Tag Archives: #shortstory

Salt And Sand In Her Heart (a short story)

 

 

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Closing her eyes, she stood gazing out over the waves, breathing in the tangy salty air.
Standing at the top of the sandy path, she could see a shimmer of heat rippling over the sand and knew that the walk down to the water’s edge was going to burn her soft bare feet. A flash of colour to her left caught her eye. It was a dragonfly, a sparkling teal green dragonfly. Smiling, she watched as it rested on one of the fence posts momentarily before darting off on its travels.
As quickly as she could, she crossed the soft Sahara hot sand, breathing a sigh of relief when her toes touched the harder packed damp sand closer to the water’s edge. Pausing for a moment, she recalled her first visit to Rehoboth Beach and smiled.
It had been the blistering hot summer of 1980 amid an at the time record breaking heatwave. A clear memory of arriving at their rental house for the week was of a nearby sign declaring that it was 98F and six thirty at night. Hot……damn hot. When her uncle had opened the side door of his VW bus, the heat had hit them all like a blast from an oven.
Their rental had been a stunning wooden house on the outskirts of town somewhere between Rehoboth and Dewey Beach. Its exact location long since lost to the memories of days gone by. Nights in that house had been hot as hell – no AC and beds as hard as boards. There hadn’t been much sleep on that trip for anyone.
Days, however, had been idyllic and were the days that had started her life long love affair with Rehoboth Beach. At only ten years old, she had loved the freedom of the beach and the ocean. Hours and days passed by building sandcastles, digging holes in the sand, gathering seashells and playing in the waves. Her pale white Scottish skin had swiftly taken on a healthy golden glow. The family’s picnic lunches had been supplemented by Thrasher’s French fries, carried so carefully back from the boardwalk.
Afternoons slipped by as she explored the beach, taking care not to stray too far from the family’s beach towel and umbrella oasis. Even back then she had enjoyed people watching as she wove her way between the other families, noting the different scents of their sun tan lotion and the different sand toys their kids played with. She had looked on enviously at the older kids playing in the waves on their boogie boards. Inwardly, she was desperate to join them but she couldn’t swim. Instead she had to settle for an ice cream from Kohr’s before they headed home for dinner and a much-needed shower.
Evenings meant a return trip into town to stroll along the boardwalk. After the daily scramble among them to round up enough quarters to feed the parking meter, she would finally be allowed to explore the shops on Rehoboth Avenue and along the boardwalk. Her favourites had always been the T-shirt stores where they printed whatever you wanted onto a shirt. They were shops that were a magical Aladdin’s cave to her ten-year-old self. The coloured hermit crabs in cages had fascinated her. Her meagre allowance was spent on pens and a snow globe with a dolphin inside.
One store, a shop on Rehoboth Avenue, caught her eye every night. It was a small jewellery store. Her attention had been captured by a tray of silver rings. There was one in particular that she had her eye on. It was smaller than the rest and was a delicate heart shape- half onyx; half mother-of-pearl. Nightly, she had begged her mother to buy the ring, pleading and promising that if she could borrow the money to pay for it, she would pay every cent back when they got home. On their final night in town, after a farewell pizza dinner at Grotto’s, her mother caved in and took her back to the jewellery store. The window had been rearranged and she recalled panicking when she couldn’t initially spot the ring. However, her mother spied it on display on the opposite side of the window before suggesting they enter the shop to try it on. The ring was a perfect fit for her middle finger. The perfect memento of the town that had captured her child’s heart.
Time and circumstance meant that thirty-four years passed before she was able to return to Rehoboth Beach. Over the years she had written essay after essay in school based of a now seemingly mythical beach. She’d drawn numerous pictures of beaches with dolphins playing in the waves. She’d almost driven her mother insane asking when they would go back to America. As she’d grown from child to teenager to woman to a wife and mother, she’d still dreamed of returning to the beach someday.
When that day finally came in 2004, the weather was a far cry from the blistering heatwave she remembered. A thunderstorm had blown in and the rain was lashing down as they’d run from her cousin’s beat up truck into Hooters for lunch. He had declared it was most definitely not a day for the beach! Not one to be thwarted, she’d stated plainly that she’d waited twenty-four years to walk on that sandy beach and a little rain wasn’t going to stop her. She’d also reminded him of the Scottish blood that flowed in her veins and of the fact that a little rain never deterred a Scot. He’d surrendered, knowing it was pointless to argue with her.
In the end, accompanied by her own two small children, she hadn’t stayed long on the beach – just long enough to run on the sand and paddle in the ocean. As the storm closed in again, she’d been granted a few brief moments to walk the boardwalk and relive her treasured childhood memories. To escape the mid-afternoon deluge, they’d sought sanctuary in Funland and whiled away the storm watching her young son and daughter play. As ever though, the quarters ran out and the meter ticked down until her precious “Rehoboth” time ran out.
Over the next few years, she’d returned annually with her children, savouring the moments on the sand and in the ocean. Making memories with her children was beyond precious. Every memory was filed away, stored carefully in her “memory bank” to be drawn out on cold miserable Scottish winter’s days. Her heart had swelled as her own children developed the same bonds that she felt with this tiny town some three thousand miles from home.
Now though, as she stood on the cool wet sand watching the waves, things were different. Her children were grown up and living their own lives. She’d finally seen her own literary dreams come true. Writing all those stories of the beach had finally paid off. Reaching into her pocket, she wrapped her fingers round the bunch of keys that she’d just collected from the realtor and smiled. She brought them out and stood looking at them lying in the palm of her hand. The keys to her new beach front apartment; the keys to her new dream home.
With a smile, she gazed at the ring on her pinkie, its band worn thin with time. She still wore the small onyx and mother-of-pearl heart shaped ring from all those years before.
Finally, in her heart, she knew she was home.

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Silently Watching One Week After The Buck Moon

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One week later the air was heavy and muggy, a thunderstorm gathering overhead. As he jogged up the hill towards the graveyard, it matched his own mood. The first drops of rain fell as he climbed the steps into the cemetery. As he approached the tree, a bright flash of lightning lit up the dark sky, revealing the dark angel herself who was standing in the shadows.

“Well met, Son of Perran,” she greeted him formally as she stepped forward.

“Hey,” he replied forcing a smile. “Looks like we’re about to get wet.”

“Not at all,” she said stepping forward. “We’re leaving.”

Before he could protest, she swept her wings around him. The world went black and everything felt still.

When the world cam back into focus, he wasn’t surprised to find himself in the dark angel’s mausoleum home.

“Is this the way I’m going to have to exist?” he asked as he sat up and looked round. “This place feels different. Smells different.”

“It’s the oils,” replied the angel calmly.

“Oils?”

“Lavender and geranium,” replied the angel lifting a large box from a previously unnoticed niche by the door. “Take your shirt off.”

“Pardon?”

“Remove your shirt,” she said slowly and deliberately.

Without argument, he removed his running top, tossing it onto the stone bench. As he stood in the middle of the tomb, stripped to the waist, he was acutely aware of the angel’s gaze on his lean toned body.

“Enjoying the view?” he teased as she walked behind him.

Her green eyes dark and intense, she stared at him, the gaze boring into his soul. She moved round to stand directly behind him. She studied his back for a few moments then ran her cool hand over his shoulder blades. Tiny sparks of electricity pulsed through him as her cold fingers caressed his warm skin. He felt her pause and run her thumbs over the tips of his shoulder blades.

 

Taking a step back, the angel studied his smooth skin, tanned from the summer sun. At first, she couldn’t be sure and she thought for a moment that his luck had held then she noticed a slight circular discolouration. There were two patches of skin about two centimetres across that were a darker shade than the rest of the runner’s bronzed back.

“The buds are there,” she said quietly as moved round to face him.

“Buds?” He looked at her with a face filled with confusion.

“Your wing buds are forming.”

“Ah!”

“I have worked out a way to slow their development but you’re going to have to work out a way to administer the treatment on your own,” she explained, her tone serious. “How are you with pain?”

“I’m tough. I can take it,” he replied, sounding calmer than he felt.

“Each of the phials in that box contains an oil that you are going to have to use once a month. I can only stall the development for so long. This treatment had to be prepared in a single batch. I cannot make any more. There are three hundred phials in the box for you. Do not break any. Do not drop any. These are the only ones in existence.”

Glancing into the cardboard box, he saw that it was filled with slender phials containing a dark liquid.

“I’ll administer the first dose,” the dark angel explained pointing to a larger phial that lay on a black velvet cloth on the bench alongside her ornate knife. “I need to ensure that I treat the centre of the buds. I’ll make the first cuts. You will then use the same holes each month.”

“Holes?”

The angel nodded, the white streak of her hair almost shimmering in the candlelight.

“Wait a minute,” he stalled sounding anxious. “What’s the plan here?”

“The phials contain an infusion of horse chestnut bark, lavender oil, geranium oil and thyme plus a few other items. The oil needs to be poured into the centre of each bud once a month and the wounds covered with the moss that’s at the bottom of the box. The moss has been treated with the infusion. You’ll only use a couple of strands at a time.”

“And how a I going to explain two holes covered in moss on my back to my wife?” he demanded sharply.

“You like to decorate your body. You’ll get another tattoo across your upper back. The holes will be lost in the design,” explained the angel calmly.

“Oh, will I?” he retorted. “And I assume you’ve picked the design for me too?”

“I’ve designed it for you,” she replied calmly. “The design is part of the enchantment. It needs to be identical to the drawing inside the box.”

Before he could protest further, the angel reached into the box and pulled out a single sheet of paper with a Celtic design expertly drawn on it. Looking at the detail in it, he wasn’t averse to having it inked across his back. There were two points in the design where there was an obvious cross over and he deduced that those would mark the spots that matched the holes.

“Fine,” he said. “I’ll get it done. I’ll get someone at work to recommend a place. That won’t be cheap to get that inked.”

“There’s money in the box to cover the cost.”

“Thought of everything, haven’t you?”

Lifting the knife, the angel said, “I hope so.”

With the knife poised over his smooth skin, the angel asked, “Are you ready?”

“Go for it.”

“This is going to hurt.”

“Just do it.”

As the sharp tip of the blade bit into his skin, he flinched but never utters a sound. When she pierced the second hole, he was ready for it.

“This will burn,” she said as she picked up the large phial. “Really burn.”

“How am I meant to get tattooed if the skin is burnt?” he asked.

