Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Ashes to Ashes.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Ashes to Ashes.

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

Ashes to Ashes

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

Ashes to Ashes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Sleepless Beauty.

Original Short Story & Artist Collaboration: Sleepless Beauty.

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

Sleepless Beauty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Unboxing: The Victorian Horror Box from Wick Wish Candles.

Unboxing: The Victorian Horror Box from Wick Wish Candles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Deeds and Cameos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s your name my dear?”

“Adrestia.”

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

“How exotic.  I am Lord Walter Smith.”

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

“My Lord.”

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

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

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

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

“Oh Adrestia…”

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

“Call me a different name tonight.”

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

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

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

“P..P…Pl…”

“Please? Ha.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it dear?  Are you ok?”

“She’s fine.”

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

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

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

“Charmed.”

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

 

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

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

 

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.

Edwin The Black: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Happy Monday readers!  For this evening’s post, I have collaborated with an incredibly talented artist and super sweet person, Lauren Shepherd.  I first came across her incredible illustrations on her Instagram page and immediately fell in love.  Lauren is a motion graphics designer, illustrator and dachshund mom based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.  Her work features wildlife, wildflowers and bones and is both romantic and macabre…check her out and I bet you will love her work as much as me!  I wrote a short story inspired by her body of work and her unique style and she in turn created these stunning images inspired by my story.  I hope you enjoy it!  If you are an artist and would like to collaborate, get in touch and don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to keep up to date with my latest posts!  Happy Reading!

 

Edwin the Black

edwin 2Edwin watched the child with curious detachment.  They were such odd-looking creatures, all exposed, pink flesh pimpling at the slightest sign of cold.  They looked naked.  This one was female, and what little fur she possessed was a fiery red, like that of his fox friend Orla.  She was called Lana, for that is what the child’s mother had yelled when the imp had wondered too close to the edge of the forest.

Edwin sat above her in his evergreen, only the tuft of red hair visible as she turned in circles over and over until she fell, dizzy and unsteady on her feet.  He could not fathom the purpose of such an action, perhaps it was some form of mating ritual?  Regardless, the child seemed to have tired of her games, and now lay still amongst the fallen pine needles, the deep red of her hair vivid against the brown, dead forest floor.  Within minutes, her breathing steadied and her eyes closed, a peaceful look passing over her freckled face.

Curious as to these large, cumbersome creatures, which had encroached so much into his home, he decided to get a closer look.  His black wings reflected the afternoon sun, as he swooped down beside her tiny sleeping form.  He landed without making a sound, and all that was audible in that moment was the slow and steady breathing of the fleshy lump which now lay mere feet from him.

He walked slowly around her, his yellow eyes absorbing every detail.  He could see she was well fed, her flesh coating every limb in lumpy, pink flesh.  Her skin was paler than others he had seen, and her eyelashes were the same red as her hair, thin enough to seem almost transparent in the sun.  He knew she was a child, as the adults of her kind towered above her, carrying her here and there and showering praise on her when she did the most rudimentary things.  Edwin scoffed a short quiet squawk.  He could never understand their pride at their young ones doing, in a year or more, what creatures such as himself did in a matter of weeks, perhaps less. The adults of this species seemed to be very easily pleased.

There was so much about the humans which perplexed and at times, disgusted himself and his kin. They took more than they needed, and often left destruction in their wake, and more than once he had witnessed their kind hurting each other for no discernible reason.  Yes, his brothers and he killed, but it was for survival, for food.  The humans seemed to them to be so needlessly destructive.  Someday, it would surely be their end.

Suddenly, the child shifted, her chubby arm moving towards Edwin, startling him from his quiet contemplation.  He jumped backwards without thinking, and without warning, felt a sudden and painful tightness around his left leg.  Looking down, he saw a thin wire attached to a wooden stake in the earth, and he knew it was one of the human’s traps.  They didn’t hunt like animals, they used tools and weapons.  They cheated.

