Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

Way Back Home

It started with a row about the invitation. Marsaili and I don’t have any secrets, so, unsurprisingly, the first time I kept one, it swirled into a cyclone that I couldn’t control.

I hid the invitation, neatly decorated with both of our names, at the bottom of the recycling, hoping that I could wish it away, and for a few days, I forgot all about it. I lived in my usual bliss until Marsaili took out the recycling, and stormed back in a few minutes later with a face like thunder and that stupid slip of paper in her hand.

We fought. Insecurity, madness and shame spilling out into the once quiet living room. She thought I was ashamed of her. I thought I couldn’t face going back. She cried. I held her in my arms as the tempest tapered, and I cried too, quietly as she crumpled into my chest.

It was just a school reunion. What harm could come from a school reunion? Who wouldn’t want to return to the hallways and classrooms where the everlasting mental scars were scratched and clawed into my soul?

It was just a school reunion, but I hated school. I liked to learn, but nobody I was learning with liked me. I’d walk through the gates every day, clutching my books and brushing down my skirt in the hopes that I looked good enough to get through the day without bother, but a day like that never came.

On paper, I should have been popular. I had the means to be fashionable. I was beautiful. I did well in my studies. I was charismatic. This all sounds very vain, but it’s all true. I was, on paper, the coolest girl in school, but everybody hated me.. I had a big house, with a pool, and organised parties every summer, but nobody ever showed up, except Marsaili. She had been my only friend, and after the hellish experience we had both had, I was surprised that she wanted to go back.

I could never figure out what they saw that made them hate me so much, but now, going back as an adult, I had another aspect of me that would make me a target.

They didn’t really bother her, but they’d all hated me. It was like they knew what I was before I did. There were rumours, of course, there always will be when two girls are close like we were, and now, we would be returning to the scene of the crime, where we had the audacity to fall in love, and they’d all know that the rumours had been true after all.

None of them were my friends, but we were all friends on Facebook (everybody is), and I watched their lives from a distance, noticing how different they were to mine. All the girls had husbands. All the boys had wives. I was the kind of girl that couldn’t follow the rules, and that was the route of my panic, and Marsaili’s incorrect assumption that I was ashamed.

It wasn’t shame. I haven’t felt shame in the longest time. It was a reluctance to allow others to shame me. I didn’t want to give them ammunition, but she needed a show of pride, so I swallowed mine, and confirmed that I’d be attending.

As the day got closer, I became more anxious, and as the day finally came and I pulled into the car park with her by my side, I felt sick with nerves. She gripped my hand tightly, smiling over at me, but it made no difference. All my ghosts had gathered, ready to point and stare, but I had no choice to parade myself for their perusal, in the name of love.

She gripped my shaking hand tightly as I opened the door to the hall, and she squeezed it, with a sympathetic look as every eye in the room landed on us, the room filling with gasps and whispers.

I stood silently for a moment, looking down at my shoes as the stares from around the room burned into me. Marsaili pulled gently on my arm, ushering me into the room as the door closed behind us, and I slowly stepped forward, daring to look up, and being unsurprised by the awestruck, somewhat disgusted faces looking back at me.

It had been a mistake. A stupid, naive mistake to believe that these people were capable of accepting us. I went to back away but Marsaili held me in place.

“We haven’t done anything wrong.” She whispered, her lips softly grazing my cheek as the stares before us became glares.

“Well, would you look at that.” Came a voice from the crowd. Eilidh, Marsaili’s twin sister. They hadn’t spoken in years, and Eilidh had always blamed me. She had terrorised me at school, as if I had somehow caused the distance between them, rather than it being a result of her homophobia. “It actually showed up.” Marsaili sank back behind me, slowly realising what I had already known for years, we weren’t welcome in this backwards little town, and we never would be. “Get that bitch.”

In an instant, the crowd began to advance on us. So many familiar faces, contorted by rage, running at us, as I grabbed Marsaili’s hand and dragged her back towards the door. It was too late. In an instant, we were pulled apart, screams filling the air as they forced me to the floor, Marsaili disappearing in the stampede as kicks and punches rained down on me from above.

