The Creatures of the in betweens: A Short story.

For the eleventh instalment of the Inspired series, I have collaborated with the supremely talented Ricky Romero.  Ricky lives in California, and has an amazing ability to combine the cute with the creepy!  He is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the awesome ‘Awful Words’, a dictionary of sorts, containing the definitions of some aweful words, and lots of Ricky’s amazing illustrations.  I have already made a pledge, and if you would like to as well, head over to  Kickstarter. You can also check out more of his work, at his Instagram.  If you are an artist and you would like to collaborate, get in touch, and happy Reading!

in between image

The creatures of the in betweens

They live in the in betweens, the halves, the almosts, these creatures of tricks and pranks, these makers of mischief. They live in shadow, in between the light and the dark, and watch their victim’s, patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity. Perhaps, they will strike as you pass through a doorway, the divide between one room and the next, and make you stub your toe, or drop your cup of tea. Maybe, they will see your hand bag, sitting in the shadows, and remove your car keys so they can watch you huff and puff as you scramble around your house, tearing up furniture to find them, only to place them exactly where they had been, causing you to doubt your own sanity. On the most part, they are harmless. They move objects, trip and nip, spill and break, and drive your pets mad. But, every blood moon, they become suddenly thirsty for more than misbehaviour for their own amusement. They have a blood lust of sorts, a need to hunt and kill, to suppress a sudden urge for violence and evil. It’s as if they are possessed by the night sky, and it is then that children go missing.

They hunt at midnight, the moment between one day and the next, an entire minute of in between in which they can quench their thirst for blood. They will choose a small child, no older than four, and steal him away right from under their parent’s noses, quiet as a door mouse. Sometimes, the children go willingly, believing the creatures to be the fairies from their bed time stories. Either way, they are never seen of heard of again, only a gaping hole left behind in a parent’s heart and a room of toys without an owner.

The only reason I know this, is because they came for me once, long ago. I awoke to the sound of laughter, small and distant, but growing closer and more menacing. I did as all children do, and hid beneath my blankets, as I saw the shadows move and objects fall from shelves. I wanted to scream, to cry out, but something stopped me. Perhaps, I myself doubted my own senses, or perhaps they could do something, some magic to paralyse you with fear. So, I sat there shivering beneath my cover, weeping silently, as the midnight hour, and the creatures, grew ever closer. I was so young, perhaps only three years old, but even then I knew that these things wished me harm. I would have died that night if it hadn’t been for Bernie, our German Shepherd.

They were so close to me at that point, and I could make them out in the increasing shadows, their huge black, shiny eyes staring at me, reflecting the light like wet stone, and the rows and rows of tiny sharp teeth. They were no bigger than an action figure, but there was so so many of them. I could see them everywhere, and I knew I was surrounded. One reached it’s little clawed hand towards me as midnight approached, a forked tongue darting around, tasting my scent. It was at that moment Bernie began to bark and thump against my door, with such force and such violence, that my mother got up to scold him. When I heard her, my senses returned and I began to scream. It must have sounded like a wail of genuine pain and fear, for my mother practically broke the door in to comfort me. When the light was switched on, they were gone, all of them.

I told my mother, as best as I could in my childish way, about the tiny monsters and their evil intent, and she dismissed them as the manifestation of an active imagination, or the result of too much television. She comforted me, and let me sleep with them that evening and for several evenings subsequent. A night light was purchased as bribery, the only means to get me back into my own bed. After days passed without incident, even I began to wonder if it had in fact been a nightmare. But when I saw the tiny claw marks, scratched into my bed post, and heard of the disappearance of my neighbour’s Jack Russell, I knew it was real.

You may not believe me of course, you may dismiss it as childish fantasy or perhaps you think me the type to make merriment from causing fear in others, but I leave you with one last warning. Tonight is the blood moon my friend. Beware the in betweens. Beware the midnight hour.

Bloodstained Silk: A short story.

In this, the tenth instalment of my series ‘Inspired’, I have had the privilege of collaborating once more with the incredibly talented Lelya Borisenko.  For those of you following the series, I have previously collaborated with Lelya on ‘It’s just a Story.’  Head back to my blog post on April 30th if you would like to see it.

Lelya was born in Ukraine, but now resides in Russia.  She studied academical painting, easel graphics, etching and engraving at the Kharkov State Academy of Design and Fine Arts, and her work has been exhibited all over Europe.  If you love her work as much as I do, you can see more at her website or her Instagram.

Once again, I wrote a shorty story, which I sent to Lelya, who in turn created this stunning image inspired by the story.  Thank you Lelya, for bringing my work to life so perfectly!

blood stained silk pic 1

Blood stained silk

The joint was beginning to fill up now, the sound of laughter and chatter building along with the cloud of cigarette smoke which hung heavy in the air. I stared at the bottom of my now empty glass, the ice cubes inside melting in the heat of my hand. She was late.

“Can I get you another?”

I look up to see one of the waitresses, a leggy blonde with wide eyes and a tight black uniform, carrying a tray with the grace of a dancer. She probably was one, either that or an actress, they all were in this town. Every gal who served you a drink or showed you to your table had stars in their eyes. Most of them would end up all the worse for their dreams, pregnant or penniless. This place swallowed girls like her whole.

