Dark Doors

Ask. I will tell you a story.

Tag: flash fiction (page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

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.

Call for Submissions from Editor version of me

If you are a student at Leeds Trinity University, love to write and think you’ve got some flash fiction or poetry that the world just CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT, then click over to this call for submissions by yours truly, and her partner in crime, John Gledhill.

Deadline is fast approaching, but you’ve got time.

Why are you still reading this?! Go click the link!

Demon Relations

Day 16, and this was a tough one to write. It started differently, and ended in a place I didn’t expect. So much so, that the beginning didn’t fit anymore. I’ve edited it – something I said I wouldn’t do in this challenge – because the writing demanded it. I’m going to re-use the edited material, knock it into better shape. For now, you folks get the better part of today’s writing.

Trust me. I’m a writer.


She watched from the bench near the reflecting pool, counting the humans as they passed by, counting the demons carried. She stretched and resettled into a crouch. A breeze picked up and sent a faint tremor through her: she scented a clean human.

Her nostrils twitched and she turned into the breeze, working to locate the source. It was difficult work in an open and public space, filled the smells of burdened humans. The sweet-rot smell of sweat and brimstone tinged with sulphur swayed with the breezes, drowning out the flowers in the park and the cut grass all around. She stood and paced the edge of the reflecting pool, nose lifted high as she followed the hints. She was trying to find the gaps between the smells – the absence of scent – and it was a challenge.

One she wasn’t willing to fail.

More on instinct than on olfactory evidence, she left the open spaces around the pool and chose a path pointing east. She trotted, unseen, at the edge of the path. Though she could avoid contact with the humans, the demons saw her, and trumpeted a greeting as she passed. Some guessed at what she was up to, and would try to follow her. They were stopped by their humans – and their links – as their agitation made their humans anxious and eager to appease them. She left a wake of demonic disturbance behind her, but she couldn’t hide her purpose.

She was new – no colour, no detail – and wished for a human of her own. Too many humans could not cope with more than one demon, and the population she had been assigned were almost tapped out. But she was assured several times that there was a human for her – she just had to find it.

The scent-gaps were growing; she must be getting closer. She dared to pick up her pace from a trot to a jog, nostrils flaring the air as she went. Pain raked her back, and she stumbled. Recovering, she glanced over her shoulder to inspect her back. Even in a glance, she saw new bone structure pushing through two gashes on either side of her spine. She smiled and redoubled her effort – her human was close enough to be imprinting its preferred shape on her. There! She could smell only flowers and mud.

She angled her pace off the path, galloping across the grass towards a picnic blanket. Sharp points of heat stabbed across her head and neck, feathers sprouting from each, and her face sharpened, pulling itself long and shaping itself into a hooked beak. She stumbled as her back legs went numb, and rewrote themselves into lion’s legs.

She didn’t stop though – she kept dragging herself forward using her newly-clawed front legs. She stretched and shrugged her back to release some of the pockets of pain, and went tumbling forward in surprise at her sudden momentum. She landed in a tangled mess of new talons and wings – and a tail! – and stayed for a moment while she sorted out her new body. She closed her eyes, taking stock of every change. The sun warmed her as she lay quiet, then she was plunged into shadow. Her eyes opened, and she looked straight into the face of her clean human.

She couldn’t help it, but she was sad that she would never smell that scent again. For as their eyes met, and human and demon bonded, the flower scent disappeared, tainted by the brimstone.

StoryTime – 2

Day 13, folks, and here’s the second installment of StoryTime. Sorry for the suggestions of gore – don’t eat while reading, okay?

I’ll aim for something less icky for tomorrow. Promise!


‘Once upon a time, there …’

The knife twists again, then slices in, deeper. The trickle of blood is closer to a torrent now, but I can’t see it. I’m screaming against the hand over my mouth, straining against the solid mass holding me to it. The knife withdraws, the pressure goes, and blood pulses out. Feels like my breast is deflating, but the quiet part of my brain – the one that isn’t screaming – tells me I’m being ridiculous. Still with the stupid thoughts. Focus!

I stop the next scream before it starts. I breathe against the hand, smelling its salt-sweat, trying not to taste it. The hand releases incrementally, then disappears. The body disappears.

‘Too childish. Try again.’