For a moment, it felt pointless to resist. There were so many of them, so much hate and anger, but as I lay there, laid into by the horde, I thought of the fear in Marsaili’s face, and I knew that I had to get away, so that I could get her somewhere safe.

I began fighting back, punching, kicking, biting and scratching until I’d managed to push back a few and was able to make a run for it. I bolted out of the door, calling out Marsaili’s name into the night as they pursued me.

Eilidh caught up to me almost immediately. She ran at me, her fingers curling around my hair and almost ripping it from the root as she forced me to the ground.

“You bitch!” She screamed, launching on top of me and hitting everything she could see. “You took my sister away from me.” The others circled around us, cheering as she scratched and bit me, almost feral. “I’ll fucking kill you.” I pushed back against her, my head banging back and forth against the concrete as I started to lose the ability to stay conscious. “You selfish, jealous bitch!” Her accusations faded as the world around me began to blur. I think, if I hadn’t seen Marsaili running silently past the crowd, I would have let Eilidh kill me, but knowing that there was still hope, some kind of chance that I could help Marsaili spurred me on, and I fought through the pain, punching back until her nose was bloody and the crowd pulled her away.

“You fucking animal!” She screeched as I took my chance and pushed past the crowd and made another break for it, hearing Eilidh order them to follow me.

I ran past the car park up to the classrooms, dashing past the computer labs and calling out to Marsaili again, terror setting in as I realised that our chances of escape were slim. I tried a few doors as I ran, but couldn’t find anywhere that was open, so I returned to an old haunt, my usual hiding place when I had last wandered the lonely halls of Egerton High.

I hid behind some trees for a few moments, watching them run past in pursuit of me, and then I lost them behind the English building. A large, shadowy building with winding staircases and very few windows. I didn’t enjoy being in the building, but I always felt safe hiding out behind it, and as I turned the corner, spotting the familiar emptiness of the area behind it, I finally found her.

“Anna…” She whispered through tears, slumped against the back of the building. I ran to her, kneeling beside her and clutching her in my arms. “Anna, what have you done?” I hushed her, kissing her forehead and wincing as I tasted blood.

“It’s okay.” I pulled her a little closer, feeling her shaking in my arms as I spoke. “We just need to get out of here.” She shook her head, pushing against me. She was afraid, just like she was when we were kids, and though I knew it wasn’t the time, I felt a slight urge to tell her that coming back had been a mistake. “I’ll get us out of here.” Nothing else mattered to me like she did. That was how it had always been, since the second that I saw her, and I wasn’t going to let them take her from me.

“I don’t want to die.” She mumbled, pulling away and trying to stand. She fell back into my arms, and for the first time, I could see the wound on her head, pouring with blood that snaked down her pretty face and fell against the scratches that ran down her neck. There must have been more of them, dotted all over the school, just waiting to take us out, and they’d attacked her before she found her way to safety. They disgusted me. They called me an animal, but I was the most human person there.

“Please don’t let me die.” I could hear the mob advancing, and began looking around for something to fight our way past with. Marsaili wasn’t strong enough to defend herself, so I had no choice but to get us past them myself.

“What did they do to you?” Marsaili was silent, pushing her fingers against my lips as the voices of the crowd grew closer. I reached down and grabbed a stray branch, knowing that it would be the only thing standing between them and us when they arrived. “I’ll protect you.” I whispered, not sure that I could, but determined that she would believe, until the very end that I could.

“She will be behind there.” It was Eilidh. She’d found me, and her mob poured down the alley way, behind the building and to our hiding spot. “You know, she was still going to come back to visit from uni, right?” She spat, fighting to get to the front of the crowd and glaring at me. I stood, as menacingly as I could in front of Marsaili, gripping the stick in my hand and hoping that I could keep her safe. “But you took her.” She snarled, pushing the others back and rounding on me.

