The Magic Box Part 2: A Short Story Inspired by the Once Upon a Book Club Box Subscription.

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Hello readers!  We have officially made it past hump day, and are well on our way towards the weekend.  And I have the perfect thing to get us through the rest of the week- Part 2 of my take on a classic fairy tale, inspired by a very special book subscription box.  If you are unfamiliar with the Once Upon A Book Club Box subscription box, it is a monthly subscription box which contains a carefully chosen book and a series of wrapped gifts, each one marked with a specific page number.  When you reach that number, you open the gift, and it will be tailored to that specific point in the book.  It is a very immersive experience and I have enjoyed it immensely- the full review of the book and the box will be up next week.  I felt inspired by this immersive experience, and posited the question: What would happen if the box LITERALLY immersed you in an adventure, and that each gift was your tools to survive?  The first part was posted last week, and this is the final part of the story.  I hope you like reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it!  If you like the sound of the Once Upon a Book Club Box, you can get 10% off a subscription with my exclusive code MARIE10!!  Happy reading….

The Magic Box

Part Two

The woods began to darken slightly, shadows lengthening, branch like hands spreading across the forest floor. After a few minutes, she came to another clearing, almost a perfect circle formed by the gap in the trees. In the centre, stood a statue, twice the size of Ella, made of dark, grey stone. It was cracked in places, aged, ivy climbing it’s way up and twisting around the figure which stood tall and wide. It was a man, with broad shoulders and long hair. He wore some kind of uniform, and held a sword aloft. She stared at him a moment. He had a handsome face, and his eyes stared off into the distance at some unknown object.

She went to walk around it, and suddenly the sword dislodged and landed in front of her, mere feet from where she stood. She fell back in shock, scrambling away from the gigantic stone blade. Then it spoke, a deep voice, echoing through the trees. “Only the worthy shall pass.” She lay still a moment, feeling her heart beat, which had suddenly began to crash within her rib cage, begin to slow again along with her breathing, as the sword was slowly brought back into it’s original place, and the statue became still and lifeless once more.

Swallowing hard, she dragged herself to her feet, and approached the statues base, being careful not to walk beyond it. She noticed what appeared to be writing on the stone base, so slowly, and carefully, keeping one eye of the stone warrior, she pulled the ivy off, revealing the message beneath. “Only those who have worth of self shall pass beyond this point.” She read it out loud, hoping she could decipher some hidden message or discover the answer to a secret riddle, but no answer came. She continued, talking to herself, for she had resigned herself to the fact that she was going insane anyway, and thought she might as well go the entire way and seek her own counsel, “What does that mean?”

“It means what it says.”

She leapt back, expecting the sword to once more make it’s way towards the earth, and was surprised to find that, not only did it remain in place, but the stone face was now staring down at her.

“But what does it mean, ‘worthy’? What makes someone worthy or not?”

“You’re asking the wrong questions.”

“What is the right questions?”

“You’re asking the wrong questions.”

She began to find his deliberate vagueness irritating, impatience growing along with the darkness. She closed her eyes, exasperation succumbing to weariness. How long had she been in this place? For the first time since her Father had passed away, she found herself missing home.

She reached into her apron, and finding the small round parcel with gold spots, she tore the paper off with one swift movement, revealing the gift within. In her hand, she held a compact mirror. It was gold in colour, and on the front, there was the image of a rose, with maroon red petals and dark green leaves. She ran her finger along the smooth, enamelled surface. It reminded her of her mother, who always carried one. Ella opened it, so her own eyes stared back at her. Only those who have worth of self shall pass. Slowly, she began to understand.

“Who decides who is worthy?”

“Now, you are asking the right question.”

“I decide. That’s what it means isn’t it? I decide if I am worthy?”

“That is correct.”

It sounded so easy on the surface, to decide that about yourself, to give yourself credit, to believe in your own self worth, but reality is a different matter. Ella had spent most of her life being told she was a thorn in her families side, a pebble in their shoe. Her step mother had reiterated time and again what a burden she was on her. The sad truth is, that if people tell you you are worthless often enough, you yourself will start to believe it.

She thought of her mother, of how kind and beautiful she was, and of her father, such a clever and loving man. Tears began to fill her eyes. In an instant, she imagined a life where they had been able to watch her grow, a world where every day, they had told her how much they loved her, how perfect she was to them. Tears forced their way from her, snaking their way down her cheeks, and almost as quickly, tears of sadness became tears of anger. What right had her step mother to treat her the way she did? Not once had she given cause for such bile, never had she deserved such mistreatment. For years, she had cooked and cleaned after her and her two lazy, idiot daughters, and not once had she been told thank you.

“I am worthy…” It was spoken so softly, that the words were barely audible to Ella, but she realised, once they were spoken aloud, that they were words of truth. And so, she repeated them, louder, “I am worthy,” and then louder, “I am worthy,” until she was shouting at the stone knight, tears of anger rolling down her face, “I AM WORTHY.” It turned it’s face towards her, as if it had only just noticed her existence.

“I am worthy. I may not be the best of my kind, but I am a good person. I am kind and loving, in spite of the way I am treated by others. I am just as worthy as any other soul who may come by this place, and you shall let me pass. Do you hear me? You SHALL let me pass.”

Without waiting for a response, she walked around the base, passing the large gouge in the earth’s surface, marking the spot where his sword had fallen, passing the statue entirely. In fact, so determined was she to walk where she pleased, that before she realised it, she had walked so far, the statue was no longer visible amongst the trees. She stopped, leaning against a nearby tree, the bark rough beneath her hand. She withdrew the mirror, and with the small amount of light left, she looked at her own reflection and smiled. She decided there and then, that she would no longer take the insults and the cruel jabs. She was Ella. She was her Mother and Father’s daughter, and she was worthy.

Darkness had fallen on the forest. Ella tread slowly and carefully, moving from tree to tree. On more than one occasion, she felt eyes watching her from the black, following her, observing her. At one point, she thought she had seen something moving, but forced the idea from her mind, trying to hold on to what little strength and courage remained within her. She could not stop to rest; she had no provisions, no shelter, no food, and even if she did, the dangers of her surroundings were completely unknown to her, her environment totally alien. She had to keep going until the final task, she had to get home. As if to reassure herself, she touched the last parcel, turning it over and over, feeling it’s weight in her hand.

After walking for what felt like hours, she began to feel her eyes growing heavy, her feet weary of their trek. She began to fear she would never leave this place, when a light appeared in the distance, stark and bright in the enveloping darkness. She approached cautiously, glad she could once again see her way. As she neared, she realised it was several torches, the flames causing shadows to pulse and vibrate. Even from a distance, she could feel their heat emanating through the thick forest, and she suddenly realised how cold she had been.

The torches were staked into the ground. There were three in total, each in front of a tree, and each tree containing a door. She walked from tree to tree examining each door in turn. The first, made of a dark, mahogany wood, was carved with hundreds of faces, all of which were distorted in pain or twisted with fear. She shuddered at the sight of it, and quickly moved on to the next one, deciding a closer inspection of the first was unnecessary. The second was metal, silver in colour, with chains decorating it, some of which had shackles hanging from their ends. Moving quickly to the third, she found a dark stone door, engraved with thorns and skulls. Each door seemed as unappealing as the other, and Ella began to pray this was not her final task.

Suddenly, the flames of each torch grew, as if being encouraged by invisible bellows, and a booming voice came from nowhere, echoing all around her, making the source impossible to discover, “CHOOSE.” The flames remained tall, casting a heavy, smoky heat all around. She remained firmly planted to the spot, fear gripping her, as she made the impossible choice between whatever was there with her, in that terrible place, or to face whatever horrors awaited her behind each door. Shock had paralysed her, and growing in volume, and impatience, the voice sounded again, “CHOOSE.”

“Please…I…”

“CHOOSE.”

She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly dry. She took a deep, slow breathe, and steadied herself against a nearby fallen tree, staring at each door in turn, none appealing to her in any way.

“Please, where do they lead?”

Laughter filled the air, not just from one voice or one person, but dozens of different creatures all laughing at once. It came from all around her and lasted several seconds before suddenly ceasing. Then, another voice came, this one higher in pitch, more feminine, with a sharp edge to it, each syllable leaving a mark.

“That’s the game. You choose, without knowing, because really, it doesn’t matter.”

“I don’t understand.”

There it was again, that laughter, those dozens of voices building quickly to a crescendo.

“Of course you don’t. You’re a weak and stupid child, I’m surprised you even made it this far.”

