Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Pride Month 2022, Writing

Lovely, Lonely

They can hear me, you know. All the time, they’re listening. Always watching too. It has been twelve years, eight months and fourteen days, but I fear it will be forever.

All I wanted was to have some company.

I have been lonely for the longest time. Loneliness has been my only companion, really. A sombre constant that peers at me with pity as I navigate the world. The train carriages are busy. The office is busy. The bars I while away many solitary hours in are busy, not one of those people could save me.

I thought this place could.

I’m going to die here, I’m certain of that. It’s too late for me, I just want someone to know that I didn’t want this. I don’t know if anyone can hear me, but thinking out loud keeps me sane.

How can I make this make sense to you when I can barely understand how it happened myself? IT all seemed so innocent before, just some respite, an escape, but now, I’m trapped, and I don’t know if anything will ever be the same again.

It all started with her. It isn’t fair to say that, but I wouldn’t have ended up here if I hadn’t met her.

Once upon a time, I fell in love, and she was my escape. She had a laugh that could fill a stadium, and eyes like the Irish Sea. It was bliss, to belong to her, but as the old saying goes, nothing gold can stay, and neither could she, and though I know it isn’t right to blame her, losing her led me down this path.

With her, I could forget the scars of my solitude. I was seen, for the first time in as long as I could remember. Adored and aware of how beautiful life was when I looked up, and took it all in. Then she was gone, and I spiralled. For weeks, I was lost in my grief, and in a lot of ways, I still am. I understand that now. That’s the trouble with running away. Disappearing doesn’t stop your problems from following you.

Sometimes I see her here, but I can never reach her. It’s like this place drew me in with promises of all my desires, but enjoys dangling them above me, laughing as I reach for what I’ll never have.

I just needed to escape myself. I got sick of myself, and there was nobody else I could turn to, so as I, like most people, scrolled mindlessly through social media, I was captured immediately by a thirty second video.

They called it “reality shifting”. It sounded ridiculous at first, but I suppose I wanted to believe. It was supposed to be a way to go wherever you wanted as you slept, kind of like lucid dreaming, but… real. I fell down a rabbit hole and landed in a curious community of people who claimed to be living whole other lives in their desired realities, and without even thinking about it, I wanted it.

I watched testimonials of people talking excitedly about travelling to Hogwarts or The Shire, and at first, I couldn’t believe it, but hours of seeing their smiling faces as they discussed their experiences convinced me. It turned out, everything that they said was true. It is real, and you can do it too, but I am begging you, from my soul, don’t.

I know that you won’t listen to me. I wouldn’t have listened to me. There are so many success stories, and if you’re lucky, you could be one of them, but you never hear from the people who get lost. That’s because we never come back.

These realities exist. That was never a lie, but there are some places that we aren’t supposed to go. Maybe you’ll end up in Hogwarts, drinking butterbeer with the golden trio, but maybe you’ll end up stuck with me. There’s no way of knowing, because you’re handing over your consciousness, your soul, to something else, and hoping that it has kind intentions.

I wanted it though. I followed the instructions to the letter. Sitting down one evening, I spent hours crafting my very own dream reality. It was simple, nothing too extravagant, but I wanted to make it as real in my head as I could, to make crossing over as easy as I could. That’s what you do. You dream up your own little hideaway, and then, as night falls, you wait, counting up in your head, until your body starts to separate from your soul and you are guided away to your desired reality.

That was how it was at first. I didn’t want a place from a storybook or a movie. I just wanted a life with Millie. I had written it all down. We were happy, at home in a little apartment in London, just the two of us, living a normal life, where nothing could go wrong.

It worked, the first time. I laid still in bed, closing my eyes as the alarm clock ticked softly on the bedside table, counting up slowly in silence as I waited for something to happen. I could feel myself falling asleep, losing count somewhere in the late seventies, and I was just about to pinch myself awake when I suddenly felt myself falling. It was sudden, for a moment, before my body began to slow, almost floating as my heart raced. My fingers tingled and there was a bright light poking through to my closed eyes. I breathed deeply, continuing to count the numbers, faster and faster as my heart pounded in my chest.

“Anna?” I felt my body drop down, into the softness of a warm bed, and my eyes snapped open. She stood above me, by the side of the bed, her sweet, sapphire eyes staring down at me, as she pushed her sandy hair behind her ears. “Come on, we’ll be late.” It was Millie. I had made it. I reached up from the bed, clutching her hand close to me, marvelling at how real it felt. My body could remember her touch, and to feel it again was the sweetest kind of torment. I didn’t want to let her go, holding on to her hand tightly as she pulled me from the bed and into her soft embrace. It was real in a way that no dream I had ever had could have been. I could feel her skin against mine, her perfume filled the room and when she kissed me for the first time, I was enchanted.

We just spent the day together, visiting her parents, going for lunch at Nando’s, catching a movie in the evening. It was just like before, and I didn’t want it to end. As we settled down in bed, I held her close to my body. I felt myself slipping away, and wished, with all of my heart that I could stay with her.

It didn’t last. I woke up the next day, alone in a darkened room, as my alarm screeched at six AM finally arriving. I laid in silence for a moment, unsure if it had been a dream, or if I had truly travelled like all the girls on TikTok had promised I could. In the end, I decided that it didn’t matter. I was going back, whether it was to a dream, or to a truly magical place, I wanted more.