Panic clawed at his flesh just as much as the wire hands, and he began to desperately edwin 1flap his wings, trying to fly free of the vice like grip he found himself in, but each movement only seemed to tighten its hold on him, and he felt his flesh slice as his blood oozed free.  Frantic, he looked around him for something he could use to free himself, and instead saw two large brown eyes staring at him.  She was awake, the human child, his desperate squawks of fear and pain had made sure of that.  It would only be a moment before she raised a rock above her head and used it to crush his tiny skull.  His short life flashed before his eyes, his nest, his Mother and the squirming, fat earth worms she would bring him as a chick.  The first time he fell from the nest, fear of death being replaced by the freedom and exhilaration of his first flight.  He wished he had mated, settled down and sired some young, but it was too late for regrets now.

The child reached her hand towards him, and even at her young age, he could see how easily they could wrap themselves around his fragile body and simply squeeze.  He thought about fighting, about pecking and clawing and spilling a little blood in exchange for his own.  But, he knew this would only bring the adults, and they would bring with them an even worse death.  He cursed at himself for his stupidity, his arrogance at sitting so close to such a dangerous being, as he felt the hand move around him.

He waited there for the pain, and the darkness that would surely follow, and he waited, and nothing came. When he opened his eyes again, he saw her there still, her eyes wide and curious, studying him as he had studied her. She sat so still, her hands by her side, and in one he realised, sat the stake, the wire noose.  Confused, he looked down at his leg to find it free. He was free.  She had freed him.  But why?  Why would such a blundering creature care about some bird which fell prey to its trap? No doubt, he would make a meagre meal, but why trouble herself with helping him when she could have ignored his cries and left him for another predator of these woods?

Some moments passed, the two studying each other, before she smiled at him, her eyes bright and wide. He wished he could have smiled back, but beaks do not allow for such gestures, and so he simply bowed his head and hoped she would understand it as thanks.  Then he flew to the highest branch he could reach, thankful his wings were unharmed.  He heard a voice yell the child’s name, and she emerged from the trees into the clearing, waddling towards it with eager excitement.

He watched her walk away hand in hand with her mother, and he thought hard about the days events, the information swimming amongst the other information he had collated over his life time.  These humans, they were feared, they were violent and destructive, and yet, this one had saved his meagre life for no rhyme or reason.  She had showed him kindness and for that, he was filled with an emotion he had never before experienced; something akin to loyalty.

And so, he flew, high above the two red haired creatures, one grown, one young, and followed them home. He would watch the child, and he would protect her as she had protected him.  He would be her guardian, for he owed her his life, and all debts in nature must be repaid.  He was Edwin the black, and now he was protector of Lana the red.

Bejeweled: A Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Bejeweled: A Short Story & Artist Collaboration.

Hello my lovely readers!  For today’s blog post, I have collaborated with another amazing artist on a short story.  For those of you unfamiliar with this project, I have been teaming up wit artists and photographers from all over the world.  I write a story or poem inspired by their artistic style and body of work and they in turn create a piece inspired by that story.  The idea is to inspire and be inspired in return and so far it has had some wonderful results.  For this collaboration, I have teamed up with the lovely Tula Posy, a book illustrator and crafter from Poland.  Tula creates the most beautiful and unique images, which she sells as prints in her shop, along with badass book marks (all my fellow book worms will understand the importance of a pretty book mark).  If you love her quirky art as much as I do, you can check out her Instagram here and her Etsy store here.  I hope you enjoy it, happy reading…

Tula 3

Bejeweled

Magic is real.  There are many books and stories which declare this already in existence, but I am now adding my voice to theirs in order to emphasise the fact: Magic IS real.  On the most part, it is something you are born into, something you inherit like an old clock from that Great Aunt you hardly visited, or your Grandad’s rare coin collection.  But, on the occasion, magic can be something you stumble upon blindly and without any warning.  Magic can simply enter your life and cause chaos, before leaving just as abruptly and mysteriously.  But before we get into all of that, let me introduce myself.  My name is Eleanor.