Anger began to build within her, “I am not weak.”

“You are weak and pathetic. This is the only time you have even ventured from your tiny little life. You hate your existence and yet you do nothing to change it, and that it why it doesn’t matter what lies beyond each door, because no matter what it is, no matter what challenges you will face, you will lose. Whichever door you pick, you won’t be strong enough. Whichever door you choose, the ending is the same.”

The laughter came again, this time lasting much longer. Sometimes, it would seem the invisible beings taunting her, were right beside her ear, and then in a split second they were somewhere else, further away. Each one felt like a stab to her heart, and angry tears began to fill her eyes. She closed her eyes, a memory burning bright behind her eyelids. Her step mother had found her crying in the barn after her step sisters had tripped her up in the mud and told her she should sleep with the pigs. She had a sly smile on her painted lips, and her eyes glinted with hatred, “I’m ashamed to call you step daughter. Such a weak and pathetic little creature, such a burden. If it wasn’t for the memory of your father, I would have cast you out years ago. But we all know what would happen if you left this place…you wouldn’t last a day in the world beyond this village. My daughter’s were wrong about one thing though, you are no pig, although you certainly look like one. Pigs at least have intelligence.” And with that, she had left her crying, alone in the dusty shadows of the barn.

But her step mother was wrong. She had faced creatures beyond the imagination of most, and survived. She had discovered courage and strength within herself, which she never knew existed. Ella proven herself worthy, and no band of disembodied brutes would convince her otherwise. She pulled the third package from it’s hiding placed, and tore the paper off. Inside was a heavy brass key, polished to a gleaming shine. The teeth of the key were more elaborate that any she had ever seen, and the elaborate knot at it’s other end was quite beautiful.

Every door seemed equally menacing, and so she decided on a whim to choose the middle door. She had no idea what she would find on the other side, and she would never know if this had been the right choice, but she had to make one, and whatever she faced, she knew in her heart, she could stand her ground. The laughter died off, and before any of the voices had the chance to speak again, she turned the key. The door opened of it’s own accord, and a bright, blinding light flooded into the black void of the forest, illuminating every knot in every tree, and every pine needle or spiders web within it’s reach. She closed her eyes, the brightness almost paining her, and she felt herself being pulled within. It felt like she was falling, air rushed around her head and her body became weightless. The light made it impossible to open her eyes, and so she continued to fall into the unknown, dreading the inevitable impact to come. And then, it stopped.

Slowly, she opened her eyes and found herself on the straw bed floor of the barn. Light was streaming through holes in the wooden ceiling, and particles of dust danced and tumbled in the beams. The familiar smell of hay and horse manure filled her nostrils, and she could feel the weight of her own body once more. Ella lay there for several minutes, wondering if it had all been a dream, until her hand found the three objects within her apron, tracing every part of them with her fingers: a box, a mirror and a key. She smiled. It had all been real. Magic was real, “You were right Father.”

“Who on earth are you talking to?” She jolted upright with a start, that familiar voice bringing her crashing back to the here and now. Her step mother stood at the door, the light behind her, casting her in an ominous shadow. It made her look even more evil than usual, “I asked you a question child. Who were you speaking to?”

“None of your business.”

Shock spread across her face, furrows and lines lengthening and shortening as the shock subsided into rage, “How dare you speak to me like that you insolent little brat.”

“No, how dare you! How dare you treat me like a servant! How dare you abuse me and treat me like dirt! How dare you step mother!”

Ella had never seen her step mother so enraged, and at one point she thought she saw her eye twitch. She stomped towards Ella, until her nose almost touched hers, spittle hitting Ella’s face as she yelled, “How many years have I put up with you burdening this family? How long have I put up with you out of charity? How long have I fed and clothed you out of the goodness of my heart?”

“You have no goodness in your heart.”

“Well, I never…”

Ella began to close the gap between them, her step mother moving backwards to increase it again, as bewilderment replaced anger.

“How long have I put up with you? How long have I cooked for you and cleaned for you? How long have you treated me like a servant, like an animal? How long have you degraded me and bullied me? Well no more. I am no longer your punching bag.”

Ella had forced her back so far, her step mother suddenly found herself forced to sit on bails of hay, almost toppling over them entirely. Ella didn’t wait for a response, she no longer cared what her step mother had no say to her. As she pulled the heavy door completely open, her two step sisters bolted upright, having been caught eavesdropping. They did not wait to feel the lash of Ella’s tongue, and both immediately turned and ran towards the house. Just as she was about to step outside, her step mother spoke once more, her voice transformed from a shrill and domineering tone, to that of a meek child, “You won’t make it out there. You aren’t strong enough.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. I am strong, I am brave and I am worthy.”

And with that, she left. She walked away from the only home she had known her entire life, she walked away from her only family and she walked towards a new life. A life on her terms, a life worth living. She saw Jacob appear on the path, a bunch of wild flowers in his hand. She smiled to herself. She had no idea what awaited her out there, but she knew that whatever it was, she could handle it.

The End

The Magic Box Part 1: A Short Story inspired by the Once Upon a Book Club Subscription Box.

magic box

Happy Hump day everyone…it is half way to the weekend, and I have a treat to get you through the rest of the working week!  Tonights blog features part 1 of a very special short story, called ‘The Magic Box.’  If you missed my blog on the 26th of October, go check it out now, because it features the unboxing of a very special monthly subscription box: The Once Upon a Book Club Box.  This is a very special book subscription box, which creates an incredibly subversive experience.  In a nut shell, not only do you get an amazing and carefully chosen book, but you get a series of gifts, tailor made for that book and individually wrapped.  You are prompted to open each gift in turn, by the page number it is associated with, and the gift is something directly linked to that specific part of the book.  It truly brings the book to life, and I am enjoying it immensely so far (keep an eye out in a week or two for a full review).

Inspired by that immersive experience, I thought to myself: Imagine if the book box actually pulled you into your very own adventure?  Happy Reading…

The Magic Box

Part One

Ella stared hard at her reflection, willing herself to transform into another person, to suddenly wake up in another life far away from here shaking off this one like a bad dream. But no amount of wishing would bring about the changes she so desperately craved, she had long since given up on magic and other childish ideas, and so, she wiped the soot marks from her tear stained cheeks and went to feed the chickens and muck out the pigs.

It hadn’t always been like this; she had been happy once. When she was small, and had both of her parents, life was wonderful. She remembered games and laughter and softly spoken words to sooth her sores or rock her gently to sleep. First she lost her Mother, a kind and warm woman, who sang constantly and gave the best hugs. Then she lost her Father, a clever man who laughed at his own jokes and told the most fantastical bed time stories, of ancient magic and adventures in foreign lands. Before he departed, he provided her with a Step Mother and two sisters. Selfish and spoiled, they treated her like a servant, not family, and reminded her constantly of what an inconvenience she was.

She sighed wearily. She wished she could run away, but where would she go? How would she survive? The world was so big to a girl from a small village. She had heard the town cryers bringing news of pirates and highway men, of thieves and murderers, of cut throats and tricksters of the highest order. She wouldn’t last a day.

The familiar whistling of Jacob, the postal boy, snapped her back to reality. He was approaching her from the path, a smile on his face and a bounce in his step. Ella liked Jacob, he was sweet and honest, and unlike so many people from the nearby town, he treated her like an equal, not something to be ignored or overlooked.

“Good morrow Ella, ’tis a fine morning.”

Almost out of habit, she turned her face towards the sky, and assessed the pureness of the blue, the absence of cloud, feeling the warmth of the sun on her skin.

“That it is Jacob. What news have you from town?”

“Well, the Mayor announced a posh dinner for all the well to dos, the blacksmith had two horses stolen and someone pilfered the head from the statue of Sir Lancelot from the town square. Apart from that, just the usual comings and goings.”

Another sigh escaped her lips. She yearned for something bigger than this repetitive country life, something beyond her village, perhaps even beyond the walls of the town. She yearned for escape.

“There is something unusual to report however…,” a sly smile began to spread across his face, which widened as he spoke, “…and I think, no I’m sure, it will bring a smile to your face.”

She waited a moment, anticipation swelling, until impatience burst forth and spilled from her lips, “For heaven’s sake Jacob, out with it.”

He pouted, feigning upset, before pulling a parcel from the well worn leather satchel he carried. It was wrapped in brown paper, tied in twine, nothing unusual about it, until one looked closer at the name inscribed in slanted gold writing, the name of Ella Decor. Shock quickly subsided, replaced by overwhelming excitement, as she snatched it from Jacob’s hands. She held it tightly, assessing it , as if at any moment it may begin to tick and explode. She had never received a single letter, never mind a package. Her heart faltered slightly as she wondered if, perhaps, it was some trick being played by her Step Mother. Jacob as usual read her mind, and placing his hand on hers, he quietly said, “There’s only one way to find out.”