The days felt a little easier when I had the thought of my escape to look forward to. I’d count down the hours as I went about my regular life, making plans for when I could finally be back with Millie after the day was over. I began to smile. Not because of anything on the Earth, but because of my new life in the stars, or wherever it was that I want. It was like having a secret, some kind of amazing thing that nobody else in the world had. I had my own perfect little land, just for me and my lover, and nothing could take it away from me.

That was what I thought, and if I could still live in that delusion, then I would. They’d let me, in a sense. If it distracted me from their plan for my body, they would let me have her, and part of me wants to let them, but I can’t.

Your body gets left behind, you see. I didn’t think about that much at first, because it didn’t seem to matter, but it didn’t take long for me to realise just how dangerous it is to leave your body unattended.

It had been a few weeks in the desired reality, and just a few days in the real world before I started to notice things weren’t quite as they seemed.I got the hang of things after a while and learned how to stay a little longer each time. It was bliss. Millie and I were happy, living in a romantic bubble, and I barely noticed the outside world, until I saw them for the first time.

Millie and I were in Hyde Park, soaking up the sun after a long day of heart eyed bliss. I kissed her cheek softly, handing her another drink from the cooler. As I looked up, I saw them. A crowd of cloaked individuals. Their faces were covered in little clouds of black smoke and they pointed in unison towards me. I stared, confused as they stood, pointing at me. Nobody else seemed to notice them, and I looked down at Millie, shaking her gently.

“Do you see that?” She didn’t look up, closing her eyes as she enjoyed the soft rays against her skin.

“Just say yes.” Her tone was casual, almost bored. She hadn’t looked at them, but seemed to know that they were there. “Just say yes, and we’ll be okay.” I thought about pressing her for answers, but my eyes returned to the hooded figures and their sinister pointing.

Slowly, I walked towards them, the babble of the world around me fading away. My reality slipped with it, the trees, the grass and the sun vanished until there was nothing but darkness and them, looming before me.

“What is going on?” I asked, my voice shaking as they continued to point. I reached them, peering at the clouds of smoke but unable to see through to where they faces should have been.

“Would you like to stay forever?” The crowd spoke together, lowering their hands and opening their arms, their cloaks billowing in the wind.

“I can do that?” They beckoned, but I stood still, staring at them, and the darkness that lay behind them.

“We will make the trade.” They barked, and then, they were gone. A white light flooded the scene and the park returned, the world buzzing with life again.

“You said yes!” Millie cried, suddenly behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist. I turned to face her, lost in her smile for a moment. “Now we can stay here forever.” She pressed her lips against mine in a tender kiss, and I slipped from a position of panic to distracted euphoria. I hadn’t technically said yes, and I didn’t know what I’d said yes to, but in her arms, the thought of it seemed so unimportant.

The days went on, in my little dream world, and after a few weeks, I started to wonder when I’d go back to reality. It normally never went on that long, and every now and again, I’d worry, but then Millie would kiss me, or we’d spend a wonderful day together and I’d forget all over again.

Months went by before I saw them again. I had been so wrapped up in my new life that I had forgotten all about them. I woke in the middle of the night, unsure of why, but certain that I was being watched. As I felt around in the dark for the bedside lamp, I heard them.

“It’s time to go.” I shot out of bed, running for the light switch and pushing it, filling the room with light. They were all over the room, pointing as before, with the clouds fixed over their faces.

“What’s going on?” One of them stepped forward, lowering its arms as it approached me, the cloud moving as it walked. “I don’t understand.” I glanced over at Millie, who was sleeping soundly. “Where are we going?”

“It’s time to go.” The crowd repeated. The lone figure stood before me, taking my hands in its own as another approached it from behind. My fingers tingled and I had the familiar feeling from the first time I’d shifted. My body seemed to sink, floating as my heart raced. The world around me seemed to slide away as the figures gathered around the one holding onto me, and slowly, each crowding it, they pulled down it’s hood, and the cloud in front of its face drifted away.

It’s face. My face.

I gaped in horror, staring at my own face, staring back at me.

“What is happening?” I screamed as we seemed to fly through a manic rush of lights and sounds, her holding my hand tightly.

“You stayed so your body will serve the dreamers.” They chanted. “More will come.” The world around us blurred and she slipped from my hands, the words repeating as I tried to breathe.

I blacked out. There was nothing, for a moment, and then, a dark blur before me. As I awoke, I tried to feel my way around but I could barely see. I felt along my body, and all that I could feel was loose fabric, all over me.

“Hello Anna.” So many voices, just like before. I couldn’t see them through the fog, but I could hear them all around me. “Welcome to the collective.”

I had so many questions, but every time I tried to speak, there was silence.

“You will stay until your body has gathered a harvest large enough to free you.”

Again, I tried to speak but nothing came out. I wondered what they meant by a harvest, and how many would be enough, and of what.

“More people like you.” They answered, as if they could hear my thoughts. “We will tell you when it’s enough.” I tried to speak again but there was nothing. “You will only speak with the collective.”

