Annika's Fingers

Playing with knives is never a good idea. It's an even worse idea at a house party full of drunk teenagers. But when Annika sits down at the table, what she does is no ordinary party trick.

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Author's note


I fucking suck at blurbs. Hi! This is a short story I wrote in the middle of a novel slump. It's stupid, like me. Enjoy!
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1. Annika's Fingers

I’m far from the life of this house party. If anything, I’m sucking the life out of it. I’m sitting at the top of the stairs- it’s the most traffic-free zone, and I only have to get up about five or six times a minute to avoid getting trampled on by some careless drunk or another- texting. Who am I texting? My mum. What’s she saying? Well, she’s mostly asking about my older brother, Thomas, who disappeared into the throng the moment we stepped inside the house three hours ago and hasn’t surfaced since. But she occasionally asks me how I’m doing too. I tell her the truth- that it sucks and I want to come home. That it’s not just because we’re new in the town and the school and I don’t know a single soul- it’s because I don’t understand the point of drinking, making out with strangers, or especially taking drugs. I’d rather be at home, in my decidedly tidy room, where all the lights and windows are still in place and there’s nobody there to trample me but Thomas. Might just be me, but it seems a little weird her favourite son’s the maniac with the loud friends who like getting drunk and ogling girls’ social media profiles. I’m obviously too boring even for her.

A hand lands on my shoulder. “Hey. Miles. You okay?” Someone shouts over the thumping music and shouting.

I look up and see a girl from my form, Lily, standing over me on the top step. She’s the only person who’s really talked to me since I started school on Monday and the only one I might hasten to call my friend. She’s wearing a short, tight hot pink dress and her feet are bare- I saw her wearing a pair of terrifyingly high heels earlier in the evening. Then, I notice she’s holding them in her hand.

“Yeah.” I say too quietly, then nod my head instead. “Yeah. I- I’m fine.”

“Want to come hang out with us?” Lily asks.

“What?” I look over, but don’t see anyone behind or around her. I caught a few glimpses of Lily’s friends throughout the night, but they were always drinking, and I can’t think of any worse hell than being stuck in a circle of drunk chicks. “Oh, no. Thanks, but I’m okay.”

“Okay.” She gives me a look, then steps over me and runs across the landing, disappearing into one of the bedrooms.

This house is enormous. It’s got three storeys- I’m sat at the top of the steps to the first, with a lovely view of the carnage on two floors. There’s a pool, but people have been jumping and getting pushed into it all evening and now, I’m pretty sure there’s more water on the ground around it than actually in it. I’ve seen people getting ducked for minutes on end, slipping on the soaked tiles, backflipping and missing the water and landing on their heads on the ground. An hour or so ago, I even saw a group of girls jumping off the second-floor balcony. Things are getting broken every which way too- windows, doors, glass coffee-tables, pottery, picture-frames, ornaments. As I look back at my lap and decide to say goodbye to my mum so I can play a game on my phone instead, I cringe at the sound of glass smashing on the ground floor. God, what’s broken now? What was left after three hours that wasn’t already broken? I sit on the stairs for another twenty minutes, watching and listening to the chaos around me, wishing like hell that my brother’ll come to drive me home, even though I know he’ll be blind drunk by now. I’m an idiot for coming here. It was supposed to be a way to get to know people. But all it’s done is shown me the worst sides of everyone before I’ve seen the best, making me utterly unwilling to want to know any of them. I haven’t even had anything to drink, but my head aches.

Suddenly, there’s a massive swell of shouting from downstairs, rising from the already-high level of noise like a wave from the sea. I jerk my head up. I hear a few shouts of “It’s happening!” and “Come on!” And “Oh, no!” and, for whatever reason, immediately assume it’s something to do with my brother. I look back down at my phone, but suddenly, faces are appearing from the upstairs doors and people are asking me what’s happening. I look at them and shrug. All around me, as the noise downstairs continues, people are talking excitedly and starting to push each other out on the landing, shouting, “Go! Go!” and running towards the stairs. One girl kicks me, saying “Move!” and when I look up at her, I see her eyes are wide and wild. The moment I’m out of the way, a stampede plunges past me, and I can’t help glancing back downstairs, wondering what the hell’s happening. My heart sinks. I told my brother that if I saw even one person get hurt, I was leaving and he’d have to come look for me on the road. That was a lie- I saw one guy pull a chandelier down on his head and get covered in bloody nicks, and another try to do a backflip off the banister and land on his head at the bottom, taking every last family photo off the stairway wall as he went, and I’m still here.

