Artist Collaboration and Short Story: Hunting the Veil.

Artist Collaboration and Short Story: Hunting the Veil.

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.

hunting veil

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?

Midnight: An Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Midnight: An Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

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!

Midnight

skull1It 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 skull2patted 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.

skull3It 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.

 

 

The Cards: Original Short Story & Artist collaborations.

The Cards: Original Short Story & Artist collaborations.

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

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.

the cards collabHe 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 the cards collabway 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.

 

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Ashes to Ashes.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Ashes to Ashes.

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.

Ashes to Ashes

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.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Sleepless Beauty.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Sleepless Beauty.

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….

Sleepless Beauty

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.

catmallard collabShe 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 close up cat 2broken 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.

close up catSuddenly, 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.

“I’m sorry.”

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?

 

 

 

Unboxing: The Victorian Horror Box from Wick Wish Candles.

Unboxing: The Victorian Horror Box from Wick Wish Candles.

Victoriana1Well, it’s official, you can call off the search and stop the debates because this box is officially the best subscription box I have ever received, EVER.  I may be slightly biased, because I am featured inside this one, well one of my original short stories is anyway, but  facts are facts and this box is basically perfection.  Every item is stunning, everything is packed and presented perfectly and when the spoiler card is essentially frame worthy, you know you’re on to a winner.  If you are a fan of horror, or all things Gothic or Victorian, then this box of wonders brought to you by The Wick Wish Candle Company is basically everything you’ve ever dreamed of.  So, since we have slid quietly into the autumn and as the nights grow darker and the air a little cooler, let’s sit back and peek inside this world of Gothic wonders but beware, as with all things worth having, it is not for the faint of heart…

Victoriana3So what is in this beautiful box?  First up, it being a candle box and all, there are of course the three featured candles.  Keeping in theme with all things Gothic, we have a candle named after the queen of Gothic literature herself, Mary Shelley.  Smelling of cinnamon, blood orange and teakwood, it basically smells like autumn in a candle.  Next up, the bad boy we all fell for in our early teens, it’s the delicious Lestat Di Lioncourt.  He smells of oak moss, incense and graveyard dirt, an earthy scent which entices the recipient to an early grave.  Last, but not least, we have a more recent edition to the Victorian genre with the fabulous Crimson Peak.  This one smells of tea leaves, firethorn berries and bergamot and quite honestly brings be back to the film.

Victoriana2Along with these stunning candles, there is also a Victor Frankenstein dark roast coffee by Mocking Byrd Coffee Company, which smells almost as delicious as the candles which accompany it.  It’s only fitting that Mary Shelley has her dark and twisted Doctor to keep her company.  To stir this delicious concoction, we have a black stainless steel Little Rose teaspoon, because coffee this good cannot be touched by any old ordinary spoon.  There is also two Annabel Lee inspired bath melts by The Witch’s Bath.  These smell positively delightful and I am looking forward to having a gothic style bath, candles lit, bath melts melting along with my stress and worries.

But the gothic goodies don’t stop there.  There are three original and exclusive tarot cards designed by incredible artists.  We have Death by Sheila Goicea, the curator of the wonderful Foals, Fiction and Filigree, The Devil by Allie Surges of Princess Gloom and finally The Lovers by Jackie Powers of Powers of Jac.  Every single one of these pieces is beyond stunning and will 100% be getting framed and hung on my office wall.  There is also a reproduction of All is Vanity by the artist Charles Allan Gilbert in 1892, a picture than genuinely hangs at this moment in my Victorian style bathroom.

Finally, the part I am most excited about…a penny dreadful containing an original and exclusive short story by yours truly entitled The Grave Digger, about, well you’ve guessed it, a Grave Digger in Victorian London.  The responses to the story have been really positive so far and I want to thank everyone for their kind words and support.

This entire box is presented perfectly.  Contained inside a matte black box with a simple sticker denoting its contents, each candle is individually wrapped in black tissue paper and individual stickers saying things like, ‘Ghosts are real’, ‘Gentleman Death’ and, ‘Beware; for I am fearless.’  The spoiler card is designed to look like a mourning card, encased in a translucent envelope and will also be displayed somewhere in my office in due course.  Even the shredded paper placed inside to protect each item is black!  But best of all for me is the wonderful presentation of my story.  It looks so authentic, so truly Victorian, even containing original Victorian product adverts on the back and I want to thank Rachel from the bottom of my heart for creating something so lovely to show off my story…you my friend, are an artist.