I haven’t spoken in years. My body is back in your world, collecting souls with a smile. She will make videos, like the others, drawing in all the loneliest people with all kinds of promises, and for a while, it will be perfect, but you can never stay. Don’t even try to get here, no matter what they tell you, and whatever you do, when they ask you to stay, say no. Say it while you still can.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Pride Month 2022, Writing

The Holiday From Hell

The sky sobbed at the sight of Dover. Rain fell, heavy, as we huddled together under the umbrella and stared up at the boat.

As stupid as it sounds, I didn’t expect it to be so big. It felt as tall as a building, towering above us and casting a large shadow that ran far past us and across the port.

I took Maria’s hand and looked up at her expectantly, but she stared, open mouthed, in dumbstruck awe, still captured by the majesty of the vessel that sat before us.

Maria had spent many hours boring me silly with her boat talk, and there had been many hours more spent watching documentaries about various liners and warships when it was her turn to pick the movie on date night.

I was exhausted with my lover’s nautical obsession, but seeing the childlike glee on her face as she stared up at the Carrickfergus melted my heart. She was a complete nerd, but she was MY complete nerd, and all of the overtime I had done to afford the cruise had been worth it.

We couldn’t quite stretch to a suite, but we had a nice room, and a little luxury. After a few rough years with Covid and the general state of the world, I wanted to treat her to an experience that would replace all the bad memories with something new. I just didn’t know what they’d be replaced with. I couldn’t have expected what awaited us at sea. Nobody could have.

“Shall we go then?” I asked, squeezing her hand gently.

She snapped back to life with a smile, nodding excitedly, and we headed towards the boat. Once we were inside, I was even more shocked by the size of the boat. It just went on and on. Corridors, staircases, swimming pools, restaurants and bars. It was like we were in a town that just happened to be floating at sea.

My beautiful girl seemed to smile wider with every new discovery, her hand held tightly in mine as we searched for our cabin.

We were lost at first, but as we wandered the large and seemingly never ending halls, we were approached by a man. He wore a crisp, white uniform, with a black hat covering his sandy, almost white hair.

“I’m Captain Parris.” He said with a smile, and an extended hand. “Let me guide you to your rooms.” Maria enthusiastically shook his hand with an awestruck smile as I glared in disapproval.

“Room.” I said curtly, snatching her hand back and securing it tightly in my own. The lightbulb above us began to flicker, and together, we glanced up at it, watching in awkward silence as the light stabilised and we were left with nothing to distract from the uncomfortable atmosphere.

“Of course ladies.” He simpered beginning to stride down the hall. “My mistake.”

The first few days were smooth sailing, quite literally. The ship flew through calm waves, like a knife through butter and together, Maria and I enjoyed the pleasures of a life at sea. We sipped cocktails as the sun fell into the clear ocean, ate dinner in our fanciest outfits and watched dolphins as they chased the boat through the waves.

It was paradise. So many carefree hours under the sweet sun, with no idea of what was to come.

It all began with dinner on our third day. We had steak and potatoes. It’s so strange that I can remember it exactly. The steak was a little tough, and she tutted at me, affectionately, for using my knife and fork “the wrong way round”. Those were the last few moments of normality. The last few moments without the sense of terror that seemed to leak into the water and creep into every crevice of the boat.

As she leaned across the table to help her helpless girlfriend with cutting up the aforementioned tough steak, there was a sudden yell from the back of the dining room. Maria dropped the cutlery to my plate with a clatter, turning towards the sound. There was a commotion, some kind of struggle as brawling men spilled onto the Captain’s table. One seemed to be fighting back against the rest, snarling as he shoved and pushed back against the other men.

“What is going on?” She whispered, clutching my hand across the table. I shrugged, looking over at the table as the chaos unfolded. Confused whispers filled the air as they tore at each other. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the one I’d noticed before. He was hitting out at everyone around him, biting and spitting as he snarled at them. I looked around and saw the other diners, staring in horrified awe at the scene.

“Lets get out of here…” I said, pulling her from her chair and running from the stunned crowd as the officers and other men wrestled the wild stranger to the ground. As we passed him to reach the door, he fought against his captors, reaching out a hand to us, his eyes frantic and feral for a moment before they fixed firmly on my own. A little smile crept onto his lips as his hand clamped around my leg.

“You’d better run.” My blood ran cold as he spoke, as I stared down at the chaos, watching the officers and staff pull him to his feet and march him from the room. Maria dragged me from the room, pulling me behind the door so we could catch our breath. We watched the crowd of officers forcing the man, kicking, screaming and biting down the corridor, towards a large, steel door that with a lot of pushing, shoving and grunting, they finally managed to force him through.

As we watched, I felt fear rising in my body. The officers closed the door, locking it and then dispersing, and for a few seconds we stood in silence. I stared at the door, unsure of what was behind it, but sure that I didn’t want to find out. Part of me felt drawn to it, though, and as I stared, almost transfixed, I was pulled back to reality as the lightbulb above us suddenly smashed, plunging us into darkness.

Maria and I ran back through the dark hallway to our room in silence, only speaking when the door was closed and we were sure that we were alone and safe.

