Inspired Part 8

Inspired is a series in which I collaborate with other creative people.  I have collaborated with photographers, illustrators, comic book artists and painters and for this part I am collaborating with a poet.  The poet in question is called Georgia Lee Rose and she lives in Auckland, New Zealand, but you probably know her as ‘The Coffee Cup Poet.’  Georgia expresses herself with poetry, by free writing her words onto a beautifully illustrated and photographed coffee cup.  She started on Tumblr in 2013, as a way to get her out of a writing slump and stop her over thinking and over analysing her work.  She has been on Instagram since 2014 and has amassed thousands of followers.  If you like her poetry as much as I do, check her out!  For this collaboration, I wrote a story and sent it to Georgia, who used it as inspiration for this wonderful poem, which she then carefully placed onto a coffee cup.  If you would like to collaborate with me, please get in touch, and let me know what you think of this piece in the comments section below.  Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog, for updates and alerts when I post something new.

Coffee cup image

Beginnings and Ends

She didn’t truly understand the meaning of heartbreak until she met him. She had read endless novels depicting women crumpling under the weight of loss and she had seen a multitude of movies showing images of running mascara and snotty tissues. She had even read the endless advice columns from her favourite glossy magazines; ‘How to forget him’, ‘He isn’t worth it’ or ‘Move on with moving on.’ If there was a test, she would pass with flying colours. She was like that, learned, fastidious. She believed life could be learned in advance. Studied for like any test.

She loved to read. She digested books like meals and always had room for desert. She also liked to run. It cleared her head. She would run and run sometimes, without realising how far she had got, endless thoughts preoccupying her mind. She was fun. She danced without embarrassment or self awareness, she sang to the songs that played in the background of supermarkets, and she had a laugh that got her noticed and made others smile.

The first time she had met him, was in the university library. He had sat beside her, despite many empty benches. His elbows touched hers and he smelled of cloves. After about an hour, he had passed her a handwritten note, scrawled in red biro. It read simply, ‘Lunch?’ With one word, he seduced her. They enjoyed their first meal, then their first kiss, and then other firsts, precious and cherished, and never forgotten.

He was tall, over six foot, and she had to crane her neck to kiss him. She liked the way his long arms completely enclosed around her as she breathed him in. He had the same dark sense of humour as her, and they would laugh until they cried. They always held hands while walking, no matter the weather, resulting in a constant clamminess. He was in a band that played terrible punk music, with too much distortion and yelled lyrics. She was front row to every show. When her Father died, he had stood beside her, wearing a suit for the first time in his life, fidgeting at the uncomfortable tie and the even more uncomfortable silence.

They had a song. It had been playing in the trendy hipster bar on their second date; Moon River. It should have been a sign. They took endless selfies, always smiling, sometimes kissing cheeks or silly faces. The world knew them, and agreed they were the perfect couple. They moved in together their final year. After more than six months, they still had boxes as coffee tables and foot stools. They didn’t care, as long as they had a bed and each other.

They started fighting, quietly at first, then louder. He stayed out too much, and never said who he was with. She checked his phone when he was in the bathroom. He hated that guy in her class. He became moody and surly, sniping at her and making passive aggressive remarks. She always rose to the bait. They yelled and cried and said things they didn’t mean and could never take back.

He needed space, at first a few days, then a few weeks, then his things were gone and only odds and ends remained. A toothbrush, an odd sock, deodorant, a dog eared book; insignificant and minor in of themselves, but reminders of something painful, something that was once beautiful. Something broken. She cried when she saw these things, she kept them, even though they had no use. She stayed in her pyjamas, and ate junk food, watching horror movies and cheesy rom coms. She whinged to her friends, her family, anyone who would listen. Her profile was now full of vague comments, designed to have people ask how she was, desperate to express her rage, her sorrow to anyone who would listen.

She kissed other boys, but it wasn’t the same. They tasted differently, and she missed the way he smelled, and the way he would kiss the top of her head when they hugged. She called him drunk, and he said hurtful things to her. She never did so again after that, but there was more tears, more heartache.

She recovered, slowly, but healing takes time. She began to look around again, and smile at those who smiled at her, unafraid of their intent or agenda. She ran again, her thoughts no longer being exclusively about him. She read books, not about heartbreak and self help, but about strength through adversity and adventures and travel. She danced with friends, and even with other men, and sang aloud to the music, never caring who saw or heard. She laughed, at friends and movies and books and shows, and she found herself again, stronger than before, but changed nonetheless.

