Hungry

The meal had been cooked to perfection.

For hours now I’ve been slaving away in the kitchen, washing, chopping, steaming, cooking and roasting. Now, at last, it’s ready. The table is laid and the drinks poured. The joint of beef sits proudly in the center of the table, glistening with herbs. The smell is delicious. I scan the table for anything I’ve missed, then call up the stairs;

“It’s lunchtime!”

By the time I’ve walked round the table and taken my seat, I can hear the thunderous footsteps of the twins racing down the stairs. Charlie bursts in first, with Dan hot on his heels. They laugh breathlessly and throw themselves into their seats, talking and joking raucously.

Those boys, I think, partly in amusement and partly in bewilderment. Where do they find all their energy?

The heavy tred of my husband comes down the hallway from his study. As he enters, he sniffs appreciatingly and smiles.

“This looks wonderful, Mary.”

A smile springs to my lips. “Thanks.”

He takes his place, pulls the joint towards him and carefully begins carving the meat. The twins begin to bicker about who was going to get the biggest piece.

The last seat at the table remains empty.

“Where’s Andria?” I ask over the twins argument.

My husband raises his head from his carving, and pulls a ‘I don’t know,’ face. The twins shrug. “In her room?” Dan suggests.

“I’ll go get her!” Charlie exclaims.

“No, I will!”

“I said first!”

I interject before it turns into another argument.

“Charlie, you go.”

He jumps up triumphantly and rushes from the room and up the stairs.

Dan turns his puppy eyes on me. “Awww, Mum!”

I smile inwardly and give him the plate with the largest slice of meat to shut him up. It works.

Moments later, Charlie charges down the stairs and sits back down. Andria follows more sedately, sitting down noiselessly. I notice she’s wearing a large knitted jumper despite the temperature. I pass over her plate and fill my own with potatoes, carrots and peas.

Soon everyone is piling their plates, passing round the gravy dish and digging in. Charlie begins talking about some football game he and Dan are in next weekend, with my husband occasionally interjecting with questions.

I turn to Andria and watch as she cuts her meat into smaller and smaller pieces.

“Hey, aren’t you hungry?”

She glances up, then continues to stare at her place. “Not really.”

“But Sunday roast is your favourite!”

Her voice has an edge to it I don’t understand. She sounds… defensive. Almost angry. “Yeah, well, not today.”

I watch her in silence, my brow creased. What’s wrong? Why is she upset?

“Are feeling okay?” I ask quietly.

“Yes,  Mum, I’m fine!” She says, and now the anger in her voice is unmistakable.

I raise my eyebrows. “Don’t bite my head off, I was just wondering why you aren’t eating your favourite meal-”

“For goodness sake!” She says loudly, standing up.  “I’m just not hungry! Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?”

The conversation grounds to a halt and four pairs of eyes stare at Andria. I look closer at her, and my thoughts start travelling on a path I don’t like.

Baggy jumpers. Cutting up her food. “I’m not hungry.” And other things as well… changing from packed lunch to school dinners. Going to other friends houses for tea. Going out running every night, on top of Gymnastic training. Weighing herself. Looking in the mirror all the time. And how quiet she’s become…

How can I have missed this? How can I have been so blind?

I stand up slowly and look her in the eye. I feel like I’m seeing her for the first time. Her cheeks are concave,  slightly hollow, making her look gaunt and a little skull-like. Her hands, in fists by her sides, are so bony I can count her tendons and her wrists are worryingly thin. The silence in the room is ringing in my ears. I hold onto my chair to keep upright.

“Honey… Are you eating normally?”

For a moment I think I’m wrong and my heart flutters with relief.

Then I see the anxiety flood into her eyes. Her face creases like a paper bag left in the rain and she begins to cry. I go to her and hold her in my arms, sorrow like an undigested meal lying heavy in my stomach. I stroke her hair as she sobs, wishing that now we had found out it would all be over… but knowing that this was only the beginning.

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Introvert

Sometimes

I feel most alone when I am surrounded by my friends

And find that I can only be happy

When I am by myself.

Drawing Credit

Midnight Train Station

The train station is as brightly lit up as a shop display and running like clockwork. An announcement drifts across the platforms and, minuites later, a trains sweeps in and hisses to a halt. Everything is running perfectly.

But there isn’t a soul there.

