Happy Friday my fellow readers. Whatever your plans are for this weekend, I hope you have fun. To get your weekend started right, today’s blog post is another collaboration, this time with the incredibly talented artist Stefani Rabideaux. Stefani primarily works in gouache and graphite creating stunning pieces which hark back to another era. Her Gothic Girls evoke a sense of magic and intrigue, and every one has its own personality, it’s own history and it’s own story to tell. That’s what immediately drew me to her beautiful work, the fact that each image seemed to take me somewhere else, to transport me to another place in time or another world entirely. As you can imagine, when she agreed to collaborate I was over the moon. For this story, I was truly inspired by those girls, by the darkness and light present in each piece, the hint at something behind their smiles, something knowing, perhaps something dangerous? That is how Mother Horror was born (shout out to the incredible Sadie Hartmann aka Mother Horror on Instagram for inspiring the name. You are the true Mother Horror). If you would like to check out more of Stefani’s work, and why wouldn’t you, you can purchase from her Etsy shop or head to her Instagram for daily inspiration.
For my latest artist collaboration, I got to work with the incredibly talented Sian Ellis. Her quirky and cute illustrations instantly make me smile and her art has such a wonderful whimsy to them but with a dark edge or twist which I am immediately drawn to. As with the other collaborations, I created a short story inspired by her style of art and body of work and I tried to encapsulate the fun side of darkness her images portray so well. She in turn created the incredible image below & I will 100% be buying a copy of this print from her & putting it on my wall because how could I not? You can check out more of Sian’s work here.
Here’s to a sucky afterlife
Being dead sucks. You are stuck haunting the same small patch of earth, potentially for all eternity, trapped by the emotional and psychological ties that bind you there. You have to watch the living day in day out, come and go around you taking their life, their beautiful, wonderful life, for granted. You watch them worry about all the wrong things and waste their time on nonsense, letting the truly important and arresting moments pass with the blink of their blind, selfish eyes. It is unendurably frustrating and if I had hair, I would surely pull it out. But the worst part of all, is being stuck, forever in the same clothes you died in. For me, that’s a pair of Halloween themed pyjamas covered in little black bats. It’s humiliating and the other ghosts never let me forget it. How was I to know these would be the last items of clothing I would ever wear? If I had known, then I would have slept in a ball gown.
But let’s face it, if I had known I wouldn’t have went to bed at all while my broken fireplace slowly and silently filled my little terrace house with poisonous gas. I would have got it serviced at some point instead of endlessly procrastinating. I would have opened a god damned window, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. It could be worse, I could have been a smoker. An eternity black and charred like some sausage left too long under the grill.
Death brings so much clarity alongside so many unanswerable questions. I see now, when I look back on my rather ordinary life, just how precious it was. How important every single second of it was, even the moments that made me cry or broke my heart. I see how I took it for granted, assuming I would have years, decades to see the things I wanted to see or visit the places I wanted to visit but alas, life or in this case death, had other plans.
But that painful realisation is nothing compared to the questions that eat away at me day in, day out. Why am I still here? Is this it or is there something beyond this? And if there is, how in the name of all that is good do I get there? I want to move on, I really do but it’s hard to make that journey if you’re not sure what is anchoring you to your current mooring. I’m trapped.
I know there is somewhere else that people go otherwise my little stretch of afterlife would be a hell of a lot more overcrowded. As it stands, the strip of houses on my block have only six ghosts including me. Six souls since the beginning of man. There is Bock, the oldest of us, here since the time when the wheel was the latest invention. At least I think his name is Bock, I don’t really understand his grunts and hand signals but he says Bock a lot so Bock is what I have christened him.
There is Peter, a poor Victorian boy who never made it past the age of twelve thanks to consumption. He died in the street outside my red brick house seeking shelter in the door way.
Then there is a portly woman called Edith who fell from stairs I myself trod so many times, her black cat the assassin in the night getting under her feet. Her neck is at an odd angle and her voice is cracked and garbled as she speaks. After 30 years, it still grosses me out.
Next came Jenny, an elderly woman who died in a chair in what was once my neighbour’s living room, the one to live the longest of us all reaching the ripe old age of 80.
After Jenny came Starlight. Not her real name is course but one she chose during the summer of love in a decade of revolution and music. She overdosed in the bath tub of the house two doors up at 28 years old. With her matted, braided hair, head band, tie dyed shirt and mini skirt she is every inch the hippy dippy stereotype. I’m determined to one day know her true name. I bet it’s something intolerably dull like Mildred or Janine.
