Open Call 2019, Short Stories - Charlotte Burnett




By Charlotte Burnett


The first time I’d seen one of them, I’d been too little to run away. Home had been an abstract concept of warmth, of Mummy’s arms and my own mouth at her breast. That had been a time before Rock, before the cold bite of the wind against my cheek as Mummy carried me up here, safe andaway from them.
Home was not so abstract anymore. Home was here, home was the rock under my feet, home was the tent she’d set up behind me, and home, well home was the gun she’d shoved into my hands.

Shoot everyone, everyone who isn’t me, and I’ll come back for you. That’s what she’d said, that’s what she’d promised, but I’m old enough now to realise, to know that, that had been a lie. Mummy wasn’t coming back for me, no one was coming back for me, not now, not ever. I was alone, but that was alright, I had the gun in my hand and the rock beneath me and I was home.

Other than bullets, what else did I need?


It should have been cold, I knew that, I remembered that from…from before…but it’s never cold. I should be hungry, I should be thirsty, but I never am, not for very long anyway. The Rock always seemed to know, to know just what to do. My mouth grew dry, and suddenly I’d slip and a cool pool of water would break my fall. Mystomach would growl and suddenly I’d look up into the branches of an apple laden tree.

Mostly though, I didn’t need anything, you don’t when all you do all day every day is sit, sit with your gun in your lap and wait, wait for one of themto stumble out of the woods.The Rock provided for that too, sitting here on the flat of its most upper reach, I can see all around me. No one can come and take my home away from me, not this time.

I shot three of them yesterday, an alarmingly high number this close to the dark time of year. Still it didn’t frighten me, because I was the best at shooting them. The best at telling the sound of their long, slow, crooked gate from the tread of a deer. I knew the sharp smell, the sharp tangy odour of rottenness that followed them everywhere. And most of all, I knew what they looked like, I knew their high forehead, their two beady eyes, their half-upright walk. They were different from other animals; their flesh was all peely off and wrong. It was green, but not like the little creatures with long tails that lived in the cracks of the Rock. It was wrong, like, like it shouldn’t even be there at all.

Sometimes, sometimes I think it’s sad that …that’s all that’s left. That, that’s all the world is anymore. Just me and them…just me and them forever, until the world gives up andcaves in on itself. Maybe I should think about that for longer, but I can’t, I just don’t have the time. If I stop to think about it, then I’ll miss, and they’ll get into my home. Can’t let them near, can’t let them near rock…or, or bad things will happen. Sometimes, before I blow their heads apart…BOOM like an explosion…I’d see them, see the blood at their mouths. See how it dangled in globs of spit against their crooked teeth, or how it splattered against the whole lower half of their face.

But it was alright, I know nothing bad can happen, after all I have so many bullets left.


One Bullet, Two Bullets, Three Bullets, Four.

Four Bullets in the body that just wouldn’t go down. I almost didn’t catch it in time, I almost let it come near, too stupid, too dazed from the mid-morning sun and my own growling stomach. I almost let it come near, almost let it inside my home again.

I should have stopped at that, should have known…should have guessed that it wouldn’t last. Should have stopped at one, that was the rule: one bullet, one body and you’d have enough to last. That was what Mummy said, at least I think it is, sometimes the faces in my head become all jumbled up, until everything looks likethe solid craggy face of the rock.

Maybe I should have stopped at one but it didn’t go down – too big for that – but I definitely should have stopped at four, I was just too angry. Angry, angry at that creature, at that hideous malformed freak who thought…no who dared to come near my home. It’s rotting corpse lies there, too close to pretend its smell doesn’t bother me, too close to pretend I hadn’t messed up, too close to pretend I’d been aiming at something else…when the gun stopped working.
No, the gun hadn’t stopped working, the gun worked perfectly, it had certainlyclicked as it ought to, but nothing had happened. The gun hadn’t stopped working…I had, the bullets were gone, I’d used them all up.

I’d done that before of course, shot so many things in my life that bullets, well sometimes they just needed to be refilled. It was like when my stomach becomes empty, and I need to eat an apple, or roast a chipmunk. I’m not worried, apples are like bullets in one way, there’ll always be more of them.

They should have been behind the tent, that was where I kept them, under a small pile of rocks behind my bed. That was where their boxes were, that was where I dug them out of…they should have been there. But they weren’t. When I dug up those boxesagain, all I found, all I’d scrabbled in the dirt for was…the boxes. They were empty.

The Bullets were gone.

The Bullets had run out.