Georgia’s Poem:

He smelled like cloves
and I shopped for his
scent long after
he left me
dancing beat-less against our
firsts, our
lasts, our only’s
crushing love
more now than
snarling breath, and
what we’d used it for, I
dab my skin
with stems and
run
until it’s gone.

Fancy joining my Book Club?

It’s the 1st of the month, and you know what that means!  It’s time to review last month’s book club book, and announce this months.  If you are new to my blog, the premise for these posts are simple…I want you to join my book club, and read along with me.  Are you in?

April’s book was ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood.  So, first of all, what was it about?  Time to read the blurb:

The Republic of Gilead allows Offred only one function: to breed.  If she deviates, she will, like all dissenters, be hanged on the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness.  But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire- neither Offered’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.  

handmaid's tale

This book offers a terrifying glimpse at a not so unlikely future, of oppressive regimes and corporal punishment.  I found it horrifying, mostly because I can in fact, see it happening, perhaps not exactly like this, but another form of  it.  It describes the drip drip drip effect of a government, slowly closing in, and eroding your rights, until you are surprised to find yourself no longer considered a full person, and sadly I can see such erosions all around.

Atwood’s chaotic form of writing, perfectly captures the confusion and confliction of the main character Offred.  It is told from her perspective, and you truly grow to connect and feel for her.  As a new Mother, I found in particularly difficult to read about her child being taken.  I could genuinely feel her heart break, and admire her determination to continue on, to survive.  Despite the situation being hopeless, Offred never seems to completely surrender hope.  Despite her desire, whether drug induced or indoctrinated, to conform, you still sense her determination to be true to herself.  In short, she is a beautifully formed character, with an emotive and interesting story to tell.

I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I will say that the way in which the story ends is as brutal and mysterious as the regime in which it is set, and it’s perfect.

I honestly cannot recommend this book enough.  It has instantly become one of my all time favourites, and I plan on buying a lot more work by Atwood, and I will be binge watching the TV series this week.  Buy it, read it, and let me know your thoughts!

book club pic

For May, the book club will be reading ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ by Katherine Arden.  With a tagline like, “Beware the evil in the woods…” How could I resist?

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 it’s 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.  

Sounds amazing right?  Join my club and read along with me.  If you have already read it, let me know your thoughts!  Happy reading!

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?

Inspiration Part 6

For those of you who are new to my blog, Inspired is a series in which I collaborate with other creative people, with the aim of inspiring them and being inspired in return.  For part 6, I have collaborated with the insanely talented Sarah Wright, a freelance illustrator from High Rook Designs.  Sarah lives in Northern Ireland, like myself, and has been passionate about drawing from a young age.  She is a working mum of two beautiful girls, so life can get in the way sometimes, but she cherishes the moments when she gets to sit down and be creative.  If you love her work as much as I do, you can check her out on Instagram or via Facebook.

On this occasion, I wrote the story and sent it to Sarah, who was inspired to create the amazing image below.  I think it really brings my story to life.  Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and if you are a creative person, and would like to collaborate with me, then please get in touch!  Enjoy…

Silent man pic

The Silent Man

It was dusk now, and the warm humid air of that day was beginning to cool. Oscar loved to find new places, it was one of the only advantages of working for a circus. Every few weeks he would have new paths to take, new terrain to explore, new sights to see. Sometimes he would walk for hours, losing himself in thought. Often, as he did so, he would imagine living a different life. A life where he was not a lowly clown, but the star of the show, the headliner. He dreamt of awe and applause instead of pity and laughter. But mostly he thought about Ophelia. Ophelia was the trapeze girl. Every night, he watched her soar through the air as the audience gasped. She was so beautiful, so graceful, like a swallow on the wind.