Whatever’s happening downstairs can’t be much crazier than everything that’s already happened, can it? Surely not.

One of the last people to reach the stairs in front of me is Lily. Two friends are holding her arms, trying to pull her past me, but she brushes them off and grabs my arm instead.

“Miles. Miles. You gotta come see this.”

I sigh. “Why?”

I immediately rub my face, pretending to be tired, so she doesn’t think I was trying to be rude.

“What’s happening?” I jerk my head down the stairs as the shouting suddenly grows louder. The enormous crowd, which seems to be circled around something in the kitchen, extends halfway up the stairs.

She shrugs. “Just come.”

“I think I’ll stay up here.”

She giggles and pulls me. “No. You gotta get involved with something, Miles. C’mon.”

I shove my phone into my pocket. “Okay, fine.”

We hurry down the staircase together, but only make it to the edge of the crowd. Luckily, even from halfway up the stairs, we can see what’s going on if we crouch down and peer through the banisters. In the clearing in the middle of the crowd is the kitchen table. I see my brother and his friend, who I think is named Nick, sitting opposite one another. Half the crowd have their mobile phones out, held aloft, filming them. My heart sinks when I see they’re both holding huge kitchen knives, and further still when I see their hands spread on the table, fingers splayed.

Everything’s fine. I remember telling my mum. Nobody’s going to get hurt.

I swallow, frustrated.

“Man, he’s gonna regret that.” Lily says at my shoulder. I look up at her.

“That’s my brother.”

She looks back at me. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, like I said, he’s gonna regret it.”

“Why?”

She looks at me like I’m stupid. Then, we both look down at the table as the crowd starts to chant something. “AGAIN! AGAIN! AGAIN!”

I rub my face.

Thomas holds his knife up; his friend looks at him worriedly from across the table.

“Again?” Thomas shouts.

“YEAH!” The rest of the party bellows.

I jerk my head over my shoulder as I hear someone further down the stairs mutter, “Idiot.”

Thomas plants the point of his knife on the table, between his index finger and thumb. Reluctantly, his friend does the same. They look at each other.

“Three.” They say together.

“TWO! ONE!” the crowd shrieks with them.

Then, they start moving the knives between their fingers. Slowly at first, but then, as the crowd’s cheering swells, they speed up. The ends of the blades are hitting the tabletop hard, solid thud-thud-thud-thuds above the screaming of fifty or more drunk kids, and at every single thud I expect blood to fly, and severed fingers. I look at my brother’s face. His teeth are gritted, his eyes bulging. He’s terrified. But he’s doing it for the crowd- the maniac’s risking self-mutilation because he’s so obsessed with looking cool. True, if he pulls this off he’ll be the talk of the school. For about a day. I notice that his friend’s movements are slowing down- the guy’s face is slackening, and I realise with a jump in my chest how drunk he is. He drives the knife down into the table between index finger and thumb, and then, he can’t pull it out again. The crowd laughs, but Tom’s still focusing intently on getting faster and faster. Stop. I think. Stop, you maniac! I imagine the fuss if he hurts himself. How angry Mum will be. With me. Why didn’t you look after him? He keeps going.

After a few seconds of humiliation by the crowd, I see Nick starting to pick his pace up too. His movements are clumsy, but he seems to be getting faster. The crowd’s cheering only lasts a few seconds before his hand slips to the side, into the path of his knife. He howls in pain. My heart drops.

“Oh, Nick, you idiot!” Thomas laughs. I see a small pool of blood on the table, but Nick’s looking at his splayed hand casually. When he lifts it, I expect a finger to get left behind, but they all seem to be intact. The cut between his fingers is only small.

Nick laughs with the crowd. “Fuck this.” He says, a massive grin on his face. Then, to Thomas, “Fuck you, you maniac.”

Still grinning, he gets up from the table as the crowd continues to boo him.

“You COWARD!” Thomas taunts him, getting up from the table to stand and point with the knife. The crowd ducks back. Tom’s drunk too- probably drunker then Nick- and waving an enormous knife around like a flag. My heart comes back up into my mouth. “Coward! Coward! Coward! Come back, Nick!”

“Nah, I’ve had enough of your crazy shit!” Nick yells from the foot of the stairs.

“Fine! Then someone else come and challenge me!” He says, looking around. “Anyone? Come on; it’s not that bloody hard. Come on!”