“What the fuck is going on?” She said in barely a whisper, beginning to pace the room with her hands on her hips. I shook my head, unsure of what I should say. “That man…” I pulled her close to me, halting her panicked pacing. “What was wrong with him?”

“I don’t know.” I muttered, her hair, soft against my neck as I held her close to me. “But it was like he looked right at me.” She nodded, breaking from my arms and throwing herself down onto the bed.

“So much for a relaxing holiday.” She stretched her arms across the bed with a loud sigh. I sat beside her on the soft covers, stroking her curls, fanned out across the duvet cover. “Whatever it was, we are keeping our heads down, right?” I nodded, kissing her cheek tenderly.

I wish I could have kept my word, but trouble has a way of finding you, no matter where you try to hide, and no matter how firmly you confirm that you do not want to be involved.

We went to bed, trying to forget what we’d seen, and as I watched Maria fall asleep, I tried to shake off the slight nervousness that was buzzing through my body. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man in the dining room. He had looked right into my eyes, as if he knew me, and he spoke in such a way that I knew he was talking directly to me. I just couldn’t understand why.

I struggled to get to sleep that night, but when I did, it didn’t last for long. As I woke up, there was a storm outside, and by the bedroom door was the shadow of a stranger.

I stared in silence, watching the shadow wander towards the bathroom, glancing to my left to see Maria with her eyes fixed on the shadow too. As the shadow tottered slowly into the bathroom, she grabbed my hand and pulled me down to the floor. As we fell, I saw the shadow turn, standing still for a moment before heading back towards the bedroom. Maria shoved me under the bed as we watched the shadow emerge.

The shadow shuffled towards the bed, legs bowed and worn to almost nothing, and I prayed that the moon’s light would not reveal any more of my tormentor.

I held Maria’s hand tightly, feeling her shaking in my embrace.

“You’d better run” That same, raspy whisper rang out across the room, thunder crashing in the sky as Maria dragged my hand to her mouth, muffling her terror as tears met our clutched hands.

The lightning outside filled the sky with brightness and for a second, I saw him. A rotting tower of flesh, white, wide eyes, water dripping down his drowned clothes onto the floor, but the intent, furious stare from those white, wide eyes was so familiar, even if it no longer had any direction.

“They’re coming to get you Louise.” He crowed.

It was the man from the dining hall. He was barely recognisable. His body mangled, dead, dank skin hanging from his limbs, with torn, terrorised muscles and the same, frantic,feral stare.

He stumbled around the room, bumping into furniture and toppling on unsteady feet, but he always rose back up, searching the room for someone to hear his message.

“Don’t you want to know what they’re hiding behind that door?” I shook my head, screwing my eyes up tightly and praying that it was just a bad dream. “I wasn’t enough, you see.” His voice was getting closer to our hiding place and as I opened my eyes, I saw his legs, inches from the bed, the skin, worn away until the bones were almost visible. “Nothing is ever going to be enough.” He continued, his knees dropping to the floor as he got closer to the bed. Maria and I scooted back, but it was too late. He had found us.

“The captain is very particular, you know.” A single, skeletal hand slunk under the bed, reaching out and grabbing mine tightly. I was frozen in fear, holding my breath as tears fell from my eyes. “You’re exactly what he’s looking for.”

The man released my hand, rising from his knees without another word and became to wander from the room again, tottering and falling as he did, but always getting back up, until he was clear of the door, and out of sight.

For a minute or so, Maria and I lay under the bed in silence. She was the first to speak.

“We have to get out of here.” I knew that she was right but I had no idea how we were supposed to do such a thing. “The lifeboats.” She whispered. “If we can get to them, we can get to the nearest port and escape.” Again, I nodded, unsure of how we would do such a thing, but willing to try.

We abandoned our things in the room, leaving with nothing but our lives, and crept through the silent halls, hand in hand. As we headed towards the deck, I spotted the door from earlier. Large and looming, made of shiny, unforgiving steel and seeming to stare with the same intensity as the man from the dining hall.

As much as I wanted to keep our heads down and escape, I knew that I had to know what was behind the door. I knew that it was the key to the man from the dining hall, and why he insisted with such confidence that I was somehow connected to this whole mess, and in such danger.

“Absolutely not!” Maria whispered as I rushed towards the door. She clutched my hand tighter and tried to pull me from my path but I broke free and ran towards it. “It won’t even be open dummy.” She hissed, chasing after me. I could hear her but I didn’t care. I had to try.

As I reached the door, I pushed on the handle, amazed to see it fly open without much effort. There was darkness on the other side, that didn’t look inviting, but I was one step closer to finding out the truth. Maria approached, reaching out a hand to me, and as I went to grab it, I was suddenly snatched away and pulled into the room by something in the darkness. I heard her cry out as the door slammed shut and I was alone in the dark.

“It wouldn’t have let her in anyway.” It was the same voice, scratchy and raspy. “It can sense what the Captain wants.” I shuddered, feeling my way back to the closed door and frantically trying to free myself from the room. “Almost like it can taste you.”

“What is this place?” I asked, banging against the cool surface of the door.

“Stop trying to get out.” His voice seemed to bounce in the darkness, as if he was moving around, circling me as he spoke. “You need to listen to me, or you and your little girlfriend won’t survive.”