He checked his watch, he would have to turn back soon. The evening show started at eight o’clock sharp, and Jean, the man who ran the circus, would be furious if he was late. Just as he was about to turn back, he came to a clearing in the woods, where the path he had been following, met three more. A cross roads is not in of itself an unusual sight, although one in a forest is highly irregular, but what he saw before him made him start. In the exact spot where the four paths met, stood a man. The man was unusually tall, at least six foot five estimated Oscar, and he was almost as wide again. He towered above Oscar’s five foot seven, slender frame, and was a formidable sight to behold. His neck was the same width as his square shaped head, and it stood upon two large shoulders. He had dark eyes, framed by purple bags, and his thin lips were curled into a sly smile. He wore an old fashioned grey tweed suit with a matching fedora which reminded Oscar of something his Grandfather would have worn when he was a child. All of these features were unusual enough alone, but combined with the fact that the man was staring straight at Oscar with those dark eyes of his, and that his hands were clasped in front of him, gave the overall appearance that he had been patiently waiting for Oscar to arrive. He found it all rather unnerving to say the least.

Oscar froze as he absorbed what he saw, and before his senses returned to him fully, he could think of nothing else to do apart from smile weakly at the stranger, and make an inane remark like, “Nice evening for a walk.” The man made no reply, and instead continued to stare. Oscar began to feel incredibly awkward about the whole situation. He wanted to leave, but felt it would be rude to simply walk away without further conversation, and if there was one thing Oscar loathed, it was rudeness. Again, he tried to make polite conversation.

“I’m here with the circus, you may have seen the posters around town?” Silence followed.

“I find a walk in the evening really clears ones head. Do you agree?” Again, his remark was only met with further silence. Oscar found himself beginning to feel rather irritated by the whole experience. The man was being incredibly rude, not to mention unfriendly, but given his stature, Oscar thought it best to not voice this opinion, and to simply end the conversation and hurry back to the tent. He opened his mouth to say something along the lines of, “Well, have a good evening.” when the man pulled out a letter and thrust it toward Oscar. In normal circumstances, as with the Christians handing out their doomsday leaflets on street corners, he would simply say a polite, “No thank you.” and walk away. However, these were not normal circumstances, and this was no ordinary piece of paper, for clearly marked on the envelope, in blood red writing was a name, his name in fact, Oscar Thorpe.

This was unusual for two reasons, the first being that, as we have already established, this man was a stranger to him, and therefore would have no knowledge of his name. But secondly, Thorpe was his father’s name, the name given to him at birth and the name which adorns his birth certificate. It is not, however, the name he goes by. Indeed, he had ceased to use that name at the age of sixteen years old when his Father abruptly left, and within a matter of months his poor mother had died of a broken heart. Since that year, he had used his Mother’s maiden name of Sheridan, and he knew not of a single living soul who knew of his true, legal name.

He hesitated until curiosity got the better of him, and he took the envelope from the silent man. He examined it carefully. The envelope was of thick quality paper, and had been sealed with a red wax seal depicting what appeared to be a pitchfork or trident. The writing on the front was slanted heavily to one side and appeared to have been written in haste. It had a faint odour which Oscar could not place.

“What is this?” The man made no reply, and instead gestured towards the envelope.

“Who gave you this? Why do you know my name?” Again, the man said nothing, and simply gestured towards the envelope in response to Oscar’s questions.

A dozen questions sat on the tip of his tongue, but he thought better of asking them. He hoped the answers would perhaps lie within, and besides, he could already guess the response he would receive from this tall man, and they would not be satisfactory.

He opened the envelope carefully, and removed the paper from within. Unfolding it, he attempted to guess its contents, but drew a blank. Whatever it was, he had a strange feeling it would change his life forever. Written in the same blood red ink, in the same slanted, hurried handwriting, was the following letter:

Dearest Oscar,

I understand that this situation may be highly irregular, but I beg of you to please read this letter with an open mind. Trust me when I say, it will be to your advantage to do so. I also have no doubt that you have many questions, and I will do my very best to answer them all for you here. First, an introduction. The gentleman who has provided this note to you is a colleague of mine, and a dear friend. He has no name of his own, but I call him Servus. He says very little, but sees all. He will take your response to the proposal put forth in this letter, should you wish to convey one. He is extremely loyal, and very trustworthy, traits which are so lacking in today’s world.

I myself have many names, some good, some bad. I prefer to simply be called Luc. I have developed a reputation of being an untrustworthy man, but all I do is offer those desperate souls what they yearn for. I ask you, is getting exactly what one wants such a terrible thing? But, I get ahead of myself.

