HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.

Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…

On Top of the Sheets

Jon Alston


Her palm limp against his chest, thin red lines reaching out from beneath her skin, running up along his throat. Strawberry red lips hung loose. Words retired hours ago into the folds of pockets and socks, the walls left with only condensation beads breathed from bodies unseen. That palm and its teal fingernails motionless against that chest, vermilion ovals on the back of that palm, sticky and crumpled, trailing down his stomach to those strawberry lips.
The last footsteps before the door eased closed echoed in the floorboards and glass.
A rat skirts the base boards, nose raised above its body testing the heavy night air pressing on the bed, the bodies, the walls and windows and rat. No light from the room. Through the window over the bed, glowing green neon stretches long shadows distorting the bodies, the bed, the room, the rat – its thick black body towering over the bed. And the palm. And the chest. The rat stops, all the sound stripped from the apartment by the closed door, except for a soft dripping. On hind legs it raises its nose higher into the room’s miasma, flicking up and down, a gentle sway from side to side, examining the various aromas; blood mingled with dry sheets, a hint of sulphur and the wax of cheap lipstick, salt and saliva. The rat dropped to its feet and scurried to the edge of the bed. Stopped. Lifted again onto its legs to smell: something else, something different. Like something it knew, but from outside, from among the leaves and weeds and grasses and flowers. A sweet fragrance. Peaches, perhaps, or oranges. The rat stretched up against the bedclothes, its nose pulling that thick body upwards to the smell, that familiar yet implacable smell. Claws pricked into the linens, following the nose up and onto the bed where the two bodies lay, still and silent. Stronger, the odour became on the bed. The rat probed around the man’s ribs and torso, streaks of the smell almost faded from his skin, guided the rat down to beyond the palm to those flaccid strawberry red lips. Her hair covered one eye, the bouquet dripping from her short black strands resting on her cheekbone and jawline. With eyes closed, the rat dug its nose into her hair, inhaling the syrupy smell, filling its lung with the viscosity caught in those lifeless black threads. Tiny rat hands nestled against her hair, the soft under-paws slipping through to the cold taught skin beneath. Chills rattled the rat’s body, pushing it off her cheeks and back onto the man’s abdomen away from those smells, from those tangles. Her face now caught in the glowing light, drawing the rat in.
It stares into her still open eyes, focused beyond the palm and throat, to the face of that man, and the rat thinks how beautiful she is, her smooth cheek lines and round eyes, the smell of her hair settling around her lips and his stomach, how her nose curls at the tip. For a moment the rat thinks she almost smiles at him, the green neon tracing the lines on her face, highlighting the subtle creases that had been growing. And the rat smiles to her, nods, then begins to nibble on her finger.

Jon Alston has an MA in Creative Writing. Good for him. He even got accepted in Lancaster University’s PhD program. Hot dog. He writes things from time to time, and sometimes people publish them. Good for him. On occasion, he photographs things (or people), and maybe writes about them; sometimes there is money exchanged for his services. Good for him. He is married with two children of both genders. Way to reproduce. He is the Executive Editor and founder of From Sac, a literary journal for Northern California. How about that? He recently returned to warm California after teaching English at Brigham Young University, Idaho among the frozen potato fields and Mormons. Good for you, Jon. Good for you.
Website: http://jaawriter.blogspot.com