That voice. I struggle to turn, the steel cutting into my wrists, blood trickling down. Great. I’ll bleed out before I get another chance. The warmth trails to cold as the blood slides down my flank and leg.

Pressure on my breast again, I flinch.

‘Stop struggling. I don’t need you light-headed from blood loss. Don’t worry, I won’t let you die until you’ve told me my story.’

The pressure returns, then a sharp stab. I bend away again, but another hand presses me still from the other side.

‘I’m packing the wound. Stop it.’

Another sensation of pressure, this one flat and even over the wound. The scritching sound of tape near my ear, and the hands fix the bandage into place.

‘Just this once, I’ll give you a moment to order your thoughts. But I can only be patient for so long.’

Shreds of stories – other people’s stories – tumble through my mind’s eye. Frantic, I grasp at thoughts and fling them away. No, he’ll know that. Not that one. Fuck, he’ll know them all. I’m going to die here. I clear my throat and try again. ‘There was a reek…’

A searing cold slices down my thigh. I allow a thin shriek out, clamp down before the hand can. I don’t need that smell on my face again. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…’

‘Shhh. You’re learning though. That’s good. I don’t want ugly. Make it beautiful.’

Cold wetness draws up the thigh, stinging the wound. Sharp alcohol fills my nose, cleansing it. Pressure, tape, and the punishment is covered. Think, think, think. Beauty. What is beautiful in any of this? Where can I find beauty?

A lancing circle of pain in my left foot. A snap, then a squelch with a metallic clank. Blinding searing pain filling my world my head tilting back voice throat torn with the screams against the hand covered in coppery blood.

‘You were taking too long. That needed punishing.’

A gobbet of flesh dangles before my pain-filled eyes. Too close, then I focus. My littlest toe. Not on my foot anymore. My eyes roll, looking backwards into my brain for the story that will appease that voice stop those hands from hurting. Don’t take too long, or it might be fingers next. Or worse. Play the game. Get writing.

StoryTime

Day 12 – here you go, folks. This one was inspired by something an agent said the other night: Write like your life depended on it. I may have taken it a little too literally with this, but hey.

There’s more to this, I’m sure. I will return to this twisted take on Scheherezade, because it’s just too… well, read it and you’ll see. 


Heavy, dragging on my arms. There’s a pressure weighing down on my chest. It’s difficult to breathe. My mouth is covered, can’t open it. My arms. So much hurt, I almost drift back to the blackness to escape. Bastard luck, it recedes and I open my eyes.

My arms are stretched above me, my bare toes grazing the concrete floor. I look down, seeing my own nakedness and the cold hits. I shiver, I can’t stop shivering now that I’ve started, and the cold is least of my worries.

A disc of light on the floor, surrounded by encroaching darkness. I see the faint outline of a chair on the opposite side of the light, just outside its influence. My greedy eyes drink in the light to stave off the fear. I can’t stop them, and when I finally force a blink, the afterimage is burned behind my lids. I turn my head, but my arms blinker my vision. I look past the light into the void of the dark, straining to see past the burning bright spotlight.

The dark keeps its secrets.

I struggle, but there’s no stability in standing on tip-toe. My arms burn under the burden of myself, and I can’t put my feet flat down. The pain increases, and I stop, allowing myself to swing minutely from the shackles. Tendons and ligaments groan; I think I heard it, but I can’t be sure.

How in hell did I get here?

‘It’s story time.’

A voice from the black, coming from behind me. I thought I was cold before; that was a walk along a beach in comparison to how I feel now. I try to turn, wrench my head around to see the puppet-master who has hung me out like this.

Laughter echoes. ‘You must save your energy. Don’t struggle. You’ll only dislocate a shoulder or two.’ The voice is distorted, altered by the space and probably by technology. No human voice sounds like that naturally. Unless you’re Christian Bale. Nice time for jokes. Jesus, I’m in trouble here, and I’m making fucking jokes. I must be going mad.

‘You’re my favourite author, you know that?’

Fingers crawl through my hair, scratching through the tangled falls behind my neck and shoulders. A delicate scrape of nails down the skin of my back sets the shivers running anew.

‘I want you to write me a story. Just for me.’

The fingers continue stroking through my hair; the image of my cat on my lap whilst I’m sitting at my desk rises and falls.

