Candle

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She put the candle in the window and prayed that her loved ones would come home soon.

 

(In memory of all those lost and injured in the Manchester Arena Bombing on Monday 22nd May 2017)

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Apple

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I knew a girl called Apple once. We went to first school together and I use to admire her from a far. It was more then a crush, I was in love, but I was only seven and didn’t understand all of that. I’d watch her in the playground has she skipped rope or kicked a football.

I’d sneak looks at her in class too, though we sat at opposite ends of the room. She was on the red circle table with the rest of the clever kids. I was on the green square table with the dumb kids. In-between us, I think were yellow triangles, blue rectangles and purple hexagons. Apple liked art, maths and science. The opposite of me as I liked; writing, reading and lunchtime.

Apple was pretty and her clothes were always clean and new. She had fair skin, bright blue eyes and blonde hair which was in two pigtail plaits. She never had any cuts of bruises on her legs and arms. Her socks were shocking white and her black buck shoes shinny. Everyone loved her and wanted to be her friend.

I was the ugly duckling of the class. I was short and fat with choppy black hair and dark brown eyes. All my clothes and shoes were old second hand ones. I seemed to have a new bruise or cut every week thanks to my fighting with my older brothers or the many animals we had. I was always mistaken for a boy too and for many years I believed it was so, even though I was a girl.

I don’t think Apple and I ever talked or played together. We lived in two different worlds and even at that age, I could see that. I was jealous of her, especially when she got invited to parties or when she was giving out invites for her parties. I never got invited to anything, at least I don’t remember if I did.

I spent a lot of school being alone. I had a few friends, but they were too much like me and nothing like Apple, who I wished I could be. I couldn’t find the courage to talk to her though. The fear of being further rejected hung too heavy over me. I hoped maybe we’d be grouped together to do project work or else when the tables were remixed in the new school year, we’d be sat together.

It seemed fate kept us apart and then we moved on to big school, we went to different ones and I never saw Apple again. I hoped and daydreamed I’d see her again. Maybe, she’d transfer to my school or I to her’s? Perhaps, we’d meet again in college or uni? but no, Apple vanished from my world.

She lingers still in my mind though. On nights I can’t sleep when I’m alone in bed because my wife is working away, I think of Apple. I think of what could have been if only we had meet again or when we both had been older. Would Apple have loved me as much as I had loved her?

Voices

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I had always know my son, Caleb was different. How often had I stood at the kitchen window watching him talking and playing with someone who wasn’t there? I had blamed it on imagination. He was an adventurous child, forever wanting to do things and chatting away.

He had a normal up bring. Yes, he was an only child but his father and I were happily married. We did lots of family things together and with both of us being teachers, we had Caleb embrace education. He was perfectly fine in school too, always getting high grades and having lots of friends. He was healthy and loved sports.

Under that though, there had always just been something…

When he was twelve he still had imaginary friends. He could be playing in his bedroom, the garden or at the park and you could hear him talking aloud. It would seem at first he was talking to someone, an adult or another child, but then you just knew he was talking to himself.

‘Who is it you are talking too?’ I asked him one summer’s day.

Caleb was sitting on the lawn, a few toys scattered around him and I was hanging out the washing. It was the summer holidays and though we normally send him to a summer school or camp to be with other children, he had refused to go this year.

He turned to me, a toy tank in his hand and looked up through his choppy fringe which needed cutting.

‘No one,’ he replied.

‘You’re too old for imaginary friends now,’ I pointed out.

‘They’re not imaginary,’ he muttered and went back to playing.

‘Oh, then who are they? Are you on the phone?’ I asked.

‘No. I’m thirsty. Can I have a drink please, mum?’

‘Okay,’ I said slowly.

Pegging the last sock on the line, I walked back into the house. From behind me, I heard Caleb whisper, ‘she’s going now. Tell me more about the War.’

I almost turned around but I didn’t. I made him a glass of orange squash and took it outside. He was playing like a normal child, rolling his tank over the grass and making gun like noises as he reacted a battle with his toy soldiers.

Of course, I then spoke to his father, his teachers, the parents of his friends and they had for years noticed the same thing that I had; Caleb was seemingly talking to someone all the time. The idea that he should’ve grown out of that by now stuck with me and I became determined to figure out what was wrong with him.

