Dark Doors

Ask. I will tell you a story.

Category: Writing (page 1 of 3)

Word Lab returns!

I am pleased to announce that Clare Fisher has entrusted me with her writing group, Word Lab.

Meeting the third (or fourth) Tuesday of the month at The Tetley in Leeds, writers get together to test out up to 1000 words of their current WiPs. It’s an environment of constructive criticism, encouragement and empathy. Writing is a solitary activity, and Word Lab gives you a chance to meet other authors, hear excellent words, get constructive feedback and be inspired.

Writers of all levels and experience are warmly welcomed.

Hope to see you there!

 

Short Story Cast

Many thanks to Short Story Cast and James Winterbottom for podcasting my story, Persephone Speaks. You can listen to my story, as well as Punch in the Face by James himself, and Faithful Weeds by Rachel Connor, from this link here.

I hope you enjoy all these stories!

Blue Monday

I guess one might call this ‘creative non-fiction’. I wrote this as part of an on-going exercise I’m doing (but I won’t say anymore about that here), with the intention of it being a monologue for one of the characters. Alas, I think that this may not survive the editing phase – whenever that comes – but I … well, I wanted you to see this, kind of like a cat bringing you a mouse. You don’t know why or how to react, except violently.  So it goes.

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Sometimes, the blackness blows in from the East, and all rational thought ceases. I become the source of all my problems, and everything is my fault. Nothing can convince me that this is not the absolute truth of my life and self. I am at fault and I must pay. And the only payment allowed as retribution is blood. I can see no way out but the grave, and I stay out of the kitchen during these winds. Too many knives and sharp edges in there, too tempting to open some flesh and down as many pain-killers and anti-depressants as I can find, and hope that the insurance policy isn’t negated by suicide. I don’t know how to live from one minute to the next during these winds. I get blown back and forth, hatred and self-loathing, fear and bitterness, and wonder how I’ll get past this hurricane, if I’ll even outlive this hurricane. Or if finally, this will be the one that kills me. Because I’ve looked at the insurance policy – life cover, critical illness and death – and I’m worth more money dead than alive. I can’t ask for a handout from anyone – I haven’t worked hard enough to earn the right to ask for help. Tumble over and over and all I see is a life of want and no ability to provide for the most basic needs. And I am just a shackle, dead-weight, to those around me: my family especially, who shouldn’t need to worry about me anymore. Death would be a release for them – freedom from worry and concern and fear that this might be the day that they come home and find me dead. No more worry then, because the worst has happened. They’ll find this, and they’ll see how much I hated hurting them, hated myself for being so selfish and greedy and needy and weak, and maybe they’ll understand why I finally found the strength to give up and leave. Because it does take strength to walk through that final curtained doorway into the silence of death and darkness. We don’t know what’s on the other side; it’s all conjecture and speculation and pyramids and crystals and séances and bullshit. Death is the last exploration, the one time each person gets to go off and do something extraordinary.

I am not strong enough.

Yet.

Most people – caring people, compassionate people – who will tell you that suicide is a coward’s way out. Maybe it is. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

During the hurricane, though, without end in sight, death appears like the only solution and exit from the tumult. Because sometimes, the hurricane is so fierce, and the self-hatred is so pointy and dark and spiteful and vicious and unrelenting… Sometimes, I just want to die so I can have a little peace.

If all I want is peace, if all I want is to calm the storms, and get away from my thoughts, then maybe I should take up drinking. Alas, that thought triggers the whole cascade of bad burny thoughts, and the hurricane picks up speed and strength and teeth. A hurricane with teeth? Now, you think, I’m mixing metaphors. Not really, when you think about it; this whole hurricane nonsense is a metaphor. Teeth can be anything that can tear and chew through matter, be it flesh or other, and a hurricane is very resourceful in creating its own teeth out of anything: wood, metal, concrete. And they all grind with tireless energy, feeding and growing, using my own bones to chew on my flesh and soul. All that’s left is a tiny kernel of self, stripped bare of any good things, any sense of worth or achievement or future. And it burns. All the hate and loathing and bile and venom spills out, excruciating pain dragging through what’s left, if there is anything left.

There usually is something. Barely human, flayed and weeping, there isn’t much of me left. Fragments rain down as the hurricane falters then dies, and I’m still here, mostly. I pick up the pieces – I feel like Foghorn Leghorn[1] – and limp away from the blast site.

It takes less time to recover from something like that than you’d think; I’m surprised I can walk away and find laughter within the same day as an attack like that. I’m surprised that I ever survive an attack like that, but I can’t walk away from it completely. Little phrases, small sentences, even pairings of words, get kicked up from the muck of my brain during an attack and they stay long after, floating and swirling on the up-drafts in my head. Those are more difficult to cope with – they are forever imbued with the intensity of the attack, tainted by the hue of madness and irrationality, and every time they resurface, the madness follows close behind. So I hang on, tooth and claw, and bear the barbs as they cut and carve through me, heart and soul and sanity. It is only a taint, a patina of the madness that spawned them, that they hold now. They are easier to endure. And endure I must, because it’s not just me here.

But the words hurt, spewing vile anguish and reminding me that I am not yet free. I do not long for death. I do not actively seek death. But I will welcome death, when it comes, as the release from this torment.

Maybe, just maybe, I should go talk to someone.

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[1] ‘Lucky for me, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency.’

Writing on Air with ChapelFM

On Friday 15th April 2016, WordSpace Open Mic left its comfort zone of Horsforth, relocating to the fabulous ChapelFM studios for a live-to-air spoken word performance! Fun, thrilling and nerve-wracking in equal measures, WordSpace regulars performed their poetry and prose (with microphones that worked!) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. You can listen again here.

If you’re in the area, and find that you are in need of a copy of Dark Doors, or Inspiration: A Space for Words, there are a few copies of each available for sale in ChapelFM’s cafe area. Drop in for a cuppa and a browse.

 

University Radio York interview

I had the honour of being interviewed by Georgie Norgate from URY a few weeks ago.  You can listen again to the interview, and my readings of ‘Jimmy Six’ from Dark Doors, and a new short story, ‘Eight Times Eight’.

Many thanks to Georgie, and to Oz Hardwick for introducing us!

SW Slam

Sometimes I write to silence the bad burny thoughts in my head, to stop myself from just screaming ‘Help!’ to anyone passing by. 