“Who are you?” I cried, desperately trying the door again and again, despite his warnings.

“Have you ever noticed that nobody gets invited to eat with the Captain on this ship?” I hadn’t thought about it too much, but now that he mentioned it, it was true. The Captain had always dined alone, at the top table. “People aren’t invited, but some do still get that particular pleasure.” The man from the dining hall laughed, and while I had an idea of what he meant, I didn’t want to believe that it could be true. I shook my head, as the room filled with light, blinking it back as it stung my eyes. “Welcome to the restaurant.”

I stared around, my eyes adjusting to the new brightness of the room and my jaw dropped. It was filled with cages, small and cramped, and inside of each of them was a struggling, desperate person trying to get out. I recognised some of them from around the ship, but some were strangers. Over by the light switch was the man from the dining hall, clearly struggling to stand but wearing a sinister smile all the time. “The Captain is starving.”

“But…” I couldn’t stop looking at everyone around me. The sound of sniffling and sobbing was unbearable. “Why?”

“A Captain is the master of his ship, but every Captain has a master too.” The man said, hobbling towards me. “I heard from some of the others like me that this has been going back years.”

“Others like you?” I surveyed him with suspicion, taking a tentative step back as he continued to approach me.

“Ghosts, Louise.” I began to speak, my eyes wide in disbelief but he cut me off gruffly. “I wasn’t when we first met, but I was chosen that night.” He sighed in exasperation as he continued. “There isn’t enough time.”

“But…” He raised a thin, fragile hand that was mostly bones with a slight sprinkling of skin and I fell silent.

“I was trying to warn you, but I couldn’t get to you in time to explain… this.” He gestured at the cages around the room with a resigned sigh. “I’d seen the Captain watching you on the deck before they took me.” There was a sadness in his eyes now. I could see the marks from the knives that trailed down his skin. His flesh, stolen, for a reason that I did not yet understand, and still amidst all that, he had thought to try and help me.

“Why me?” I mumbled, almost choking on the words as I spoke.

“There’s something in our blood.”

“What about our blood?” I yelled, falling back against the wall in despair. Tears began to fall from my eyes again as he shuffled towards me.

“It’s different for each of us, but there’s something about you that he wants.” The man said with a nonchalant shrug. “I don’t know what it is, but I do know that he watches someone, and then they disappear.” He gazed with grief around the room at the cages. “And then he dines.” The door beside me suddenly swung open and as I looked up, the man gestured towards it. “Now run, like I told you.” I nodded, standing from the floor and running, without looking back out of the door. “And use whatever you’ve got.” The man called out as the door slammed shut behind me, and I looked around the empty, dark hallway, searching for Maria.

She was nowhere to be found, and I began slowly walking the halls, trying to keep out of sight but desperately searching for her.

As I made it close to the deck, I could hear officers approaching in the distance. Hiding down in the darkness, I watched them march past, one of them clutching a helpless, screaming child in his arms, dragging him in the direction of the steel door.

“The Captain is going to be fuming if we don’t find the dyke he was looking at earlier.” One of them said, struggling to keep the child still as he walked. “We’ll get this one in the pot and go look for her again.” Their voices faded into the distance and I stood in shock for a moment. I couldn’t believe that I was being hunted through a cruise ship by cannibals, and had somehow paid £954 plus VAT for the privilege.

Once I was sure that they had gone, I kept walking, eventually finding my way to the deck and the lifeboats. As I reached them, my heart soared and relief ran through every vein in my body and straight to my heart as I saw Maria, smiling from behind the control panel.

She gestured to the orange lifeboat before us, fiddling with controls to try and launch the boat. “Go and get in.” She said quietly, her eyes focused on the panel before her.

“Not without you.” I folded my arms, shooting her a defiant look as she glanced up and rolled her eyes.

“One of us needs to launch it Lou, just get in for God’s sake.” She insisted, walking out from behind the panel and pushing me towards the boat. I pushed back but she was relentless, shoving me inside the boat and forcing me down on one of the seats.

“I’m not leaving you here.” My words did not move her, she shook her head and kissed me, her fingers tangled in my hair as she held me close to her, as if it would be our last kiss.

“I’ll be right behind you, I promise.” Our eyes met, and I knew that I had no choice but to trust her. I wanted to believe her, but nothing about what we were living through made that easy to do.

“I love you.” I cried out as she stepped off the lifeboat and back towards the panel.

“Tell me that again in a minute.” She said with a smirk as the crane holding up the lifeboat began to whir into motion, lowering the boat down towards the waiting ocean. I kept my eyes on her as the lifeboat descended, and just as I was about to hit the water, my heart sank through my body and down to the deepest depths of the sea that lay beneath us.

Behind her was the Captain. I called out her name, but I was too far for her to hear me. I struggled in my seat, pulling off the belt and struggling with the metal door of the lifeboat, but it was no use.

Heartbroken, I had no choice but to watch as he grabbed her and I felt that familiar sense of dread wash over me as I watched her struggling with the Captain.
My heart was racing and my mind frantic as I screamed her name again and again, until suddenly, the panel before them erupted with sparks and a cloud of smoke.

I saw Maria rush back as the lights above them began to flicker, fighting from the Captain’s grasp.