The empty trains arrive and the exausted doors wheeze open then stand, for minuites on end, waiting for passengers that will never climb on. A rusty ‘way out’ sign creaks very slowly back and forth. The vending machines stand like sentry guards, their tired rows of unwanted chocolates illuminated for no-one to see. A disembodied voice echoes forlornly in the silence, reminding passengers not to leave their baggage unattended. Litter scrapes across the concrete, swirling in mini cyclones, propelled by wind from a passing train; a train with row upon row of empty seats.

It’s a ghost town, with trains full of nothing but air.

Ghost

The worst thing is, I can’t tell them. I’ve become a ghost. I’m watching them, all of them, and even though it breaks my heart I can’t stop. And every time I see their faces, hear the terrible sadness in the words, I want to tell them everything. I want them to see me and know.

Is this selfish, or very selfless? If I’ve saved their lives but at the cost of terrible pain, was it worth it? I just don’t know anymore. I wish I could find that perfect certainty again; but ever since I chose this path, I’ve done nothing but doubt.

I feel like I’m underwater; I can’t tell which way is up and which is down. I’m living off them but their pain is killing me. I can’t cope with much more of this.

Soon, perhaps, I will stop haunting them and let them live the best way they can. More than anything else, I just wish I could tell them how sorry I am.

Her Final Dance

The bullet hit her directly between her shoulder blades.

She arched her back, her head thrown back and her mouth open in a soundless scream.

Her shoulders snapped back unnaturally, her arms bent the wrong way and her fingers splayed.

She tried to walk but her knees were buckling. She rose up on tiptoe, silhouetted against the bright city, standing tall and proud for the last time.

Her vision blurred. The yellow streetlights turned into floating circles, swimming in her foggy vision.

She fell slowly, her knees hitting the ground first, and then her stomach and her arms. Her head bounced once, and then was still.

A dark stain was spreading across her t-shirt. The cars roared by, their headlights flashing on her body. The noise of a thousand vehicles was deafening.

But not a single car stopped.

Sleeping Beauty

She looks beautiful.

Her lips are small, heart shaped and a soft pink colour that reminds me of my grandmothers’ roses. She’s smiling slightly, as though she’s having happy dreams. Her eyes are closed, her dark lashes standing out against porcelain white skin. A faint blush rests on her sharply defined cheekbones.

She is beautiful.

She looks like she’s asleep, as though any moment, she could wake up and smile, and we could talk together again. But she doesn’t wake. She’ll never wake. This is no ordinary slumber.

Everyday I’ve been to see her. Everyday she’s been trapped in this cursed sleep. I’ve sat and watched as her skin has turned as white as a ghost and her cheek have hollowed. She’s lost so much of her vitality that she’s barely recognisable as herself. And today is the last day. The last visit.

Behind me, the door opens with a familiar swish. I turn. A young man, the Doctor, is guiding her parents into the room. Her mother has snail trails of tears shimmering on her cheeks but she looks remarkably controlled. Her father’s fingers are shaking like a miniature earthquake and he keeps swallowing, his large Adams apple bobbing curtsies. In his eyes I see the pain I feel reflected back at me. He’s trying not to cry. My heart goes out to them both. Losing a girlfriend is one thing, but losing your only daughter…

“I’ll give you some time to say goodbye,” the Doctor says gently, then steps back to give us some space.

Her mother reaches out and squeezes her daughters’ hand. She tries to smile but her mouth won’t obey. Weariness is evident in her face, her hunched back, the exhausted way she holds herself. She looks old. Bending down, she kisses her daughter on the forehead, as delicately as a butterfly.

“I love you, my sleeping beauty,” she whispers brokenly. Then she straightens and moves away for her husband.

He gazes down at his beautiful daughter, his face drowning in sorrow. Sitting down on the hospital bed, he puts a hand on her shoulder. Trying to speak, the words refuse to come. Swallowing, he says gruffly, “Goodbye, kiddo.”

Then he loses control and the tears torrent out of him, spilling down his cheeks. He lets them come. His shoulders shake but he stays deathly silent. I shiver – there’s nothing more terrifying than seeing a grown man cry. His wife puts an arm around his shoulders.

“Come on,” she says coaxingly. He is carefully led out the room. The Doctor follows and I watch them talking. After a moment, they seem to reach a decision and the Doctor comes back inside.

“Her parents didn’t want to watch. Do you want to stay?” I nod, not trusting myself to speak. I expected him to chuck me out. A rush of gratitude floods through me and for a moment my legs feel so weak I can barely stand.

I look down at her. I know that everyone has dismissed her as dead, but I’ve never let myself believe that. Every day I’ve come and I’ve waited for her to wake up. But today, they’re turning off the life support. It seems too soon, far too soon, and I suddenly realise that I never said goodbye.