“Scotch on the rocks.”

She smiles, and carries away my empty glass. I check my watch again. Where was she? She had sounded so desperate on the phone, yet here I am waiting around like some schmuck. It had been three days since she walked into my office, tears filling her deep, dark eyes.

“You Lawson?”

“That’s what it says on the door lady.”

She looked at the glass then, the words etched and painted gold, ‘Rick Lawson, Private Investigator.’ I took that moment to drink her in, and boy, was she one tall glass of water. She had auburn hair, styled neatly with a black fascinator in the front, a small black veil over one brown eye. Her skin was a perfect porcelain, and it made her lips stand out all the more, cherry red on white. She wore a black dress, cut in a V low enough to see her breasts heave as she breathed, but not low enough to give the wrong impression. The dress was expensive, as were the shoes and the fur stole over her left shoulder. This dame had money, which made me wonder what she was doing in this part of town, darkening my door with her curved silhouette.

“Sit down. Drink?”

I gestured to the beat up leather chair in front of my paper strewn desk. She eyed it suspiciously before gracefully lowering herself into it, the split in her skirt opening as she crossed one long leg over the other.

“Please, whiskey if you have some.”

I poured her a measure, along with one for myself, and set the glass in front of her. Her hand trembled as she reached for it.

“Thank you.”

She sipped at it, and I stayed quiet, letting her compose herself. She was scared, that much was obvious, painted in the expression of her beautiful face. Of what, I wasn’t sure, and part of me wondered if it would be worth the pay. After a moment, setting the empty glass down, she seemed to find her voice.

“How do I ensure your discretion?”

It was one hell of an opening question. Evidently, we weren’t going to be skirting around.

“It’s in my contract. You hire me and sign on the dotted line, and I keep your secrets. My job wouldn’t work without that trust. Blabbing would be career suicide, besides, I ain’t no snitch.”

She raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at this, and seemed to accept what I said. She insisted on hiring me then and there, providing a crisp twenty dollar bill as a retainer, and placing her elegant signature at the bottom of the page. As I signed my own name, I read hers, ‘Eleanor Montgomery.’ My eyes darted to her face. How had I not recognised her? Her face was splashed across every society page in that town, she was the ‘it’ girl whose entire life was newspaper fodder. Daddy owned most of the city, and half the politicians. He was a very powerful man, and one you did not cross unless you were prepared to meet your maker a little sooner than planned. She must have caught my look, and seen the sudden recognition written all over my dumb face.

“I see you know me then.”

“Everybody knows you Miss Montgomery.”

“Please, call me Eleanor.”

She spoke so sweetly, I could feel myself colour slightly at her words.

“Whats a dame like you doing all the way down town? Surely, whatever problem you have, daddy can take care of. Hell, he would have the Police chief himself take care of it.”

Her face reddened and her mouth tensed as angry tears filled her eyes. `I had upset her, and I chastised myself for it.

“I didn’t mean any offence Miss M…Eleanor. I just meant, you have a lot of resources available to you. I’m not sure how a low level guy such as myself, can help a gal like you.”

Her face relaxed a little, and she seemed to accept my ham fisted apology.

“I’m here because my father can never know about it. I need someone outside of his circle, and as you can imagine, that list is very small. Truthfully Mr Lawson, you were my only option.”

It was nice to know I came so highly recommended as a last resort. I had started to feel impatient.

“Well, you signed, and I work for you now. What is it you want exactly?”

There it was, that eye brow again. Obviously, she wasn’t used to people talking to her like that.

“I need someone to investigate my father. To find something on him that he can’t bribe away or make disappear. I need him holding a smoking gun, a body limp in his arms. I need blood on his hands, and I need it photographed for everyone to see. There are honest cops in the force, not many, but some and if such material fell into their hands, they would make sure it found it’s way to the right people. They would be able to take him down, for good.”

I laughed, I couldn’t help it. Take down Malcolm Montgomery? The richest, most powerful man for a hundred miles? The man who owned every crooked cop and shady politician in the state? The man who murdered as easily as a person would brush their teeth? It was suicide. Clearly Miss Montgomery had daddy issues, and she was taking it to a dangerous place. She might be willing to go down in flames, but I would be damned if she took me with her. In response, she burst into desperate and frenzied tears, black lines snaking their way down her cheeks.

“Please, I have no one else to turn to. He’s a monster, don’t you understand? He killed my mother because she tried to leave and he murdered the man I loved simply because he loved me. I have tried to run away a thousand times, but he always finds me. He won’t let me go. Please, please..”

Her voice grew fainter, until I couldn’t make out what she said. She sobbed for a little while more, before she finally stopped, her head bent and her face cradled in her hands. The room fell silent, but the words which had just been spoken, seemed to shout louder than anything I had ever heard.

My heart broke for the dame. She was obviously so desperate, so afraid,and here I am laughing in her face. I’ve never been good at the whole emotions deal, and for once, I was speechless. Without knowing what to say, I had just poured her another measure and handed her my dirty handkerchief, both of which were accepted gratefully.