Please know that everything contained within this letter is nothing but the truth. I offer no empty promises and I am a man of my word. And to show you that this is not some prank, I will prove to you that I know many things, not least of all, your greatest desire. How do I know your true name you ask? I know many things. I know that you were christened this name, but that you chose another in anger and grief. Perhaps this information is not so spectacular alone. After all, it would not be impossible for one to find out, should they be determined enough. Improbable, but not impossible. But I know more than any man could. I know that you are the reason your father left. That, after discovering his second life, his second family, you had presented him with an ultimatum: Them or us. I know that, after he chose them, you hid the truth from your Mother in some vain hope of sparing her feelings, but instead the lack of knowledge drove her mad with grief, and she died within the year. I know that you blamed your father for her death, and yourself more so, and I know that after too many drinks and a building up of hurt and pain, in a fit of rage, you threw a burning bottle through the window of your ex-father’s new home, and while his worthless life and that of his new wife, were spared, their unborn babe was lost. I know that out of remorse, as well as the fear of being found out, you ran and joined the circus, choosing an empty nomadic existence as penitence for your crime. This I know, along with all the other sad chapters of your life so far. How you ask? Because I see all sin, because I know all sinful men, and because I bear the weight of those sins alongside them.

It doesn’t have to be this way Oscar. You have served your time, and then some. After all these years of making people laugh, don’t you deserve some happiness of your own? Don’t you deserve to know love? The love of Ophelia. She is what your heart desires above all else is she not? I can make her see you for the first time, more than that, I can make her admire you, to see you as the strong, brave man you truly are. I can make them all see you. You have spent too long in the shadows Oscar. I can bring you into the spot light. I can make you the star of the show, but more importantly, I can make you the star of your own life after years of playing the bit part. You can be the man your Father failed to be. You can be who you were destined to be. I can do this and more Oscar, so much more.

All I ask in return, is your unwavering loyalty. Surrender yourself to me, completely, and I will give you exactly what you deserve, and everything you ask of me will be yours. I know this seems a heavy price to pay, but your payment would only be due in death, and in the mean time, you have everything you want in life. Why worry about later right now?

I understand that this is a difficult decision, and I do not wish to rush you, just know that this is a one time offer. Refuse now, and you will never have this opportunity again.

I Look forward to your response,

Yours Faithfully,

Luc

P.S. Simply give your answer to Servus, in writing, I will do the rest.

He read the letter several times, and pondered its contents in disbelief. The information within was known to no other man, no human man anyway. Could this really be something supernatural? Could this truly be, as he suspected, the work of the Devil? Oscar was not a God fearing man, and he had given up on religion many years before. In fact, he had not believed in the devil until this very moment, for despite racking his brains, he could find no other explanation for what was happening now. So if this was indeed a real offer, as Oscar now suspected it was, the question is should he accept? One’s soul is a heavy price to pay for anything, no matter how spectacular and yearned for that thing may be. But, as the letter stated, he had a long life ahead of him, after all he was only thirty years old, and had just recently received a clean bill of health from a Doctor. Was a lifetime of happiness and joy worth later servitude? Oscar reckoned it was. Ophelia was worth that plus so much more. He imagined how joyful his life would be with her. Perhaps they could leave the circus soon, and start a family, or perhaps their children could follow in their foot steps and travel the world, performing their feats for all to see. He had loved Ophelia from afar for so long now, desperate to hold her, to kiss her. This could be his chance. And then there was the idea of being the star for once. He had been humiliated and tread on for most of his life, and for years he had endured this embarrassment so publicly. He had accepted this fate readily at first, after all, he deserved to be punished for his crimes. But had he not suffered enough? After more than a decade of shovelling elephant waste and being the butt of every joke, maybe he had served his time. This could be his chance to finally feel the warm glow of the spot light on his face, and to be the star of the show for once in his pathetic life. Yes, he could see it now, he could feel the rumble of the applause, he could feel the soft brush of Ophelia’s lips on his.

He checked his watch again. It was almost seven thirty now, and he really had to get back. Was he really doing this? Was this really happening? Just as he seemed to make up his mind, the stranger pulled an ornate black and gold fountain pen from his inside pocket, and handed it to him. “Do I just sign the letter?” The tall man nodded, and without further thought, Oscar signed his name on the reverse of the page in the same blood red ink as it’s original author. Before the ink could dry, the stranger pulled the pen and the letter from Oscar’s hands and put them inside the same pocket. Oscar had so many questions. Would it work immediately? How would it happen? Was there some kind of magic words he needed to say or some kind of ritual he needed to perform? But he had no time left, and could no longer stand the silence of this mammoth’s responses.

