The King #writephoto | Short Story

The grey clouds above us had begun to churn, rumbling and rocking over one another as we shivered. They were an omen, I thought, my knees knocking together in the air. They were an omen for our future.

The King.jpgUp ahead of us, our captors were murmuring to each other, gesturing first at us, and then over the hill to a point that we could not see. I shifted slightly, my chains grating painfully against my ankles, and glanced at the boy behind me. He must have been only nine or ten, his skinny arms limp at his sides and his face tinged with blue.

I wanted to offer some words of comfort to him, but I couldn’t find any to give. Then I heard the sound of approaching footsteps and I turned back to the front to see one of the guards marching down our ranks.

He was a tall man with a thick, black moustache that did not entirely hide his twisted smile. In his hand, he held the dreaded whip and was stroking it gently – almost lovingly.

“Walk,” he croaked, and I felt a tug on my chains as the prisoners at the front of the party began to march forwards. Again, I felt an excruciating pain against my raw ankles, and then it was my turn and I, too, was climbing the steep hill towards – or so it seemed – the clouds themselves.

At the top of the path, our party began to turn. Then I heard sighs and stifled sobs from the front, and the guard with the whip darted forwards to silence them. When I reached the top, I didn’t cry or gasp. My eyelids drooped slightly over the eyes that had become hard and stony. It wasn’t anything worse than I had been expecting, but it was eerie. There was no denying that.

the deadThe process was a long one. They led us into the gallows three at a time and, for every prisoner, they read out our shared sentence: this party has been found guilty of treason in the highest degree. Having plotted against our Lord the King, they are to hang by the neck until dead.

I thought of the King then. I hadn’t considered him since the day of my capture, but it all came back to me as I watched the guards toss away the bodies of my fellow prisoners. I thought of his malice and his demands, remembering how, on the day of his coronation, he had asked for a gift from each household. I remembered watching my daughter being dragged away from me, screaming as she was hoisted into the back of a van.

Back then, they had told us that she was to be made a slave, but I had never really believed that. My daughter was dead. They were all dead.

More bodies were being removed from the grass now and I took a couple of steps forward as the next three prisoners approached the gallows. What about the boy that now stood behind me? What could he have possibly done to insult the King? Perhaps he had thrown a stone at one of the guards as they had slaughtered his parents, or perhaps he hadn’t done anything at all. Perhaps he had been taken as a punishment to his family. It didn’t matter, though. Guilty or not, he didn’t stand a chance. There were to be no trials and no inquisitions. The King’s word was the law, and he had decided that we were to die.

I was at the front of the line now. I closed my eyes as the guard at my side thrust me forwards, leading me up some rough, wooden steps towards the gallows.

I did not resist. I only looked at the boy behind me, watching as the guards lowered the rope to his level. I didn’t take my eyes off of that boy the entire time. My eyes were fixed – resolute. After all, if this was to be my final moment on this earth, then I wanted to remember. I wanted to remember what our Lord had done.

Word Count: 696.

I hope you liked this #writephoto story. It was inspired by the weekly prompt challenge that is hosted by Sue Vincent. You can read all about it here.

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Dracula: A Thief’s Tale | Flash Fiction

“We shouldn’t be here,” Callie murmured, her eyes fixed on the window.

sunset2.jpg“The sun isn’t setting yet,” I soothed, but I knew that she could hear the falsity of my tone.

“Calm down, you two,” Bryn snapped from behind us. He was still shovelling treasure into his backpack, his eyes wide. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do with these old coins, but they’ll be worth hell of a lot.”

“He’s going to wake up!” Callie squealed.

I turned to her, but then stopped. From somewhere below us, we could hear the sound of a coffin being pushed open.

Word Count: 99.

As some of you may already be aware, I have been recently been rereading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (check out my review here). So, when I looked at this week’s Friday Fictioneers prompt, which could arguably be a sunset, how could I not think of the terrifying Count Dracula? I have absolutely loved reading this book and honestly cannot get it out of my head, so you’ll have to excuse this little bit of vampire fiction!

If you’re interested in the Friday Fictioneers prompt, it is a weekly challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields that asks its participants to tell a story in only 100 words or less. You can read all about it here. Thanks for reading, and remember to click on the blue Inlinkz button below to view more stories based on this prompt.

Picture Credit: Dale Rogerson.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Short Stories & Novellas

Top Ten Tuesday is a challenge hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl that’s all about books! Each week, we are asked to list ten bookish recommendations that can be based on anything from fictional worlds and characters, to colours on book covers.

