The Creatures of the in betweens: A Short story.

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

in between image

The creatures of the in betweens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloodstained Silk: A short story.

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

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

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

blood stained silk pic 1

Blood stained silk

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

“Can I get you another?”

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

“Scotch on the rocks.”

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

“You Lawson?”

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

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

“Sit down. Drink?”

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

“Please, whiskey if you have some.”

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

“Thank you.”

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

“How do I ensure your discretion?”

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

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

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

“I see you know me then.”

“Everybody knows you Miss Montgomery.”

“Please, call me Eleanor.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Be careful.”

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

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

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

“He knows.”

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

“Eleanor? Who knows?”

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

“Calm down. What’s happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ok, ok…one hour.”

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

I could hear her her trying to slow her breathing.

“Rick?”

“What?”

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

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

“Thank you.”

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

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

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

“It’s going to be alright.”

“Ok.”

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

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

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

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

“Hang on baby.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear nightingale pic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Galileo: A Science Fiction Short Story.

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

The Galileo

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

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

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

“Identify.”

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

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

“Where are the others?”

“Please clarify ‘others’”

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

“Locate the other members of the crew.”

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

“No…that can’t be.”

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

“Alright, stop. I get it.”

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

“What happened to the rest of the crew?”

“Unknown.”

“What do you mean unknown?”

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

“Who shut you down?”

“Unknown.”

“How were you shut down?”

“Unknown.”

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

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

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

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

“Unknown.”

“God damn you.”

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

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

“Identify.”

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

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

“Turn off the alarm.”

“Confirmed.”

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

“Who initiated the alarm?”

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

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

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

“Show me.”

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

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

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

“Where is the Safe Haven?”

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

She felt her heart rate rise and her breathing quicken.

“How many souls were on board?”

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

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

“What happened to it?”

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

“How?”

“Unknown.”

“Play the distress call.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Was the life sign Captain Ray Thorn?”

“Negative.”

“Was the life sign human?”

“Negative.”

“What was it?”

“Unknown.”

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

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

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

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

“Confirm…where is the unknown entity.”

“The unknown entity is located on the bridge.”

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

……………………………………………………

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

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

“Which vessel does the call originate from?”

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

“Open communications with them.”

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

“How many life signs on board?”

“Just one sir.”

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

Inspired Part 7

For this latest edition of Inspired, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented artist Lelya Borisenko.  Lelya was born in 1973 in Shostka, Ukraine, a republic, which at that time was part of the USSR. She studied academical painting, easel graphics, etching and engraving in the Kharkov State Academy of Design and Fine Arts in 1993-1999. In 2001 she moved to Moscow, Russia where she is liveing and working at the moment.  If you love her work as much as I do, you can see more at her website or her Instagram. She created Oscar Apollo, the adorable character featured in this piece, five years ago.  I have fallen in love with Oscar, and you can check out his adventures on Instagram.

I sent Lelya my story, and she created this amazing painting inspired by it.  I hope you like it, let me know in the comments below.  If you are an artist or other creative person, and would like to collaborate as part of this series, please get in touch.  Happy reading…

Its just a story artwork

It’s just a story.

It began as a story told to children in order to make them behave, or a tale told around a camp fire, designed to frighten and scare. No one could ever provide a reliable source for the information within it, and it had always involved a friend of a friend or a cousin’s neighbour etc. It was an urban legend, a tall tale, fiction. No one actually believed in it, and yet, the images it conjured remained fixed within their minds eyes for years to come, occasionally manifesting as a reluctance to join in, or a fear of certain things, until they told it to their own children, and their children’s children, passing it on down the line for generations. Thus, it could never die, living forever on the tongues of story tellers and gossips.

The story, involved a child. The gender of the child would change, sometimes a girl, sometimes a boy, but they would always be young. Perhaps they had a name. The child lived somewhere isolated, like a small village in the country or some back water town, far off, where facts could not be corroborated. The child was lonely, or maybe they were naughty or perhaps simply curious. Either way, when they saw the large circus tent of red and yellow stripes being erected in the fields, they were excited and certain to attend. They would watch from afar, as performers practiced outside their caravans, or animals like horses and elephants, chewed their food and slept in the dirt. They would maybe even talk to one of the crew, in their strange, foreign clothes of colour and pattern, distributing leaflets and posting bills around the town. They would tell them to come and see, they would give them a free ticket.