It’s alright, it’s alright, it didn’t matter. No, no not so long as the sun remained as high in the sky as it did at midday. They hated the sun, that big one had only gotten so close because that morning had been particularly cool, with the glowing ball just hidden under the tops of the trees. Most days weren’t…weren’t like that. They were hot, boiling even, why Ican’t remember the last time I actually used my blanket.

Oh God, night! What was gonna happen when night came? The only light there, was the moon, and the light of the camping stove. They loved the moon, if anything it seemed to give them new life while under it and the stove, well that was nothing. They weren’t afraid of that, I’m not even afraid of that.

How long? The Sun’s still hot against the back of my neck but judging by the length of my shadow as it creeps across the face of the Rock, not very long at all. Soon, soon there wouldn’t be any sun and then They’d come, they’d come in their pairs, in their hundreds and…and I had nothing to stop them. Nothing…nothing to even slow them down. I was gonna die…I was going to die.

A numbness creeps over me then, and I feel oddly calm about it all. I was going to die, yes, but then everyone died. Mummy certainly had, why else would she have left me here, why else would she have…would she have left so few bullets behind? She’d known we’d would both die before we saw each other again, she’d known then in that cold dark night, when They’d broken into our old home, when they’d crashed through the door and gutted that man. That man whose face, whose face I can’t even picture anymore. Mummy must have cried after seeing that, because as she was running, as she was running up the hill from old home to new, my head – tucked as it was beneath her chin – kept getting wet. Even now, it still confuses me.

But then, everything’s confusing now. Everything’s confusing when she’s not hereto explain it to me. It’s alright though, it doesn’t matter, I’ll be able to see her again soon, I’ll be able to ask her everything. Maybe that’s good, maybe I should be happyabout that, I want to see her again. To look deep into her eyes again and tell her I love her, that I don’t blame her for leaving me here. With nothing but an old rock and a gun to stave off the horde, yes, I’d be happy about that. Happy about seeing her again.

I just don’t want to die, to do it.


A packet of beans, and an old tin of spaghetti: my last super.Normally I didn’t like to tear into the old supplies, I’d never been allowed to when I was little, and there’d still been someonearound to stop me and now, well now I stopped myself. After all, there must have been a good reason why we were only allowed such treats on the Sunday. There wasn’t now. Nothing mattered now.

It’s dark and I’m cold, a strange feeling in a strange land, but still I don’t dare put on the camping stove. They might see, no, they would see and then death would come all the sooner. I’d been thinking about it all day, waiting for Sun to set and night to bring its killing darkness. Maybe, maybe if I kept quiet and…and kept my body cold and hidden I didn’t have to die.

They wouldn’t see me.

A crack in the distance, a snap of a twig beneath a heavy foot and I knew, they were here and dinner would have to remain uneaten. It was alright, I wasn’t hungry anyway. Down into the deep hollows of the rock I shuffled, the sharp press of its edges cutting into my shoulder, leaving a long trail of blood as Iwriggled downwards.

Oh Mummy.


Oh God, I’m gonna faint, but no, I can’t let myself be a wuss, not this time. I had to, I had to remain awake, sleep was the enemy now. Sleep made me slow, sleep made me still, sleep was what they wanted.

Maybe it was good I cut my shoulder then, maybe even it was good that it’s still oozing blood, leaving a flattened pool of the tough sticky stuff where I leant against. I’d certainly never sleep now.


A tapping sound above me, that was all I could hear. No footfalls, no dragging limps, just the gentle tap, tap, tap of what had to be the rain up above. It’d never rained at night before, so I didn’t know whether they hated the water, or whether it had just been the sun that kept them away that time. Away from my rock, away from my home.

“Tap, tap, tap”

Funny,it almost sounded too slow to be rain, almost as if it were something else, something dripping down, slowlymethodically on the rock, on my head, on my face. I looked up then, for surely, I was wrong and the rain hadonly had a lazy start.

Two great, shinning eyes stared back at me, the drip, drip, drip, of a wet sticky substance – just like the kind pressed against my shoulder – trickled down from those eyes. There’s no growling, or moaning, or even laughter, there’s just me, me and those two yellow eyes.


There’s no light anymore, not even the Moon marks myfootsteps as I run. I shouldn’t be able to run along this path, the walk-way is much too thin, but then again maybe I shouldn’t have been able to wriggle down that hole, maybe the bodies shouldn’t have found me, and maybe I shouldn’t have fallen. Fallen further, down until my back hit the bottom, the bottom of the Hallow rock I’d been living on since…since I could first say her name.