Leaning down, I kiss her on the lips, careful not to disturb her. She smells of memories, of hot summer days and laughter: a reckless kind of happiness. She smells of her own sweet perfume. She smells of home.

My throat tightens and my eyes are burning like they’re full of acid. Her face is beginning to blur, swimming dizzily before me. But through the veil of water obscuring my vision, I could have sworn that I saw…

“Stop!” I shout. The Doctor jumps and turns around. His finger is hovering over the power button. “Don’t, I just saw her move!”

He looks at me pityingly. “I’m sorry, but she’s suffering grade six brain damage. There’s no way she could move, it’s imposs-“

He breaks off with a strangled gasp, pointing a wavering finger at her sleeping body.

“She did move!” He said disbelievingly.

“Quick, get her parents!” I order.

The Doctor runs so fast that he trips over an oxygen tank.

I look down at her, waiting, breathless.

Her eyes move slightly under her eyelids. Her mouth opens, just a fraction. Then her fingers twitch and her breathing quickens, her chest rising and falling the ebb and flow of the tide. I cling to her bed so tightly my knuckles turn snow-white.

Her mouth opens fully, she shakes her head, her hands clutch the bed sheet…

…And she opens her eyes.

Nothing could have prepared me for this. Everyone thought she was dead, that her brain had turned into baby food, that she would never be conscious again. But her eyes shine like stars and she pushes herself up into a sitting position. She’s not just awake, she’s alive. I’d forgotten how beautiful her eyes were. A slice of sky must’ve fallen and been caught between her dark lashes.

“Kyle,” She murmurs, and reached out her arms to me. I hug her fiercely, promising myself that no matter what happens, I’ll never let go of her again.

“We thought you were dead!” I whisper, emotion breaking my voice in half.

The door swishes open and her parents gasp loudly. “You’re awake!” Her father cries. They run to her bedside and promptly begin to smother her in kisses. The Doctor comes back in, followed by another medic in scrubs who seems to be his superior.

“…for twelve months, a level six coma, little or no reaction to outside stimuli, and then she wakes up! Never seen anything like it.” He takes the clip chart from the end of her bed. Flipping through it, his caterpillar eyebrows fly upwards.

“This is a miracle.”

The Doctor echoes his words. “A medical miracle.”

“What happened?” Her father asks in a shocked voice.

“I kissed her! I kissed her, and she woke up!” I exclaim. She smiles at me and I feel a hot ache in my chest that’s part pain, part pleasure. “He’s right, he woke me up.” She says seriously. “I felt it. The kiss. I felt like I was underwater, and it pulled me up.” Her mother brushes a stray lock of hair from her forehead.

“My sleeping beauty. My darling sleeping beauty. You are awake at last.”

Life and Death and Adorable Pets

Blood-Red Leaves

The forest was blood-red. The leaves in the trees had turned burgundy and they covered the ground like a red carpet. It was unnaturally silent: no birds sang from the treetops, no animals rustled in the undergrowth. Only the fingers of the black trees twitched, and the blood-red leaves clinging to the dark branches swayed eerily.

I walked slowly through the forest, trying to keep as quiet as possible. Not that it’ll make any difference, I reminded myself. She already knows I’m here. I shivered and wrapped my arms across my chest.

There was no path to follow. The trees closed in overhead, their fingers and blood-red leaves blocking out the sunlight. I carried on walking, knowing that if she wanted to talk to me, she’d choose somewhere where she could easily trap me. Sure enough, after a couple more minutes, I stumbled across a small clearing.

Brown grass, covered in the dying red leaves, grew wild. Although the trees were leaning in, their branches stretching over the clearing, none grew inside the grassy expanse. It was empty apart from a gnarled tree stump in the centre. I walked over and sat down. The minutes stretched by like years and I was beginning to think that she would keep me here until I was old and grey when a voice echoed through the woods.

It seemed to come from everywhere at once. It hissed through the leaves like wind, rumbled through the ground like thunder. The voice was as old as forever and as youthful as a child. Her voice was wise and cruel and clever and bitter and my heart pounded at the sound of it. It was her.

“You dare enter my dominion?” She thundered furiously. “Before I kill you, tell me why you dared to set foot in my forest.”

My hands were trembling like a miniature earthquake, so I sat on them. “Please, good lady, I come to beg your help.” I said, wishing my voice wouldn’t quaver like a child’s’.

This time her voice came from behind me. It was quieter and but several hundred degrees colder. “If I agree, what will you offer me in exchange for this?”