He throws his knife back to the table with a solid clatter. In that moment, I suddenly imagine challenging him and beating him. But I stay still, hands glued to the banister.

Tom seems to talk with someone in the crowd, and nod. I hope upon hope that he’s going to give up, but he doesn’t. Instead, he turns to the stairs and yells, “It’s a contest! It’s a talent contest! Someone come up, and show me something cool they can do with this!” He picks up the knife, then throws it back down, obviously hoping it’ll embed in the wood. It doesn’t; it skitters and he has to grab it to stop it falling off the table. “Come on! Someone.”

“Get her.” I swear I hear Lily murmuring next to me. When I look at her, she’s staring past me, down the stairs.

“What?” I say.

“Nothing.”

There’s a rumbling of mutters and laughter as Tom continues to shout for an opponent. Then, a boy steps forwards. He’s tall and skinny, with red hair. “Yeah. Okay, okay,” he says to his friends, then turns to Tom, hand outstretched. “Give us.”

Tom reluctantly holds out the knife for the ginger guy to take, yelling at Nick to bring his knife back. The ginger guy sighs, then throws the knife up in the air, spinning it. He catches it, then does a stupid bow and turns to Tom to throw it back down as the crowd boos. His trick wasn’t good enough. They want something else. This is how people get killed.

Then, Nick steps forwards again, and chucks his knife back onto the table. The ginger guy picks it up as well.

“Ew, Nick. There’s blood on this.” He says carelessly, and I see the scarlet smear on the blade. For whatever reason, the sight makes my heart jump. He shrugs, holding one knife in each hand.

Then, he starts to juggle them. The crowd’s booing is slowly overtaken by a fresh swell of applause, and at this point, I feel my headache starting to grow heavier. I don’t want to watch anymore. If someone gets hurt, the last thing I want is to be a witness. I try to turn, but can’t tear my eyes away.

“Woah.” Lily says, looking at the ginger guy as he neatly finishes juggling, throws the knives down in front of Thomas, and casually walks off in the direction of the drinks table.

“Someone else!” Thomas shouts, making my heart sink, as his friends start trying to talk him down from the other side of the table. “No. No. I’m not coming down.”

“Please, Tom, you’re drunk. Someone’s gonna get hurt.” One of his friends says, and Nick holds his bloody hand up as proof.

“Come down. Do something else.”

“No.” Tom says, my heart dropping as he catches my eye, then looks away. “One more. I wanna see one more.”

It’s then that I notice a group of girls at the bottom of the stairs, jostling amongst themselves. They’re all giggly, probably drunk, but I hear “Go on,” and “Do it, girl.” They seem to be trying to push one of their friends forwards, towards the table, but she’s fighting back, going “No, no” and “I can’t be bothered.” Nobody else in the crowd seems to have noticed them, and it’s then that another boy steps up to the table, distracting us all.

He’s got messy dark hair, and his red shirt’s unbuttoned almost all the way. He, obviously, is also drunk. There’s a cheer as he grabs both knives, one in each hand, and then gestures to Tom.

“Stand over there.” He says, pointing to the wall.

Tom pauses. “Wait- wait- me?”

“Yeah. Stand over there.”

Suddenly realising he’s in trouble, as the rest of the crowd, not least me, did about twenty minutes ago, Tom swallows. The colour drains from his face.

“Why?” He says.

The guy in the red shirt grins. “Because I’m a champion knife-thrower, and you’re my glamorous assistant. Get over there.”

Tom pales. “Uh, okay.” Then, he nervously laughs with the crowd as they start to cheer: “LIAM! LIAM! LIAM!”. The boy in the red shirt laughs and raises his arms, urging the cheering to grow louder. Through the din, I hear a group of boys I assume are Liam’s friends talking to him.

“Liam, stop.”

“Liam, you’re not a knife-thrower.”

“Yes, I am.” Liam sways on his feet and clutches the table, nearly dropping one of the knives.

“You’re not.”

“I am!”

I look at Lily. “We should stop him.”

“No, don’t worry. He’s just joking.”

“Are you sure?” I say, noticing the tremble that’s entered my voice. I look back at Tom and Liam.

