A Snowy Encounter

Here’s my attempt at the Sunday Scrawl prompt challenge, which I recently begun myself; it will run from Sunday on a weekly basis. If you want to know more about this challenge, feel free to check out the page here.


The light sprinkling of snow that had settled over Bridgewater that morning crunched under my feet as I walked. It was strangely satisfying to hear the crisp snapping sound accompanying my every step, almost as though there was some strange echo following me along the pavement.

I was ju11272892_847812051963254_1840294869_nst in the process of asking myself why I found the noise so comforting, when others may have thought it unnerving, or, at the very least, irritating, when a shout made me look up. My path ran parallel to the railway; a temporary clearing of trees allowed me to stare right down at the tracks, from where they disappeared under a long bridge. At first, I couldn’t work out where the sound could have come from, but then I noticed, scampering down from the far bank, a pair of scruffy looking boys. They skidded onto the railway, and, taking deliberate care not to touch the tracks, ducked under the bridge and pressed their backs against its wall. The taller of the two held his hand out across the other’s chest, his finger on his lips.

Astonished, I paused to watch the scene, wondering fleetingly whether I should call the police or not; the boys were clearly off limits, and could cause a serious accident down there. My phone was actually in my hands, the first nine dialled, when another, more high-pitched, shout made me look up again. A smartly-dressed woman was now approaching the top of the bridge, her crimson coat wrapped tightly around her and her fluffy black scarf shielding her from the wind. She stopped at the top of the bank where the boys had slipped down, eyeing the route suspiciously. Daintily, she placed one, heeled foot on the muddy bank, as if she was considering descending to the tracks. Then, she straightened up again and looked across the bridge, moving away from the bank to scurry across.

I eyed the boys curiously, watching as their eyes flew skyward when the woman crossed; evidently, the sound reverberated all around the tunnel. Then, a few seconds later, the taller, scruffier of the two, dragged his accomplice back out of the tunnel and helped him up the far bank. Then, without a backwards glance, they scurried off into the distance, moving as fast as their grubby, little legs could carry them. I watched the railway for a few seconds more, then, sighing, turned towards home. My feet were frozen lumps of meat in my shoes by now, and I was quite ready to get back to my bed, but my progress was impeded, however, by the figure who now stood right in front of me.

I was now facing the woman in the red coat, who’s path had evidently cut into mine from ahead.

“Hello,” she said unsmilingly. “What were you looking at?” It wasn’t really a question, more a demand. I attempted a cautious smile, but, still, she did not return it. I swallowed, biding for time; this woman had clearly been looking for those boys, but for what purpose, I couldn’t decide. She could be their mother, I supposed, yet their shabby, torn clothing and muddy faces didn’t quite relate to her immaculate visage in my mind.

“Are you not from around here?” I asked, finally coming to a decision. “We don’t get much snow. It’s so lovely to see.” I laughed, trying to scoot around the woman, but she blocked me.

11287922_1630813043872475_1208774922_n.jpg“You didn’t, perchance,” she continued, crossing her arms accusatorily, “happen to see two young vagabonds down there, did you? They seem to have gotten away from me.” I couldn’t help but notice the note of disgust in her voice as she mentioned the ‘vagabonds’, and I think that it was this, more than anything else, that made me lie to her. I told her I hadn’t seen anyone and, again, tried to leave. She let me pass this time, but kept watching me all the while I scurried away from her; I could feel her eyes boring into the back of my neck as I skidded on the snow. I’d stood motionless for so long that the once crisp, satisfying snow had turned weak and icy underfoot

I made it home unscathed, however, and, as I warmed my hands around a mug of hot chocolate, I couldn’t help thinking that I would never hear of anything to do with those boys, or that very strange, woman, ever again. I thought often of what had happened, though; I was deeply afraid that I’d done the wrong thing – what if that woman had been trying to help them, and by feigning ignorance to her, I’d just condemned those boys to a life on the streets? It must have been the fear in their eyes as they’d hidden under that bridge, because something about them had forced me to pity them, regardless of logic and regardless of reason.

To my great surprise, however, I did hear of the incident again; two weeks on from that fateful day, when I was stocking up on groceries in my corner shop, I saw the red-coated woman again. This time, though, she was on the front page of the local newspaper, under a headline that read: Infamous Child Snatcher Caught at Last. I snatched up the paper from its stall and devoured it with my eyes, heart beating wildly. Her name, apparently, was Cecelia Bordman, and her hobby had been to lurk outside children’s houses so that she could grab them as they walked by.

There was no mention of the boys in the paper, but then, I supposed, why would there be? If they’d had any sense, and they must have done, considering how they’d hidden under that bridge like that, they wouldn’t have hung around. They would have run for their lives, because, when it came down to it, they really were running for their lives. I put the paper down again, a pleasant sense of satisfaction rushing over me. It wasn’t just that I’d made the right decision in helping the boys; that was too simple. As I looked at the sneering photo of the woman on that paper, I realised that I had this feeling because, for the first time in my meaningless life, I’d done something. I’d stopped something terrible from happening. I hadn’t just been another bystander; I’d been there, right in the midst of it all.

By the Light of the Moon

Here’s another story inspired by the photo prompt challenge run by Creative Writing Ink. I absolutely adore this week’s picture; it’s so beautiful, but at the same time conveys a kind of severity that’s a little scary – maybe that’s why this story takes a darker turn? Enjoy!