I didn’t turn around. Speaking to the trees, I answered, “My lady, I do not have much, but I can offer you my money. I have over two thousand denra at home and I would be very happy for-”

“What need do I have for human money?” she cried mockingly. “Your useless lumps of metal are worthless!” Her spiteful laughter made the trees shake. The groans of the tree branches filled the air. I sat dead still on the tree stump, shivering. I have nothing to bargain with. She will surely kill me!

The trees grew still again and the unnatural silence stretched onwards. I strained to hear her, wondering if she was creeping up on me so she could kill me. I wanted to turn around, but I was frozen with fear. Suddenly, she hissed in my ear, making me jump. “I crave something far deeper than wealth.” She paused tantalizingly, enjoying my fear. “I will help you, but only if you give me yourself in return.”

“Myself?” I asked, terror restricting my throat. She was right behind me! I wanted to turn around but I couldn’t move.

“Yes…” She hissed. Her hand landed on my shoulder, imprisoning me. Her nails dug deep into my skin. “Give me your soul, and I will give you what you want.”

I hesitated. I needed help so desperately, I was willing to do anything… but my soul? Was it worth it? Doubt filled me and I was about to refuse when a shrewd little voice spoke up. If you don’t give her what she wants, you won’t leave here alive. If you are to die, at least get her help in the process.  I tried to speak but my mouth was bone dry so I nodded instead.

“Good.” She breathed. I could almost see her cruel smile. Her cold fingers stroked my cheek, her nails scratching my skin. “Now run home, little human, and you’ll find the help you needed has already arrived.”

I didn’t hesitate. Everything inside of me wanted to get away from her as quickly as I could. I jumped up and speed towards the edge of the clearing. But before I plunged into the forest I stopped. I don’t know what it was, but something in me made me turn and look back. Maybe I just wanted to see her. Maybe I wanted to show her I wasn’t afraid. Whatever it was, it made me turn and look at the clearing.

But the clearing was empty. The gnarled tree stump sat in the centre, alone. I frowned, looking closer, not believing that she could disappear that fast. Then I saw the darkness under the blood-red trees and froze. The shape was tall, taller than me, and barely recognisable as a person. The shadow shifted slightly and I caught a glimpse of scaled skin, talons for hands. Evil seemed to seep from it the darkness like a foul smell. The temperature dropped and I shivered in the sudden dark.

Fear clenched a fist around my throat. My feet seemed to have turned to stone.

Then the darkness hissed, in a voice that was absolutely devoid of humanity, “I will collect my payment at the next full moon.”

I turned and fled.

His Restless Nature

 

He is restless

Constantly in motion

Like smoke billowing through the air

Never still: twisting, contorting

Fleeing one second, attacking the next

As changeable as the wind

Creating flawless works of art with a flick of his fingers:

Goddesses, and elves, and water-nymphs

Their long-lashed eyes gazing down from the heavens…

But only for a heartbeat, a snapshot:

Before they become boring, and torn to shreds

By his own restless nature

Moving on, moving away

Fleeing from himself

Leaving behind scraps of beauty:

A glimpse, perhaps,

Of what he could do, of what he could become

If only his head

Was not stuck in the clouds.

Unease

There once was a young girl, who lived a perfectly ordinary, simple and nondescript life. She woke alone, she ate alone, she worked alone, and she went to sleep in a vast, empty bed. She thought that she was perfectly happy and content.

But one day, as she sat spinning wool, she realised that she felt uneasy. A feeling, a tiny thought, had crept inside her. It was small, vague, like a mist over her mind. She carried on spinning, trying to dismiss the niggling doubt, and for a while she was able to ignore it.

That night, as she lay in bed, the feeling returned with more strength. It slipped inside her and took root. It was unease: a strange feeling that something was wrong, but not knowing what. Nothing is worse than an unnameable fear. She stared up at the ceiling, wishing she could fall asleep and escape. But even when she did slip away, her dreams were full of darkness.

As the days went by, the feeling didn’t leave her. It grew and intensified and became an obsession. A sentence kept coming into her head, pounding endlessly through her brain until it became a constant rhythm drumming in the background:  Something is wrong! Something is wrong!

It was strongest when she was idle, so she busied herself around her small two-roomed house. She washed and cleaned and tided and dusted until her house was cleaner than it had ever been; but the foreboding remained. It wasn’t a small thought in the back of her mind: it was in her body, her stomach, her bones. It was everywhere and everything and in every corner of her mind.

In one of her calmer moments, she sensed something above the terrible unease. It’s as though there’s a storm on the horizon: something is coming. Something is about to snap.