Sometimes, something interesting gets written, and this is probably as close to poetry as I get. Call it prose poetry, call it spoken word slam, call it whatever you will. This will probably make it onto the set list for the next Orthros event, and I’m going to try to memorise it so I can slam the hell out of it. 


Pinioned, hanging from iron spikes that pierce forearms, legs, shoulders. I’m stuck, stranded in mid-air, and I cannot move. Can barely breathe from the pain that courses through every nerve. I’d have thought that I’d be numb to pain by now, my nervous system fried like chicken with the constant agony I feel. I can’t see anything through the blackness that surrounds me, can only feel the pervasive chill eroding my skin, seeping through flesh to inhabit my bones.

And yet… and yet… you see me, standing here, arms flapping, mouth yapping and a smile on my face. Ghastly, ain’t it? I can move and laugh and hold a lengthy conversation and present a façade that enjoys life and all its pursuits of happiness. I look free, don’t I?

And yet… and yet… behind the teeth, hiding deep down in the eyes, there am I really. The one crucified by her own mind, yearning to be free of this creeping darkness. I rattled the doors, and look what came crawling out. Monsters and demons and abominations, oh my. All here to carve me through and devour whatever goodness and light I managed to cling to all these years.

The worst times are the battles for my hands. Where I have to fight with the monsters and demons and abominations, oh my, to reclaim my hands, to put down that knife, to put down that fucking knife, and take up a pen instead, and turn that pen away from my eye, and put it to paper instead, and write and write and write the demons and monsters and abominations, oh my, into the prison of paper and ink, bind them tight with words and syntax and voice, my voice, MY FUCKING VOICE, because these are MY hands, not the monsters’. MY hands, not the demons’. MY hands, not the abominations’. My bloody hands, and they won’t pick up a knife to cut out the pain. I refuse to let my hands go to waste by drawing that blade down my arms, across my throat. My bloody hands, and they will write and take back the goodness and light, reach into the maws of the monsters and demons and abominations, oh my, and haul out what is rightfully mine.

Tales From The Forest

I’m pleased to announce that Issue One of Tales From The Forest is now available to read here, which contains my own short story, ‘Glass and Blood’.

Click on over, have a read of some excellent stories and poetry, and gaze in wonder at some beautiful artwork.

Congratulations to Tales From The Forest! May you have many successful issues to come.

Death in Conversation

If a year could be classed as a serial killer, 2016 needs to be locked up forever. I won’t go through the list here – it’s too depressing and hurtful and won’t help anyone.

The best way I deal with terrible things is to write stories about them, trap the bad burny feelings in words so they can’t hurt me. This story is my own response to the growing list of talented people passing away.  I’ve used a couple of famous Deaths to frame the idea – so I guess that makes this fan fiction. (My first ever – quite probably my last, so enjoy it while it’s here.)


‘YOU’RE LATE.’ A voice like tombstones falling. Then the fragile clatter of cup and saucer as they encounter the table-top two millimetres too soon.

A flash of a charming smile and a deep sigh as she sits down. ‘And hello to you, too. Sorry for being late. There was a family thing I had to clear up after Christmas. My siblings like to quarrel too much.’ Her too-pale hands reach for the cup. ‘Where shall we start?’

‘WE’RE DOING GEOGRAPHICAL THIS TIME?’ Blue star eyes winked off and on again, his too-thin fingers tinking nervously against his mug. ‘CHRONOLOGICAL IS PREFERABLE.’

She blows over the top of her drink, ruffling the frothed milk out of the way. She makes a good show of drinking it, even down to the inadvertent milk moustache. Nothing about her would look out of place to a casual passer-by – they wouldn’t even notice the moustache against the white of her face. But even that’s a hint.

The same observer would not be able to describe her companion, or pick him out of a line-up – not that he was a criminal or anything. They wouldn’t be able to identify him because every time someone looked his way, they found themselves distracted by something else, and their gaze would slide off his face without seeing. Still, he twitches at the edge of his hoodie with his too-thin fingers, uneasy at meeting in a trendy coffee house in this realm, even during the off-season between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the odd liminal time of twilight.

‘Stop that. You’ll only shred it to bits.’ She grins at him

‘WHY HERE?’

‘Lower your voice, if you can. You’re scaring the locals.’ Her cheeky grace disappears, replaced by steel. She may look young, but she is as old and endless as time itself.

Her companion shifts in his seat, tilts his head and clears his throat. The sound of boulders hitting a woodchipper bounces through the room. The other patrons glance around for the source of the startling noise, their attention slipping greasily over the dark figure and darting away from the pretty goth girl as she meets their eyes.

He hunches his shoulders up, tugging his hood further forward over his permanent smile. ‘APOLOGIES. I CAN ONLY TRY.’*

‘That’s an improvement,’ and she leans back, young and careless as before, cradling her cup just under her nose. ‘I suggest geographical so that we can choose the timing as we see fit. Last year’s schedule was a nightmare, trying to travel across the globe with mere nanoseconds to spare, just to keep to time. We can choose countries or divide across land masses.’ She mimes drinking again, and licks her top lip clean.

‘THAT IS A FAIR POINT. BUT WE MUST GUARD AGAINST FAVOURITISM.’

She pauses to consider this. ‘Of course. You’re right. But are any of our favourites on the list this-’ Her face opens in shock, remembering too late that his own father passed last year, swept to the next realm by the sound of her wings. ‘I’m so sorry. I haven’t seen you since our last meeting.’ She puts down the cup, reaches across the table, her too-pale skin matching the colour of his too-thin hands. ‘You don’t hate me?’

‘HOW CAN I? WE BOTH KNEW. WE ALL KNEW – EVEN HIM.’ His blue-star eyes flare but do not waver as they meet her own. The silence stretches as he tries to speak, finds only a lump in his non-existent throat. He coughs to clear it and tries again. ‘IT DOES SEEM ODD TO GO ON WITHOUT HIM HERE.’ He allows her to touch his too-thin hand, to hold it briefly in her own, before he pulls it back and hides it in his pocket. ‘YOU WILL SEE WHEN YOUR FATHER PASSES ON.’

‘NO!’ Sharp in the hipster coffee fug, eyes turn towards the shout, and confusion reigns as eyes slither over nothing much and oh drat, I’ve left the cooker on! The coffee house empties abruptly, even the staff running for home without locking up.