Tula 1Before this little incident, I was just your average teenager.  I was anti-social, a little moody, or perhaps a lot moody, and I pretty much hated everything.  My school was simply a red bricked prison for the illiterate hockey jocks that filled its corridors with incessant noise and inane chatter.  My home was a veritable battle ground, with me versus my parents in a verbal smack down on an almost daily basis.  They couldn’t understand why I was so irritable all the time, or why I wouldn’t try out for the cheerleading team.  I couldn’t understand how spelling letters with your arms could be considered anything but a huge waste of time.  It was, in a word, exhausting.

The truth was, I hadn’t withdrawn from everyone because I woke up one day and decided I disliked every other human being on the planet intently, it was because I had all of a sudden and without explanation become painfully aware of myself and my own body, and I was constantly terrified of embarrassing myself.  I suddenly gave a crap what everyone else thought about me, and I hated that about myself.  I hated ME. I decided, it was better to withdraw and surrender, than to battle forth and risk humiliation.  So, I did just that.  I withdrew and became invisible.  I discovered that disappearing was a hidden talent of mine. I was an expert at blending into the background.

But on one stuffy, June day, that all changed forever.  It was a day like any other to begin with.  Wake up. Brush teeth.  Change clothes.  Catch bus to school.  Avoid eye contact with the popular kids with their tanned skin and overly white, bleached smiles as I make my way to the back, well you get the idea.  At lunch, there was to be a sale of sorts, to raise funds for new Basketball team uniforms, or for some extra footballs, or something along those lines, I really wasn’t paying attention.  There would be baked goods of all varieties, made lovingly by the cheerleading team, or more accurately their house keepers.  There was to be some kind of skit by said cheerleaders, to be avoided at all costs, the band were playing something and they were selling off everything from the vast and cobwebbed store room.

You know how every house has that one drawer filled with old batteries, foreign currency and Chinese takeout menus?  Well, this was the High School equivalent.  Everything and anything that was located within its walls, which had no designated place to go, was shoved in here to be forgotten.  There were old instruments, damaged text books, chairs with missing limbs, and the lost property cupboard, filled with every discarded school jersey or dropped hair tie.  I didn’t know what I expected to find, or if I expected to find anything at all, but I found myself excited by the prospect of this sale.  It would be, in my view, an opportunity to see the school from a different vantage point.  After all, what says more about the person than the garbage they throw away? It was a time capsule or fifty years’ worth of teenager’s junk, and I wanted to have a hoke and see what forgotten treasure I could find.

I regretted my decision to attend almost immediately.  Everyone in the school had crammed themselves into the sports hall.  It was too warm, claustrophobically crowded and smelled badly of BO.  But, I was there, so I might as well do what I went there for.  I passed the cake stand and paid one dollar for a cup cake with a large dollop of pink icing.  It was sickly sweet and made my teeth hurt whilst I ate it, but it gave me the necessary sugar buzz to carry on with my mission.  When the skit started (some God-awful footballer/cheerleader/basketball player love triangle which made me vomit a little bit of undigested cupcake back into my mouth), most of the school moved to the end of the hall with the makeshift stage, so I finally felt able to breathe.

When I made my way to the sad little lost property stand, marked by a banner reading Tula 2‘Crap for sale’, something immediately caught my eye.  Just there, underneath a very faded school PE t-shirt with yellow stained arm pits, and a tattered copy of a Biology text book, I saw something green catch the light for a moment.  A diamond in the rough, the very rough. It was a necklace, but one unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It was a black chain, with a single green stone hanging from it.  The stone was not polished or shaped but looked as it must have looked when it was dug from the earth, and a thin black snake coiled around the stone and became the loop at the top in which the chain threaded through. As it caught the light, it reflected a small green blur onto the table below.   It wasn’t beautiful exactly, just unusual and a little rough around the edges.  I immediately took a liking to it and paid the requested five dollars without argument.

Now, as you have guessed from my opening lines, this necklace was no ordinary trinket.  I don’t know how it came to be in the lost property box, or where it came from.  I don’t know how old it is, who it belonged to or why the owner never sought it out once it was lost.  So, if you are looking for the answers to these questions then you will be sorely disappointed.  What I can tell you, is what the necklace does.