‘But we’re going to play a game with this story. This story that’s you will write just for me.’

My chest tightens and my pulse speeds up. The fingers sweep the hair to one side. Warm breath on the back of my neck as strong hands trace the outlines of my strained biceps. My skin reaches back for the warmth of the large body that stands just behind me. It comes no closer. Only the breath and the hands touch me.

‘You will start your story. If I don’t like it, I punish you.’

One hand lifts away from my arm. The sudden chill where there was a brief warmth makes me tremble again. That’s what I tell myself, but then I hear a metallic clink behind me.

‘I’m very imaginative, too.’

A chill line traces from the small of my back, around my waist to my stomach. I roll my eyes down, bending my head as much as I dare with the voice behind me. I watch as the tip of the filleting knife trails around my navel, and travels up my torso, circling the right nipple. I scream behind the gag.

‘Try to scream or do anything other than tell me my story, and I will punish you.’

The tip of the knife presses into the outer swell of my right breast.

‘Tell me a story I have heard before, and I will punish you.’

I watch – eyes wide – as a cherry drop of blood blossoms under the tip of the knife. Thank the gods it’s so cold, otherwise I’m sure that would hurt.

‘Take the story in a direction I don’t like, I will punish you.’

The knife pivots, twists, digs deeper, and the drop becomes a widening line. Pain sears through the cold.

I wish I was only shivering now.

On the Origins of the Dragonfly

Day 11 and the challenge continues. This one’s a little late today, because I’ve been out meeting a potential agent. (Who is awesome, by the way! But I might write about it tomorrow.)

Not sure where this came from. The first sentence (which became the title) was an errant thought galloping through my head on my commute today. The intention was to write it in an Attenborough-esque style, but this slightly drunken voice emerged instead, and I decided to run with it.

I’ll shut up and let you read now.


On the origins of the dragonfly:

It is a little-known fact that dragonflies are related to dragons.

No, wait. Don’t go. I’m really not insane. Listen, and you will understand.

Dragonflies were parasites – no, that’s not right. Dragonflies were symbionts to the dragons. They were a lot bigger then than they are now. They used to live on the dragons, nesting just under the wings. They took care of the cleaning. Honest. Most people think that dragons would just burn off any grime, but for those hard to reach places, dragonflies are perfect. Like those birds with the alligators, picking out gobbets of flesh in-between teeth, and keeping gums healthy. That’s what they’d do. Picking out the carbonized fragments of charred beast, because that corrodes dragon-teeth like nothing else does.

I know, right? Big fangs and snarly teeth like that, and you never think of dragon dental health.

But dragonflies were more than just dedicated dentists. They polished scales and claws, kept antlers (lung dragons only, of course) from splintering and snapping. A dragon’s beauty was down to its flies. Those evil dragons? They were just angry because their flies were substandard keepers, and dragons are vain creatures. And they teased each other mercilessly if their scales started going black with neglect. They would try to poach good dragonflies from each other, with varying success, because the flies are dumb. Loyal, but dumb.

But I said before that dragonflies are related to dragons. I’m getting to that.

Dragonflies looked like miniature dragons, but slimmer with doubled wings, and not much bigger than your hand.

After science started to replace magic, people gradually lost their faith in the existence of dragons. Like the Greek gods of old, the dragons shrank as belief in them faded. They got smaller, and needed less care. So dragonflies would leave, trying to find another host. That didn’t work, because the food source was shrinking. Literally. Dragonflies died off.

And the dragons got smaller. A few people believed, so dragons didn’t die out completely. Mainly because their original size – bigger than you can conceive, but think of a football pitch, and you’ve got enough room for the final sections of the tail – gave them enough time to adapt as they shrank.

After a few generations, dragons resembled dragonflies.

But faith still dwindled, and dragons kept shrinking. Thanks to the storytellers of the world, dragons would not disappear completely. They just shrank to a sustainable size.

And now, they’re dragonflies.

What? You asked.

Dichotomy

Day 10 and something a little experimental. I was caught in this conflict today – stuck between Librarian and Writer whilst at work. Felt like I was being torn in two. So, here’s my dual brain dichotomy. (Fingers crossed the formatting works…)


Don’t look at me.                                                                    Look at me.

These words are not me.                                                       These words are

I am not these words.                                                             everything I am.