Finally two years later, I got him in to see someone from the mental health, but Caleb wouldn’t talk. We had maybe four sessions then that was it. For awhile after, I thought it had worked, he was quiet and sullen, a typical fourteen year old most would say. It wasn’t the truth though.

Instead of finding hidden adult materiel in his room, I began finding notebooks filled with what seemed to be stories and conversations. There was no title or dates, just a run on of writing. The stories covered lots of different time periods. There was one about a WW2 fighter pilot, who was blown out of his plane over Germany spent the rest of the War as a POW. Another, told of a little boy who was tricked into going down into a well and died there when he became trapped.

I put the notebooks back every time and I tried to bring them up in conventions without reveling I knew about them. Caleb shrugged it off, ignoring my suggests that he was interested in writing and journalism.  I had to let it go in the end.

Caleb made it through high school and college. He got top of the class grades and he went on to a good university to study to be a teacher. We were both proud of him. When he moved out though, the house became empty, almost sad like. We got by though. Work kept us both busy and we were looking into fostering and maybe adoption.

The news hit out of no where, almost three years after that, just as Caleb was doing his finals. I was sat in my headmistress’ office, reading emails when the phone rang. I picked it up like normal, thinking it a call from a parent or teacher etc, but it was Caleb’s university tutor telling me that Caleb had been found dead in his student room. He had hung himself three days ago.

A strange feeling went though me, it was like sand slipping through my fingers in slow motion. The tutor’s voice sounded dim and everything around me had begun to fade. I couldn’t think clearly. I dropped the phone and just sat there.

We had to go and pack up his student room. I was running on automatic and so we just moved his stuff back into his bedroom. I just kept thinking that Caleb had moved back in and he was out with his friends. It was months, maybe close to a year before we actually went through all of his things.

Sitting on Caleb’s bedroom floor, sorting things out into piles, my husband and I worked in silence. It was raining heavily outside and the wind was rattling the windows. A storm was on its’ way. I dug through a cardboard box and began pulling things out.

In a handful of notebooks and even in between his uni notes, he had written strange stories and conversations which so reminded me of the notebooks I had found when he was younger. These were not like any stories he had written before though. They were horrible, filled with violence and death.

I found a diary. It was a fake black leather covered A5 size with lined pages for each date. I had never known him to keep one before and as I flipped through the pages, I saw he had written about hearing voices in his head. Some days were blank or he’d simple put;

I didn’t hear any voices today. 

On other days he had written things like;

A voice told me a new story today. I wrote it down, like I do with all of them. These voices are more then just those of fiction characters. They are so real. Maybe they are ghosts? I’ve never believed in that though. But how else can they be explained? 

Then about four months before his death, I found this;

The voices were bad today. I have one at the moment that keeps telling me to kill myself. I’m fighting it like I do with all the others but it’s so strong. It doesn’t seem to have a story or talk to me like the others. It questions if I’m good enough and what’s the point and that every will be better if I just pick up the knife and bleed.

I shall try to contain it. I know what the voice is saying is wrong.

Two months later, Caleb had wrote;

The “suicidal voice” has gotten worse. I can’t sleep and I’m not eating much. The voice has taken over and it’s constantly whispering to me. It tells me over and over to kill myself. It says pain is good and so is blood. My life is pointless, I’m useless, nobody loves me or wants me. I can’t think of anything else but that voice.

All the other voices have gone now. They have vanished and even if I try to think about them and speak to them, I can’t. The “suicidal voice” blocks them all. I don’t know what to do. I need to tell someone. I need help. But what can I say? I’ve been hearing voices all my life, Doctor and now I’ve got this voice repeatedly telling me to kill myself. No one will believe me!

I felt tears running down my face. My husband was saying my name but I ignored him and turned to the last page my son had written on. He had put;

I can’t cope any more! Everything I’ve tried hasn’t worked! Listening to the voice is the only choice I’ve got now. I’m going to do it tonight. 

I pressed the pages to my face and burst into tears. My son had been a schizophrenic and no one had ever known about it.