Top Ten Tuesday

This Week’s Prompt: 10 of the best short stories & novellas.

This is quite a tough challenge for me because, although I do read a lot of short stories and novellas, I don’t always write reviews for them, which makes it difficult for me to keep track of them. This is something that I want to change, though; why doesn’t a shorter work deserve an honest review? I’ll warn you, though, this list is almost exclusively filled with classics (I couldn’t tell you why).

My Top 10 Short Stories/Novellas

#1 – “The Bottle Imp” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

This short story was written in the Victorian period and is included in my copy of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It truly is a fantastic story that is far more interesting than Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It’s all about superstition, love and sacrifice and is, in my opinion, completely underrated.
You can read my review of “The Bottle Imp” here.

#2 – The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.

Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad is the only novella on my list that was written during this century. It’s a clever, feminist take on Homer’s The Odyssey, and I absolutely adore it. I have always loved the Greek myths and legends, and have read The Odyssey a couple of times now. The Penelopiad is original and exceptionally clever. I would recommend it to anyone with any knowledge of the ancient world.
You can read my review of The Penelopiad here.

#3 – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I feel as though I have been talking about A Christmas Carol lot over the last few weeks, but it seems to keep cropping up. It is a Victorian novella that is well known throughout the world. When I read it a few weeks ago, it really impressed me. It’s not only a heart-warming story of love and redemption, but there’s also a lot to consider from a more critical perspective.
You can read my review of A Christmas Carol here.

#4 – The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle.

I’m including The Sign of Four on this list, along with A Study in Scarlet, although there seems to be some debate as to whether these works are novellas or novels. The Sign of Four is the second long work in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes collection. It’s a thrilling story and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
You can read my review of The Sign of Four here.

#5 – Animal Farm by George Orwell.

I listened to Animal Farm on audiobook a long time ago. I honestly cannot remember how old I was, but I loved it. Many people my age aren’t keen on this book as they studied it at school, but I never had this experience, so I view it only as a wonderful story (with some serious capitalist undertones).

#6 – The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Here’s another one that I read a long time ago. My review of The Heart of Darkness was actually the first ever review that I posted on this blog. According to this, I must have read the novella sometime in 2015. It’s a very vivid tale that I nevertheless struggled with. Joseph Conrad uses some extremely descriptive language that sometimes makes the story difficult to decipher. It is a wonderful tale, though, and is one that I hope to revisit in the near future.
You can read my review of The Heart of Darkness here.

#7 – Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Now, here’s a novella that I did study at school. During this time (I was probably about sixteen), I didn’t really enjoy the story, but now that I reconsider it, it really is a wonderful piece of literature. The story is not only interesting but also extraordinarily powerful. The characters are well developed and the setting is remarkably vivid, making this novella yet another work that I wish to reread.

#8 – A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.

I really enjoyed this introduction to the Sherlock Holmes collection, although I did find it a little harder to follow than The Sign of Four. The narrative jumps around a little too much (as we travel around the world), and I felt at times as though I was being bombarded with information. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful story and the case kept me guessing right up until the end.
You can read my review of A Study in Scarlet here.

#9 – “The Dead” by James Joyce.

This short story is an interesting one, as it doesn’t contain a lot of action. It instead focusses on its characters, as well as its setting. This is a story that takes everyday occurrences (such as a feast) and places them under a magnifying glass as we are brought face to face with issues such as Irish Nationalism,  are forced to consider the sheer power of death.
You can read my review of “The Dead” here.

#10 – Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I read this novella quite recently and have very mixed feelings about it. It’s another one that I studied in school, but I found its pace rather slow and confusing. Upon revisiting it, I found it less confusing, but still rather slow. The idea behind the story is, of course, awe-inspiring, and the last few chapters of this book contain some of the best writing that I have ever read. So, if you can get past its beginning, this work certainly one to be admired.
You can read my reivew of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde here.

Well, that’s it! Thanks for stopping by to read this Top Ten Tuesday post! By this time next week, I should have another book list posted. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts for me, please do leave me a comment below – what’s your favourite short story or novella?

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The Caged Warlock | Flash Fiction

The soft clinking sounds of the windchimes should have been soothing, but they weren’t. They were chilling.

“He won’t take his eyes off me,” I muttered, looking everywhere but at our prisoner.

“He’s tied up,” my companion hissed, though he, too, looked uncomfortable.