“She was gay Eilidh!” I was exhausted, exasperated and frankly, sick and tired of having to apologise for falling in love. Eilidh shook her head, looking at me with pure disgust on her face.

“Yeah, and she’s also dead.” I laughed, shaking my head as the rest of the crowd were silent. I turned to Marsaili with a smile and she just stared, blankly, her eyes full of fear. “You’re laughing? Did you think it was funny?” A few of the crowd held her back, but he struggled against them, clearly dying to get her hand on me again, which was a little ironic.

“Dead to you maybe, but still very much alive, you homophobic bitch.” I waved the stick in Marsaili’s direction while Eilidh struggled against her friends as they held her back.

“Your Dad’s wealthy lawyers made it seem like it was her fault.” She sobbed, her tears full of fury. I looked around, bemused by her insane ramblings. “She was so much smaller than you, there’s no way it was self defence.” She fought back against the arms that held her and finally broke free. I ran back to Marsaili, standing in front of her to protect her from her sister as she lunged at me again. “You’re a murderer!”

My head smacked against the ground and she spat and screamed as she attacked me, her crowd screaming abuse as she pulled at my hair and punched at my face. It was so loud, so violent, blood pouring from both of her bodies as the world began to blur again, but behind the crowd, and her insane sister, I saw Marsaili, slumped against the wall, her head pouring with blood, scratches down her neck as she faded from life. All I could hear was those last words from Eilidh.

“You’re a murderer.” As my eyes went in and out of focus, I saw Marsaili, lifeless against the wall, the shadow of the trees moving slowly across her cold body as her lips were stained red by the blood. It was so familiar.

As the world got darker, I felt the blood from her body leaking down onto the concrete, spilling onto my fingertips and there was a memory, somewhere in the distance. Something I couldn’t bear to recall. Something so dark, so sad, something twisted up inside of the back of my mind.

I think this is the end, because all love stories have to end, but I know that they’re wrong about us. I have loved Marsaili since I was twelve years old, and I will never, ever stop, no matter what they say. We don’t have any secrets, We don’t keep anything from each other, and she will always be mine. It’s just me and my girl against the world. It always has been, and it always will be.

Posted in Blog, Creative Writing, Writing

The Butterflies Are Coming

She is going to die. My girlfriend is going to die. I’m not going to kill her, it will be the butterflies. It is happening tonight. I know this now. I have been trying to find a way to stop it, but I think it is impossible. It’s too late for her, but maybe, it won’t be too late for you. I have my doubts though.

Fiona is going to die tonight. The butterflies told me so.

They will speak to you too, and when they do, you have to listen. You won’t want to, but you must. You have to accept it. It hurts but there’s nothing else you can do. Sometimes, it’s just somebody’s time.

It began a week ago. We were in the garden, enjoying the summer sun when a butterfly, with wings as black as the night’s sky landed on her arm. It was harmless. Butterflies just flutter around, living their lives and nobody pays much attention, but that was a warning, something that we couldn’t quite understand at the time, but would learn to be terrified of, as time went on.

It lingered on her arm, flapping its wings as she gazed down with a smile.

“It tickles.” She whispered, pointing at it with her free hand, and I returned her smile. “Quick, take a picture.” I raised my phone up, swiping into the camera app and snapped a picture. It should have been beautiful. Fiona and her new friend. A beautiful girl, with a beautiful butterfly. “Let me see.” I opened the image up, and gasped, my breath caught in my throat as the phone fell to the grass. “Come on Steph, let me see!” She insisted as the butterfly, bored of her arm, took flight and disappeared into the sunlit sky.

“No.” I shook my head, snatching the phone away as she went to grab it, flinching as the photo caught my eye again. There she was, cross legged in the sun, with her new friend on her arm, but her face was drained and void of life, blood staining the soft grass, her eyes, glassy and gone as the knife in her neck shone in the sunlight.