He turned the way he came, and after a few steps, looked back to discover the man was no longer there, and he was once more alone in these woods.

He ran through the trees, scratching himself on several protruding branches as he did so. He cursed out loud as one particularly thorny vine drew blood. If he was indeed going to receive his dream come true, this was a lousy way to start it. He made it to the tent with only ten minutes until show time, but instead of being met by the hardened, angry face of Jean, he was embraced warmly.

“Oscar, thank God, just the man I was looking for. I was starting to worry about you.”

“You were?”

“Of course I was! Ten minutes until curtain up, and my leading man was nowhere to be seen. I nearly sent out a search party.”

“Your leading man?”

“Indeed, my number one, my shining light, the star of the show.”

Silent man pic

With that, Jean gestured behind Oscar, who turned to see a huge painted, fabric poster, the size of a house, depicting him, Oscar Sheridan, as ‘The Magnificent Oscar, Ring Leader, Lion Tamer, Star.’ He had never looked that handsome in real life. His skin glowed, and the top hat and tails he wore made him look rather dashing, even if he did say so himself. In his hand he held a leather whip, and just behind him, a lion cowered in fear at his might. It was better than anything he could have imagined.

“You should go and get dressed. The clowns will be on first, then the trapeze artists, and then you.”

Oscar nodded, still staring in disbelief, and began to walk towards his tent.

“Where are you going?”

“To get changed like you said.”

“Yes, but why are you going that way? That’s where the minor players and freaks camp, your trailer is that way.”

Oscar didn’t know what to say, and simply nodded dumbly, walking in the direction of Jean’s outstretched arm. He had walked around fifty metres, when he came to a large silver trailer with ‘The Great Oscar’ painted on a yellow wooden star on the door. Slowly, he opened the door and stepped inside. As far as circus digs went, this was the crème de la crème of accommodation. He was used to sleeping bags on the ground and leaking tents. Compared to that, this was a palace. The unit was divided into three sections, a small seating area at the front, a cooking area and a double bed at the back. In the middle, there stood a dressing table strewn with makeup brushes and eye pencils. The Mirror above it was surrounded by bulbs glowing a warm yellow hew, and taped along one side of it was newspaper clippings showing Oscar smiling out under various headlines: “The Great Oscar wows Town Mayor”, “Oscar the Great is awarded the key to the City”, “Oscar Sheridan breaks world record.” A clothes rack stood to his right, and a dozen costumes hung there. The detailing on each sparkled as he swiped his hand along them all, enjoying the richness of the fabric against his shaking hands. Then he spotted it, obscured by a black satin top hat, sat a black and white framed photograph of his beautiful Ophelia. It was one of her head shots, and she stared seductively over her bare shoulder at the camera. In black ink, handwritten in the right hand corner, were the words ‘To my dearest Oscar, Forever Yours, Love Ophelia xx.’ It was all too good to be true. He pinched himself, and with the sharp pain confirming that he was in fact awake, he started to cry tears of joy. It had worked. It had really worked.

A sharp knock at the door jolted him back to reality.

“Ten minutes until show time Mr Sheridan.”

He sat in front of the mirror and applied some make up. He was used to slathering on cheap white creams, and red waxy makeup, but this enhanced his features rather than obscured them. By the time he was done, and his costume put on (He had chosen a white sequin jacket and black top hat and trousers), he truly did look like Oscar the Great.

He made his way towards the tent, and could arrived just as the trapeze artists were performing their final, and most dangerous trick. Ophelia removed her safety wire, and having swung as high as the tent would allow, she would fly through the air and somersault not once, but twice, before her brother Renee caught her. The audience would scream and gasp. On more than one occasion, someone had fainted. But Ophelia never fell. She couldn’t fall. She only flew; a swallow on the wind.

The audience burst into rapturous applause and Ophelia and Renee took their bows now they had returned safely to the ground. Jean went out into the ring and began to banter with the audience, he would always tell a few jokes before introducing the next act, and the two gravity defying stars walked towards Oscar at the side of the ring. Oscar could not take his eyes off her. She was so stunning, and the spot lights behind her, gave her an almost angelic quality. As she passed him, she grabbed him suddenly by the neck and kissed him hard. He went rigid for a moment, sheer surprise and shock overriding every other sense, before they finally returned to him, and seizing the moment, a moment he had only ever dreamt about before this night, he grabbed her by the waist and pulled her close to him, returning her kiss and breathing her scent in deeply. She smelled like apricots, and she tasted even sweeter. It was better than he could have ever imagined.