If you want to buy any of the incredible items from Wick Wish yourself, you can use my discount code BOOKISH10 to save 10% now.

Dark Deeds & Cameos: Short Story collaboration with embroidery artist Clare of ‘Crimson Pins.’

Dark Deeds & Cameos: Short Story collaboration with embroidery artist Clare of ‘Crimson Pins.’

Hello readers!  It is the beginning of a new week and time for another artist’s collaboration.  This time, I had the honour of collaborating with the incredibly talented embroidery artist Clare aka ‘Crimson Pins.’  I discovered Clare on Instagram and fell in love with her gothic style embroideries.  There is such amazing attention to detail and every piece is truly a work of art (of particular note are her stunning jewelled skeleton pieces which always sell out almost as soon as they are listed).  Clare lives in the South of England, stitching whenever she can.  She started stitching around 3 years ago, having tried her hand to many other crafts.  Whilst she would normally get bored and move on from a hobby, something about embroidery really held her interest. She has no formal training and learned everything from online tutorials and websites, along with simple trial and error.  She loves to create gothic, macabre pieces or pay tribute to her favourite TV shows, movies and games.  You can purchase her stunning embroideries here on her Etsy shop and if you love her work as much as I do, you will want to follow her Instagram to see all the shops updates and product releases.  I was really inspired by Clare’s dark and vintage style, so naturally I wrote a dark and vintage story.  So sit back, relax and enjoy this Victorian tale of murder and revenge and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest posts.  Happy Reading…

Dark Deeds and Cameos

cameodarkdeeds2Evelyn Hardcastle stared at her reflection hard, half expecting it to move independently of her. She barely recognised the face that stared back.  It was hardened and stoic.  There were none of the soft smiles or laughter lines anymore, none of the cheer and optimism.  Those things had died along with Albert.  Albert.  Instinctively, she clutched the cameo brooch on her lace collar, a gift from Albert on their one-year anniversary.  Once it was a reminder of life and love, but now it was her symbol of heart break. She had had it altered at the jewellers to include a locket on the rear of the cameo.  The world saw the delicate shell brooch, the features of the woman on it watching them back.  But behind this she stored a lock of Albert’s auburn hair, a little piece of him she carried everywhere.  A reminder of what she had lost as well as what she had to do.  She checked herself once more before leaving.  Despite everything, she still looked well enough. Her delicate features seemed almost emphasised and highlighted by the veil of sadness which now hung over them and her determination to carry out her plan made her walk with a tall and confident stance.

She had chosen a red velvet dress for this momentous occasion.  It cinched her small waist in and the bustle at the back exaggerated every curve of her body.  She had always thought red a very garish colour in the past, something worn by the type of women desperate for the gaze of men, but tonight, that’s exactly what she needed.  She had to make sure she stood out and caught the eye of Lord Walter Smith, the man who had murdered her husband.

It had been almost six months since that tragic day but the pain and sorrow had not dulled even a little. They say that the burden of grief diminishes with time, but Evelyn was not experiencing that.  If anything, she felt the pain of his loss more forcefully with each passing day and change of season.  And there was something else, something new…Rage.  A deep seeded, violent rage which bubbled and boiled just beneath her skin threatening to burst forth in swathes of blood red acid at the slightest touch.  Her husband had been a good man, a moral man.  When he saw that putrid little monster abuse and beat that poor maid to within an inch of her life, he had intervened.  He had threatened to tell the authorities, he didn’t care about the cad’s station or title.  But Lord Walter was not the type of man to allow someone to besmirch and tarnish his fine name, particularly a lowly writer such as Albert.  Within a week, Albert had been stabbed to death, his blood flowing between the cobbles of London’s streets.  The Police had said it was a robbery gone wrong, but Evelyn knew better.  Hell, the Police Sergeant had barely been able to look her in the eye as he spoke such blatant mistruths.  She had fallen, weeping and wailing, barely able to process what was happening.  It felt like she had been falling ever since.

She placed the black and red lace hat on her hair and for a finishing touch, painted her lips rouge to match her dress.  Now she really was a blossoming rose, a woman who would grab the attention of a man like Lord Walter.  The bar would be full of women, some hunting for a husband, others for a customer. She was hunting for something else entirely.

