Remedy

This short story, of under 500 words, was inspired by a writing prompt challenge issued by Sammi Cox. The task was to compose a short piece of writing centred around the starting sentence: “I’ve found the remedy”. This was an interesting word-count to be dealing with, and an interesting challenge, too. As ever, I hope you enjoy.

This picture is courtesy of https://sammiscribbles.wordpress.com/.
“I’ve found the remedy.” I heard the words leave my lips, but, even as they echoed back at me, bouncing off the cave’s sloped walls, I refused to believe them. How could I, after all that had happened? So much time had passed and so many sacrifices had been made since the virus had first reached the village. I’d had a mother then, and a little brother.

Now, it was only me.

I straightened up, staring hard at the small, leafy plant that I clutched in my sweaty palm. Part of me wanted to throw it to the ground and stamp on it, destroying with it the thought that I could have saved them. If only I’d been quicker. If only I’d checked this place sooner. It made sense, after all. The witch who’d visited us a month into our suffering, told us that the cure grew in dark, damp places; places where the light couldn’t touch it. Yet even then, even when the answer had been right in front of me, I’d never thought of these old caves, barely a mile from the village.

That didn’t matter now. All that did matter, was that I’d been too late. They were gone, all of them: the green-grocer with his lop-sided hat; the old flower lady that used to visit us sometimes; the doctor, herself, who passed barely a week ago; and, of course, my family. My smiling mother, with her open arms and dangling earrings that used to scratch when I pressed against her, she was gone now; and Freddy, with his cheeky little laugh and almost sycophantic grin, he was gone, too. Mother had been too old, they told me, although she was barely fifty, and Freddy – well he’d always been ill. His immune system was the poorest the doctor said she’d ever seen before. He didn’t last a week.

Nothing could have saved him.

Nothing. Unless, of course, someone had found the remedy. If someone had walked up to the old caves, and they’d stumbled around in the dark until their feet bled and they began to believe they would never find their way back, then Freddy might have survived.

No one had come to his rescue, though, and as he’d closed his eyes on that tiny little bed, there was no one fighting to bring him back. I’d failed him. I’d failed my mother and I’d failed every single person who I’d let die.

I threw the plant on the ground and turned away from it, tears pouring down my cheeks. I could blame their deaths on anyone; why was it me who had to find the cure? Surely anyone could? But only one person had released the toxins on the village in the first place. That hadn’t been the green-grocer or doctor. That had been me. I turned back to the plant. I’d caused it, and although it was too late for Freddy, I couldn’t let it be too late for everyone. I couldn’t kill again.

Untouched

This piece of creative writing is for the purposes of the Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers challenge. With weekly photo prompts and a 75-175 word limit, this challenge offers a fun, interactive way of encouraging new writers.

 

This week’s photo prompt was provided by The Magicsticgoldenrose and my word count for this story is at 173.

Thank you and enjoy!

 

Even the sunlight didn’t dare touch her. It bounced on the lake below, almost daring her to join it, but it couldn’t penetrate her musty, little room.

She had thoughts like that all the time…of joining the sunlight…of being free.

The need for human contact sometimes grew so powerful that she actually opened the window and perched on the outside ledge.

It was her father’s fault. Ever since disease had taken her mother away, her father, a jealous and rather ruthless king, had refused to let the outside world harm her. He was convinced that something terrible would happen, and he was so afraid.

He just didn’t want to lose her.

One day, he’d taken her from her room whilst she was asleep, found the smallest room in the castle, and stowed her away there, so that no one could ever hurt her, not even the king, himself.

She hadn’t seen another person in almost six years, and, as she looked towards the lake once more, she knew that she never would again.

Burnt Out

This short piece of writing is for the purposes of the competition at Ad Hoc Fiction. With only a 150 word count and a weekly word prompt, this week’s word being “burn”, this competition gives its winner free entry into the Bath Flash Fiction Award, for a chance to win £1000!

