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.

Forever: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Forever: A Short Story and Artist Collaboration.

Happy Sunday everyone.  I know it’s the end of the weekend and you are all staring down the barrel of a full week of work, but fear not, I have another collaboration to cheer you up.  For this collaboration, I have had the honour of working with the incredibly talented Elise Mahan.  Elise is an artist and an educator from California, USA. Her paintings and process have evolved from her research of astronomy, natural history, art history, the environment and her work with children.  She creates her paintings using a range of materials such as gouache, watercolor, ink, pencil, graphite, metallic pigments, and collage elements. Through her work, she examines the connections between natural history and symbolism and how they relate to one another within art and within our society.  I am absolutely in love with her art.  Her images have a surreal and dream like quality and they make me think of the myths and legends I heard as a child.  With that in mind, and inspired by her body of work, I have written a short story which I think reflects the ethereal quality of her work.  In turn, she has created one of her stunning images, inspired by my story.  If you like Elise’s work as much as me, you can check out her shop here, and her Instagram here.

forever image

Forever

Her name was Branwen, the daughter of Conol, the Chieftain of the Eastern tribe.  Her hair was the colour of Raven’s wings, her eyes a whirl of blue and green, an ocean in a storm.  She was renowned throughout the lands for her beauty, and it was said her smile could end a war…or begin one.

His name was Cian, the son of Eoin the leader of the Western McManus clan, and the next in line to rule his people.  He was as opposite in looks from Branwen as he was in place.  His hair was of sand and sun, and his eyes were dark, like burnished wood and damp earth.  He would know only forbidden love.

They were never meant to meet, except in battle, but fate had other plans.  When both ventured too far from their homes, seeking answers to questions as yet unknown, and becoming separated from their fellow travellers, they came upon each other in a cave as both sought shelter from the rains.  They were unaware they were enemies, having not yet been schooled in the art of hate by their peers, and so they simply saw a fellow traveller, weary from the journey.

They spoke and laughed, and shared each other’s offerings, him sipping cool water from Branwen’s flagon, and her tasting the bread he carried, roughly torn in two.  They never shared last names.  They never mentioned from whence they had come.  It was simple and pleasant and uncomplicated by divisions as yet unknown to them.  They parted with a smile and the promise to meet again in one week hence.

And so, it came to be, that every week they would find one another in that cave, and share their stories and questions about the adulthood which stretched ahead of them and seemed to burden them with fears and worries they were unprepared for.  Over time, they shared more than stories.  An embrace, a kiss.  Dear readers, they fell in love.

But just as fate had designed to bring their hearts together, it conspired to tear them apart. When the patience of elders grew thin, and suspicions mounted, they were followed and discovered, and dragged away from each other’s outstretched arms under threat of blade and bloodshed. Heartache knows no bounds when two people in love are parted against their will.

There is no power greater on earth, than that of love.  When two souls are separated, they will overcome any obstacle to reunite once more. Despite admonishment, anger and derision at their foolish choice, they were undeterred.  They knew nothing of the battles fought before their birth, or the feuds and vendettas raised by each family against the other, they knew only the smell of each other’s hair, and the taste of lips against their own. Nothing could change how they felt for one another, and nothing would stop them finding each other once more.

They ran away.  They ran from their families, their tribes and their homes.  They ran from people telling them who to hate and more importantly who to love.  They ran towards each other, towards their cave, not knowing what they would do once they were reunited and no longer caring. But fate, she is cruel.  She gives with one hand and takes with the other. Branwen and Cian would never reach each other in this life.  Both would die alone, with the other as their final thought.

The snow storm grew with the intensity of each tribe’s fury.  River’s stopped and becameforever image 2 solid with ice and the moon, afraid to watch, hid from view behind dark thick clouds.  Not even the stars came out, and the thick forest was darker than it had ever been before.  Branwen, eager to reach her love, became lost in the inky black of the trees.  She climbed to higher ground, hoping she would find herself again, but instead found only death as she slipped and fell into the shadows below.  At that moment, Cian, who had almost reached the cave, felt a sharp and sudden pain within him, and he knew within his heart that she was gone.  Unable to live without her, he threw himself on his blade painting the pure winter snow red with his blood.

