Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Ashes to Ashes.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Ashes to Ashes.

Hello Readers and happy Monday! It is the beginning of Halloween week and to get you into the spooky spirit, I have collaborated with an incredibly talented artist, Giada Rose. Giada Rose is a Kentucky-based illustrator and designer interested in the gossamer threads that stretch between magic, nature, femininity, and art. Her work is infused with a longing for the old ways and a love of the seasons, mythology, historical customs, tarot, and folklore. She particularly enjoys fairytales from around the world, and strives with her paintings to create a portal into stillness and a tinge of nostalgia for a magical place and a bygone time. Working primarily with watercolours, she has illustrated several children’s books and is currently creating an illustrated Victorian-style advice manual of fairytale etiquette. I was inspired by the charming, magical quality of her work and this story was the result. She in turn created this stunning image to bring the witchy tale to life. If you like Giada Rose’s work, you can check out more on her Instagram here, her website here and you can purchase prints from her Etsy shop here. Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with all my latest posts. I have also started my own spooky book tube, which you can find here. Happy Halloween guys!

Ashes to Ashes

T’was a year ago this day when they came for mother. They turned the door to splinters and dragged her out by her arms like she was nought but a doll. ‘WITCH’ they screamed in unison. ‘WITCH.’ They had the wood all cut and neatly stacked and once she was tied atop, they set it alight and turned her to ash. I shed no tears. My mother told me not to. She knew they would come, had hoped it in fact, for death is something we Roberts women do not fear. Her last words were a curse upon their heads, a warning of the death and darkness to come as punishment for their cruel treatment of the women of this town. Innocent women, some were healers who simply remembered the old ways, but many were merely strange or unusual in some way, off from the norm. No crimes had been committed, no one hurt or changed for the worse, they were just the unfortunate ones, unlucky enough to be different. There had been a dozen or so such burnings since I could remember and I was still young, yet, only now had they actually got hold of a witch.

Ashes to Ashes

God’s work, that’s what they called it. But what God would demand such pain and blood shed? None that I prescribe to. My mother taught me the old ways, the ways of mother nature and the balance of the universe. All we give we get back in return, that is the way of it. These God-fearing men with hate in their eyes and rage in their bellies, they were racking up quite a debt and when their time came to pay the piper, it would be a bad, yessir. It would be bad.

I can still hear my mother’s words, as the flames licked her toes, and her face blackened with the soot: “Hear these words men and hear them true, for you have burned your last. The fire next, comes for you.” It was hard to lose her, even though she prepared me so, but I feel her with me in the quiet of the woods and the call of the morning birds. She watches over and waits for my time to join her in the afters.

But today is not my time, no, today is theirs. A year has passed since her spell and the men and women of this township continue to sprout their hatred and bigotry. They have had their chance to seek redemption but none believe themselves wrong, such arrogance. I stood in the court house myself, chains around my hands and ankles, accused of speaking with the Devil, accused of being a witch. My crime? Rejecting a man’s advances. But, this was to come to pass, the prophecy had told so hadn’t it mother?

The town leader, appointed judge, jury and executioner, stares at me with black eyes and asks my plea. I smile then, it unnerves him, I see it. He places the black cloth upon his wig and declares me guilty, my sentence being to burn just like my mother and the other witches before me. I say nothing, I simply smile. No words are required, my mother said enough already.

They march me out and tie me up just like they did her. T’is the same spot and everything, the singed black earth has never recovered since that first burning. Nothing grows here now. They ask for my last words, torches held aloft and I just smile my smile waiting for the flames. They set the torches against the wood, but instead of it catching fire, they do. The flames move up their arms and spread so quickly and burn so brightly I must look away. Those without torches, those who simply came to watch the show, they scream now, running and fleeing like ants in heavy rain. But no one can escape their fates. Their fires burn bright within their chests, light shining out their mouths before it consumes them to. I

close my eyes, the brightness, the smoke, t’is too much for me. I fear it will never end, the screaming, the burning, the heat. But soon, all is quiet.

I open my eyes again, the chains which bound me have broken and I stumble down the wood pile to be met by statues of ash and soot. Dozens of women and men all frozen in their death throes, their bodies turned from flesh to ash. I touch one, t’is Tobius, the black smith, and when I do he falls apart turned only to dust. I feel a wind pick up now, an unnatural wind like nought I have felt before and watch as each statue is blown away, high into a sky, a grey cloud of ash now, coming together, disappearing higher and higher into the sky. I fancy I see my mother a moment amongst that grey wind, along with all the other women I seen burnt. They are smiling. They seem at peace. Within minutes, all have gone and I am left alone in a ghost town.