She kissed him on the cheek, only momentary contact but with a lasting effect as his face reddened and shyness spread across his face. She ran towards the barn, knowing there she would never be disturbed, imagining a million scenarios, each as unlikely as the next. Jacob watched her skipping away, growing smaller with distance, and he wished more than anything that he could be brave enough to tell her how he feels. But the moment was gone and his chance had passed, and so, with a heavy sigh, he carried his heavy load to the next farm; there was post to deliver.

She landed on the pile of hay with such force, it sent up a cloud of dust and scared the horses nearby. They quickly quieted, although they made their annoyance known with the occasional huff and puff. Oblivious, Ella clutched the parcel, staring at the gold lettering, tracing the letters with her finger. She wanted the moment to last, but excitement overtook her and she tore the paper off in one quick motion, revealing a box beneath. It was pink in colour, the colour of wild roses, and it was painted to resemble a book. On the front, where the cover of the book would be, were the words, ‘Once Upon a book box.’ She stared, confused, turning it over and over in her hand. She had never seen such a beautiful box, and she couldn’t imagine who would have sent it to her. She read and re-read the title, but the words held no meaning.

And then she noticed it, right at the back, in tiny writing, ‘Fairy Godmother Industries.’ She recalled her father’s stories, of magical creatures granting wishes to those in need, of pumpkin carriages and midnight dashes. She shook the idea from her mind as ridiculous. There was no such thing as magic. And yet, something about the box called to her, a whisper in the wind, barely audible. It told her to open the box. Slowly, she opened the lid, but before she could see what it contained, she was blinded by a light, emanating from within it, brighter than any candle or flame. She covered her eyes and fell back, hitting the soft earth with a thud. She could smell moss and rain water, and could feel soil beneath her face. It took her a moment to realise that this was not the bare wood floor of the barn. She blinked hard, circles of light still swimming in her vision, and saw above her a blue cloudless sky where the barn roof should have been.

Slowly, she sat up, taking in her surroundings. She was in a thick, dark forest, ever green trees as tall as houses flanking her on either side. She could hear birds singing nearby, and could feel the damp earth underneath her. It smelled of pine needles and there was an early morning chill hanging in the air. The only familiar sight was the box, it’s pink colour a stark contrast to its brown and green surroundings. She picked it up, and three small parcels fell from the open lid, and landed on the earth beside her. She examined them in turn. Each was wrapped in a different coloured and patterned paper, tied with the same twine as her package had been, and on each, hung a cardboard label. The first was small and thin, and felt heavy for its size. It was wrapped in silver paper, and the label read, ‘Number 3.’ The second was slightly larger, but much lighter. It was wrapped in a pink tissue paper with white stripes, and the label read, ‘Number 1.’ The third was round, wrapped in brown paper with gold spots, and the label unsurprisingly read, ‘Number 2.’

Perplexed, she pulled the now empty box towards her, and examined inside. On the lid, in the same slanted gold writing as her own name had been inscribed, was a message from the sender, ‘Dearest Ella, I have heard your cries and I will grant your wish. Take the gifts on your journey, and open them when the time comes. Do not open them before, or out of order, or the spell shall be broken. I believe in you, love from your Fairy Godmother. P.S. I can only take you so far, you have to do the rest on your own.’ She read those words a dozen times, she shook the upturned box, and read them again, but none of them made sense. The words were familiar, but their meaning was a mystery. How could this be? She looked around her and thought, for the first time, that perhaps her father’s stories were more than they had seemed, perhaps magic was real.

Gathering the packages, she placed them inside her apron pocket, and not knowing where to go, she chose a direction, and began to walk, hoping that she would find the answers she sought, or at least, perhaps, find her way home some how. The dry needles crunched underfoot and a slight mist hung amongst the trees. “This must be a dream.” She said it out loud, to no one in particular, hoping in doing so, she could convince herself. She pinched her arm, and immediately felt the short sharp pain emanate from that spot. She did not feel reassured.

She felt like she had been walking for quite some time, when she began to hear voices. She crept forwards, using the thick foliage as cover, until she came upon a small clearing. Within it was three of the ugliest little creatures she had ever seen. They came to waist height, and had warty, wrinkled skin and mud coloured eyes, a row of horns was visible along their hair line, and they had rows of sharp yellow teeth. They were laughing in grunt like spasms, while they threw something from one to the another, although Ella could not see what it was. They reminded her of the tales her father told, of ogres under bridges or goblins inside dark caves.

Suddenly, the smallest and fattest of the three, missed it’s target, and the object they were throwing landed on the earth and rolled towards the bush Ella was using as camouflage. It was a glass jar, with a number of small holes drilled into the gold metal lid. Within it lay a tiny girl, with lilac hair and two large oval shaped eyes the colour of lavender flowers. She shone and glittered within the jar, creating the illusion it contained a candle, and most astonishingly of all, she had two large dragon fly like wings protruding from her back, which glistened with all the colours of the rainbow when they caught the light. Ella had never seen a fairy in real life before, but she knew straight away what it was. The poor creature looked sickly, and sorrowful, and no wonder, with three little monsters throwing you around like a ball.

The skinny ogre, with long, greasy hair, shuffled towards her hiding place and picked up the jar. It stopped suddenly, staring right at her, sniffing the air like a dog on the hunt. “Come Tobias, bring her here. I haven’t had my fill of fun yet.” It was the largest of the creatures, who wore armour made of wood and rope. The skinny ogre let out a huff, before turning back to the group.

Their game began again, their laughter growing with every throw, and before Ella could stop herself, she was running towards the short, fat one, brandishing a large branch as a weapon. The element of surprise aided her with the first assailant, as he fell to the earth with a pained cry, a stunned expression on his ugly little face. The second attempt was not so lucky. She swung towards the skinny, greasy one, once, twice, as hard as she could, but it managed to jump back, narrowly missing a thump to the face. She stood over the jar, trying to protect it without letting go of her make shift bat and her heart sank as she realised she was surrounded. She now stood between all three, the fat one having recovered from his initial shock, green blood oozing from a cut on his forehead. They snarled, and growled, circling her like a pack of dogs.

Panic began to rise in her chest, and she could hear her own heart beating inside her skull. She swung the branch wildly back and forth, trying to keep them back as they circled. The largest ogre raised his fist, and they came to a halt, “What manner of creature are you?”

Her panicked mind swam, so she barely managed to answer, “Ella.”

“I’ve never ‘heard of an Ella. Your awful ugly things Ella.”

The others snorted a laugh.

“Why have you attacked us, Ella of the shadows?”

“I couldn’t stand there and let you torture this poor fairy any longer.”

He laughed, the others joining in.

“And you’re gonna’ stop us eh? You, and your twig?”

They laughed again, this time louder.

“That fae be ours, we caught her fair and square. Walk away from the jar now, and we won’t eat you.”

Her mouth felt dry, and her palms were sweating, the branch becoming heavy in her arms.

“What do you want with her?”

“Supper.”

The laughter started again, and the small, fat one, flinched towards her so she swung wildly in his direction on reflex. They laughed all the louder.

“When you eat a Fae, you eat it’s magic. I wonder what happens when you eat an Ella?”

She heard the skinny one licking his lips, her heart beating so hard within her chest, she feared it might burst through her ribs.

Just then, she felt something vibrating from inside her apron pocket. In the excitement, she had forgotten about the gifts. Could this be the moment she needed to open parcel number 1? There was only one way to find out. She threw the branch at the leader, sending him falling back with a thud. Grabbing the jar, she ran between the other two, narrowly missing being grabbed, and began to run. She swapped the jar for the parcel, and tearing the paper, discovered a brown, glossy box within. On the lid, in shiny brass, was the picture of a bee. She could hear them gaining on her, so she opened the box. Suddenly, a swarm of bees flooded from within. There was thousands of them, and Ella had no idea how they could have all fit within such a small box. The swarm grew to form a black cloud, blocking what little light made it through the thick canopy of trees. The cloud flew and moved as one, a sentient, black cloud. Suddenly they came together and formed the shape of a human head. To Ella’s utter surprise, the mouth then moved, and buzzing, static words could be heard. “Why have you disturbed us?”