“The skin won’t be burnt. This will burn inside you. It will feel like fire.”

He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists as the angel poured the liquid into the two open wounds on his back. Pain ricocheted through him as the liquid worked its way around the nubs of his wings.

“Christ!” he yelled as the heat intensified.

“Almost finished,” promised the angel rubbing some strands of the pale green moss into the wounds. Instantly the pain stopped spreading and began to ease. “Done.”

“Whew!” he said rolling his shoulders stiffly.

“Well done. You handled that well,” she praised with a smile. “Guard that box with your life. One phial is enough for both buds. One phial once a month. When the phials run out then we have to last nature take its course.”

Pulling his running vest back on, he nodded.

“These should last you about twenty-five years if you don’t smash any.”

“I’ll be an old man by then,” he joked lifting the box.

“No, you won’t, Son of Perran,” she countered. “You’ll look exactly the same as you do just now. You’ve not aged one day since your transformation. Time will be kind to you.”

“Ok so how do I pour that stuff in on my own?”

“You’ll find a way. Pierce the holes open first then pour in the infusion.”

“Not quite the DIY I had planned but I’ll figure something out,” he muttered. “And I’ll get that ink done.”

“Get it done this weekend. It should then be healed before the next full moon if you can.”

“Fine,” he agreed bluntly. “Any more orders?”

The angel smiled and shook her head. “You can find your own way home from here.”

She pushed open the door of the mausoleum to reveal the dark stormy night outside. “Follow the path to the right.”

“Till next time,” he said as he headed for the door.

“Soon, Son of Perran. Soon.”

 

Over the years the box had sat on the second top shelf at the back of the garage. Its contents steadily dwindling as the months and years passed. In the box, wrapped in an old t-shirt, was apiece of wood with two nails driven straight through it, their tips sticking out proudly. Those tips had been filed until they were needle sharp and had been sterilised until they now shone silvery in the light of the garage.

Carefully he hung the piece of wood on the nail on the garage wall, making sure it was level. He unbuttoned his short and laid it on the bonnet of his car then lifted the last glass phial out of the box.

With well-practiced ease, he stepped back and leaned his full weight against the piece of wood, feeling the nails piercing their target for the final time.

 

(Image sourced via Google- credits to the owner)

 

 

 

100 Word Story? Is it possible?…..

As an indie-author one of the questions I get asked on a regular basis is “How do you do it?” My standard answer is “One word at a time.”

However, how many words do you need to tell a story? How many to add a bit of intrigue? How many to add a hint of romance?

I decided to set myself the challenge to write a 100 word story.

Anyone who has read my books will understand that limiting the word count is perhaps not my forte! Ha Ha.

However, I was strict with myself here and rose to the challenge.

So, in a 100 words here’s  Cat’s Eyes.

 

Cats’s Eyes

 The cat watched the car approach. Recognised his owner in the passenger seat. As he licked his fluffy paws, he watched as the car stopped at the end of the driveway.  Squinting into the early evening sun, the cat saw the driver reach over to kiss his owner. Pausing to wash his long tail, the cat continued to watch the long, slow, passionate embrace. The car’s window was open but all he could hear was music. As he licked his bits, the car door opened. His owner stepped out. With a wave, the car drove off. Cat and owner smiled.

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On Butterfly Wings (short story)

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For the first time in weeks, she felt safe and secure. She felt calm as she sat on a thick carpet of dry pine needles. Deep in the heart of the small cluster of trees, she was hidden from prying eyes, protected from the world about her. No one knew she came there to think, to read and now to write, well, journal, to be more precise. She was finally alone for the first time in weeks.

She had discovered this small quiet sanctuary by chance. Or had something guided her towards it? How many times had she walked past that stand of trees without a second thought? Something had caught her attention though and, on a whim one sunny summer day, she had strayed from the path to take a closer look. The second she had stepped into the hidden clearing deep with the circle of pine trees, a tranquil silence had enveloped her. She immediately felt as if she belonged there. Was something from the past, from another lifetime, reaching out to tell her she was supposed to be there?

Over the months she had visited the small clearing regularly. After several idyllic afternoons spent hidden there, she realised that she wasn’t the only one spending time in the space. Someone had hung some wind chimes high up on one of the branches. Their gentle tinkling notes were soothing as she hid beneath them, sheltered from the outside world, recharging the batteries of her soul.

Now though, as she settled herself on the thick layer of dried pine needles, her heart and soul were troubled.  Time was running out. Sitting cross-legged, she stared down at the journal resting in her lap. It was slightly larger than a desk diary with a silvery pink cover decorated with multi-coloured butterflies. Its lined pages were blank. She had bought it on a whim over a year before, attracted by the bright butterflies. She never could resist a butterfly.

With a trembling hand, she opened the small, hardbacked journal at the first blank page and began to write. Time lost all meaning as she poured her hopes and fears into the pages. Now that she had opened the lid on the well of emotions that had been bubbling inside her since mid-winter, the words flooded the pages. Safe in the freedom of her journaling, she wrote about feelings and emotions that she had barely consciously acknowledged. She wrote about love. As her spidery writing covered page after page, the pain in her heart and her soul lessened. Her fears of rejection and of failure and of loss and regret gradually began to melt away. Seeing her own words written down in front of her for the first time, she recognised that she had never been the one at fault. Her only fault was to care too deeply about life and some of the people in it.

If she had known then what she knew now, would she have lived her life any differently?

Turning to the last blank page, she smiled to herself and silently acknowledged that she wouldn’t change a second of it. Reliving some of those memories had made her smile, something she had had little cause to do of late.

Staring at the final blank page, she paused. Over the course of the spring afternoon, she had filled the journal with her innermost thoughts. This last blank page was her final chance to have her say, to say how she really felt. The only opportunity left to write a long overdue letter. It was a chance to say goodbye.

Keeping her handwriting small, she swiftly filled the page with words written straight from the heart.

A warm red glowing light was swathing the clearing. It was the colours of sunset. Time was almost up.

Closing the journal over, its magnetic cover snapping into position, she let out a sigh. A little unsteadily, she got to her feet, brushed the pine needles from her jeans and slipped the journal and her green pen into her tote bag. Glancing round for one last time, she whispered, “Thank you.” then ducked down low as she stepped out of the sanctuary into the late afternoon sunshine.

The sun was low in the sky, almost touching the hills across the river to the north. It was casting streaks of red and gold across the virtually cloudless sky, promising a stunning sunset when the golden orb finally dipped below the horizon.

Slowly she made her way along the path then down onto the deserted stretch of beach. Breathing in the salty air, she smiled. Listening to the waves gently lapping ashore, she smiled. Feeling the damp sand under her unsteady feet, she smiled. Feeling the last of the sun’s warmth on her pale cheeks, she smiled.

It sapped the last of her strength but she made it to her favourite spot at the far end of the beach just as the sun began to disappear. The view was perfect. Unable to resist, she reached into her bag for her phone, ignoring all the alerts about missed calls and messages, and photographed one last spectacular sunset.

The bag fell open and, unseen, the butterfly journal dropped out onto the sand. The magnetic cover sprung open.

“There you are!” came an exasperated cry. “Where the hell have you been? Everyone is out looking for you!”

 

Long after the sun had set, a gentle breeze blew in from the west. It caught the pages of the journal flicking them over, setting her emotional confession free.

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Silently Watching At The End Of The Year

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The year was rapidly coming to an end …. only five hours left. Part of him was going to be glad to see the back of it; part of him was looking forward to a fresh start, a new year. It was never an occasion that they celebrated much as a family but this year was going to be different. They’d been invited to see the new year in at a neighbour’s house.
While his family were getting ready upstairs, he had seized the opportunity to slip out to the garage for his daily dose of mugwort tea. Running his tongue over his teeth, he reasoned that his “fangs” hadn’t developed any further and were still fairly unnoticeable. After his son’s innocent observation, he had tried to curb his hunting instincts and had stuck to the regime laid down by the dark angel. It hadn’t been easy but, on the whole, his will power had held strong.
As he drank the daily measure of mugwort, he wondered where she was. Five weeks and one day had passed since she had left.
He’d spoken to his mother on Christmas Day. He’d almost been relieved to speak to her. She hadn’t mentioned anything out of the ordinary other than an infected bug bite on her wrist that refused to heal. As ever, their conversation had been brief as she had cut the call short to dash off to join her friends for Christmas lunch.
Part of him wondered if the “bug bite” was the angel’s doing…….

Travelling didn’t agree with the dark angel. It took her ten days to reach the Mediterranean coastline of Spain. As a rogue vampire, she chose to avoid flying too close to London and Paris en route for fear of attracting any undue attention from the vampire elders who resided there. Avoiding Barcelona had proved to be more of a challenge as she searched for the runner’s mother in the unfamiliar territory. One young Spanish vampire had crossed her path but, after an exchange, they had reached an accord, with him promising to keep her presence in the area quiet.
It took her until mid-December to locate the woman she was seeking. From a distance, she observed her for a few days to establish her routine and to try to determine her vampire strengths before working out a plan.
Deciding to keep it simple, she opted to obtain the blood while the woman took a nap on her balcony in the afternoon. It was unusual for vampires to sleep outdoors and even more so for them to sleep during the day, causing the angel to wonder if her transformation had also been a partial one. For three days she watched the runner’s mother take a swim after lunch then retire to her shaded balcony for a siesta. On the fourth day, she made her move. Rather than biting her, the angel decided to use a sharpened thumb pick. Almost as an afterthought, she smeared a sedative and some of her own blood onto the point to numb the “pricking” sensation. With next to no knowledge of the woman’s powers, she wanted to be as discrete as possible.
Reaching the balcony unseen posed a further problem and the dark angel had no choice other than to risk exposing herself to direct sunlight during her rooftop approach. Stealthily, she slipped onto the shady balcony from above, pricked the inside of the woman’s wrist, acquired the two flasks of blood then retreated to the shadows.
Drained and slightly burned by the Spanish sun, the dark angel sought refuge in a nearby church until dark.
Keeping the blood at human body temperature was her next challenge. With no other option open to her, the angel used an ancient incantation to raise the temperature of the flasks themselves. By heating the metal, it would keep the contents warm. She just had to be mindful of where she stowed the flasks in case she burned herself. Sustaining the heat spell however sapped her energy.
On the return journey, she had to stop to feed three times. Her first two victims were elderly residents in remote mountain villages. Fortunately, both of them had been in good health despite their advanced years and their blood of a surprisingly high standard. She selected her third victim at one of the French channel ports. In her hurry, she chose poorly. Her victim had been high on opiates and their blood contaminated by a cocktail of drugs. The effects hit the angel hard as she drained the last drop of blood from the now lifeless body. Instantly, her stomach began to cramp and her vision blurred. It took all of her energy to crawl into a safe hiding place in an empty container in the freight yard. With the last of her strength, she reinforced the heat spell then lapsed into unconsciousness. She remained that way until Boxing Day, awakening to find herself ravenous but severely weakened.
The first thing that she checked was the blood. It was still warm. With a sigh, she sank back onto the floor of the container and tried to figure out her next move. As dusk fell, she fed on several large rats that she caught running between the containers. Their blood helped to revive her but she needed to make a fourth human kill to get enough blood for the last leg of the journey home.
Soundlessly, she prowled the ferry port in search of a suitable meal. As she slipped through the rows of trucks and lorries that were waiting for the early morning ferry, she identified one truck driver who was going to Manchester with a load of furniture. If she could hide in his trailer, she reasoned, it would get her closer to home quicker than she could fly in her current weakened state.
The last lorry in line was being driven by a woman in her forties. Her trailer was full of clothes destined for the high-end fashion boutiques of London. Carelessly she had left her cab unlocked when she had retired to her bunk for the night. The angel bided her time then struck shortly before dawn.
Her hunger satiated, she had returned to the furniture lorry and slipped into its trailer to stowaway for the trip back to England.

