Dark Doors

Ask. I will tell you a story.

Tag: 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!

 

World Book Day 2017

WBD is 20! Twenty years of celebrating books and words and stories and everything to do with writing! Love this day. Even more so this year because, in my daytime persona as a mild-mannered school librarian (Stop laughing – I can be mild-mannered!), I’m very pleased to be hosting Martyn Bedford at my school on World Book Day 2017.

Looking forward to his dry wit and inspirational words. Don’t worry – there will be pics of the day. (Just ignore that I’ll be dressed up as one of my favourite characters ever…)

Check out Martyn and his books here: http://martynbedford.com/

Anything Prose 2

Back due to popular demand, our second ‘poetry free zone’, ANYTHING PROSE, will take place on Friday 10th February 2017 from 7.30 pm. Our headliners include Armley Press new kid, A J Kirby, David Williams and LMA Bauman-Milner. Come and dazzle us with your fictions and fake news! If it’s anything like the last one, we are in for a real treat. Open mic slots available on the night. 5 min slots.

 

 

Schroedinger’s Story

A few months ago, a writer-ly friend posted this link to Facebook: 100 rejections in a year.  I had just received an email rejection that morning, following on a streak of several form rejections, and I was gearing up to stomp around the house in a stroppy funk for a few days. But, reading that advice – to set rejection goals for a year – jolted me out of my habitual bad mood, and got me thinking instead.

Why not aim for rejection? Play the odds by submitting more and more often, and weather the rejections when they come with a gleeful malice – yay! One more closer to my goal! Because I’ve done that before – played the odds with multiple submissions – and got somewhere with it. (Dark Doors wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t done that. Orthros: A Night of Aconite Prose wouldn’t have seen the light of day if I hadn’t done that, which means I would have missed out on performing many times with Steve Toase over the past year.) So, I decided to try it again, and submit more stories to more places, and apply for things that I would normally discount because my application won’t be good enough to be accepted. (I’ll let those who are paid to reject/accept me do the rejecting/accepting; that way I’m not doing their job for them! Make ’em work for their money!)

Within one week, I had managed to double my rejections from the previous five months. Giving the stories a rest for a couple of days, I sent off two applications – one for free online writing courses, another for an actual grant for real-life money – within a couple of days of flying back to Canada, because I just knew that I would be too knackered to do it in time after I returned.

To date, I’m at 16 rejections, most of which have happened in the last few weeks. Sometimes, the rejections are soul-destroying; sometimes, merely a distraction. But more often these days, my response to rejections are: Right. Where shall I send this story next? What should I submit to them next?

Time to scour and scowl at my spreadsheet of submissions and send out the next bunch for future rejections. And before anyone shouts at me for being all negativity and storm-cloud-auraed… with every future rejection, there is always the possibility that it might transform into the next acceptance. (Schroedinger’s Story: the story is in a state of acceptance/rejection until the email is opened.)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m waiting for my finest rejection* this week. The BBC will be announcing the shortlist for the National Short Story Award 2016 on Friday 16 September on Radio 4 at 7:15pm. I’m absolutely positive that this rejection will be spectacular!

 


*(And really, this one alone should count for five rejections in total.)

Orthros @ Hyde Park Book Club

Orthros returns from the Underworld, moving from shadow to shadow, with something between a growl and a howl hovering in its throat.

Steve Toase and I are pleased to announce that we will be performing at the Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds on 21st January and on 25th February. We will perform new stories, as well as dark favourites.

Both nights are 7:30 entry for an 8pm start, free admission. Because space and seating is limited, please book your ticket through EventBrite. You can pay what you decide after the performance, or – even better! – buy a book afterwards. Copies of Steve’s anthology project, Haunt, and my own collection, Dark Doors, will be available for adoption on the night.

We invite you to join us for an evening of dark and disturbing prose .

poster-with-text

 

Graduation Day

Can I say this first?

It’s been a pig of a fortnight.

In an effort to guard against random colds and the infectious slurry that comes with working in a school, I put on my big girl pants and got a flu jab. Normally, this means that my shoulder gets swollen and sore for a few days, and I get a nasty case of the sniffles.

Not this time.

Cue five days or more of every variation and permutation of flu symptoms, culminating in the worst cold sore outbreak I have ever experienced. I looked like Heath Ledger’s Joker for a week, before morphing into crocodile mouth, complete with green scales. Yech.

Who wants pictures of the most important moment in your life?

Not me. Get that camera away from me. I’m going to go hide under this rock. Just stick the mortarboard and hood on this rock, and don’t take any feckin’ pictures. I don’t want to be remembered as the graduating crocodile. Put that camera in my face and I’m gonna slap you silly. Christmas tree shot? No thanks. Selfie pose with the family? Nuh-uh. Piss off.

With this poor frame of mind, I attended graduation. And everyone was there, looking fabulous and glamorous with lovely hair and clear faces and rocking legs – and that was just the guys. Every moment of smiling – which physically hurt, tearing through the scaled scabs at the corners of my mouth, shredding the delicate healed edge of my top lip – was an eternity of agony, and a reminder of how ill and sickly I looked. Add to that the monster-mega-PMT that latched on like a demon, and I’m ready to curl up under that lovely rock I saw earlier. In a fair-sized chapel with high ceilings on a cold rainy day in December, how warm do you think it could get? Think sauna, and you’re getting close. Add wool robes and a mortarboard perched on your head, and you’re getting closer still. Add in the Phantom Farter who must have had a toxic stew of garlic, onions, curry AND chili, and now you understand why I was ready to faint by the end.