The distant crash of waves told Kayla they’d arrived. She didn’t look up, even as her brother parked up the car and slipped wordlessly out into the sunset. If he saw her looking, he’d make some comment about her interfering, and she didn’t want to interfere. She wanted to go home.

Hugging her knees in the back of the car, she chanced a glance out of the window. The square-shouldered shadow of her brother was already moving behind the trees that concealed the path to the water. She watched him hesitate for a moment, and then dip out of sight.

11235885_1390096707985614_464307397_n.jpg
October 2012

She leant back in her seat, wishing she was anywhere but here. By now, her brother would have joined his friends on the sand, a beer would be shoved into his hands and he would be circling around some innocent – would it be a boy, or another girl, this time? She didn’t want to know. She was just lucky that his friends didn’t know that she was out here, hiding in the dark. Loyal to her brother though they might be, she highly doubted that their loyalty would stretch so far as to refusing to beat up his sister. Any excuse to cause pain, that’s all they wanted.

She kicked the front seat angrily, digging her heel into the soft material. She wanted to be home, snuggled on the sofa with a book or a film. Her brother only dragged her into this because it would look suspicious, otherwise; that was the price of having a twin. Their mother would worry if Kayla didn’t go to all the same parties that Martin did. Well, maybe she should worry. Maybe it was about time.

A sudden scream made Kayla sit up abruptly and reach instinctively for the door handle. She slipped out into the half-light, squinting towards the source of the noise. It hadn’t sounded like it had come from the beach below, but from he heath on the opposite side. She whirled about in the dark, fear clouding all other thoughts. Was there someone else out here with her? She took a couple of steps towards the heath, the mossy grass cloaking her frightened footsteps.

The night was silent now. It was almost as though Kayla had imagined the sound, but she knew she hadn’t. She continued to stumble onward, her feet slipping slightly as her path took her slightly downhill. It was warmer away from the beach, and there were more cars parked down here; she supposed they were her brother’s friends’. She hesitated, looking nervously back over her shoulder. Night had fallen almost entirely now, the stars and moon above her providing only a pale, ghostly light for her to see by. Any number of people could be skulking by those cars, and yet Kayla felt sure that their owners would be down at the beach by now. They wouldn’t want to miss all the fun, she thought bitterly, as she took a few more steps forward.

Then she froze. There was someone stood by one of the cars, but it wasn’t one of her brother’s dumb friends. It was a girl, about her age, with long, dark hair and deep, green eyes. She was watching Kayla from over the top of the large book she held. Then, smiling, she returned to her reading, her eyes flicking furiously across the page.

cwi 13-07-17.jpg
Credit: Creative Writing Ink

Kayla swallowed, clearing her throat slightly as she approached the girl.

“Who are you?” she asked rather bluntly, coming to rest on the car besides the girl. She smiled again, but, still, she didn’t speak, and she didn’t put down her book. “Do you know someone down at the beach?” Kayla pressed, looking hard into the girl’s eyes, but she didn’t reply; she only smiled and continued to read.

Kayla’s eyes fell on the cover of the book, taking in its strange symbols and old, crumbing spine. She wondered wildly if the girl even spoke English. Perhaps she was just some innocent tourist who’d wondered too far from one of the nearby campsites.

Kayla had just about decided that it was time for her to go, when the girl moved closer to her, holding up the book for Kayla to see. Her eyes fell on an old photograph of a pretty, dark-haired girl dressed in leotard and tights. Beside the picture, was a cutting from an old newspaper. With a nod from her mysterious companion, Kayla began to read, scanning the headline, which read, Olympian Gymnast found Dead. The article was about sixteen-year-old Jessica Marlin, who had died seven years ago, found beaten and raped at the bottom of a gutter. Kayla remembered hearing about Jessica on the news, although she’d only been small at the time. It had been awful; she’d been one of the country’s high hopes for the upcoming Olympics, but she’d never made it there. Some thug had killed her before she’d gotten the chance. He was in prison now, of course; it hadn’t taken them long to catch him, but that hadn’t brought Jessica back.

Breathing rather heavily now, Kayla looked back at the girl, who was fiddling at something at the front of her coat.

“Do you know what’s happening on the beach tonight?” she demanded, stepping away from the girl slightly. “Do you know what they’re doing?”

The girl merely smiled, undoing her coat to reveal, underneath a thin cardigan, a shining leotard, glinting by the light of the moon. Kayla stumbled backwards, losing her balance and falling to the ground. Her head hit the uneven earth with a horrible smack, causing the world to start spinning out of control. She rolled over, coughing violently and clutching to the ground for support.

By the time the pain had cleared enough for Kayla to open her eyes again, the girl and her book had vanished from the car. Whether they’d ever really been there, Kayla would never know, but, what she did know, as she pulled out her phone and glanced in the direction of the beach, was that she was really, truly scared, and that she had been for a long time now. Swallowing hard, she dialled the number that she should have called nearly a year ago. She bit her lip as the phone began to ring, and then,

“Police, please,” she whispered.

Be My Escape #writephoto

This is my second attempt at Sue Vincent’s photo prompt challenge. It’s a fair bit longer than my usual writing, but, as there’s no word count to this prompt, that can’t be a bad thing! I hope you enjoy!