All of a sudden, and without explanation, everything became silent.  The snow stopped, the animals quieted, the winds ceased and nothing could be heard but the weeping of the Gods.  They had watched these lives unfold with curiosity at first, and then hope, as love it seemed could indeed conquer all.  But human lives are so fragile, so short, and seemingly love, for all of its power and might, could not traverse death.  It is said, that Anu, the Celtic Goddess of life and Mother Earth herself, became particularly despondent at the deaths of these two souls. She took their bodies, and turned them from flesh into something new, something as untouched and as pure as their love had been.  Branwen, with her black hair, became the night sky, and Cian, with his dark eyes, became the very earth itself.  And so, every evening, as the sun falls, they would find each other once again along the horizon, just where the earth meets the sky.  Together forever.

Inspired

This is the first in a series of collaborative pieces, where other creatives and artists attempt to inspire each other, and hopefully in turn, be inspired.  The first few stories, will feature photography by the very talented David Kennedy.  David’s images are often bleak and moody, and feature objects and buildings, long since forgotten.  I love his style, and every photo conjured a story for me.  So, he kindly provided four of his favourite photographs, and for each one, I have written a short story inspired by that image.  This story, ‘War,’ is the first of the four.

If you like David’s photography as much as I do, and would like to see more, you can follow him at @grey.lord on Instagram.  Let me know what you think of the piece in the comments section below, and if you would like to collaborate with me, get in touch!

Dave Kennedy 1

War

The explosion was deafening. The roaring wind was so loud, not even his head set could dull it. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear a voice yelling and the sounding of alarms as every light on the panel before him seemed to light up. Maybe he was injured, or perhaps he was pinned, he wasn’t sure, but either way, his body wouldn’t respond to his mind’s commands. He felt weightless, almost stationary, like he was floating in mid air. When he was hit, there had been a blinding flash, and then so much grey smoke began to stream from what used to be the nose cone of the plane. He wondered if from the ground, it looked like some kind of air show in reverse, like the Red Arrow shows he had went to see with his father when he was a child. You think strange things when you’re about to die. Rushing air choked him as his oxygen failed. There was so much noise. The desert landscape below, was rushing towards him, but all he could think about was Emma. He wished he hadn’t said those things to her. Then it was silent.

He had no idea how long he was out, but he felt stiff, the way you get when you’ve been stuck in the same position for too long. Slowly, he opened his eyes, and realised he was no longer inside the plane. Beneath him, instead of sand, was cold, musty earth. There was a thick, heavy fog hanging in the air, blanketing him, and making it impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. He wondered if he had been captured and taken somewhere, but he knew that didn’t make sense. He was clearly outside, and he hadn’t been bound or incapacitated in any way. There was a slight, chilly breeze and all around him smelled like rotting, damp leaves.

He tried to remember what had happened. Had he been flying? Something itched at the back of his mind, a memory just out of reach. He must have hit his head. He felt his face and skull, before conducting a cursory check of the rest of his body. No injuries, no blood. He felt no pain. What had happened? His head felt as foggy as his surroundings and he wondered if it had somehow penetrated his mind, and spread it’s blank grey there as well. He had his flight suit on, so either he had been flying, or he was about to fly, but which, he couldn’t decide.

He listened, but no sound came. He felt entombed by the fog, which curled around his boots like tendrils. It reminded him of a Vincent Price movie. He picked a random direction, and began to walk, slowly, feeling the ground with each foot before putting his full weight down. He had no idea where he was, or what kind of terrain he was on. One wrong step could send him off the edge of a cliff, or into quick sand. He walked for a couple of hours. At least, he estimated it to be that long, his watch had stopped at 01:04 exactly and no amount of shaking or fiddling with it had encouraged it to start again. The entire time, the landscape, or lack there of, never changed. He walked from one patch of fog to another. Not even the earth rose or fell beneath his feet. It was as flat as a runway.