Finally, of course, there’s me. A 23 year old woman who in 1994 died in her sleep in a pair of novelty pyjamas her mother had got her for Christmas three months prior. A girl with dreams and ambitions alongside a dozen excuses. A girl with regrets.
So where are the rest? Where are the other people whose lives passed at this particular intersection of worlds? Maybe they’re in heaven, or Hell if that is more their speed. Perhaps they were reborn anew, another child crying under the slap of a Doctor or maybe a kitten born in a cardboard box, the memories of their former lives, their former selves now gone to dust along with their former bodies. I would be happy to come back as a dung beetle at this stage. But I’m still here. Stuck with my regrets. Trapped in the same row of four small houses alongside five other lost souls, dragging regrets of their own. God my afterlife is crap.
We have our little amusements of course. Habits and hobbies we have developed over the years to help pass the time. There’s the glory that is Television, our small window to the outside world and thanks to the varied residents of these four houses, there’s something for all of us. There are two small boys living in number 2 at the end of the row whose thirst for cartoon violence greatly satisfies Peter and staves off his boredom many an hour.
The elderly gentleman who lives at the opposite end prefers documentaries and antiques roadshow much to the pleasure of Jenny and Bock. Bock is a big fan of nature documentaries, particularly those hosted by David Attenborough. I have no idea if he can understand him, but he certainly listens, a captive audience at every opportunity.
Edith despite appearances is a sports nut and is usually found in the living room of number 4 where the current resident, a young man called Alan, watches everything from golf to football, rugby to cricket, snooker to basketball. If there’s a ball involved, he watches it.
Starlight is a soap addict so Alan’s wife in number 4 provides her regular entertainment. Both women sit beside one another on the wide bed, mouths agape, shocked sighs when characters reveal their diseases or affairs.
Me? I like the news so I have plenty of options with most residents watching at least the evening edition, but I prefer the company of Mr Paul Jennings and his husband Jack in number 6. They watch the news every morning and evening and in between, listen to music. They have a particular love of 80s rock so their home makes me feel a connection, however tennuous, to my childhood, to the life that was.
They also love old Hollywood movies, the black and white films I used to watch with my mother as a child, a woman in love with Cary Grant and James Stewart, who admired Hepburn and Monroe. Those films, which Paul and jack always watch hand in hand, sitting close together on the large leather sofa, these films remind me of her, of my mother. I wonder often where she is, whether she has moved on to somewhere better or whether she too is trapped where she perished, eternity in a hospice where cancer took her from this world far too young. I hope it’s the former.
We also amuse ourselves by messing with the living. You know when you put something somewhere safe only to find it moved when you go to retrieve it? That feeling that you’re losing your mind? That’s us ghosts. Or when your bulbs and appliances fail at the most inconvenient moments, a boiler breaking just as you go to draw a bath or a television failing as a potential game winning goal is kicked…us!! That blur on your peripheral vision, that feeling of being watched? Us of course. Nothing gives us more pleasure than hearing your frustrated yells and for you to ask us, speaking directly, who is there? Those small moments so insignificant to you are the only times we feel, however momentarily, alive once more.
My favourite game is hide the keys. I love nothing more than to see the residents rushing around in frantic panic, late for work or a dental appointment or a movie. It never ceases to make me giggle. Cruel I know, but we have to pass the time somehow and this seems like as good a way as any.
I’ve grown attached to my weird little family over the years. An eclectic bunch to say the least but we all look out for each other as best we can, each of us seeking the answers to our own untenable questions. In the interim, I guess we are stuck here with you lot. Speaking of which, have you seen your keys lately?
For this artist collaboration, I had the honour of working with the incredible Laurie.A.Conley. Laurie creates the most fabulous pen and ink drawings which contain so much fun and humour that it is is impossible to look at one and not smile. I was instantly drawn to that dark humour, her illustrated Death, scythe in hand being a personal favourite of mine, and I was so pleased when she said she would like to collaborate. For those of you unfamiliar with my collaborations, it works like this: I write a story which is inspired by the artist’s style, their body of work and in turn, they create a piece inspired by that story. It is all about inspiration- inspiring others and being inspired in turn. I wanted to take that dark, sly humour present in her illustrations and create a story which combined my dark, horror filled style of story telling with her more playful style of drawing and Hunting The Veil is the result. You can check out more of Laurie’s amazing work on her Instagram and purchase pieces from her Etsy store. If you are an artist, photographer, makeup artists, basically anything creative and you would like to collaborate, get in touch. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest posts and for now, happy reading!