In some stories, the parents of the child does not approve of such frivolities, or trust the strange performing nomads, and they would ban the child from attending. The child would of course sneak out after their bed time, down tree branches and trellis, and out into the dark. In other versions, the parents would excitedly plan a fun family evening together, or present the tickets as a gift. Always the child attends, and always, they end up separated, alone, unprotected.

There are acts of amazing bravery. A ring master who tames a lion using a chair and a cracking whip. A trapeze family, soaring at impossible heights, letting go off the bars to the gasps of the audiences before being caught again as the gasps morph into roaring applause. There are feats of strength. A strong man who picks up a chair in each arm, in which sit two audience members. An elephant balancing on a ball. And finally, there are jokes and comedy. Clowns tripping and falling, pulling endless handkerchiefs from pockets and throwing buckets of confetti. The air smells of saw dust, perspiration and pop corn.

The child becomes enamoured, separating from his family, wandering between the tents, seeking out the best views, the back stage banter. They will meet a figure, someone awe inspiring but also menacing, perhaps the ring leader with his stubbled chin and whiskey breath, or the clown with the running make up and missing teeth. They will promise the child adventure, fame, glory, love, everything their heart desires, everything their imagination can produce, everything they have ever dreamt off. But there is a catch, a condition, something minor to a child, something the ramifications of which are unknown to them. They must give a token, a treasured toy or a favourite book, or perhaps they must sign their name on a piece of crumpled paper, crudely written and incorrectly spelled because of their age.

It is a mistake, one with terrible consequences. The child becomes the property of the circus, another soul to tend the animals, clean up their shit, or perhaps to perform the dangerous tricks no one else wants to do, the knife throwing for example. The child tries to run, but cannot escape, there is too many. But surely their mother, their siblings will come looking? But the circus makes them forget. They forget the child’s name, their face, and they become just a feeling of deja vu when a certain toy is stepped on or book read. This is the curse, this is the punishment for their curiosity. They are servants, tied to the circus forever more. They will age and twist and bend to a bitter and cynical adult, who in turn will tempt and trap other children as some kind of revenge against the world. If they had to suffer, others should too. The circus will travel from town to town, moving with the mist, stealing souls, stealing lives. But none of this ever happened, because it’s just a story, right?

Inspired Part 4

For this part of the Inspired series, I have collaborated with the brilliant comic book artist Jorge Ibarra.  Jorge is a 29 year old architect from Santiago, Chile.  Like the heroes of the comics he loves so much, he has two lives.  By day, he designs buildings, but by night, he uses his artistic talents to produce amazing comic books.  He became interested in the world of comics, when at 6 years old, a friend gave him his old collection.  A copy of “The Amazing Spider Man” caught his eye, and the rest, as they say, is history.  Now, producing comics and illustrations, and telling stories is his passion.  I sent Jorge my story, and he was inspired to draw this amazing pop art style illustration.  If you love his art work as much as me, you can check out more of his work on Instagram @slamcomics.  Let me know what you think of Jorge’s and my work in the comments section, and if you are a creative person who would like to collaborate with me, then please get in touch!  Enjoy…

The Watcher image by Jorge Ibarra

The Watcher

It started off as shadows. A blur in the corner of your eye, a movement which seemed to have no cause, a feeling of being watched. Over time, gradually, it manifested and formed shape, and one day, it was just there.

Sarah could remember the first time she saw it. She had been in her room, doing her history homework, when something drew her to the window. It was just standing at the other side of the street, watching her. She couldn’t make out it’s features, it was merely a silhouette, but she could tell it was staring right at her. Based on it’s build, and height, it appeared to be a man, but even that was difficult to tell. Something inside told her it wasn’t human. She hadn’t slept well that night, nor any night since.

The next day at school, she had gotten that same feeling of dread as she realised someone or something was watching her, stalking her like prey. She had searched the crowded playgrounds, but it wasn’t there. Later, as she sat in English class, she saw it standing beneath a large tree. It was always in the shadows, always just an outline. The shape of a person without features or form. A blank patch in the landscape.

As she walked home from school each day, she could hear footsteps on the sidewalk behind her, always keeping her pace, even though the street was empty of other people. She would run until she felt sick and her legs shook, but it was always there, just behind her. Those damned foot steps. Only when she reached the safety of home or school, would it show itself. The same black nothing.

Paranoia is a poisonous thing. Eventually, it spreads through all aspects of your life, tainting them, infecting them like some disease. Nowhere felt safe. No person felt trustworthy. She retreated into herself, afraid that somehow too much interaction with the outside world would bring it to her door.