‘IMPRESSIVE.’

She scoffs at him and runs her hands through her night-dark hair. ‘They’re all gone, there’s no need to keep whispering now.’

‘IT’S DIFFICULT TO MODULATE MY VOLUME QUICKLY. TOMBSTONES ONLY FALL AT A DESIGNATED SPEED, YOU KNOW.’

She laughs, shaking her head. ‘It really is a ridiculous voice. But an excellent description.’ Looking up at him, she allows him to see her fear. ‘Not this year, please. He’s getting his act together; he’s still got loads of stories to tell.’ She clasps the pendant resting on her breastbone, her father’s gift to her forevermore. ‘He’s got some years yet, and he’s in good health – for a guy that doesn’t exercise and eats like a writer.’ They both smile.

‘AGREED. WE WILL LEAVE HIM ALONE. THIS YEAR.’

Her relief wavers at the qualifier. She nods, lowering her head in acquiescence.

‘WE BOTH HAVE A SOFT SPOT FOR THE UK. WE MUST NOT BE LENIENT.’ Between them, a slideshow flashes, casting awkward holographic shadows on their bone-white faces. He shows her scores of people: famous, infamous, unknown, loved, treasured, despised.

She holds up her hand, waves it through the slideshow, spinning it back to the beginning. The distinctive eyes, the snaggle-toothed grin, and the thin white face which would not have been out of place at this meeting. She flicks forward again, just by a dozen faces, stopping on another pale face, long nose, knowing eyes; she can almost hear the laconic drawl of his voice dealing insults out like cards.

‘Both of them?! So soon?’

‘YOU KNOW IT ISN’T MY CHOICE.’

‘You really are a bastard.’

‘YOU ARE ABOVE SUCH NAME-CALLING.’

‘You weren’t last year.’

‘I HAVE … GROWN.’

She snorts, and swipes the images again, sending them haring through the year to come. Stops. Stares at gleaming eyes, a wicked smile bedded among so many wrinkles. Sighs. ‘I guess it is her time … but after that loss of those two, do you think we-?’

‘YOU KNOW THAT NO WARNING CAN BE OFFERED.’

She sticks her tongue out and sits back with a huff. ‘Fine. Looks like it’s going to be a very harsh year. Next country?’

Neither asks who compiles the lists for them. Neither acknowledges the silent cloaked figure hiding in-between the shadows, reading the blank pages of his chained book. He merely turns the page, and reads the future.

 


*Note: The font for the reduced volume of Death’s dialogue is meant to be smaller. However, due to lack of coding skills, I can’t quite manage to get it to do that here. Apologies.

 

Interview with LTU

Leeds Trinity University has played a pivotal role in the major changes in my life: in December, I’ll be graduating with an MA in Creative Writing, and the university’s imprint, Wordspace, has published my first collection of short stories.

In the run up to the launch party for Dark Doors, I was interviewed by Lisa Farrell. You can read the whole story here.

Bedtime – mini-saga

Here’s a little extra mini-saga for you, written at the Indie Writers’ Festival 2015 at Leeds Trinity University. It’s cute, short and sweet, only 50 words long. I thought it would be nice to share it … as if I haven’t plagued you enough with daily posts for month or anything.


‘Will you check behind the door, mum? I’m sure I heard something.’

She sighed, and peered around the cupboard door. ‘Nothing there, darling, now go to sleep.’ She tucked the duvet under her daughter’s chin.

A creak from the door.

She looked again, came face-to-face with the nightmare: a human.

Light and Dark – 28 Feb

 Day 28 – I’ve completed my challenge. But this isn’t the end of writing every day. There isn’t anything more to be said at this point other than thank you – for liking, commenting, following me on this journey. I have learned more about what writing means, how to approach it, how to bludgeon through writer’s block, how to harness inspiration, how to shake inspiration by the throat until it coughs up an idea.

I hope to set a new challenge for myself, bringing out polished stories instead of first drafts, quality not just quantity. That challenge will have to wait for a bit, though. I’ve got an anthology to edit in March for the MA. Watch this space, and don’t give up on me.


On stage, she is transformed by words. Glowing gold, angelic, while I crouch in a corner, ugly, crabbed, covered with demon-spawn, black ichor flowing in my veins. Her lyric voice soars, lifting and lilting, a heartbeat rhythm. Though she speaks of heartache, of heartbreak, she is beautiful, her hair a halo in the light, despite the blood pouring from the wound in her chest, from her broken heart. I hunch in a corner, the malignant darkness my shroud, and the demons stir within. Though her story is sad, her words are beautiful, the memory of the feelings lingers, though her words fade as she leaves the stage.

She shines and glimmers, and in between the sparkles, there am I. Shadow-creature and grim. I graze through the darkness she discards. I pluck and pick and save the evil, turn it to my own design. Could I stand in the light? In the light, raw and naked, without the armour of the demons I harbour.

Without me, the witch the mouthpiece of the demons, her light would dim. Without my darkness, the light cannot shine so bright. I am the witch, the foundation of flight of light, pouring forth the darkness so light shines brighter through it. I scrabble in her shadow, gathering darkness, collecting nascent demons, rocking away their fears, shielding them from the burning light. I cover their eyes so many eyes nictitating lids and facets, ignore how they claw and scrape at my neck my breasts my stomach, and shush away their cries.

My heart burns as they enter, tearing through in their desire for dark and peace. I choke, gag, stretch and absorb them. I know they are mine to tend, mine to heal, mine to reveal. Through them I terrify and teach, and make the light shine. Darkness is mine, though I long for light.

Could I stand to stand in the cleansing light? Watch and endure the flames as the carapace burns? Shed the darkness? Will the ichor drain from my veins, or scald me from within? Would I dare the light, naked and new, born from the darkness?

For every ray there is shadow, in all gold is black. From the shadows, I write, and show the fear of the world to the world, forcing others to seek the light. But I will not stand there. It is not my space my place. I am the witch and this is my season. I show you your demons, and be thanked.

Memory and Mortality – 26 Feb

Day 26 – I’m cutting it fine today. Boy howdy, this was a tough day for writing. Knowing that I’ve got three more posts (including today), knowing that people are reading this (including friends from the MA course – hi, guys!), knowing that this was meant to help me increase my creativity… all that knowing created a hefty dose of writer’s block. And it’s not that I didn’t want to write – I do. This is actually my third attempt tonight at writing today’s post. It’s still not great, but it’s a damn sight better than the excrement my fingers kept crapping onto the page.