Her life stopped. She barely slept. She didn’t eat. She spun wool like a mad woman, driving the wheel so fast it blurred out of sight. She paced up and down, up and down her small house. Every night she tossed and turned dozed fitfully, sobbing in her sleep. Her skin appeared to shrink, sharply defining her bones. Her young face looked gaunt and haunted in the mirror. The terrible unease filled her and consumed her and drove her to the edge of despair.

One night, when the moon was especially bright, she lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling. She was desperately unhappy; she couldn’t escape the awful feelings any more. They had possessed her.

Weak and exhausted, she tossed and turned through the night. In her broken state, it was easy for a fever to sneak past her fallen defences and force itself into her body. She tossed and turned and sweated and moaned until there was nothing left…

…Nothing at all.

She sat up. For the first time in weeks, she didn’t feel uneasy. She felt nothing. She was absolutely numb, and as empty as a burst balloon. She stood up and walked through her immaculate house in a daze. Her eyes were unfocused, staring straight ahead at nothing.

All the time she’d spent cleaning and tidying, all the years she’d lived in her small house: but now she felt nothing for it. She no longer cared. She unlocked the door and walked out, leaving the door wide open and the key still in the lock.

Barefoot, and wearing only a thin nighty, she walked. The moon was round and incredibly bright, like a silver penny suspended among the stars. The world felt unreal, like a painting: totally still and silent, painted in only two colours: silver moonlight and black shadow. Nothing moved and she began to feel that none of this was real: that if she reached out to touch a tree, it was dissolve into smoke in her hands. The thought made her shiver and she increased her pace slightly.

She walked and walked, at first through streets and past dark houses, and then out into the wilderness, over hills and forests and grasslands. She walked without pausing, without resting, a steady trot onwards to nowhere.

Faintly, through her numbness, a thought arose… something is wrong with Time. It’s stopped. She wondered how long she’d been walking for. Followed by another; or perhaps Time is flying past so quickly that it only appears to be staying still.

She continued walking through the unchanging world. The silence was beginning to get to her. There was no breeze to move the trees, no people awake to talk, and no dogs to howl or bark. It was days, or perhaps years, until feeling came back to her. A tiny crack opened in the fog of numbness, and through it came a faint feeling that her journey was almost at an end. Relief, satisfaction, and a weary ache. Some time after this, she came across a little house. Instantly, she knew that this was what she had been searching for.

She had walked past hundreds of houses on her never-ending journey, but in each the windows were dark and shadows seemed to spill from the doorways, like black breath being exhaled from cavernous mouths. She had hurried on past them, uncaring. But this house was different.

The door had been flung open and warm, golden light spilled through. All the windows were lit up, light spilling from every pore of the house. The small crack in her fog of indifference widened, lengthened, was joined by multitudes more; and then, in one great mighty rush, the numbness and emptiness that had been constricting her fell away, and a rush of gladness filled her. The force of the emotion was so great that she stopped in her tracks.

Free! She thought with joy. She embraced her emotions, remembering the unique touch of each of them. Taking another step, she winced. Mentally examining her body, she was shocked. I must’ve walked a long way, she realised with surprise, because I’m aching all over. My bones, my hips, my back. She tried to touch her toes but stopped before she’d even reached halfway, gasping with pain. What’s happened to me?

She turned her attention to the house, placing her fists on her hips and scrutinising it. And the more she gazed at the house, the more she recognised it. It was just so familiar – she knew that, if she went inside, she would know exactly were every little thing belonged. That’s the window to the bedroom, she thought. And she was right.

She headed for the house again, but found herself hobbling. I hurt all over, she grumbled. But despite her aches and pains, she hurried towards the house as quickly as she could. I know this house. Why?

She walked through the open door and was not surprised to find herself in a living room. She turned to close the door and saw that the sky was no longer as black as coal: like ink that washes out of a garment, the darkness had begun to fade away. Colour had returned to the world. And soon the sun will rise, she thought, and her heart lifted in happiness.

She closed the door. The key was in the keyhole so she locked it and slipped it into the pocket of her nighty. Turning around, she peered around at the little living room. A fire flickered warmly in the hearth, and an old rocking chair stood close to the fire. A door led off to what she knew was the bedroom. The lady chuckled. I love that old chair. She hobbled over to it and slowly sat down.

Half-finished knitting sat nearby, as though it was only a minute ago that that it had been laid down by its owner. It just seemed so natural to reach out and pick it up. It uncoiled to become a long pink and yellow scarf.