By late afternoon on New Year’s Eve, she as within reach of home …. and, by some miracle, both flasks of blood were still warm.
She prayed that her fledgling had managed to stick to the plan and fretted that she had been gone so long. Leaving him to fend for himself at such a young vampire age had been a high-risk strategy but she had had no choice. His Rabbia Sanguigna needed to be calmed as a matter of urgency before he became a danger to his friends and family and himself.
The church roof came into sight and she sighed.
“Home sweet home,” she muttered to herself as her feet touched the soft ground outside her mausoleum.
Exhausted, the angel reinforced the incantation one more time then settled down to rest for a few hours.

As New Year’s Eve parties went, it had been a good one. There had been plenty of food and alcohol, the kids had had fun with their friends and he had got on well with most of the neighbours. There had been worse ways to end a year.
Shortly after one, he led his tired family across the street and home to bed. While his wife put the kids to bed, he stayed downstairs, hoping to grab a few moments for a first cigarette of the year. When he entered the kitchen, he filled the kettle to make a cup of tea then stepped outside for a smoke while it boiled.
He had just lit the cigarette when he felt the air stir beside him and heard the familiar rustle of feathers.
“Son of Perran,” she said softly, her voice barely above a whisper.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed, horrified that she would visit his home.
“Sh,” said the angel. “Two minutes. Less. That’s all I need. I’m exhausted. I need to hunt then rest.”
Before he could comment, she brought the two flasks out from the inner folds of her cloak.
“Drink,” she said calmly. “Both of them.”
“But,” he began anxiously.
“Just drink, son of Perran,” snapped the angel, “My patience is worn thin. Time is short.”
Hearing the kettle come to the boil, he drained the first flask then opened the second. As the kettle clicked off, he drained the second flask dry then handed them both back to her. The blood had tasted sweet and somehow familiar.
“Now what?” he asked.
“You go back indoors and make your cup of tea and I go and hunt before going home to rest.”
“How will I know if this has worked?”
“You’ll know,” she replied cryptically.
She turned to leave then paused. Gracefully, she stepped forward and brushed a kiss on his cheek, “Happy New Year, son of Perran.”
She spread her wings then soared off into the night.

A Little Christmas Eve Tale…

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Happy Christmas Eve, folks. Amidst the chaos of shopping and wrapping and cooking I hope you find time to enjoy this festive tale.

When I was seeking inspiration for this week’s blog I decided to use a writing prompt and to come up with a festive short story instead of a blog moaning about the mania that surrounds Christmas shopping. The prompt words I chose were  “a party dress and an ugly sweater.”

And here’s the result….    happy reading and a very Merry Christmas when it comes.

love and hugs to you all

Coral

 

A Party Dress, An Ugly Sweater And A Christmas Surprise

“How did I let myself get talked into this?” she asked her reflection in the mirror.

She hated Christmas parties, hated corporate Christmas parties even more. She hated getting all dressed up. She hated feeling as if she was on display. And boy when she walked into that function suite would she be on display!

Amid flurries of snow, she had arrived deliberately early, checked into her room under an alias and then spent all afternoon sitting gazing out of the huge picture window at the view of the beach and the ocean. How she longed to walk along the sand but she daren’t risk bumping into anyone who would recognise her. She had procrastinated all afternoon until at five o’clock she surrendered that she had to start getting ready.

Now, two hours later, she was sitting at the dressing table gazing into the mirror.

Her midnight blue dress was a perfect fit, it’s empress line flattering to her figure. A narrow diamante outline accentuated her full breasts, the deep V of the neckline revealing just enough cleavage. Her long sun-bleached hair had been coaxed into soft ringlet curls. Her make up natural, the eyeshadow emphasising the blue of her eyes.

Behind her on the bed lay her silver evening purse and her phone. A green flashing light indicated she had a least one message. Her heart told her it was from him.

Lifting the hem of her dress, she slipped her feet into her silver ballet pumps. Common sense had overruled her love of spike heels and she had reluctantly packed her flats in her suitcase that morning.

Taking a deep breath, she gazed one last time into the mirror.

“It’s now or never,” she said to her reflection.

As she crossed the room to lift her phone, her gaze fell on the chair by the window and the ugly sweater she had been curled up in all afternoon. His ugly sweater.

She’d had it since Easter. She’d had it since the last time she’d seen him before he left to go on tour. She’d had it since they had spent a blissful week together in this very hotel, spending most of it in bed together hiding from the paparazzi. Every time they had left the hotel to enjoy a walk along the beach, they had been followed. Every time they had gone out to dinner, they had been followed. After three days they had given up and stayed in their hotel room, a penthouse suite, and lived off sex and room service.

On their last morning together, he’d wakened her before five, instructed her to wear his big ugly sweater then, with baseball caps pulled down low to hide their faces, they had crept out of the hotel to walk along the beach to watch the sunrise. They had sat snuggled together on the sand watching the first light of dawn and marvelled together at the splendour of the colours of sunrise. They had kissed. They had promised to keep in touch daily. They had promised to meet up at the record label’s Christmas party.

He had left a few hours later to tour Europe, Asia and Australia for eight months. She had re-joined her band, finished their US tour then headed into the studio to record their fourth album. Closeted away in a remote mountain studio she had kept out of the public eye. It had kept her out of sight of the paparazzi who hounded her.

She had kept her promises to him. They had messaged daily. They had spoken most days as their schedules and time differences allowed. There had been a few brief Skype calls too. Every call ended the same way.

“Counting the days till December 23rd.”

Now, here she was back in the hotel keeping her final promise.

With her hand trembling, she picked up her phone. The message was from him. In fact, there were six of them. The last one read “It’s December 23rd. Where are you? I thought we had a date, angel?”

Guilt washed through her for ignoring her phone all afternoon.

“On my way down. See you in a few minutes. X” she typed quickly before nerves got the better of her.

She slipped her phone and the key card into her purse then glanced round the room. Her eyes lingered on the ugly sweater and she smiled anxiously, wishing she was still wrapped in its warmth.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, she smoothed out the soft fabric of her dress and left the room.

 

The hotel’s main function suite was crowded, a veritable sea of tuxedos and ball gowns of every shade. Wearing his own newly purchased tux, he stood at the bar keeping an eye on the doorway, hungry for his first sight of her.

With a smile he remembered the last time he had visited the hotel, recalling the days secreted away in his suite. His loins twitched at the memory. The key card to the same suite was in his pocket and, ever the optimist, he hoped they could pick up where they’d left off. In his other pocket his fingers played anxiously with a small token that he had bought for her. In his mind, he had the entire weekend mapped out, including Christmas morning.

Suddenly he saw her.

For a few seconds she paused in the doorway, her sapphire blue eyes scanning the room. She looked stunning. Unlike the other celebrities that filled the room, her beauty looked natural. He caught a glimpse of her bare tanned shoulders, nothing fake about her skin tone.

Setting his drink down, he made his way through the guests to greet her.

 

A wave of anxiety swept through her as she entered the crowded room. Already around her she could hear the whispers and feel all eyes on her.

Where was he?

She turned her back on the room, ready to retreat to the hotel foyer when she heard his voice.

“Anna.”

Taking a deep breath, she turned round and found herself face to face with him.

“Anna!” he exclaimed.

“Ben,” she whispered, forcing a nervous smile.

“You’re….” he began lost for words and struggling not to state the obvious. “Pregnant.”

“Just a bit,” replied Anna with a nervous giggle.

“Pregnant?” he repeated loudly no longer able to hide his shocked expression.

Around them their fellow guests were staring. A small space had opened up around them.

“Eight and a half months pregnant to be exact,” said Anna struggling to remain calm. “I didn’t know how to….”

“No!” he yelled sharply. “No. No. No.”

“Ben?”

“This wasn’t meant to happen, Anna.”

The words were out before his brain had thought them through.

Her blue eyes filled with tears. Without another word, she fled from the room.

 

The crowd closed in around him and before Ben could push his way through Anna had vanished. Pacing the foyer, searching for her, he cursed himself for being so stupid, so insensitive. She was nowhere to be seen. Knowing that she wouldn’t have returned to the party, he figured she’d have gone to her room but which one was she in? Hoping that his celebrity charm would work, Ben approached the reception desk to check which room Anna was in. His enquiry was met with a strict “guest confidentiality” reply. Resorting to the “don’t you know who I am?” card, Ben tried to coerce the information from the receptionist.

“Mr Storm, I know who you are but I still can’t tell you which room a guest is staying in. I suggest you call your friend and have her meet you.”

Angrily he turned away from the desk before he vented his frustrations on the girl.

A flash of colour caught his eye over by the entrance. He’d know that pattern anywhere! It was the sweater Anna had pinched from him. By the time he reached the front steps of the hotel, she’d vanished from sight into the cold dark December night. He had to find her! Slowly he walked down the white polished steps of the plush ocean front hotel, trying to decide which way she would have gone. Beach? It was the obvious answer but would she venture down there in the dark? Would she risk going down there alone and pregnant at night? In his heart he knew she would.