I knew going into this challenge that it wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t want it to be. I wanted to teach myself discipline, and expand my creative muscle by exercising it. I think I was being a little too literal today and nothing I saw created a spark. Maybe I’m going over old ground, but this conversation with my son, in which we touched on memory and mortality was quite possibly the most important conversation we will have.

Read. And remember Pop Pop with us.


 

Conversation with my son over dinner turned philosophical – and not a little bit depressing, as we talked about my father. In the smallest voice I’ve heard from him – so small, I wasn’t even sure I heard – my son said, ‘I miss him.’ You can’t ignore a small voice like that. Not when it says the biggest thing it might ever say. ‘I miss him, too, kiddo.’ And off we went. Talking about what we remember of this man, the foundation of my life, who shaped my world and set me free when I needed to be.

Even the kid – who knew him for only a few short years – knew how gruff and grumbly my dad could be. But also how much he loved to laugh. Even if he was a bit embarrassed about it, he could not begrudge us a laugh. Like when the vets he worked with – who respected this man for decades, worked side by side with him, knew his gravity and his professionalism – when they discovered that my kid called him ‘Pop Pop’, they couldn’t help but laugh. Doc Bauman, the vet every farmer in Southwestern Ontario trusted, who helped generations of dairy farmers, was known by this tiny British toddler as Pop Pop. The cutest name for a grandfather ever invented (and stolen from a tv show). The contrast was hilarious.

I asked the kid if he minded that his own father is now Pop Pop to our first grandchild. The kid – wise beyond his years, sometimes (even though he still loses his phone, his wallet, his school tie) – told me with confidence that he was really happy about it. ‘It’s like we’re honouring him, by keeping that name alive.’ He didn’t even mention the other tv show reference. I think that surprised me more.

Continuing in this rather philosophical vein, and without meaning to, I told him that someday, maybe he’ll be called Pop Pop too. And that I hope I get to be there when it happens. That small voice returned: I hope you are too.

As one, we danced in opposite directions away from what that meant.

It really ain’t easy, talking about mortality with a twelve year old. But we did it, and didn’t get maudlin or teary. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. It’s just a thing.

Driving with an Earworm – 25 Feb

Day 25 – a foray into stream of consciousness writing, combined with found poetry (lyrics from ‘Ahead by a Century’) and prose poetry. Many thanks to the Tragically Hip for a permanent earworm infection – this song has lived in my brain for decades. I pass it on to you, folks.

 


Out and left and breathe. Spark. Inhale, exhale. I’m done. You are ahead by a century. Disappointment’s getting me down. Shuffle over! Oh my gods. Jeez, that was close. What would have happened if that guy had hit me? Side of car scraped to hell, swerve to regain control. Stop, get out, try not to shout at the bastard for being over the line. Trade details. Make sure I can still drive. Call a tow truck. Call my husband. Wait, and the rest of the day is ruined. All in a flash of images. Left, slow. Pull around, go. Roundabout. I tilted your head, you tilted my hand. Rain falls in real time, crashes through the light, no dress rehearsal, this is our life. Guitar solo. Ticking beat. Really wish I hadn’t given up that CD now. Why did I do that? This song keeps getting stuck in my head, more than most. What to do? So much to do. So tired, is that the pain creeping back? Don’t speed along here. That’s when the hornet stung me, and I fell into a serious dream. I like this road. Not sure why. Less terrifying than the other, and I do half the speed on that. Like driving on a roller-coaster that one. Gotta find the road – the smooth part that doesn’t want to buck me into the air like a mule. Serious bumps and miss the potholes without hitting some maniac coming the other way. Sign? Mud on road. Faint, could hardly read it, had to take my eyes off the road for almost too long. You are ahead by a century. Could have been dangerous. Should have been dangerous. Irony? Warning sign that makes you end up in an accident trying to read the damn thing. Slow and stop. Who are you? Not turning around. Never know what to do when people in the car next to you turns and makes eye contact. Can’t offer a full-on smile – I’d look like a crazy person. Strangers don’t need to know that little detail, so I can only give that close-lipped ‘hmm, look, we’re both humans, we’re both driving, we would much rather be somewhere else than here, wouldn’t we?’ smile instead. That’s when the hornet stung me, and I had a feverish dream. How do these lyrics go together? I should listen to it again. But I won’t. Need to sleep. Need to write. Assignment! I should really start that. Where to begin with it though? You are ahead by a century. You are ahead by a century. This part – too exposed. I remember that snowstorm I drove through. Not fast, but it felt faster. Snowflakes. Prepare to go to lightspeed. Funny. I miss home. But what is home now? Why do people always ask me that? Of course I miss the familiar things, the things I loved. But this is familiar now. This place has things I love. Hornet stung me. Hard to believe that this earworm started yesterday. Don’t usually last that long. Aspire to inspire before you retire. Clever. I like that. Is that what it said? I titled your hand, you tilted my head. Aspire to inspire before you retire. Repeated phoneme. Morpheme? Nah. You are ahead by a century. Should listen to that song again. This is my life.

Wholesale Soul – 23 Feb

Day 23 – this one came from a rather odd conversation about Indian Head massage with the coffee lady at work. I wondered if I could figure a way to write this; I based it on some of the odd short stories from Bradbury and Dick about a future consumed by consumerism, and the rest fell into place. It’s my first foray into sci-fi, so be gentle.


She dug her fingertips into her scalp. Her body shivered as tension drained away under her ministrations. From the base of her skull, she traced the hairline behind her ears to her forehead, always kneading, fingers working in tight circles. She closed her eyes to better focus on the sensation, and enjoy the head massage.

Eventually, just before the burning sensation of an overdone touch, she stopped. And sighed. And opened her eyes to look at the ravages the massage had on her hair. The mirrored wardrobe door stared back at her in shock. Oh gods, I look like the Bride of Frankenstein! She giggled as her hands smoothed the worst of the damage. Where’s that hairbrush? Drat. It was on the dresser on the other side of the room.

She picked her head up from her lap, lifted it and slotted the base into the stainless steel collar fitted in place of her neck. A sharp twist to the left, and she heard the click of the join locking. She stood up from the side of the bed, and crossed the room to grab the brush. Turning back to the mirrors, she reached up to brush her hair, felt her shoulder fitting grind and grit a little.