I must have been a fool, to agree to help her, but aren’t all men fools in the presence of a beautiful woman? Perhaps I had said yes just so I could see her again, or perhaps for once in my stinking life, I wanted to do something right, something important. Following cheating husbands and wives might put food on the table, but it’s poor sustenance for the soul. Either way, she had agreed to pay me ten dollars a day, plus expenses, and I had agreed to stick my neck out for some broad I barely know.

On the way out of my office that day, she had kissed me, right on the cheek. The softest, sweetest kiss I had ever known.

“Be careful.”

As if he would do otherwise. He stroked his cheek now, the memory almost as tender as the kiss itself. I snapped myself out of it. Someone like her would never be interested in the likes of me. There’s a pecking order to life, and I’m near the bottom.

I had been doing the rounds since that day. Following the dogs body on the very bottom rung, to the next guy up, and so on, trying to suss out who were the people to follow. She had provided me with names and photos in a dossier, along with any pieces of information she had learned or snippets of conversations overheard, about her father’s businesses, legitimate and illegal. Hell, it was better than most Police reports I’d seen, and it was a good start to my investigation. I told her it would take time. Getting dirt on people like her father and his inner circle wasn’t like catching some husband on top of his secretary. This was a complicated network which had taken decades to build. She had accepted this, and I had got to work straight away. I was making pretty good progress, when she called.

She sounded terrified, her voice shaking, her sobs audible between each desperate word. There was a reason I had agreed to drop everything and get down here pronto, and there was a reason I felt the weight of my revolver in my inside jacket pocket. I was afraid for her.

“He knows.”

She hadn’t said hello, or who it was, she had just launched in.

“Eleanor? Who knows?”

“May father. He knows I hired you. He’ll kill me.”

“Calm down. What’s happened?”

“I overheard him talking to Vinny this evening. He knows, and this time I’ve gone to far. It’s not like when I ran away. This time I’ve stood against him, I’ve betrayed him. He’ll kill me.”

Vinny was Malcolm’s second in command, and a real piece of work. He didn’t just do the guys dirty work for the money and the broads, no, he did it because he enjoyed hurting people.

“Get out of there now. Meet me and we’ll work this out.”

“I can’t come to your office. He’ll definitely have me followed. We need to meet somewhere public, somewhere he can’t…”

She trailed off at that point. Nothing further needed to be said. We both knew what could happen if her father had discovered her betrayal. She had hired and investigator, found the names of the clean Police officers in her father’s files, the ones who would not sway to money but who could perhaps, down the line, be blackmailed or worse. She had dug up as much information as she could, about his businesses, the people who came and went, hell she had included car registrations and everything. She had handed all of that over with the hopes of destroying him. If he had found out, she would die, and she would be lucky if it was quick.

“Ok, meet me at Judy’s place in an hour. I’ll bring my gun.”

“Ok, ok…one hour.”

“You need to calm down. If he realises you know, you’ll not even make it out of the house.”

I could hear her her trying to slow her breathing.

“Rick?”

“What?”

“You know he will kill you too right? He knows what I gave you, what I hired you to do.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m bringing my gun.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet, we need to survive first.”

“No, thank you, for trying to help me.”

I could feel heart strings tugging inside my chest that I thought had snapped and withered years ago.

“It’s going to be alright.”

“Ok.”

And then she had hung up. She had sounded almost resigned at the end of the call. I hope and pray she hasn’t done something stupid. She was really late now, and visions of a bloated body washing on shore, start floating through my mind, tearing at my guts. People never disappeared when they crossed Malcolm Montgomery. They were always found, always publicly, by some poor kid or a guy walking his grey hound. He liked to make an example. I fear, it will be all the more public when it comes to his own blood.

Just then, I saw her, in fact, so did the whole room. Every man in there ignored the floozy they were with to watch her glide across the floor. It was like art in motion. She wore a white silk dress which clung to her body in all the right places. She looked like a lily, or a white rose, all delicate petals and stems. She was breathtaking. I could see goons coming in behind her. She had been right to request the meeting somewhere private. Lots of witnesses here, and if there was one thing Malcolm didn’t like, it was witnesses.

She smiled at me, just a half smile, with closed lips. I could see she was relieved, she probably thought she wouldn’t make it here, or if she did, she would find an empty seat where I should be. This was the easy part, losing the goons and slipping out the exits to the car I had stashed in the alleyway behind Judy’s, that would be the hard part. But for now, they were alive, and they were together.

I didn’t even hear the shots, nor the screaming that followed, or the noise of men and women scrambling to get out of the line of fire. All I saw was her smile fall, and two red dots growing and spreading across white silk. I didn’t even think, I just acted, pulling my gun and taking aim at the guy on the stairs, one, two, three shots and he crumpled and fell down the stairs. I grabbed her and dragged her behind the bar, as further shots rained down on me, sending glass splintering and booze raining down. I felt warm spread across my arm, and I knew I’d been hit, but I felt no pain, adrenaline kicking in.

“Hang on baby.”

I stuck my head above the bar. There was still two, both firing blindly at the bar. One stood below a large fabric banner, hung to hide the spot lights above. Two shots broke the chain and sent it down on him. He was blinded and one shot was all it took to make him fall. Problem was, there was still one guy, and I was out of ammo.