I pack my bags, taking only what I need and I walk away. This place is too full of bloodshed and heartache to ever be made home again. As I go, I carve a warning into a tree: CROATOAN. It means ‘cursed land’ and will serve as caution to those who may decide to settle here once more.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Sleepless Beauty.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Sleepless Beauty.

Hey gang! Hope you have been keeping well.  Apologies for the gap in blog posts, but I have been working on something super exciting…my very own Youtube channel! It will be much like my blog, lots of bookish fun and general nerdiness and I would love it if you coule drop by, check it out and subscribe.  It goes live Monday 21st October 2019 at 8pm- there will be a live countdown on my Instagram. I am so excited and nervous to be starting this next chapter of my life online and I would love if I had some old friends along for the journey. Anyway, back to tonight’s post. In my latest artist collaboration, I have collaborated with the incredibly talented Cat Mallard.  Cat creates beautiful magical illustrations which remind me of fairy tales and far off lands. Her folksy style evokes a sense of nostalgia and comfort and is perfect at bringing to life stories and characters so I was honoured when she agreed to collaborate with me. As I said, her style reminded me of fairy tales but just like me, Cat has a dark edge and loves all things spooky and macabre so when I sat down to write the story for the collaboration, I was inspired to create a dark twist on a well know and beloved story, that of sleeping beauty. The image she created is stunning and perfectly evokes the story. On a side note, each of those little dots were done one at a time by Cat, she is so dedicated to her work that I am in awe (I will show you some close ups so you can see what I mean). I hope you like it! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and if you are an artist and would like to collaborate, please get in touch! For now, happy reading….

Sleepless Beauty

Fairy tales are stories told and retold again and again, passed down through generations, known throughout the world, universal and recognisable.  Stories of girls losing glass slippers and eating poisonous apples, of frog princes and magic kisses, of once upon a times and happily ever afters.  But what if the stories you know and love were in fact true, and what if, they were wrong.  Like Chinese whispers, with each telling, with every piece of information passed along, it morphed and changed, transforming into something more palatable to the audience, something more pleasant than the truth.

catmallard collabShe was a princess of exceptional beauty amongst a dark and thorny kingdom.  A diamond amongst stones.  She was kind, and good to her people and in turn, they adored her.  She was a beacon of hope in their difficult lives.  But sadly, unbeknownst to her, she was also cursed from birth, for her Father in his foolish youth, had begged the help of a local witch when crops failed and families starved.  She had granted his wish for a good harvest and the safety of his long-suffering people, but in exchange, she asked for his first-born child.  Desperate and out of options, he reluctantly agreed, and now, as Aria’s sixteenth birthday approached, and she blossomed into a woman, he knew the witch would come for her prize.

The witch was a collector of sorts.  She would encourage the brightest and most beautiful to grow and to thrive into happy souls, before striking them down in their prime, entombing them in a curse of her own creation.  Their suffering and sorrow, fed and enriched her.  That is how she stayed young after so many years on this earth.  Aria was the brightest and most beautiful of all the souls and would sustain her for decades to come.  So, it was with wetted lips and the tremble of anticipation that she approached the castle on the eve of the child’s sixteenth birthday.

The king begged of course.  He bribed, and blackmailed and threatened and finally broke into weeping, as the realisation of defeat sank in.  The witch remained stony faced and unflinching.  No earthly gold or shining trinket could ever be worth the price of such a rare and desirable soul.  When she had had her fill of his sobbing, she banged her staff against the marble floor, demanding silence.

“You made a deal King.  You got your food and your people prospered, but now it’s time to pay.  Nothing comes in this world for free.”

“Please, I beg of you…take me instead.”

She scoffed, an impatient smile sat on her thin lips.

“Your soul is worthless to me.  I want what’s owed.  The bond of contract cannot be close up cat 2broken King, this you well know.”

He knew it to be true, and so, with a heavy heart and overwhelming regret, he sent his daughter to the witch.  That evening, unable to live with what he had done, nor without his darling Aria, he threw himself from the battlements onto the stones below.  The people wept in waves that day, for they had lost their king and their beloved princess all at once.