Dammit, need the WD40 again for that. She rolled through it, continuing to brush and smooth her hair. I had to save a bit and go for the cheaper steel, didn’t I? Static crackled under her hand with every pass. Mother warned me. The bronze kit would have reduced the static charge too. Bugger. Going to have to ground out before seeing her again. I’ll never hear the end of it.

Having the detachable-limb-insertions was the best decision she had made. Even though she could only afford the steel, she didn’t want to wait any longer. A life made easier, without having to strain for comfort. If she couldn’t reach something on the top shelf, she just took off one arm, and held it up by the shoulder in the other, and she could grab whatever she needed. Didn’t have to stand on tip-toes ever again.

She was concerned about not having the automatic retractable cabling though. That would be even better; a sharp tug, and any limb would scroll straight into place without having to pick it up and lock it in. She was saving for the upgrade.

Grey Dog Day – 22 Feb

Day 22  and here’s an offering of creative non-fiction. Today’s piece is less of me chipping off a piece of my heart and giving it to you. Today, I have shredded open everything, and I show you my whole mind and soul in this piece.

Like  many authors before me, I write about something I don’t understand so I can pin it down and make some sense of it. And grey dog days are the worst for finding meaning in living. I thought pinning words to it would help. I’ll let you know.


Today is a grey dog day. Not full black, because I can still get up and function and do laundry and interact and appear happy. But today the happiness is an act. Because the grey dog has decided to tag along.

Grey dog tells me horrible things. What does he say? I’ll see if I can translate. It’s mostly flashes of images that are gone before I can focus on them, but mostly the grey dog works with emotions. He’s cunning bastard too, using the smallest things to grind me down, until the tears threaten to fall while I’m standing in the line at Asda. I am almost ready to believe him and everything he says, but I’m not quite ready to sit and roll over and weep. Yet. But it is a very close thing. I’ll let the grey dog have the keyboard.

See those jeans? The style you like, but none in your size. Those ones? Right size but hideous design. You’ll look like a deformed Barbie from the 70s if you tried to wear those. The stretchy ones? Forget it. You’ll either looked like over-stuffed sausage or you’ll rip them, like you did those other ones. Doesn’t matter that those jeans were almost ten years old and wearing thin. You still ripped the butt out of them, bending over with your fat ass. Can you write? Are you sure you’re a writer? Are you sure you’re good at it? You deserve to never know, to never be certain. You’re not even good enough to win tiny little contests in a restricted pool. You must suck. People don’t like you much, because they avoid you and others bully you and others pick at you and how do you know for certain that the people you think are your friends are really your friends? What if they’re just complaining about you once you’re gone? What if they’re just putting up with you because they need to do penance for something, and they figure spending a couple of hours with you and your mess is enough to wipe them clean of their own sins? They don’t really like you – they’re probably complaining about you behind your back, and you can’t really trust anyone. You’re awful. You tried to say something nice to another blogger, and somebody gave you a thumbs-down. Because you’re an insensitive bitch and you shouldn’t be inflicted upon humanity. You haven’t a hope in hell of succeeding and being happy. That day when you were happy and couldn’t stop smiling? Remember that day? When you realised that everything you were working towards has finally fallen into place and you’re on your way to achieving your dream? Guess what? You’re probably bipolar. You already have me to trigger your depression, and those days of elation are just the other side of it. You’re probably bipolar, and you don’t really know what that means because you’re stupid, and lazy and won’t go look it up and you’re too much of a coward to ask the doctor because of that one that laughed at you twelve years ago when you asked about the recurring dizziness and told you to live with it. You deserve to feel like this. You deserve to believe that no one loves you. You deserve to believe that you’re a talentless hack with no taste and you definitely deserve to believe that you’ll never be good at what you love. You deserve every horrible thing that you’ve ever thought about yourself because it’s true. You’re a moron.

So. That’s grey dog. And he’s not the full-on black dog. But he’s still a right c**t.

Some people who follow this blog know me, and I’ve told them before that most of these entries aren’t me in the leading role. This one still isn’t, really. But I’m the ‘you’ in this narrative. These days don’t happen very often but when they do…

I hope this gives some insight into what it’s like to live with mental illness – because that’s what I have. I have anxiety and depression, and most days, I can live with it and not notice it. Other days, not so much. Mainly because of grey dog days. They suck.

Teen Angst – 21 Feb

Day 21 – Trying to work through some angst of my own, and this came out. Not my best, but I did say that this challenge was going to be first drafts every day, to create a portfolio of stories to polish and perfect. (And this is better than the other thing I wrote first.)

Enjoy?


Why won’t he look at me? Cat stood in front of her locker, dithering as she watched him out of the corner of her eye. She didn’t want to do a full glance round; she didn’t need ‘stalker’ as her ID line in the yearbook this year. Or any year, for that matter.

But he was just so pretty. She couldn’t help it. Chet, the captain of the basketball team; he was such a stereotype, it was laughable. Cat knew that she shouldn’t have a crush on this guy, but the heart wants what it wants. And apparently, it didn’t want anything but Chet.

Honestly, their names worked so well side-by-side: Chet and Cat. Cat and Chet. So similar it was obvious that they should be together but different enough that they maintain their own identities. They would be perfect. They should be perfect.

The reality was so very different.

Cat hung her head, closed her locker door, and turned to head to class. Not looking, she bashed straight into Chet’s chest, knocking them both back a couple of steps.

Oh fuck, I’m turning into a stereotype now as well. Her self-contempt raged acidly at the back of her throat. She forced it down, swallowing hard. Don’t babble. Don’t look like an asshole like last time. As coolly as she could, Cat said, ‘Sorry. Wasn’t looking for you.’

The reality was so very different.

What came out was a croaking whisper that barely sounded like language.

Chet stared at her, flanked by several of his closest acquaintances. The pause was so awkward that it could have become a Mean Girls meme.

He just kept staring at her. Silent. Cat blushed, and hid behind the protective armour of the armful of textbooks clutched to her chest. She shrank back, avoiding touching him. She shuffled to one side, and went around Chet and his entourage, muttering nonsense sounds in apologetic tones.

Cat made it about ten feet away, and was prepared to breathe a sigh of relief that she had gotten away without being mocked, when she heard it.