But the sirens came then, like the songs of angels, and I heard him rush from the bar, sending a table over as he went. I pulled her towards me and knew immediately she was in a bad way. Her breathing was shallow and laboured, and small bubble formed in the blood escaping one the bullet holes. It had penetrated her lung, and she was drowning in her own blood. I used my mac to stem the flow, applying pressure with one hand, and held her head in my lap with the other. Her eyes were wide with fear, and her skin was almost drained entirely of colour. Her white dress was almost entirely red now. It matched her lips.

“Hang on, the ambulance is coming, just hang on,”

She reached one of her hands to my face, and touched it gently, then she smiled at me before her hand fell limp and her eyes closed. There were no bubbles now, no more blood flowing or wheezing breathe. She was still and I was broken.

The sirens grew louder now, and I could hear screeching wheels and slamming car doors. I had to get out, or they would arrest me, and no doubt I would have some kind of convenient ‘accident’ in my cell. But I was torn, I couldn’t leave her. I placed my mac over her like a sheet, and removed the bracelet from her left hand. I don’t know why. I just needed to have a piece of her with me, I needed to not leave all of her behind. I kissed her head, and then I ran.

I ran out back and took off just as the cops were busting in the front. My car wheels smoked and screeched as I pulled away. I had no idea where I was going, I just had to get away from there. A million thoughts were running through my mind. The cops would be looking for me now, and the ones in Malcom’s pocket would never let me live long enough to see the inside of a court room. Every one of his goons and cronies would be kicking down doors looking for me. I can’t go back to my office, or my apartment. So I just drive, hoping something will come to me.

Suddenly, I see her eyes closing again, her hand going limp. I look down, and I realise I’m awash with her blood, and for the first time in many years, I feel tears falling. I slammed on the brakes and barely came to a stop in time to avoid a plunge down the steep hills which lead back to the city below. I’m losing it, I can’t do this. I scream and punch the steering wheel until my knuckles bleed. When I’m exhausted, and I’ve had a chance to get some of what I’m feeling out of my system, I hunch and cry, my shoulders shaking. Why did she have to die? I never had a shot with her, I know that, but she was the closest thing I’ve ever come to caring about somebody other than my own selfish ass.

I let the self pity wash over me, and then I clench my fists around the steering wheel, and punch the gas pedal. I have an old school friend out East who will put me up, give me time to formulate a plan. Malcolm Mason made a mistake killing her, and he made an even bigger one letting me live. Nothing is more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose. I was going to kill the bastard. I was going to dedicate every waking moment of the rest of my snivelling life to his death. I won’t let her death be in vein. I’ll finish what she started, and then some. I’ll not stop until his head is on a spike in the middle of down town, or I’ll die trying.

I’m coming for you Malcolm…you hear me? I’m coming for you.

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and our next Book Club pick.

Hello everyone, I hope you have had a wonderful weekend and have been out enjoying the summer sun!  For the UK, this is a bank holiday weekend, so you guys should kick your feet up and enjoy the long weekend!  For everyone else, commiserations on work tomorrow, but the good news is, I am here to cheer you up with a book review and our next book club pick!  If you haven’t joined my book club already, then you should definitely give it a go!  Just buy this months book, read along and let me know your thoughts!  It’s that easy.

Bear nightingale pic

Last months book was ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden.  For those of you unfamiliar with this book, the blurb reads: In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, a stranger with piercing blue eyes presents a new father with a gift- a precious jewel on a delicate chain, intended for his young daughter.  Uncertain of its meaning, the father hides the gift away and his daughter, Vasya, grows up a wild, wilful girl, to the chagrin of her family.  But when mysterious forces threaten the happiness of their village, Vasya discovers that, armed only with the necklace, she may be the only one who can keep the darkness at bay.

As blurbs go, this promised a lot, and the book itself did not fail to disappoint.  On the surface, this is a good old fashioned adventure story.  A young girl facing unimaginable odds and unsurmountable danger, must face her fears and fight to save her family.  The tale has been told dozens of times, in various forms, but with the addition of mythical creatures, Russian folklore and classic fantasy, this book rises head and shoulders above the rest, to produce an exciting and entertaining read.  It takes those traditional tales, and turns them on their head, spins them around, and pushes them over.  In a word, it is magical.

Peel back a layer, and the story is about so much more.  The main character’s struggle for independence and power over her own life in a Patriarchal society, provides a classic tale of feminism and female strength.  Indeed, Vasya is told repeatedly throughout the book that a woman’s ‘place’ and ‘lot in life’ is marriage and children, or the convent.  Those are her only two options.  Both, to Vasya, are worse than death, and so she fights her family, her village, even society itself, for the ownership over her body and her future.  Her refusal to submit to such overwhelming pressure from all directions, makes her all the more heroic to me as a female reader.  Too many fairy tales present the concept of a princess who needs to be rescued, or who gives up everything she is to marry her beloved prince.  Indeed, most of the stories I grew up with as a child, seem to give the distinct impression that finding your ‘Prince Charming’ is the be all and end all.  This story certainly does not read like that, and Vasya is a strong and independent female character. I will definitely be reading this book to my daughter.