Vincent July
Credit: Sue Vincent

Nobody knew about Freddy. For some reason, he liked to hide from other people. I suppose he’d once hidden from me, too, but I spent far too much time in the forest for that now; it would be more difficult for him not to talk to me.

At home, everything was noise. I had a big family: three brothers and two sisters, along with a mother who was inclined to shout at everything she saw; a father who was partially deaf; and two dogs, who had recently taken to yapping whenever they were lonely, hungry, sad, or just thought things weren’t quite loud enough as they were. The forest was my escape. There were no screaming siblings or parental reprimands there. There were the just the trees, the grass, the gentle tweet of birds, and peace.

In a way, I was jealous of my friend. He never had to leave the forest like I did. I had to go home before six every evening, or my family would assume something terrible had happened and start sending out search parties. Freddy, however, didn’t have that problem, because Freddy didn’t have a family. That’s what he told me, anyway. I couldn’t believe him; everyone had a family somewhere, or else how would they have come to be? Whoever they were, though, he certainly didn’t like talking about them. Whenever I raised the question, he would quickly change the subject, distracting me by pointing out some rare species of bird or suggesting that we went for another walk.

I loved walking with Freddy, because he was so good at it. When I’d used to go walking in the forest with my family, they’d always make so much noise, kicking up the leaves and shouting to each other. Much to my dismay, they chased every animal away within a hundred miles. Freddy was like me, though; he learnt where to tread to make as little noise as possible, balancing on the mossy parts of the path and remembering to step over the twigs, rather than causing them to snap loudly as he broke them in two. One day, we’d crept right up behind a peacock, its plumage extended to reveal a fantastic rainbow of colour. I’d never seen one before, and just wanted to stare at it all day, so Freddy had pursued the peacock for miles after I’d had to leave. The next day, he’d produced a rainbow feather for me, telling me that he hoped it would cheer me up whenever I felt sad or alone.

My parents, of course, were worried about me. They’d started giving me more chores about the house, stopping me from leaving whenever I tried to sneak off. They also kept asking me why I loved it out in the forest so much. I would never betray Freddy, of course; I would never tell them about him, but they were worried, because they thought I was by myself all the time. Some days, I wanted to tell them so badly, if only so they would stop pestering me, but I knew I never would, no matter how annoying they were. It wasn’t my secret to tell, and I didn’t want to lose Freddy as a friend.

That Thursday, they were being particularly irritating. My mother had first asked me to change all the sheets in the entire house, and, just as I finished and made for the shoe cupboard, she had handed me a mop and bucket, telling me to wash the car. I’d scowled and I’d complained, but there I was, a few minutes later, washing the car.

The annoying thing was, it wasn’t even dirty; my mother had evidently been running low on excuses to keep me tethered to the house, so had started to make them up, instead. I scowled at myself in the wing mirror I was supposed to be cleaning. I wasn’t really; I was just rubbing a dry mop over it half-heartedly; what I was really doing, was keeping both eyes on the kitchen window. I could see my mother watching me, sipping her tea as she leant against the window sill. As soon as her back was turned, I would ditch the mop on the floor, and run for it. I was patient, moving about the car ritualistically as I waited for my window of opportunity.

It happened when I was brushing down the second wing mirror; there was a sound of breaking glass from the kitchen, and I looked around to see my mother rushing away from the window. I didn’t wait to see what had broken who the culprit was. If my mother called me back now, it was too late; I’d tell her later that I hadn’t heard. She didn’t shout, however, and I escaped telling-off free to the boundary of the forest.

Freddy was probably wondering where I was by now; it had been long enough. I rushed down the bank towards the valley, turned a few corners and raced towards Freddy. Except Freddy wasn’t there. His bed was there, the magnificent frame carved from a single tree trunk, but someone much taller and much balder than Freddy, was now looming over it.

“Hey!” I shouted out indignantly. “Get away from there, it’s not nice to touch other people’s things!” The man, for I quickly realised he was a man, and not a boy, at all, turned sharply around to look at me. His eyes widened slightly.

“Oh, sorry, do you play here?” he said, taking a few steps towards me. I backed up instinctively, suddenly nervous. Where could Freddy be? He was always here when I came looking for him, no matter how late I was. Perhaps this man – this intruder – had done something to him somehow.

I gave him a searching look, taking in his shabby coat and torn, muddy jeans. He was holding up his hands to me as if making a silent surrender.

“I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said slowly, this time not moving any closer. “This is where I sleep, that’s all. I’m normally out at town in the day, which is probably why we haven’t met before, but I’m ill, I’m afraid, so I thought I better stay put.” He smiled at her, sitting down on Freddy’s bed. “It’s okay,” he said in what he must have thought was a reassuring voice. “I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow and you can play here to your heart’s content.”

“I don’t play,” I snapped rather brutishly as I folded my arms in front of my chest. “This is Freddy’s bed.” The man gave her another toothless grin, seeming to relax slightly.

“Now, I can’t say I’ve seen no Freddy around here… are you sure you’re at the right bed?” I scowled at him, biting my lip slightly out of frustration.

“This is the only bed! And it’s not yours, it’s Freddy’s!” I was beginning to get quite upset now; I figured that Freddy must be waiting until the man left, but if the man was planning on sleeping here, Freddy would have to hide from him all night. “You can’t stay here!” I insisted, rushing forwards now and pulling at the man’s uneven cuff. “He won’t come out if you’re here! You have to go!”