A bizarre, meaningless squeaking sound. Almost like Beeker from the Muppets. But less coherent. At first, just a single voice started it. Then another joined, and another. Until most of the basketball team was imitating Cat’s attempt at an apology.

And Chet had started it.

Finding her back frozen and her shoulders drawn up to her ears, Cat knew she looked like a troll on heroin. She had a choice in this moment: scurry off, and suffer another two years of humiliation before graduation; or, turn and end this right now.

She inhaled and straightened up, rolling her shoulders back. She lifted her chin, her jaw almost locked with her rage. Cat turned with graceful precision, and glared at the squawking baboons. Her mind was blank; what could she say?

Something unusual was happening. Before she could compose her putdown, the boys stopped squeaking, one by one, until Chet was the lone squeaker.

Cat’s face changed from anger to disdain. As Chet continued, and the others shifted away from him, Cat realised what an idiot Chet actually was. Why did I ever give him so much power over me? She turned and walked away, without looking back.

Introduction to Priss

Day 20 and it was difficult to pin down an idea to the page today. I was editing my WiP and this is a new character who will need to be threaded through the narrative. Using the backstory idea as a way to getting to know a character, here’s an introduction to Priss, the white stoat helpmeet who belongs with Simon.

Enjoy.


Simon turned the stereo down, and wished he hadn’t. The noise was worse. So much worse. Pressing his hands over his ears, he pleaded, ‘Priss, please stop singing! You’re making my ears bleed. Honestly.’

The snow white stoat stopped dancing, but her singing did not cease. She turned to face her Awakened, as the most excruciating sustained sound – no sane person could call it a note – spiralled up in volume. She crossed Simon’s bed, the sound not improving as she stalked towards him. Standing on her hind legs, she reached no higher than Simon’s knee. Despite her diminutive stature, with her fangs in full snarl, Priss was a formidable foe.

Especially when she sang.

Priss was so focused on her musical attack that she didn’t watch her step. Her claws caught in a crocheted throw and she fell on her face with a flump.

Blessed silence reigned. And then Simon sighed and flumped face-first onto his bed as well, making the stoat bounce a little and come to rest again.

She curled round and freed her toes from the unravelling yarn. Simon shifted to look at her. ‘Priscilla, you know you can’t sing.’ His eyes were soft with worry. ‘I know Cilla Black is your favourite singer, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert is your all-time favourite film, but really.’ He reached out and stroked her soft fur, hoping it would soften the criticism. ‘But you’re tone-deaf, you can’t find a note, let alone hold it, and it just really hurts.’

Priss sniffed a little, stung. She shuffled up towards Simon’s face, her bright black eyes looking into his blue. ‘I know, I know, you’ve told me this before.’

‘Several times. Several dozen times, I’ve lost count.’

‘And I know I’m terrible at it. But, I really, truly enjoy singing. It’s cathartic for me. Helps me work through ideas and problems.’ She stroked his nose in imitation of his petting. ‘Besides,’ she said, pausing to smile, ‘I really thought you were out.’

Simon snorted and shook his head, smiling. ‘Okay, fair point. Just – for my sake – keep it down, even when I’m out.’ His grin turned impish as he said, ‘You can’t hear if my brother comes home over that horrendous racket.’

The room filled with giggles and yips as Priss shot down Simon’s collar and proceeded to tickle the Awakened teen, while Simon struggled to de-stoat his jumper.

Finn and The Rook – part 2

Day 19, and the second half of Finn’s backstory, as promised.

Enjoy.


Warm earth surrounded him as Finn inched his way along the final few yards of the tunnel before it opened into his home. His fur bristled along his back as the snarls hurled along the walls. Finn swallowed against his fear, and clung to the wall, pausing at the doorway to peer around the edge.

Dorna lay in a broken heap before the fireplace, weeping and unable to move. Chairs were overturned around the room, and Angus faced a black figure, the heavy table an obstacle between them. Blood matted the fur in streaks across Angus’s back and biceps, but he held his sword steady in front of him. He did not waver from the creature, the sword-point levelled at the thing’s chest.

Finn pulled his gaze from his mother and looked at the black creature that threatened his father. Tall enough to scrape the dirt ceiling, a wicked-looking sharp black beak dominated the creature’s bird-face. Withered feathers covered its body, bald patches of white flesh showing through. Arms jointed wrong stuck out in awkward angles, in place of wings. They appeared thin and brittle, with bedraggled feathers hanging in clumps along their length. As Finn watched, one clawed hand snapped out, catching Angus across the face and slashing at the fox’s eyes. Angus rocked with the blow, and returned with a cross-slash of his own as he rebalanced himself.

Finn gasped.

Both Angus and the bird-creature turned to look at the tiny fox fae cowering in the doorway. Even as Angus started to shout for his son to run, the creature used the distraction of a father’s love to lever the table out of the way. It attacked Angus from behind, and brought him to the ground. Finn’s cries echoed around the den, adding to the cries from his mother, and the defiant snarls from his father.

Oh, little one, my thanks. Now, the fun begins.

As the creature’s voice sounded inside his mind, Finn froze. He could not move, he could not look away. His eyes rounded with terror as he watched, helpless, and the creature clacked its beak, and bent towards the back of Angus’s neck.

It pierced the ruff of excess fur and skin there, and Angus howled with rage, and struggled for his freedom. The creature grabbed a runaway wooden bowl from the floor, cast there by their initial fight, and clouted Angus at the base of his skull. The fox drooped senseless and lay still.

Finally.

The creature stood and flipped the old fox onto his back. Its eyes glinted, madness a fire within. Then it dipped its beak again to Angus’s throat, and pierced the skin. This time, it did not withdraw its beak, but cranked it open, little by little, tearing the fox-skin to make a sickening Y-shape just under Angus’s jaw.

Finn rushed forward to stop it, but a quick flash of pain and he bowled end over end across the floor, catching up against the warmth of his mother. Dorna embraced her son, and rocked him, shushing with nonsense sounds through her own tears. Together, they watched as the creature clacked its beak – its perversion of laughter – and selected a filleting knife from the utensils spilled around the room. It pointed the sharp blade at the whimpering foxes.

Do nothing. Or the pup will be next.

