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Summer Burning by A.C. Luke

“Who are you here for?” 

I look up and see her haloed by the afternoon sun, golden light through golden hair. Indistinct, angelic even, if she hadn’t been dressed in black. I don’t know her name. 

“Tom—my brother. You?”

Did I pass her on the way out? Did she see me stumble down onto the concrete stairs? The heat inside the church had been too much, too claustrophobic. It’d felt like grasping fingers under my skin, blistering and nauseating. The air had tasted of sweat and smoke and the overwhelming stench of mourners’ flowers. The figure had been standing in the corner.

“My boyfriend.”

We don’t bother exchanging sorries. Instead, she settles next to me on the church steps, and we sit side by side, knees under dresses almost touching. An ancient eucalyptus throws a lifeline of shadow across us. The strained whirring of fans feels far away.

I need summer to end. Every scorching minute reminds me of that day, of the dry heat that had peeled skin and turned the park’s concrete paths into tracks of hot coals. The nearby sea had provided little relief, just the occasional staid and salty breeze. 

Despite the weather, the crowds had been massive. Tom and I had been in line for the ride for almost an hour. My frozen drink—raspberry, carefully rationed—had melted crimson. Then, ahead of us, a girl had screamed, stumbled out of the line. The scuffle spilt my drink everywhere; sticky, red crystals soaked into my shirt, stained my hands. Tom had laughed. I’d tried to curse out the girl, but she’d already vanished. The guy she’d been with, a young man with a bemused look, shrugged at me. He hadn’t chased after her. Didn’t want to lose his place in line. 

I’d had to, though. I’d left Tom alone to try and find a place to rinse out my shirt. He’d offered to come with me, and I told him not to miss out on the ride on my account. He’d smiled.

I’d been standing in a shitty public toilet, pink streams spilling into the sink, when I’d heard the screams, smelt the smoke. I ran outside, far too late. Charcoal and sulphur and the taste of acrid meat clung to my tongue as they roasted alive. Even days later, I’d woken up choking on the taste of them.

Electrical fault was the final ruling. 

As we sit together on the church steps, I want to say something. I want to tell her I’m to blame for Tom’s death, that I made him stay. I want to ask her if she was supposed to be there too. Instead, the words choke in my throat as I look at the bushland opposite the church. The figure is back. He won’t leave me alone.

A translucent plastic sheet is pulled over his naked body. There are two jagged cuts for eyes, revealing only pinpricks of light in darkness. The plastic is warped, fused to him. As he shifts to beckon me, it clings and pulls. Beneath the sheet, I can see his skin lift, exposing muscle. His lipless mouth lets out a rattling moan of constant, agonising pain. 

She puts her hand on mine, wrenching me back to the world.  

“It’s okay,” she says.

I turned to thank her for just sitting with me, for her quiet comfort. But she isn’t looking at me. She’s looking out into the bush too.

“You can see him?” 

She nods. “Since the day we got away.”

“We…” I pause, study her face. “We’ve met before.”

The girl who’d shrieked, drenched me in red. 

She puts another hand over mine to stop me standing, running. Our fingers lace. Her eyes are ringed red and black. Her perfume smells of smoke. When she speaks again, it’s in a whisper.  

“He’s why I screamed.”

About the author
A.C. Luke is an Australian writer fascinated by myth and folklore, both past and present. When she’s not producing horror and dark fiction, she works as a freelance writer, editor, and tabletop game designer. Visit her website at