The rain beats heavy against the window, rapping angrily as though it is desperate to come inside. I see it as an angry loan-shark, beating at the glass as its greedy eyes stray towards what little furniture I have left. It wants to tear it apart, taking it away from me on a stream of gushing floods.

I turn away from the window to bend low over my work, trying to shut everything out as my paintbrush moves up and down, almost mechanically. I don’t have long here now. They know I can’t pay what I owe, and I know they’re coming for me, but still my paintbrush moves up and down, creating careful little brush strokes on the page.

Before me, my last remaining candle continues to burn. Its flickering and dying, but it still provides some light. When that goes, I will know that my time is up.

Poem Review: “Pearl”

PearlGenerally speaking, poems are quite difficult things to review. They can be extremely emotive and personal, their meanings subjective to the reader’s perspective and background. To review such a personal thing can therefore seem harsh and unfeeling. Despite this, however, there are some poems, such as epic poems and poems which act as stories and myths in themselves, that are today read through, not the lens of a modern day poem, but as a separate form of writing. Milton’s Paradise Lost, for example, is a twelve book epic poem, and can be reviewed and critiqued, regardless of the typical sensitivity associated with a modern day poem. This said, of course, Paradise Lost is still very personal to Milton, as he used the words and sounds that they made, to create a kind of tonal music within the poem, which reflects his reliance on these different sounds, after his loss of sight.

There are other poems which may be considered in similar, analytic forms, such as the less renowned poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The author of this fourteenth century poem is unknown; all we do know, is that they wrote in Middle English, were, due to significant references, probably of the Christian faith, and that they likely did not only write Sir Gawain, but also three other, smaller poems: PearlCleanness and Patience. Although it has not been stated, by any surviving manuscripts, that these poems did belong to the same author, renowned critics have, over the years, all agreed that they probably did; the writing style, themes and patterns of writing are too similar to have been written by different poets. In this review, however, I will focus on the less famous poem, Pearl, which interested me for several reasons; for one, it demonstrates a metaphorical embodiment of the objectification of women, demonstrating the age of the patriarchy; for another, it explores the possibilities of a dream-like heaven world, considering not only the glorification of heaven, but also the economics of this Paradise.

Pearl begins by depicting a father who has been put “in thys del and gret daunger” (Part V), here meaning, ‘in grief and distress’, due to the loss of his pearl. He searches his garden for this jewel, whilst alluding to its beauty and perfection, for it was a “pryvy perle wythouten spot” (Part I), or ‘pretty pearl without a spot’. As the tale continues however, it becomes apparent that the man’s “pearl” is in fact his daughter, who died when she was an infant. Although the poet uses darker language at this point, interweaving the theme of death alongside the father’s primary narrative, the father supposes that “uch gresse mot grow of graynes dede” (Part I), or that new plants must grow from the dead, and that good may still come from bad. This prefigures the next few parts to the poem, as the father falls into a dream-like trance on top of his daughter’s grave, and wakes up in a what he calls “Paradise”. As the poem proceeds, he meets a queen of the Paradise, who he later realises to be the daughter he lost. She introduces herself as a queen, and welcomes him, but bids him to stop weeping for her, as God had saved her. She continued to explain that God had made her his queen, and that she thus had become a royal of Paradise.

The father, however, has issues understanding what his daughter is telling him, as he is focused on the human and the literal, forgetting that the supernatural defies the boundaries of human knowledge. She insists, for example, that she lives as Jesus’ wife in Paradise, which is the city of Jerusalem. The literal father has many issues with his, first complaining that she could surely not be worthy of such a position, when she had died as such a sPearl2.jpgmall girl, and had therefore had not had time in her life to be loyal to God. The daughter tries to explain that God excuses the innocent, and sees them as equal to the righteous through multiple parables, but then her father suggests that there must be worthier women than her, who could be Jesus’ wife. The daughter then explains that Jesus has a total of 140,000 wives, but that they do not fight or have competitions between them, for they are all worthy in the eyes of God. She even goes as far as to say, “bot uchon enle we wolde were fyf” (Part XV), here claiming that she wishes that every new wife were five new ones, as she alludes to the common phrase, ‘the more the merrier’. The father, whilst apparently not understanding how this many wives could cooperate equally, then complains that his daughter cannot live in Jerusalem in heaven, because Jerusalem was in Judea on Earth, to which his daughter simply says that there may be more than one of a thing at one time, and that God recreated the city for them to enjoy in Paradise. What the father unveils through this system of questioning, is the functioning economics of heaven, although he does not recognise them as such, for he only sees them as impossible and illogical.