 

Tears were blinding her as she stumbled along the beach in the dark. Cold sand had filled her silver pumps within seconds of fleeing from the hotel. She had known Ben would be surprised but she had never imagined the horrified look on his face that she had seen when he saw her bump. She knew she should’ve come clean and told him about the baby months ago but she hadn’t been able to find the right words at the right time. Their relationship had barely been four months old when she’d fallen pregnant; their schedules for the year had already been packed with work commitments leaving little room to spend time together.

A sharp pain in her side caused her to stop. Breathing heavily after practically running from the hotel, Anna carefully lowered herself down onto the soft sand. She’d been lucky to enjoy an easy healthy pregnancy so far but with less than two weeks to go to her due date her baby bump was huge and low and heavy. At her last pre-natal appointment earlier in the week she had been warned that the baby could come at any time. Sitting cross legged, facing the ocean, Anna focussed on her breathing in an effort to calm herself down. Stress and anxiety weren’t good for her or the baby. She could feel it shifting restlessly and a few strong kicks thumped into her already tender ribcage.

Rubbing her swollen belly, Anna whispered, “Sorry, little bean. Daddy wasn’t exactly thrilled to see us.”

Fresh tears flowed down her cheeks as she listened to the waves crashing in onto the beach in dark.

 

There she was! He breathed a sigh of relief, marvelling at how far along the beach she had come in such a short space of time. In the pale moonlight, she was a picture of fragile beauty. Even from this distance he could tell she was crying. He knew he was the cause of those tears and he felt consumed by guilt. Stress couldn’t be good for her or the baby and he hated that he’d caused it. She looked cute wearing his ugly sweater over her chiffon dress. With a smile forming on his lips, he gazed at her large baby bump. It looked like a leftover Halloween pumpkin resting in her lap from this angle. Then it hit him…. that bump was his baby, his son or daughter. In a few days he’d be a daddy. Subconsciously, he found himself hoping it was a little girl.

He was going to be a daddy…. if Anna would let him.

 

“Anna?”

She hadn’t heard him approach and looked up like a startled rabbit.

“I’m sorry. I acted like a total jerk back there,” he apologised softly. “Can we talk?”

Silently, she nodded.

Gracefully, he sat down on the sand beside her then reached out to touch her hand that was resting on top of her firm belly.

“You ok?”

“Not really,” she replied, her voice barely more than a whisper. “I should’ve told you but I didn’t know how. Everything was so good between us. I didn’t want to ruin that. The longer I left it, the harder it got.”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

“I don’t know. I never asked.”

“Guess we’ll find out soon,” he said putting his arm around her shoulders. “I am so sorry about earlier. I had this whole holiday worked out in my head. Had it all planned. That plan’s been what’s been keeping me going these last few weeks. The tour’s been tough. Seeing you. Seeing you pregnant… well, I guess I panicked. Over reacted.”

“Are you still mad at me?” asked Anna gazing up at him with tear filled blue eyes.

“No, angel, I’m not mad at you. I’m pissed at myself for not realising, for upsetting you, for embarrassing you back there.”

With a giggle, she said, “I’m guessing our social media feeds have lit up like a Christmas tree.”

“Probably,” agreed Ben. “But I don’t care. Let them talk. I just want you to be ok. Want us to be ok.”

“You sure you still want to be seen with me like this?” she asked, her hint of sarcasm not lost on him.

“Forever.”

“I don’t want to be pregnant forever,” she said, smiling at him. “I’m about done with carrying this little bean around.”

“How does it feel? I mean, isn’t it strange to have a little human in there?”

Taking his hand, she pressed it to her belly then moved it a little lower. His eyes widened as he felt the baby, their baby, kick for the first time.

“Wow!”

“Quite something isn’t it?”

He nodded as the baby kicked out again.

Together, they sat in silence, listening to the waves.

 

Beside him, Anna began to shiver. A quick glance at his watch told him they’d been sitting there for hours. It was after eleven.

“Let’s head back,” suggested Ben. “You’re cold.”

Reluctantly, she nodded then allowed him to help her to her feet. As she shook the sand from her dress, he smiled at how beautiful she looked. Everything about Anna was always perfect and it didn’t surprise him that she had grown a perfect, if larger than average, rounded baby bump.  In the moonlight she looked like a goddess.

With his arm protectively around her waist, they walked slowly back towards the hotel.

As they had both feared, the paparazzi were still swarming about the front of the hotel. Hand in hand, the celebrity couple stared straight ahead and walked purposefully through the sea of flashbulbs, ignoring the cries of “Anna!”, “Reuben!”, “When’s the baby due?”, “Anna, is it Reuben’s?”

By the time they crossed the foyer and reached the elevator, there were fresh tears in Anna’s eyes and she was trembling.

“You ok, angel?” asked Ben as the doors of the elevator closed. “You’re safe now.”

“I just hate getting caught like that by those guys. I can just see the headlines now,” she said forcing a smile. “Comes with the territory though I guess.”

Anxiously Ben watched as she placed her hand under her bump as if she were holding it up.

“You sure you’re ok?”

“I’m fine. Baby’s fine,” she assured him. “You might be surprised to hear that this bump is quite heavy to carry around. I’m tired. It’s been a long day.” She paused then said, “We’ve passed my floor.”

“Have we?” said Ben trying to act innocently. “Guess we’ll just need to go to my room then.”

“Ben, I’m exhausted,” protested Anna softly.

“Spare me an hour, angel. Half an hour even. Please?”

“Half an hour then I’m going to bed.”

“Deal.”

As if on cue, the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Slowly Ben led her along the short corridor to the door of his suite. He slipped his hand into his pocket to check if his gift for her was still there. It was. Chivalrously, he opened the door then stood aside to allow Anna to enter first.

She gasped when she saw the room. It was beautifully decorated in silver and red. A huge Christmas tree stood by the window, several small beautifully wrapped packages stacked underneath it. Beside the couch sat a champagne bucket and two crystal champagne flutes.

“Did you have this all planned?” quizzed Anna as he guided her over to the sumptuous cream leather couch.

“I had something planned,” confessed Ben sitting down beside her. Resting his hand on her belly he added, “I think you win for surprises though.”

“You sure you’re ok about…” her question was lost as Ben’s lips me hers.

He kissed her slowly and passionately, trying to ignore the hardening bulge in his pants. Sex would have to wait he suspected. She tasted so good though. Seeing her in the glittering fairy lights of the room made her even more desirable. All he wanted to do was make love to her on that leather couch.

Digging deep for some restraint, Ben said, “Champagne?”

“I shouldn’t,” replied Ann, rubbing the side of her bump. “Oh, what the hell! Half a glass can’t hurt, right?”

“I’d say it was medicinal in the circumstances.”

Glancing at the time, Ben noted he was right on cue with his original plan. Expertly he opened the chilled bottle of Moet and part filled both glasses.

Right on the stroke of midnight, he handed her the flute.

“Happy Christmas Eve, beautiful,” he toasted, raising his glass to hers.

“Happy Christmas Eve,” she echoed, aware of a sudden sharp tight feeling across her stomach.

Taking a sip from the glass, Anna noticed something at the bottom of it. Squinting through the bubbles she saw it was a diamond ring.

“Ben?”

Moving to kneel in front of her, Ben cleared his throat, took her hand in his and said softly, “Will you marry me, Anna?”

Tears filling her eyes, Anna said “Yes,” as she felt a weird popping sensation then a wetness spreading between her thighs. Just as a contraction began to build, she added, “But I think we’re about to have a baby first. My waters just broke.”

“What?”

“Ben, we’re having a Christmas baby.”

Laughing, Ben raised his glass, “Who needs wise men with gold, frankincense and myrrh. We’ve got gold, champagne and sand.”

“And your ugly sweater,” giggled Anna.

inCollage_20181220_200748470

 

 

 

 

Introducing……

auction-hammer

Occasionally, whilst working away at the day job in the salt mine, I stumble across a kindred spirit.  The indie author I’m about to introduce you to works for the same organisation but in a different salt mine. Our paths crossed on the office’s business social media site and long story cut short, I’ve invited him along this week to share some insights into his creative thought process but first, allow me to share his fabulously quirky short story with you :-

 

 

Alana of Great Lindford      

by Christian W. Smith

 

Christie’s Auction House
London
July 2051

“And so ladies and gentlemen we move to the highlight of today’s sale: Alana of Great Lindford’s “The Prescient Requiem”, a series of 4 paintings in oil, selling today from the Royal Collection.” As he spoke, the elderly auctioneer stood ram-rod straight, a military air hanging over his precise diction and movements. With his throat dry from several hours of talking through the course of the day’s auction, he drank appreciatively from a glass of water in front of him and continued…

“These paintings by Alana in the first few years of the 1600s came into Royal ownership when they were personally gifted to James 1st in 1609 by the Reverend Richard Napier. Napier was one of the founding fathers of mental health within the UK, a protégé to the astrologer Simon Forman, and under his care, many patients found refuge and help…

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Great Linford,
North Buckinghamshire
July 1602

Sunlight dimpled through the foliage of ash and oak trees that surrounded the Great Lindford Rectory, adding to the peace and tranquillity of the grounds. This quiet place. A place for contemplation. A refuge.

Pathways wove through beds of many colours; bluebottles, with intense blue florets mingled with pink-stained foxgloves, hemmed by banks of glorious golden nasturtiums and bordered by enthusiastic pale red and violet phlox. This morning, though, the riot of colour went unseen as Richard Napier, clergyman and astrological physician, wandered forth in pensive contemplation.

Alana held his thoughts. As she had done for the months she had resided in the Rectory under his care. Buckinghamshire sent him the worst of their mentally incapacitated – the maniacal, the lunatics. To these sad and failed folk with unsound minds whom society had spurned through fear and misunderstanding, Richard lent his renowned skill, his love and devotion.

Alana was one such. A gentle girl by day, but borne by terrible dreams in the night. Several shaded benches dotted beneath broad spreading oaks where his wards would sometimes rest. Indeed, there now sat the very object of his reflections – Alana, waif-like and pale, her long blonde hair braided and interwoven with blossoms, sitting perched on the edge of a bench, a nervous bird ready to take wing, daisy chain held skittishly in intertwined fingers.

