their palms. They’re high in the trees and enmeshed in the shrubbery and rising out of the grasses.

They creep up around us until there is no alternative ending. They leap as one.


When I wake on the 14th of April, there’s already a text from my mother. I barely resist the urge to hurl my phone at the opposite wall. How am I supposed to reply? Can’t go, Mum. Demons will eat me.

I sit on the linoleum and guzzle half a 1.25 liter bottle of Diet Coke. Then I pull on my tracksuit pants over my sleeping shirt, text back “See you there,’” and haul ass over to the local Bunnings.

I tear into the church parking lot just as the ceremony is finishing. Mum has been blowing up my phone for the past hour and looks incensed to see me finally arriving in a hired ute piled high with wooden planks. “Mum!” I shout. “Tamsin! Jason! Get in the car right now! This is fucking life and death! Get in the goddamned car!

To their credit, my siblings glance at each other and jog towards the rear doors.

My mother reaches for Tamsin’s arm but is too slow. “Amber . . . ” she starts, but I yell, “I’ll explain in the motherfucking car, Mum!”  She sighs and climbs in.

On the drive to our family home, I relate the minor details of Georgia and Tim’s wedding ceremony—which they have just experienced—and then the details of the pre-dinner chunk of the wedding reception—which they have not—ending with the slaughter of every guest to a small army of demonic wedding crashers. I narrate our failed lasagne and my current plan to barricade us all inside my childhood bedroom (now Mum’s home gymnasium feat. my Lady Gaga curtains she never replaced).

Pausing impatiently at a red light, I examine their suspicious faces. “Look,” I say. “I don’t really care if you don’t believe me. Do this one thing for me today, and I swear, if nothing happens, I’ll patch up the room. I’ll go to therapy if you want, Mum. I’ll get my tattoo lasered off. Tasmin can have my car, and Jason, I don’t know what you want, so I’ll help you hit on girls or something. Okay?”

Fuckin’ okay.

We nail Mum’s gym up tight with the wooden planks. Nice solid wood, nice solid nails, not an inch of door or window uncovered. We piled food and bottles of water on the running machine, in case we’re stuck here for a while. A crowbar is propped against the weightlifting bench, so we can pry ourselves free.

Honestly, even if they think I’m a nutcase, I haven’t felt this close to my family in years.

I check my watch. “Not long until sundown now.” I take up the crowbar like a baseball bat and position myself in the middle of the room. It’s hard to get the perfect grip with my sweaty hands. “Guys, if we don’t live through this—if I wake up and it’s April 14th tomorrow, what would convince you I was telling the truth? What’s something I would never know otherwise?”

Jason doesn’t take long to answer. “Just tell me your middle name is Rose.”

“What? That’s not something I don’t know. That’s not even the truth.”

“It’s a reference, Amber. Killer movie. I’ll know what you’re talking about.”

I roll my eyes at him. “I don’t— Fine. Tamsin?”

She’s jack-knifed into a corner. “Um,” she says, “I have a mole on my left boob. That no-one knows about.”

“Okay,” I say, my eyes flicking between our wooden barricades. “Mum?”

I have to prompt her a second and third time. Eventually, she says, “I won a calligraphy contest when I was twenty-two. I wrote: sometimes there are too many lilies in the house.”

I sew all of these phrases deep into my brain matter.

The demons do come, of course. I am expecting banging when they do, but there is no banging. They slip through the negligible cracks between and under the pieces of wood—like shadows, like liquid, like they are made of smoke or sand. The only noises come from our trembling mouths, seeing the claws coalesce into their full forms as they slide into the room.

I leap into action, smashing the crowbar into the claws, but an ocean of them pours in from where we tried to block off the door and windows.More creep in through the slats of the five-inch air vent.

I swing the crowbar as fast as I can manage. I knock three of them on their backs before I feel it—a pair of horns. They impale my lower back, lifting me into the air like skewered meat.


I do try. It’s not fair to say I didn’t try.

I drive my family as far away as possible.

I put us on a boat. On a plane.

I seal us in an airlocked room.

The demons always, always come.

Maybe it’s just me they want; I FaceTime Tamsin while we’re suburbs apart, watching the demons cannonballing into her living room while they open my door with a protracted squeak and hold a quiet finger to their teeth.