“Give him hell, kid.” A familiar voice whispered behind me. I turned in shock, and beside me was the man from the dining hall, watching the chaos unfold above on the lifeboat deck. I tore my eyes from him, looking back at Maria as the Captain rounded on her again, my heart pounding. “Let me help you out.” He whispered, his eyes following the Captain with the same fury that had become familiar from my unusual ally. As he stared up at the Captain, the life jackets that lined began shaking, fluttering against the wall at first and then flying off the shelves and gliding towards the Captain. “Focus!” The man barked. I stared up, watching the Captain bat the life jackets away, as Maria stood in panic, with nowhere to run.

“Jump!” I screamed. “Jump!” The lightbulbs began to blow, one by one, my heart skipping a beat as each went out, shards of glass soaring towards the Captain. “Jump!” I begged, and as the Captain fumbled towards her, covered in blood and glass, Maria leapt from the deck, plummeting through the air and falling into the water with a huge crash.

With a smile and a lazy flick of his bony, broken wrist, the man glanced towards the door of the the lifeboat and it opened with ease. I leaned over the side, searching frantically in the water until I felt Maria’s body, soaked and shaking.

Pulling her up into the boat, I held her close, smiling as I heard her heartbeat thudding against her chest.

“I love you too.” She whispered, and with that, I rushed to the lifeboat’s control panel, setting a course for as far away as I could manage.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Amapola

The daughters of Aceredo had always been peaceful. Finding each other as the years went by, and growing as the crops they soothed in the soil, whispering sweet sonnets to the children of the earth. They bathed in the river, leaving wildflowers in their wake as they wandered the village with smiles for everyone they saw.

As the moon waxed and waned, their powers grew, and they shared the beautiful blessings they had been given with the people, ensuring that they had a good harvest every year, and that the water flowed clear. The village was the most peaceful in all of Galicia, and the people were grateful for the treasures that the daughters of Aceredo had given them.

Of all Aceredo’s daughters, the most powerful was Amapola. She wore poppies in her hair, and was the mistress of the the elements. When she smiled, the sun shone at its brightest, and her tears could draw the fiercest of storms to the village.

Amapola had lived in the village all her life, and as she grew day by day, so did the good fortune of the village. As she grew older, her focus became the village entirely. Amapola did not go out to dances with the many suitors that were available, but spent her evenings wandering the meadows and fields of the village, singing to the slowly growing crops.

Her parents would turn away disappointed men from their home, who came to call for their daughter, and while most took it well, there was one, who simply could not abide being told “no.”

Ricardo was the most eligible bachelor in Galicia. His father had made a lot of money in imports, and the family lived in a mansion that cast a dark shadow over Pontevedra. Ricardo was a bored and spoiled, so without the day to day stresses of earning a living to keep him busy, he took to wandering Galicia, in search of adventure and entertainment. He had heard of witches, in a small village, but like many outside of Aceredo, he didn’t quite believe it to be true, but he was bored, so he went to explore anyway.

It was there that he saw the magic of the daughters of Aceredo, and was enchanted by Amapola. He couldn’t take his eyes from her, and purchased the biggest house he could find in the village, so that he could be closer to her.

Ricardo was wealthy, and had always been able to get what he wanted, so he was certain that he could have the young woman too, but love is a complicated kind of magic, that even a witch as powerful as Amapola could never master, so Ricardo had no chance.

He tried for weeks, showering her with expensive gifts, inviting her on exotic adventures across Spain and around the world, even pleading as she walked by him in the street, but no matter what he did, or what he said, Amapola just wasn’t interested.

Her focus was her home, and Ricardo found that infuriating. Every rejection just made his longing scream louder within his chest. It was an unfamiliar feeling for the boy who had always got what he wanted, and he hated it.

The daughters of Aceredo had always been peaceful, never straying from their promise to care for the people of the village, until, one fateful night, it became apparent that peace was no longer an option.

It was a quarter past three in the morning, and Amapola was woken from her slumber by her father’s scream. The room was dark, and as she rushed from the darkness to the candle lit hallway outside of her bedroom, she suddenly missed the darkness, and all that it had hidden from her.

There was a trail of blood, coating the carpet, squelching under her slippers and soaking their soft fabric in crimson as she tore down the hallway towards the fading scream.

The door of her parent’s bedroom was ajar, and there were no more screams, just a faint gargle, and heavy, laboured breathing. Fear ripped through her body as she stared at the open door, desperate not to see what was on further into the room, but knowing that she had no other choice.

“Amapola.” The voice from inside the room chilled her blood with its callous cruelty. He sang her name as if they were playing a game. “Your mother and father can’t take care of you anymore.” She heard metal falling to the floor with a clang as slow, heavy footsteps advanced towards her. “You need a man to look after you now.” She recognised the voice, the insistence, the entitlement, the delusion. It was Ricardo.

The door swung back and he stood before her, his shirt dripping in blood as a manic smile flashed onto his face.

“What have you done?” She stared at his hands, soaked in blood as he lifted them to her face, the blood, warm against her skin as he tenderly stroked her cheeks. “What have you done?” She repeated, her voice shaking as her body shuddered at his touch.