This links to another theme which the poem seeks to highlight: dualism. This is the belief, first explored by Plato, that the body and soul are two divisible entities, which not only ensures that the soul will survive after the death of the physical form, but also suggests that the soul preexists the body. Plato even went as far as to suggest that the body was an obstacle to the supernatural duties of the soul, as it was weighed down and distracted by bodily desires, such as the need for food and sleep. This idea is explored in multiple passages in Pearl, but is most vividly demonstrated by the passage that reads, “fro spot my spryt ther sprang in space; / My body on balke ther bod in sweven. / My goste is gon in Godes grace / In aventure ther mervayles meven” (Part II). What this is essentially saying, is that the spirit (or soul) is separated from the body so that it can pursue its “aventure”, or ‘quest’ in heaven. This can only happen, however, once it is severed from the body and thus, according to Platonian thought, is released to pursue its true purpose.

The other thing that I wanted to highlight regarding the issues raised in Pearl, was the language of precious stones, and, in particular, pearls. The father objectifies his daughter to the role of a pearl as he searches for her, and yet this turns out to not be an insult to women, but a compliment, as Christ is later compared to a pearl, and pearls are described to adorn Paradise, present almost everywhere the father travels on his adventure into heaven. This is emphasised by the final two lines of the poem, which read: “he gef uus to be his homly hyne / Ande precious perles unto his pay.” (Part XX), which means ‘May He grant us to be his lowly servants and precious pearls to be his liking’; whilst the term ‘pearl’ may have originally seen as a way of objectifying women, it here becomes clear that to be Christ’s ‘pearl’, should be the ultimate goal of humankind; they want to be pearls without spots, just as God wants us to be humans without sins.

Although my own religious beliefs lean towards atheism, Pearl was still an interesting poem; this was my first encounter of the Middle English language, and it took me a long time to work through this poem, if only because I constantly found myself rereading sections and looking the majority of the words up in a dictionary. Nevertheless, the ideas considered here are unusual, and therefore intriguing. Not many poems attempt to describe heaven in such precise terms, considering its symmetry and beauty. The poem also indicates that the author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, along with the other smaller poems attributed to this same poet, was a Christian. Like Paradise Lost, therefore, it may be fair to say, that whilst such epic poems cannot be assessed in the same ways that we judge modern poetry, there is nevertheless a personality to them that is interjected by the writer. Whilst some poets use their work to explore their emotions, fears and desires, this writer used their work to explore the possibilities of their faith, and to promote its importance amongst their readers.

“Accidental Damage”: Book Review

I was recently asked to review a self-published book by Alice May, called Accidental Damage; whilst this is not a genre of book that I have really explored before, this book really impressed me, and I have therefore copied my review below! Enjoy!

Alice May’s Accidental Damage offers a first-person account of the trials and incidents possible within everyday life; whilst struggling to raise four children and keep her house in order, the heroine of the story experiences her world, quite literally, crumbling around her, as her house begins to crack in two, and her insurance provider is unwilling to offer her aid. Blaming the misfortune on herself, the heroine fights to punish herself for the incident, as she dramatically burns her treasured art-works in the garden bonfire, and forces herself to give up her greatest passion for the sake of her family. This is a story about love, sacrifice and guilt, embodying a stream-of-consciousness narrative style to reveal the internal monologue of the heroine, as she fights to choose between her passion for painting, and the care and support that she feels honour-bound to provide.