Not just me, then.

I try to protect us in a shooting range, in a police station. I seal us in a ring of fire and gasoline.

The demons always come.


I don’t always try.

I go to Georgia and Tim’s wedding reception and write bizarre poetry in sharpie on their napkins:

Oh

Well

You’re going to hell

You’ll never be cold

And I’ll be there

🙂

I go to Georgia and Tim’s wedding reception and get blackout drunk in the ladies’ toilets.

I go to Georgia and Tim’s wedding reception, get slightly less drunk, and steal the microphone from the DJ’s desk: “We were supposed to get married! Lucy and me!”

The DJ quickly mutes my microphone and cranks up the music, but joke’s on him because I wrench out the electric plug for his equipment, and I have a loud voice from all the speech and drama classes Mum made me take in primary school. Speaking of, Mum has stood up and is making her way over to where I’m gesturing wildly in my kelly green dress. “We were supposed to get married last September!”

“Amber!” she hisses.

Fuck off, Mum. “We were going to marry in the botanic gardens,” I continue. “Did you know that?” Everyone in the room is watching me. I clamber onto the faux-marble bar where Mum can’t easily get to me.

“Amber, you’re making a fool of yourself!”

“No,” I say, “Lucy already did that when she went and fucking died.” I curtsy to my audience. “And now Georgia and Tim are getting married on the anniversary of her not existing anymore. And why the hell should they be able to do that when they don’t love each other one fraction of how much Lucy and I loved each other.” My blood is drumming in my ears like a dirge. “And…”

At the other end of the room, the first of the waiters are backing into the dining room with the shrivelled quail.

“And why am I still here?” I whisper, drawing a chopping knife from the pockets of my cocktail dress. This isn’t where I need to be, but there’s no time to change today until tomorrow. For now, I declare in my fiercest battle cry, “Fuck Georgia and Tim!”

I slice the knife across my neck in one fluid stroke.


I linger in bed on the 14th of April, staring at the ceiling and focusing intently on the feeling of my breath entering and leaving my body.

There’s already a text from my mother. “Sorry, I won’t be here,” I write back, and then turn off my phone.

I take a shower, towel myself off, and climb into my wedding dress. It’s simple, ivory—lacy panels and an asymmetric hem. When I drive towards the fanciest florist I know, it doesn’t get in the way.

I purchase the most elaborate tulip arrangement. I bring it with me to the last place Lucy ever took a breath and place it in the dirt there like an offering.

Then I wait in the car.

As the streetlamps flicker to life, the demons slink out of the trees beside the highway. They surround the car gradually, stalking it like a prey animal, closing in like a noose.

Some of them are already clawing the locked doors, the scraping sound of bone on metal, but that doesn’t matter anymore. I see my love between their monstrous faces through the windshield. My Lucy, standing beside the highway in the pink dress with the tulip pattern, the one she wore to our first Valentine’s Day.

The demons keep coming—always, always, breaking the glass and breaking my skin—but I see her in between their writhing bodies, standing so still, the breeze playing through her hair, and she’s smiling. She’s smiling at me with all the love in the universe.

See you soon! Love you!

The demons are a swarm inside the car. They’re all over me, a mass of shredding and hunger, but tears of joy pour down my bloody cheeks.

I see her smile. I see her smile at me.

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Issue 1.3

COMING FALL 2022 IN PRINT AND EPUB.

Purchasers will also receive access to downloadable desktop and phone wallpapers of our beautiful cover art created by the amazingly talented Katerina Belikova (aka Ninja Jo) and inspired by Brian Low's story, “Have You Seen This Hungry Ghost?"
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Issue 1.3

COMING FALL 2022 IN PRINT AND EPUB.

Purchasers will also receive access to downloadable desktop and phone wallpapers of our beautiful cover art created by the amazingly talented Katerina Belikova (aka Ninja Jo) and inspired by Brian Low's story, “Have You Seen This Hungry Ghost?"
$10.00

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Traces of Us, Hot Enough for Dinner

On the anniversary of her fiancee's death, our protagonist finds herself in a time loop where demons flood in every night and tear everyone to shreds.

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