(Story inspired by local research into hearing voices at Manchester University  https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/projectdetails/?ID=3083)

Child

It was time. Elisabeth knew she had to do it, but she just didn’t know if she’d find the strength. Standing just inside the nursery room, she looked around and took in all the bright and pretty toys. There were so many things!

In pride of place was the dappled rocking horse with all his red leather tack. The doll’s house took up the left far corner, under the curtained window. The red bricked front tightly shut away, but inside was wonderful collection of fully fitted rooms for the china dolls to roam through.

There were soft toys and wooden toys gathered about. Books on a small bookshelf and other child size furniture; a desk, a chair, a sofa. A tea set all laid out on a circle table and dolls seated at the chairs as if they were really about to take tea. Everything was ready to be played with and you could almost hear the voices and laughter of children on the air.

Elisabeth sigh and thought about what should have been. She dropped her head and turned from the room. Her dark blue dress rustling about her. Her eyes caught those of the elderly housekeeper, who was waiting with dust sheets and the ring of house keys.

‘My Lady,’ the housekeeper spoke, ‘it will be open again before you know it.’

Elisabeth held her head high, trying not to show any of her grief. She swept passed the woman and went along the corridor and up the next flight of stairs to her room. Once there and with the door locked behind her, Elisabeth sank onto the bed and crumpled a child’s nightdress into her lap.

Tears began falling, thick and fast. Elisabeth buried her face into the nightdress and cried until exhausted, she lay down in bed and fell asleep.

 

(Inspired by: https://scvincent.com/2017/04/27/thursday-photo-prompt-child-writephoto/ with thanks)

Postcard #33

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Dear Rebecca,

I hope you are well. Today the flower sellers have been out in force! I have seen stalls and girls with baskets at every street corner. The air breaths with the scent of flowers. This is a true sign that spring here. I did think of sending you flowers, but I fear they won’t make the journey. Instead, this pretty postcard will have to do. I promise next time I am home to send you so many flowers your house will over flow with them!

Yours always, William.

Vellichor #atozchallenge

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Vellichor; the strange wistfulness of used bookstores.

What is it about used book shops? You go, you browse, you pick up a few books, you read a few pages, sometimes you buy book/s and other times you don’t. You might stay for coffee if they  have a cafe. It’s a meeting place, a talking point, a land of discovery.

You like the smells that whiffed from the shelves; old ink, yellowing pages, dusty attic, dampness and salty tang. You like running your fingers over cracked spines and flattened leather. You like pulling random books out and seeing what they are. You wonder who the previous owner/s and why they give this book up.

You enjoy a good mystery and there is always just more then the story inside to be had. You adore supernatural and horror too; ghosts give you chills and vampires have you shaking at your knees. You love adventures to far off lands or under deep seas or high in the sky. Science fiction always makes you ponder if this is what the future will really look like even though it’s your less favourite.

If you could you’d live in the used book shops. In fact, your home is slowly turning into one. Your bedroom is floor to ceiling with books! You’ve read most of them, but there are others still waiting to be read and still you go to the used book shop to see more. It’s an addiction, a terrible terrible addiction and yet, its harmless.

Somnambulist (Part 2) #atozchallenge

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Somnambulist; a person who sleepwalks.

As soon as they were done eating, Chase tidied up and Faith dug a paperback romance novel out and began reading it. The camping lanterns glowed softly, casting just enough light to see by. The night was growing cold though and Chase wished they had matches.

‘I’m going to check again,’ he announced as he left things to dry.

Faith looked up at him, slight confusion on her face.

‘For the matches,’ Chase explained, ‘maybe I just missed them?’

‘Okay. I’m going into my sleeping bag. To get warm,’ Faith spoke.

Chase nodded and went over to the tent. He unzipped it and began looking through the bags again. Faith brushed past him, wiggling out of her boots as she did so. Chase heard her moving things around and the air bed squeaking.

‘I know I packed them,’ he muttered.

Faith sighed and said, ‘forget it. Come to bed. We’ll keep each other warm.’

‘It’s still early,’ Chase pointed out.

‘You got any better ideas?’ she snapped.

Biting his tongue to keep silent, Chase grabbed the other lantern and arranged it next to the one Faith had brought inside, so that they had a large pool of light. He zipped up the tent and took his trainers off.