“Please, I need your help. I am being chased by monsters. They are trying to kill me and this fairy.” She held the jar up to where she supposed eyes should be, but realised the foolishness of her actions. There was thousands of tiny eyes looking at her from within the swarm. She could hear them close now, any second they would appear and attack her.

As if things couldn’t become stranger, the fairy within began to buzz in a language Ella could not understand, although she supposed it was Bee. Suddenly, the face shifted, and became angry, before the swarm moved at speed in the direction of the three ogres, now mere feet from where Ella stood. They split, surrounding all three, as they batted and swung to no avail. Their cries could be heard for several minutes, as they ran away, the swarm following, until the noise died away with distance.

Ella fell to the earth, panting, tears of relief filling her eyes. She scrambled to open the jar, and gently poured the fairy onto a soft bed of moss nearby. After a moment, it spoke, it’s voice soft and melodic, “Thank you Ella of the shadows.”

“It’s just Ella actually.”

“Thank you Ella Actually.”

She opened her mouth to correct her, but thought better of it.

“What were those things?”

“We call them Dwellers. They live in the swamps, and poison the earth with their bile and hate. They have no magic, and so, out of jealousy, they steal it from other creatures. That’s what I told the bees. Many of their kind have been killed by the Dwellers.”

“Bees are magic?”

“Of course they are, haven’t you seen the honey they create? The flowers they grow?”

Ella had never thought of it before, but she supposed bees were magic.

“You have great courage, Ella Actually. In your land, you must be a great warrior”

“No, I’m just a servant. I’m nobody.”

“Don’t ever say that about yourself. It takes great courage to stand up to bullies, and even more so when it is to save another. You are kind and brave, and I thank you with all of my heart.”

It’s wings began to move so quickly, only a blur could be seen, and the fairy flew towards her face, kissing her lightly on the cheek. Warmth spread throughout her body, emanating from that spot, and she suddenly felt filled with happiness and love.

She began to fly away before Ella could gather her thoughts, “Wait! Where am I?” She could just make out the voice, though she could no longer see it’s owner. “The wayward woods.”

“How do I get home?”

No answer came, and after she had taken a moment to collect her thoughts, she picked up the now empty box and placed it back inside her apron pocket. She had no idea where she was in relation to where she had began her journey, and so, once again, she simply chose a direction, this time the opposite way from where the Dwellers had been chased, and she began to walk, wondering if, this wasn’t a dream, then perhaps, she had lost her mind.

Part two will be uploaded soon! Subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post!

My Once Upon A Book Box Has Arrived!

book box

Hello readers!  It’s almost the weekend, which is awesome enough, but today I got the best book mail ever!  Not only is it the first book box I have ever received, it is the ‘Once Upon a Book Box’, which has the most amazing concept.  If you are unfamiliar with this amazing company, it works like this…not only do you get a fabulous new book, hand picked by the Once Upon team, but you get a selection of gifts, all individually and uniquely wrapped, with a page number on them.  When you reach the page number in question, you open your gift.  Each gift is tailored to the book, and to that specific point in the book, so it creates a completely immersive experience.  Great idea right?

Plus it gets better…the book is a spooky read, perfect for Halloween!  The book in question is, ‘The End of Temperance Dare’ by Wendy Webb.  What’s it about I hear you say?

When Eleanor Harper becomes the director of a renowned artists’ retreat, she knows nothing of Cliffside Manor’s dark past as a tuberculosis sanatorium, a “waiting room for death.” After years of covering murder and violence as a crime reporter, Eleanor hopes that being around artists and writers in this new job will be a peaceful retreat for her as much as for them.
But from her first fog-filled moments on the manor’s grounds, Eleanor is seized by a sense of impending doom and realizes there’s more to the institution than its reputation of being a haven for creativity. After the arrival of the new fellows–including the intriguing, handsome photographer Richard Banks–she begins to suspect that her predecessor chose the group with a dangerous purpose in mind. As the chilling mysteries of Cliffside Manor unravel and the eerie sins of the past are exposed, Eleanor must fight to save the fellows–and herself–from sinister forces.

I cannot wait to get stuck in!  If you fancy giving this amazing book box ago, you can get 10% off by using my exclusive discount code MARIE10.  To celebrate getting to rep for this awesome company, I have written a story inspired by the box itself, which will be released in two parts over the coming weeks!  It’s my take on a traditional fairy tale, in which a mysterious box transports our young heroine to a strange and dangerous land, where she must face challenges armed only with the gifts inside the box, and her own strength!  Follow me on Instagram, to see each gift being unveiled, and check back here in a few weeks to get a full review of the book, as well as the Once Upon a Book Club Box itself.

In the mean time, have a great weekend!

Why me?: A short story.

Hey readers!  I hope you are having a better weekend than myself…I haven’t been very well, and neither has my little one, so it has sucked a bit to be honest.  Tonights short story reflects my current mood…you know when you are having one of those days, where everything seems to go wrong?  Well the main character certainly does.  For this latest edition of my collaborative series, ‘Inspired’, I got to work with the lovely Irem Sysmanturk.  Irem is an artist and photographer, currently studying art at university in Vancouver.  If you love her work as much as I do, you can check out more on her Instagram.  Happy reading!!

Why me?

Have you ever just had one of those days? One where a seemingly endless parade of disappointments and pieces of bad news fly at you from all directions, when every corner turned presents another reason to scream at the heavens in vein, ‘Why me?’ Well, today has been one of those days.

It started as soon as I awoke. My alarm didn’t go off, my phone having decided to simply give up the ghost and transform into a useless lump of plastic, a paperweight with no paper to weigh down, a piece of garbage. Finding myself frantically changing, my hair and makeup done in such a slap dash manner, I resembled a Picasso painting by the end, I somehow managed to end up wearing two completely different black boots. Worse still, it wasn’t even me who noticed this mistake, but my colleague, the perfect and constantly glowing Emily, who pointed it out, giggling. I have never wanted to disappear more than I did in that moment, pretending to laugh it off, all the while wishing with every fibre of my being that I would suddenly and inexplicably develop the ability to become invisible.

Work has been a nightmare, with one complaining customer after another, yelling at me, belittling me, treating me like dirt, and for what? Too much foam, getting almond milk instead of soy? If I didn’t have bills to pay, and require sustenance to survive, I would throw their over priced, over foamed coffees right in their stuck up faces! But I do have bills, and I do need to eat, and so I apologise through gritted teeth and smile and nod and pretend I’m not dying inside.

By closing time, I’m exhausted, a blister forming on my wrong shoed right foot, and what I suspect may be a third degree burn on my left forearm, the product of a wayward cup of green tea. I check my watch as I switch off the lights, and impatiently wait for the worlds slowest shutter to make it’s way down, realising, as it begins to rain, that I have missed the last bus. Why me?

why me? imageOf course, I forgot my umbrella in my rush this morning, so I trudge on, wet hair sticking to my face, right foot limping, left arm throbbing, trying to distract myself from the forty-five minute walk ahead. I’m about ten minutes away and soaked to the bone when I hear it, quiet at first, but more insistent the closer I get, a tiny whimper from a nearby skip. I think about ignoring it, but something in the tone, the panic of it, makes me look inside. There, in a cardboard box now limp and buckled with water, is a small puppy, scrambling with all it’s might to get up the side, unable to find footing on the smooth metal edge of the skip. I look around, futilely for an owner, never really expecting to find one.

As I contemplate what to do (should I call the RSPCA? The Pound?), it tilts it’s head to one side, brown eyes wide, tongue lolling, and wags it’s tail, as if it is making the decision for me. Before I have time to work out logistics, it’s inside my satchel, head poking out, it’s tiny, warm tongue lapping at my burning arm as I hold the bag steady.

Now, sitting in my living room, we are surveying each other, figuring each other out. He’s a he (I checked subtly, I didn’t want to embarrass him, or myself for that matter), and he is no breed I’ve ever seen before. He is covered in wiry, ginger hair, with two white front legs, like he’s wearing furry socks, and he stares at me, unblinking, head occasionally shifting from one side to the other.

I have no idea what to do. I have never owned a dog, and frankly, given my track record with gold fish I never considered getting one. They are harder to look after, and cannot be flushed when one forgets to feed them for a week. But here he is, this tiny, furry thing, suddenly dependant on me.

“Do you want something to eat?”