On another level, it is about a girl who does not fit in.  She is strange and odd, and as a result, she is ostracised and bullied.  But again, in the face of name calling and isolation, she remains determined to be herself.  She is happy knowing that the people who are most important to her, like her family and nanny, love her just as she is.  Again, this presents such a positive role model for younger readers, and makes Vasya all the more loveable as a main character.

Finally, and more controversially, the book is a damning indictment of organised religion and indeed modern politics.  Vasya’s village once believed in the old ways, leaving food and offerings to the many spirits which occupy their home and the neighbouring woods, and who watch over them and their animals.  When a new priest comes to town, Father Konstantin, an arrogant man who yearns to be loved, he brings with him his charming way with words and his striking good looks, both weapons in his arsenal, which he uses to sway the people towards the ‘New God’ with surprising effectiveness.  He wants to be loved, and to have power, so he terrifies the ignorant villagers, with his warnings of the fiery inferno and eternal damnation awaiting them all in the afterlife, if they do not repent and submit to him.  The villagers change, blindly following him, whatever he says, out of pure fear.  In a society where politicians also wield fear as a weapon, this makes for incredibly relevant reading.  Even as the villagers die, the crops fail and the dead walk, Father Konstantin is unwavering in his faith, simply telling the villagers to pray.  Again, I am struck by similarities to our modern day politics, where people in positions of power, positions where they can make real change, merely offer prayers and empty promises.

In short, this book is simply wonderful, and I found myself, on several occasions, unable and unwilling to put it down.  I can’t find any fault with it and I thoroughly recommend it to all of you!  Have you read ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’?  Let me know your thoughts.

Junes Book Club pick is ‘The 9th life of Louis Drax’ by Liz Jensen.  This isn’t a long one, so we may have two book club picks for this month, I will let you know!  So what is this book about?  Nine-year-old Louis Drax is a problem child: bright, precocious, deceitful- and dangerously, disturbingly, disaster prone.  When he falls off a cliff into a ravine, the accident seems almost predestined.  Louis miraculously survives- but the family has been shattered.  Louis’ father has vanished, his mother is paralysed by shock, and Louis lies in a deep coma from which he may never emerge.  In a clinic in Provence, Dr Pascal Dannachet tries to coax Louis back to consciousness.  But the boy defies medical logic, startling Dannachet out of his safe preconceptions, and drawing him inexorably into the dark heart of Louis’ buried world.  Only Louis holds the key to the mystery surrounding his fall- and he can’t communicate.  Or can he?

If you fancy joining my book club, buy a copy as well, and read along!  Don’t forget to follow my blog for updates on this series of posts, along with many others and happy reading!

The Galileo: A Science Fiction Short Story.

Good evening fellow story lovers!  I know Sundays can be pretty bleak, but hopefully a short piece of science fiction will cheer you up! I am a huge Geek- I love Sci-fi and have been a Trekkie since I was a child (I have action figures and a uniform and everything).  This story draws inspiration from years of movies and books and comics.  I hope you like it!  Don’t forget to enter my competition giveaway if you haven’t yet, this is the last week it will be open, with the winner drawn at the end of the month!  Enjoy…

The Galileo

She awoke slowly, all blurred images and muffled sound. She felt like she was under water, fighting to get to the surface. Dazed and dizzy, she struggled to focus on her surroundings, blinking hard as everything slowly stopped spinning, and began to clear. She was in one of the ship’s corridors, cold from lying on the steel floor. A red warning light flashed on and off, casting the narrow space in an eery light. There was an alarm sounding, far off, intermittently drilling into her skull with it’s loud buzz.

She had no memory of what had happened. The last thing she could recall was them receiving a distress signal from a transport vessel, but after that it was blank. Her head thumped and pulsed with the rhythm of her heart beat. She touched her forehead and found her fingers wet with her blood. She checked her status on her electronic cuff. It indicated she had received a blow to the head four hours ago, and had immediately fallen into unconsciousness. She had a concussion and would require stitches, but apart from that her vitals were good. But where were the others?

She dragged herself off the floor, and wobbled over to a computer outlet on a nearby wall. Plugging in her cuff, the screen suddenly came to life, casting an eery blue light onto her face After a moment, it had booted fully and was ready for interfacing.

“Identify.”

“Crewman Holly Mathews, Delta five five three of the science vessel Galileo.”

“Voice identification confirmed. Please provide instructions or state your query.”

“Where are the others?”

“Please clarify ‘others’”

She yelled in frustration. She hated the interfacing tool. The ship was capable of travelling at the speed of light with the push of a button, but ask it something without spelling out exactly what you need, and it became like talking to a toddler. It was a machine, and it thought like one. It didn’t understand slang or metaphors or sarcasm. It was literal, it was frustrating at the best of times, but with her head pounding, it was even worse.

“Locate the other members of the crew.”

“My records indicate that the science vessel Galileo has thirty two crew members assigned. I can locate only one crew life sign at present, that of your own.”

“No…that can’t be.”

“I run over one hundred and twelve checks per second. My data is accurate to zero point zero zero zero…”

“Alright, stop. I get it.”

She suddenly found it difficult to breathe. Tears made there way up her throat and through her eyes, stinging the cut on her cheek and sending red water droplets onto her uniform. How could this be possible? How could they be gone? This had to be some kind of nightmare. She tried to steady her breathing, to hold the emotions back until she could figure out what was going on.