Not being a reader, he hadn’t brought anything to do and he felt too awake to sleep. He changed clothes, noticing that Faith hadn’t bothered to get out of her jeans and hoodie. Chase put on some PJs pants and an old Star Wars t-shirt then got into his sleeping bag.

‘I guess we are going home tomorrow, then?’ he asked slowly.

Faith glared at him over the top of her book, ‘Looks that way,’ she answered.

‘I’m sorry, okay? I wanted to have a break from things and money is so tight right now, I thought this would be a good idea. If I’d remembered the matches it would be fine. What else can I do?’ Chase demand.

Faith was silent for a few moments. She turned a page then put down her book to look at him, ‘I don’t know what you can do, Chase. I knew this was a bad idea from the start. What’s wrong with another weekend in anyway? I’m too tried to fight about this now. I’m going to sleep.’

‘Well, I can’t!’

‘Here then, read this,’ Faith stated and handed him her book.

She turned off the lantern next to her and rolled over.

Chase took the hint and began flicking through the book. It was a simple romance story of a lonely girl meeting a heart throb man and the two of them slowly falling in love. Chase turned back to the began and read the first few pages.

‘This is boring. How can you read this?’ Chase muttered.

Faith hushed him and snuggled more down in the sleeping bag.

‘Guess I got nothing better to do.’

Chase turned another page and read a good few chapters. The story still not grabbing him, but at least it had made him tried enough to try and sleep. Putting the book down close to Faith, he turned out the lantern and drew her into a hug.

Faith, who had been dozing on and off, shuffled about so they could be comfy together. She sighed into his arm and fell asleep soon after. It took longer for Chase, but being warm and comfy helped and he dozed off.

Chase came slowly too, fighting to stay asleep, but he didn’t make it. Opening his eyes, he looked into pitch blackness. He wondered what had awoken him then realised he had to go. Growling, he fumbled in the dark for his trainers, put them on and felt for the tent zip.

Letting himself out of the tent, Chase grabbed a lantern and went out into the woods. He turned the light on and found the nearest tree. A cold wind blew around him, stealing away the warmth from the tent. Setting the lantern down, so the light pooled around the tree roots, he relieved himself.

Collecting the lantern, he headed back into the tent. Pulling his trainers off, he turned the light off and snuggled back down with Faith. His hands sank through her empty sleeping bag.

Puzzled, he felt further to the side, but he found nothing. Chase grabbed and turned on the lantern again. Light shone down, showing him that Faith wasn’t inside the tent.

Maybe, she went out too? he thought.

Looking around, he spotted the other lantern and her boots which she clearly hadn’t taken. Chase unzipped the tent and standing on the edge, shone the lantern around. Faith wouldn’t have gone far. She clearly, trusted herself to find the way back more then he had.

She disturbed me going out, Chase thought, maybe she was so desperate she didn’t have time to grab her things? She’ll be back any moment now.

Watching out for her, Chase studied the shadows that the light was casting over the grass and trees. Trying not to think what was further out there in the darkness, he debated what to do.

Shrugging, he placed the lantern down outside of the tent, left the half unzipped and climbed back into bed. At least, Faith would be able to see the light now. Settling down, Chase fell into fitful dozing. An hour or so later, he awoke and saw Faith’s sleeping bag was still empty.

Panic floored him.

‘Faith?’ he cried out.

Scrambling, Chase put on his trainers and grabbed the other lantern. He unzipped the tent and got out. Leaving the first light as a beacon, he scouted the edge of the clearing calling his girlfriend’s name.

He heard and saw nothing.

Ploughing further into the woods, he roamed a large area. Low branches scrapped his face and arms, he stumbled over half hidden tree roots and startled small animals. He switched from shouting her name to screaming it. He tripped through a patch of brambles, feeling thorns snag on his pants. He tugged himself loose and hurried down to the river.

In the lantern light, he could see the shallow water slowly moving over large rocks. He walked downwards for a few minutes then turned and walked back up. He looked as far as he could and checked the other side of the river too. There was no sign of her or anything else that indicted she had been here.

‘Faith,’ he yelled, his voice growing horse, ‘where are you?’