As Richard came near, she stood and looked down submissively, wide blue eyes full of fear. Not of him – no, there was no fear there – but of the storms that raged within her frame, that daylight and the quiet gardens kept at bay, but which, when night fell, would overtake her. Strange visions. Oddities and pictures she did not understand. They would not go away. They would not cease. Every day she lifted fervent prayers for an end to come.

“Morning, child,” the reverend spoke quietly. “Please, sit. Continue your contemplations.” He knew there would be no response from her; she had not spoken in all her time there.

“The drawings go well?” She nodded as she sat again and withdrew a scrap of paper from her dress pocket, showing it briefly to him then returning it carefully to its place of origin.

“The same picture, I see”, he reflected.

Again, a nod.

“You fare well?”

For a third time, the nod came.

“That is good, child. I will see you at supper.” With that he came to a decision. This matter must be brought with haste to Simon. He returned to the rectory and entered his study. Here, in the sparsely-furnished room with just a wooden writing desk, a bookshelf and a chair by the shuttered window for his daily prayers and reflections, order reigned. A regimented man, he was, with papers stacked tidily and quills held in a neat rack; the housekeeper’s daily clean ensuring dust-free surfaces to work on.

A small wooden cross above the desk was the only adornment and he touched it as he sat down to write. Simon Forman had mentored him and befriended the slightly reclusive and awkward clergyman. Simon would know what to do. Pondering his missive, he lifted a sheet of writing parchment from the tidy pile on his desk, and selected a quill from the stand. Unstopping the ink bottle, he dipped the nib in then began to write.

To the Venerable Simon Forman Esq.

Hie, my friend. May this letter find ye and thine lovely wife Tronco well in London, and may the Grace of our Lord shine favour upon the pair.

The scratch of nib on paper always eased his disquiet. Today was no different and at the familiar rasping, his shoulders relaxed and his unease slipped away as he continued.

Work within the Rectory fares well and I spare no rest for the poor souls who labour so mightily under the duress of a darkened mind. As ye know, my hours are spent praying and beseeching our Lord for them and in the providing of victuals and rest. Per occasion the offer of hospitality, in guise of a mattress, is extended to those in more serious need and it is one of these more profoundly afflicted of whom I scribe.

I write thee today of Alana, a lady of the local town – by day her manner is genteel and calm yet given to wild ideas and crazee dreams that fall upon her in the night. They writhe and rack her and drench her in sweat as if a bathing bucket were thrown uponst her. Yet, ev’n in this chaos she utters no word – she is entirely lacking in speech. I then dowse her head with a tincture of beetroot, honey and laurel oil for the headwarks she silently complains of. Mercifully it appears to ease her throes.

Without words she communicates with gestures and drawings. Oh Simon, what drawings she makes with charcoal and pen. Scarce does she but finish one afore she beginns one other. No longer able to supply materials to the extent of her desire to draw, I beseeched the Lord Thompson of Lindford Manor to benefact the lady, which he has done and ennuff inks and papers are henceforth forthcoming from his estate. Many pictures does she draw, but at present only one theme does her art elucidate. I say true – ag’n and ag’n she draws the same image which I shall endeavour to picture with words for thine self.

He sat back in his chair and regarded one of the pictures that Alana had given him. It was a rough drawing, one that he had seen improved on in later sketches, but it was developed enough to attempt to describe to Simon.

Imagine standing back from on the bank of a lake – in front of ye is visible bare earth leading to the bank, and also the bank itself. Beyond, lies the lake. Imagine further the sun is falling, its dimming light turning the waters of the lake blacker. A fire is lit behind thine person and casts a flickering shadow upon the ground. Then out of the water rises a rounded silver platter, like the mysterious Excalibur rose, until the upper half of the circle be visible reflecting the light of the fire behind. That is as best I can describe it. Also too, it could be seen as a waxing moon in the night sky, yet sinking below water. But when I point at the moon, she shakes her head and makes motion that I fail to interpret beyond this – the moon looking down upon me. What means she by this? This image the poor girl will sketch in prolonged spells on paper anew. To be sure, I confess to be quite at a loss. I wayte upon what insight my beloved mentor may impart.

To end, I enclose a short sermon series on the Revelations of St. John and an essay, “Melancholy and the Lunar Elipsis”, both recently completed.

In Our Father’s name, Thine humble servant

Richard Napier

The Reverend scrawled his signature across the bottom of the page with a flourish, then sprinkled fine sand across the page to soak up the excess ink. He pressed the seal of the Rectory into the hot ruby wax and calling his servant, requested that the letter be delivered forthwith to the village inn that a passing traveller might take it onwards to the capital. A waft of steak pie tickled his nose, his stomach rumbled and he left the study to find what magic Zillie was creating in the kitchen.

Several weeks later a reply was forthcoming. He eagerly ripped the seal apart and drank in his mentor’s responses:

Honoured Richard,

May our Divine Lord and King be thine Blessing and thine Guide, and the stars be ever in alignment.

Tronco and I rest easy in Lambeth, though the bobolyns of the College of Physicians still cast their disapproving gaze upon my astrological diaries and scorn the insights contained therein. Fools, they are, whose sole gain in life is to diminish mine and resoundingly I curse them. I urge ye to pursue with all vigour both the teachings of our Lord and the heavens. I thanks ye deeply for the sermons and essay and wholeheartedly concur with the conclusions that the waxing and waning of our astral brother, La Lune, sends ripples through our minds and hearts.

I applaud thine efforts with thy charitable works. Our Lord Bless Ye and Keep Ye in his Spirit. I noted with interest thine description of poor Alana and wish ye well and kindness in thy cosseting of her. To whit, for answers, I presently have none, though might make suggestion that should Alana be familiar with watercolours, or even with oil and canvas, that upon an occasion, intermittent to the charcoal and pen friezes that form the basis of her works, she would lift a brush instead. Perchance, if colour abounded, a clearer meaning to her work may be inferred.

As ever, Peace and Grace be upon thine house.

Simon Forman

*************************

Christie’s Auction House
London
July 2051

The auctioneer’s gravel voice mesmerised the crowd. “What we know of Alana survives from parish records. We know that she used mainly pen and charcoal to compose her art, though no copies of these early works remains. It would appear, from these records, that when satisfied with the structure and composition of any particular image in pen or charcoal she would then continue by painting in watercolour. Finally, at the pinnacle she would turn to oil, creating just one single instance of each theme. Ladies and gentlemen, those 4 single instances are here before us today. The only known works of Alana of Lindford.”

Excited applause rippled from the gathered. They knew what was to come.

“The question everyone asks, and to which there is probably no answer – was Alana a prophetess, a seer, a diviner of the future? Or was she simply mad? Or indeed neither…

“Are these paintings her visions of the future or simply meaningless Rorschach blotches in which we see what we want to see? To guide us through the descriptions of the paintings I’m honoured to introduce Viscount Severn from the House of Wessex, who is the curator of the Royal Art collection.” A clipped turn brought the auctioneer face-to-face with a well-dressed gentleman seated to his right. “He can establish the authenticity and provenance of these works. Welcome, Viscount. The floor is yours.”

The Viscount dipped his head in acknowledgement, adjusted his scarlet cravat and continued where the auctioneer had left off.

“Thank you for having me today. It is truly an honour to be here. You may be wondering why the Royal Family is selling these paintings at this time. I should enlighten you that I am also the patron of Sound Minds. Sound Minds is a charity close to the hearts of both King William and Prince Harry, as it focuses on military personnel suffering from a mental illness. It was King William himself who suggested that if a suitable donation could be found from within the Royal Collection, then it could be sold with the proceeds donated to the charity. This series of four, Alana’s “Prescient Requiem”, seemed perfect. So let us begin. Shall we turn our attention to the first in the series – ‘Rise’.

Next to the Viscount were 4 velvet veils. He drew aside the first, shaded in a deep burgundy, to reveal a painting and a photograph side by side, both oriented in landscape and both approximately 2-foot-long by 1 and a half feet tall. He explained to the gathered audience: “‘Rise’ is the first in the series of four. Next to the painting we have placed a photograph of the view of Earth from the moon during the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969; the photographer is none other than Neil Armstrong during the first moonwalk. Rising in the background is Earth, and the foreground shows an American flag planted on the Moon’s surface.

The similarities between the photo and the painting are startling – the shape and colours in the painting are obviously Earthen and could that smudge of red and blue in the foreground be a representation of the US flag planted by the astronauts during their lunar visit? Or is the smudge, just, well, meaningless? A nonsense?…”

*************************

Great Linford,
North Buckinghamshire
September 1602

Richard’s pointed beard, normally a neat and kempt visual indicator of his calm and soothing personality, was today a ruffled mess, his greying hair splaying in every direction. So agitated was he, that he wasn’t even aware of its disarray, his distracted hands continuing to run through the tangles. How to help that girl? What succour can I give? Simon, Simon – I need your insight and wisdom.

Walking at haste to the parsonage study he sought pen, ink and paper and in agitation, began his next letter to his friend.

To the Venerable Simon Forman Esq.

Hie once anew. Near 2 months have passed since our last communications with much to report on from the interim. I thank thee for the suggestion of the use of colour – truly an inspired suggestion. Realising thy sage advice, I hastened to the Manor to seek an audience with Lord Thompson and requested his aid in the supply of canvas and paints. Thankfully he thinks well of my feeble works and was most forthcoming for both watercolours and oils. Alana took to the watercolours with great fervour, though avoiding the oils at first. Several canvases has she painted in the watercolour medium. Simply practising I suspect since once satisfied enough with the outcome she has turned to the oils and has painted one exquisite masterpiece. I have seen the decorated walls at Hampton Court Palace and this canvas matched any there, though envisioning it en couleur has not cleared the question of its meaning and I am scarecilly any more illuminated as to its significance.

Coming to the crux of his letter, Richard wiped his brow, beads of sweat and drops of ink unknowingly smearing blue streaks across his face. A deep breath, a violent exhale and he returned to his story.

But herewith lies my vexation: no more does Alana paint the picture of the fire on the silver platter. A night, but 7 days past, was more wretched than any in her time at the Rectory. In dawning hours didst Alana throw herself about her room incurring many wounds and making unnerving sounds that did wake the household. Til now, Simon, in truth I thought her dumb, her mouth unable for utterance. But now I know the real truth. She is silent by choice. I begged her tell me of what she saw in the dark and tortured night, but silence swooped once more upon her tongue and she bade me depart, glaring madly at me and gesticulating angrily though I had but tended her wounds and bound her bluddied head not half a candle earlier. Now she sketches anew, the oils discarded. Charcoal and pen once more are the favoured mediums. The headwarks grow fiercer and I now administer an infusion of mint, willow leaves, lupins, fennel and lichen boiled together. This she consumes from a silver altar bell to aid ingestion.