The aesthetics of the book are very pleasing; the cover art, originally produced by the author, herself, dramatically represents some of the complex themes of the text; the swirling waters coincide with the disorder and chaos taking place inAccidental Damage the narrative, whilst also linking to the fluid nature of the heroine’s thoughts, as they are delivered to the reader exactly how they are thought by the character: constant and powerful, flitting from idea to idea as the heroine processes her various situations. As the author notes towards the end of the book, the painting also offers a glimmer of hope within the chaos, as the swirling waters are centred around a white surface to the depths, just as, within the chaos of the situation, there always remains that distant feeling of hope. The formatting of the book is also very interesting; as well as having short chapters that are grouped by numbered ‘parts’, which make the book more accessible, the author has included definitions following each chapter headings. These definitions offer a unique twist to the narrative, as they not only confirm the meanings, but hint at the content of the next chapter and thus urge the reader to delve further into the book. At the very end of the text, after the epilogue, the author has also listed “The Comforting Recipes of Chaos and Logic” and “Innovative Games for Bored Barbarian Boys”, which add a personal feel to the book and end it on a unique, pleasant note, as the reader is able to take something away from it. A further sense of intrigue is created by the book’s blurb, a series of questions helping to evoke interest about the story. These questions may not be perfectly executed, certain wordings within the content, such as “or has she?” may seem a little too cliqued, and yet, as this is a present factor within any blurb, this should not be treated too harshly. Overall, it is well-written, a small exert from the text providing an accurate insight into the main narrative, as well as revealing the harsh plight of the heroine, and how she was forced to live, with her entire, rather large family of six, in a tent at the back of her garden, until her situation could be resolved. If nothing else, this intriguing blurb could be a little longer!

The actual content of the book is superb; interwoven storylines of the past and present make it more interesting, for as the heroine reflects on her past, readers of the text are offered two separate narratives: the one of the nervous painter who cringes away from storms, and the one of the struggling mother, who camps out in her back garden and braves precarious buildings for the sake of rescuing her daughters’ makeup and her sons’ PlayStation. What must, arguably, be the most interesting factor about this book, however, is the presentation, and anonymity, of its characters. There are no real names mentioned in the text; the heroine always speaks in first-person, and gives nicknames to everyone she meets, even her Barbarian Horde of children, Chaos, Logic, Quiet and Small. These humorous, but descriptive nicknames, provide an entertainment factor, as well as a proximity to the characters that perhaps real names cannot. The existence of “Quiet”, for example, as an identity for the heroine’s eldest son, opens a narrative opportunity to discuss the characteristics of the boy through his quiet persona. These names also differentiate the children and give them bigger, more interesting personalities, through being labelled by such distinctive traits. The anonymity stretches further still, however; allusions such as “Structural Engineer Man” and “Loss Adjuster Number 1” provide what might be called a more honest view of the world. In moments of chaos, the workers would be only what their jobs made them, and their personalities would be ignored; their names are therefore insignificant details that, considering the nature of the crisis, are simply unnecessary.

The pacing of the book is also something to be commended; the use of short chapters makes the book easy to read and moves the pace of the main events on at a good, consistent pace. The same is to be said about the style of the work; due to the stream-of-conscious style of writing, where it is the heroine’s actual thoughts that are being presented to the reader, the short, snappy sentences that sometimes occupy entire paragraphs demonstrate the speed of human thoughts, and help to keep the story interesting as it progresses. This speed may be an issue in certain parts of the text, however, yet, due to the style of writing, is difficult to avoid; generally, the pace of any book would be much slower at its beginning, more than anywhere else along its narrative. This text perhaps deals with the opening passages too quickly, for whilst it is very effective how the heroine recovers her painting equipment during a storm, which arguably represents her inner chaos and personal crisis, the fact that she suddenly must recover the paints could be explored a little more thoroughly. Why does she do this at that moment? What really triggers her passion once more? Pivotal moments such as this could perhaps be slowed down a little to allow more textual explanations, allowing the text to seem more powerful and effective. At the same time, however, the fact that the pace of the book is consistent is one of its main strengths, as it does not allow the reader to become bored of the plot or too confused along its course.