“I just wish the others would hurry up with that truck,” I sighed, my eyes scanning the area. “We need to get him away from here before-”

I had been desperately trying not to look at our captive, but as my eyes darted through the trees, I caught a glimpse of his cage.

It was empty.

Word Count: 99.

This little piece of fiction was inspired by the Friday Fictioneers prompt challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-FieldsThanks for reading! You can click on the InLinkz button below to view more pieces of flash fiction based on this prompt.

Picture Credit: Liz Young.

“The Bottle Imp”: Short Story Review

I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Bottle Imp” right after I finished rereading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It is a short story included in my copy of this infamous gothic novella, and is one that most certainly deserves a review.

CoverA Bit of Context

Title: “The Bottle Imp”
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson.
Publication: 1891, New York Herald.
My Edition: 2012, Penguin.
Length: 31 pages.

“The Bottle Imp” was published in 1891, a few years after Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Centred around the islands of Hawaii, the story was inevitably inspired by Stevenson’s five-month visit to the islands.

It offers an original perspective on a story that has been retold many times: the selling of one’s soul to the devil. Other stories that have addressed this concept include Thomas Nashe’s Pierce Penniless, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and even some of the tales by the Grimm brothers.

*** The next two sections of this review may contain some spoilers. If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review, then I suggest that you skip to the “My Conclusion” section of this post! ***

Plot Overview

The story of “The Bottle Imp” follows the journey of Keawe, a young Hawaiian sailor. He is walking through a rich neighbourhood, admiring the houses around him, when an elderly man comes out to talk to him. He tells Keawe that he can have a house like his if he buys a particular bottle from him.

This is the bottle imp, and it is offered to Keawe for fifty dollars. Keawe cannot understand why this man would wish to rid himself of the imp when it can grant him anything that he desires. Yet the man tells him that whoever dies with the imp still in their possession will be sent straight to hell. He cannot simply give it away, either; anyone wishing to get rid of the imp must sell it for a smaller amount than that which they paid for it. It sounds complicated, but the imp’s rules become much more straightforward when reading the story.

IMG-3387.jpgSo, Keawe buys the imp and uses it to build a grand mansion for himself. Once this is built, he decides not to be greedy and so sells the imp to his friend who, in turn, uses the power of the imp before selling it on once more. Now free of the imp but living a life of luxury, Keawe feels very fortunate. Then, one day, he meets the beautiful Kokua, and after a shockingly short conversation, Keawe asks Kokua to marry him.

Everything seems to have worked out perfectly for Keawe. He returns home from his meeting with Kokua feeling desperately happy, but then, relaxing at home, he discovers something terrible. Keawe’s skin has become strange and unfamiliar. There is only one explanation for this change, and this is that he has leprosy.

Now infected with the disease, Keawe realises that he cannot marry Kokua. He struggles with this realisation for a while, before he comes up with a solution: he needs to retrieve the bottle imp and wish away his illness. He does just this and manages to cure himself, but there’s a problem: Keawe now owns the bottle imp again, and it has been sold many, many times since he first owned it, and he purchased it for a single penny. This means that he cannot sell it on again, because there is no lower price. Keawe is the last owner and, as a result, he will spend an eternity in hell.

The rest of the story is one of pure sacrifice. Keawe and Kokua fight over who should suffer the price of the imp and desperately seek a solution. It’s a wonderful tale, and has an extremely satisfying ending.

Going Deeper into the Story…

For a short story, there’s a lot going on in “The Bottle Imp”. It’s full of action, but nevertheless considers some important contemporary issues, including cultural differences and a structural use of oppositions.

Cultural Differences

The Victorian Period was a time of exploration. With the invention of steam power, ships were able to take people further and further abroad at a much faster speed. The world had suddenly become much larger as new regions were being mapped out and made known to the British public. A rise in industrial trade also meant that different cultures were constantly coming into contact with one another. Yet with new discoveries and cultural relationships, there also came new fears.

IMG-3391.jpgYou may have heard me mention the phrase, “the foreign other” before. If you’re not familiar with this term, it basically refers to a person from a foreign culture who, because of their background, is feared. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Count Dracula, the Transylvanian aristocrat who decides to move to England. Dracula demonises the Count because he comes from a place that the British public are not familiar with.

Well, “The Bottle Imp” seems to invert these fears. By giving a voice to a Hawaiian sailor, Stevenson normalises cultural differences, allowing his readers to understand foreign practices. It therefore seems that, unlike Dracula, “The Bottle Imp” glorifies the relationships Britain had begun to forge with foreign countries.

