This week KYD is showcasing extracts from this year’s Unpublished Manuscript Award shortlist, who are spending the week fine-tuning their work in an online intensive as part of the KYD/Varuna Copyright Agency Fellowship. Read extracts from the other shortlistees here!
Thirteen years after the disappearance of Shelby Dallow, Corey Hallowell is still treated like a pariah by his local community in a small town in the bushlands of the Flinders Ranges. Accused of the abduction, he’s become the local bogeyman. The Rayson family are the worst, calling him a pervert and a murderer. So when a little boy goes missing out in the national park, no-one’s more surprised than Hallowell when the Raysons arrive on his doorstep to ask for his help. The events that follow will force Hallowell and the townsfolk to confront the frightening ghosts of the past.
Hand’s gone numb, suddenly no longer belongs to him. Corey rolls over in bed and lifts this limp, drooping appendage and stares at his curled fingers in the dark. Must’ve fallen asleep with it pinned under his weight. It’s always struck him as such a weird sensation, not just tingling inside with pins and needs with no circulation, but completely unfeeling. Dead to the world, to him most of all. A lifeless thing still attached to him, as if he’s doomed to drag it along for who-knows-how-long.
Corey starts to shake it madly in front of him, watching it rattle back and forth like a strange, pale growth in the cool moonlight. Wrist aches at him. Imagines his hand no longer a hand but become like a pallid bolus. Seen so many sickly, bloodied burls festering on the sides of the river red gums down at the creek, unwelcome burdens. He’s been whipping the hand around like something used to cast a spell, a gourd rattled in some unknowable witchery, when he realises the feeling has still not returned to it, only the pain in his wrist, the joint hanging onto the dead hand.
Senses the horrors rising in him, and what a strange horror it would be, to wake in the middle of the night to find your right hand no longer works at all. The thing just died for no obvious reason. Can imagine visiting the GP only to be told the hand cannot be brought back to life and now they’ll have to amputate it at the wrist. Then after the doctors have cut off his hand and given it to him in a jar of formaldehyde as a souvenir, he’d start to feel it again, only once it’s gone. A phantom limb, he thinks they call it. He’d stare at the stump of his wrist on its own and swear he can still unstitch his fingers, swear he could still rattle it above him like a dark magic maraca in the black above him in bed.
The oncoming tide of relief to feel the creep of pins and needles, the pain rising from his strained wrist up into his finger joints. This just makes Corey rattle the cold thing harder in the air, fractious to reclaim it as his own. Once he has a grip on his fingers again, he clenches them over and over again, making a fist and releasing it again, until, finally, it’s his property once more.
Senses the horrors rising in him, and what a strange horror it would be, to wake in the middle of the night to find your right hand no longer works at all.
An old saying, heard it in a movie. The devil claims idle hands. Corey couldn’t claim to be idle, that’s for certain, but he wonders if someone had been trying to steal it anyway. Not necessarily the devil, but something graver, closer to home. Casting a spell over his right hand and trying to make it theirs for whatever crimes to commit.
Corey rattles the feeling back into his hand and it’s almost his again, just the slightest numbness hangs in there stubbornly, and he listens to the cold dark of his home, every empty room in this big house. He’s always slept more soundly in an empty house. Back when his parents still lived here he was too readily kept awake by snoring, or even their heavy breathing. Even the dog’s susurrations bothered him. But now it’s just him and all these uninhabited rooms, forming a fist over and over again like someone gearing up for a fight, and it frightens him sometimes how he hungers for such emptiness.
His again. The hand attached to his wrist and under his control. He grabs at it with his other hand and feels how cold it went during its numbness, obviously wedged under his chest or stomach as he slept, or being sung under the control of someone cruel and needy. He rubs his hands together like someone trying to warm up above a campfire and sees his fingers interlock in the moonlight.
When he rolls his head on his doubled-over pillow, he’s a little shocked to find he’d fallen asleep with the bedroom window left open. He usually left it half up to feel the cool wind on his face washing in from the soughing creekline, but then as he felt himself going drowsy, he’d shut it before slipping away into the dark. Must’ve been more tired than he’d thought last night as he’d drifted off without shutting it. Never knew who or what could come creeping in the dark, seeing the old flagstone house and deciding to sneak inside.
The house is no longer under siege, hasn’t been for over a century, and yet Corey has the sense it always will be… The ghosts of these things are not so easily dispelled.
After all the house has been here a long time. Just a decade after the Durrant family built in on the edge of the red plain, a group of Adnyamathanha men infiltrated the house to confront the station owner about his sheep destroying an important waterhole nearby. A decade after that, a dispute with gold miners led to a ramshackle crowd of them, drunk and risible, attacking the outside walls with pickaxes to get their point across.
The house is no longer under siege, hasn’t been for over a century, and yet Corey has the sense it always will be, as long as it remains here festering on the edge of the plain. The ghosts of these things are not so easily dispelled.
He rolls over in bed and reaches for the window. Uses his right hand, the one completely numb just five minutes ago, but it’s his again, still a little cold but he can feel the hot blood surging to his fingertips, reclaiming what’s his. His property.
He pulls the window down all the way, until it clicks shut. He locks it and then rolls back over in bed, ensuring his hands are out at his sides and he won’t wake again to find they no longer belong to him.