Broken Wings and Wall Clocks: A Collaborative Short Story.

Merry Christmas everyone!  We are nearing the big day, counting down until we get some time off work, battling our way through crowded shops and snow laden streets and sickening ourselves of mince pies!  This is my favourite time of year, because everyone is just that little bit more generous and thoughtful, and generally kinder.  Whilst this is a season for joy and happiness, it can also be a struggle for some.  I try to be open and honest about my mental health issues, having suffered from depression and anxiety for several years, and I know how stressful, and sometimes lonely this time of year can be as a result.  There is an overwhelming pressure to be happy, and that forced merriment can sometimes have the opposite effect.  If you are struggling with your own issues, I would encourage you to speak out and talk to someone…it genuinely helps.  With that in mind,  for tonight’s blog post, a collaborative short story and the next in my ‘Inspired’ series, I have written a story about my own experiences, inspired by a painting by the very talented artist Lyle Schultz.

Lyle is an artist based in Canada, and a man of many talents.  As well as creating incredible mixed media works of art, which you can find here, he is also a writer, you can check out his writing here, and even a fashion designer, check out his clothing here!  How to describe his work?  I will use the artist’s own words, because he is infinitely more qualified than myself and also has a far more extensive vocabulary:

My paintings are a maelstrom of images and scratches, furious and open, the pictures a window into a mind that is furiously working, a plethora of cartoon madness and pop art motifs running rampant in vibrant colours and bold mark making.  This is a life laid bare, the expression of an artist living to a rhythm of his own making, a riff that sucks in everything contemporary culture throws its way; film, comics, advertising, graffiti, and reinventing it, re-appropriating it, creating a new pictorial language that echoes the work of De Kooning, Basquiat and Grosz, all artists who railed against the status quo, took the outsider in, never moved an inch, fought for their space and demanded to be heard.

My paintings reflect a modern world in which visual saturation is at breaking point, my work is a distillation of the tsunami of images that hurtle through our screens, from the pages of magazines. Everything is here, everything is for sale, our lives imprisoned in a gonzoland of farce and materiality, it is a place that I frenetically describe over and over again, each mark a wake up call, a realisation, an indictment, an attempt to strip away the artifice and indulge in a little bit of magic.

I couldn’t have put it better myself (I genuinely couldn’t).  I was immediately drawn to his vibrant and edgy pieces, and was honoured when he agreed to collaborate with me.  I chose one of his many paintings, which trust me was not easy, and created the story below based on it.  The image inspired me to look inwards at my own struggles and chaotic mind, and to write a story filled with issues and problems, but also hope.  And on that note, I sincerely hope you like it!

Broken wings and wall clocks.

lyleThere are two wall clocks in this office, one directly facing me, and one behind my head. Time is inescapable here, and the ticking away of every passing second, is in surround sound. Sometimes, when I’m not in the mood to discuss my feelings, I stare hard at the little black hand, making it’s way around the clock’s face, willing it to go faster. It never does. In fact, time slows down within these walls, every second dragging and limping by.

“Laura?”

Oh shit, she’s looking at me. Did she ask a question? I suddenly wish I could read minds.

“Yes?”

“How does that sound to you?”

“It sounds, fine, yes. Fine.”

I have no idea if this is the correct response, but I figure I’ve got a fifty fifty shot of getting it right, so it’s worth a punt.

“Excellent. I’ll get those printed off for you then.”

Result! Just another one of Doctor Ferguson’s little exercises, designed to make me change my ‘thought patterns’. I fucking hate the exercises. How can a person change the very way they think? Our thoughts, are as much a part of us as our limbs. I think therefore I am.

The Doctor gets up off the threadbare seat, and leaves the office to locate the printer. I relish these little moments alone, with no questions or analysis. There is a faded poster hanging above the filing cabinet, a ginger cat, hanging from a branch and the words ‘Hang on in there.’ written in bright yellow lettering. I don’t find this particularly motivating, in fact, it pisses me off. If you see a cat in distress, dangling from a tree branch, you go and help it, not take a picture. Dumb fucking poster. The door opens again, before slamming shut of it’s own accord. It is designed to do this, to prevent the spread of fire, but it always gave the impression of being sentient, or perhaps controlled by an invisible presence.

“Here we go.”