Pausing, he caught his breath and tried to calm himself. Ideas about what had happened raced through his mind. Had she fallen and gotten hurt? Had someone kidnapped her? Had she really got lost in the woods?

Chase wiped his face, feeling his cheek wet with tears. He calmed himself and decided to check back at the tent. If Faith wasn’t there, he could take the car until he got signal on his phone then he could call the police. Heading back, he kept a look out, but tiredness had hit him.

Half way back to the tent, he heard the sound of voices and laughter. He stopped and listened hard. Turning to his right, he walked slowly over. The voices grew then as he got closer they fell silent. He paused then heard Faith’s voice saying something.

Crying out her name, he pushed through the undergrowth and saw Faith sit on the floor, with her back to a tree.

‘Faith? What happened? Are you okay? I’ve been looking everywhere for you!’ Chase gushed.

He knelt down before her and began checking her out. She seemed unhurt. There was a dreamily look on her face and her eyes were shut.

Chase shook her, but she didn’t respond.

‘Faith?’ he called.

He pulled her into a hard hug, feeling at a total loss. Barely holding back tears, he tried to figure things out, but he couldn’t.

‘Chase?’ a breathy voice whispered in his ear.

‘Yes?’ he said, pulling back from Faith.

‘Where are we?’

Chase looked at her. Faith’s eyes were half opening and she was struggling to stay awake and move.

‘In the woods. You left the tent and I’ve been looking for you,’ he explained.

‘I don’t remember….I was having this strange dream about fairies…’ Faith uttered.

She shut her eyes and lent against him, exhausted.

‘It’s okay. I got you now. Do you think you can get up?’

Faith mumbled something and Chase pulled her up.

‘Let’s go back to the tent. You’ll feel better soon,’ he added.

Grabbing the lantern, they slowly made their way back and once there, Chase put Faith to bed and spent the rest of the night watching over her.

Somnambulist (Part 1) #atozchallenge

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Somnambulist; a person who sleepwalks.  

Hammering the last of the tent pegs into the soft ground, Chase felt glad to finally have put up the four man tent. Sitting back on on his heels, he made sure the tent wire was tight and the peg firmly in. The thin rope give off a high pitch twang as he flicked it. Nodding, he got up, mallet slowly swinging in an arm that had gone numb with the strain of working.

‘Tent’s up!’ he called cheerfully.

He walked back around and saw his girlfriend building a fire a good few meters away. She had made a rock circle and was now building up a pyramid of branches. An range of camping things were around her as if she been searching through them.

‘You okay, Faith?’ Chase asked.

‘I can’t find the matches. You did pack them right?’ she said over her shoulder.

‘Yes. They were on your list.’

Faith pulled a face and turned to carry on building the fire, ‘You better find them.’

Chase put the mallet back in the tent bag and came to her side. He began searching through the bags. Everything had been in order, but Faith had messed things up. He found the pots and pans, the BBQ stuff, beach towels, tins of cola and clothes.

‘They’re not there are they?’ Faith said, sounding smug.

‘They might be in the car,’ Chase answered.

Leaving things more of a mess, he walked back to the  small red car, which they had parked just out of view in the shade of the trees. The clearing they where in was a jagged circle shape, boarded by tall trees. It was a sheltered spot but very accessible by the little road that ran straight through it from the main one. The clearing was a well known camping area, but most people came in summer or the warm nights of autumn.

Chase had decided that April would be warm and dry enough for this little get away. As he opened the car door though, he had his third doubting moment.

If there are no matches, we’ll have go home. Sure we can do without them, but cold meals? And if it gets colder later? Faith won’t like that. Maybe we could stay the night? I don’t want to take the tent down now I just got it up, thought Chase.

He began rummaging in the car. Hoping that the matches had fallen out or he’d put them somewhere safe before they left. Finding nothing, he double checked everywhere. Maybe, they had slipped down the seats? Maybe, they had gotten to the back of the glove box? Under the foot mats?

Nothing. Sighing, he stood up. Closing everything and locking the car, he went back to Faith.

‘I can’t find them,’ he announced.

Faith sighed deeply and tossed the last of the wood down. She got to her feet, cleaning her hands on the knees of her jeans.