It almost winked at them, and bent again to its work. The knife slid neatly into the wound, and the creature sawed carefully, separating the skin from the flesh. Angus, roused by the intense pain, howled and struggled again. The creature – so much taller, longer reach – sat on the fox’s thighs, its own legs stretched out and forward to pin Angus’s arms to the floor. It snickered, and moved again to flay the skin from his hated enemy, inch by inch, keeping the fox alive for as long as he could.

***

Though Dorna tried to keep him from seeing, struggling to push his face over her shoulder to face the guttering embers in the fireplace behind, Finn would not allow it. He kept his eyes on the meat-raw body of his father, who still lived – barely – panting on the dirt floor of their home. He would rather look at that than at the creature who pranced about the den, wearing Angus’s blood-soaked skin over his head. The once-proud brush of Angus’s tail drooped down the creature’s back. Its caws were filled with victorious mirth that sickened Finn, but he couldn’t escape the sound.

That was fun. Let’s do it again.

And the clawed hands reached for Finn.

His mother shrieked, howling and battering at the creature, as Finn was flung to the far side of the room. He landed a few paces from Angus’s battered body, and he heard the last gasp of ‘no’, saw the twitch of his father’s hand reach for him. Then Angus was still.

Finn was torn between holding his father one last time, and touching the monstrous meat he had become. But the choice did not matter, as the creature descended upon him. Finn howled and scrambled back. A swooping motion in front of him, and then everything went black.

It smelled bad. And Finn heard his mother’s shrieks, the creature’s clattering laughter, and a sickening thud. Then all was quiet. Finn scrabbled at his face, dragging the darkness from his eyes, and found he was holding his father’s fur. He flung it from him, sobbing, calling to his mother.

Her silence was underscored by the clattering beak-laugh, and Finn knew he could not witness his mother’s torment. Whimpering, he buried his face in the fading fur of his father, trying to find comfort in the familiar smell and the darkness.

But again, he could not stop hearing her cries.

***

The Guardians arrived in time to save Finn, but it was too late for Dorna. The creature fought insanely; several Guardians were injured. The restricted size of the den worked in their favour, and the creature was overpowered and restrained. They dragged it from the den, its eyes rolling and beak clattering. They almost missed Finn as a survivor; he was curled up still in his father’s skin, eyes wide and empty. The captain lifted Finn from the bloody mess on the floor, and received a new scar across his muzzle for his compassion. Finn hissed and snarled and spat, and the captain had to struggle to calm the young fox almost as much as with the creature. He carried Finn along the tunnel and set him at the mouth, facing outside to the thicket.

Finn staggered into sunlight and freedom, covered in blood and tears. Threven scooped the young fox fae into his arms and turned from the copse of trees, shielding him from the horrors within.

Finn and The Rook

Day 18 – this is a bit of backstory for my novel, ‘Firesoul’, which I thought would be interesting to explore. For my Beta readers, this will explain why Finn is not as fierce when it comes to The Rook. For everyone else, I hope it whets your appetite for the YA fantasy story I’ve been working on and developing.

Unfortunately, folks, this will be a two-parter for you. It will be too long for a single blog post, but it splits nicely into two. (And I need to write the second half.) 

Welcome to Kalos, the hidden world of fae and foe.


Finn staggered into sunlight and freedom, covered in blood and tears. Threven scooped the young fox fae into his arms and turned from the copse of trees, shielding him from the horrors that lay within.

Too late.

***

Angus was Finn’s hero and his father. There was nothing the old fox fae didn’t know about the worlds they shared with the Sleeping. Angus was a veteran helpmeet, later a mentor to fresh helpmeets before they met their Awakened humans. He was a master swordsman, and Finn used to listen to his father’s stories at the dinner table, his eyes wide and gleaming with admiration for the old fox. He wished – hoped – that he could make his father proud one day, by being the best helpmeet and warrior since Angus.

But Finn didn’t know about the enemies his father had made. Angus only told about the complete victories, those that ended with the bad guy dead or locked up in Kalos’s prison, under constant guard. There were plenty of those stories; they far outnumbered the ones where the opponent got away. Those ones usually ran off into self-imposed exile. Only one enemy transformed into a nemesis. Only one swore vengeance before limping off into the darkness. Only one promised to return, to kill Angus and his loved ones.

Only the Rook.

***

Sunlight slanted through the trees, filtering into green light that filled the thicket hidden in the centre of the forest. A summer zephyr played with the leaves, the light twinkling and flaring on the thick grass below, and occasionally dazzling in the eyes of the two combatants circling each other in the centre.

The sporadic tock tock of wood hitting wood played a syncopated beat to the birdsong from above. ‘Keep yer chin up, lad,’ Angus said. ‘Ye cannae keep lookin’ down at yer feet every other step.’ He lunged forward and struck out. Thunk. ‘Ye leave yer head open fer any attack.’

Finn rubbed his head where he had been tapped by his father’s training sword. ‘Da, that stings!’ He danced backward out of reach as he nursed his wounded pride.

Angus snorted, his whiskers rippling in echo. ‘Aye, but a bladed sword’ll hurt worse than a sting. Chin up!’ And he stepped to attack again.

Finn parried and side-stepped, sliding the stick against his father’s and succeeded in rapping the old fox’s knuckles. He turned and lunged for a stab to the ribs, but was blocked and spun round. His father used the pup’s momentum to keep him turning and off-balance, then slapped the young one across the small of his back, just above the tail. The sound of the strike reverberated around the trees, sending a few birds fleeing their perches.

Finn’s snarl of annoyance sent the rest of the birds flying, as he dropped the training sword and rubbed his tailbone. His eyes glistened with tears, but Finn refused to actually cry at the pain. He gave his father a sullen glance as the fox fae tried – and failed – to keep his laughter at bay.

‘Lad, ye’ve done well enow fer yer second training, so dinnae be too hard on yeself,’ Angus said, putting the training sword down on the grass and attending to his son. ‘Ye cannae think that ye can pick up a sword and be a master of it in weeks.’ He put his arms around Finn’s shoulders, pulling the reluctant pup into his embrace. ‘Ye’re young yet, too young to be fightin’ really, but there’ll be time enow for ye to learn. C’mon, lad,’ he said, ‘let’s go see if’n yer ma has lunch ready.’

Angus rubbed his knuckles into Finn’s scalp, trapping the pup under his arm and dragging him to the mouth of their den. Finn tried not to laugh, struggling and growling to release himself, while his father laughed at his youthful attempts.