Feeling photogenic now? Hell, no.

Is there a happy ending to this rant? Not really. No shuttle bus back to the car park afterwards meant having to trudge uphill through the windy darkness with cramps and crocodile mouth and a refined sense of dread about my behaviour over the last two hours.

No happy endings. But there were happy moments dotted throughout, when I could forget the miasma and bad burny feelings:

Hearing the department’s successes over the past year – to which I contributed, and got a mention – in the Vice Chancellor’s speech. Hearing my name announced and making that long walk to be welcomed to the MA. Seeing my good friends enjoy themselves, and receive their degrees and their recognition, seeing the joy and pride of their families in their achievement. Hearing my son say that he’s proud of me (in an oh-so-quiet voice with which I am familiar). Seeing the look of quiet pride of my husband’s face, but only now realizing that he has that look on his face pretty much every time he looks at me (unless I’ve just made a terrible pun, or am teasing him about the laundry). Introducing my family to my tutor, and getting that one picture (the ONLY picture) I really wanted of me with the three most important influences on my writing life.

So, no happy endings. But one good picture, and a pretty decent video of the walk.

After a pig of a fortnight, I think that’s the best I could ask for. (Along with the MA itself, and my very own graduation bear… because, well, BEAR!)

12363226_10153267137498616_1835246568925060642_o

Hesitation and the Writer

Today on Twitter, I bumped into a tweet from Guy Gavriel Kay, in which he confesses his reluctance to post and share comments from readers about his writing. I tweeted back that he should share other readers’ opinions about his work, because he writes for the readers. Another follower joined in with his agreement because word of mouth is the greatest way to reach new audiences, new readers. And this was just how I was introduced to the wordsmithery of GGK.

Years back, and two months before I left Canada to study in Scotland, a friend recommended Tigana as the best example of how a book could be a self-contained story, and not require endless sequels and prequels. I was quite skeptical of his assertion, but he assured me that the characters were nuanced, the plot and sub-plots riveting, and the writing superlative.

I had to read this for myself. No book written nowadays is that damn good.

Thankfully, I was so very wrong.

Tigana reminded me what a good fantasy story should be. GGK showed me – in no uncertain terms – how beautiful prose could be. For the first time since The Narnia Series, I became invested in characters, empathized with them, cheered for them when they succeeded, and cried for them when they failed. Tigana was the first book I read and re-read and wore out and bought a new one and wore that one out too. Kay’s storytelling ability is inspiring; his writing showed me how characters interact, speak, react, and grow with every turn of the page. I devoured more and more of his books, scoured the shelves of UK bookstores (which sadly lacked any titles from one of the best writers our time), and learned how to inject humour into dire situations, how to shape quirks and flaws into good characters to make them more interesting, more engaging for the reader.

And I hope – oh how I hope! – that I have learned enough from reading GGK that I have been able to create characters and write dialogue and set a scene as beautifully as he does.

Mr Kay, please don’t ever hesitate to share your successes with us. Being a writer is a lonely job.  Even reading has become more isolated, as every person has their own library or e-reader, and storytelling in groups is a fringe event art. If you share the response others have had to your words, then we all benefit, knowing that we are not alone.

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.

Orthros – A night of aconite prose

Autumn hangs ragged on tree branches, while the sun succumbs to the night.
Join Steve Toase and LMA Bauman‐Milner as they sprinkle grave dirt, rattle dungeon doors and fashion poppets from fear and leaf mould.

 

 

 

Reasons for Silence

That title sounds much more literary than I intended for this post, but it fits, so it stays.

It’s already July, and time slipped away from me since that personal challenge in February. There are reasons for why I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog.

As you know, I’ve been working on an MA in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University, and have recently become a school librarian (best. job. ever.) to help keep my day structured and focused on books. Between the library and the writing for the MA, and all that adulting stuff that goes on (laundry, groceries, car troubles, kid, etc), I’ve been pretty busy.

But all that work and online silence has some pretty amazing results. Here is the project I was working on for the MA, which produced an awesome collection of poetry and prose.

You can purchase your own copy direct from Indigo Dreams Publishing if you click here. The university also provided a press release celebrating the publication of ‘Inspiration’, and the developing relationship between the MACW and IDP. They even interviewed me about the anthology and my experiences through the MA, in which I was able to announce that my own collection of short stories has been accepted for publication later this year.

Yes, that’s right. I found out in May that I’m going to be a published author. For reals.

And if this isn’t enough good news, here is a podcast interview I did with the wonderful folks at Wordspace Radio, an undergraduate project from LTU, and well-worth keeping an ear on.

Looking ahead, I will be performing at the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe with Steve Toase (he is awesome – check him out) on Monday 5th October at 9:15pm in the Wildman Studio of the Ilkley Playhouse. Save the date! But I’m sure I’ll be back to remind you, and keep you updated on the progress of our show.

Go on and ‘like’ my Facebook author page, and follow me on @LMABaumanMilner for more recent and timely updates and silliness. I promise I’ll try not to neglect you again.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Older posts

© 2019 Dark Doors

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