Richard shivered a little, not from the cold, as he penned the next paragraph.

But, Simon, I fear she is demonised. I know nothing of exorcism which might be the only treatment for her ails. Verily doth my soul quail at that, and I am somewhat loathe to share space with her. But I must persist – her absolution surely rides in, only upon a horse of my provision.

I fear I’ve not helped matters and that by giving aid to create these images I have extended her suffering. Would she now be drawing pictures of towers with rounded tops sitting atop a bed of fire had I not supplied the paints for her progression? Would the anguish of the night a week past have occurred if she had not birthed such a beautiful creation? By placing paintbrush in her trembling hand, have I lowered the curse to be a shackle around her neck and a prison from which there is no escape for her? I am afraid for her.

Please do send news of any domestic affairs as I hope a breath of a life more usual will blow some clarity into our predicament.

Thine servant, in darkening times

Richard

His signature, sprinkled sand and stamped seal concluded the narrative and a ruddy-faced servant was summoned for onward carriage of the letter to the local inn, once more to find a traveller to London.

*************************

Christie’s Auction House
London
July 2051

The Viscount drew down on another gilded cord – this time a tawny mustard coloured curtain parted and the next pair of pictures was revealed. “After ‘Rise’, which we’ve seen could possibly be a vision of the Moon Landings, comes ‘Stand’.

“In Alana’s painting, there’s what looks like a stone tower on the left, and three round white-washed towers situated around another brown tower, all of which are sitting on a bed of fire. Look now to the photograph of a Space Shuttle taking off from Cape Canaveral. This particular photo is of the first ever shuttle flight, Columbia’s, on April 12th 1981. Flame and smoke billows out as the shuttle lifts. There are two thin white solid rocket boosters either side of the orange-coloured external tank and the body of the space shuttle sitting in the foreground. To the left of the departing vehicle is the scaffolding of the Fixed Service Structure, with a lightning mast, crane and the White Room through which the astronauts access the shuttle – this could be what looks like the stone tower in her painting. Whilst not identical, as Alana’s towers are all very similar in width whilst the rocket boosters and the external tank are not, once again the similarities between the two images are pretty striking, wouldn’t you agree?”

Nods around the room in response to the rhetorical question, accompanied the Viscount’s movement to the third curtained exhibit. Behind emerald drapes hung Alana’s third image, ‘Soul Glass’.

“‘Soul Glass’ looks like two groups of eight stained glass windows, 4 across and 2 down, set in a frame and bolted to the side of a small house. Confusingly, this picture looks as if it is set in a forest and has raised the greatest question mark over whether these images are really prophetic. You’ll all recognise the International Space Station in the photo to the right, also with two groups of solar panels in a 4×2 configuration with the body of the Space Station joining them together. No forest though!”

Light chuckles dusted the room.

“Still, the shape and layout are very consistent despite the disparity of the backgrounds.

And finally we move onto the last picture, the ‘Marionette’. Everyone will be familiar with Anchor One, the Space Elevator terminus situated in the mid-Atlantic that has revolutionised how we access space. Here is the latest photograph – you’ll immediately notice that there are only 3 pairs of tethers currently in place. Yet in Alana’s painting there are 7. Does that mean she was wrong? To find out, I can tell you that I have personally been in touch with the CEO of SkyWay, the company behind Anchor One, Richard Lyne and showed him this painting. He was well aware of it already and reciprocated by showing me an artist’s impression of Anchor One as it will be in the next 10 years or so. Did you know there are 7 tethers planned in total?”

Clearly everyone did. This was an educated auction crowd.

“Ah, you do. Excellent!”

Everyone laughed.

“Indeed… 7 tether pairs tied to 7 individual platforms and arranged virtually identically to Alana’s painting. Incredible.” After pausing for a moment, the Viscount needled them, “So incredible actually, I might just put these back in the Royal Collection!”

Horrified looks stared back at him.

*************************

Great Linford,
North Buckinghamshire
November 1602

Around the rustic wooden table sat three people: Richard, Alana and recently arrived from London, his dear friend Simon Forman.

“It is so good of you to visit, Simon. We are glad of your company and your insights.” Extending a plate to his guest he said, “Try this partridge. Zillie is a fine cook and this is her specialty.”

A hungry Simon gratefully filled his plate with several of the stuffed birds, then ladled carrots, chicory and spinach on top of several potatoes. Alana’s eyebrows raised at the sight and Simon chuckled, rubbing his expanding girth.

“I love food, Alana. Always have. Tronco despairs of me.” Turning to his host, “Thank you for having me Richard – it is fine to see you after such a long time, though our correspondence does keep you close to both of us. I am here but for just a night and must return to Lambeth on the morrow.”

“A shame and a pleasure at the same time.” came the reply.

With his long-time friend in attendance, the reserve Richard normally held in deep check, loosened and he shared anecdote after anecdote of some of the trickling tide of humanity that passed through the Rectory doors. “Fine Joe wouldst throw off his clothes at the supper table and cavort around this room afore running off down the lane. Ev’ry day without fail. Henry, poor man, he be the groundsman labourer, would saddle his horse and of necessity, retrieve the naked Fine Joe, sometimes from inside local houses, twice from the river – one of those in a beastly winter. The lad nearly died from chill.”

Guffaws arose from both men at the memory and even Alana chuckled silently to herself.

Likewise, Simon, despite a loving wife with whom he could speak of most things, held inside a cache of unspoken utterances of some of the starker sights his eyes had seen through his medical practice. Harkening back to the awful plagues of London, “In 1593 the plague were terrible fierce in London. The sores and carbuncles of Mars were fierie hote and red and did rise up. I lancet them oftentimes. Thousands died, but I was spared. A terrible time indeed.”

The meal passed quickly – the men’s camaraderie evident to the quiet onlooker. Soon Alana’s thoughts turned to the night ahead and she pushed her plate away with a hiss. The two men regarded her with concern.

“Fear not, child” soothed Richard. “We shall stand by at the ready.”

“Child…” started Simon. “I have an ointment here. A potion called oleum dulce vitrioli, brewed from oil of vitriol. I learned the makings of it a brace of years past and it has aided many in matters of the head. Take a short drink, then we will see you abed for the night.”

Alana’s blue eyes looked cold and scared, but a flicker of hope flashed in them as she eyed the stoppered bottle their guest had placed upon the table. Pulling the cork she drank, ceasing at a motion from Simon indicating when enough had passed her lips. Then she nodded her head at the two men and made her way up the stairs to the straw mattress in the loft that was her bed. Under the blankets she laid, hands clasping and unclasping in great anxiety. Then she closed her eyes and waited for the dreams to come.

***

The tweet and call of bird song, cheery and bright, woke Alana in the cool early morning as daylight spilled through the open shutters. She could not believe it! No dreams. Nothing! She could not remember the last time that had happened. She lay in semi-shock. Perhaps the potion really did have the power to stop the dreams? Grabbing her coat from its peg beside her door, she threw it on and skipped downstairs to have a sturdy breakfast of cold meat pie and manchet bread with the Reverend and his guest.

Later that morning Richard and Simon watched as Alana painted in watercolour.

Richard leaned over and whispered in his mentor’s ear. “Something is different about this one. Sketches go faster than I’ve ever seen her, as though the sands of time are running against her. 7 plates on sticks in water held up by ropes, in shape of a hexagon. Where do these images come from? Watercolour precedes oil and soon, perchance in a few days, she will tackle the oil.”

Then the two friends left her to her painting and wiled the morning away, debating with great fervour the relative merits of a variety of treatments, acutely aware the sands of their brief time together were dribbling away.

After an early lunch of Simon called his coach, hugged his friend goodbye and began the lengthy journey back to London. As Richard stood outside the Rectory waving goodbye, the sun dipped behind a bank of clouds. Yet the drop in temperature wasn’t what made him shiver. A sense of foreboding loomed.

*************************

Christie’s Auction House
London
July 2051

The Viscount looked like he was seriously pondering his threat. “But, don’t worry, I won’t! King William would kill me.”

A collective sigh of relief ran through the crowd.

*************************

Great Linford,
North Buckinghamshire
December 1602

Cool moonlight spilled ghostly shades across the loft as Alana awoke drenched in sweat once again, despite the frigid January air. Blankets lay strewn across the floor where she had thrown them whilst the tumult of the dream was upon her. For pity’s sake she sobbed quietly, will this never end? Just that very morning, she had finished the oil painting of the vision of ropes stretching into the sky and tied to odd structures with fat legs and weird egg-like carriages that shot up and down the ropes. And why were these odd buildings in the middle of the sea? It made no sense. Each time one picture finished another took its place, though this time she had hoped the ending of the fourth vision would not become the beginning of the fifth. Already though, a brand new dream had shoved itself upon her mind. This time it was a bleak landscape, red earth, red rocks. She knew no place like this. Where are the trees? The rivers? The sun is still there in the sky, but is it a little smaller? And there were people in the dream – she had glimpsed them walking and talking and dressing in white suits. Living in little round houses with connecting tunnels that had no obvious windows or doors to the outside. Taking rides in carriages with no horses. Nonsense images. Nonsensical visions.

Alana’s heart sank. There would be no ceasing of the dreams. There would be no end. Finish one and yet another would take its place. Without end. Amen. She understood now that the curse would not be lifted and this insight gave impetus to her movements, an air of finality hanging over them.

Up from the tangled bed clothes she rises and lays the four oil paintings in her place there. Destroy everything! Crazily she shreds the papers that bear the multitude of her nightmares. Slops paints until the containers are empty. Snaps paintbrushes, tossing them aside with a glare. When all the tools are destroyed she stops in front of the canvases laid across the straw mattress. As her manic air subsides a note of pride replaces it as the beauty of the work penetrates her fevered gaze. Deciding then that, actually, she cannot bring herself to destroy these final pictures, she strides across the freezing boards to the wooden dresser. Shivering now, but moving carefully so as to not wake the reverend with any errant screech of wood she opens the top drawer. Takes out two shifts and tears them into strips. Then, as she has done a thousand times with her hair, she braids the strips into rope. Long enough to loop securely around her neck with one end… Where could the other end be tied? That heavy metal spike holding my cloak beside the door, perhaps… Was it strong enough? It wasn’t high enough, really, only as high as her chest. Still, it would have to do. She ties the other end around the base of the spike then slides down the wall as if settling into a chair, legs stretched out in front of her. The loose rope goes taut with her weight when her bottom still remains about a foot off the ground. It will have to do. Trusting the spike and halter to hold, she relaxes her body and lets the rope throttle her.