By the time the carriage set her outside the bar, the shot of whiskey she had drank in order to settle her nerves had kicked in.  A warmth and hazy confidence now filling her up.  She would no doubt need it in the hours to come.  The street smelled of beer and piss and she could hear a fiddle playing from inside, its giddy tune bidding customers to come and sit a while. Not the type of place you would expect to find a Lord, more a worker’s bar, but then Lord Walter liked his alcohol and women to flow free and loose and this place was near the few brothels that still accepted his coin, the classier joints having got sick of his violent tendencies putting the girls out of action with each black eye or broken tooth. He ended up costing more than he brought and so they had barred him, much to his chagrin.  But that was how Lord Walter lived.  He had the title, but his money was squandered and frittered away on horses, booze and girls.  He owed money to half the loan sharks in the city and if it wasn’t for his friends and family in high places, Evelyn had no doubt he would have had his own staged tragedy by now.  But when your brother is in Westminster and your daddy owns half the city, you literally can get away with murder.

She made her way towards the bar eyeing the room as she moved.  She could see that despite appearances, this bar had some very important patrons.  There was James Richardson, the current Chief of Police, a Weasley little man with ratty features and tobacco stained fingers.  There was Mark Edwards, the editor of the London Tribune, the city’s premier paper and his brother Doctor Peter Edwards, a well-respected teacher of anatomy who was currently getting a lesson of his own from a pretty young prostitute.  There were even a couple of low-level politicians and an actor she recognised from a play she had seen the previous year.  Albert had bought her the tickets for her birthday gift knowing she adored the theatre.  As if by fate, at the very moment she thought of that night, of her lost love, she spied her target in a dark corner playing cards with a handful of rather ruthless looking gentleman.  The second she laid eyes on him, she wanted to run towards him screaming, nails clawing, a broken bottle to the throat.  But that would only end with a short drop and a tight noose.  No, she would bide her time.

She sipped at her whiskey, watching him from across the room, trying to catch his eye. cameosdarkdeeds1 She hated this place.  She hated the lude and obnoxious men who filled it, she hated the women who fawned over them.  She hated the smell and the thick fog of pipe smoke that clawed at her throat and floated past her vision.  She hated the cheap whiskey and the dull, yellow lights.  But more than anything, she hated Lord Walter.  She hated him with every fibre of her being, within her very soul.  She imagined slashing at his throat, red pouring out like a tide and felt the weight of the dagger in her bag.  Soon, soon.

Just then, he clocked her, a passing glance which seemed to draw itself towards her and settle there. He looked at her the way a starving dog looked at a bone.  She felt bile rise in her stomach and for a moment she considered fleeing.  As he downed the last of his wine, rubbing the red slobbers from his fat chin with the unbuttoned sleeve of his shirt whilst never taking his eyes of hers.  He stumbled towards her, his glazed eyes holding hers, his swaying stomach overhanging his belt, his shirt untucked and stained.  As he moved closer, time seemed to slow, the world around her melting away so only they still remained.  She felt the hairs on her arms stand up and her stomach lurch, even her legs twitching, readying for flight.  She thought about running, about taking this insane plan and boxing it away, somewhere deep inside where she would never find it again.  She could get caught, arrested, hanged.  She could be killed or raped or tortured.  A dozen scenarios played inside her mind, none of them ending well and she almost abandoned the road on which she now stood in favour of something safer, something saner.  But she was never going to run, she knew that deep down.  The truth was, death was better than the half-life she lived now. No, she would finish what she started and damn the consequences, for her body and her soul.

He came up beside her, the stench of cheap wine filling her nostrils and causing the contents of her stomach to mix and churn.  She had to swallow hard to prevent herself from vomiting, even more so when he laid a clammy hand upon her own.  His dark eyes were glazed and foggy and could barely focus on her.  This will be easier than I thought. 

“A Beauty such as yourself shouldn’t be drinking alone.  Bar keep, two whiskeys.”

It took all of her strength not to simply draw the dagger from her purse and plunge it into his throat then and there.  She pictured the bar and its patrons painted in red, eyes wide with shock, the satisfaction of feeling flesh tear easily beneath a sharpened blade.  No, that’s too quick for him. 