“What happened to the rest of the crew?”

“Unknown.”

“What do you mean unknown?”

“My systems were shut down three hours and thirty seven minutes ago. I have been offline until you initiated the interfacing programme, automatically rebooting my system.”

“Who shut you down?”

“Unknown.”

“How were you shut down?”

“Unknown.”

She yelled, banging her fist against the screen, a small hairline crack forming in the glass. The ship was the most sophisticated of it’s kind, and had an incalculable IQ, yet it could answer none of her questions. It sounded like a record stuck on repeat or a parrot which had only learned one word: Unknown, unknown, unknown. If she heard it one more time, she would smash the screen. If she was going to find out what happened to the crew, she would have to physically check herself.

“Show me on a map, where the crew’s bodies are located.”

“Unable to comply. There are no crew member’s bodies on board.”

“What do you mean? Where are their bodies?”

“Unknown.”

“God damn you.”

She punched the screen over and over again, until the cracked flickering surface was coated in a thin layer of her blood, now trickling from the open wound on her hand. She began to weep, sinking to the floor. She closed her eyes, begging herself to wake up, but when she opened them again, she was back there, in that corridor.

After a while, she pulled herself to her feet, and began to run to the bridge. The alarm grew louder the closer she got. When she entered, it was deserted, with no sign of any struggle or injury, no bodies, nothing. She plugged her cuff into the Captain’s control panel, and took a deep breathe.

“Identify.”

“Crewman Holly Mathews, Delta five five three of the science vessel Galileo.”

“Voice identification confirmed. Please provide instructions or state your query.”

“Turn off the alarm.”

“Confirmed.”

The red light vanished, and normal lighting levels returned, as the loud intermittent noise suddenly stopped.

“Who initiated the alarm?”

“No crew member initiated the alarm. The alarm was initiated automatically when my systems went offline.”

“Where is the other vessel? The one with the distress call.”

“The vessel which issued the distress call is in cargo bay three. I detect all systems are non functional, and there are no life signs on board.”

“Show me.”

The screen was divided into four images, from the cameras which covered the cargo bay. She chose the top left image, and zoomed in on the ship. It appeared to be a two man sub vessel, used for short journeys to the surface of planets and back or evacuation. The distress call had come from a transport vessel, or so she had thought.

“Confirm, did the distress call originate from this vessel.”

“Negative. The distress call originated from the transport vessel ‘Safe Haven.’”

“Where is the Safe Haven?”

“I detect debris and fuel, the signature of which confirms it belonged to the transport vessel Safe Haven. I detect no life signs. This sub vessel is all that remains.”

She felt her heart rate rise and her breathing quicken.

“How many souls were on board?”

“Records indicate the Safe Haven had three hundred and seventy two persons registered on board.”

Tears forced their way through her eyes and fell onto the screen.

“What happened to it?”

“Radiation levels and chemical signatures present indicate that the vessel’s core exploded.”

“How?”

“Unknown.”

“Play the distress call.”

The screen flickered and blurred with static. A face could be seen occasionally amongst the moving waves and shapes. It was a man, perhaps in his thirties, with short dark hair. He looked terrified, eyes wide with panic, and he was dirty, black covering one side of his face. Or, perhaps that was a burn? The sound quality wasn’t great, and she had to strain to hear what he was saying.

“This is Captain Ray Thorn of the transport vessel Safe Haven. We are under attack from something. We answered a distress signal from one of the small moons orbiting planet Alpha one one. We found a ship, appeared to be a salvage ship or perhaps a pirate vessel. It was heavily damaged, it clearly hit the surface pretty hard, half of it was missing. The crew, they were gone, no bodies, no blood, just vanished into thin air. But there was something there, we didn’t realise, we brought it back with us. I don’t know what it is, but it’s on board now. They’re all gone too, my crew, the passengers, all of them. There’s no one left, just my life sign and it’s, whatever it is. I’m going to blow her, the Safe Haven, try and kill it. I have…”

It suddenly cut off, leaving only static before the screen went black. Her stomach twisted, and her throat went dry.

“Confirm, was the sub vessel scanned for life signs before we docked it?”

“Confirmed. One life sign was located on board.”

“Was the life sign Captain Ray Thorn?”

“Negative.”

“Was the life sign human?”

“Negative.”

“What was it?”

“Unknown.”

She swallowed hard, dread rising within her. She suddenly recalled her question to the system and it’s exact response when she had it scan for the crew’s life signs: “My records indicate that the science vessel Galileo has thirty two crew members assigned. I can locate only locate one crew life sign at present, that of your own.” She repeated it inside her head, I can only locate one crew life sign, one CREW life sign. She had asked the wrong question.

“Confirm, how many life signs are on board.”

“I detect two life signs on board, that of your own and that of an unknown entity.”

The dread had filled her up, her voice crackled with fear, and she could hear her heart beating inside her skull, it’s thumping increasing as her breathing quickened.

“Confirm…where is the unknown entity.”

“The unknown entity is located on the bridge.”

She went to scream, but it was too late, and then, nothing.

……………………………………………………

“Captain, we are picking up an automated distress call.”