After what felt like an eternity, she pulled away, and smiled up at him adoringly.

“Knock them dead my love.”

She then skipped off, twice looking back at him and smiling the sweetest of smiles just for him. Before this, she had barely made eye contact with him, and in fact had only spoken to him on three occasions since joining their circus two years prior: “Bring me a drink clown”, “Move out of the way” and ‘Stop staring at me freak.” He had saved each word in his memories, believing any contact with her to be precious. Now, she kissed him fondly and called him her love. Now, after all the fantasies and imaginary scenarios played out in his mind, she was finally his. He felt as if his heart would burst. Surely, it could not get any better than this?

“And now, the moment you have all been waiting for. The star of the show, the bravest man in the western world, the man you all came here to see, the one, the only, Oscar the Great.”

The applause was deafening. People screamed until they were hoarse, several young girls fainted with excitement, and the entire audience, every man, woman and child, stood as he entered the ring. The audience barely noticed him before, now they gave him a standing ovation. This was everything he had ever wished for, and more. Jean handed him the leather whip, and walked backwards out of the ring, clapping Oscar as he went.

He stood a moment, basking in the warm glow of the spot light, and with closed eyes, absorbed every clap, every yell echoing around the tent. Then he raised his left hand and immediately the audience became silent. Even on the saw dust floor, you could have heard a pin drop. He couldn’t believe how receptive they were to him, “They’re eating out of the palm of my hand!” He bowed to them, and the applause erupted once more, before another raise of his hand brought them to silence. It was then he knew what it felt like to be a star amongst men, it was then he knew what it felt like to be truly happy. He wished it would never end.

In fact, he was so absorbed in this moment of sheer bliss, that he had failed to notice the two stage hands roll out the cage containing a rather large, and rather angry looking lion. There are places where a wild animal can be happy in captivity. A travelling circus was not one of them. By the time he heard the snarling roar behind him, it was too late. The beast sank it’s fangs into Oscar’s throat, pulling him to the ground. He could feel warm wetness spreading across his chest, and watched the shining white sequins turn red and dull. He felt pain for only a moment, before he began to feel nothing but cold. It was a coldness like none he had ever felt before, and it sent a shiver up his spine. He could hear screaming all around him, but this was not like the enraptured applause of before, no, these screams were filled with horror and fear.

He could feel himself slipping away, the images around him becoming black and fuzzy. The last thing he saw was a very tall man in a grey tweed suit and matching fedora, holding a piece of paper with something scrawled across it in blood red ink. Written in ink that now matched his jacket. It was a name. It was his name. It was his soul.

Flash Fiction.

This evening’s blog is about, you’ve guessed it, flash fiction.  For those of you not familiar with the term, it’s a short story with a restrictive word allowance.  You can get 50 word pieces, the aptly named ‘twitterature’ (140 characters) or even the notorious 6 word story, but for my attempt, I have gone for a 100 word piece.

It might sound easy, 100 words, after all you sometimes send more in a text message, but it’s actually insanely difficult to tell a story with so few words.  What makes it even more difficult, is the fact that it has to be 100 words exactly…no more, no less.  I’ve never tried any before, but I thought, given how busy I have been lately (Don’t ask) it would be the perfect thing to write for this evening’s post.  I have also put a ‘twitterature’ story on my twitter feed, and I encourage you all to tweet me your own!

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Dead End

It was a dead end! She slammed the wall with her fist in frustration. It was right behind her, she could hear it’s heavy breathing and thumping foot steps growing closer. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. These things had taken everything from her, she had nothing left anyway. She decided, if she was going to die, she would die fighting.

It stopped when it saw her, not cowering or begging, but standing firm, fists clenched, eyes like fire. None of them had ever done this before. Maybe ,this one was different. Maybe, this one was worth saving.