Hunting The Veil
Monsters are real. The shadow under your bed, the scratching at the window, things that go bump in the night. They all exist, just outside of our line of vision, just beyond the veil. They only show themselves in order to hunt. In other words, if you see one, it’s too late. I am a scholar of sorts. I study and catalogue them, their names, their habits, their weaknesses. Most people dismiss my work as the insane ramblings of a man suffering from delusions. Others believe my stories to be just that, stories, designed to entertain and enthral. These demons have worked very hard to snuff out any evidence of their existence, to create a fiction surrounding their lives. Because why would people defend themselves against something which doesn’t exist? Easy pickings. But my friend, I am neither crazy nor creative. I am a lone soldier in the battle against darkness, and the details I now provide to you, are my attempt to impart my knowledge. So, listen carefully, it may just save your life.
There is a creature known as the Gorgonaut. I cannot tell you what it looks like, for it has many forms. It has the ability to reach inside your mind and take the shape of your deepest, darkest fears. Your nightmares incarnate. I encountered a child once, seven years old, Mathew was his name. He saw it as a monster in the closet, for that’s what it was. His drawings depicted huge reaching claws, and hollow eyes. I tried to save Mathew, but his family, believing me to be feeding his delusions, prevented my interventions. One day Mathew went into his closet, and he never came back out.
One of the more common demons, is one whose entire life cycle is dedicated to the possession and slow absorption of the elderly. I never asked its name, I just called it The Leech. It was a disgusting little parasite that could only be removed by scrubbing the host in holy water while simultaneously singing the Lord’s prayer in a high pitched, off key tone. Drove the thing to distraction, I can tell you! An hour of that nonsense and it was practically committing suicide, ha!
Another, known only as Razuul, lives in forests or wooded areas. It lures its victims by presenting itself as a wounded animal, a deer or a racoon. Something cute and fluffy you might see featured in a children’s film. It preys on the pity of strangers. Only its eyes give it away. Its red eyes, which almost glow like fire. But, if you are close enough to see those eyes, then I’m afraid it’s too late for you. You’re dessert.
You cannot begin to fathom what lurks out there, in your schools and Dentist offices, at the bottom of your garden or in the ground beneath your feet. I have stared into the face of evil itself and I have survived. I have fought and conquered so many over the years, that I struggle to recount them. But even after all my victories and despite my vast experience, there is still one creature which fills me with so much dread, I tremble even now. Forgive me if I seem dramatic, I am almost finished, I promise.
The worst creature I have ever encountered is known only as The Cuckoo. A benign name for something so ungodly. It is so evil, so vile, that even the other creatures and demons fear it. It chooses a family, one like any other, one like yours, and it possesses one of its members, before assuming their place. It could become your father, your sister, your child. The changes within that person are unnoticed at first. Perhaps they wear a shirt they said they hated, or they suddenly dislike their favourite meal. Over time, it becomes gradually clearer that something isn’t right, for the person begins to twist and tear at the family, piece by piece. It abuses them and tortures them mentally, for it feeds and strengthens as they suffer and cry. As it grows stronger, the abuse becomes worse, until each and every family member is broken, their will and happiness destroyed. That is when he feasts. That is when he gorges himself on their tear-soaked flesh. The cuckoo is a cunning and sly creature. It is the only one I have never been able to find and kill. It is the most dangerous thing within the veil, and I fear it more than any.
You may be asking yourself, why am I telling you this? Why did I choose to sit beside you at this bar? Why did I buy you a beer and tell you this fantastical tale? Well, in order to truly understand, you must first answer one simple question. Have you noticed anything off about your wife lately?
Hello readers! I am so excited to be sharing another artist collaboration with you guys. If you are unfamiliar with my collaborations, it goes like this: I write a short story inspired by an artist’s style and body of work and then they in turn create a piece inspired by the story, bringing it to life. It is about inspiring and being inspired in turn, working with incredible talents, making new connections and friends and it is one of my projects to do. For this post, I had the honour of collaborating with the incredible Ben Gaboury aka Scrimshaw Pottery. Based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the US, Ben creates stunning clay pieces inspired by everything from the sea to Greek Mythology. With a dark aesthetic and lots of skulls and nautical imagery, I was immediately drawn to his work. You can check out more of Ben’s work, including restocks on his Instagram. I hope you like it, let me know what you think in the comments and don’t forget to subscribe!
