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Book extract: The Hounded

Books & Poetry

Adelaide Hills screenwriter Simon Butters’ first novel, aimed at young adults, explores issues such as depression, eating disorders and bullying through the story of a 15-year-old social outcast named Montgomery.

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The Hounded – published by Wakefield Press and shortlisted for the 2104 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award – is also a love story, following Monty’s relationship with a girl named Eliza.

Butters, whose screenwriting credits include Wicked Science, intends for the book to serve as a “discussion point for parents and teachers while providing an outlet for young readers’ real-life concerns”.

The following extract is from the chapter one of The Hounded, where Monty first encounters the “black dog.”

Alias: @The Full Monty
Thursday February 14, 6.15AM
There’s something in my room. Time left to freak out: four, three, two, one …


I was freaking out. I don’t know how long it had been there but when I opened my eyes it was staring right at me. It was silent as night, the black dog.

I sat up in bed and squinted, trying to wipe away night’s lingering shadows. It had a long snout, a shiny black coat and deep, sorrowful eyes. Those eyes were empty pits; black holes in space and time. It held my gaze and I fell away, getting a sick feeling in my guts like I’d gone over the top on some killer rollercoaster. Stupid dog.

I thumbed out my bewildered status in SpeedStream and, as usual, nobody responded. This was the all-new, worldwide, social networking freeware that practically every teenager on the planet live streamed on their smart phones. I’d been on it for two months now, and had the grand total of three connections: one guy in New Zealand, one in Greenland and one guy from Germany who was I guess the closest thing I had to a friend, which was odd because he didn’t speak a word of English. We conversed by converting text into one of those online translation sites. Our conversations were like decoding a series of warped Chinese whispers. We were perpetually lost in translation.

Alias: @The Full Monty
Date: Thursday February 14, 1.25AM
I can’t sleep. I think it’s the full moon.

I wouldn’t eat that if I was you being.

@The Full Monty
I don’t plan to. Besides, it’d need a lot of salt 

Must retire now. Pondering cheese limits my understanding.


What did I tell you? Totally random, huh? Still, I didn’t mind. I was connecting with someone; a real person, no matter how far away, had attempted to share their innermost thoughts with me. That was worth something, even if it was just nonsense.

The dog?

I thought maybe it was a birthday present. It was my fifteenth birthday, so it was possible, I guess. Mum and Dad could have slipped it into my room during the night. Deep down, though, I knew better. Besides, the dog looked too old. Normal people gave each other puppies; something cute and innocent to care for and give wise instruction to. This creature looked as old as time. The thing just sat there and looked at me. No expression. No playful wagging tail. Nothing. It had to be a stray.

It wasn’t unusual to have a stray animal suddenly appear in our house. This sort of thing had happened before. Once, a feral cat took up residence in my mother’s underpants drawer. How it got in nobody knows but it had kittens in there. My mother was furious. All her undies were in there, soiled by the gross bits that come out when an animal has babies. It was a nasty cat, that feral cat. It hissed and growled and threw its paws about when you walked down the hallway. It was crazy. Its eyes were wild and the noise that came out of it was the sound of pure insanity. I loved that sound. I’d walk past the open door, goading it to scream and yowl at me one more time. My mother hollered at me to leave it alone. We had to wait until my dad finished work and came home to scare it out. He took one look at it, and raced at it carrying a cricket bat. It took off out the window, leaving its kittens mewing away, helpless. Why it chose to have its kittens in my mother’s undies remained a mystery. Maybe it knew it wasn’t cut out for motherhood and left them there in hope we’d care for them. The next day they were all gone. There was a fresh hole filled up in the garden. I would have liked a kitten.

I ignored the dog and shuffled past it to the loo, passing my reflection in the mirror. Things today were bad. I’d grown a zit the size of a walnut. Okay, maybe not quite the size of a walnut, but it was big. It shone a brilliant, painful red.

In the rest of nature creatures painted in such a fierce colour are considered dangerous, filled with some kind of toxic venom, like red-back spiders, or those yellow frogs from the Amazon that lost tribes used to make poisoned darts. Me? I wasn’t considered dangerous. I’d just get punched out. There’d be no way to keep a low profile with that throbbing red light on the end of my nose.