Alex!” called a horrified voice from the top of the bank behind us. I spun around to see my mother stood there, my little sister at her arm. “Get away from him, now!” The man got to his feet again, and I backed hurriedly away, moving towards my mother.

“I didn’t mean no harm, mam,” he was saying, putting his palms in the air again. “She just came running up to me, trying to make me move.”

“Alex, get up here right now!” my mother hissed, the anger in her voice paramount. I swallowed, but couldn’t not obey. It was strange how she held such power over me. I hadn’t had a second thought about running off earlier, but now that she was so angry, it was like I had to do as I was told. I ran back up the bank to stand at my mother’s other side, eyes on the ground. “You stay away from her!” my mother shouted at the man as she dragged her children away, pushing us in front of her around the corner and towards the house.

Back home, I was sat down at the kitchen table in front of my mother and father. The dogs had been shut outside and my five siblings had been banished to the upstairs whilst us three ‘had a talk’. I knotted my hands in my lap, not looking at either of them. I didn’t know what they wanted me to say. I understood why they’d be worried about me talking to strange men in the forest, but Freddy wasn’t a man, and I’d never seen the one today ever before. I doubted that they’d ever believe me, but I had to try.

“Have you forgotten everything we have ever taught you?” my father began, his voice desperate. He was taking a different tack to my mother; whilst she was relying on her raw anger, his voice was dripping with disappointment. I couldn’t lie: it was effective.

“No,” I said to my hands. “I’ve never seen that man before. I know it’s wrong to talk to strangers but I haven’t… I only spoke to that man just then because-” I stopped myself, remembering my promise to Freddy. I couldn’t tell them about him, I just couldn’t – but I was in so much trouble now; wouldn’t he, as my friend, understand?

“Because what?” my mother pressed, her arms folded tightly across her chest. I was strongly reminded of how I’d addressed the man earlier in the forest, and then I remembered how worried I’d been about Freddy. What if the man had done something terrible to him?

“That man doesn’t live there,” I said quickly, throwing all caution to the wind in my desperation. “My friend does. He’s called Freddy and he’s really nice, but I’m worried that man did something horrible to him.”

My parents looked at one another, their expressions unreadable.

Ten minutes later, I was pacing back and forth across my bedroom floor, fuming. How could my parents do this to me? How could they be so cruel? It was one thing to not believe me, but another to make me sound like a little kid who couldn’t look after themselves. I was fourteen! I was fine by myself, and didn’t need them making up lies about Freddy. It wasn’t fair. Freddy was real. He wasn’t – I shuddered at the thought – he wasn’t my imaginary friend. I was too old for that; I lived in the real world, and I’d spent so much time with Freddy! He was as real as I was!

I collapsed on my bed, still fuming.

I didn’t know what it was that I was feeling anymore. A strange sort of panic was coming over me now, constricting my throat and making it difficult to breath. Freddy was real, I told myself firmly.

But then why has no one else ever seen him? Asked a nasty voice from somewhere at the back of my mind. Why are you the only one he talks to? I shook my head, trying to get rid of the thoughts. Freddy was just scared, I reminded myself. He didn’t like people, not after his family had abandoned him.

But why does he never talk about his family? The voice pressed, forcing me to my feet in anger. Because they’re not real, either. He hates them! I thought desperately. Why would anyone want to talk about someone they hated? There was so much depth to him; so much reality when they talked. It was absurd. It was like saying everyone she knew was made up. There were no dogs and no siblings; maybe there weren’t even any parents, not if Freddy wasn’t real.

I kicked at the underneath of my bed angrily, tears beginning to roll down my cheeks. Why did no one ever believe me? Why didn’t they understand that I didn’t want to sit inside all day? I wanted to spend time with my friend, my real friend, in the slice of peace that I shared with him. All of that was all okay, because he was real. He had to be. I allowed my head to drop into my lap, eyes closed. Was there something seriously wrong with me? Had I managed to invent an entire person?

I opened my eyes, and caught sight of something poking out from where I’d kicked earlier. I reached for it instinctively, turning it over in my hands.

A shiver of pure delight erupted down my spine. It was shrivelled and misshapen, but there was no denying that it was: a beautiful, rainbow-coloured peacock feather.

14099840_230686587329630_332449748_n
September 2016

Out of Place

Today I revisited a site that I used to use photo prompts from, called Creative Writing Ink. This is a weekly challenge and one that I find very useful to aid my writing. I therefore based this short story on this prompt, although I also found the inspiration for it by reflecting on the very real stories on some of my close friends. It’s not a nice feeling when you know that you don’t belong in a certain place or in a certain way, and that’s the message that I attempt to communicate below. I hope you enjoy!


It’s almost as if the white wall in front of me is laughing. It knows my secret, and it knows what I should be; I should be plain, white and ordered, just like the paint. That’s what I should be, but I can’t deny the fact that it’s simply not true anymore. I’m complicated, not plain or ordered. I can’t be put into those simple categories when I’m everything that they’re not.

The wall stands resolute, mocking me.

I’ve probably been sat here for too long, now, but the wall, for all its faults, is my entertainment for the afternoon. I sigh, looking away from it at long last, to instead turn my attention to the freshly laundered, baby-pink sheets that I’ve been clutching. They’re not quite as perfect as they were when I’d been handed them that morning; they’re creased around my fingers and a spider is crawling across one of their corners. I shake it off, sighing once more. It’s time for me to move now.