Accidental Damage is well written, terms more complex than what may be known as the commonly spoken language, intermingled with standard terms, keep it accessible to a wide range of readers, whilst also allowing it to reach out towards a more sophisticated audience. If there is any issue to be had with the language and presentation of the narrative, it would be the existence of potential typing errors (such as those on pages 26, 127 and 218), where there are sentences such as: “The general consensus from all consulted was that it had stood for 350 years already it would stand for 350 more.” Arguably, this sentence may be missing an ‘if’ or a ‘because’. Overall, however, the writing style is erudite, working to create a very readable, concrete piece of work. Such small errors appear in most books, especially self-published books, if only because they have had less editors reading over them numerous times. Indeed, what this novel is, is very credible. The plot is not only interesting, but moving and haunting, particularly when considering the fact that it was based on a true story. What with the elegant mode of writing, the fantastic formatting and unique twists both within the narrative and its presentation, this is really is an excellent read. Because, when it comes down to it, it just is a good story: fast-paced, but relatable and genuine. It is therefore a book that I would happily recommend to anyone.

Guess How Much I Love You

This short story is for the purposes for the competition at Creative Writing Ink.

annie-spratt-210644

“This is important, Daniel,” Selene hissed, slapping her husband with the playsuit she clutched in her sweaty palms. “If it’s pink then we’re making assumptions about her future, but if it’s blue we’re doing that, too! And, you know, I was reading a report that suggested that green has military links, and–“ she stopped short to give her husband another slap.

“I know I’m going overboard,” she sighed, putting the pink playsuit back onto the pile in front of them. “I just…” she sniffed, hiding behind her curtain of thick, red hair. “I want this to be perfect… I want everything to be perfect.” Daniel smiled, putting his arms around his wife.

“Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, I know that it’s important,” he paused, “but maybe not that important.” They smiled at each other, and Selene began to laugh, too. Daniel placed his tanned hand over his wife’s stomach. “The decisions we make now won’t stay with her for the rest of her life,” he smiled. “She’s not going to want to be a soldier because she once wore a green outfit, and she’s not going to be angry at us by conforming to stereotypes and buying,” he paused to pick up the pink playsuit once more, “a pink one”.

“I just…” Selene sighed, taking the playsuit from Daniel to look at it properly. “I want her to be happy, Daniel, and I want to do everything humanly possible to make that happen.”

“I know,” Daniel sighed too, hugging his wife tighter to him. “You want our daughter to have everything that you didn’t have.”

***

Selene stared down into her daughter’s tightly sealed eyes, shuddering with the power of her emotions. She was so tiny, so fragile, and so beautiful.

“She’s perfect,” smiled Daniel from the side of her hospital bed. Selene smiled back, but she didn’t raise her head to look at him; she couldn’t take her eyes off the fragile life form that she clutched in her arms. She was certain that, if she looked away, even for a moment, her daughter would disappear into a tiny, billion atoms, or Selene would wake up, and find that she was still alone in her dusky attic room, hugging herself to keep warm.

Suddenly the image of her daughter before her was tarnished by her memories, as her emotions hit her hard, causing her to loosen her grip on the baby. Daniel rushed forwards and caught her, but Selene barely noticed. Her head lulled back uselessly onto her pillow as images began to flash across her mind.

She was a little girl again, living alone with her mother. She’d never known her father, but her mother was always there. She cared so deeply for Selene that it seemed to break her; she worked tirelessly, barely sleeping, barely even sitting, and yet the money was never enough. Selene’s father had taken everything from her mother, and left her in so stricken a state of poverty, that, Selene now believed, her mother never expected to recover from. They rented the top floor of a block of flats; it wasn’t a complete flat, with only a kitchen and a bedroom, but it came with the attic space that Selene’s mother had attempted to furnish into a room for Selene. They lived, not content, but together, and Selene couldn’t ever remember being unhappy when she lived there.