Aria tried to be brave, but fear overwhelmed her, and silent tears fell as she walked through the woods to the witch’s cabin.  She did not hate her father.  She understood why he had done what he did so many years before her birth, and she knew that by doing it, he had saved the lives of countless people, and indeed the children they were then able to bring into the world, but still, she felt the loss of her life, her home, with the grief and sorrow one would expect.

For her punishment, the witch, with whispered words and the flick of her tongue, cursed Aria to a life without rest.  No matter how weary or desperate she would become, she could never sleep, never dream, never rest.  She would walk the earth for a thousand years, slowly going mad from her waking nightmare.  It was a punishment worse than any she had dealt before, and one which would cause enough suffering to feed and fatten her like a hog.  The witch was pleased.  Aria wept.

Prince Theor, a friend and cousin to Aria, heard of her plight and the death of her father.  He rode for three days and three nights to get to her side and slay the witch.  Theor was an expert swordsman and a champion fighter.  He feared no man or beast, but the witch was more powerful than ever now she fed from Aria’s weeping breast.  The fight was short, and Theor was slain with his own sword.  One cut, straight to his heart, and his eyes never closed again.  Aria stood by, helpless and watched his blood turn the forest floor red.

“You fool.  I cannot be killed as long as she lives.  Through her pure soul, I am invincible.  For one thousand years, she will sustain me, and I will rule this land as my own.  You will know suffering like never before, and your begging and pleading and desperate tears will only make me stronger.”

Aria thought of her people, and the terrible future which lay before them.  Life in this harsh wilderness was already difficult, with harsh, frozen winters and dry, drought filled summers, but the people worked hard and looked after each other.  They had little, but they were grateful and never wanted for more.  Her heart broke at the thought of their sorrow.

close up catSuddenly, she was struck by a thought.  The witch had called her soul pure, in fact, she had stated for all to hear, that the purity of her soul was the very thing which made her so strong.  Perhaps, if she was to carry out an act of cruelty, for no other reason than to be cruel, it would blacken her heart and tarnish her soul just enough for the witch to lose her strength, for a moment would be all she needed.

When a woods man entered the clearing the next day, lost by the ever-moving trees and the thick thorns which had begun to grow since the witch claimed power over her, she seized the opportunity.

“I’m sorry.”

As he knelt with hurried hands to free her from her shackles, she hit him with a rock, and cleaved his skull in two.  Instantly, he was dead, and as soon as he breathed his last breath, the witch cried out as if in panic.  Aria knew it was now or never.  She scrambled for the hunter’s knife and plunged it into her chest just as the witch appeared from her home, eyes wide with fear.

“As long as I live, you are invincible.  And so, I die, so you may die too.”

Without a tormented soul to sustain her, the decades of stolen life began to catch up with her.  Her face aged and sagged, before it fell away as she became dust and bones.  The three bodies lay close together in the now silent woods, as thorns withered and trees rooted themselves once more, and sun shone behind clouds.

Her sacrifice, and that of her Prince cousin and the poor woodsman, did not go unmarked.  The people of the kingdom remembered them through stories, but over time, those stories have changed into something unrecognisable.  It is understandable why people would choose the alternate version, with a sleeping princess awoken by a kiss, and a witch slain with his mighty sword.  But that is not what happened, that is not the truth, and sadly, the truth is not rides into the sunset and happy ever afters.  It is blood and death and bones.

But, perhaps you prefer the edited version to the reality, it is for you to decide.  Do you choose an unhappy truth, or a happy lie?

 

 

 

Reflections: An Original Short Story & Collaboration with artist Caitlin McCarthy.

Reflections: An Original Short Story & Collaboration with artist Caitlin McCarthy.

Happy Hump day everyone!  For this evenings blog post, I had the privilege of collaborating with the incredibly talented Caitlin McCarthy.  I found Caitlin on Instagram and fell madly in love with her hauntingly beautiful drawings.  For those unfamiliar with my collaborative series, I write a story inspired by the artist’s body of work and the artist then in turn creates an image inspired by my story.  The idea is to inspire and be inspired, to get each others creativity flowing and push each other to create something outside our usual remit.  Caitlin’s work usually contains ethereal women and I was so inspired I found myself writing my story Reflections in mere moments.  If you want to see more of Caitlin’s art, you can visit her Etsy store here, where both originals and prints are available, or you can visit her Instagram here.  Leave Caitlin and I a comment to let us know what you think of our collaborative efforts and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with my latest posts.  Happy Reading lovelies!