The first time I wore it, I was home alone with my Dad, a man older in mind than in body, who shouted at sports on TV and insisted on wearing socks with his sandals no matter how many times he was told how unfashionable this was.

“Elly?”

My Dad calls me Elly. It bugs the Hell out of me and is the cause of many a fight.

“What?”

“Could you take the garbage out please?”

“But Dad…”

“No buts missy.  If you want your allowance, you’ll take out the garbage.  And don’t forget to sort the recyclables.”

“Eugh fine.”

This is a typical example of our exchanges.  Blunt, brief and usually involving me doing something I don’t want to do.  I walked, or should I say stomped, my way down the stairs and out into the garage to do the needful when he spoke again.

“I’ve gained at least twenty pounds.”

“What?”

“What?”

“Did you say something?”

“No, I didn’t.  Don’t try and wriggle out of garbage duty Missy.”

He called me Missy when he was in a bad mood.  This also irritated me greatly.  I was halfway across the kitchen now, closing in on the door to the garage when…

“Twenty pounds at least.  I can barely get my pants closed.  I’ve tried everything, weight lifting, dieting, even running but nothing, nada.  You’re old and fat Carl.  Old and fat.”

I had never heard my Dad talk like this before.  He mostly talked about work, or whatever team in whatever sport was playing at that time, but I had never heard him talk about himself or his appearance.  He sounded sad.  I decided he must be talking to himself, the way we all do when we feel a little low, so I snuck into the living room and hid behind the arm chair so I could listen.

“Keep going like this and Jen won’t look twice at you anymore. She’s so beautiful, she’s always been beautiful.  She could have had any man, but she chose me and my fat ass.”

Jen is my mum, and she is indeed beautiful in that older woman kind of way.  She has always eaten well, always drank plenty of water and worn sun screen, and so she aged gracefully.  But no matter how pretty your mum might be, you don’t want to hear your Dad gushing about it.  Parents fancying each other is gross.  I was about to sneak off again, when I my breath caught in my chest and my heart skipped at least three beats, because suddenly I realised as my Father continued on about his appearance and his concerns about my Mum not fancying him anymore (eugh), I realised his mouth wasn’t moving.  I checked and rechecked again and confirmed it.  He was NOT speaking.  No words were being shouted, spoken, whispered or otherwise uttered. But that’s impossible I hear you say, because I could hear him speaking as plainly as I speak to you now, but dear readers it was true.  For what I was hearing was not my Dad talking to himself, but the very thoughts inside his head.  In five minutes of hearing my Dad ‘s mind whirling, I learned more about him than I had done in sixteen years of living with the man.  I learned that he had been privately going to the gym with a personal trainer, how he had traded his old musky aftershave for a new one he had seen advertised by a twenty something hipster on TV in an effort to appear younger, and how he was considering dying his hair to hide the ever-growing number of greys.

My Dad had always seemed happy enough in himself, but apparently, he worried about his appearance just as much as his self-conscious teenage daughter.  This made me feel a connection with him for the first time since I had stopped wanting to play catch with him at six years old.

The truth was, my Dad looked great for his age, and much as I loathed to admit it, my mum was still pretty into him.  I wanted him to know this, to feel better about himself.  So after my garbage run, and mild freak out in my bedroom over my new found ability to read minds, I did just that.

“Have you lost weight Dad?”

“What? Have I?”

“Yeah, definitely.  I would say at least ten pounds.  You look good.”

“Ok, what do you want?”

“I don’t want anything, I just noticed that’s all.”

“Yes!  That PT finally paid off!” 

For the rest of the day, he walked with a distinct spring in his step, and I even saw him grab my Mum’s butt.  Yes, it made me vomit in my own mouth, and yes I will be telling a therapist about it for years to come, but it was nice to see him feeling more confident in himself.