 

 

 

Inspired Part 5

For this part of the series, I have again collaborated with the photographer David Kennedy.  As before, he has given me a picture, this time an abandoned theme park castle, and I have written a story inspired by it.  It’s my twisted version of a fairy tale.  This is the last of the pictures David gave me, and we have no immediate plans to collaborate again, so if you love his work and would like to see more, you can check him out on Instagram as @grey.lord.  If you are a creative person or artist and would like to collaborate with me, get in touch!  Happy Easter, and enjoy…

dave kennedy 3

Happy unending

Once upon a time is a very cliched and overused beginning to a fairy tale story. But since this is a fairy tale of sorts, or more precisely, an un-fairy tale, it is the best way to begin, or un-begin in this case. Once upon a time, there was a princess. She was a woman of exceptional beauty, with allure the likes of which, are rarely seen. It was said, that the princess was so attractive, that one would fall instantly in love, should they behold even her mere reflection. However, it was also said, that this overwhelming beauty, hid a very dark secret; that the brave souls who dared to venture into her castle, were never seen or heard from again. Over time, suitors decreased. Perhaps, because of the rumours, or perhaps because after years of disappearing men and women, there were few left.

And so, over time, the castle became overgrown by the surrounding forest, and the once white walls turned grey and cracked with age and neglect. The castle, and its single inhabitant, became a story to scare children, a fable, a whisper on the wind, and eventually, forgotten.

Prince Edward was a very handsome prince. Unfortunately, he was also a very spoiled and selfish Prince. He always wanted the very best of everything, and when his frivolous demands were not met to his satisfaction, he would throw tantrums tantamount to none, and have staff beaten for as little as not bowing low enough, or for his tea being too hot. His parents indulged him, as he was their only child, but even they had grown weary of his terrible attitude and childish behaviour. They had given him everything he had ever asked for, and now, they paid for it dearly. When he became of age for a wife, they were distraught, as he was so fussy about everything, that no maiden in their kingdom, or any other, was attractive enough. He dismissed them one after the other, because their hair was too shiny or too dull, they were too short or too tall, their eyes were the wrong colour, as he preferred blue, but the ones with blue eyes had the wrong shade of blue and so on and so forth. He strutted around like a peacock, constantly preening himself, and even polished the gold pendant he wore around his neck to create a mirror on one side, so he could stare at himself any time, any place. No woman could be worthy.

The King and Queen began to fear they would never have Grandchildren, and that the kingdom would be without a Queen, when an old book came into their possession. It contained a map to a castle, long forgotten, and described a treasure beyond wealth, a Princess whose beauty overshadowed all around her. And so, they sent their son, along with their bravest and best knights, to find this castle, and locate their future daughter in law. With a little luck, she would meet his ridiculously high demands, and at the very least, it would get him out of their hair for a while.

It took the knights seven days and seven nights to locate the castle, now entwined by barbs and branches, and hidden deep within a dark and eery forest. Although, it had felt like a lot longer, with the Prince complaining and whinging the entire time. When they located it, the bravest knight, and the head of the imperial army, chopped his way through the thick growth, slicing and cutting a path with his sword. He entered the castle, intending to scout for and remove any dangers within. But after many hours, he had still not returned.

The second bravest knight, took the same path, and entered through the heavy wooden door. Again, hours passed, but he never returned. The other knights, fearing for their comrades, were torn. They wanted to rescue them from whatever danger lay within, but they had also taken an oath to protect the Prince. One by one, the bravest of the remaining men entered the castle, asking the knight behind them to look after the Prince, until only the stable boy and the Prince remained. Two days had passed since the last knight had entered and failed to return, and the stable boy was sick of taking the brunt of the Prince’s selfish wrath, so, when the Prince was asleep, he took all the horses, planning to sell them and start a new life, and he swiftly buggered off.

When the Prince awoke, to find himself alone, with no knights, no horses and no stable boy, he was incensed with rage and despair. After throwing the worlds biggest hissy fit he came to the conclusion that, since he was not a trained soldier or an experienced woodsman, he had no choice really, but to enter the castle himself and locate his other men, or at least, find shelter.

The door was massive and heavy, and creaked as he pulled it open, revealing a world as dark as the forest outside. He crept inside slowly, trying not to make noise with his footsteps, terrified about what he would find. The only light, was the narrow beam which escaped from the gap of a door ajar. It created a path from almost exactly where he stood, across the chequered marble floor, to the room from which it emanated. Slowly, he made his way towards it, the light growing brighter with every step. The door opened without any application of force, as if it was expecting him.