He stares at me, and I wonder if he speaks english. I mean, it’s rude of me to assume, in today’s multicultural society, isn’t it? So I mime eating, moving my hand to my mouth, biting the invisible food, chewing, swallowing, rubbing my tummy, each movement exaggerated and ridiculous. I even throw in a yummy noise for good measure, like I’m part of some absurd play, yet he continues to stare at me, bewildered. I give up, deciding communication isn’t possible, and search my cupboards for something I think a dog might be interested in. I settle on the packet of pre-cooked chicken I have to make my meagre packed lunches with, which seems to be the right choice, as it’s gone in seconds. After a bowl of water is also accepted gratefully, I begin to think I might be getting the hang of it, when it lifts a little leg and provides it’s own fluid, all over my living room rug. I had no idea something so small could produce so much liquid.

Exasperated, I put my head in my hands and say out loud, “Why me?” I hear a little bark, and peer through my hands. It’s closer now, it’s tail wagging emphatically. I’m confused as to why this exclamation of my general dissatisfaction with life would amuse the animal, so I repeat,

“Why me?’ Again, it barks, this time closing the distance completely, to climb onto my knee and lap at my face with it’s tiny velvety tongue. It’s breathe is warm and comforting on my face, and I can feel it’s tiny heart beating as I rub it’s little belly. I laugh, despite myself, “Why me? Why me?” speaking in that weird baby voice that all adults use with small children for no reason at all. I pick him up and hold him face height, his tiny body warm and soft in my hands, his tail still wagging between my fingers.

“It suits you, wymie, that’s what I’ll call you.”

He approves, his tail wagging faster.

“I guess I have a dog now.”

He nuzzles on to my lap, yawns widely, his tongue curling out, and immediately falls asleep, his head resting on my arm. But I’ve forgotten about the pain now, and the bitchy customers and my still wet hair, because I have a dog now. I have a dog and wymie has a human. I guess it wasn’t such a bad day after all.

 

Ghosts: A short story and the latest in the Inspired collaborative series.

Hello readers!  I hope you have all had a wonderful week.  Sunday nights can suck, because it means one more sleep until another full week of work, but I’m hoping my story will cheer you guys up and ease the pain of another weekend lost.

First I wanted to let you guys know what I have planned for the blog this month.  I adore autumn, and I love Halloween even more, so I have lots of awesome treats for you guys.  First of, if you are an Instgrammer, check out the photo challenge I am co-hosting on my page.  It is Halloween themed!  I will also be hosting a competition on there shortly, so keep an eye out!  Finally, I will be running a collaborative series with a very talented make up artist friend of mine, Rachel Henry.  Every week in October, we will be bringing you a blog tutorial on how to do the make up of your favourite literary horror characters, so no excuses for a bad costume this Halloween.  Now to the post…

For the latest collaborative piece, I have had the privilege of collaborating with the incredibly talented artist Lisa Reschefski.  Lisa is a visual journalist, artist and freelance illustrator who creates the most breathtaking images.  If you love the image as much as I do, you can check out more of her work on her Instagram.  Happy reading!

Ghosts

Ghosts are very real. They may not be literal phantasms, transparent spirits or ectoplasmic creatures who wail and float through walls, but they are, nonetheless, real. They are our past. They are our regrets and missed opportunities hanging heavy in the air. They are lost loves and forgotten friends. They are everything that we were and everything that we wish we could be. These are the ghosts which haunt our lives, and they can strike fear more easily than any spectre or ghoul.

Elise had such ghosts. They were always there, the apparitions of her past haunting her present. How could someone so young, be burdened with such regret? At just twenty years old, she should have been enjoying her life, but instead, she found herself looking past her family and friends, seeking a face in the crowd which she knew would never appear, a face long since gone from this world, the face of her beloved Richard.

ghosts imageThey had been childhood sweethearts. At just eight years old, he had told her, quite matter of fact, that she would be his, and from that day on, they had been inseparable. His hand had been the first hand she had held, the first lips she had kissed, the first and only man she had ever loved. They had made so many plans. They would travel, and see and do as many things as they could, and then they would marry and have a dozen children in a house built by his own hand. It was naive she supposed now, to plan a future which may never happen, to believe so strongly that love was stronger than any other power on earth. But love is not stronger than war.

There had already been a war, when she was a child. It had been called the war to end all wars, yet here they were, everyone she knew and loved, huddled around the wireless listening to the announcement. Hitler had invaded Poland. We were at war once again. Richard was of age, but he hadn’t waited for conscription. He said it was ‘his duty.’ Duty? What about her? Where was his obligation to her? They had fought for the first time, and amongst the screaming and the yelling and the tears, she had told him she would no longer be his if he left to join the fight. She swore, if he walked out that door, she would never speak to him again.

He had begged and pleaded for her to see reason, to marry him before he left, to believe in what he was doing and have faith he would return. But the idea of losing him blinded her with a terror she had never felt, and so she stood her ground, sure he would bend to her will. He left for training the next day.

She had cried every day for weeks, and every time she thought she would stop, she would receive a letter from him, telling her about his training and his new friends, and the tears would fall once more, spreading ink across the pages. He had asked her to write, but she refused. Her pride was wounded. He had chosen the army over her, he had put a uniform and a far off war ahead of their love, and she was too proud to see it from any other perspective but that of her own broken heart.

By the time she had realised her foolish arrogance, it was too late. One day, instead of a handwritten letter, she received a telegram. In a few typed words, her entire world had fallen apart. She had collapsed, unable to carry the weight of her own remorse, and for days, they could not bring her to eat or to speak. She had just lay there, awake, but asleep at the same time. The local physician was called, and he would check her pupils and pulse and place smelling salts under her nose, or shake her by the shoulders, even slapping her hard on the face. But she could not be stirred from the depths of her sorrow.

Only after her younger sister, through tear filled eyes, had pleaded with her to recover, for her family’s sake, had she come back from the brink. But she did not come back whole. Part of her had died that day, a part of her that would never heal.

Of course, the passage of time has its own healing properties. Over many years, the pain slowly lessened. She married a man. A nice man, with kind eyes and a good heart. A man she loved very much, but in a different way from Richard. It was no less worthy, no less beautiful, just different. They had three children, two girls and a boy, and a house with a white picket fence and hundreds of family photographs. They had a good marriage, and a happy life.

But Richard’s ghost never left her, not completely. She would feel his presence, when she smelled sweet pea, the first flowers he had ever brought her. She could hear his voice singing, low and melodic, when she heard certain songs. Sometimes, she thought she could feel a hand on hers or a kiss, soft as a spring breeze, caressing her cheek, appearing suddenly and disappearing just as fast. Sometimes, she even saw him, in her dreams. He would be wearing his overalls, grease stains from the cars he was helping his father fix, sweat on his brow or he would have his good suit on, the one which was handed down from his father, at least one size too big, which he wore on Sundays and special occasions. He would hold her tightly, the way he once had, and she would breathe him in deeply, savouring the mixture of oil and perspiration. Often, when she awoke, the smell would linger, that unmistakeable scent which once made her dizzy.

She was thankful, for the life she had had, for her children and her husband, all of whom she loved beyond words. She would never change the course of her life, but she couldn’t help but imagine how things may have been if he had outlived the war. She couldn’t help think, ‘what if?’ After a life filled with love and laughter, it was not a regret exactly, but her only unanswered question, her only ghost.

And so, almost fifty years to the day after Richard’s death, as she lay in the hospital bed, life slowly leaving her body, she thought of him. She was surrounded by her family, tears filling their eyes, her youngest daughter holding her hand, her husband stoic and strong for his children, wiping his eyes when they weren’t looking. She had said her I love yous, her goodbyes. She felt at peace. She felt ready. And as her pulse slowed and her breathing stopped, her final thought was of his smile, his eyes, and she hoped, that if there was another life beyond this one, if she was lucky enough to exist beyond this moment, that wherever she went, he would be there. Her Richard. Her ghost.

 

 

The Spirit of Music: A piece of Flash Fiction.

Hey guys, I hope you all had a lovely weekend! First, I would like to apologise!  I am quite neglectful of my blog these days.  The simple fact is, between a full time job and a small baby, I struggle to find the time to write and read.  I just want to thank you, for following me, for reading this, or for reading any of my work, because it means the world to me.  I haven’t forgotten about you guys, and I will keep producing pieces and collaborations when I can, so please be patient with me!  I have some amazing collaborations coming soon, with some fantastic artists, so keep an eye out for those, and in the mean time, enjoy this short piece!  Happy reading…

The Spirit of Music

music picShe dances on the breathe of tuneful voices, and moves to the rhythm of tapped feet and clicking fingers. She exists only in song and music, swaying and moving, a living embodiment of the notes. Whether it is an orchestra or a child humming a nursery rhyme, she is there. Whether it is a sweet symphony or the thumping bass of heavy metal, she is there. Whether it is loud and shouted, or quiet and whispered under breathe, she is there. Her hair is as long as she is tall, and it changes in colour to match the tone of the tune; many shade of blue for tear filled songs of loss and fiery reds and oranges for songs of joy. She is bright and loud and soft and sweet all at once and she is everywhere at once and nowhere at the same time. She is the spirit of music.