That fateful day came though, and Selene no longer did live there. A car crash. It was so simple a thing, so common, so seemingly trivial, and yet it ripped Selene’s mother from the world and left her alone. She sat in her attic space, having fled from the police that waited in the room below, and cried more than she had ever thought possible. That had been the worst moment of her life, and, as she was stirred back into consciousness by her nurse, and tilted her head to glimpse her daughter in Daniel’s arms, she knew that this was the best. She would do everything to make sure that her daughter lived the perfect life.

***

­­­

Annabel sat sprawled out on the bigger of the two sofas, eyes closed and mouth open. She sang to herself, thinking about school, thinking about the weekend, and waiting for her dad to finally walk through the door.

She opened her eyes just as she heard the key turn in the lock, and raced out to meet him.

“Alright, alright, champ,” Daniel laughed, pushing her off him so that he could walk through the door. “don’t panic, I’ve got the chips.” They feasted in front of the telly that night, and Annabel got to choose the film. They laughed together, and flicked chips at one another. One time, Annabel hit Daniel right on the nose, at which point he wrestled her to the ground and tickled her all over. Then, at last, he let out those dreaded words:

“Okay, champ, time to go and get ready for bed.”

“But Dad,” Annabel complained openly.

“It’s too late already,” Daniel chortled, ruffling her hair. Annabel sighed and got up to leave, but she found herself pausing in the doorway, her back still turned to Daniel.

Annabel,” he threatened.

“What happened to my mum?” Annabel asked, turning back around to face him. His smile drooped, eyes closing for a few minutes. Annabel waited awkwardly in the doorway, afraid that she had done something terribly wrong. Daniel sighed, and then patted the patch of sofa beside him.

“Come here,” he said, and smiled again, but this wasn’t his usual smile; it was strained – broken. As Annabel came to sit beside him, he reached over to the bookcase, and pulled, from the very top shelf, which Annabel was too small to reach, a very thin book.

“This,” he began slowly, “belonged to your mother.” He handed it over to Annabel, who read aloud the words, “Guess How Much I love You”, and then turned over the page to see two inscriptions, one on top of the other. The first was addressed to a Selene, from her mother, and the second, to Annabel, from hers.

“It was given to your mother when she was a very little girl,” Daniel continued, solemnly. “It meant a great deal to her, and when you were born, she decided to give it to you.” Annabel turned dusty page after dusty page, looking at the strange illustrations of rabbits, and endearing quotes as the little rabbit’s mother explained how much she loved it.

Annabel smiled, but still did not understand.

“Where is she?” she pressed, looking back at Daniel. He rubbed his face with his palms, then leant towards Annabel, placing a tanned hand on her arm.

“When you were very, very small,” he began, “your mother was desperate to give you everything that you could possibly want. You see this house – how big it is? I couldn’t give you this, Anna, but she did. She worked so hard for you, so determined to give you everything that you deserve. She loved you so much, but–“ Daniel clenched his fists slightly, his fingers digging into Annabel’s arm. “She made herself ill, Anna.”

Anna stared at him, eyes wide.

“She died, didn’t she?” she asked, a strange sense of numbness falling over her.

“Yes, Anna, she died,” Daniel sniffed, hugging his daughter tightly to him. “But she loved you so much, just like I do, and that’s never going to go away.” He wiped his eyes and thrust the book back at her. “I want you to keep this book, and whenever you’re feeling alone, scared or miserable, I want you to read it. Your mum loved you, Anna.” He kissed his daughter on the forehead, and took her hand as he led her up to bed.

He tucked her in, turning off her bedroom light before he crawled into his own bed, sobbing silently into the darkness. Annabel lay awake for hours that night, finally getting up and turning her light back on. She reached for the book left on her bedside table, and examined each image, turning the pages with extreme care. As she, too, cried herself to sleep that night, her tears landed heavily on the book, meeting much older tear stains, that had existed long before Annabel. When she finally fell asleep, she still clutched the book tightly to her; she lay in a ball, hugging her knees to her chest, as her thick, red hair, sprawled across the sheets.