I change the sheets quickly, then stand, stretch, and begin to walk downstairs. The walls are still white here; they’re all white, because anything else, apparently, would be wrong. I swallow hard. I need to stop thinking like this. The photos that colour the wall alongside the staircase catch my attention. They depict me, and only me, from my first waking moments to a few months ago, all hung in perfect order, straight and in their proper place. I’ve never minded them before, but now, it’s difficult to suppress the urge to rip them from their hangings and fling them down the stairs.

Both of my parents are present in the kitchen when I enter, my father setting out the table for supper, and my mother bent over a hot stove. I look at the clock: 6:29, and suppress a grimace as I take my seat. As predicted, a timer goes off a minute later, and my mother calls out, it’s ready, as if we need telling twice. I smile as usual at her as she brings over the food, and then we all sit together as my father blesses the meal. He talks about gratitude and how lucky we all are, but I don’t join my prayers with his. I don’t feel lucky, and I certainly don’t feel grateful.

When he’s finished, we eat in silence. There’s no music playing and nobody makes any small talk. We just eat, and when we are done, my father brings out some fruit for dessert. I stare hard at the six, ordered pears in a line in front of me, and something begins to snap. I look at my father, with his hand on the cross at his chest and his head bent low in endless prayer. Then I look to my mother, who purses her lips, wiping each inch of food thoroughly before emitting it into her mouth. I look back at the pears. Everything must always be so perfect. It must be right, and ordered, and as things are meant to be. That’s all their world is, and it’s what mine was, too, up until I really thought about things.

CWI 29-06-17
Creative Writing Ink’s photo prompt 29/06/17. 

I want to seize the pears and throw them at my parents. I want to see the shock in their faces as they stare at me and ask, what on earth has got into you? I want to dance on the table and laugh so loud that their eyes pop right out of their faces from their horror. I want to destroy the ordered world that they commit themselves to, if only to make them understand, because they never will understand anything but what they are. I can’t speak my mind, because they won’t listen. They’ll tell me to sit down and be quiet like a good, little girl. That’s what they’ll say, but I think that if they do, it’ll break me.

I continue up the stairs that evening just as I descended them. I smile at my parents and wish them well, saying, goodnight, sleep well mother; sleep well father. Then I go into my room, shut the door carefully, walk slowly over to my bed, and stuff the newly laundered pillow into my face to mask the sound of my own desperate sobbing.

I don’t hate my parents, because they’re my parents. I love how reliable my mother can be, and I admire my father’s endless devotion to his faith. Really, I adore them, but I hate their world, because I’m not a part of it anymore. I used to understand it, but that’s all gone now. One day, I’d just realised that, over time, my own world had been changing, and as it changed, it had taken me further and further away from theirs. We were in different solar systems now – different universes, even, and there was no way back for me, and no way forward for them.

I sit up, turning the pillow over so that the wetness from my tears is concealed from view. Then I get to my feet, and kneel at the foot of my bed. I haven’t prayed like this for such a long time, but right now I need it. I know you’re there, I think to myself. I know you can hear me, and I want you to know that I’m not grateful. It’s great to be alive and it’s great to go each day not starving or dying of some horrible disease, but perhaps I’m spoilt, because I’m still not grateful. I don’t want to do this anymore; I don’t want to have to pretend, every single day, that I’m a part of something that goes against everything that I am. I want to apologise to my parents for pretending for so long, but I can’t, because I know that I will never, for as long as I live, be able to tell them the truth. I won’t stop. I’ll carry on, because I can and because I’m a good actor… but, as it’s only you who’s listening, I need you to know: I hate myself. I wasn’t meant to be this person. I break every mould that I’ve ever known, but I need you to know, because it must be your fault. You have got to have messed up somewhere; you must made a mistake, because I know, I know, that I’m in the wrong body. Please, understand me when I say this:

I wasn’t meant be a girl.

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.

The Victims

This is a short story I wrote several years back, it’s quite shaky in places, but was inspired from thoughts about the suppression of minorities. Clearly, this is still a very real issue.

It was getting closer. There had once been days when people could leave their homes without constantly glancing over their shoulders, or throwing every stranger terrified looks. They had had nothing to fear then, but that had been in a different world. Now people had no choice but to accept their own fears as they came to reality. The city wasn’t safe; no city was safe. They were on the losing side of an eternal war.

The once colourful, well cared for houses that boarded the streets were now crumbling and falling into disrepair, dirt and grime snaking up their walls. The labyrinthine roads and passageways that separated the city were now almost completely inaccessible. Even the atmosphere in the city seemed somehow empty, its desolate quiet ringing louder than any sound ever could.

Despite everything, though, the city was far from empty. People sat crouched together in their rather dilapidated houses, holding hands and singing songs. They would not lose faith, for they had already accepted what was to come. They told stories to each other of how their great city had begun; of how the workers of the world had once breathed life into the empty bareness of the Earth. They would laugh and they would cry, for every single person, adult or child, rich or poor, knew:

It was the end.

Nala sighed quite suddenly. Yawning, she turned away from the open window and blinked her way out of her reverie. People die, she thought bitterly. That’s just the harsh reality of life. They die, and whoever’s left just have to deal with it.

