Creative Writing NZ February 2021 Competition Winner

Posted 3 weeks ago under Uncategorised,

Emily Castles is a twenty-something horror addict currently based in London (UK). She is an MA English Literature graduate with degrees from the University of Manchester and Durham University. Her spare moments are filled with reading and writing all things macabre. She is a keen theatre-goer, museum junkie, riffing guitarist and metalhead. She also enjoys coffee and the pub.

The Belt

‘I can hear the neighbour’s dog again.’ He says, placing his hands to his ears and sinking his head in between his knees.

I watch this exaggerated movement out of the corner of my eye, so as to not give attention and consequent validation to his words. Jolting his foot furiously, his leg bounces up and down like the excitable dog he has conjured in his unsettled imagination. He sighs and moans, waiting for my reply.

I give none.

The dog’s doing this. The dog’s doing that. Day and night. I have visited both of our neighbours to investigate the Cujo that haunts John. Mrs Cooper, on our right, hasn’t had a dog since her Maltese mutt Diamond was hit by a Morrison’s delivery van three years ago. The couple on the left, whom I had never spoken to before, shake their heads at me deafly – they don’t need dog insurance – they don’t have a dog. They’re disgusting specimens.

I let John shake his frustrated leg for a few more moments before I dart my own leg at him, like the tongue of a snake, and kick hard. That earns me an excellent scowl. He begins to gnaw at his nails. Each snap and each split echo through the evening silence, curdling my blood as he sways himself backwards and forwards like a rocking horse with psychosis.


That night, my husband hangs himself with the belt I bought him for Christmas, and I am not sad. I find him swinging in the hallway, having jumped from the stairs. His face bulges unnaturally and intriguingly, large green and purple boils protrude out of his cheeks like gobstoppers. His eyes roll uncontrollably like one of the fruit slot machines they have in pubs. They are rolling cherries and lemons. His tongue flickers with the air conditioning like a five-pound note. I realise that I am dreaming and am thrown into consciousness by a huge crash.

In the hazy daze of the early hours, I feel around for John next to me in the bed. The gobstopper boils are now fizzing away into a different reality. He isn’t there. I find him downstairs in the living room.

John launches my dad’s old axe into the wall behind the sofa. And again, and again and again. I’m paralysed momentarily, watching him swing the weapon with surprising strength, and claw giant chunks of plaster away from the exposed brick with his bare hands. His eyes are glazed like a fresh doughnut.

‘I’ve found it.’ He laughs dreamily, and I wonder if he is sleepwalking. ‘I’ve found the beast.’

He places me forcefully in front of the gaping hole next to our television. Within the walls are bundles of old newspapers, bulging with fur and limbs. I kick the bundle at my feet, already knowing what’s inside. Page five, a 1920’s comic strip, falls to the right of my ankle, exposing the head of a mutilated puppy.

John’s Cujo.

I help John to remove the rest of the animals. Before long, I am throwing myself thirstily at the mass grave, tearing the bundles from the walls and unwrapping each one eagerly and selfishly like Christmas presents. Cats, toads, rats, foxes, birds: all manner of creatures are ripped from their gruesome resting place. In mere moments, our cream carpet is decorated with mummified carcasses.

An old notebook falls out, shortly after I remove a small dormouse. It’s full of spells and rituals, detailing animal mutilation and sacrifice. There is a ritual for dog obedience, the page bloodied and wrinkled. The words state that an owner must bleed himself and feed it to his pet.

By ingesting the concoction, the dog is tied to the owner forevermore, obedient in life and death. John’s Cujo. The beast is barking for his owner from the great beyond, forever tied by unholy matrimony.


We are unable to sell the house, following our recent discovery. And John descends further and further into madness every day, hitting his head against the walls as he begs me to take the noises away. The image of his swinging corpse visits me every night, my own personal Cujo.

I have never believed in rebirth or rituals, but I am struck and plagued by the inconsistency in our experiences. I cannot shake the suspicion that John is our Cujo’s true owner, reborn from a previous consciousness that ended on our stairs, on the end of a belt.

I hide the belt, as that is all I can think to do, and hope that the madness does not catch me too.

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