It came at midnight.
The winged thing. The black skinless creature with twisted horns and eyes which glow like embers from the cavernous holes in its skull. It came and it took my mother. I heard the glass breaking just as the clock had begun to chime. I heard her scream and then, I heard nothing. The silence was so much worse. I dared not leave my room. I cried in the darkness, waiting for the familiar sound of my father’s four by four on our gravel drive. He screamed too, but it was a different scream than my mother’s. Hers was high and panicked, filled with terror. His was guttural and doused in loss.
They wouldn’t let me see the room, my father and the Police officers who occasionally patted my head or tried to comfort my sister Ellie and I with chocolate and softly spoken words. I snuck a look when I went to the bathroom. All I can remember is how red it was. Red on the floor, red on the white walls, red on the bedspread. But no mum. Just a tangled mess of hair caught on shattered glass fluttering in the breeze. My sister’s too small to understand. She smiles and giggles as the Police lady tickles her. I don’t cry at first, even though I’m old enough to know what the Red means. But when Ellie begins to cry for mama with no answer to come, I feel tears force their way out. I tried to stop but the more I do, the worse it gets. I close my eyes as tight as I can, the way I do when we play hide and seek. I want mum to be hiding. I want to fall asleep and wake up from this bad dream. But this isn’t a dream.
It came at midnight.
The hooded demon with needle-sharp teeth. It came and it took my dad. He had started to sleep with his shotgun in one hand and an empty bottle in the other. The red is gone now, covered up or thrown away. The window is boarded, casting the room in perpetual shadow. We were going to move he said, but I knew he couldn’t leave the house that mum made our home. I think a part of him thought she might come back. I knew different. I heard the clopping of footsteps echoing in the hall and my dad yelling a curse word before the bang of the gun. Then, that terrible silence again. There was no red this time, just scratch marks on the window frame, the wood panel dislodged, swinging precariously by a single screw. I called the Police the way mum told me but they scolded me for telling fibs. Grown-ups never believe children, not until it’s too late. I tried to call my aunt Sarah but the phone cut off after the second ring and now there’s no dial tone. My sister cries and I can barely get her out of the crib. I feed her from jars in the cupboard the way mum did but she’s so fussy. She knows something’s wrong and she keeps asking for mama. I don’t have the heart to tell her mama’s gone. I pack a bag with some food and clothes for Ellie, nappies and wipes and our toothbrushes. I don’t take much for me, just some pants and my teddy. I take the picture from the fridge, the one taken in the hospital when Ellie was just born. Mum looks tired but happy and my dad and I look proud. That was the day I became a big brother. I promised to look after Ellie, always. I put Ellie in the pram and the bag on the bottom. It’s hard to push, I’m just tall enough to reach the handles, but I have to get her somewhere safe before it starts to get dark. We live in the country but I know from our many car journeys, the way towards town. I’ve never walked that far before.
It will come at midnight, the thing that took my parents. The thing that smells like rotting and death.
It will come at midnight and tonight, it comes for us.
Another day, another blog post and for today’s post I have another original artist collaboration. If you are unfamiliar with my blog series, I create a piece of original writing inspired y an artist’s style and body of work and they in turn create an image inspired by my story. For this artist collaboration, I have joined forces with the incredibly talented Ben Toms aka Galleon Art. This London based artist has an eye for the macabre and I was immediately drawn to his dark style. Ben has been drawing for as long as he can remember and his style has evolved over time, finally settling into the gloriously gothic style. To check out more of Ben’s work and perhaps purchase a piece of your own, head to his website here: shop.ben-toms.com.
If you are an artist and would be interested in collaborating, let me know and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!
The cards don’t decide your fate, they simply reveal it. I don’t know how many times I have had to repeat those words over the years, or how many people I have had beg me to change their message, as if swapping out one card for another would make a shred of difference. The cards are as the cards are and no amount of begging or threatening or bribery will change what they say. It can of course be hard to deliver bad news, but that’s the deal when you have the sight; you see what you see, good or bad and your job is to pass on that message. Sometimes I find myself weeping right along with them when their sad future is there before them. A man whose cancer treatment won’t stop its spread, a woman who will never have a child, the couple with so much hope in their eyes finding out they have a short road to divorce on their horizon. It pains me, each and every time. But not him, not the bone man.