Once, when she felt desperate to be free of it, she opened her window, and looking straight at it’s featureless form, she screamed, “What do you want from me?” It made no response. It did not move. It just remained there, a guard at it’s post. That night she wept. She dreamt that her shadow, once a loyal companion, began to twist and snake away from her, until it grew to become a separate, sentient entity. It changed and undulated, until it grew to form that same silhouette, that same black shadow. She awoke screaming and panting, sweat stained sheets stuck to her body, and immediately she sensed it, she knew it was there, just across the road. Standing in the same spot, in the same position. A malicious statue. Her silent watcher.

She lost her appetite, and along with it, the curved form which puberty had brought. She permanently had sunken, dark ringed eyes, and sallow skin and she started and jumped at every noise or sudden movement. A rabbit, permanently caught in headlights. Her mother begged and pleaded with her to tell her what was wrong. Was it boy trouble? Was it body image issues? What could she say? “Mum, I’m being followed by some kind of demon.” No, she knew where that path would lead to, and she wasn’t prepared to be forced into some treatment facility, along with the girls who cut themselves, or had eating disorders. Besides, she knew that it would find her wherever she went.

She agreed, after much harassment by her mother, to see a counsellor. Every Wednesday and Friday, she sat in that little brown chair opposite a sour faced woman who smelled of cinnamon candies and over pronounced every word, as she asked her how everything ‘made her feel.’ All throughout, she stared out the bay window, to the street outside, and watched the shadow watching her. Her phantom was always there when she arrived for her sessions, waiting for her. The counsellor eventually told her mother to send Sarah to a psychiatrist for therapy, and her mother struggled to hold her composure as she cursed and screamed

“What the hell was I paying you for? A fucking hair cut?”

After that, she didn’t have to visit the counsellor again. It adjusted its schedule accordingly, and appeared wherever she was, just in her peripheral vision, always in shadow. After almost a year of this, she began to self medicate, sneaking her mother’s booze at first, but eventually having the older boys buy her her own. She would drink sometimes until she passed out. Anything to obliterate it’s presence from her mind.

It was on one such occasion, that she realised it had moved closer. Not by much, a few feet maybe, but enough to be noticeable. She dismissed it as the alcohol. But the following day, inside the school classroom, she confirmed what she had seen through blurred vision. It still stood stock still, and it remained in shadow, but now she could make it out a little more clearly. She realised it was wearing some kind of suit, what colour she did not know, but she could make out the outline of a collar and cuffs. It was definitely a male, or at least, it had manifested as a male, because she could now see it was tall, perhaps six foot three, with broad shoulders, and the outline of short, spiked hair.

It remained in it’s new spot, keeping watch, for about a week before she noticed it had once again moved closer. As before, it was only a few feet closer, but now it was moving out of the cover of darkness, she could make out further detail. The suit was dark, perhaps navy or black, and it wore a tie. It had laced shoes and wore a watch on it’s left hand. Sarah felt the fear rising in her stomach. Why, after all this time, was it beginning to move? Why was it coming closer? Was it coming for her? There were so many questions swirling in her head that she felt as if her brain would burst out of her skull. The room began to move and she felt motion sick, her stomach churning and knotted. Everything swirled and blurred around her until she fell into complete darkness.

When she awoke, she was attached to a heart monitor, the solid beep beep of which was the only sound in the room. There was a drip filled with some kind of clear fluid attached to her right arm, and she felt like she had the hangover from hell. Her mother was asleep in the corner, awkwardly positioned on a plastic chair. As the fog cleared, she turned her head to take in the rest of the room.

That’s when she saw it. Standing behind the white plastic curtain, she could make out the clear outline of it, standing as it always did, but now, it was so close, she could almost reach out and touch it. She wanted to scream out, to cry for help, but she could not move, she could not run. It was as if an invisible force held her to the bed, and all she could manage was to squeeze out a solitary tear as the form before her began to melt and ooze into a black liquid, a puddle forming beneath the curtain. Slowly, she felt a coldness grip her body, making it’s way from her feet to her head, spreading through every cell, snaking through every vein. She willed her mother to wake from her slumber, to sense something was wrong, and come to her aid. But it was too late. After less than a minute, the black had entombed her.