Once, all things had spirits and souls. There were river spirits, green toads with long legs and even longer tongues, and tree spirits, tiny glints of green light only visible in your peripheral vision. These were the beings of old. But over time, as religions grew and new Gods were declared the only Gods, the old ones were forgotten. Such beings, without worship of some kind, fade into nothing, disappearing into shadows and fogs. But not her. Music is still worshipped by so many. Even the church goers, with their new Gods, used music to celebrate him, and so she remains strong and defiant in the world without belief.

She exists as the raised hands at concerts or the strumming guitar in the corner of a pub. She exists within the bored fingers drumming on table tops and the high pitched voices of driver’s singing along to the radio. She thrives and grows stronger everyday. She is loved as every culture and country and religion in this world love music, and she is never lonely, as long as there is song. She dances still. She is beauty and celebration. She is the spirit of music.

 

London 1889: A Short Story.

For the latest edition of my collaborative series ‘Inspired’, I have had the privilege of working with the amazingly talented Milo Lilja.  Milo is a 45 year old artist from a small city in Sweden, who also lives part of the time in Spain.  She works with individuals who are struggling, offering support and helping them get a better life.  When she isn’t working, she’s a dedicated cat lady, concert goer and artist, who loves working in mixed mediums.  She has been creating art as far back as she can remember but it was in 1995 that her passion for rubber stamps and collage awoke.  Now, she designs for several stores, and holds regular scrap booking work shops.  If you love her work as much as me, you can check out more on her Instagram.

In the mean time, happy reading!  Let me know what you think in the comments section, and if you are an artist or photographer, and would be interested in collaborating, get in touch!

London, 1889

London 5
I cough hard into my kerchief, the thick smog lingering about the cobbled streets reaching inside my lungs, infecting them with their black soot. I hate this city. Death hangs above it like a black cloud, casting it in a constant grey light. There is never sunshine here, only rain and soot. The gas lighter whistles as he walks from post to post, the dim flame only serving to shroud the city further, casting flickering black shadows into every corner.

 

Fear lives here now, I can smell it on the air. Fear of mischief, fear if blood. It was the London 1
Ripper that started it, and the newspapers which kept it alive even now, a year after his last victim was found. I shudder, despite the evening being warm. It’s dangerous on these streets, if you don’t remain vigilant. I smile as a man walks past, his cane creating a rhythm on the street as he walks. He ignores me, quickening the beat. I’m making my way to my usual spot, in the old town, where men only venture for two things: women and ale.

The noise increases the closer I get, the sound of rowdy drinkers and laughter. I see them, men stumbling from tavern to tavern, women flirting with clients, landlords throwing out the trouble makers. It smells of stale beer and sweat, it smells alive.

I take my usual corner, over by O’Sullivan’s bar. We all have our little territories here, invisible lines drawn on the stones, treaties made and wars waged. It took years for me to work my way to this prime location, and I protect it aggressively. The new ones, I forgive, they don’t know any better. But the old hands, like me, chancing their arms, they get the full force of my rage and fists. Many have come, and all have retreated again, licking their wounds, averting their gaze. She is Queen of this corner, and they should never forget it.

London 4I smile at them walking past, swaying my hips, pushing out my breasts. They slobber and pant like dogs on heat, easy marks. I would pity them if I didn’t find them so abhorrent. Soon enough, I have one in my sights. He’s unsteady, taking three steps to get somewhere it would take most one to reach, and he sways as he moves, as if dancing to some unheard song. I throw out the bait, winking at him, pouting my lips, and then I reel him in. One looks, one gesture, and he’s hooked. Pathetic.

We barely make it to the alleyway before he’s on me, wet lips and the stench of whiskey on his breath. His hands grab and paw at me, fighting a never ending battle with my skirts. I like to give them a taste first, it makes the spoils taste all the sweeter. After a moment or two I push him against the cold damp brick, his head hitting it with a thump. He looks wide eyed and bewildered for a moment, his brain trying to catch up with his body, before the rage appears on his face. He slaps me once, hard, across the right cheek, before pulling a knife.

I laugh, which only seems to incense him further. He lunges at me, the knife glinting at it moves towards my chest. With only a small movement, I hit him hard in the chest, sending him flying back whence he came, hitting the wall even harder than before. It’s winded him, he wheezes and gasps as he crumples to the ground, the knife no longer in his possession. He seems confused, dazed. Easy pickings.

I stare at the dark sky, the full moon only just visible behind cloud and smoke, a brilliant london 2glint of white in a black sea. I feel the blood lust swelling within me, my ribs separate first, one by one, spreading my chest wide, my skin growing paler as it stretches. My neck elongates, my jaw dislocates, my eyes turn from a warm and inviting hazel to shiny black marbles, and my teeth grow and sharpen to a point, my mouth wide and eager.

He looks terrified, his eyes wide with terror, his chest heaving, his hands shaking. I can taste his fear on my tongue. I find it intoxicating. With one bite, I enclose his entire throat, the skin and veins opening like wrapping paper, their sweet, red gifts flowing into my body like sweet wine. My heart pounds as his life force drains from his withering corpse into my body, which grows stronger with every drop. Within seconds, he is drained, a husk of a person, suddenly aged by fifty years.

I bask a moment on the high, my head buzzing, my body tingling, before I slowly return London 3to my human form. I cover him with a nearby sack. Tomorrow, the residents will find him, another elderly man succumbed to the cold, another homeless person without charity. How quickly they forget the terror which had so recently gripped these streets. But I do not fear the Ripper, not after I drank him dry. I can still taste him now, sweet with a hint or warm spice. I smile as I pass posters and bills glued to walls and windows, warning of the dangers of the city. I know better than anyone what lurks within these warrens. I know exactly what those who dwell within should fear. It’s dangerous on these streets, if you don’t remain vigilant.

 

Hell hath no Fury: Two Flash Fiction Pieces featuring ruthless women.

Hey guys!  I have a confession to make…I have been pretty neglectful of my writing of late.  A full time job and a baby make finding the time for such things difficult but I promise I haven’t forgotten about you.  In fact, I have some pretty exciting things in the works.  First, over on my Instagram, I have reached the 2000 follower mark and will be celebrating with a HUGE giveaway, in conjunction with several bookish shops, so head over and follow me so you don’t miss out.  I am also working on some great collaborations for the Inspired series.  I have just sent a poem and story away to a photographer and an artist and I have a story sitting inside my head, ready to be unleashed onto paper and sent to another artistic soul.  These guys are super talented, and trust me when I say you don’t want to miss out!  You can subscribe to my blog and receive updates every time I post, to make sure you don’t miss out.  In the mean time, here is a couple of flash fiction pieces, featuring some very nasty ladies!  Enjoy…

Flower pic

Queen

He wails, the sobbing muffled by edge of her cloak.  She can see wetness spread on the red velvet.  A guard goes to remove the crumpled figure, but she holds a hand to say no. She likes to watch them beg and squirm, it makes her feel alive.  Eventually, when she has had her fill, she kicks him, his body hitting the stone floor hard, the blow unexpected. With one gesture, she signals for his execution. He screams as he is dragged away, “MERCY…MERCY.” She smiles to herself.  She has no mercy for thieves. Nothing excuses someone taking what is hers, not even starvation.

Heartbreaker

The moment she saw him, she marked him her own. Stolen kisses, whispered words, empty and false. She twisted herself around him and settled herself into his life, coiled like a snake. Then, one day she was gone, taking all he had with her; his money, his car, his heart.

 

Dark Woods: A Short Story

In the latest edition of Inspired, my collaborative series, I have had the privilege of working with the incredibly talented Brian Easlon.  Brian is a tattoo artist from Cornelius, Oregon in the United States.  If you like his work as much as I do, you can see more on his Instagram.

Dark wood art

Dark Woods

Forests are notoriously dangerous places, especially for little children, and especially at night. So, if you were a young girl, you would be inclined to avoid such places. Unless, like Agatha, you call such places your home. Agatha’s kind are known as many things, fairies or wood nymphs or sprites, but what they all have in common, is the image that they conjure. When you hear these names, you picture beautiful children, tiny and perfect, with wings spun from gold and glitter on their faces. The kind of being made of magic and dreams, who grant the deepest wishes of poor downtrodden servant girls and lost boys alike. Except, fairies are none of those things. They are nasty, mischievous little creatures, who gain pleasure from the pain and misfortune of others.