He comes when the news is worst, when it concerns death and decay. He stands behind them, indifferent, impartial, and the second I spot those hollow eyes, I know I don’t need the deck to work out this poor schmuck’s fate. Death doesn’t take sides. He doesn’t care one way or the other. He doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, fat or thin, a supermodel or ugly as sin, everyone has to go some time. That’s the way of things and after all, what meaning has life without death? But like I said, it doesn’t make telling folks any easier.
Twice I pulled his card this week, a skeleton in a black robe, scythe in hand. It’s funny, but he seems so much more alive than the cards suggest, as if invisible skin clutches to the bones. Sometimes, I swear I can almost make out a face, features, a smile. He’s never had a scythe, but he does have the robes, a black leather belt tightening it around his fleshless waist. He never interacts, never speaks or moves, he merely appears, watches me conclude the read and then he disappears as the customers leave, weeping, howling, screaming why. Why? Because, just because.
But tonight, he meets me alone within my bed chambers. I don’t spot him at first as I busy myself getting ready for bed, but then I feel a chill snake its way up my spine and I smell that scent that always follows him around, dirt, rotting leaves, decay. I spot him then beside my bed, watching as he always does, except now he stares at me, not my client. Now, he watches only me. I freeze, surprised to find myself afraid. I knew this day would come, I knew I too would succumb to the fragility of my body. As I have aged, my hair greying, my life etched clearly on my skin, I thought I had come to accept, perhaps even welcome my own visit. But now, stood here with that hollow, expressionless face staring back, I feel scared. I’m not ready, despite everything I’m not ready.
“Are you here for me?”
He says nothing and I expected nothing else, after all these years despite his many visits to my home, not once have I seen him move or interact with the living. As if sensing my thoughts, my trepidation, the slight quiver in my voice, he raises his hand, his wide black sleeve falling to reveal his card, the Death card. I suppose it’s my card now.
Despite myself, I feel tears rising in my eyes. I think of all my mistakes, all the wrong choices and regrets, all the things left undone, put off until tomorrow. I find myself growing angry that despite my intimacy with death, with the brevity of life, I still failed to accomplish all that I planned. I feel foolish.
I can’t stop myself from weeping, tears coming easier now than ever before. This is it for me, this is the end of the road. I feel a hand on mine, that despite its stark white appearance of bone, feels warm and comforting against mine. I look up to find those eyes, except this time, I feel warmth there, like the kind embrace of an old friend. I suppose, after all this time, we are in a way. Slowly he removes his hood, his skull turning side to side, nodding no. Confusion mixes with my fear, dulling its sting slightly, allowing curiosity to bubble to the surface as he places the card in my hand, a hand that starts to change from flesh to bone. I gasp, dropping it, my flesh returning once more. I squeeze it, rub it as if to be sure it is definitely still there, that I am still there.
He picks the card up once more and offers it to me, this time he nods yes to me, his bony hand reaching out, card extended, asking me to take it from him.
“I don’t understand.”
I stare bewildered, as the leather belt is loosened, the black cloak removed. He stands there naked now, exposed. I can see through every rib, the holes in his pelvis. He seems so small, so weak now without his uniform, a shadow of his former self. Realisation dawns as he gently places the garments in my arms. I am not being shepherded to the world beyond this one, I am being asked to become the shepherd.
“You want me to…?”
I trail off. The words seem impossible, unreal even in the strangeness of this night. He nods again, affirming that I am being ushered into death but into an eternal existence, an offer for a job I never applied for.
“But why? Why me?”
He holds the card again and I suddenly understand. I have acted as shepherd in my own way all these years, a guide to those lost and seeking answers. I have already shown people their deaths as I dealt their cards and I have helped them prepare, to come to terms with the inevitable. I suppose, I am more qualified than most in the matters of death.
“What about you?”
A bony finger points towards the blackness of the shadows which now surround us, engulfing what used to be my home, what used to be the land of the living. I hadn’t notice them creeping up, surrounding us, but my fear has left me now. I understand and I feel peace. He points into that black void and I see he is ready to move on like the countless souls who he shepherded to the next life. After an untold amount of time, he has grown tired and yearns for rest and he has chosen me as his successor.