When you read these words,                                                  These words define me,

you are not reading me.                                                          outline me, give me purpose.

I am not the mind behind that story.                                        I explore the darkening corners

Stop looking so frightened – as if                                            of my mind, root out the

I am the psycho in that story.                                                  Nightmares, put them on display.

Those are just words.                                                              Naming the fears gives them

Not me.                                                                                    shape, makes them known, so we

Don’t look at me like that.                                                        can all rest easy at night. Not

I wouldn’t do such awful things.                                               lay awake wondering are there

Why do you think I am capable of …                                       monsters in cupboard is that a

How can you think I could possibly … ?                                  killer huddled at the foot of my

That’s not me. It’s just a story.                                                 bed will I die in my sleep?

I’m a person, not a monster.                                                    I give breath and shape to the

Though I’m not much to look at…                                            creatures of your fears, so you

Stop looking at me like that.                                                     can know them and name them

I wouldn’t dream of hurting you.                                               and never fear them again.

I could never hurt anyone.                                                        These words let me be the hero,

I’m not that strong. Or vicious.                                                  take charge, be in control,

I just write down words,                                                             be daring, defeat the monster,

just ink on paper, or black marks                                               or be psychotic, become the

on a screen, words which are even less                                    Monster, and peel faces back

real, because they are virtual.                                                    to make them my own.

I am real, the words are only stories.                                          I breathe life into the stories,

Nothing more, nothing less.                                                        make the words dance across

Do not judge me by my words.                                                   your mind – the better the dance,

Do not fear me because of those words.                                    the better the story is.

I am more than those ideas.                                                    Judge my words for the story

But please, I beg you,                                                             they make.

do not believe that those words are me.                                  Each word is a piece of me.

Two-fer

Day 9 offering, folks.

On the radio, they were asking about people’s first kiss, which got me thinking about this. By the time I started writing it – twelve hours later – I realised I was heading to a dangerous place. Didn’t help that the kid was watching ‘Buffy’ while I was writing.

In my own inimitable style, I offer you a two-fer today, in which the second uses the first as a style model. With a twist.

Enjoy?


You kissed me.

So much happens in just those three words.

You kissed me.

You touched my face, just the fingertips resting on my cheek. Your eyes fixed on my lips. My eyes fixed on yours, I watched as your lips part with a breath. Shallow in, shallow out. My breath matched yours, my hands reached for your hips. Your left hand slid under my hair, cupped the base of my skull, fingers entwined in hair. Grasping, you pulled my face closer to yours. My fingers flexed and gripped your flesh, palms on hipbones, pulled you closer to me. Standing hip-to-hip, we felt the tremble of anticipation in the other. A hitched breath, a shiver down the spine. Your lips grazed against mine, light, fleeting. Grazed again, my lips opened to yours. I tilted my head back, leaned up, and then.

You kissed me.

I kissed you.

Anything more becomes Fifty Shades of mommy-porn.

***

I killed you.

So much happens in just those three words.

I killed you.

You stepped closer, circling closer as I clawed my way free of the dirt of my own grave. Your eyes fixed on my lips. I obliged you and – even as a newborn – smiled out my shiny fangs. Your eyes dilated. Even in dim lamplight, I watched the anticipation crank open your pupils. Though you pushed it down, away, I scented your fear. Tang of orange. Who knew? I breathed in, deep, breathed out, then realised – I don’t need to breathe anymore. I smiled, then swore as my teeth cut my own lip. Tongue darted out; waste not, want not. Wrong, actually; waste not, want more.

I freed myself, stood upright upon my grave, shivered through with the night chill after the warmth of my coffin. Errant thought – someone just walked over my grave – shot across my mind, memory of my grandmother explaining away tremors and chills. Not paying attention, as I stared you down, matched you step for step. Partners in this macabre dance before death.

As one, we leapt for each other, hands grasping gripping grappling. Hip-to-hip, we struggled in the other’s embrace. You grabbed my face, pushed hard to tilt me back. I bit down on the palm of your hand, forced into my mouth. Rookie mistake. My hands were free to seize your head, your hair, and I pulled you backwards, bending you further and further as my balance returned.

A snap. You went limp in my arms. But you lived. Your eyes screamed fear.

I bent and drank deep. You tasted of blood and orange.

I killed you.