“I’ve freed you.” He wouldn’t stop smiling and it churned her stomach. Tears formed in her eyes as thunder crashed in the sky. Lightning flashed and lit up the room behind him as rain began to pelt the windows. A storm was brewing as Amapola stared in horror at her mother’s body, strewn across the floor. Her hair was covered in blood, her beautiful face vandalised with the vicious trail of a knife. “Now I’ll take care of you.” He snarled.

The wind howled outside, as Amapola’s tears fell, fast and devastating. Ricardo lunged forwards, his blood soaked hands tangling in her hair as he yanked her towards him for a kiss.

“You know I don’t like to be kept waiting.” He whispered, brushing his lips against hers. Amapola’s horror and sadness was growing into a rage. The wind invaded the house as the lightning began flashing madly in the sky. A gust of wind threw Ricardo backwards as Amapola let out a wounded, heartbroken scream, rushing to her parent’s bodies and falling to her knees beside them.

Ricardo finally got to his feet, fighting back against the strength of the wind, finally aware of Amapola’s true power as water began flooding the room, and her screams were drowned out by the rushing, rage filled winds. He stared back at what he had done, and ran for his life through the house.

Amapola stayed by her parent’s side all night, until the sun struggled into the sky, barely visible through the angry grey clouds. The daughters joined her, heartbroken by the sight of her grief.

For days, the storm held the villagers captive. The rain was relentless and the sky was filled with endless thunder. The streets were soaked, the fields flooded with her sorrow, but all Amapola could do was cry.

Ricardo watched the storm from his bedroom window, the knife, still coated in crimson was on the window sill, and every now and again, he would glance at it, unsure if it had been worth it.

As he considered his crime once again, staring out of the window, he noticed a crowd, struggling through the flooded streets. Ricardo looked down in amusement as they waded through the water, some slipping into the water as they went.

As he watched the growing crowd, he noticed, with a bit of nervousness that they were marching towards his house. Ricardo was the kind of man that had never really been taught the consequences of his actions, but as the stormed battered the village and the villagers began knocking at his door, panic set in as Ricardo realised that he would have to face up to what he had done.

Across the village, Amapola was despondent, surrounded by her sister witches in the blood drenched bedroom. On the bed, her parent’s bodies had been arranged and surrounded by flowers. Water flowed around their ankles as they stood vigil in the darkness.

“We have sent for him.” The witches said in unison. Amapola nodded, stroking her mother’s hair as they continued. “They have captured him.” Amapola left the room, the winds starting to calm as she strode towards the front door.

Cries from the crowd outside poured in as she opened the door, the sunshine soaked her face, and she smiled brightly as the crowd arrived before her, throwing Ricardo at her feet.

He scrambled to his feet but was pushed and kicked down by the baying mob, his face and arms covered in scratches and bruises as he screamed in pain.

“Make them stop.” He bellowed, reaching up to Amapola, she leaned down towards him, delighted at the fear in his eyes. “I’ll fix it.” Her fingers traced tenderly down his face as he began to cry. “Please Amapola, how much do you want?” He pleaded, reaching into his pockets and pushing pesatas into her hand hurriedly. “Just take it and make them stop.” She shook her head, throwing the money into the crowd. “Call them off, for God’s sake!” Amapola stood back and extended a hand to him as the people slowly backed away. He put his shaking, bruised hand in her own and tried to stand, falling back to the ground as he did.

“Now I’ll take care of you.” She said softly, waving a hand over his head. His body began to tingle, as a frame of golden light surrounded him. The people gasped as Ricardo’s body lifted from the ground. He struggled and yelled, but the light overpowered him, carrying him high above the crowd below who stared up in awe.

“What are you doing?” Ricardo screamed, thrashing around in the sky as the light carried him higher and higher. “Amapola, let me go!” The people stared in awe as Amapola pointed lazily towards the sun and let her finger drag in Ricardo’s direction.

“I’ve freed you.” She whispered. The light began to fill with flames, surrounding his body as he yelped in pain, struggling to no avail as the fire ripped through his body.

Charred flesh overpowered the fresh scent of flowers that usually filled the village. He begged for a few moments, as his body broke down, pleading for mercy. Ricardo’s screams echoed through the village as the crowd silently watched his body fall into ash, that broke free of the circle of light and flew away on the soft wind.

After that day, the village was peaceful again. The daughters of Aceredo gave their gifts to the people, and the people gave their gifts in return, but every year, on the 29th of May, they would gather for a feast to celebrate the daughters and their power.

Ricardo was forgotten, just a sprinkle of ashes, lost somewhere on the wind, but rumour has it, if you wander up the hill late at night, to the towering house he used to own, you’ll hear him, still sobbing and screaming in pain, as the odour of searing, burning flesh fills the air.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Northlay Falls – Chapter Three

The next two days were a blur. I counted down the seconds until Wednesday, when Willard and I were scheduled to meet, but as is always the case in Northlay Falls, it was never going to be that simple.

The beast returned on Sunday night, while we were sleeping. My mother’s scream woke me early the next morning. I unlocked my bedroom door and ran through the house, following her voice to the front lawn, where my mother was knelt in the grass.