I feel a mixture of emotions. It is quite a burden to take on, to delay my own rest for God knows how long to aid the rest of others, but I already know in my heart that I will accept his offer. I dedicated my life to helping lost souls find direction and understanding, it seems only fitting to dedicate my death to it as well.
I reach my hand out to the bones still clutching the card and I hold it a moment, an unspoken understanding crossing between us. I take the card and slowly as my flesh dissolves, my bones becoming exposed and stark white in the surrounding black, I see the man before me being remade, reborn. As I fade to black and white, he regains colour, flesh, softness and expression. I can see he was a young man, much younger than I, with long jet black hair and hazel eyes, a slight smile upon his brown skin, a smile which conveys more gratitude than words ever could and then, he was gone.
I stare down at what used to be my plump, sagging arms, my bloated legs mapped with the purple lines of varicose veins. There is nothing but bone now, so clean and new. I wonder at how it did not hurt, how all the pain which had inflicted my ageing body had evaporated along with my flesh. There is no more arthritis, no aches or pains, just peace and calm. Even the questions and confusion of mortal life have gone leaving understanding and peace in their wake. I see time, from the souls who have long since passed to the babes yet to be born and I understand my purpose. I am death now, I am the Grim Reaper and I will be the one to show you the way.
Hello Readers and happy Monday! It is the beginning of Halloween week and to get you into the spooky spirit, I have collaborated with an incredibly talented artist, Giada Rose. Giada Rose is a Kentucky-based illustrator and designer interested in the gossamer threads that stretch between magic, nature, femininity, and art. Her work is infused with a longing for the old ways and a love of the seasons, mythology, historical customs, tarot, and folklore. She particularly enjoys fairytales from around the world, and strives with her paintings to create a portal into stillness and a tinge of nostalgia for a magical place and a bygone time. Working primarily with watercolours, she has illustrated several children’s books and is currently creating an illustrated Victorian-style advice manual of fairytale etiquette. I was inspired by the charming, magical quality of her work and this story was the result. She in turn created this stunning image to bring the witchy tale to life. If you like Giada Rose’s work, you can check out more on her Instagram here, her website here and you can purchase prints from her Etsy shop here. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest posts. I have also started my own spooky book tube, which you can find here. Happy Halloween guys!
Ashes to Ashes
T’was a year ago this day when they came for mother. They turned the door to splinters and dragged her out by her arms like she was nought but a doll. ‘WITCH’ they screamed in unison. ‘WITCH.’ They had the wood all cut and neatly stacked and once she was tied atop, they set it alight and turned her to ash. I shed no tears. My mother told me not to. She knew they would come, had hoped it in fact, for death is something we Roberts women do not fear. Her last words were a curse upon their heads, a warning of the death and darkness to come as punishment for their cruel treatment of the women of this town. Innocent women, some were healers who simply remembered the old ways, but many were merely strange or unusual in some way, off from the norm. No crimes had been committed, no one hurt or changed for the worse, they were just the unfortunate ones, unlucky enough to be different. There had been a dozen or so such burnings since I could remember and I was still young, yet, only now had they actually got hold of a witch.
God’s work, that’s what they called it. But what God would demand such pain and blood shed? None that I prescribe to. My mother taught me the old ways, the ways of mother nature and the balance of the universe. All we give we get back in return, that is the way of it. These God-fearing men with hate in their eyes and rage in their bellies, they were racking up quite a debt and when their time came to pay the piper, it would be a bad, yessir. It would be bad.
I can still hear my mother’s words, as the flames licked her toes, and her face blackened with the soot: “Hear these words men and hear them true, for you have burned your last. The fire next, comes for you.” It was hard to lose her, even though she prepared me so, but I feel her with me in the quiet of the woods and the call of the morning birds. She watches over and waits for my time to join her in the afters.
But today is not my time, no, today is theirs. A year has passed since her spell and the men and women of this township continue to sprout their hatred and bigotry. They have had their chance to seek redemption but none believe themselves wrong, such arrogance. I stood in the court house myself, chains around my hands and ankles, accused of speaking with the Devil, accused of being a witch. My crime? Rejecting a man’s advances. But, this was to come to pass, the prophecy had told so hadn’t it mother?