Single Strand

I suppose this is for anyone who has been in a bad relationship. I don’t honestly know if I’m going to leave this posted – it’s quite raw, and may hurt when read. But… isn’t that what writing is meant to do?


In that moment when you realise a single strand connects you to hell, every detail, every event rushes from the depths of your mind. You thought you had it locked away, but this single connection in the present was enough to pick the lock and bring it all back.

It’s the pettiness of her revenge that irks you the most. The smallest incident in a series of much larger, more worrying events which she has brought to the fore. You wonder how angry she must be to flaunt this to the world. You worry that speaking of the whole sorry affair will give her power over you again.

But you have grown wiser since that doorway to hell slammed shut behind her. And you realise that you are no longer defined by her. She is defined by you. No. Even that isn’t correct. Her public face is outlined by her own petty vindictiveness, her own mistaken reduction of the entire relationship; a reduction that, in the grand scheme, is so minor as to be overlooked, forgotten. From a different perspective, it could have been a pivotal moment. It highlighted her selfishness, her inflexibility, her overwhelming and incorrect superiority: she’s right, and no one else is.

At least you forgot it.

But it is glaringly apparent that she has not.

You are free. She has wrapped and warped herself, twisted that passing comment into the fabric of her everyday life.

But you had to think of the children. They came first, and her poison pettiness was hurting them.

See? All of the details, which you wish were gone, wiped clean, erased from your life, roll in on the irresistible wave of memory. You feel yourself being dragged forward, into the surf, against your will. Your foot snags on the undertow, and it hooks your leg out from beneath you. You fall, but one foot stands on dry sand, and you twist as you fall, reaching out to claw your way back to light.

But there are hands there, in a blink, hands that grab your arms, scooping you up and lifting you above the venomous water of the past. Those who care about you bring you back, and lay you down, far from the grasping claws of the sea. They sit with you, let you stare – in pale, horrified memory – for a while. But they are the ones that won’t let you wallow. Won’t let you go under. They help you to your feet, dust the sand off, and remind you that you are strong enough to turn your back on that sea.

And you do.

That final, single strand which linked you to hell snaps like a gossamer cobweb as you walk back to your life.

The Walls of Freedom

No sooner do I post about postponing my post, and tech support (hubby) has fixed the problem. Sod’s Law, really.

Here is today’s piece, inspired by a suggestion from the kid. 


Sky and clouds tumble free-fall. All around, grass rolling up into hills and meadows, stretching beyond his failing vision. The horizon a dim line of green etched across the blue of the sky. No trees anywhere – just grass and sky and clouds.

He looks up – he always looks up – his face open to the open sky. He feels the vast emptiness press down on him. Knees crumple and he falls back, onto the grass.

Screaming.

Hands stretched up in front of him, he screams himself to consciousness. His fingers criss-cross the sky above him, dark shadows over the blue. His breath runs out and he gasps, tries not to sob with relief when he sees that the sky is only a circle far above him. The grey walls surround him in their familiar embrace, and his world shrinks to what he knows.

He gulps and hitches. His hands drop down and cover his eyes. A ghost of the nightmare returns – blue and white – and he fights the memory. Regains himself, masters his breath. Spent, he lies limp on his back in the dirt. He lets his hands flop out to either side. For a moment, he is crucified, encircled by walls, and he is at peace.

He does not want to move. Not just yet. The dirt beneath his back warms from his own heat, reflecting it back. A faint smile crosses his face. Just a dream. Not real.

With one deep breath, he rolls over and up, and is ready to start the day. He circles the walls, checking for cracks and any structural damage. He finds the tip of a root pushing its way through the wall. With ruthless speed, he excavates a small space around it, gathering the dirt and setting it in a neat pile. He digs in a few inches deep, a small circle around the root. Satisfied that it is deep enough, he reaches in, grasps the root and pinches with his nails, clipping it through. He sets it down, sneering at its feeble attempt to destroy his home, then scoops up the displaced dirt, and repairs the hole. Though there hasn’t been an earthquake in years, he knows that the only way a home will look after you is if you look after it. That scare from – when was it? – whenever it was, with that jagged break in the wall stretching up, even past his head, taught him to take nothing for granted.