The room inside had the same chequered floor. The walls were covered in heavy velvet curtains. Once, they would have been red and grand, but now, they had faded to a burnt, dirty orange. Cobwebs turned patches even paler, and moths had devoured whole sections, giving the impression that the cobwebs were all that held them together. A chandelier hung from the centre of the ceiling. Once gold, and shining, it was now brass, and spiders had made it their home too. The ceiling was cracked and crumbling, and the plaster moulded cherubs donning each corner, had lost wings, and even faces. They looked horrid, disfigured. The light was coming from the fire place, where a large fire burned and crackled. Grey and black dust coated every surface, almost like snow.

At one end of the room, he noticed a pile of objects, what, he could not tell. When he got closer, he realised they were shields and swords, chain mail armour and boot buckles. Some were new, and shone in the dim light, others were old and beginning to rust and degrade. He kicked over one of the shields, and discovered a red bear, the symbol of his own kingdom. A sinking feeling spread throughout his body as he realised they were dead, his men, his bravest knights. He did not mourn their loss, after all, they were just the help. He feared what had taken them, and what it would do to him.

“Hello my Prince.”

He froze, as he felt every hair on the back of his neck stand up. The voice had come from behind him, back towards the door. It was a sweet voice, a woman’s voice. Could this be the thing that took his men? He turned slowly, and was utterly amazed by what he saw. A woman, the beauty of which surpassed all others, stood before him. Her hair was long and the colour of spun gold. It shone, even in this dull light. Her skin was pale and perfect, and her eyes were the colour of the sky. She had pink, plump lips, which invited a kiss, and she smiled sweetly at him. She was slender, but curved in all of the right places, her body rising and falling like the hills which surrounded his kingdom. She was breathtaking. Suddenly, all thought of his men, and fear for himself dissolved as he took her in. Finally, he had found a woman worthy of his affections.

“My Lady, I, I…”

For the first time in his life, he was speechless. He stood, rooted to the spot, wide eyed and gaping.

“My Prince, I have waited for you for so long.”

“You have?”

“Of course. Only you are handsome and smart and brave enough to have my hand.”

He grinned from ear to ear. Not only was she beautiful, but she was obviously intelligent, perceptive, and a woman of exceptional tastes.

“Come to me my Prince.”

Without thinking, he shuffled towards her, but a thought niggled at the back of his brain. Something about shields? His crest? He couldn’t remember, every thought now absorbed by the splendour which now stood before him. It was as if a song played in his head, so quiet, it could barely be heard. A humming of something familiar and comforting.

When he reached her, she took his hands, and placed them around her waist. She smelled like freshly baked bread, and his mother’s rose perfume and every other smell he had ever loved, rolled into one. She was warm to his touch and he could feel her body moving as she breathed him in in return.

“Kiss me my prince.”

Without any hesitation, he softly placed his lips against hers. They felt like the finest silk, and tasted like honey. He felt a warmth spread from her through his body, like an electric current. It hummed the same way the tune did, the same pitch and tone, the same vibrations. He could feel every part of him vibrating gently, and for that moment he knew true happiness.

But then, the humming began to increase in intensity, at first becoming irritating, before it became painful. Soon, it felt as if thousands of volts were passing through him, and the heat, once warm and comforting, also increased, burning him from his core, outwards. He tried to pull away from her, but he could not move, he could not scream. It felt like lightening now, striking him over and over again. The pain was excruciating He could not speak, but in his mind, he begged her to stop, to release him, to let him go.

“You’re mine now. You will never leave this place. You will sustain me, you will feed me, you will become me.”

The voice echoed inside his mind, not sweet and feminine as before, but deep and bellowing. He began to feel fire spreading from inside his body, outwards, clawing and tearing at his nerves, shredding his flesh. He could see them now, the orange flames, engulfing his body, yet she remained unchanged, untouched. His nerves, now singed beyond use, lost all sensation, so the pain, in one sudden motion, stopped. He could no longer feel his body, but he remained trapped inside it, staring out at her closed eyes, her puckered, pink, perfect lips. As he watched her, he became aware of ash beginning to fill the air, and cover the curtains and floor in a light, grey dust. He knew it was him, that the ash was his body, disintegrating before his eyes. He was crumbling into nothing. He was dying.

The princess smiled with satisfaction. After such a long famine, she had had such a feast. Contented and fat, she vanished to the world beyond this world, awaiting her next prey. The ash settled over everything, the fire slowly died, and large gold pendant, mirrored pendant was added to the pile in the corner.

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.