Soundlessly she jerks into stillness.

***

He squirmed at the oaken study desk as he pondered how to explain the latest events to his mentor. Sighing, he simply began – there was no way else.

Dear Simon,

I trust this letter finds ye well, though it departs from a household in mourning. There is no easy way to share this. I bring grave news. Soon after thy leaving, the girl has hung herself. Vexed and entrauma’d she has denied her claim on the afterlife and Simon, I am beset by guilt. Mea culpa. Mea culpa. I broke fast in usual time, at dawn, two days past. Of normal course, Alana would arise and join me for food and Matins. When mid-morning had arrived without sign of her, a dreadful fear did fall upon me. Swift did I hasten to her chamber and there did find the pitiful wretch sitting next to the door, a rope of torn shifts around her neck, tethered to a rusty nail in the wall. She had been dead some time when I found her. I am distraught, and Zillie the housekeep is quite unable to work.

Thought it must be said, dearest Simon, that truth be, also I have ne’er seen her more at peace. A quiet calm did rest upon her visage and a smile did grace her lips. Her hands were crossed in her lap, though the death could not have been easy. These dreams have been the death of her, and I could do nothing for her. I have failed her though I have also buried her and said the words of Christ over her.

Her penultimate act was destroying all paper copies of her work, though I am grateful to say not the four oils. These she had laid reverently upon her mattress, perhaps cognisant that too great a cost had been paid for their creation.

I cannot burn them, but the burning question is what to do with them as I wish not to keep them.

I apologise for not enquiring of thy welfare – I am most heartsore – though pray God ye and yours are well.

In Christ
Richard

***

Dearest Richard,

I hold no malice at the lack of thine enquiries – there is no cause for apology. Not to my house, and not to Alana’s. Ye have not failed her. Thine provision of board and lodgings, and availing a willing ear, of sourcing the elements of her art, have made ye her friend.

The melancholy of the mind that troubled her was not of thine making – therefore her death is neither. I trust our Lord will look with compassion upon her actions, and that the hellish fires below do not consume her. I will pray for her soul.

Do not destroy the oils, Richard. May our Divine Majesty provide a way that they would be released from thy custody. Let not the angst of her passing be a shadow upon ye and still I urge ye continue all fine travails for those with unsound minds.

Be blessed in Christ, and His Light

Simon

 

***

Great Linford,
North Buckinghamshire
March 1608

For the first time in nearly 5 years, Richard’s clumsy gait held a spring in its step. He even whistled as he made his way up the path and into the rectory study. He hummed a tune as he busied himself with paper, quill and ink, smiled and settled himself to compose a letter to his friend.

Dear Simon

Remember ye Alana? Near 5 years have passed since she took her own life and my heart has rested not once in all this time at the holding of her paintings in this house. But I have trusted thy sage advice and held them, despite my unrest. Now, Praise God, His plan for them is revealed. Sir James Thompson, son of the former mayor, is firm friends with the King. Recently the King and his royal retinue have visited at Lindford with Sir Thompson holding a week of sport and games in his honour. A great banquet was held and I was surprised to see a footman at my door with an invitation to attend. A clear thought struck me. I should give the paintings to the King. He is a fine man with a solid grasp of troubled minds and he will know well what to do with them. Thus did I attend bearing the paintings and with the help of Sir James didst enter an audience with the King afore the celebrations began.  A momentary panic did descend when one of his party threatened to throw the paintings on the fire to warm the room. Seeing my woe at this outcome the King cuffed the offender a blow across the cheek that reeled him across the floor then thanked me for my gift and promised to steward it carefully. Indeed a fine man is the King. I am at long last relieved of the burden – relieved indeed.

Richard’s quill pen scritched and scribbled as the rest of the message of relief spilled from him. When at last he had fully imparted all his news, he stood, stretched and walked into the garden. At the bench where Alana had sat so many times, so long ago, yet what felt so recent also, he too now sat.

“It is done, dear child.” he soothed. “May you forever rest in peace.” Then he closed his eyes and let the warmth of the spring morning settle on him.

*************************

Christie’s Auction House
London
July 2051

“Please remember all proceeds, including Christie’s fee which they have generously donated, will all be going to the charity, Sound Minds. So please think of Alana, think of our servicemen and women who have given so much in the service of our great nation and dig deep.

“I was not at the Moon landings, nor have I seen a Space Shuttle launch, except on TV, and undoubtedly I will never visit the ISS. But I was there on Anchor One when it was opened. I was a member of the official UK delegation. I watch the first capsules climb into the sky and accelerate away up the graphene tether. I have been back to Anchor One when the second tether was opened and I stand here today in absolutely no doubt that Alana saw the future. Thank you.” The Viscount swept his gaze once more around the attendees then sat down.

Immediately the auctioneer stood and led a round of applause that swelled around the room as the gathered aficionados appreciated the rarity of the event. The swelling turned to a standing ovation which continued for several minutes. At last, as the applause slowly died, the auctioneer raised his hands and motioned to the crowd to sit. When all were seated and the room was quiet, he surveyed them, holding their attention with his hawk-like eyes, then announced, “We’ll start the bidding at £15million.”

 

 

Notes

Reverend Richard Napier (1559-1634) and Simon Forman (1552-1611) are both real historical figures.

Napier studied theology at Oxford University, which he left in 1590 to become the Rector of Great Linford, in Buckinghamshire. There he studied theology, alchemy and astrological medicine until his death. The combination of astrology and medicine enabled Napier to build up a substantial medical practice, both of physical and mental illness. Although the mentally ill comprised less than 5% of those he tended, it is clear from his notes that he had great empathy for them and dispensed a multitude of eclectic treatments that they found highly palatable. Though magic was a capital crime in this period, Napier steered clear of such accusations by maintaining a moderate and conforming Anglicanism in his diocese. He is therefore viewed both as the last of the Renaissance magi and as a crusader for orthodox Anglicanism – a curious combination.

Forman studied astrology as well as Napier and this gave them common ground when they studied together in the mid-1590s. Forman mentored Napier and this formed a bond between them that remained for the rest of their lives.  He also studied the occult and was a herbalist, having been apprenticed to a local merchant who traded in herbal remedies. He worked initially as a teacher, branching out as a physician in 1583. He survived two outbreaks of the plague (1583 and 1594), which enhanced his physician’s reputation. His arguments with the College of Physicians were also well documented as he branched out once again to become a surgeon. This drew their ire as physician and surgeon were seen as two different professions and they withdrew his licence to practice. Undeterred he continued, but a patient’s death led to him serving time in prison, damaging his reputation. His reputation suffered further when after his death he was accused of conspiring to murder the poet, Thomas Overbury. Nonetheless, he produced a wealth of manuscripts, diaries and an autobiography, many of which are still held today within the famous Bodleian library in Oxford.

Anchor One is not real. Yet. It is the fictional space elevator complex set on the equator, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, midway between South America and West Africa. Space elevators, for those not familiar with the concept, are essentially strings hung down from space, on which cable cars run up and down. Stick with me and you’ll learn more about it in time.

Alana, too, was not real.

Letters are written both in old English and modern English. You can read them

 

 

***

To the respected Simon Forman Esq.

Hello, my friend. I hope this letter finds you and your lovely wife Tronco well in London, and may the Grace of our Lord shine upon you both.

Work at the Rectory goes well and all of my time is spent looking after the poor people with mental afflictions. I spend all my time praying for them and asking our Lord to look after them and providing food and rest. Occasionally I offer a bed to those in more serious need, and I’m writing to you about one of those people today.

Her name is Alana – she’s a local lady. Calm and considered during the day but at night, she is has wild ideas and crazy dreams. They cause her to writhe and twist and drench her in night sweats as if she were having a bath. Yet even as this goes on, she makes no sound as she cannot talk. When it is over, I pour a mixture of beetroot, honey and laurel oil on her head for the headaches she indicates she has. Thankfully it appears to help a little.

Since she doesn’t talk she communicates with gestures and drawings. Oh, Simon, what drawings she does with charcoal and pen. She’s constantly drawing and no sooner does she finish one before she starts another. I didn’t have enough paper, ink or charcoal to keep up with her so have requested help from Lord Thompson at Lindford Manor to take a more active role in looking after her. He’s now done this and his estate sends over enough to keep up with her. For all the different pictures she draws, she only draws one theme. I mean it – just one theme. Again and again she draws the same image which I’ll try to describe with words for you.

***

Honoured Richard, may our Divine Lord and King be your Blessing and your Guide, and the stars be ever in alignment.

Tronco and I are well in Lambeth, though the idiots at the College of Physicians are disapproving of my astrological diaries and scornful of the insights within them. They are fools who are only happy when I am unhappy and I curse them for that. Follow the teachings of our Lord and learn from the heavens with all your energy. Thank you for the sermons and essay; I would agree that the waxing and waning of the moon has an effect on our hearts and minds.

Well done for all your charitable work. Our Lord bless you and keep you in his Spirit. Your description of Alana was interesting and I wish you well in looking after her. I don’t have answers to your questions, but if she is capable of painting in oil or watercolours, then maybe occasionally she should paint, rather than drawing in charcoal and pen. Perhaps by seeing colour in the images it might make it easier to interpret their meaning.

As ever, Peace and Grace be upon your house.

Simon Forman

***

Respected Simon Forman,

Hello again. Nearly 2 months have passed since we last communicated and there is much to report on from that time. Thanks for the suggestion of using colour – it was inspired. Realising your good advice I went to talk to Lord Thompson at the Manor to ask for his help in supplying canvas and paints. He thinks highly of my feeble work and was very generous with both watercolours and oils. Alana is very pleased with the watercolours, though has avoided the oils initially, painting several canvases in watercolour. I suspect she was just is practicing and now satisfied has started with the oils painting one exquisite masterpiece. I have seen the decorated walls at Hampton Court Palace and this canvas matched any I saw there, though seeing the same painting only now in colour has not made its meaning any clearer. I am none the wiser as to its significance.