She smiled at him, the way she knew he wanted her to smile.  A smile that said she was interested, a smile that offered him the seat next to her and the promise of more to come.

“What’s your name my dear?”

“Adrestia.”

She had always planned on using something simple, unmemorable such as Mary or Victoria, but in the moment the name suddenly appeared to her, long forgotten from her lessons in Greek mythology.  Adriesta the Goddess of vengeance and daughter of the God of war Ares.  It was perfect.

“How exotic.  I am Lord Walter Smith.”

He emphasised the word Lord, a way to let her know his station, his importance.  Whilst Evelyn understood than many women cared for such things, a man’s title or bank balance had never interested her.  She looked for a man’s character, something Lord Walter sorely lacked.

“My Lord.”

She gave him her hand to kiss, trying not to wretch as he slobbered on her lace gloves.  Yes, this will be easier than I thought.

Their conversation had not been a long one.  Lord Walter was not a patient man and neither was Evelyn, she had plans after all. Within the hour she found herself in his carriage, him pawing at her like some dumb animal, his stinking breath on her neck, his weight pushing on her, pinning her against the carriage seats. She was relieved when the carriage stopped outside his London address.  Barely managing to pry herself free, she stumbled outside and gave him a beckoning smile as she walked towards the front door, Lord Walter stumbling after her.  As she led him up the stairs with mere glances, the discarding of a glove, the bite of her lip, she was reminded of a story her Mother had read to her as a child about the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Her body was her instrument and tonight, she was luring the biggest rat of all to his death.

They reached the bedroom, a large four post bed at the centre of a dark and dusty room.  It appeared the high and mighty Lord could no longer afford staff, something which definitely worked in Evelyn’s favour. For a moment, she hesitated.  This was her last opportunity to stop, to turn back before it was too late, but hate and grief has a way of lighting a fire within which burns at a heat hot enough to never be quenched by doubt or fear. And so, she led him to the bed. With one slight nudge, he fell backwards like a felled tree, the bed posts shaking as he did.  He looked like a dog desperate for his owner to give him a treat, and so she would.

darkdeedscameos3She pulled the pin from her hair, letting it fall around her shoulders and continued to smile that same smile, that coquettish, flirtatious smile which promised so many things to him. He has no idea.  He lay on his back, wheezing, sweating as she walked towards him slowly, savouring what was to come.  She raised her skirts and climbed on to the bed, straddling him.  She could see the excitement on his face, mounting and growing along with him.  Her bag already laid open, the dagger now within her garter belt and it was easy to slip it out without him noticing as she kissed his chest.  He moaned.

“Oh Adrestia…”

She rose up, looming over him, staring down at his red sweaty face still smiling that same smile.

“Call me a different name tonight.”

“Haha, how wonderful.  I love games. What would you like me to call you? Shall I choose a name?”

“No, I have one in mind. I think you should call me Evelyn. I think you should call me Mrs Evelyn Hardcastle.”

As she spoke her name aloud, the sweet and seductive smile began to twist and contort into a manic grimace.  There was a moment of realisation which fell over Lord Walter’s face, but it came a second too late as the dagger was plunged to the hilt in the cavity where a heart should be.  He sputtered and let out a pained groan, blood running free from the hole in his chest, his shirt going quickly from white to red.  He sputtered, spitting droplets of blood on her face and tried to say something.

“P..P…Pl…”

“Please? Ha.”

She thought of Albert, of him dying alone on some piss-soaked street corner.  She thought of him begging, pleading and she showed Lord Walter exactly the same amount of mercy he had shown her beloved husband. She leaned, twisting the dagger. It ground against bone and she could feel his ribs cracking under her weight.  The hole grew larger, a volcano of blood and death pouring forth.  The red velvet of her dress grew wet and darkened as blood painted her body the same crimson as it painted his.  There was a spasm, a twitch and shake beneath her and a wheeze before his body dropped and lay still.  She could see from his glassy eyes that he was gone from this world.  She imagined him somewhere filled with fire and pain and wondered if she would join him there some day, if this act, this bloodlust would stain her soul irreparably. She imagined Lady Macbeth, washing at the blood which was not there and understood for the first time that type of staining, that type of contamination.