After my little episode with my Father, I couldn’t wait to try the necklace out at school.  As someone on the outside, someone who was not privy to the thoughts and motivations of the inner echelon of High school popularity, it was an intriguing prospect to in a way know them, and perhaps understand them.  I felt like Jane Goodall, readying myself to study the apes.  But in truth, what met me was such a cacophony of noise, a mass of bodiless voices all yelling at once, it was basically white noise.  As I ripped the jewel from my throat, I could understand why someone never claimed the charm.  It seems the necklace has no filter.  There was no remote, no way to point at the person you wanted to read and press click, it was simply an antenna, picking up every signal within a 100 metre radius.  It was deafening.

Taking a different tact, I began to seek out opportunities to study my peers in isolation, or at least with as few of them around as possible.  As you can imagine, that was more difficult that initially thought. We humans tend to be a social bunch, and the cliques within my school have long been established.  It was as if even the most popular amongst us sought the security of a group or crowd.  Even the loners and oddballs like me had our own little groups for support, misery after all does love company.  But after a week of trying unsuccessfully, and weirding several students out, I finally managed it.

It was a warm and humid Wednesday, and whilst most of the school poured out into the yard and playing fields, I sought the quiet of the library.  There were few people there, and I took the opportunity to put the necklace on, and walk amongst the stacks, studying the occupants of the room like the books on the shelves.  Much of what I overheard was relatively unremarkable.  The librarian, Mrs Cooper, a friendly faced elderly woman who smelled of soap and wore her gold rimmed glasses on a chain around her neck, was making a mental shopping list of what to purchase from the store after school.  Apart from hearing she suffers from haemorrhoids, I learned nothing there.  There was a boy called Ben, whose last name escapes me, from a year or two below me.  He was working out the math problem before him with a level of intensity reserved for nuclear physicists on the brink of fission.  There was Sarah Caplin, the mousey band girl who constantly ate her own hair, thinking about whether Joshua Elliot, the violinist to her double bass, fancied her as much as she fancied him (I made a mental note to try and find out) and finally Thomas Rodgers, a stoner and constant class disrupter, who seemed to be singing Nirvana in between debating whether he should ‘get the band back together.’  All in all, rather slim pickings and not the insights I had been hoping to discover.

Then he appeared. Matt Johnston, the school quarterback, boyfriend of the head cheerleader, most popular boy in school and all-round heart throb.  He wasn’t really my type, all brawn and no brains, but I could see his appeal with his strong jaw and dark eyes.  He reminds me of the members of those boybands, singing inane songs about falling in love and breaking up.  I was surprised to find him in there, he didn’t strike me as the bookish type, and frankly the fact that he knew where the library actually was made him stand out from his thick-headed peers.  He chose the farthest corner of the library, placing his books on the table in front of him and immediately clasped his head in his hands while he read, as if the written word instantly gave him a headache.  I put the necklace on and shuffled over to the stack nearest to him.  He didn’t even notice me, nothing new there then.

Come on, concentrate.  You can do this.  It’s just Maths for God’s sake.  Focus and keep your eye on the prize.”

 Eugh, even his mind thought in motivational sports expressions.  But then something changed, a noticeable shift.  He became upset.  The voice inside his own head changed, almost breaking, increasing in volume until it must have been bouncing and echoing around inside his own skull. Even outwardly, his body language shifted, from nonchalant coolness to awkward and sad.

“Why are you so stupid?  Why can’t you do the simplest things?  You fail this and you’re off the team.  No football, no college, no escae from this crappy town.  You’re worthless, worthless.”

 I had always looked at that group with a sort of cool headed detachment.  They were nothing like me.  They had everything handed to them, no effort required.  They were beautiful and popular and everyone loved them.  I was awkward in my own body and no one noticed me.  They were getting a free pass through life while the rest of us struggled on.  It had never occurred to me, not even once, that they would worry about the same things I did, like failing a class or not getting to leave and explore the world.  Well, what could I do?  I went over to him (unthinkable I know) and asked if he needed a study buddy.  I gave him some BS about struggling with that particular part of the curriculum (I actually rock at maths) and before you knew it we were chatting and laughing and getting along fine.  Then he surprised me.

“Why are you helping me?”