But then, she appeared before him, curtains of fog pulling back to reveal her bulk. It was the other girl in his life apart from Emma, his plane, Bertha, named after his Grandmother, because she had been a fighter too. But something was wrong. Her nose cone was gone completely, and her insides were exposed like a gaping wound. He ran to her and placed his hand on her side. She was covered in a green, mossy scum, as if she had sat there for decades. But he had been in her yesterday, or was it today? There it was, that itch again. Why couldn’t he remember? This couldn’t be Bertha, that was the only explanation. He had got confused. This was just some wreck, kept for spare parts. But when he climbed onto the wing, and looked inside the cock pit, the serial numbers and the faded picture of Emma confirmed this was his girl.

He fell into the seat and pulled the photo from the control panel. They had fought, he remembered that. She had wanted to get married, but he had kept putting it off. He didn’t know why. He loved her with all his heart, and they were practically married already, but watching the slow, painful death of his parent’s marriage had put him off the concept for life. There had been yelling. She had packed a bag. He decided he would apologise to her when he got back, make it right, suck it up and propose. But something inside him said it was too late. He slid the photograph into his chest pocket, and began to flick the switches on the panel. Nothing worked. She was completely dead. The same green layer had settled on everything inside, and parts of her were bleeding dark orange rust. His head set was lying on the floor. He brushed it off and held it to his ear.

“Mayday, mayday, this is Flight Officer Peter Hastings. Can anyone hear me?” At first, there was silence, but then he could just make out a quiet voice. There was heavy interference. He twiddled with various buttons on the dead control panel.

“Mayday, Mayday, this is Flight Officer Peter Hastings of the Royal Air Force. Is anyone there?” Again, after a pause, he could hear a faint reply. He strained to listen, silently begging the various electronics to work.

“Mayday, Mayday. Please, this is Flight Officer Peter Hastings. Can anyone hear me?” The voice was slightly louder this time, and he could just about make it out. Mayday, Mayday. Please, this is Flight Officer Peter Hastings. Can anyone hear me? He froze. It couldn’t be.

“Hello? Please.” Hello? Please.

“Please, where am I? Someone? Anyone?” Please, where am I? Someone? Anyone?

He tore the head set off and threw it out of the side of the plane, watching it disappear into the formless grey world around him. He recognised his own panicked voice now. The radio was just parroting back what he said.

He began to feel despair. Something was wrong with this place. Maybe it was a dream, or a nightmare. He desperately tried to remember what had happened before he awoke there, but everything felt confused. His memories were a set of blurry images, jumbled out of order, and he couldn’t make sense of them. They were at war, he remembered that. He had a mission, something important. Did something happen during a flight?

Goddamn it.”

He nearly jumped from his seat. Was there someone else here? He had definitely heard a voice, he was sure. But he had been in this God forsaken place for days now, and he had never seen another person. It was just him and Bertha.

Where the hell am I? Can’t see a damned thing.”

There was definitely someone there, he was sure he had heard them this time. He threw himself out of the cockpit, hitting the earth hard, winding him slightly. He squinted into the vast greyness, and saw a shape forming to the left of the plane.

“Hello? Yes, I’m here! Follow my voice.”

The shape grew more distinct. He stood up just as the man reached him. It took every ounce of strength he had not to embrace him in a hug. He had never been so happy to see another human being.

“Glad to see another survivor old chap. I’ve been wondering around this place for a good hour, and I thought I was the only one who made it.”

“What happened? I can’t remember a thing.”

“They knew we were coming. Hit us with everything they had. Damned Gerry’s.”

It was only then that he began to realise something was wrong. The man before him wore a brown leather pilot’s jacket, with sheepskin lining, and a brown leather aviator helmet and goggles. He looked like the photographs of his Grandfather, who had fought against the Nazis in world war two.

“What base are you from?”

“RAF Bassingbourn.”

Peter began to feel nauseous. He knew that base, or at least he knew the site where a base had once been. Now, it was a museum. He remembered his Father taking him there as a child. Tower museum, that was it; a monument to the long since dead.

“What year is it?”