Captain Robert Gregson, sat forward in his seat. After years of working his way through the ranks, this was his first command. The military vessel ‘Mars’ was as new as him, and he was eager to test out her capabilities.

“Which vessel does the call originate from?”

“A science vessel called the Galileo sir. She’s supposed to be out here researching black holes. No signs of damage but she appears to be adrift.”

“Open communications with them.”

“I’ve already tried Sir.  All attempts to communicate have gone unanswered.”

“How many life signs on board?”

“Just one sir.”

“Jesus, what the hell happened? You’d better take us in.”

Mother’s Day Haiku poetry.

Since it is Mother’s day in some parts of the world, I decided to dedicate this blog post to mothers everywhere.  I myself am a mother, to a beautiful and perfect baby girl, and I now know just how much I owe my own mum.  It is the hardest job I have ever done, and the most rewarding.  I have never been more frustrated or happy, all rolled into one ball of emotions, and I am thankful every day to have been blessed with my daughter.

I also wanted to do something a bit different, so instead of a short story, I thought I would try to write some haiku poetry for the first time.  For those of you unfamiliar with a haiku, originating from Japan, it is a three line poem which consists of five syllables, seven syllables and then five syllables again.  It sounds short and easy, but it’s harder than you think.

I decided to write one haiku as a mother and a second as a daughter.  Let me know what you think, and Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there!  If you feel inspired to write your own haikus then please post them in the comments section below.

I hold her closer,

Tiny hand wrapped round my thumb.

I am truly whole.

I hope I’m like her.

Strong, kind smart and loving.

My hero, my mum.

Inspired Part 9

For this part of the Inspired series, I have collaborated with a fellow lover of all things that go bump in the night, to create something which will wiggle it’s way into your nightmares.  Nick Villicana lives in sunny Los Angeles, and when he is not at his day job in retail management, he is busy writing and drawing, creating dark and twisted little creatures.  If you like Nick’s monsters as much as me, you can check out more on his Instagram.  As before, I have written a short story and sent it to Nick, who has created this amazing image.  Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and if you are a creative soul, and would like to collaborate with me, please get in touch!

Monster art work

Infection

Hate is a poisonous and infectious emotion. Once it forms within our hearts, it spreads quickly, consuming us until there is nothing of who we once were; no humanity, no love, no empathy. It creates dark creatures, who wonder the earth intent on spreading the disease further. I saw it happen once, with my own eyes.

He was a student at my university, and he lived in the same halls of residence as me. When I first met him, both new to the student world, both nervous and anxious, he was shy and sweet. I liked him. He was tidier than the others who resided there, and he never stole food or brought home rowdy, drunken people or played techno music at 3am. Overall, he was a decent room mate. We never spoke that much, he kept himself to himself, but when we did he was funny and self deprecating. Then it started.

He went to a meeting, one of the many political and social groups which meet regularly within the campus, and there he met someone that planted a seed. When he returned that night, he didn’t respond to my hello, he just shuffled past into his room. I didn’t notice it in the beginning. It’s a cunning disease, which spreads slowly, subtly, so as not to provoke concern or intervention. But after a few weeks, I could see something was different, something was off.

When we spoke he was rude and cold. He would talk about things which made me uncomfortable, he labelled entire groups of people, or fellow students, as wrong, as different. He spat when he talked. I didn’t like what he said, so I avoided talking to him after that.

One night I was in my room, when I heard shouting from the communal areas of the halls. I walked down, meeting several others who had formed an audience to an argument taking place between him and another resident. They were screaming at each other. He called the girl a terrible name, so she slapped him. He spat on the floor at her feet and left the room, just as she began to tear up. I could tell they were tears of anger, not sadness. He was reported to the university after that, and given a warning. He stopped speaking to any of us.

I could hear him, inside his dark and musty dorm room for hours at a time, listening to broad casts and speeches. I don’t even think he went to class after a while, only occasionally exiting his lair to eat or take a piss. It was on one of these late night excursions, when I first saw the physical changes in him. He had become thinner, gaunt even, and he seemed taller than before. It almost looked like he had been stretched. His shoulder blades jutted out like sharp, stubby wings, and his hair had began to fall out in patches. I stopped dead when I saw him, drinking milk straight from the carton. I watched the back of his head, as milk poured down his face, pooling at his feet. When he opened the fridge door to replace the carton, it briefly illuminated him in harsh yellow light, and I could see his skin had a blue tinge to it. It was barely noticeable, almost like someone who has become suddenly cold. When he turned to leave, as the crack of light from the fridge growing smaller beside him as the door creaked shut, I could see his eyes, at least, what his eyes had become. For, they weren’t the blue eyes I had looked into before. They were milky, a white film spreading across the iris, broken up only by red snaking veins. He looked like something from a horror film. I nearly screamed as he flew past me back into his room, door slamming. I couldn’t sleep that night; every time I closed my eyes, I was staring into his.

Soon, we began to hear strange noises coming from his room. It sounded like an animal was trapped in there, something with a low deep growl. There was also a smell emanating from it, a musty smell, like damp earth and rotting leaves. We would notice clumps of hair in the bathrooms, and one day, a collection of finger nails and toe nails, not trimmings or cuttings, but whole nails, yellow and cracked with blood tinged edges. Several of the residents left after that.