The chanting quiets as Liam crouches a little, seeming to focus on the wall Tom’s standing against as he holds a knife up in front of his face. I can’t help feeling a jump of satisfaction in my stomach as I see the look on Tom’s face. He’s still ridiculously drunk, sure, but seems to have sobered at least enough to realise he might be about to get hurt. His eyes are wider and his smile’s just a little too strained. The silence continues, and continues, and my mind fast-forwards to the moment he throws the knife- to my brother pinned to the wall, blood oozing from his shoulder or- perhaps more likely, based on the angle Liam’s aiming from- his balls. Or perhaps he’ll be dead with a knife in his chest or his head or his stomach. I swallow. I feel sick. The crowd holds its breath, watching Liam line up his shot.

He's going to die.

Tom’s going to fucking die.

Then, after what seems like an eternity of suspense, Liam gets up.

“Nah, I’m just messing with you.” He says, bounding past the table and dumping the knives back before vanishing into the crowd.

Half the drunk kids shout their disappointment, whilst the other half erupt into laughter. The moment Tom realises he’s not about to die, he joins in, his terrified expression dissolving. “You pussy!” He shouts. “You PUSSY!”

“Okay, Tom. Come down now.” One of his friends says. I join the plea, silently. Come down, you idiot, before you get killed. But Tom’s fighting back.

“No.”

“You said one more. You got one more.”

“That didn’t count. He didn’t even throw one.”

“Yeah, and you and your nutsack should be grateful, you dumb arse.”

“But I still wanna see one more!” He says, then turns to the crowd. “You want one more too, right?”

About half the crowd shouts “YEAH!”. The rest seem either too bored or too scared- they start to break away, heading for the drinks table or back upstairs. Then, I see that group of girls starting up their argument again at the bottom of the stairs.

“No!” A dark-haired girl says loudly.

“Aw, come on, Annika. Come on.” Someone says, echoed by the rest of the girls. A couple more people from the crowd start to join in.

“No.” Annika says. “No, no, no!” But she’s smiling now, looking around her as the cheering starts again. Tom seems to hear, and cranes to see who they’re cheering for.

“Someone come up! Someone! Anyone!” He says, pointing at the girl. “You wanna go, sweetheart? You do. Don’t you?”

Annika seems to take objection to being called sweetheart, because her head snaps around and the grin on her face grows crueller. I watch her, confused.

“Yes, yes, yes.” Lily mutters behind me. I turn to look at her. She only stares past me.

“Come on, Annika. Show him.” One of Annika’s friends pushes her forwards and the crowd parts, making room.

She sighs, already in the clearing, and turns, shoving the hands off her. She holds her hands up in defeat. “Okay, okay, fine! God, fine!”

There’s a massive cheer, and I look around in surprise. The cheer for this girl is far louder than the cheers for the other two guys- she must have a damn good trick. I watch her walk towards the table, and I see, through the throng of thrown-up arms and still-filming phones, that Tom’s watching her too, one eyebrow raised slightly. She’s a short, skinny Indian girl I don’t remember seeing around school- she doesn’t look any older than me. She’s dressed far more casually than any of the other girls- in baggy jeans and a white blouse- and for whatever reason, I jump to the conclusion that she, like me, didn’t really come here by choice. Dragged by her friends, maybe, who even now are screaming her name in hysterical excitement. She sits down at the table, throws a slight flicker of a glance up at Tom, and then picks up the clean knife. As she holds it over her hand, the cheering grows even louder, to the point I want to put my hands over my ears. I look up at Lily, who’s watching the table intently, clutching the banister, eyes narrowed.

“Who’s that?” I ask her.

She doesn’t look at me. “Annika.” She says after a pause, biting her lip. “From year nine.”

“What’s her trick?”

Lily doesn’t even respond.

I look back down at the table as an aggravated sigh rumbles up from the crowd. Annika has replaced the knife on the table and is now painstakingly spreading her fingers one-by-one, picking each one up and placing it back down. She keeps glancing back up at the crowd, and every time she does, the look on her face grows smugger. Even though she was forced out here in front of my brother, it’s clear she’s starting to enjoy herself. I wonder, desperately, why the crowd’s cheering so loudly. She’s just going to play the fingers game- she’s got her hand splayed and when she picks up the knife, she’s angling it down, blade inches from her skin. I don’t understand why people do this for fun. Please don’t hurt yourself.

Even from this distance, I can see Annika gritting her teeth, pressing her mouth together. I wait for her to start moving the knife, as the crowd grows more and more impatient, but then, she puts it back down on the table and looks up.

“I need some… has anyone got any wipes?” She says. I can only just make out the words over the crowd’s furious din.