But here’s my frustration – Alana no longer paints the picture of the fire on the silver chalice. 7 nights ago she had the worst night of her time at the Rectory. As dawn approached, she threw herself around the room, wounding herself many times and making unnerving noises that woke the whole household. Up until now, Simon, truly I thought she couldn’t speak. But now I know the real truth – she is silent by choice. I begged her to tell what she saw when the night was dark and tortured but she stayed silent then threw me out, glaring crazily at me and gesticulating angrily though I had just tended her wounds and bandaged her bloodied head just moments earlier. Today she’s sketching again, and for now has discarded the oils in favour of charcoal and pen. Her headaches grow fiercer and I give her a tea of mint, willow leaves, lupins, fennel and lichen boiled together. She drinks this out of a silver altar bell for better ingestion.

But Simon, I fear she is demonised, and her only treatment might be exorcism, of which I know nothing. I quail at doing that and am not inclined to be in the same room as her. But I must carry on – surely I am the only one who can help her.

I’m scared I’ve not helped matters and that by giving her the tools to create these images I have extended her suffering. Would she be drawing pictures of towers with rounded tops sitting on a bed of fire, if I hadn’t given her the paints as a help? Would that terrible night a week ago have happened if she hadn’t produced such a lovely oil painting and only had the charcoal and pen? By putting a paintbrush in her trembling hand, have I permanently bound her in the curse, shackling her in a prison from which there is no escape? I am afraid for her.

Please do send news of what is happening in your home as I am hoping that hearing about normal life somewhere else will give some clarity to our own.

The situation grows darker.

Regards,

Richard.

***

Dear Simon,

I hope you are well, though I send this letter to you from a house in mourning. There isn’t an easy way to tell you some bad news. Shortly after your visit, the girl hung herself. She was frustrated and traumatised and has now denied herself entry to Heaven. Simon, I am feeling so guilty. It’s my fault – my fault. Two days ago I had breakfast at the usual time, just at dawn. Alana would normally join me for some food and an early morning service. When she hadn’t appeared by mid-morning, I suddenly grew afraid and quickly ran to her room. She was sitting next to the door, a rope of torn shifts around her neck which was tied to a hook by the door. I am so upset and Zillie, the housekeeper, is unable to work.

 

It must be said though, that to be honest, I’d never seen her look so peaceful. Her face was calm, with a little smile and her hands were crossed in her lap, though her death could not have been easy. These dreams have killed her and I couldn’t help. I failed her, but have buried her anyway and prayed for her.

The last thing she did was to destroy all the paper copies of her work, though thankfully not the 4 oils. These she had laid so carefully on the mattress; possibly she was aware at how much they had cost of her to create.

 

I can’t burn them, but I don’t know what to do with them except that I don’t want them. I’m sorry for not asking after you – right now it’s too painful – but I hope that all of you are well.

In Christ,

Richard

 

***

Dear Richard,

I’m not upset by you not asking how we are – please don’t apologise. Not to me, and not for Alana. You did not fail her. You gave her board and lodgings, you listened to her, you found the tools for her to paint. These things have made you her friend.

Her troubled mind was not of your making, therefore neither is her death. I trust our Lord to look with compassion upon her and save her from the fires of hell. I too will pray for her soul.

Don’t destroy the oils! I pray God will provide a way to relieve you of them and of the pain of her passing. Please carry on your great work for all the others who suffer from mental illness.

Be blessed in Christ and in His Light.

Simon

 

***

Dear Simon,

Do you remember Alana? It’s been nearly 5 years since she killed herself and I have not had peace whilst her paintings remained in this house. But I have listened to your wise council and held on to them regardless. Now, Praise God, His plan has been made clear. Sir James Thompson, son of the former mayor, is firm friends with the King. Recently the King came to visit Sir Thompson at Lindford where a week of sports and games was held in his honour. A feast was held and I was surprised to see an invite appear at my door. At that moment a clear thought struck me: I should give the paintings to the King. He knows about mental illness and would know what to do with the paintings. So I took the paintings to the feast and with Sir James’ help had an audience with the King before the party began. I had a moment’s panic which the King saw when one of his retinue threatened to throw the paintings in the fire. He punched the offender so hard in the face that he flew across the floor, then thanked me for the gift and promised to look after it carefully. The King is a fine man and at long last I’m relieved of the burden. Very relieved indeed.

 

 

 

Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did when I read it.

Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to fellow indie author Christian W Smith aka Mark Grint.

Mark, tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer?

 

Mid-2017 was the first time I wrote seriously. Disenchanted with perpetually failing projects in several large Finance organisations, I wanted to create something that worked, even if only in fiction. I’d been investigating space elevators to a considerable degree and chose that environment as the grit around which pearls (?) of stories would form. As it turns out, so far, my stories have had only a passing, yet critical, link to space elevators – the first, a novella called ‘Victor’, was about a young African boy whose genius was discovered by a holiday-making lecturer to his country. The lecturer arranges for Victor to come to the UK to study engineering and he becomes one of the team that discovers how to produce a material strong enough to make the space elevator. Hint – we haven’t actually discovered how to do this in real life yet. But the story isn’t really about space elevators – it’s about a boy. And relationships. And as I went about crafting the story, I realised that I actually quite liked writing.

 

What was the inspiration behind Alana of Great Lindford?

 

Space elevators were first written about in 1895, by a Russian called Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. I wanted to write a story that dwelt to some degree on a significant gap in time. I thought his existence would form a good base for one end of the time continuum. But it turns out I know very little about Russia in the 1890’s! So didn’t feel I could do justice to the task of bringing a time gap to life if he was the origin. So I had to find another way to link two time frames. So I went Nostradamus/Leonardo-da-Vinci-ish and made up Alana, a lady who saw visions (?) way back at the turn of the 17th century. It was likely she would be viewed as mentally ill and that’s how I found my scene setting in Richard Napier’s house. In my online research I discovered Napier and found he was a real person, who was kind and generous to the mentally ill and he had a real-life mentor with whom I could make him fictionally correspond. Since Alana was unlikely to be literate I thought a better medium for her visions would be a painting. After all a picture is worth… One painting led to four. The auction scene gave me the opportunity to bring elements of her artwork to life and explore their significance to the story.

 

Do you have any other short stories or novels published?

 

Yes ‘Victor’ is the lead story in a space elevator short story anthology with other authors such as David Brin, John Helfers, Todd McCaffrey and Theresa Paterson, published through Amazon in December 2017. The book is called Towering Yarns Volume 1.

 

What does an average evening/week’s writing look like?

It doesn’t. Or rather, up until now it hasn’t. It’s way more miss than hit. Finding time and being disciplined about writing has proved a real struggle for me. Indeed, not just for writing, but through much of my life and so it was with profound hope that I have recently discovered I have ADHD (inattentive type), and that I’m not mad, lazy or stupid. But I have a lifetime of poor organisational habits due to the ADHD that means despite the diagnosis and treatment I’m having to work hard at building good habits. Even replying to Coral’s questions has taken longer than it should have!! But I’m getting there, and so ask me this question in a year’s time and you’ll probably get a different answer.

 

Are you a planner or a “pantser”?

 

I’m a planner to the degree that a story needs a structure. It has to make sense. I keep planning to no more than broad strokes but they’re critical to the story’s success. But the actual writing is organic. Organic like mouldy bread. As mould starts as a spot or two, then swells to a larger spots and eventually grows to cover the plate, so too does my writing, I’ll write a part of the story, then a completely different part, and a different part again. I’ll probably return back to the first text and rewrite it and think it’s much better then do the same somewhere else. Eventually, finally, the narrative grows until the whole story is covered. And then I’ll tweak the whole thing. Actually, I’ll probably end up rewriting parts half a dozen times. So the actual writing is repetitious pantsing, but the primary story line is well planned and generally well researched as well. 

 

Do you find it a challenge to balance life, the day job and writing time?

 

Ah man, don’t we all! It’s virtually impossible. I have two kids, a doctor-wife who works shifts, and way more going on than is healthy. As a result, it’s probably more accurate to call me a part-timer.

 

What are you currently working on?

 

“An A-Z of Murder” – I’m (mostly) taking a break from space elevators for the moment to write my own anthology of murderous short stories. It’s an A-Z because the characters will be created alphabetically. So far I have 4 story lines covering an eBay deal that turns out to be a scam, sibling rivalry (actually between twins) set in 1965, a neighbourhood stalker, a murder on a ship like “The World” whose inhabitants are not resident in any country and therefore under no country’s judicial jurisdiction.

 

What advice would you give to any other budding authors reading this?

 

I’m probably not the best person to ask for about advice, as I don’t have the greatest output, but here’s what I would say: perspective is everything, and moving perspective keeps the reader interested.

Let me elaborate with examples:

The rickety cart bumped its way along the muddy tracks.

Bumping along the muddy tracks, the rickety cart threw around its cursing driver.

Bert cursed the bumping cart that tossed him from side to side, the muddy track making progress difficult.

The man on the hill pulled his cloak tighter around him against the wild wind and watched the rickety cart and cursing driver make its way along the muddy tracks.

The keening wind whistled. Down the side of a rugged hill it tumbled. A muddy path waited at the bottom and the wind turned and danced along this. A bumping cart came down the path. The wind swirled, whipping through its wheels then climbed up to tango around the cursing cart driver.

 

And if perspective is everything, then use of tense is the other everything and great vocab and descriptions are the last everything.

 

Share two interesting facts about yourself.

 

I was charged by a buffalo when on a 5 day canoe safari in the middle of deep bush in Zimbabwe. It stopped 5 metres away. My heart had stopped long before then.

I have two beautiful kids who are amazing and I adore them. I also have two terrible kids who drive me crazy, but I love them. I only have two kids.

 

If you want to check out Towering Yarns vol 1 here’s the links:

Amazon.co.uk link

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Towering-Yarns-Christian-W-Smith-ebook/dp/B07C82HZ3F/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1543619084&sr=8-1&keywords=Towering+Yarns+Volume+1

Amazon.com link

https://www.amazon.com/Towering-Yarns-Space-Elevator-Stories/dp/1981495207/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1543619232&sr=8-1&keywords=towering+yarns+volume+1

 

Alana of Great Lindford published with full permission

Copyright belongs to Mark Grint