They followed, as they always did, but I can’t let myself listen, even though in the dark echo of the cave, their grunts and screams are all I can hear.
Their voices were not the sounds of animals, or even the fairy-tale monsters I made up in my head, when I could no longer stand the silence any more. They were different from that, they were deeper and done with much more purpose. I might have once said they resembled my own, except I’d stopped bothering to speak years ago.

Click, click, went their feet as they walked against the hard stone of my rock. They were outside, they were on top of it crawling around its face like a sack full of roaches. I hated them, hated their stench, and their noises, but most of all, I hated the feeling, the feeling of exhaustion that came over me whenever I even thought of them. That’s why I had to block the noise out, that groaning, snarling, rasping noise from all around me, I had to keep running. For as disgusting as they were outside, it was nothing compared to the ones who had followed me down here.

I could smell them, I could hear them, oh Mummy I could even taste them. My steps were growing foggy, and my mind couldn’t…couldn’t block them out anymore. Couldn’t block anything out anymore, not even the voice that screamed at me to…

‘Get down!’

But that’s alright, I was going to do that anyway.


Light. Nothing but light assaulted me when I opened my eyes again, the light and the sound of her voice. I knew it was a her, because I rememberedthe sound of voices, and hers had sounded like that.

I sat up, a feeling of overwhelming excitement gripping me then, could it be? She’d, she’d come back, she’d come back for me. Ilooked around then, the bodies were gone, their stench vanished and around me the air was crisp and clear. Everything was good, all was right and over my head, on the ledge above me sat, her. A small – smaller even then me though I’d grown a lot since, since last, I’d seenher – figure in the haze of the pre-morning sun. She was…she was as beautiful as I remembered and for the first time since the dark night, the dark night when she’d sat me up here, on this rock, I opened my mouth and said the only word I’d ever been able to say.


The figure’s head snapped round, as if I’d said something shocking, or terribly insulting. She got up from where she’d been crouching on the ground, and marched down to me with all the strength that a mother should have, and then she was there, standing over me and I knew, knew without a doubt that I’d be wrong. This wasn’t my Mummy, she was much too short, her hair much to jaggedly cut and her face much too narrow and sprayed with too much…too much red powder. I remembered Mummy had, had hated that red powder women were supposed to rub on their cheeks to make them pretty, she had never needed it.

‘Are you high, Asshole?’

Well, yes, we both were, why else would we be on the rock other than to be high off the ground? Which is what I wanted to say to her, but instead all that came out was the same word, the only word that ever came out.


She smiled then, but it wasn’t a nice smile like Mummy used to have, it was mean and cruel and accompanied with a laugh that did not sound jolly at all.
‘Christ ass, is that all you can say? Mummy? Hell, no one has a mummy anymore, not even little kids. What are you sixteen? Seventeen?’
I don’t say anything, because I can only say one word, and she’d only laugh harder if I said it again.


Eventually she stopped laughing, she stopped finding myinability to speak funny and started finding it irritating. That was when she started ruining everything. First, she lost her temper with me, when I couldn’t tell her where the ‘kind…ling..’ was. Then she grabbed thebullet boxes and set them on fire. I Screamed, Mummy told me never to throw away the boxes…though in the heat of the fire’s blaze I couldn’t remember why.

‘Now,’ said the weird girl, her hair all the wrong colour.

‘Your gun works, but the ammunition is fucked.’


‘You got any food?’

I looked back at the tent, where the tins of spaghetti, and pickled beetroot, should have been standingall proud and strong, they weren’t there now. Or if they were, they were all cracked and broken, trampled into the ground by some heavy foot. She followed my line of sight and sighed.

‘Well, that’s great. Go out of my way to save you, and there’s nothing left. Oh God, we’ll have to move on.’


‘They’ve got this place’s scent, they’ll be back. And this time it’ll take more than a couple shots to the head to scare ‘em away.’

No. No, I’m not leaving…I won’t leave. She can’t make me leave, she…it’s wrong. Mummy told me to wait, Mummy told me this was my home now. This is my home, this has been my home fornearly sixteen years now and Iwasn’t going tolet anyone take it away from me. Not them, not those creatures that ruined my old home, and certainly not her.

Her Gun feels wrong in my hand, I’m so used to my own, but it doesn’t matter, she goes down just like they all do in the end. With my bullet through her temple.
Home is the gun in myhand, home is the Rock under my feet and Home is this, home is the feeling of joy after each kill, and now…well,now nothing would take it away from me.

Not even her.




Charlotte Burnett is a 24, Dyslexic, high functioning Autistic woman who lives in Scotland. She has previously short stories published at literary journals such as the Write Launch and Coffin Bell. She is currently studying for an Open Degree focusing on Psychology and Creative Writing with the Open University.


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