Dr Ferguson always falls into her chair, rather than sitting in it. It’s a low piece of furniture, and she is a fairly heavy woman. She always dresses the same, wearing some hideous pastel coloured

cardigan, despite the broken radiators in here producing sauna like temperatures. There’s the same cameo brooch and pearls, as if she is dressed up as a therapist for halloween. The worst part is her lipstick, always the same garish pink, and always smeared on her teeth. Doesn’t she own a mirror?Maybe it’s some kind of test, to see if I’ll notice, to see if I’ll say something. I won’t. After shuffling the papers, she hands them to me, pointing at the boxes marked with the days of the week.

“Just fill in what you do each day under the appropriate heading. Try to include everything, but no need to go into minute detail. I don’t need to know your toilet habits for example.”

She laughs at this. She often laughs at her own jokes. I don’t laugh, mainly because they’re never particularly funny. Sometimes, as in now, I smirk in return, out of pity rather than actual amusement.

“Wait until you see just how much you get up to each day. I am willing to bet you accomplish far more than you give yourself credit for.”

I don’t.

“Even getting dressed and washed is an accomplishment in your circumstances, so think of it like one.”

She always called it that, my ‘circumstances.’ I suppose it sounds better than calling me mental, crazy, broken.

“Will do.”

“Excellent, well that’s the end of the session today. Do you feel like you benefitted from it?”

“Yes, of course.”

I don’t.

“Excellent. Well, then I’ll see you same time next week.”

She walks me to the front doors and buzzes me out. You aren’t allowed to walk about this place unattended. I often wonder what happened to create the necessity for that rule. The building was beautiful once, all red brick and stone roses, but it has been painted and repainted so many times

over the years, that it gives the impression of having some kind of disease, the flakes of paint flaking off like scabs, exposing the red brick flesh beneath. It looks sicker than the patients within.

I start walking, pulling my jacket tighter in a feeble attempt to keep out the cold. The hospital was built long before the need for car parking spaces, and so I was forced to abandon my car a few streets away on a single yellow line. I’ve been over an hour now. I hope I don’t get a ticket. I wonder what the place looked like a century ago, and what those Doctors and nurses would think if they saw it now. I often let my mind wonder this way. It’s easier to think about pointless nonsense than think about the ever increasing anxiety at the thought of a parking ticket, or the many other possible scenarios which regularly clog up my mind. The Doctor says I focus so much on the ‘what ifs’ that I miss out on the here and now. No shit.

I pass two men wearing hard hats and high vis vests, sipping from steaming paper cups. They stop talking, watching me pass. Do they know? I can feel their eyes on the back of my head, boring holes deep and inescapable. I hate that feeling of judgment, the idea of people sizing you up and deciding you have come up short. Dr Ferguson told me, ‘No one is thinking that about you. They have their own battles to fight.’ I think that’s bullshit. Everyone judges everyone else, all the time. Hell, I’m guilty of it often enough. No, it’s easier to retreat and withdraw, than risk rejection.

It starts raining. The entire colour of the sky seems to change in an instant to a dark and foreboding grey, casting a dull filter over everything. Bloody Irish weather! There’s a large oak tree nearby, and I make a b-line for it, taking shelter under its thick canopy. I hate the feeling of water hitting my face; it makes me shudder. I won’t even let it land there in the shower, choosing instead to bend and twist at odd angles while washing in order to avoid it. I try to think of things like this as personality quirks or cute little foibles, but they aren’t. They are dumb and annoying, and they make everything harder. Sometimes I feel like my own mind is against me.

Huddled against the trunk, I hear a faint noise, a kind of chirping, nearby. I look around, and near the tree, under a bush, I find a small bird. It’s brown and mottled, with little flecks of green throughout. Is it a greenfinch? I’m no ornithologist. It’s looking right at me, still chirping, flapping just one wing in a panicked motion, causing it to bob and thrash but not actually go anywhere. It’s other wing stays against it’s little body, and it’s breathing heavily. It must have hurt it’s wing poor thing. I step towards it and it flinches, backing away.

“It’s ok sweety, I won’t hurt you. I just want to help.”

What am I doing? I’m talking to a bird, as if it can possibly understand what I say. All it knows is that it’s small, and I’m big, and I could kill it easily if I were so inclined. It’s a familiar feeling to me, that overwhelming helplessness. I’m not sure what to do. If I leave it here, it would inevitably be killed by a cat, but if I take it home what exactly can I do for it? I’m not a vet. I have no idea what to do with an injured bird. Shit…I’ll have to leave it.

“Sorry.”

Now I’m apologising to it. If Dr Ferguson could see me now, she would probably have me committed. The rain has become a slight drizzle now. I should make a dash for it before it picks up again. When I was little, I thought rain was God draining his bath water. Mental illness aside, I have always been a bit odd. I get three or four feet before I stop. I can just make out the little cheep cheep of the bird now, and the sound causes me physical pain; that familiar stabbing pang of guilt. I can’t leave it, I’m a vegetarian for God’s sake.