“Did you use a silly filter?” She said, with a frown, pouting as she reached for the phone again. I shook my head, but she wouldn’t give in, pushing me on the grass playfully, pulling the phone from me. Her face fell as she saw the photo. She stared in silent horror, tears forming in her eyes. “Did you do this? It’s really fucked up.” She threw the phone back in my direction, turning away from me, sniffling as the tears began to fall. I didn’t have an explanation, only the certainty that I hadn’t edited the photo.

“I didn’t, I swear.” I whispered, shocked at the accusation, putting my arms around her. “Let’s just take another one.” I kissed her cheek softly, relieved as she nodded, holding up her own phone, and smiling at our image on the screen. I wiped the tears from her face as we focused our eyes on the screen and smiled, holding it as she clicked the capture button.

“What the fuck?” Her voice shook as she opened the photo. Her body was lifeless in my arms, the knife jutting from her neck as my tear stained, blood soaked face looked on in terror. We stared in shocked silence at the image, not knowing how it had come to be, or what it meant, and just as I was about to speak, I noticed that there were now two butterflies resting on her arm in the photograph.

She was hysterical, understandably. I held her close to me as she cried, confused and horrified by what she had seen, and for the rest of the day, she was fragile, barely saying a word. When she had gone to bed, I stared down at both of our phones, fiddling with the settings to see if I could find any explanation, but it was fruitless, so, of course, as anyone would do, I turned to the internet.

It was a long and boring search, at first. I focused on camera glitches, hacking and explanations based in reality, but that was my mistake. This thing, this curse, it doesn’t recognise our reality. It doesn’t play by our rules. I was up all night, but at about 4am, I found something that made me feel like I wasn’t losing my mind. Someone else had experienced the same thing, but it wasn’t the phones, or a technical issue, it was the butterflies.

You may see butterflies in your life, of all colours and patterns, but it’s the black butterflies you have to watch out for. Pitch black, with no markings, travelling down from the sky to tell you a secret. When they arrive, you’ll know what we know now.

You are on borrowed time.

It was just one person’s account at first. She had tried to take a cute selfie as a butterfly landed on her shoulder, but every photo she took was horrifying. Blood, violence, visions of her own death. Soon, it wasn’t just the photos. She would see her death in the mirror, the butterfly perched on her shoulder, soon joined by more, as the days went by. She posted, in panic on an occult Reddit sub for about six days, before she vanished and was never heard from again.

Her last post was the one that bothered me most. She said that the photo she had taken was so disturbing that she was afraid to post it, and that there was a horrifying feeling all across her body that she couldn’t shake off. She knew she was about to die, and her last line was simple but chilling.

“They’re eating me alive.”

As I reached the end of her testimony, I stared at the end of the screen in silence. I checked her post and comment history again and again, finding no trace of her online after that day, but I did find a response to one of her earlier comments from another user that offered a small ray of hope.

“You can find some peace in water.” It was vague, but it was a chance, something that I hadn’t been able to find anywhere else, so I ran with it, focusing my search on water. I didn’t find much else, except for another vague, small ray of hope from a user.

“The butterflies take longer to find you in the water.”

I ran a bath, waking Fiona and leading her to the bathroom. She grumbled, tired, and still reeling from what she’d seen earlier that day, but she stepped into the bath, relaxing in the water and looking at peace for the first time since it had all begun.

I raised my phone to take a picture and she shook her head, snapping up from her peace to cover her naked body.

“Stephanie, what are you doing?” She squeaked, glaring at me.

“Just trust me…” I whispered, pressing the capture button regardless of her protests. “I have an idea.” She rolled her eyes as I opened the picture, and to my astonishment, there was nothing but my naked, and completely alive girlfriend. I showed her, flashing the phone in front of her face with a wide smile. “Look! You’re alive!” She looked up from the phone in bewilderment.

“But… how?” I sat on the edge of the bathtub, puzzled but pleased with our progress.

“I don’t know, but it’s something, isn’t it?” She nodded, still not looking convinced but obviously relieved that we were getting somewhere.