Except the basket. He hears the squeak of its journey to him and steps back from his repaired wall, and watches its descent. He squints to see its blurry grey shape against the darker grey walls. He follows it, sees how it is no longer blurry when it is just a few feet above his head. He considers this for a moment, but sees no importance in it.

The basket has stopped at his chest height, and he steps forward, looks inside. A bottle of milk, some bread – good, the last bit has gone mouldy – a few apples, two thick slices of ham. Someone must be in a good mood. He removes the small feast, arranges it on the table at one side. He shuffles the items around, weighing up how long before the basket would return again, and how much he can allow himself each day.

He turns, and blinks when he sees that the basket is still there. This is new. He approaches it again, wary now, and looks in again. Down at the bottom is something new. He prods at it, but nothing happens. Tentative, apprehensive, he reaches in and grabs it.

It is cold, but only from the food. The plastic case warms in his hand, and he stares at it, turning it over and over.

He looks into the basket again, searching for some kind of clue of what this thing is. A white square of paper sits on the bottom. He picks it up. The basket has brought him books in the past, but he didn’t like them very much. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. The paper is folded, almost like a book.

He unfolds the paper and stares at the marks on it. He does not know what they mean, but a chill runs through his heart, and a flash memory of the sky in his dream makes him sweat.

Do you want to be free?

A Mother’s Love

Day 6, folks. This was a difficult day for writing, and I had to drag this idea out, a syllable at a time.

The opening epigram is something I was spitballing for ideas, and I liked the rhythm of it. Doesn’t exactly fit with what followed, but it did inspire it somewhat.

Not my best work – apologies. But I’m keeping up with my challenge.


Fear, elation, duty, obligation. Where is the joy amongst these things?

She lifted her daughter from the bed, resting the girl’s chin against her own shoulder. Gentle fingers, Marta untied the gown at Chloe’s neck and eased the gown open. The fragile music of the water from the sponge as it trickled down into the basin. She squeezed the sponge, the trickle increased to a temporary torrent. With firm strokes, she circled the warm sponge down the length of her daughter’s back.

Damp breaths warmed the skin of her shoulder. Marta grasped for some joy there. At least her daughter was alive.

Trading the sponge for a fluffy towel, she dried Chloe’s back. She shifted the weight and laid her daughter back against the pillows. Marta smoothed Chloe’s hair from her face, searching the girl’s eyes for some recognition. Blank grey stared back, showing a dull infinity.

She checked over her shoulder to ensure the door was closed behind her, and swept the hospital gown off. Firm but swift, Marta washed Chloe’s arms, torso and legs, pausing to dry each part, patting with tender care. She dressed her daughter, resentful of the institutional gown, convinced that this kept Chloe from returning to her.

If only she could bring Chloe’s own pyjamas in, her favourite blanket. Marta knew that these familiar objects would remind Chloe of the life she left behind. Her heart pounded in anticipation of arguing with the nurses again, and she even stood up from the edge of the bed. Memories of previous arguments resurfaced, and Marta sat down again, resigned. At least she didn’t lose those minutes with her daughter.

Sunshine filled the room, turning the dingy grey walls buttery with its light. It touched Chloe’s hair and the blonde blazed into honey gold. Marta watched, breath stopped, and witnessed Chloe turn her head to the light. Her face, a sunflower.

Marta picked up the old hairbrush from the bedside table, and shuffled closer to her Chloe. She picked up a lock of honey gold, and the brush glided through it, gilded by the sun. Marta hummed an old lullaby as she brushed her daughter’s hair, remembering when she was only five and fought against the brush. A smile warped the hum for a moment, and a tear travelled unchecked from Marta’s eye to the bed sheet.

She brushed and brushed until Chloe’s hair looked like spun gold, and Marta half-expected Rumpelstiltsken to appear in a puff of magic next to the bed, demanding her secrets. Marta parted Chloe’s hair, and smoothed the left side behind her ear. Gently, tenderly, and with accusatory regret, Marta brushed the right side over Chloe’s cheek, to hide the burned ruin of the girl’s profile.

The Hunter Moon – 5 Feb

Day 5’s offering. I’m a little concerned that I’m barely making my minimum word count, folks. I hope you like prose poetry, because that’s the only thing that describes today’s piece.

Enjoy?