She wasn’t sure how long she sat there in the dark, holding vigil over the bloody end of her plan. She felt a torrent of emotions. On one hand, she felt free.  There had been so many months of tears, of anger and outrage bubbling and churning within her.  She had hated, for the first time in her life, she had truly hated another human being and now, he was gone.  Albert had justice, she had justice.  But there was also a hollowness, a vast emptiness left by the void from that hate.  What would she do now?  She had no Albert nor did she have a Lord Walter.  She was alone and directionless, a boat cut loose and untethered, drifting aimlessly through a vast and open ocean.  What now?

Slowly, almost mechanically, she finished what she had started.  It was easy to start the fire, the house was like tinder, waiting for a flame. She used his vast amount of cheap alcohol, dousing the floor, the curtains and bedding as well as his bloated, lifeless corpse and left through the alleyways as the flames began to take hold. She was over a mile away when the sirens sang.  The dagger went into the Thames and her dress, her hat, her gloves went into the hearth, the ashes discarded as soon as they had cooled.  All that she saved from her Adrestia mask was the brooch, which she washed a dozen times for good measure.

For a while, the papers were dominated with the mystery of Lord Walter’s death.  The post mortem had revealed the large wound to his chest and ribs but there was a long list of suspects and no evidence to point at any in particular.  After weeks past, the papers began to report on other things and Lord Walter became but a distant memory to the people of London, to everyone that is, except Evelyn.

She thought often about what she had done, even visiting church for the first time since Albert’s funeral.  She asked for forgiveness but knew the request was a hollow one because after all, she did not regret what she had done, not really.  That emptiness however, never left.  Not until the museum benefit.  Since Albert, she had lost interest in most of her previous friends or amusements, but the museum had been very dear to Albert and it was a place she visited regularly in order to feel close to him once more.  The benefit was raising funds in order to expand the museum’s collection and so, on a cool and damp September evening she found herself amongst familiar faces.

Anna Windham had been someone she had considered a friend once, before grief tore her away from this world.  Seeing her wondering from painting to painting moved something within Evelyn, something she suddenly realised she deeply missed.  She realised just how lonely she was.

“Anna my dear, it’s so good to see you!”

Anna smiled and both embraced.  Briefly, it was like nothing had changed.  It was as if they had only seen each other for lunch the following day. But when Anna winced and flinched at Evelyn’s hug, tears filling her eyes, Evelyn suddenly realised that of course, both of them had changed.  Just as she had sleepwalking through her own life, Anna’s had moved forward as well and Evelyn had missed much.

“What is it dear?  Are you ok?”

“She’s fine.”

A man stepped forward and clasped his hand around Anna’s arm with an unnecessarily tight grip.  Anna flinched again.  It was such a small movement, so fleeting, that most would have missed it, but Evelyn saw.

“Evelyn, this is my husband Charles Montague.  Charles, this is Evelyn Hardcastle.  We used to be friends.”

It was Evelyn’s turn to flinch now.  Used to.  How could she have let herself become so cut off?  She had been so wrapped up in her own pain, she had simply forgotten those with whom she had cared so deeply in the past.  People she had laughed with, respected, perhaps even loved a little in the way that one loves their family.

“Charmed.”

Charles sneered at her as he said the word, making it perfectly obvious he was anything darkdeedscameo4but. He was a large man, with broad shoulders and a square jaw, which seemed to be constantly tense and clenched.  He gripped Anna a little tighter, lifting her slightly.  She winced again, but quickly put on a sad smile Evelyn had never seen her make before. She studied Anna then and for the first time noticed bruising under her shawl and scars which had not been there before.

 

“Anna dear, the Watson’s wanted to chat about luncheon next week.”

It was a demand, not a request.  Anna smiled and excused herself from Evelyn.  There was a brief promise to catch up before the brute practically dragged her away by the arm.  It was painfully obvious what kind of husband Charles Montague was and it was a painful realisation for her.  Guilt washed over her.  I haven’t been there for you.  I cut you off.  I pushed you away and now, you are as adrift as me.  And just like that, Evelyn Hardcastle found her purpose.  She had got her justice, but many women hadn’t got theirs.  This city was full of despicable, abusive men hiding behind their money, their titles and privilege as if these things gave them free reign to act as they pleased. Well she would become Adrestia again and once more she would do what needed to be done.  After all, blood begets blood…