They stopped frozen as a soul-freezing howl spiralled up from the depths of their home.

Wide-eyed, they looked at each other.

Angus whispered, ‘Dorna. Oh, my love ….’ He paused to grip Finn by the shoulders, staring deep into his only son’s eyes. ‘Run, dear heart. Don’t follow me down. Run, and get the Godvoices and the Guardians. Run!’ He pushed the pup towards the edge of the thicket, and Finn staggered a few steps.

He turned back to his father, his brown eyes filled with shock. ‘Papa?’ Finn had never been allowed out of the thicket without one of his parents with him, and the fear was near-paralysing. ‘Papa?’ His voice trembled.

But Angus was at the entrance to their underground home, his lightning-sharp sword rippling to existence in his hand. Over his shoulder, he said ‘Go, Finn! Now!’ He didn’t – couldn’t – wait to see if his son had gone for help; he dove into the darkness, his snarling war-cry splitting the air above and below.

Finn trembled in the sunlight, now gone cold. He whimpered, looking at his violated home, looking at safety and help beyond the thicket. He fell to his knees, tears soaking his whiskers. Rocking, sobbing, knowing his was ignoring his father’s orders, Finn could not bear to leave his parents in danger. He felt as though his heart would break, and he closed his eyes, hoping that the choice would be made for him.

The sunlight changed, shifting in from the other direction,

warming his fur. Confused, Finn opened his eyes and blinked at

the sight – a meadow, not a thicket; a tree, not a forest; a figure, not his father’s.

The figure turned. ‘What do we have here?’ But the jolly words did not

cover the concern or suspicion. ‘You are Angus’s son.’ A statement.

Finn nodded, robbed of words in this moment. ‘You are too young to

have been trained for this.’ Finn nodded again. ‘Angus is under attack.’

Finn howled his tears out, and the figure – wolf-headed, blue-eyed, garbed in robes –

made some shushing sounds, but kept his distance. ‘The Guardians will be

summoned. Go back and tell your father that help is on its way.’ The figure swiped

his hand down through the air, ending in a flick towards Finn, who-

tumbled backwards over the grass in his thicket. He stayed on his back, panting, his tears drying on his face.

The snarls and howls from deep within his home propelled Finn forward, and the pup pitched himself into the hole, desperate to help his father.

The Eyes Have It

Day 17, and this story was a bit of a difficult birth. Still, I hope you enjoy it, and maybe this will have cured me of my fascination with eyes as a motif.

Probably not.

Enjoy.


He always wore sunglasses, even inside. Not as an 80s/Cory Hart kind of statement, but part of his defences. As an introvert, he hated being different or noticeable or the centre of anyone’s attention. Murphy hated the looks his weird eyes got from others. Even from people he knew for years; they never quite got used to his extreme heterochromic mutation. So he covered them up, to protect himself.

Murphy never understood why he was burdened with such unusual eyes. He had tried using tinted contacts to cover the colours: complete failure. He didn’t have the finesse needed to insert the delicate curved film. Ended up jamming the contact into to his eye, scratched the eyeball with his own fingernail, and managed to trap the thing inside the eye socket. The emergency trip to the mall opticians’ office created such a humiliating stir – people wandering by were being hauled into the shop to see ‘this guy’s funky eyes’ – that he even contemplated moving to a different city to avoid his newfound (and short-lived) fame. For two weeks, he endured the calls of ‘Hey, it’s Funky-Eye-Guy!’ keeping his shoulders pulled up and his cap pulled down.

But even he couldn’t resist staring at them. He’d go into the bathroom to brush his teeth and shave, and end up late for work. Sometimes a single glance in the mirror could turn into a fifteen minute stare-fest, almost a trance. Murphy would shake himself back to consciousness, bleating in dismay and cursing his damned weird eyes. Again.

He wasn’t handsome – the eyes would have only enhanced that. He wasn’t ugly – his eyes would have made him attractive. Murphy was utterly plain.

Brown hair, slightly thinning at the crown. Middling height. Average body, with no distinguishing marks of any kind. Except his eyes.

Each iris was split into a swirled half of blue and green, both flecked with stars of the other colour. On anyone else, they would have been beautiful, enigmatic, mysterious. But on Murphy, they were a cosmic joke.

It was bad enough he had the mutation, but did it have to be a mutated mutation? One of the more poetic-minded girls he had dated had described him as having all the stars in his eyes. (She was also the one who broke up with him for having his head in the clouds. Murphy decided that it would be in bad taste to point out the poetic irony and the clichéd turn of phrase she tended to use. She may not have been able to write, but she had a damn-fine pitching arm with pinpoint accuracy, and those high heels that night… Nah. Weird as they were, Murphy preferred keeping his sight to sporting a stiletto or an eye patch.)

The only person he trusted was his mother. She never stared; said she got to stare as much as she liked when he was a baby, so there was no need now. When she called him and told him to get to the animal shelter where she volunteered, he didn’t hesitate. She was waiting for him, a mixture of joy and apprehension in her smile. ‘I know you weren’t looking for a pet,’ she said, leading him to the kennels, ‘but when this little girl arrived today, I knew that you two would hit it off.’

‘Mom,’ said Murphy, ‘you know I don’t have the space for a dog.’ His heart churned in his chest, the warning signs of it breaking because he knew he would have to say no.

‘Oh, forget that, you’ll find a way,’ she said. ‘Especially after you meet Athena.’ She stopped and gestured to the pen in front of her. Murphy joined her, and reluctantly looked into the kennel.

Stars met stars, and neither man nor dog could look away. Murphy crouched by the door, entranced by the blue and green swirls in the collie’s eyes. Athena tilted her head, appearing to Murphy to be as fascinated with him as he was with her. She shuffled closer to the door, leaning against the cage, her starry eyes pleading for a scratch behind the ears.

Which Murphy was all too happy to provide. The feeling of trust and acceptance – and that he wasn’t being judged – was enough to make him decide.

‘You’re right, Mom. She’s my dog now.’

***

Murphy wasn’t so self-conscious anymore, not with Athena around. People tended to look at her, not him, and he was happy with that. Only the more perceptive would notice that man and dog shared the same eyes, but none commented on it.

Besides, Murphy could hear Athena’s scathing insults as she judged every person they encountered. Though he thought it was odd that a dog did not love everyone unconditionally, Murphy never questioned why – or how – Athena was able to talk to him.

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