Without thinking, she slipped the thick needles between her knobbly fingers and began to knit. Soon, the clackity-clack of needles filled the warm room. The lady smiled, feeling a strange but pleasant sense of dejá-vu. Soon she was rocking back and forth, humming a little song to herself that she didn’t know she knew. Absentmindedly, she thought, yellow and pink; they’re her favourite colours.

She slammed her feet down and stopped rocking so suddenly she nearly tipped herself off the chair. The thought stopped her in her tracks. At first, she was confused. How do I know that? How do I know that this scarf is the favourite colours of someone I’ve never met? Then she began to worry. What on earth am I doing? I’ve walked into someone else’s house, and now I’m just sitting here doing their knitting! She looked down at the long mess of wool. I don’t even know how to knit! On the verge of hysteria, she tossed it to the side and stood up, panic thrashing in her heart.

She caught sight of movement behind her and turned, startled and afraid. A mirror hung on the wall and, for a moment, the lady stared at it in disbelief. Her feet walked forwards without her consent. Shock stopped her thoughts.

She was old. And not even middle-aged old; she was ancient. Her skin was dark from years of hard work in the sun and so heavily wrinkled she resembled an apricot stone. Her eyes looked like they’d shrunk backwards into her head and her lips were small and puckered. She looked like a happy woman, though – not bitter and mean. Her eyes twinkled mischievously and her lips curved up in the corners. Hours ago, I was a young girl. I don’t understand!

She had opened her mouth and was examining her teeth when the loud creak of the bedroom opening made her freeze in fear. There’s no time to hide! She thought in a panic. An old man shuffled through the doorway. She stood, frozen in position, ready to run or fight or apologise… but then she looked at him: really looked at him. His hair was thin and as grey as a rainy day, framing his heavily lined face. His eyes were wise, old, and so warm. When he saw her, his eyes lit up with love and he smiled. She knew him.

Without realising it, she smiled in return. An unexpected thought hit her: I love this man and he loves me.

Suddenly, she understood everything. The scarf. Her sudden aches and pains. Her reflection. I know this house because it’s my house; I know this man because he’s my man. That scarf is for my youngest granddaughter, and she’ll be six in a fortnight. I know all this because this is my life. I’ve walked through time into my own future.

Her husband opened his arms and without hesitating, she went into them. Cocooned in his warm embrace, she realised that not only was this her life, but this was the life she’d always wanted.

She thought back to her old house and her old life. She’d spent it alone, doing the same thing day after monotonous day. She’d seen no-one, spoke to no-one, loved no-one. Totally alone.

And then the uneasiness made me change. Made me leave. And I walked through time until found a time I was happy. And here I’m determined to stay. I’d rather be ancient and happy than youthful and alone.

She closed her eyes and breathed in the familiar smell of her husband. A smile curved her lips.

This is my life. I’m home.

Virals, by Kathy Reichs

I found the icy calm more unnerving than the fury. But anger kept my fear in check. Given the chance, I knew Karsten would execute Cooper.

Suddenly I pushed forward, craning over the table. The move caught the old bastard by surprise.

“Bring it on,” I hissed, inches from Karsten’s face.

Meet Tory Brennan. She’s a perfectly ordinary teenager, apart from one thing: her obsession with bones and dead bodies. No, she’s not a goth. She’s the niece of the famous forensic anthropologist, Tempe Brennan. And Tory has inherited her Aunts love for the dead, decaying, half-buried mysteries.

But when Tory and her friends stumble upon a shallow grave of a girl who was buried over thirty years ago, they suddenly find themselves caught up in events they don’t understand. Determined to get to the bottom of it, they break into a laboratory to decipher a vital clue. But they leave with far more than they reckoned for…

I loved this book. It’s full of page-turning action, chase scenes and near escapes, but at the same time forensic science and detective work. A must-read for scientists and action-fans alike.

“Reich’s seamless blending of fasinating science and dead-on psychological portrayals, not to mention a whirlwind of a plot, make her novels a must-read.”

– Jeffery Deaver

The Hunger Games Movie Review

Winning means fame and wealth.

Losing means certain death.

The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian version of the future where, every year, one girl and one boy are from each of the twelve districts are selected to take part in the Hunger Games – a contest where all twenty-four tributes are released into an arena and forced to fight till the death… until there is only a lone victor remaining. Every single moment is televised everyone you see is out to kill you.

I had very high expectations for this movie: the book is brilliant, and so I expected the film to be brilliant too. I’m always so nervous when books become films because the directors tend to stray too far from the original plot.