The Hunter Moon sings a new language to me: all sibilants and fricatives, with the occasional shock glottal that makes me stumble. The song rolls through me. Did I know it once? Once upon a time, the Hunter Moon ruled us all, and we danced beneath its light. Free and wondrous, beautiful in our simplicity.

What was its song? My heart reaches out, straining to feel for it. The words resonate, off-key, and my soul ages with the pain. The pain of knowing and not-knowing, of chancing so close to meaning and missing each moment.

The song of the Hunter Moon fills the dreamlands with its memories and its dance. There in the dreamlands, I am freed from the ties that bind and hold me to this earth. Gravity is subjective and my feet float free from the earth, as I twirl up, reaching for the song and its once-known words.

Not new then, but age-old, before history was drenched in gunpowder and blood. Back when humans knew the worth of everything, knew the cost of all, and desired no more than what the earth could give. Desired only of love and health and happiness. Tied by seasons, not by possessions. Strived to be safe and warm, not richer than the next guy.

The Hunter Moon does not judge. It calls us back to what we once knew, to joy of living. Fear was clamped into superstitions, turned into stories to frighten children to goodness. To turn their faces and open their hearts to the song of the Hunter Moon.

Forcing myself to stop, to get outside, to listen to its song, I reach for the Hunter Moon and the message I have lost. Eyes closed, body relaxed, and soul open for knowledge, the lilting notes trip on the streetlights, sent awry, and my eyes open. There are tears, to my surprise, and my heart weeps too.

Alone, late in the dark, without distraction or intention, I sleep. And in my dreams, I drown myself in the song of the Hunter Moon. Reaching back into memory and across time to find the knowing of what once was.

The Fear in Living – 4 Feb

Day 4 of personal challenge. It’s a little more personal – an attempt to express even a fraction of the daily terror that resides within. Let me know how I did.

(Edit: changed the title: The Fear in Living. Mistake on my part. Sorry, folks.)


Dig down, find the vein. Where is it? Dig deeper, where the paranoia rests, stir it to the surface. Why do I do this? Do I make a conscious choice to make myself miserable? Tense and sick with worry? Dig down, stir it around, and find where the fear lies. Prod it, poke it to roaring life, and ride the wave of terror. It will last all day, boiling my innards roiling with acid nausea. Until I’m home, and I know that all of us are safe. Until I can hug my child, and know that a maniac killer hasn’t invaded the school, and shot my golden son into an early grave. Until I can hold my husband, and know he hasn’t been mown down by a drunk driver, swerving wildly to avoid a hallucination. Then, only then, does the fear settle and turn over into a restless sleep. But the spectre of family future ghosts through my mind, and I tremble with the fear of what puberty will bring us all. Will I still recognise the little boy I have loved? Or will I have to turn him over to the police one day?

The fear, it is never completely still. With mother and brothers thousands of miles away, I can only rely on the façade of email and the fakery of phone calls, to assure me that they are well and alive. The boys – I don’t worry as much about them. They’re vital, healthy, with families to support and protect them. They’re okay, and that fear has died for lack of oxygen and exercise.

My mother. Dearest to me, now she is alone. So alone, and so far away. Worry for her wracks my heart, almost as much as fear for my son. Worry for her – falling, hurting herself – shreds me. I try not to think of her, wandering through that house. For it is filled with memories and my worries and so many ghosts – of my father, of our childhood pets, of our childhood selves even, running and screaming and laughing and crying. All the tempers of our years linger still in every beam and fibre of that house. And the worry that these ghosts will overwhelm this tiny woman, and her tiny cat, in that big empty house, filled with ghosts. And worry.

Filled, finally, with love realised.

The Selfie of Gloriana Day – 3 Feb

Day 3 offering. I think I may have written myself into a corner with this one. But the idea still amused me.


She sat back, dumbfounded, staring. The screen flickered and died, she stared so long at her phone. Tapping it to life, she gaped – open-mouthed – at the photo she had just taken. And marvelled at it.

It was perfect. She had managed to take the perfect selfie. The angle of the camera in relation to her chin wiped out any suggestion of a second one hiding underneath. The sunlight streaming in from the bedroom window flooded her complexion with gold, tinting her brown hair with copper and bronze. Her eyes sparkled like gems filled with fire. Her body looked curvaceous – no hint of odd plumpness in her thighs, no suggestion of bony elbows that jabbed like knives.