Yet there is another side to this way of looking at the story; when Keawe uses the imp to build his house, it is filled with many material items that are unfamiliar to him, but would have already been known to Stevenson’s readers. In some respects, this may suggest that Stevenson is likening the demonic bottle imp to global trade; like the imp, it may, at first seem wonderful, but there is always a price to pay.

As for the knick-knacks, they were extraordinary fine; chiming clocks and musical boxes, little men with nodding heads, books filled with pictures, weapons of price from all quarters of the world, and the most elegant puzzles to entertain the leisure of a solitary man.


In many gothic stories (such as Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde), there is a certain amount of duality or doubling. In Frankenstein, this takes the form of the relationship between the monster and his creature. In “The Bottle Imp”, however, it is demonstrated through oppositions. There are constant dualities in this story, such as good and evil, love and war, and greed and restraint.

This was the wooing of Keawe; things had gone quickly; but so an arrow goes, and the ball of a rifle swifter still, and yet both may strike the target.

For me, this really represents the nature of the bottle imp, because although it can grant its owner anything they wish, children’s stories have taught us that wishes always have a price. It all comes down to that ultimate, repeated question: is it worth it? Are your deepest desires worth selling your soul? Is an eternity spent in hell worth it, if you can have one perfect life?

My Conclusion

When I reviewed Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I mentioned how slow the pace of Stevenson’s writing was, and suggested that the novel was only really made famous by its concluding chapters. I stand by this opinion but must admit that “The Bottle Imp” is written in a completely different style. In this story, Stevenson’s sentences are simplified, and are far less descriptive, making it extremely enjoyable.

IMG-3392.jpgI would honestly have to say that “The Bottle Imp” is the best short story that I have ever read, considering both its content, and the way in which it is written. It’s not at all like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in that, although it has gothic aspects to it, it’s a more light-hearted tale. It’s essentially a fantasy story set in the real world, although it lends itself more to fantasy perhaps because Stevenson’s audience would have found the Hawaiian islands at least semi-fictional.

It offers something for everyone, containing romance, magic, and a lot of mystery. Although its characters are few, they are well developed, and I found it easy to relate to Keawe. “The Bottle Imp” is a timeless tale that I can certainly recommend.

Thank you so much for reading this review. You can click here to check out an A-Z list of all of my reviews (so far)!

The Sign of the Artificial Leg | Flash Fiction

“Faster, Watson! We must be right on his tail now!”

The two detectives tore through the town centre, their heavy coats flying out behind them as they ran. In front of them, the small, droopy-eared spaniel was beginning to slow, his nose pressed against the ground.

“Ah,” said Holmes.

The spaniel had come to an abrupt stop. Beside him, stood an artificial leg.

The spaniel was wagging its tail, looking between Holmes and Watson as if waiting for praise.

“He took it off?” Watson asked, but Holmes didn’t answer. Watson understood, though.

They had followed the wrong scent. Again.

Word Count: 99.

Inspired by the weekly Friday Fictioneers challenge, this little piece of flash fiction was based (very roughly) on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four. This Sherlock Holmes story is one that I am currently reading, and it really is gripping. It was the first thing that I thought of when I looked at today’s prompt, as a large portion of the story centres around a man with a wooden leg!

Thanks for reading, and remember to click on the InLinkz button below to view more stories based on this Friday Fictioneers challenge!

Picture Credit: J Hardy Carroll.

Blind Trust | Flash Fiction

“Don’t look!” my companion hissed from beside me. She spoke with such a ferocity that I momentarily lost my balance.

“What are you talking about?” I demanded, steadying myself. “I’m blindfolded! All I can see is darkness.”

She snarled softly, nudging me a little to the left as a way of directing me.

“This isn’t what I had planned,” she said after a while. “Anyone could be out here. It’s not that late yet and, Cassie, I’m glowing.”

I didn’t know what to say to this, so I stayed silent, concentrating on my footsteps.

“It’s hard to explain,” she added, prodding me in the stomach so that I turned further to the left. “I wish I could tell you what’s happening, but it’s hard. There are rules.”

“It’s fine,” I murmured, reaching for her hand. “I don’t need to know. You’re finally going home. That’s all that matters.”

Word Count: 148.

This little piece of fiction was inspired by the weekly prompt challenge hosted by Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. Thanks for reading!

Picture Credit: Michelle De Angelis.