The town leader, appointed judge, jury and executioner, stares at me with black eyes and asks my plea. I smile then, it unnerves him, I see it. He places the black cloth upon his wig and declares me guilty, my sentence being to burn just like my mother and the other witches before me. I say nothing, I simply smile. No words are required, my mother said enough already.
They march me out and tie me up just like they did her. T’is the same spot and everything, the singed black earth has never recovered since that first burning. Nothing grows here now. They ask for my last words, torches held aloft and I just smile my smile waiting for the flames. They set the torches against the wood, but instead of it catching fire, they do. The flames move up their arms and spread so quickly and burn so brightly I must look away. Those without torches, those who simply came to watch the show, they scream now, running and fleeing like ants in heavy rain. But no one can escape their fates. Their fires burn bright within their chests, light shining out their mouths before it consumes them to. I
close my eyes, the brightness, the smoke, t’is too much for me. I fear it will never end, the screaming, the burning, the heat. But soon, all is quiet.
I open my eyes again, the chains which bound me have broken and I stumble down the wood pile to be met by statues of ash and soot. Dozens of women and men all frozen in their death throes, their bodies turned from flesh to ash. I touch one, t’is Tobius, the black smith, and when I do he falls apart turned only to dust. I feel a wind pick up now, an unnatural wind like nought I have felt before and watch as each statue is blown away, high into a sky, a grey cloud of ash now, coming together, disappearing higher and higher into the sky. I fancy I see my mother a moment amongst that grey wind, along with all the other women I seen burnt. They are smiling. They seem at peace. Within minutes, all have gone and I am left alone in a ghost town.
I pack my bags, taking only what I need and I walk away. This place is too full of bloodshed and heartache to ever be made home again. As I go, I carve a warning into a tree: CROATOAN. It means ‘cursed land’ and will serve as caution to those who may decide to settle here once more.
Hey gang! Hope you have been keeping well. Apologies for the gap in blog posts, but I have been working on something super exciting…my very own Youtube channel! It will be much like my blog, lots of bookish fun and general nerdiness and I would love it if you coule drop by, check it out and subscribe. It goes live Monday 21st October 2019 at 8pm- there will be a live countdown on my Instagram. I am so excited and nervous to be starting this next chapter of my life online and I would love if I had some old friends along for the journey. Anyway, back to tonight’s post. In my latest artist collaboration, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented Cat Mallard. Cat creates beautiful magical illustrations which remind me of fairy tales and far off lands. Her folksy style evokes a sense of nostalgia and comfort and is perfect at bringing to life stories and characters so I was honoured when she agreed to collaborate with me. As I said, her style reminded me of fairy tales but just like me, Cat has a dark edge and loves all things spooky and macabre so when I sat down to write the story for the collaboration, I was inspired to create a dark twist on a well know and beloved story, that of sleeping beauty. The image she created is stunning and perfectly evokes the story. On a side note, each of those little dots were done one at a time by Cat, she is so dedicated to her work that I am in awe (I will show you some close ups so you can see what I mean). I hope you like it! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and if you are an artist and would like to collaborate, please get in touch! For now, happy reading….
Fairy tales are stories told and retold again and again, passed down through generations, known throughout the world, universal and recognisable. Stories of girls losing glass slippers and eating poisonous apples, of frog princes and magic kisses, of once upon a times and happily ever afters. But what if the stories you know and love were in fact true, and what if, they were wrong. Like Chinese whispers, with each telling, with every piece of information passed along, it morphed and changed, transforming into something more palatable to the audience, something more pleasant than the truth.
She was a princess of exceptional beauty amongst a dark and thorny kingdom. A diamond amongst stones. She was kind, and good to her people and in turn, they adored her. She was a beacon of hope in their difficult lives. But sadly, unbeknownst to her, she was also cursed from birth, for her Father in his foolish youth, had begged the help of a local witch when crops failed and families starved. She had granted his wish for a good harvest and the safety of his long-suffering people, but in exchange, she asked for his first-born child. Desperate and out of options, he reluctantly agreed, and now, as Aria’s sixteenth birthday approached, and she blossomed into a woman, he knew the witch would come for her prize.
The witch was a collector of sorts. She would encourage the brightest and most beautiful to grow and to thrive into happy souls, before striking them down in their prime, entombing them in a curse of her own creation. Their suffering and sorrow, fed and enriched her. That is how she stayed young after so many years on this earth. Aria was the brightest and most beautiful of all the souls and would sustain her for decades to come. So, it was with wetted lips and the tremble of anticipation that she approached the castle on the eve of the child’s sixteenth birthday.