She looked beautiful. The perfect version of herself.

A couple of fingertip-taps and her selfie was uploaded, online for all the world to see. She changed her profile on every site she had: this would be her new identity, her permanent face from now on. Even when I’m sixty, I’m not changing it! She wondered if she would ever look like this again.

Half an hour – and fifty likes – later, she stretched up from the sofa, setting her phone down on the table. She was a little bored with the beautiful comments pouring in, and needed a break. Besides, it’ll be better to see the number jump after I’ve left it alone for a bit.

She shuffled into the kitchen, scratching at her lower back, and opened the refrigerator door. Glanced over the contents, and settled on the last piece of cheesecake, near to withering in the back. She ate it quickly, from the package with a fork she merely wiped clean on a suspect tea towel, barely tasting any sweetness, trying to ignore the little voice that reminded her of her hips and thighs and how little help they needed to stay that wide. She pottered around, aimless, made a cup of tea, made a half-hearted attempt at cleaning up, then gave up and hurried back to her phone.

One hundred and fifty likes! But it’s only been ten minutes! And I only have 56 friends.

She stared entranced at her selfie, wishing she could always look like that. But she knew that it wasn’t the truth. And it never would be. She sighed, turned on the television, and settled in for another lonely night with Netflix.

***

Waking with a snort and a start, she half-sat up on the sofa and wiped a trail of drool from her cheek. The tv had switched itself off, the only light in the room from the streetlamps and a winking blue dot on her phone. She ignored it and staggered to the bathroom, her legs numb before the pins-and-needles hit. She winced in the sudden overhead light, keeping her eyes mostly closed while she peed and flushed. She washed her hands, her hair falling forward over her face so she couldn’t see the reflection in the mirror. I don’t want nightmares. But she caught a glimpse of her reflection from the doorway, her hand paused over the light-switch.

Even though her mouth hung open in a most unattractive startled-fish expression, the reflection in the mirror was … perfect. It was a perfect expression of wonder and amazement, and a twin to the selfie she took earlier. The fluorescent lights picked up the copper and bronze in her hair, and her eyes still glimmered like jewels.

She approached the mirror slowly, not wanting to frighten off the vision of loveliness before her. But it stayed. And it smiled at her with confidence. I’m not going anywhere, it seemed to say. She returned the smile. Stay as long as you like. I won’t kick you out for eating crackers in bed.

Oh, how they laughed.

***

Months passed. And the perfect selfie had become her face. She walked through life with the ultimate confidence, day in and day out. Nothing fazed her, because all she saw was the beauty of herself, shining through every pore. She didn’t settle for second-best anything now, and people seemed to go out of their way to help her succeed. This is what being beautiful does for a person!

Her life had become busy – with work, with colleagues, with friends – and she had little enough time for her online life anymore. The occasional group photo of a debauched night out, or too many drinks on the beach, but she didn’t stalk her own newsfeed like she used to.

It was a bit of a shock, then, when she happened to see that her profile pic – that perfect selfie – was no longer as perfect as she remembered. Her hair had lost most of the copper highlights, and there was a definite thickening around her chin area. She did not run to the nearest mirror, but she did hurry a little. Nope, nothing’s changed here. She inspected every detail of her face, stepping back and stripping to check for any sagging or expansion in her body. Nope, all is still … wait a minute.

She stared into the mirror, but this time she wasn’t looking at herself. She was running through her potted memories of high school and Literature classes at uni. No. It’s not fucking possible.

Is it?

She ran for her phone, rather than her shelf, and downloaded a copy of Dorian Gray. Knowing the set-up, she skimmed straight to the end, looking for advice on how to avoid the same downfall. The book was no help – oils and canvas don’t even begin to compare to pixels and digital images. She knew that his portrait was hidden from the world, but hers was out there for all the world to see.

She looked at the original selfie on her phone: a few grey hairs had turned up, and wrinkles were beginning to show at the corners of her eyes. Fucking hell! Look at what the shock of this has done to me! She checked her profile pic, and sure enough, everything was changing on it, and the perfection was marred. Everyone who knew her would see her deterioration and … what should she do? If I take it off Facebook, will all that crap land on me instead? If I leave it there, will I stay this way forever?

She tapped to edit her profile, and paused, finger hovering millimetres from the screen.

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