She looks around, and then, one of her friends walks forwards, one hand in her bag. She puts a small packet of makeup wipes on the table, next to Annika’s hand and the knife. I watch, bewildered. I look at Lily, but don’t dare ask her any more questions.

The crowd roars again as Annika picks up the knife. I see Tom looking at her, a satisfied but nervous grin on his face. We, I realise, are the only two people in the house who don’t know what’s about to happen.

Annika raises the knife. Another roar. Then, she brings it down, right on her thumb.

I gasp with the crowd, covering my mouth with my hands and staggering back, and Tom stands up from the table and points. His mouth moves, but no words come out.

“You-” He says. “You-”

I crane to get a better view of Annika. She’s hunched over the table, her face hanging inches from the growing puddle of blood, and her mouth’s contorted in what looks like a groan, but she doesn’t look to be in that much pain. So she can’t have just cut a finger off, can she?

She moves her hand from the red puddle, and I gag as I see her thumb coming away from her knuckle. It’s off. She holds her hand up, and the crowd, to my utter horror, cheers. They cheer so loudly I can’t even hear my own impossibly ragged breathing.

Annika puts her hand back down on the table, right back in the mess of blood, without a word. She even looks bored. From its few seconds in the air, red lines have run all the way down her arm and inside her sleeve, staining her white blouse.

She picks up the knife again.

“Oh.” I say, looking at Lily, who’s rapt, hanging so far over the banister she looks like she’s about to lose her balance. “Oh, oh, oh. Oh, my God. What’s she doing?”

Annika raises the knife again. The crowd screams.

“What’s she doing?” I yell, seeing Tom stepping back from the table as Annika brings the knife down again, harder. It severs her index finger with such ferocity it shoots across the table, and the crowd roars again. Her knife hand becomes a blur as she brings it back up, then down, then up, then down, cutting off finger after finger. I stop breathing. When she goes still again, she looks up, slightly red in the face, clearly breathing hard. Her left hand has no fingers left.

And the crowd’s still screaming.

I slowly lower my hands from my mouth, slowly shaking my head. I feel utterly sick, and when I’ve torn my eyes away from the red-splattered kitchen table to look for Tom, I see him doubled over the kitchen sink, vomiting. The few kids who aren’t roaring for Annika are laughing at him. I stare back at her as she gets up from the table, dumping the knife down, and holds up her crimson, fingerless hand as high as she can.

Everyone stares at it, so I do too.

In the red stub of Annika’s left hand, something’s changing shape. The nub of her thumb is lengthening, and something brown and glistening’s pushing past the boundary of the blood. It is, of fucking course, a new thumb. Her thumb… her thumb is growing back. The crowd roars so loudly at the sight I can feel the air vibrating, but Annika still looks bored. She’s looking down at the ground. Even I can’t look away from her hand for long. When I look back, her index finger is lengthening back into place, followed almost immediately by the other three. I crane to see how she’s doing it, utterly convinced it’s some sort of magic trick, but they’re clearly coming clean out of her hand. They’re real, and when they’re back in place, she wiggles them. Only then does she bother to break another smile.

Then, Annika turns her back to the mad crowd. She picks up the little packet of makeup wipes with her new fingers, peels open the lid and yanks out a fistful of wipes, soaking up the blood from the table bit-by-bit. It seems to take an age, but the crowd never lulls. Once she’s done, she balls the scarlet chunk of tissues into her fist and bends over the table. She picks up the bloody knife and wipes the blade clean before laying it back down. She picks up her severed thumb, still lying next to the knife, and lays it in her palm. Then, she sweeps up her other four fingers. She delicately curls them into her fist with the bloody makeup wipes before dipping her head and walking back to her group of friends.

“What…” I say to Lily. I’m not looking at her. I’m looking at my brother as he stares after Annika, his face whiter than paper. “What the fuck did I just see?”

Lily only laughs.

I look down at Annika, who looks more bored than ever as various people wrap her into hugs and pat her on the back and lift her curled fist, trying to get a look at the fingers.

“Who is she?” I say quietly.

Lily watches Annika pushing her way through the crowd with her fistful, making her way towards the back door. Only her friends follow her. Then, Lily turns to me and says indifferently: “She’s Annika. From year nine.”

I watch in disbelief as Annika disappears out of the back door, flanked by her giggling friends. There’re a couple more minutes of animated chatter before the crowd starts to disband.

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