They are also neither beautiful nor glittering. They have the wings of moths, not butterflies, and to the human eye, they appear as a normal insect, brown and mottled, distinct only by the large, black eyes staring from their wings and the distinct skull shaped spot on their large bodies. They are beautiful in their own way, but nothing like the watercolour illustrations of ‘fairy tale’ books we read as children.

Over time, they have grown to hate humans. We destroy their homes to build our own, we chop down trees and burn them, and the plants we call weeds, which we kill with chemicals, are some of their favourite food. And so, when a human is unfortunate enough to wonder into their lair, they waste no time in commencing a punishment which they see fit.

In the heart of Ireland there lies such a lair. A small wood on the edge of a village, filled with dark shadows and watching eyes. For centuries, people have entered those woods, having lost their way, or to seek shelter from a storm under it’s thick, leafy canopy, only to disappear without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again. It is said the trees within, move and walk, in order to confuse and trap you, and that the thorns can claw and grab at you like arms, ensnaring you within their jagged trap. The local people never go there anymore. After losing Grandparents and parents and siblings and friends over many generations, they learned the hard way that such places can never be tamed. After decades without foot steps or felling, the trees grew denser and darker, and the eyes within grew impatient for their prey.

This is the place Agatha calls home. For decades she has lived within those woods, watching the planes flying overhead and the cars driving by in the distance and she grew resentful. The humans had an entire world in which to exist and explore, yet they showed it no respect. They were ungrateful and spoiled. How could they not see how lucky they were? She had lived nearly a century in the same small forest, and now, she wanted out.

*********************

Lyndsey was a photographer, or at least, she dreamed of becoming one. She would carry her father’s old camera everywhere she went, snapping whatever caught her eye. She preferred the dark room to the modern digital prints, and every time she developed a picture, it was like giving birth, each picture a piece of her. Her forte was nature photography. Every weekend, she would drive to a part of the country she had never been, and snap the local wildlife. This weekend, she was travelling to a little village further south. It was so small it didn’t feature on her Sat Nav, and it took her longer to arrive than she thought. It would begin to get dark soon.

She passed a patch of woodland, a few minutes walk from the road. It looked wild and untouched, perfect for her project. She parked the car at the side of the road, and began walking through the fields. When she reached the edge, she could not find a path, and so had to create one, forcing down the plants with her feet, breaking tree branches. She would not be able to go too far in unfortunately. She stopped to take a picture of spider web, one of the largest she had ever seen, strung between two large oak trees. Little drops of water from that mornings rain, clung to it and sparkled as it danced slowly in the breeze. It was like a beautiful, delicate piece of jewellery.

Something moved in her peripheral vision. She started, and turned to see a large moth landing gracefully on a nearby log. It was far larger than the ones she had at home, which swooped and played around her light bulbs. It was at least four inches wide, with large brown mottled wings. On each wing, was a large black spot, with hints of red and burnt orange. They looked like angry eyes staring out at you. On the thick body, there was a white mark, distinct and terrible. A skull, watching her along with the eyes. It was beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. Lyndsey moved to photograph it, when it flew, suddenly, straight at her face. She fell backwards on reflex, trying to avoid it, but something was wrong. She fell, expecting to reach the ground quickly, but the impact never came. Instead she kept falling, down and down. Suddenly everything went dark, but she could feel she was still falling.

A small pin hole of light broke the darkness, moving towards her, increasing in size as it did until she was surrounded by the light. It took her a minute to focus her eyes. She was still in the forest, the same trees, the same dull beams of light just penetrating the darkness, now fading with the hour. Except, something was wrong. It was the same place, but from a different angle. She looked around, but she couldn’t feel her neck. She went to touch it, but she had no hands. She began to panic, a silent scream filling her head, as she realised she could not speak.

Then she saw it, or more accurately, she saw herself, walking towards her. Same hair, same face, same clothes, it was definitely her body, but it was huge and giant, towering above her now. It was as if she had shrunk, a twisted version of Alice’s adventures. But who was this copy? It smiled at her, and held up the large camera lens to her face, or at least where she thought her face was, and in it’s reflection, she saw the moth. It hit her. She hadn’t shrunk, she had swapped. How was this possible? This can’t be real. Horror filled her. She wanted to do something, say something, somehow stop it, change it back, but how, she did not know.

“Smile for the camera.”

It laughed, and snapped a picture.

“That’s a keeper.”

She started to try to ask what was happening, to beg for mercy, but no voice came out.

“I can imagine what’s going on in that little mind of yours, and so, as a courtesy, I’ll sum up. I have taken your body. It’s mine now. You are inside mine, and there you shall stay. I will explore the world, and you, can stay here, trapped in an immortal form, pondering and weeping over what happened for the rest of time. It’s nothing against you specifically, just your kind. I have a general disdain for human beings, but I require one as a vessel to leave this God forsaken place. You happened to be the first to venture here. Wrong place, wrong time, that’s all. There’s nothing you can do about it, and I can assure you, I will not change my mind. Goodbye human.”

She appeared satisfied with her explanation, and with that, she watched herself turn and walk towards the make shift path she had formed earlier, and disappear from her view. It was a nightmare, it had to be. But sadly, it was not.

A New You: A Collaborative Short Story.

In the latest edition of Inspired, I have had the privilege of working with the incredibly talented Jason Franks.  Jason is an illustrator from Leyland, UK and he very recently worked alongside 20th Century Fox to create some truly terrifying Alien art for the release of Alien: Covenant.  If you like his stuff as much as me, you can see more of his work on his Facebook and Instagram

A New You

1She stared at her body in the mirror, lines drawn across it, dissecting every sad and saggy piece of skin, a road map of her flaws. She had been beautiful once, but time has plans for us all. Over many years, she had watched her body bloom and blossom, rose pink and splendid, before seeing it wither and wilt before her eyes. She was a husk now. A hollow piece of wood. In a world where appearance was everything, where beauty meant more than intellect or creativity, she was merely an unwanted reminder to the young, of their own mortality. She saw how they looked at her, like they had suddenly smelled something rotting. At one time, she was marvelled at. Her face adorned the front of magazines and on billboards and advertisements all over the world. She was admired, adored. Now, she was ignored, forgotten. She was nothing.

She had tried everything to stop the inevitable decline; creams, lotions, botox, Chinese2 herbs, crystals, she had even visited a priest. But no amount of money or connections could turn back the hands of time. She had almost given up hope, when she heard about Dr Volo. It was said, that in his skilled and steady hands, he could take off twenty years, maybe more. He was her miracle. He was her last chance. He had been incredibly difficult to employ, but then all the best surgeons are. After pulling strings, blackmail, bribery and spending most of her fortune, she had got a consultation with the man himself.

3He had not been what she expected. Usually, the surgeons were as fabricated as their clients, all shiny, orange skin and stone faces. Not Dr Volo. He wore his lined face with pride. He was a tall, delicate man, with sharp eyes and thin lips. He wore his jet black hair slicked back and shiny, and a thin moustache underlined his crooked nose. He spoke with a melodic, European accent, although she was unsure exactly where he was from originally and when he stared at her with his green eyes, she felt like he was reading those very lines she hated; her life story etched in flesh, her desires and fears, her longing to renew. He had sketched his art on her body’s canvas, and these black inked lines represented how he would wield his scalpel like a brush and paint her anew.

4

There was a gentle knock at the door. She quickly put on the paper gown which had been laid out for her, and placed herself delicately onto the gurney. Excitement and nerves mixed and churned within her, the combination causing her skin to erupt in goosebumps.

“How are we feeling Helen?”

She hadn’t even noticed him come in, never mind cross the room to her side. He moved so quietly that no footsteps were ever heard. It was the one thing about him which disconcerted her.

“Fine Dr. A few nervous butterflies, but I’m excited.”

“Before we do, I just wanted to make sure this was what you wanted?”

She was completely taken aback by the question. She had been to three separate consultations, paid the fees, signed the consent forms and was now a human doodle wearing a paper dress with her ass hanging out. What exactly indicated she may have changed her mind? He seemed to see her thoughts forming in the lines of her furrowed brow.

“I know it may seem like a silly question, but I just like to make sure my clients are one hundred percent sure about going through this process. This is a big decision to make, and it carries risks. I know we have been through this, and you have signed all of the relevant wavers, but I have to ask you one more question. What exactly is it you want?”