“What? Listen here, I haven’t time for nonsense questions. Have you suffered a head injury or simply lost your mind?”

“Maybe both, I don’t know. Just, please, what year is it?”

“It’s 1942. Look Laddy, if you need to see the medic go now, but go quickly. We’re about to head to Cologne and we need all our birds in the air.”

“Cologne?’

“Good Lord Lad, what’s gotten into you? Tonight’s the night, Operation Millennium. They won’t know what’s hit them. Can’t seem to locate my plane though. They must have moved her without my say so. I’ve been here for days now and I still can’t find her. Can’t miss the raid.”

He racked his brain, and brief excerpts from child hood history books formed a story in his mind. Cologne, 1942, RAF base Bassingbourn; he was talking about the ‘thousand bomber raid.’ He dismissed the idea. Unless Bertha was also a time machine, there was no way he was talking to a world war two pilot. There had to be some other explanation. There was three possibilities he could come up with.

The first option was that this was some elaborate hallucination, brought on from medication, or perhaps the loss of oxygen during a flight. He recalled a colleague who had reportedly seen big bird flying along side his plane during a training exercise. They had called him Elmo after that, on account of his red hair. He never lived that down.

The second scenario, was that he was dreaming. Perhaps he was home in bed, Emma lying beside him, stealing all the covers while he irritated her with his snoring. A niggling memory about Emma drifted close to the surface, before sinking out of reach once more. Had they fought? He thought he remembered an argument. He hated the constant feeling of confusion that this place created.

The third option was the worst one. He immediately dismissed it. He would know if that had happened. He would remember that.

“Are you quite alright Laddy?”

He must have been lost in thought for some time, as the other pilot was staring at him with a puzzled, and slightly concerned expression.

“Yes, I’m fine, I’m just trying to figure something out. I’m just a bit, confused that’s all.”

“Oh God, you don’t have combat exhaustion do you? Seen it a dozen times now. Some lads just don’t have the stamina for battle.”

“No, I’m just struggling to remember a few things. Tell me, what’s the last thing you remember before bumping into me?”

“Good Lord man, you really have lost your mind. I was just in the air, we all were, standard training flights. I was just heading to see the Doctor, trouble with my back. Perhaps you should join me, eh?”

“I thought you were heading to Cologne?”

“Cologne? Why on earth would we be flying there?”

“To attack the Germans. You just said…”

“I think you must have me confused. Im part of the training squadron, for the night raiders. Can’t seem to find my damned plane though. Must have moved it on me, or maybe it’s being worked on. Have to get in the air. I have to…”

He trailed off, and his eyes glazed, as he stared through Peter, searching for a memory within the mist. Peter knew exactly how he felt. He watched him, hoping he would have an epiphany for the both of them, but knowing it would never come. After what felt like several minutes, the pilot suddenly snapped out of his thoughts and focused on Peter once more.

“Sorry Laddy, didn’t see you there. You haven’t seen my plane have you?”

“Uh, no.”

“Need to get her repaired, she took quite a beating. They knew we were coming, damned Gerry’s. Lost so many. I thought for a second I was a goner too. I haven’t seen that many planes in the air since Cologne.”

He started to walk away.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“Have to find my plane, have to get back. Have to get back to the war.”

“Wait…”

But he was gone. The fog had swallowed him whole, and Peter was alone once more. He ran in the same direction the man had taken, and yelled until he was hoarse, but there was nothing. Just the fog. Just the silence. He wished he would wake up. How long had it been now? He checked his watch; 01:04 hours. It was much later than he thought. It was day light when he had left home for the base. They had called him in for a special assignment, classified, very hush hush. He needed to get a move on or his commander would give him hell.  Where was his car?  Emma always joked that, despite being able to fly any plane, he was a terrible driver.  He recalled his fight with Emma the day before. He wished he hadn’t said those things.

What had he been looking for? Was it a person? Maybe it was Emma. He realised he had his flight suit on. Bertha, his plane, that was it. He had to find Bertha and get her ready for the mission. He had to get her in the air. He had to get back to the war.