It was like being underwater. She could hear her own shallow breathing, and the pounding of her heart beat inside her head, and then she began to feel the water rushing away. As she lay motionless, the world around her began to disappear. She felt herself begin to break apart, and flow away too, atom by atom. She imagined this is what water felt, as it was evaporated into the atmosphere. She began to forget things, memories of her childhood, her first crush, her own name. It was if she was being shown a still of each moment of her fifteen years on earth, before it was snatched away and lost forever. Within moments, she remembered almost nothing at all, and whoever she was, or had been, she knew she was dying. And then, she was gone.

When her mother awoke, she discovered Sarah’s bed empty. The drip needle, lay on the bed, and the clear fluid had left a small wet patch where it had continued to serve its purpose. She had screamed for help, hysterical at the thought that her daughter had run away, or perhaps even worse, been stolen from beneath her nose. There had been a search of the hospital and grounds. There had been police called and search and rescue called and eventually even coast guards called. There had been television appeals by her crying mother, and posters printed. Her high school prom picture now wall papered most of the town, and her face was better known to the local people than most celebrities. But despite the dogs, and the helicopters and the prayers and tears, Sarah was never seen or heard from again. She had simply vanished.

Robert sat at his computer, staring at the calculations on the lap top opposite him, desperately searching his brain for the answers. College had been harder to adjust to than he had thought, and despite his attempts to reinvent himself, he was still very much the outsider. When he began to question why he had chosen physics as his major, something inside him stirred. He suddenly had the overwhelming feeling he was being watched. He looked around him, and confirmed that the library was indeed empty. After all, it was 3am, and most students were either passed out from too much drink, or still partying. But something drew him towards the large stained glass window opposite him.

He walked up, and got so close to the glass, that his breathe misted it, turning the dark royal blue, momentarily paler. Through the glass he could just make out the figure of someone. It looked like a girl, based on the height and build, and the slight outline of long hair, but it was hard to tell. He couldn’t take his eyes of it. His gut told him something was very wrong. That this thing wasn’t human, that it was here for him. He didn’t sleep well that night, nor any night since.

Black Ink

I have been very nervous about posting this piece, because it is an insight into my struggles with depression and anxiety.  Despite leaps forward, there is a still a stigma attached to mental health issues, and you never really know how people will react when they find out.  I believe it is important to discuss such things openly and honestly, because not only will that help end the stigma, it may also help someone who is experiencing their own personal struggle.  This piece, ‘Black Ink’, is my attempt to explain to someone who is lucky enough to have never suffered from depression, what it feels like, or at least, what it feels like to me.  I would love to know your thoughts.  And if anyone reads this, and sees something familiar, I urge them to talk to someone and seek help, and most of all, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed.  You would never be embarrassed if you were diagnosed with a physical illness, and this is no different, because that’s what it is, an illness.  I won’t pretend it’s easy, but you can come out the other side, you can manage it, and you can rise up, stronger than ever.

black ink photo

Black Ink

If humans were made of machinery and cogs, I would be malfunctioning. As they say, I have a few screws loose. It’s hard to explain Depression to someone who is lucky enough to have never suffered from mental illness themselves. Depression is like black ink, which spreads through the waters of your life, tainting and discolouring everything. It’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to see anything beyond that thick black, and often, things can seem hopeless. Light cannot reach that place, so even moments of joy and tenderness, are lost to shadows and lethargy. Every happy moment loses it’s shine, and is more often than not, missed entirely.

It’s as if the very mechanisms by which you feel emotions, are broken. If screws are indeed loose, it is in the part of your soul which helps us experience happiness and joy, sadness and anger, love and hate. It’s not necessarily that you are sad all the time, it’s more like an overwhelming numbness. That thick black ink blocks everything out, and you feel alone, and lost. If you are very lucky, a hand will come through that black, and pull you clear. But if you have no one to talk to, no one to offer their ears, their sympathy, their support, then you can sink beyond reach.

That is why it is so vital that we talk about it openly. You cannot see mental illness. It does not scar the skin or burn the flesh. It’s invisible, and hidden away beneath fake smiles and reassurances that everything is fine. I’m Fine. There is no shame in mental illness, in fact, it is more prevalent than most people think.  It does not discriminate by race or colour or religion, it targets anyone, everyone.  All around you people are experiencing their own personal struggle through the darkness which slowly closes in around them. Think about the people you know and love. Statistically, your Mother, your Sibling, your friend, your colleague are experiencing their own version of that black ink, spreading through their life and their minds. Please, reach out to them, give them your hand, and help them escape from the blackness, before it swallows them whole.