It’s further inside the bush now. I have to get down on my hands and knees to reach it. It takes me four attempts, but I manage to catch it with my leather jacket. I’m now mucky and dishevelled. I look like I’ve escaped from the hospital. This is quickly becoming one of those days.

I don’t know how to hold it. I need to hold it tight enough to keep it trapped within the fabric, but I’m afraid if I squeeze too hard, I’ll kill a bird and ruin my favourite jacket in one go. It’s getting colder. Without my jacket, goose pimples appear all over my outstretched arms, little droplets of rain clinging to the hairs like spider webs. I begin to do a half walk half run towards the car, but stop when I realise how ridiculous I must look.

When I finally reach my car, I realise my keys are inside my jacket pocket. Great! I just about fish them out, almost dropping the bird, and climb inside. I don’t have a bird cage or cardboard box handy, but I do have an extensive collection of rubbish lying about, including a brown paper bag from yesterdays sandwich. Better than nothing. I keep meaning to clean my car, but it inevitably gets put off; too much self pitying to do. There’s bird shit on my jacket and I know the little bugger did it deliberately. I’m beginning to think Hitchcock was right.

I start her up, and edge my way out of the space. Thank God it’s not too busy. Heavy traffic gives me anxiety. In fact, most things give me anxiety, that’s who I am now: Miss Anxiety. Some kind of

mental illness pageant winner. Heaters turned full blast, I flick through the radio channels until I find one playing music. I hate radio DJs; they talk so much shit and expect people to jump through hoops for the privilege of a mug and pen. No thanks. I like music, especially something I can sing along to. It offers temporary relief from my thoughts. Intrusive thoughts, that’s what Dr Ferguson calls them. Involuntary thoughts which are often unpleasant and are always difficult to eliminate. I call them Dick head thoughts, because thinking them makes me feel like a dick. If people could hear what was going on up there, what insignificant, meaningless thing I was panicking about today, they would try to avoid eye contact and walk very quickly in the opposite direction.

We are on the carriageway now. I keep looking over at the bag, I’m not sure why, it’s hardly going to fly off. But I need to know it’s still there, still safe. I do this with people sometimes too, reaching out to my boyfriend in the darkness, checking that he hasn’t left me. There is a small fear, ever present at the back of my mind, that everyone will some day realise what I already know about myself; that I’m worthless.

It takes longer to get home than usual. Despite Northern Ireland being perpetually damp, every driver seems terrified of a little rain water on the road, and slows down to the speed of molasses. I get road rage, yelling obscenities at people who can neither see nor hear me. It makes me feel better; regular, small releases of pressure are better than one sudden explosion. By the time I get home, it’s beginning to get dark.

I carry in the bag and carefully place it on the kitchen counter. What now? I didn’t think this far ahead. A quick google search brings up various unhelpful pages, plus the number for the USPCA. I don’t understand how people survived without google. I read once, that we are losing our ability to retain information, because it is so conveniently located at all times, in our pockets. I am guilty of this. I have a memory like a sieve and without my phone telling me where to go and when, how to get there and what groceries I need to get, I dread to think where I would be. Lost and hungry I assume.

“Hello USPCA, my name is Jack. How can I help you?”

“Um, hi, yes, I’ve found an injured bird and I was just wanting some advice on what to do.”

“What kind of bird?”

“What?”

“What kind of bird is it?”

“I dunno, a small one.”

“Well, what does it look like?”

“It’s small with a kind of browny, greyey greeny coloured body and a little fat beak.”

“Hmm that doesn’t really narrow it down does it?”

He sort of scoffs at this, as if he is being incredibly witty. I’m losing my patience.

“Does it matter? I just want to know what to do. Surely the advice is the same whether I have a blue tit or a bald eagle?”

“Well bald eagles are native to America.”

Seriously? Could this man be anymore of a pleb? I don’t suffer fools gladly. I’m not overly fussed on people in general, but I am particularly averse to condescending jerks. I don’t want to say something I might regret, and I still need the information.

“It’s hurt it’s wing. I’ve managed to catch it, but I’m not sure what I should do now.”

“Oh dear, well more often than not, being caught by a person or animal actually kills the bird. Shock you see. You should have left it, and just observed it.”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

“Well I didn’t provide remote observation, I caught it. What do I do now?”