But I’m pleased to say that the Hunger Games movie was pretty darn close to perfection!

Sure, they missed out some things. The Avox girl that Katniss recognised wasn’t there; it wasn’t Madge who gave Katniss the Mockingjay pin; and in the Arena, Peeta didn’t get blood poisoning. And of course, they had to fit the three weeks of the book into two hours of film, so everything seemed to progress a lot faster.

But still, they only missed out the most minute of details. Everything important from the book was in there: the reaping scene, the train to the Capitol, the interviews.

The Capitol was fantastic. The costumes that the citizens wore were insane and incredible, with crazy coloured wigs and lashings of make-up. Apparently, they had over three thousand extras for the Capitol scenes alone! The scenery of the Capitol was amazing too. Everything was marble and sleek and ultra-modern, in sharp contrast with the poverty of the outer districts.

I’m not ashamed to say that I cried during the movie. Even though I knew what was coming, I still cried like a baby. That, if nothing else, is proof that the film is (almost) as good as the book! I’ve heard rumours that even sixteen-year-old guys have sobbed during this!

I can’t criticize the acting, either; whoever did the casting did it well! Cato was just as terrifying, evil and slightly insane as he was in the book; Rue was just as sweet and adorable; and Effie was just as condescending, patronising and irritating as her fictional counterpart.

If you haven’t seen it yet… what’s taking you so long? This movie is not to be missed. And if you want to enjoy it even more, and find out exactly what’s going through Katniss’s head every second of the way, don’t forget to read the book too!

If you have seen it already, all you diehard fans… tell me what you thought! Was it what you expected?

The Ancient Heart

She was bent over, shuffling slowly

Around her dusty and gloomy house

Scowling deeply, each step causing her pain

Her back bent like a question mark

Broken by life, and time, and terrible sights

That had seared themselves into her memories

As effectively as a branding iron.

Her face was a map of wrinkles

Sunk deep, like scars, into dark,

Weather-beaten skin

She possessed mighty wisdom;

Deep, deep knowledge that seemed to come

Directly from the gods of old

As though they whispered

Their dangerous secrets into her ears.

Her eyes had watched time unfold

When she was young,

They were a shocking cornflower-blue

That made the boys stop and stare… But now,

They are obscured by a film of milky fog,

And the blue is watery and weak

Like the cold, misty winter sky. Although,

Despite everything,

Her old eyes still shine when she speaks

Of her children, and her children’s children

Her skin is sandpaper, her back broken by life

But her heart remains undamaged by

The passing of time.

She is the source of many things

Her huge family stretch from her,

Like the thousands of branches

That stem from the gnarled trunk of a tree:

The ancient heart of everything.

Play-Fighting

The clash of metal on metal rings through the courtyard. Pigeons soar, startled, from the heavily laden apple trees. Maysie, our tortoiseshell cat, looks up sleepily from her perch on the garden wall, then turns her head away. If Ma was in earshot, she would probably start shrieking at me and my brother to quieten down. But I know that she is the other side of the house; far enough away that we can work in peace.

My brother, Adrian, distracts me from my thoughts. “Hey, Miriam, are you here to fight or aren’t you?” I look over at him. Neither of us are wearing any more armour that a breastplate. He prefers to fight with a shield: I don’t. His face is flushed from fighting, but he’s smiling. “Sorry!” I say, before raising my sword and preparing myself. My brother pushes his brown hair from his eyes, his expression one of utmost concentration.

As always, he attacks first. He sprints the three steps towards me and aims a forceful blow at my chest. I neatly step to the left and block his attack, then swiftly cut my own blade down towards his shoulder. He blocks, and we are thrown back into our rapid dance with swords. Even though he is two years older, he and I are very evenly matched at fighting. Apart from him, nobody knows I can fight. A girl with a sword is a shameful sight. So it is our secret.

I know his style, and my mind is flitting through possible attacks, blocks and counterattacks faster than I can deliver them. He is a blur, his expression fierce and serious. We are so close to one another, weaving in and out of the way, and yet we never touch. Only our blades clash together, sending ringing noises echoing off the walls of the courtyard.

After a while – ten minutes, maybe more – the familiar burn of exertion starts to wind it’s way around my sword arm. For a while, I ignore it. But finally I admit that I’m worn out. Almost like my confession was the key to a floodgate, my body seems to begin screaming at me, clamouring to tell my brain about all my various pains. But I’m not going to stop. Not now!