I asked around, and no one had seen him for weeks. I checked his class records, and discovered he had stopped attending. I even went to one of the clubs he had joined, but he was nowhere to be seen. Concerned he may have hurt himself or worse, I decided enough was enough. I had to check on him, I had to see if he was alright. The door was unlocked when I tried the handle. I opened it slowly, the light from the hall behind me creating a line across the carpet, which grew in size, illuminating rubbish and clothes. It might have looked like any other messy dorm room, except there was pieces of rotting meat lying in piles, scattered around the floor. It looked like pork belly, except one piece had a marking on it, a tattoo of a star. I stifled my scream; he had hurt himself. But the reality was so much worse.

monster artwork part 2As the door reached it’s apex, the room illuminated by the hall light, I saw him. He was huddled on the bed at first, but he began to uncurl his body, like a centipede. No longer was he the boy I had known. He was twisted and jagged, like an insect. His arms were long now, ending around where his knees once were, and his fingers were sharp and pointed. His skin was a navy blue, and he was completely bald now. He was so tall, crouching slightly to avoid the ceiling, towering above me like some nightmare incarnate. But it was his eyes which were the worst. They were all white now, and matte, like a pearl, and they stared down at me with hatred and anger. His mouth twisted into a snarl and saliva fell as he growled and howled. I screamed and ran from the dorm. I ran until I wanted to vomit and my lungs felt like they were on fire. I ran until everything began to spin, and only then did I look back.

I could just make it out in the distance, walking out of the student’s village, a black shadow passing over the other dorms and street lights. And then, it was gone. We never saw him again after that. There were posters and TV appeals, but I knew there was nothing of him left to find. He had twisted and eroded until only hate remained. I see it everywhere now, spreading through the campus, through the country, through the world. I watch the news and see politicians giving speeches, their eyes beginning to fade white, their finger nails missing. I hear that same snarl on my radio during phone ins and debates. I smell the damp rot festering all around me, and I fear that if something isn’t done, the effects will be irreversible, and humanity will succumb, lost forever to hate.

Thank you Giveaway!

Hello readers!  Before I started this blog, I was extremely nervous about putting myself out there.  To show my writing freely, felt almost as if I was presenting a part of my soul, and for that to garner a negative or nasty response would have been very difficult.  I have been honest about my struggle with mental health issues, and often, in life, I have found myself refusing to try in order to avoid failure and the subsequent negative feelings that would inevitably go with that.  Depression and Anxiety leaves you feeling vulnerable, and I was afraid to make myself more vulnerable by exposing myself to ridicule or insults.

But truthfully, the response I have had has been nothing but positive.  I have made some amazing friends online, collaborated with some very talented and inspiring people and got really great feedback on my writing.  Now, I have reached the 1000 follower mark on Instagram, and to say thank you, I have decided to run a giveaway of everything you see in this picture.

 

competition prozes

The prize includes:

  • A print featuring blue birds printed onto a vintage book page, with the title ‘Vocal Beauties from the Opera.’
  • A bookmark by East of India featuring the words, ‘Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much.’
  • A Rose gold pen.
  • Three books from the Penguin little black classics range, namely ‘Woman much missed’ by Thomas Hardy, ‘The Eve of St Agnes’ by John Keats and ‘Only Dull people are brilliant at breakfast’ by Oscar Wilde.  Perfect to start your collection!
  • An A5 lined notebook, featuring the phrase, ‘Ideas Hopes Dreams Notes.’
  • The book, ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ by Tim Federle, which contains step by step instructions on how to make cocktails with a literary twist, including, ‘Drankenstein’, ‘A midsummer night’s beam’ and my personal favourite, ‘One flew over the cosmos nest.’
  • A blue Librarian badge.

For your chance to win, simply head over to my Instagram and follow me, tagging two friends under the Giveaway post, and subscribe to my blog.  That’s it!  You can also get additional entries, by sharing the Giveaway post on Instagram, making sure you tag me in it, and use the hashtag #mariemcwilliamsblog or by liking my Facebook page.  The competition is open internationally and the winner will be chosen at the end of the month, so spread the word amongst your bookworm friends and Good Luck!!

Terms and Conditions:

  1. In order to enter the giveaway, you must be following @mariemcwilliamsblog on Instagram, have tagged two friends under the ORIGINAL Giveaway post and have subscribed to this blog.  This will be checked.
  2. The winner will be drawn after 31st May 2017 and will be chosen at random from all the eligible entries.
  3. The competition is open internationally.  The prize is as above, and no alternative prizes will be given, and no cash alternatives will be given.
  4. The winner will be contacted immediately.  If they fail to provide their postage details within 7 days, they forfeit the prize and a new winner will be chosen at random from all eligible entries.
  5. Additional entries can be made by liking @mariemcwilliamsblog page on Facebook or by sharing the giveaway post on Instagram, tagging @mariemcwilliamsblog in the photo and using #mariemcwilliamsblog.  For these additional entries to count, you MUST have completed point 1 above.
  6. This competition is not affiliated with WordPress, Instagram or Facebook.

Get entering and Good luck!!