At first, she was speechless. They had had dozens of conversations about exactly what she wanted, detailed discussions about every nip, every tuck, every slice. Now, he was asking her what she wanted? She thought the answer to that question was fairly obvious.

“I want to be beautiful again. I want to look young. I want to be a new woman.”

His thin lips curled up into a smile which unsettled her slightly.

“That, I can do.”

5Before another word could be spoken, identical nurses in identical white uniforms and stockings shuffled into the room, and a gas mask was placed over her mouth. She was asked by one to count to ten, but only made it to three before everything blurred and darkened. The last thing she saw before she succumbed to the void, was Dr Volo’s smiling face.

8When she awoke, her eyes were dry and it took her a while to adjust to the light. When the world came into focus, instead of the hospital light, she found herself beneath a bare bulb, flickering slightly. She raised her arm up to rub her eyes, expecting to feel pain and to be restricted by dressings or a medical drip, but she felt nothing.                         In fact, not only was her arm free of bandages or wounds, but her skin was soft and supple. There was no sagging, no age marks, just perfect skin. She checked the other arm as well, and found it to be the same. She became so excited to inspect her own body, she didn’t notice that the crisp white hospital sheets had been replaced by a grey wool blanket, old and washed a thousand times. Her legs were the same, young and strong.

She clambered off the bed and ran to the mirror screwed above the sink opposite her bed. Her face was not that of her own in youth, but it was certainly young and very definitely beautiful. Her cheeks were plump where they had once been sallow, her forehead was taut where it had once been lined, her lips were plump and full where they had once been thin and listless. Even her hair was new. Instead of thinning grey and lifeless, it was a lush chestnut brown, which caught even the light of the dull bulb overhead. She smiled, her teeth perfectly white and her gums no longer receding. She did not look at all like herself, and she could not have been happier. She looked young, and beautiful, and nothing else mattered.

She had to speak with the Dr, to congratulate him, to hug him, and kiss him and sing his praises. He had delivered everything he had promised, plus so much more. Not only was she glowing with a youthful exuberance, but she could see no scars, no cuts, no wounds. She was changed and she was healed. How, she could not even comprehend, but whatever his methods, he was a genius. She turned to press the call button for one of the stepford nurses, when she finally noticed her surroundings.

9

Just as with her body, the room was also transformed. She had fallen asleep in a white room, with crisp white bedding on a shiny metal trolley bed. One entire wall was taken up by a large silver mirror, which reflected the white light of the crystal chandelier over head, and sent tiny rainbows across the white carpet. There had been a white arm chair, and a white screen to change behind. She had not expected to wake up in that room of course. She had expected to wake up in a ward, with green fabric screens and hospital machines, and rubber tiled floors. But this, this was something different altogether.

The room in which she now stood, would be better described as a cell. The walls were bare brick, painted in a dull grey and the floor was bare concrete with a sad little threadbare rug directly beside the bed. A striped mattress lay on top, covered in bedding which was once white, but after thousands of washes, now took on the same grey tinge as the walls. There was a desk, also attached to the wall, without a chair, and a black leather bible sat on it’s surface. The only other contents of the room was the sink, and the mirror she had been staring into without realising it was made of plastic. Something close to panic began to rise within her, as her eyes fell on the door. It was a heavy one, with only a small barred window, and no handle on her side.

She wondered if this was a drug induced nightmare. Anaesthetic had played with people’s minds in the past; she had read of people wide awake and aware of every slice into their flesh, but unable to move or cry out in pain. Perhaps, her reaction would be vivid hallucinations, yes that was it, it was just a dream. She closed her eyes hard, concentrating on waking up, but when she opened them again, she found herself staring at the same sad little room. She tried again, this time closing her eyes so tightly it hurt, and sent blurred shapes across her vision when she once again opened them to find her situation unchanged. A thought occurred to her, a rule of thumb which everyone knew to be true: you cannot feel pain in a dream. So, she grabbed a chunk of her new, supple flesh and nipped and twisted it as hard as she could. Pain shot down as the skin reddened.

6Tears began to form, as she ran at the door, pounding her fists and screaming as loud as she could. The room was too small, and it was definitely getting smaller, closing in around her, trapping her within her own fears. She was awake, she knew this with every painful thump of her fists on the steel door. She stopped, hearing a set of keys jingling in a lock, a movement of cogs and parts, as the door unlocked and squeaked open. It was Dr Volo accompanied by one of his pert blonde nurses. She fell into his arms, grateful to see something, someone familiar. He would sort this out, he would help her.

 

 

“Oh Doctor, thank God! I thought…I don’t know what I thought! I was so frightened, when I woke up here. What’s happening? Where am I? What is this place?”

“This is your room, within Lakeview psychiatric hospital. You’ve asked me this same question a dozen times Eva, and the answer is always the same.”

“Eva? Who is Eva? What are you talking about? A psychiatric hospital?”

“Eva, we can’t keep going in circles like this, at some point you have to accept..”

“MY NAME’S NOT EVA.”

She screamed it so loud, she startled even herself. Both Doctor and nurse fell silent, their faces crumpled with a mixture of concern and pity.

“My name is Helen, Helen Ford. I was a model, I was an actress, I was famous. I came to Lakeview medical clinic for plastic surgery to be young again, to stop looking sixty. There is no psychiatric hospital here. Why are you saying this? Why are you lying to me?”

She felt tears land on her chest and make their way between her now pert breasts. This had to be some kind of sick joke. Maybe this was one of those prank shows she had heard about, a special episode where they pranked the old stars. Or was it the drugs? She had taken plenty in her lifetime, both legal and illegal, but they were always coming up with something new.

“Your name is Eva Giles. You are twenty years old. You were never a model or actress, 7you were just a normal high school student. You always suffered from mental health issues, which gradually increased in severity and volatility, resulting in you burning down your family home, killing everyone inside; your parents, your Grandmother and your little brother Paul. You were committed here when you were deemed unfit for trial. You know all of this Eva. You repeatedly invent new personalities, new people to be, so you don’t have to be yourself, so you don’t have to face up to what you did and avoid the guilt which tears at you. You’re sick. I thought we were making progress, I thought…it’s fine. You’ll be fine, but you have to let us help you.”

She caught her reflection in the plastic mirror, a scared, young girl staring back at her, so different from the face she had known, or at least, thought she had known. Was it true? Was this all in her head? No! She shook the thoughts from her mind. She could remember a lifetime, sixty years of faces and rooms. She could remember the men she had loved, and the fights which drove them apart. She could remember a mother, bitter and twisted by the space left by her father. She could see her face when she was a girl, hitting her for some minor error, and older, weaker, wheezing in a hospital bed attached to tubes and wires, machines beeping and then a sheet pulled over a still face. She saw her brother, the only man she had never grown to hate. She remembered her devastation when he had died drunk behind the wheel of a burning car. She could taste her first kiss, remember the weight of the many men she had known over sixty years on earth. She saw her wedding day, both of them, in vivid colour, just as she could see the ink of her signature drying on her divorce papers. No, she was Helen Ford, and nothing they said could shake that certainty.

She ran at them, pushing the nurse with all her strength, sending her hard into the wall. She went to run past her through the gap her absence created, but she felt two strong arms bear hug her from behind, tightening as both bodies slid to the floor.

“Nurse, get a sedative, quickly.”

The nurse, blonde hair now sticking out from her hat, pulled herself up and ran out of view. Helen kicked and lashed and even tried to bite the Doctor, using every ounce of strength she could to escape.

“Now, is that any way to treat the man who made you young again Helen?”

She froze, breathing heavily from the exertion. He had called her by her real name. She knew she wasn’t mad, but then what was this? She felt him loosen his grip enough for her to turn and look into his dark, pitiless eyes.

“Why?”

“Why? Because you asked me to. You wanted to be young, you wanted to be beautiful. Well, you have your wish Helen…you’re a whole new woman.”

10His lips curled into that same snide smile, and she again tried to break free, lashing out, screaming for help. But he was so strong, and soon the nurse returned, needle in hand. She felt a sharp pain in her thigh, before her strength began to fail her, and the room started to melt and blur. Soon, she lay immobilised on the cold concrete floor, the world around her fading into black, her eyelids heavy and insistent despite her best efforts to fight, to flee. But the drugs overcame her will power, her body limp, her mind shutting down.

 

 

The last thing she saw before she succumbed to the void, was Dr Volo’s smiling face.