Reflections

refelectionsI live in the world behind the mirrors.  I don’t know if it has a name or not, there is no one here to ask.  I call it the darkness, because that’s all there is here. I vaguely remember, as a child, fearing the dark.  Now, having experienced this place, I know it wasn’t the dark I feared, or what may hide within it, it was the loneliness and isolation it created.  In the darkness, you are alone with your own imagination and thoughts, like I am now.  I am a poor companion.

The only light comes from the rooms beyond the windows.  They are dotted around here and there, willy nilly.  I have tried to decipher a pattern or a logic to their locations, but there doesn’t seem to be one, not that I can see anyway.  Some are round, some are square, some are big and others are very small and would fit in the palm of your hand.  I thought at first they literally were windows into the next room, and I banged the glass for hours, screaming for help.  No one can ever hear me, or see me.  They see themselves in reverse, staring back at them, mimicking what they do.  I realised they were mirrors when I noticed what people did in their presence.  I watched women painting their puckered lips, curling their long hair, or I saw teenage boys squeezing spotty faces.  But this is not a movie, merely frames cut from the celluloid.  Once they leave the edge of my window, they disappear from view; their lives continue unwatched.

I don’t know how I got here, or where here is.  I have vague memories of living on the brighter side of the glass.  Their actions, bring back images, blurred and out of focus, of me curling my eyelashes with my tongue stuck out in concentration, or splashing water on my face or brushing gritted teeth.  I too stared at my reverse self.  There are no mirrors for me here.  I no longer know what I look like.  Am I the same?  I wish I could remember my name.  I think it began with an A, Alison?  Amy? Anna?

I have had time to think about why I may be here.  I have nothing but time to think.  Sometimes, I believe I am in a coma, trapped inside my own head.  Perhaps I suffered a head injury, and these windows, these reflections, are my mind’s way of trying to remember, to wake up.  But then, why would they be other people?  I know I can’t remember much, but I feel no pang of recognition for these people.  I will find objects familiar, like a dress worn by a tanned, smiling girl which I too remember wearing, spinning in front of myself, checking it’s fit.  But those sudden links to my past never occur when I stare at those faces.

Perhaps, I am insane or on drugs.  This is a hallucination, and the people are just random faces gathered by my subconscious on my journey through life, stored away in my memory for future use. But there are no breaks in the hallucinations, no disembodied voices of doctors or concerned relatives.  Perhaps, then, it is a dream?  Dreams have no sense of time, no linear lines of is and was. If it is a dream, it’s a nightmare. I wish I would wake up soon.

But, the theory which I give the most weight to, is that this place, the dark, is my hell.  My own personal hell.  Punishment for sins committed in my life on the other side of the glass.  I try hard to remember what I could have done to make myself worthy of such punishment, but I see nothing but the black.  Whatever I did, it must have been terrible.  This place is torture.

The only solace I have, the only break from the torture of my mind screaming, is the boy refelctions 2with the green eyes. I discovered his looking glass when I was feeling particularly alone.  He didn’t preen himself like a vein peacock, he would simply stare into, sad, forlorn.  I leaned down to the glass and placed my face so his eyes met mine.  Perhaps, he could see me.  He has dark brown hair, with pale freckled skin and he bites his lip when he concentrates on his homework or phone.

I watch him constantly now, afraid if I wonder around as before, I will lose his mirror.  There are after all no markers here, no discernible directions or landmarks.  Just the black.  I also want to see everything I can of him.  If I leave, I could miss one of my fleeting glances into his world.  I have decided his name is Marcus.  I don’t know why, he just looks like one.

It’s sounds pathetic, but even though he cannot see me, even though he is unaware of my existence, I feel less lonely when I am with him.  I wish he could come here with me, although when I do think this, I immediately reprimand myself.  This place is soul destroying, I shouldn’t wish it on anyone. But my heart yearns for company, a conversation, the feeling of another persons weight on me.  Things I took for granted in the before.

I pray.  I pray every day, to whatever may be listening, that my punishment, my nightmare will soon end.  And in the mean time, I watch.  I watch the lives I cannot live, and the people I cannot know, and the boy I cannot kiss.