“Because that’s what you’re supposed to do, help each other.”

“But I’ve never even spoken to you before, my friends and I, well we, we…”

“You run in different circles?”

“I was going to say we’re dicks.”

“Oh, well, yeah I suppose you can be.”  I laughed at his honesty.

“Well, I’m sorry.”

“That’s ok.”

“How have I never noticed this girl before?  She’s so funny and smart and beautiful.”

Beautiful?  I nearly died right in front of him.  I never thought of myself that way and to hear someone who looked like he belonged in a Sports Illustrated say that about me, well think it at least, well I’m not ashamed to say it put one hell of a spring in my step.  After that, we would meet twice a week for study in the library and when we passed in the halls he would say hello, stop and chat with me. I hate that it took someone else to make me feel a little more confident in myself, because truthfully nothing changed.  I wore the same clothes, I had the same hair style, but I just stopped beating myself up as much.  I was a little more at ease with myself, not just because someone said I was beautiful, but because I realised I wasn’t the only one putting myself down all the time and more importantly I realised how stupid this mental self-harm was.  No one is a harsher critic about you than yourself. You are inherently biased.  You only see the bad and ignore the good.  I know now that we all do it.  Even the most beautiful people I know hate something about themselves, despite me and everyone else thinking their perfect. Why do it?  Why beat yourself up so much over things that don’t matter anyway? I know it’s easier said than done and I still find myself doing it sometimes but try to remember that happiness doesn’t come from a bottle of hair dye or a cosmetic store, it comes from within. Cheesy, but true.

Every section of the school, every student, from every walk of life, had something they hated about themselves, something they worried about and stressed over until they felt sick. There was the cheerleader I found crying in the bathroom, who genuinely believed all she had going for her was her looks, so instead of trying to expand or improve other areas like her intellect or skills, she focused entirely on retaining an impossible standard of beauty resulting in an eating disorder.  She is now in our study group.  There was the smartest kid in school, the one everyone just expected to go to Harvard and become some big shot lawyer, but whose parents put so much pressure on him to perform, he was driving himself into the ground.  He had no fun, no life, no friends, just his books and his exams.  We met for coffee last week and side note, I kind of like him, as in like like, but that’s another story.

I heard people fretting over their appearance, the fact that they couldn’t afford the latest clothes designated as cool by magazines and bloggers, the zits on their face or the weight they put on over the summer.  I heard them panic about exams and job prospects, even though they were just sixteen.  I heard them get upset about teachers who pushed them too hard and I heard the teachers worry about their car payments or letting their students down.  I realised in just a few short months, that every one, no matter how old they were or where they came from, was dealing with their own crap, their own issues and I realised what a difference I could make in people’s lives with the smallest and simplest of gestures.

Tula 4So, now I come to the moral of the tale, my reason for telling you this longwinded story, the message to take home with you.  Be kind. That’s it, just two words, but what an impact those two words can have on a person.  Everyone you see is fighting their own internal battle so, be kind to them.  Everyone feels lonely sometimes, so befriend them, or just say hi and let them know they aren’t alone.  Everyone falls down sometimes, so help them up.  This isn’t rocket science, it isn’t some magic formula or spell to cast, or complicated process, it’s as simple as helping them carry their groceries or giving them an old coat or blanket.  And when you are kind to people, you find they are kind in return and not just to you, but to others.  They pay it forward because they want someone else to experience what they have.  And the best part?  It makes you feel better about yourself.  You hold your heard up higher, you smile a little brighter, because you know that in some small way, you have made a difference in someone’s life. Confidence shouldn’t be entrenched in how thin you are, or whether a boy thinks you’re pretty, it should come from knowing you give a damn about others as much as you do yourself, in knowing that you are kind.

The necklace disappeared one day.  I know I had set it on my dressing table in the exact same spot I always did, but when I went to retrieve it, it was gone.  I never saw it again or worked out where or how it disappeared, but I had this feeling that it had done what it needed to do with me and had moved on to someone else.  I’m ok with that because I know now that kindness is the most powerful magic of all.