Axe to Grind 2020, 3rd place winner: "Status Update"
by Kate Viggers
The first thing you see is a pink puddle, inches from your nose, and you think
but the second thing you notice is a whiff of iron, and your sluggish brain conjures up the blood-soaked pads in pork chop packets, and the milky bubbles on the nipple of that woman breastfeeding on the bus this morning, and you realise what it is you’re blinking at. You swallow the heave in your stomach with a dry
and your skull pounds and you think
From where you lie, with your neck twisted and your cheek pressed against the frigid tiles, you can see that the pink soup of congealing blood and cream is seeping under the cooker. You remind yourself
clean under there later or it’ll start to smell
(At this point, later is still a possibility.)
You look beyond the crimson-tinged grout to the upturned carton by Mr Bluesky’s bowl. Next to it lies Milo’s drawing; you must have knocked it when you fell. It should be clamped to the fridge with the dinosaur magnet: Me and Daddy at the prak. It was always ‘the prak’ after that.
The third thing you notice is someone sitting at the table: a pair of boots in the forest of chair legs. One chair scrapes back, deafening in the snowdrift silence of your kitchen, and your brain trills crazily
coming, ready or not!
while your body lies motionless, a fleshy cage of queasy shock.
The boots walk around the table.
There is no strength in your limbs with which to drag yourself away, and you think
this is what dread feels like
and your spine clenches.
The boots stop at the edge of the pink puddle.
You are roadkill: bloodied and helpless. You are afraid to look, but your gaze travels anyway, roving over the looming figure
knees and toes, knees and toes!
and you think
i am hysterical
Hatred glares at you above a mask.
pulls your eyes back down.
Milo’s cricket bat hangs from a gloved hand. The end is stained scarlet, the wood fractured: a tangle of blonde hair is caught in the oozing crevice. Another droplet lands in the pink puddle: a perfect circle of crimson expands and is absorbed.
The figure bends down, mask jumping. You can’t make out the words over the ringing in your ears. You try to reply
but the sounds which escape your mouth are horror film effects
A squalling gate.
A malignant crow.
You feel a spreading warmth.
The figure shifts sideways to avoid the yellow tendrils radiating beneath you, mingling with the puddle, a rancid cocktail of your bodily juices.
The mask comes closer.
Your eyes squeeze shut and you think
this is what fear smells like
and now, you hear clearly. One word: Sofia
So you know, then, who your attacker is.
Arms clamp you from behind, squashing your breasts, and your body is lifted from the floor and you—
—are sitting at the kitchen table.
Your chin lolls on your chest; your hands are tied in your lap.
You are not sure when your finger was cut off. There is a gap where the left index used to be, a ragged flap of skin, a flash of knuckle bone.
There is no pain but you scream anyway and a cloth is stuffed between your teeth.
You remind yourself
but the taste of shoe polish makes your stomach lurch and, this time, vomit floods your mouth. You swallow it down before you choke. Acid burns your throat.
You lift your head, blinking.
Your attacker is opposite, where Milo usually sits. In one gloved hand is your phone. In the other, she holds your finger. The glittery acrylic glued to its end has snapped. She presses the pad against the unlock button and the screen glows into life. She uses your finger to tap and swipe and type.
Eventually, she turns the phone so you can see.
A status update:
Zara Mitchell is feeling… sorry
She types again; shows you, again:
I’ve done a terrible thing.
She dangles your finger over ‘Post’, eyebrows raised above the mask, waiting for something.
Please don’t, I’ll do anything you want.
Go ahead, it’s what I deserve.
I didn’t mean for it to happen.
But that last one is not quite true.
You messaged her husband from the conference in Bulgaria. He made an excuse, took a flight to Sofia. You spent three days fucking him in your hotel. You should have been working. He should have been at the birth of his child.
Your attacker stretches across the table, pushing the phone up to your face. A photo has been uploaded to your pending status.
Your mouth on her husband’s, both of you naked.
You don’t know why you kept it.
Her eyes lock on yours as she jabs your mutilated finger at the screen: ‘Post’.
Panic quickens your breathing. Your ribcage bangs as your mind races through lists: colleagues, old friends, new ones, family, school parents, your parents.
Your attacker stands and walks behind you. Something slips over your head and your backside lifts slightly off the chair.
You catch your reflection in the patio doors. Your dressing gown has fallen open; one breast is exposed. Your face is half masked by the blood leaking from the gash in your forehead; the untainted skin is underbelly-pale. Your hair is plastered to your cheeks, matted blonde bled to brunette. Your eyes blaze like burn holes.
An expectant noose lies around your neck, the rope trailing upwards, pulling you towards the ceiling fan.
Your killer yanks out the cloth gag and pockets it, with your finger. She unties you and hands you the phone.
Mr Bluesky pads into the kitchen.
He sniffs at the pink puddle, and starts to lap.
The friend you betrayed leaves as silently as she arrived.
Kate works in PR and lives in Hampshire, UK, with her husband, two teenage children, and more Stephen King books than she has room for. Her novels and stories have been long- and shortlisted in various competitions. She is currently working on her fourth novel.