The king begged of course. He bribed, and blackmailed and threatened and finally broke into weeping, as the realisation of defeat sank in. The witch remained stony faced and unflinching. No earthly gold or shining trinket could ever be worth the price of such a rare and desirable soul. When she had had her fill of his sobbing, she banged her staff against the marble floor, demanding silence.
“You made a deal King. You got your food and your people prospered, but now it’s time to pay. Nothing comes in this world for free.”
“Please, I beg of you…take me instead.”
She scoffed, an impatient smile sat on her thin lips.
“Your soul is worthless to me. I want what’s owed. The bond of contract cannot be broken King, this you well know.”
He knew it to be true, and so, with a heavy heart and overwhelming regret, he sent his daughter to the witch. That evening, unable to live with what he had done, nor without his darling Aria, he threw himself from the battlements onto the stones below. The people wept in waves that day, for they had lost their king and their beloved princess all at once.
Aria tried to be brave, but fear overwhelmed her, and silent tears fell as she walked through the woods to the witch’s cabin. She did not hate her father. She understood why he had done what he did so many years before her birth, and she knew that by doing it, he had saved the lives of countless people, and indeed the children they were then able to bring into the world, but still, she felt the loss of her life, her home, with the grief and sorrow one would expect.
For her punishment, the witch, with whispered words and the flick of her tongue, cursed Aria to a life without rest. No matter how weary or desperate she would become, she could never sleep, never dream, never rest. She would walk the earth for a thousand years, slowly going mad from her waking nightmare. It was a punishment worse than any she had dealt before, and one which would cause enough suffering to feed and fatten her like a hog. The witch was pleased. Aria wept.
Prince Theor, a friend and cousin to Aria, heard of her plight and the death of her father. He rode for three days and three nights to get to her side and slay the witch. Theor was an expert swordsman and a champion fighter. He feared no man or beast, but the witch was more powerful than ever now she fed from Aria’s weeping breast. The fight was short, and Theor was slain with his own sword. One cut, straight to his heart, and his eyes never closed again. Aria stood by, helpless and watched his blood turn the forest floor red.
“You fool. I cannot be killed as long as she lives. Through her pure soul, I am invincible. For one thousand years, she will sustain me, and I will rule this land as my own. You will know suffering like never before, and your begging and pleading and desperate tears will only make me stronger.”
Aria thought of her people, and the terrible future which lay before them. Life in this harsh wilderness was already difficult, with harsh, frozen winters and dry, drought filled summers, but the people worked hard and looked after each other. They had little, but they were grateful and never wanted for more. Her heart broke at the thought of their sorrow.
Suddenly, she was struck by a thought. The witch had called her soul pure, in fact, she had stated for all to hear, that the purity of her soul was the very thing which made her so strong. Perhaps, if she was to carry out an act of cruelty, for no other reason than to be cruel, it would blacken her heart and tarnish her soul just enough for the witch to lose her strength, for a moment would be all she needed.
When a woods man entered the clearing the next day, lost by the ever-moving trees and the thick thorns which had begun to grow since the witch claimed power over her, she seized the opportunity.
As he knelt with hurried hands to free her from her shackles, she hit him with a rock, and cleaved his skull in two. Instantly, he was dead, and as soon as he breathed his last breath, the witch cried out as if in panic. Aria knew it was now or never. She scrambled for the hunter’s knife and plunged it into her chest just as the witch appeared from her home, eyes wide with fear.
“As long as I live, you are invincible. And so, I die, so you may die too.”
Without a tormented soul to sustain her, the decades of stolen life began to catch up with her. Her face aged and sagged, before it fell away as she became dust and bones. The three bodies lay close together in the now silent woods, as thorns withered and trees rooted themselves once more, and sun shone behind clouds.
Her sacrifice, and that of her Prince cousin and the poor woodsman, did not go unmarked. The people of the kingdom remembered them through stories, but over time, those stories have changed into something unrecognisable. It is understandable why people would choose the alternate version, with a sleeping princess awoken by a kiss, and a witch slain with his mighty sword. But that is not what happened, that is not the truth, and sadly, the truth is not rides into the sunset and happy ever afters. It is blood and death and bones.
But, perhaps you prefer the edited version to the reality, it is for you to decide. Do you choose an unhappy truth, or a happy lie?