‘You better get rubbing two sticks together then,’ she stated.

Chase shrugged and replied, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’

‘I’ll sort and put things away,’ Faith added.

Chase sat down and began looking for two sticks that would be suitable. Faith collected the bags and began moving stuff into the tent. Around them, a gentle breeze shook the newly leafing trees, birds sing the last songs of the day and the sky was turning dusky. Hardly anything else could be heard, even if a car drove past, the road was a good few miles away so the sound was faint.

After a good few minutes of rubbing sticks and trying to make sparks with stones, Chase give up. He sprawled out over the just dry grass, exhausted. He shut his eyes and tried to think of what to do.

It’s not the end of the world. We have camping lights and cold food we can eat. Can’t cook meat though…or heat up marshmallows. 

‘Have you given up?’ Faith’s voice cut into his thoughts, ‘I’m going to the stream to get water. It’s all ready going dark. So decided what we are eating.’

Chase opened his eyes and raised himself on his elbows. Faith was framed nicely by the dusky pink sky. She looked dirty and tried though.

‘Fine…This isn’t the romantic weekend I had planned,’ Chase responded.

‘That would have been a hotel,’ Faith uttered.

Chase heard her, but he let it go. It was an on going argument, he had given up on.

‘Want a hand?’ he said instead.

‘No,’ Faith declared.

She grabbed the things she needed and stalked off. Chase flopped back on the grass and watched the sky turn into twilight. After a few minutes, he got up and dusted himself down. He walked over to the tent and saw that Faith had all ready pumped up the double air bed. She had put the sleeping bags and pillows on too, making the bed look inviting. 

At the foot of bed, Faith had put the other bags and suitcases. Chase started looking through them then remember that all the food was in the car. Grabbing a tin of cola, he opened it and walked over to the tree line. 

The wind picked up, shaking the trees and the bird song died. Chase paused, feeling a chill across his bare arms. He frowned and glanced around, but he couldn’t spot anything. 

Night has arrived, he thought. 

He went to the car and got out things to make sandwiches and the picnic snacks. He went back to the tent and picked up the camping lanterns. He turned them on and set them by both sides of the tent door. He got making sandwiches. By the time he had put things together for a simple cold meal, Faith arrived back with a bucket of water and another bucket filled with water bottles. 

‘Dinner’s ready,’ Chase declared. 

‘Thanks,’ Faith said, she placed the buckets down next to the abandoned stack of wood and joined him. 

Chase handed her a plastic plate filled with tasty things then started to eat his sandwich. 

‘Chase, have you been here this whole time?’ Faith asked slowly.

‘Yep,’ he replied around a chunk of sandwich, ‘why?’

‘Whilst I was getting the water, I felt like someone was watching me and then after, when I went to….I heard whispering.’ 

Chase paused and looked at her. Faith’s face was full of puzzlement and she hadn’t touched her food. 

‘I called out and there was nothing. I looked around, but I didn’t find anything,’ Faith added. 

‘It wasn’t me and nothing happened here,’ Chase pointed out. 

Faith nodded and began eating. 

To Be Continued…

Opia #atozchallenge

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Opia; the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.

He was holding me tightly and I was staring into his brown eyes trying to decide what to do. I felt a weird mixture of emotions and too much was tumbling through my mind to focus. I knew I should say something, but the words wouldn’t form.

His eyes were so intense with the weight of the question that I felt vulnerable. What would he do if I said the wrong thing? I couldn’t think of that. However, I couldn’t think of an answer either.

I took a deep breath and tried to break eye contact with him. I just needed a moment without his gaze. Would he see that as a wrong move though? Catching myself just in time, I wondered what was really holding me back from answering him.

There were too many things….What did I want though? I bit my lip, juggling the words on my tongue. It could only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’ that I squeezed out. My heart knew the right one to say, but my head said the opposite.

Whatever I picked, it would change both our lives.

‘Well?’ he said, finally crumbling at the long wait.

I took a deep breath and hoping I said the right thing, I replied, ‘I love you too.’

Logophile #atozchallenge

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Logophile; a lover of words.

He loved words. They were his passion, life, work and ultimately his untimely death.