I know that Adrian is getting tired too, because his blocks are slower and are barely stopping my sword before it touches him. His face isn’t flushed any more; it’s bright, tomato red. I’m not in a much better state. I feel like I’m burning up inside and I am uncomfortably aware that the hair on my forehead is slick with sweat.

I can feel him weakening: his attacks are getting feebler and feebler. I grin, taking advantage and showering him with blows. Ignoring my exhaustion, I feint an attack towards his right thigh, then at the last second pull out and swing at his chest. He wasn’t expecting that and my blow catches him full-on in the chest. He staggers back from the blow, his bright red face so surprised that I burst out laughing.

I can’t help it; he looked so funny with his eyes wide, his mouth a round ‘O’ of shock. Laughter spills out of me like water from a tap and I lower my sword. Suddenly Adrian comes shooting into my vision, sword held high, and I only just manage to block him. Caught off guard by his sudden attack, he soon has me pinned against the courtyard wall with his blade at my neck.

We’re both panting. He’s gone – if this is possible – even more tomato-coloured. He backs off, lowering his sword, still gasping for air. I slide down the wall until I’m sitting, with my back against it. He falls down, a marionette with severed strings. My heart is pounding and my hand so cramped I can’t prise my fingers away from the sword handle. After a couple of minutes catching our breath back, he says,

“If you hadn’t begun laughing, you would’ve won that.”

I laugh again, the memory of his face flashing through my mind. “You just looked so funny,” I say with a smile. He returns my smile ruefully, running a hand through his chestnut hair. Now he’s won, our score is… let me see… 7 : 8. But in his favour. Drat! Now I’ve got to beat him tomorrow. We sit in companionable silence for a while before he stands up, offering me his hand so that I can too. I groan as I stand, rubbing my sore muscles. “You shouldn’t have let me sit down, I’ve gone all stiff!”

He grins. “Come on, let’s go and get this stuff off before Ma comes looking for us.” Walking out of the courtyard, I whistle to Maysie, who is still soaking up the sunshine on the wall. With her slinking at our heels we troop through the orchard towards the house.

With my sword bouncing at my hip, and the calming, childhood sounds of the wind in apple trees, the purring of Maysie and the cooing of pigeons, I feel perfectly at ease. My limbs still burn slightly, but it’s a good burn now, a healthy I’ve-just-done-exercise burn. I relax. Linking my arm through Adrian’s, we make our way through the heavily laden apple trees, laughing in the summer sunshine.

The Least Favourite Daughter

The tip of the pen hovered nervously over the dotted line.

For months I had been planning this. Tonight was the night I’d finally be free of my family. A new life, with the man I loved, miles away from anyone who could try to boss me around. For months I’ve managed to put up with Mother’s sneering, scathing lectures and all my sisters’ little comments, a happy fire burning in my chest, a secret belonging to me, and only to me. An escape. Freedom.

So why was I hesitating?

The pen wobbled. Just sign it, Jane!  A voice in my head cried. To be free, all you need to do is write your name. It’s not that hard!

But Mother’s face swam into my mind. Her forceful words reverberated through my head. “I will not have my youngest daughter wasting her life on some… some good-for-nothing tramp! You, unlike him, have a future… education… wealth!”

Am I doing the right thing? Is this all a huge mistake?!

Somehow, the slow burning hatred I felt for my mother has faded. Why can’t I hate her? All the rules, the restrictions, the ‘little-girl-on-the-leash’… If I could remember that deep, furious hate, I would be able to do this!

But I can’t. I can’t do this.

A sly voice spoke up in my mind.

So, what are you going to do? Go back home, with four other sisters, all so much older and prettier and smarter than you? With a mother who will always find fault with you, with your appearance, with your personality, always trying to get you to change? Go back home, to the house where praise means being told that; ‘You did that almost as well as Rebecca did. Perhaps if you keep trying, you might be as good as her… eventually…’ You were always her least favourite daughter. She won’t even notice you’re gone. Sign it. Sign that bit of paper, and you’ll be free of her at last.

The pen stopped wobbling. I took a deep breath. With a perfectly steady hand, I signed my name, ending it with a flourish. I handed the register to the man sitting next to me, sitting so close, touching. He carefully wrote his name next to mine.

And next to me… forever. I smiled at him, feeling my old life slip away. Gone is ‘Ms Jane Felicity Hollan-Rushton’.

He turned, his grey eyes shining with love. “Are you ready, Mrs Jane Peterson?”

I grinned. New name, new life. No more rules. No more restrictions. Let it rip.

“I’m ready!”

Written for Ermilia’s Picture It & Write

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