Languid, she allowed her heavy eyelids to drop down shut over her wide eyes. Then, as she breathed out a long sigh, she pressed down her fingertips onto her closed eyes, until finally she saw colours that she no longer recognised. They didn’t belong in her broken world, but they were hope of another, far better one. Electric blues zigzagged through the air, punctuating a cascading rainfall of golden light; turquoises darted and flashed as they merged into the vivid scarlet; and even yellow was thrown into the mass: meteors of fire that burned across the sky.

Nala opened her eyes again. There was a noise coming through the open window, disturbing her fantasy. For a moment, she stood in silence, listening. Then, without warning, she leapt out of the window and dropped down into the street below. She knew that sound well, for it was the only sound that had the power to chill blood and petrify children: a scream.

Nala raced along dirt track after dirt track, her heart humming an incoherent beat in her chest. She was getting closer to the noise now, and it was breaking up, until there were two screams, and then three. A moment later, Nala could hear it for what it really was: a screeching cacophony of pained shouts that ripped into her heart even as she raced onwards. A shivering panic was creeping down Nala’s spine now. What if something had happened? What if someone had been hurt? She whirled around the corner in a haze of colour…and stopped.

The world stopped, too. Everything was over now. It was too late for prayers; too late for promises. They were doomed. For there, in the distance, but coming ever nearer, like a writhing serpent reading itself for the pounce, was the flood.

A great tower of merciless, bubbling water reared over the city, casting a gigantic shadow of dread and despair over them all. Nala opened her mouth to allow her own scream to join those hundreds around her, but, almost instantly, she was wrapped in a tight circle of her mother’s arms.

“Calm down, Nala. It’s just like I always told you. Every place has it’s time, and every kingdom, no matter how great, must one day fall.” Nala swallowed hard, gazing up into the penetrating eyes that she knew so well. “I love you,” her mother whispered, hugging her tighter, and, as she did so, Nala felt her mother’s bracelet dig into her side. She could remember gazing at its blue pearls as a child, jealous. It had been a parting gift from Nala’s father, and her mother had sworn that she would never take it off, for that would mean that she would be separated from him, and that was simply more than she could bear.

The screams all around them suddenly stopped, a quiet more eerie than anything yet. Before she could even comprehend it, ice cold water swept over Nala’s head, knocking her mother away. There was a great swelling sensation, and then she was moving, her head still underwater, but moving, faster than ever before. The suffocating onslaught of furious water dragged her through the cold, pushing her still further beneath its surface.

She wanted to scream; she wanted to yell, but she couldn’t even breathe. Wrapped in the embrace of the furious waters, she was going to die; right now. She just knew it. Churning currents battered her in every direction, as if they had some kind of jurisdiction over her very being. Nala opened her mouth and choked almost instantly. She was going to die…any moment now, she was going to drown!

Just as suddenly as it had started, the great swelling stopped, and Nala was ejected from the hungry waters, left shivering and coughing on dry land. Barely conscious, her raw skin stinging in the harsh hair, Nala rolled over.

She kept her eyes firmly shut, sure that she was dead, and sent up a prayer to whatever God there may be. She opened her eyes.

Light pierced through her irises like a veil had just been removed from her face. A kind of brightness like she had never known before was suddenly surrounding her on every side.

She was above ground.

For her entire life, she had lived in the city: a city that was beneath the Earth’s surface. Those many years ago, when the workers had set about making the foundations of their home, they had decided to make it far beneath the sun’s reach, so that its inhabitants would always be safe, secure and…hidden, from all those who sought to destroy them. Now though, as Nala sat up and gazed skyward, she smiled. She had no right doing so given her current situation, but she couldn’t help it! How she wished that her people held the position in this terrible war to always stand in the sun, but she knew that it was impossible; the outside world was teeming with their enemies.

Nala turned slowly and began to walk towards a small hill built into the earthy ground, intending to search for a way back to the city – or what would be left of it after its people and buildings had been so mutilated.  She heaved herself over the hill, and then looked down.

A devastating scene met here newly opened eyes. Water seeped from holes in the ground, holes in which she recognised as roads that had once led into the city. It was completely flooded; her home was lost. A cold swept over Nala, cooling her just as effectively as the icy water itself. There were bodies in the water. Their faces were twisted and barely recognisable, but Nala still knew them. She’d known everyone in the city, even these faded carcasses which had once been so full of life. There lay the greengrocer, with his old tunic and clown-like shoes, his face void of emotion as he floated eerily across the water; and there lay the washerwoman, her neat curls flat and empty, dull eyes staring at nothing. Most horrifying of all, though, was the thing that floated just a little to the left of the washerwoman. It was a dazzling bracelet of gleaming sapphire pearls, tied together with a small bow. Nala began to scream.

The boy smiled to himself. It had been a long day. David Wood had trapped him in the toilets again. He sighed, tugging his hose from the ants’ nest at his feet and throwing it behind him carelessly. He then bent down into a kneeling position, squinting down at the floor. There was a small puddle of water where ants floated pathetically, their legs sticking out in odd directions. Laughing bitterly, he stood up again and turned to leave. He didn’t care about ants. They didn’t matter; it wasn’t like they had feelings, or even thoughts for that matter.