“Oh sure, if I stay in the bath for the rest of my life, everything will be fine.” She muttered, with a pout. I cupped her face in my hands and stared into her emerald eyes, with the most reassuring smile I could offer.

“I know it isn’t ideal, but it’s a start.”

She spent most of her time in the bath over the next few days, only leaving to use the toilet or to take quick breaks to stretch her legs. It was impractical, and to the outside eye, ridiculous, but it was the only hope we had of keeping her safe.

At first, it worked, and we tried to forget how unsustainable it was. I’d sleep on the bathroom floor beside her, and we lived our lives for six whole days as a mermaid and her faithful companion.

I continued my research from the bathroom, scrolling through so many websites and blog posts about butterflies. I didn’t learn much in the beginning, except that black butterflies symbolise death, but as I went on, I found something useful.

There was a rumour, an old folk tale about black butterflies, and their Master, Death. The tale goes that the butterflies would accompany Death to collect souls when it was their time to go, and that they worked as his servants, taking the soon to be departed to their demise, and into the peaceful afterlife.

It all went without a hitch, until, of course, it didn’t. Life is just like that, and I suppose, nobody really escapes it. There was a King, rich and powerful, ruling over his subjects with impunity, as Kings often do, but when Death and his butterflies came knocking, he refused to go quietly. He set his men on Death, but it was no use, and all of them were slaughtered. The streets were a river of blood, but the King refused to give in, escaping his castle and travelling to the mountains on horseback with his most trusted advisors, pursued by Death and his army of butterflies.

He found a small coven that had been hiding in the mountains, forcing them to use their powers to destroy Death. At first, they refused, insistent that they would not meddle in the natural order of things, but the King, and his remaining men tortured the young witches, until one eventually gave in, agreeing to perform the curse, to save her sisters.

As promised, Death was destroyed, but the King was not free. The butterflies, driven mad by grief at the loss of their Master, and with no guidance from Death chased the King until they finally caught him, ripping him to shreds. It was said that the butterflies wandered the world aimlessly after that, stealing the souls of those unfortunate enough to catch their eye, always hoping to find their Master again, but never being successful.

I slipped into sleep after reading it, tormented by terrifying dreams of the butterflies, the King and the demise of Death, but I still had no answers on how to save my love.

I was asleep when they found her. The sound of their wings awoke me. So many wings, drowning out her screams as they flapped them endlessly, trying to take flight. My eyes snapped open at the bellow of their wings, and I reached up to the edge of the tub, my eyes, hopeless in the darkness. I felt the soft, velvet of wings beneath my fingers, recoiling in disgust as I leapt towards the door, pulling on the light string and blinking as the room flooded with a dim light, revealing the true horror of the scene.

They were everywhere. Black butterflies crowded the room. They were all over the tub, the sink, the lightbulb, the ceiling, and they were all over Fiona’s body. Her muffled cries could barely be heard over the furious sound of the butterflies flapping their wings all around us. I ran to her, trying to push them away so that she could breathe, but they were relentless. Every time I made a path to free her, more would swoop down, but I kept trying, no matter how hopeless it was.

“You have twenty four hours to say goodbye.” A voice whispered in my ear. I jumped back in shock, staring around the bathroom, and the cyclone of butterflies, but seeing nobody. “We will be back to collect her tomorrow.” With those final words, the butterflies vanished, and Fiona was freed, coughing and spluttering in the water as she reached for me.

Those twenty four hours are almost up. There’s only half of one left, and already, I’ve spotted butterflies around the house. I’ve let her sleep. There’s no point in her thinking about what’s to come. So, here I am, waiting alone, and telling you.

Why am I telling you? I don’t really know, because knowing all this won’t save you, just like it won’t save her. You can hide, for a little, but you’ll never truly be free of them if they decide that they want you, so, my best advice is to run, before they get a good look at you. If you see a black butterfly, run for your life, because if you don’t, they’ll take it. They cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be bargained with. You can only run, as fast as you can, and as long as you can.

They’re here.

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.