“Place it somewhere outside, where it can leave if it wishes, but where it is also safe from cats. If it is fit, it will fly off of it’s own accord. If not, take it to your local vet. There isn’t much you can do with wild birds if their wing is damaged, so it would probably be euthanised.”

“Well that hardly seems fair, can’t they splint it or something?”

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that for birds.”

He scoffs again and I immediately hang up. Smug bastard. I stand a moment, staring at the bag, still unsure what to do exactly. Could I have killed it with good intentions? I peer inside. It’s moving, but it looks scared. I feel like shit.

Without anything else to go on, I take the bag outside to the garden, along with a shoe box, in which I place a few pairs of socks in lieu of saw dust or straw, and a bottle top filled with water, and I place the bird inside it. I leave the lid off, so it can fly off if it wants to, if it can. Then, I sit down beside it, keeping guard. I can’t leave it. I’ve basically boxed up a packed lunch for one of the

neighbourhood cats. At least the rain has stopped.

We sit watching each other, sizing each other up. I wonder what it thinks I am? A predator? A friend? I don’t want it to be frightened. If it does die, I want it to die knowing some kind of kindness. I lean in and gently stroke it’s feathers, “Shhhh, it’s ok. You’re ok. It will be fine.” I speak softly, like a mother reassuring a crying child. I hear words coming out of my mouth that have been said to me so many times over the years; words I never believed. “It’s ok, you’ll be fine.” I suppose that’s just what you say to someone when they’re sick or upset, even if you don’t necessarily think it’s true. It’s kind.

It closes it’s eyes, and it’s breathing steadies. I watch it sleep. I know it’s just a bird, it’s not even my bird, but I genuinely feel upset at the thought of it dying. Sometimes, I imagine things which are unrelated, are signs or signals from the universe. Dr Ferguson calls it ‘magical thinking’, like those people who think if they don’t flick the light switch on and off fifteen times before they leave the house, their family will die. I think, everything is a sign that I’m a failure, that things will always be this way, and they’ll never get better. I want the bird to get better. I want to get better.

I hear my mobile phone ring inside the house. It will be fine for a minute. ‘Mum’ flashes on the screen. I take a deep breath.

“Hey mum.”

“Did you go to the Doctor today?”

“Yes.”

“And?”

“And what?”

“Are you feeling better?”

I wish it was that easy. I’m the only person in our extended family who has suffered from mental health issues. My mum is used to applying plasters and administering medicine. She doesn’t understand how long this process could take to work, if it works at all.

“I feel the same, but it was only my third session. You have to give these things time.”

“Are you taking your tablets? You know what your memory is like.”

“Yes mum.”

I’ve lived away from home for years, but she still treats me like a child, checking I have clean clothes and I’m eating right. I hate it and crave it at the same time; it’s comforting to know a safety net exists. As I listen to her unsolicited advice, I see movement from the box outside. A small flutter at first, before the bird manages to jump out of the box. I watch it try out it’s wings, moving them back and forth, hovering a foot into the air before coming back down, then two feet, then onto the glass table. I can’t hear my mum now. I hold my breathe, and stand as still as a statue, terrified I’ll spook it and ruin it’s recovery. After a minute or two, it simply flies away. I run outside, but it’s already gone, a black dot in the sky.

“…but you know that right?”

“What’s that mum?”

“You know you can get through this? You’re going to be alright.”

I smile, “Yeah, I’ll be alright.”

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

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

The Magic Box

Part Two

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

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

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

“It means what it says.”

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

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

“You’re asking the wrong questions.”

“What is the right questions?”

“You’re asking the wrong questions.”

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

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

“Who decides who is worthy?”

“Now, you are asking the right question.”

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

“That is correct.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Please…I…”

“CHOOSE.”

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

“Please, where do they lead?”

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

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

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“None of your business.”

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

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

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

“You have no goodness in your heart.”

“Well, I never…”

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

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

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

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

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

The End

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

magic box

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

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

The Magic Box

Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The others snorted a laugh.

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

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

He laughed, the others joining in.

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

They laughed again, this time louder.

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

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

“What do you want with her?”

“Supper.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s just Ella actually.”

“Thank you Ella Actually.”

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

“What were those things?”

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

“Bees are magic?”

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

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

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

“No, I’m just a servant. I’m nobody.”

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

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

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

“How do I get home?”

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

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

Why me?: A short story.

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

Why me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you want something to eat?”

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

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

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

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

He approves, his tail wagging faster.

“I guess I have a dog now.”

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

 

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

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

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

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

Ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Spirit of Music: A piece of Flash Fiction.

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

The Spirit of Music

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

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

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

 

London 1889: A Short Story.

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

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

London, 1889

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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