The rest of me didn’t fare much better. My hair was mussed up from another sleepless night and my teeth were in dire need of braces, a luxury my family could never afford. Teeth grew out of my mouth at awkward angles. The older I got, the more twisted and shameful my smile. I grinned in the mirror and repulsed myself.

I had taken a vow never to smile in school photos. Everyone always blamed me for ruining them because of my sullen expression. They had no idea I was doing them all a favour, sparing them the sight of my rancid set of chompers.

It wasn’t always this way. I used to be quite good-looking as a kid. I was even in a glossy brochure once, selling bicycle shorts for a local sports store. That was the first money I’d ever earned. I never saw it of course; it was gone before we even got home, replaced by cartons of cigarettes. My mother smoked them in quick succession: two, then three at a time. The cigarettes poked out of her face like giant fangs. I hated cigarettes. I could always smell her charred insides from across the room. The scent of burning lung was ever-present in our house. Whenever you walked in the lounge, you’d disappear into a dense fog hung with the sickly, sweet smell of decay.

The mirror bent and swayed, mocking me. My chin had a little bit of teenage growth on it. My first real whiskers had erupted out of me, daring to enter our world. They were malformed at birth, so thin and delicate they’d practically blow off in a good wind. Other kids thought their first whiskers signalled their ascendancy into adulthood and took to shaving, more in an effort to promote further growth than to look tidy, I guess. Me? I didn’t bother with shaving. Mine were so downy and pathetic I could just rub them off with the back of my hand.

I was a skinny kid. My cheekbones sunk. Ribs protruded out my sides. I don’t remember when controlling the urge to eat started, but I had limited my food intake for years, I guess. Don’t get me wrong. This was no sort of pathological disorder, I was sure of that. I could eat if I wanted to. I just didn’t want to. It took an enormous, concentrated effort of will. My mind and body were at constant war over the subject. My brain had to force my body into submission. It was a daily chore to ignore nourishment, to forget chocolate existed, to wipe the memory of vanilla ice cream from my mind. Something in me enjoyed the sacrifice, I guess. It made me feel stronger, the weaker I became. I thought I was in control. I was an idiot, of course, but I didn’t care.

The dog watched me as I dressed for school, putting on a pair of faded jeans and a dirty t-shirt from the day before. I was slightly annoyed now that it hadn’t gone away.

‘What do you want? Go on. Get!’ I snapped.

It sat there impassively, watching me squeeze my face in the mirror. The zit refused to pop. It stubbornly held on to its bonanza, preferring to ambush me at some later opportunity. The dog maintained a silent vigil. From its curious expression, I half expected it to laugh. But it just sat there, staring into me.

I went to the kitchen and allowed myself breakfast. Today’s ration consisted of a quarter slice of toast with one smear of jam in the corner. I concentrated my efforts and imagined a banquet before me. If I had enough determination, I could get through the day without anything further.

The dog didn’t beg or anything. It didn’t slobber on my leg looking for a bit of toast. It hadn’t even wagged its tail yet. It just sat and watched. I tossed it a chunk of toast. The dog glanced down and I was sure it rolled its eyes in disdain.

The crust dropped to the floor to find itself among friends. Years worth of breadcrumbs were taking up residence down there, unswept, threatening to create an ecosystem of their own. Those crumbs might clump together, I thought, to one day form little planets made entirely of crumbs. And on those little crumb planets, maybe a whole new civilisation of tiny creatures would evolve. One day, they’d become so advanced they’d send up little spaceships to explore their universe and come to the startling conclusion that they were all just crumbs. They were nothing but some other person’s refuse, left lying on their kitchen floor. This shockwave of self-doubt would send their world into anarchy. Riots would break out. Governments would fall. A once proud and intelligent race would succumb to the crushing realisation they were nothing more than a bunch of worthless crumbs. The dog ignored the toast.

‘What kind of dog are you?’ I asked.

‘Black,’ said the dog.

I choked. Unless I’d just suffered a brain injury, I heard the dog speak.

Extract from The Hounded, by Simon Butters, $24.95, Wakefield Press. Republished with permission.


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