“Mum, what’s going on?” My father walked past her in silence, walking towards the pub without looking back, and I ran to her side. “Mum?” I fell back in shock as I reached her.

It was Richard, or what was left of him. His head and a few fingers were strewn on the lawn, blood splattered across the grass and flowers as my mother reached across to me and grabbed my hand.

“What would you like for breakfast?” She brushed the tears from her eyes and walked towards the house. Once again, carrying on as if everything was normal. It wasn’t a surprise to me anymore.

I never loved Richard, but I wept at his side, running my fingers across his soft face as he stared up, with glassy, long gone eyes. My fiancé (his words, not mine) was dead, and I had a sinking feeling that I was to blame.

Nobody said anything about it, and I knew that they wouldn’t, but it still shocked me. I found Mr Hithe, giving his usual warnings outside my father’s pub, and I stood with him, telling him what I’d seen in my garden that morning. He believed that the beast was sending a message, and as we parted, he repeated Willard’s warning about the drinks.

I nodded and hoped, perhaps naively, that things would get better.

They didn’t, of course. I’ve never been that lucky. The next day, Mr Hithe was waiting for me in the garden. The beast had left him intact, for the most part, but had claimed one of his legs.

I closed the blood soaked front door and hid in the house all day. I felt like a coward, but I didn’t know what else to do. I just counted down the hours until Wednesday morning, so that I could meet with Willard, get on the boat and get out of Northlay Falls. Mr Hithe was gone, and I was all alone. It was my fault. So much death, in such a short time, and all of it traced back to me, but nobody said a word. Nobody cried. Nobody thought about it too deeply, or they’d go mad.

A loud crash woke me at about three AM on Wednesday. I didn’t remember falling asleep, but I was grateful to be pulled from the horrifying nightmares that plagued me as I slept.

I knew that the beast must have been hunting, and dreaded the offering he would leave in the garden.

There was light outside my window, which seemed odd for the time of day, and as I rubbed my eyes and leant up against the window sill, I saw a crowd gathering outside of the house.

There were candles and lanterns in the hands of the villagers, and I could see their mouths moving, almost in unison.

It was one of the strangest sights I’d ever seen, outside of the obvious. I opened my window, to try and get a closer look, or to see if I could hear some part of their conversation, and as the sounds became clear, a chill ran down my spine.

“The girl must die.” It wasn’t one voice, or even a few, it was a chorus of chants, monotone and emotionless. “The girl must die.” Every single person who was crowding our house was saying it, over and over, all at once. I was the girl, and they seemed ready to sacrifice me.

Willard and Mr Hithe were right. The drinks sent over by the beast were tainted. The beast was controlling them, somehow, seeping into our every day lives and bewitching us, or at least those of us that chose to drink from his nectar. That was almost everyone, of course. After all, there was nothing for anyone to do in that place but drink, so the people were helpless to his spell.

“Ivy?” I snapped the window shut, rushing towards my door and turning the lock as fast as I could. “Ivy, what did you do?“ My father’s voice on the other side of the door had a nervousness that was oddly reassuring. There was some kind of feeling as he spoke, which was more than could be said for the baying mob outside. “Ivy, I need you to open the door.” I stared at the lock, not knowing what to do. “Did you make him angry?” My father tried the door, fruitlessly fiddling with the handle for a few seconds as he spoke.

“Who?” My voice was a weak, mousy whisper.

“The beast.” Just as Mr Hithe said, the people had an awareness, they just didn’t want to anger him, and as I took another quick glance out of the window, I understood why.

“He took Ray, Daddy.” I leant up against the door, tears in my eyes as the pressure of everything I had seen caught up with me. “I just wanted to get away…” I ran my fingers across the lock, wondering what to do, unable to think clearly with the constant chaos all around me.

“Just open the door and I can help you.” He said softly, barely audible over the deafening crowd outside.

It’s easy to say that you’re a grown up, especially when you live in Northlay Falls, where girlhood ends as soon a man decides to make a wife out of you, which seems to happen sooner every year, but in that moment, I had never felt more like a helpless child. I was in too deep. I had made a mess that I had no chance of fixing.

The beast approached, with his army of spellbound subordinates, and it seemed that everything was so hopeless, so for once, after so much time, trying to be independent, I just needed my dad to hold my hand and tell me that everything would be alright.

“It’s all going to be alright Ivy.” I slowly pulled the lock back and opened the door. He pulled me into a hug, and the second that he did, I knew it was all over.

“You’re not my Dad…” I sobbed. Just like the sailors, like every fool in that village, the beast had tricked me. His claws dug deep into my shoulders and I saw my real father, down the hallway, stood amongst the crowd that advanced towards us. His eyes glazed over like the rest of them, the horrific calls for my sacrifice escaping his lips, just like everybody else.

Willard was there too, standing just in front of my father, giving me an apologetic stare as he broke from the pack and mouthed a single word to me.

“Sorry.”

In the end, I got out of Northlay Falls, but I will never truly escape. I can write our story but nobody will ever read it, and I’ll spend the rest of my life on this boat, with Willard and the rest of those traitors. Back and forth, back and forth across the lake. Always so close to freedom, but never quite able to taste it.

It’s like I said. Nobody leaves Northlay Falls.