What You Don’t Know

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

728px-David_and_Emily_from_David_Copperfield_art_by_Frank_Reynolds

The summer breeze ruffled their hair and made their skin blush as they approached the shore. It had been far too long since the Caputo family had set their eyes on the sea; Maggie hadn’t even been born when they had last visited. Mrs Caputo watched her youngest daughter run on ahead at the first glimpse of golden sand, her raven hair loose in the wind and bare arms waving as she danced forwards. Mrs Caputo sighed, watching the girl as she shouted at her siblings to join her. How she did worry for her; she didn’t understand the world as her brothers and sisters seemed to. She didn’t respect order or authority, having thrown her bonnet into the wind as soon as the family had first stepped outside. She was beautiful, yet, at the same time, although Mrs Caputo despised herself for thinking it, she was also wrong in some way. It was almost as if her brain didn’t function like it should, too busy dreaming of fairies and far off lands to contemplate her future.

The family set themselves down by the shore, Duncan and Cedric setting up the picnic, whilst Annie and Rosie, the oldest children of the Caputo family, and twins, supervised Mr Caputo’s descent to the floor. He whined as his daughters pulled him down, his back cracking horribly as he went. Mrs Caputo, however, was busy gazing at Maggie as she drew closer and closer to the water’s edge. She was jumping in the waves, screaming with delight as the water lapped at her legs.

“Cedric, dear,” Mrs Caputo said, turning to her youngest son. “Please go and tell your sister to be careful, there could be glass, or anything left in the sand there.” The boy grunted, his lack of enthusiasm visible from his every feature. Still, though, he dragged himself from the card game that he’d been engaging in with Duncan, and raced down to the shore to join his sister.

“Maggie!” he shouted, grabbing his sister’s hand when she did not respond to his cry. “Mags, listen to me.” Still, however, the girl did not respond, shaking off his hand and instead raising her head, looking directly out across the sea.

“Don’t be silly, Alex,” she giggled, still not looking at her brother. “He’s got the same hair as me!” She laughed again, then took a few more steps forwards, the water now reaching her thighs. “Don’t be mean!” she retorted to thin air, a painted smile across her face.

Cedric was still standing on the shoreline, nonplussed. Out of all of his siblings, it was Maggie who he understood the least. She had always been strange, talking about things that the rest of them couldn’t understand, or couldn’t see. His mother thought that he did understand her, at least more than the others, for he was the closest to her age. He supposed that their mother took his abashed silences for some kind of understanding, but that was wrong. He loved his sister out of duty, but, really, he didn’t have a clue who she was.

“Who’s Alex?” he asked quietly from behind the grinning child. The name appeared to trigger something in her, for she whipped around, blinking and looking rather confused.

“Alex is my best friend,” she said simply, furrowing her eyebrows slightly. “I’ve told you about her before. This is her first time at the seaside, too,” she paused, almost scowling at her brother now. “She’s always been here,” she said, quieter now. “You ignore her almost as much as you ignore me.”

Cedric’s eyes widened at this. His sister was turning back to the sea again, walking steadily forwards, her arms slightly outstretched, as if clutching at something just in front of her. Words seemed to escape him; he’d never seen such deep emotion, such deep sorrow in his sister’s face before, and it scared him. He didn’t like the idea of her being alone, even if, now that he really thought about it, she probably had been.

“Cedric! Cedric, what did I tell you?” Mrs Caputo snapped furiously, suddenly at Cedric’s side and pushing him backwards. “Maggie, dear, it’s not safe out here. Come back to the sand now, please,” she asked calmly, but really her heart was hammering in her chest. The water was half way up to the girl’s shoulders now, her legs and midriff completely consumed by the dark waters. “There could be a current, darling. It’s not safe.” Mrs Caputo made a move forwards, attempting to grab the child, but Maggie only took another step backwards. Her mother withdrew, panic clouding her thoughts.

“Alex is fine,” Maggie retorted gleefully. “And she’s a lot deeper than me.”

“Who’s Alex?” Her mother said, turning back to her youngest son. Cedric struggled with his words for a moment, still too stunned by his sister’s revelation that he couldn’t properly take in what was happening.

“She’s…” he paused, his throat constricted. “She’s her imaginary friend.”

“No she’s not!” Maggie shouted furiously, stepping still further back into the swirling waters. Splashes were catching at her shoulders now, and she giggled, despite herself. “Alex is as real as I am, and you don’t call me imaginary, do you?”

Mrs Caputo painted a false smile on her face, holding both hands out towards Maggie now. She sensed that the rest of the family were now lining up besides Cedric, but she didn’t turn around to check. She couldn’t take her eyes off her youngest child. “Of course she’s real, darling. Now let’s come back to the shore and dry off, okay? It’ll be lunchtime soon.”

Maggie looked slightly confused at this, seeming to genuinely contemplate the idea.

“I like the water,” she said, stepping still further into the ocean’s clutches. “It’s warm, and Alex says that we should be deep enough to swim now.”

Mrs Caputo almost lurched forwards at this, but she caught herself. She didn’t want to startle the girl, after all. She smiled that fake smile again.

“But you can’t swim, darling.”

“Alex says it’s easy.” Maggie smiled that strange, distant smile, and reached her hand out to the side, just under the surface of the water, and folded it slightly, as if it was wrapped around another’s hand. “She says you just relax, because people float.” She looked in the direction of her outstretched hand and giggled. “She says she’ll teach me!” she cried excitedly, turning back to her mother.

Mrs Caputo watched in horror as her daughter closed her eyes and leant back into the waters, still giggling with joy. She reacted instinctively, charging forwards, grasping the girl’s shoe and yanking her tight to her. Maggie squealed in anger, but her mother was already dragging her back to the sand and throwing her at her father.

Mr Caputo wrapped Maggie up in a tight towel, and then offered another to his wife. They both kept a hand around their daughter’s as they marched her back to their picnic and set her down on another towel. All the way, Maggie screamed her frustrations.

“Slow down, Alex can’t keep up! She’s still all wet! Why couldn’t you just let me play with her? She’s my friend and were having fun. You ruined everything!” The entire family ignored Maggie’s outburst, the boys helping Mr Caputo with the sausages, whilst the twins began to lay out plates. Mrs Caputo did not move from Maggie’s side, her face stony and eyes tight shut. She’d known there was something wrong with her. She’d known that something needed to be done. The girl wasn’t right in the head, and Mrs Caputo’s own self-denial could have cost her life.

It had happened before. Maggie had only been five years old, and Mrs Caputo had simply dismissed it, thinking it a freak accident. The toddler had had the shared attic room with the twins, and they were always watching her, keeping her out of trouble. Then, one seemingly perfect summer’s day, Rosie had cut herself on a loose nail protruding from one of the floorboards. There had been so much blood that Annie had had to rush her downstairs to get help. Mrs Caputo could well remember wrapping the wound, without once giving a thought for the baby Maggie, alone upstairs. When the twins returned upstairs, however, the screams brought Mrs Caputo straight to them.

There, on a broken part of the roof that was left hanging out at the attic window, had sat Maggie, at least two metres from the window. Her mother had watched the broken roof as it swung and creaked menacingly in the wind, her youngest child laughing, as she squinted up at the sun.

“Maggie, Maggie darling, come back!” Mrs Caputo had called to the child, and yet Maggie hadn’t even turn around.

“It’s fun!” she had called out to the sky, arms reaching up, as if trying to catch something just a little way in front of her. Mrs Caputo hadn’t dared climb onto the roof to collect the child, for she had been certain that it would break instantly under her weight. She’d thus spent several hours attempting to draw the child in, and, when that had proved fruitless, at last succeeded by wafting the tempting smells of bacon and slightly burnt toast out of the window. It had taken at least five hours, but Maggie had returned to her, alive and well.

Mrs Caputo should have known then that there was something wrong with her daughter. She was dangerous: a danger to herself, and a danger to others. Mrs Caputo well-remembered Maggie calling to her sisters as they stood, curious, behind their mother. She’d wanted them to join her; she’d wanted them to put them in danger, too.

Now it was happening again. Maggie saw things that weren’t there, and just as she’d reached out to the sky those few years back, she did again now, on the towel, besides her. Maggie reached out to the girl that wasn’t there.

Mr Caputo served the sausages round to the family, and provided them all with a large hunk of bread. It was far past lunchtime at this point, Maggie having had been stood in the water for much longer than Mrs Caputo had realised. They thus all tucked in with great energy, gnawing at the bread and swallowing the meat whole. Maggie, however, did not touch the plate that sat balanced across her legs.

“What about Alex?” she asked accusingly, looking to her father. “Doesn’t she deserve to eat?” Mr Caputo’s mouth opened, half a sausage falling back onto his plate. He looked to his wife for guidence, who sighed.

“Alex isn’t really here, darling. I know that you see her, but she isn’t real,” Mrs Caputo swallowed, taking in the instant hatred that looked horribly out of place on her daughter’s small features. “It’s okay,” she said, using softer tones, now. “We’re going to get you help now, Maggie. It’s okay.”

Maggie didn’t say anything to this, but she did start eating, a sign which Mrs Caputo took to be her success. The family didn’t linger after lunch, but packed up the car once more, and prepared for the journey home. Mrs Caputo’s mind was, as it should have been long before now, set. She was going to go to the doctor, and she was going to tell him the truth. Even if he tried to take Maggie away from her, she knew that she couldn’t fight it. She had to do what was best for the child now. Whatever the cost.

Mrs Caputo turned in her seat to smile at Maggie, and then froze. There was no one there. She looked to the back of the car, where Mr Caputo and the boys were still forcing the damp towels into the tiny boot. Annie, Rosie and Maggie had all gotten in the car behind her. They were supposed to be there. The panic was back, and, without pausing, Mrs Caputo was running back to the sand.

She could hear screams, and her heart seemed to both freeze and accelerate simultaneously. Maggie was running backwards and forwards on the sand, her long hair flowing out behind her as she raced, and her white petticoat flying wild and free, dancing in time to her laughter.

“Mother, mother!” Maggie called at the sight of her. “Alex and I are playing chase, it’s so fun!” She didn’t stop in her game, and yet Mrs Caputo’s heart still seemed incomprehensible, despite the child’s joy.

“Where are Annie and Rosie?” She asked quietly. Maggie stopped, turning to her mother, and still, infuriatingly, grinning.

“Alex was teaching them how to swim, it was amazing! And guess what, mum? She was right, people do float!”

Mrs Caputo nodded solemnly, looked to the water’s edge, and felt her heart explode.

What had she done?

15625246_1524354110911270_324655577177260032_n
December 2016.