Harry’s Birthday

Birthday_candles

I wake early and with a sense of excitement, my blood singing in my ears.

What, what day is it? I can’t find myself. Is it Christmas? The first day of the holidays? My birthday?

I feverishly run through a list of dates in my head, searching for the puzzle piece.

Valentines Day, Thanksgiving, New Years Eve…

Then I remember, and my excitement fades away to nothing.

Today is Harry’s birthday.

Memories float to the surface of my mind. This day, repeated back through my life; of cake and candles, of parties and presents. Of his choppy blonde hair, of his obsession with tractors. His swing set in the garden. The love I saw in his eyes when he looked at me.

Of him, toddling around the house, creating wonderful chaos. Without him everything is so cold and echoing.

When will this pain heal? When will this hurt fade? Not yet – it’s still too fresh a wound.

But, one year, I want to be able to wake up on this day and only see the loveliest of lives… and not the hole he left behind.

We Were Together

kids
You were five and I was six, and we were together.
You were a princess and I was your prince. Swashbuckling pirates, the fearless captain and mate. A crime fighting duo, superman and catwoman.
We were always together, two halves of a whole. Joined at the hip.
But then your mum began to get anxious. She said that it was time for me to leave. She wanted her daughter to make new friends, better friends than me.
You were loyal. You stood by my side. We weathered the storms, as we always have.
We were together.
_
You were nine and I was ten, and we were together.
We created our own world and made ourselves Queen and King. Our people adored us, and we had mighty battles against dragons and witches and goblin armies that threatened our rule.
We were closer than siblings, closer than spouses. Two peas in a pod. One person in two bodies.
But then your mum realised I was still around and she was angry. She threatened to stop your ballet classes. She made you go round to other little girls houses, girls that liked pink and ponies and parties.
You were loyal. You stood by me. We survived, as we always have.
We were together.
_
You were thirteen and I was fourteen, and we were together.
You were my first girlfriend; I was your first kiss. We went to the cinema together, to school together, shopping together. You laughed at the funny things I said and I told you that you were beautiful.
We were two halves of a whole, joined at the hip, inseparable.
But then your mum found out I was still around, she was terrified. She dragged her daughter to hospital, doctors, shrinks. “You’re thirteen! You shouldn’t still be doing this!” I was labelled as a bad influence.
You began to waver.
We were together less. You kept giving me strange looks and asking questions that were too near to the truth. As you got further away, I got sicker. I was weak, pale, as though I was wasting away. I felt invisible. I was sure I was dying.
I pleaded with you, I begged you, I kissed you, I told you I loved you, but you had stopped listening. I was a ghost, someone you wanted to forget.
I drifted around in the corner of your vision, watching you erase me from your life. But I was never completely gone. You kept me alive, kept believing in me just enough. I was still alive in your memories of me, but barely. Every day it was harder.
_
You were twenty and I was twenty-one. You were strong and healthy and I was nearly dead.
Your mum approached you and asked nervously, “That… boy. Is he still around?”
You turn and glance at me, the translucent ghost in the corner.
“No, mother, I’ve followed your advice. He’s not my friend any longer.” My heart is shattered into so many pieces that it can’t be broken any more.
Your mum nods, relieved. She motions for you to sit down.
“Well… the thing is, dear… he was not a real boy. When you were five, it was okay to have an imaginary friend. But when you were thirteen…” She shudders delicately, reaching out to pat her daughter’s hand in what she probably thinks is a reassuring way. “I hope you understand now. I did it for your own good!”
You pause. I can see your thoughts churning, but you’re too old now for childhood games.
“I know, mother.”
You turn and stare at me. For a moment, the intensity of your gaze brings me to life. For the first time in months I am solid, human, breathing.
But your expression is flint, and I know that it’s all over.
“We were together,” You inform me, your icy voice echoing through your head. “But I have no need for you now.”
I’ve been on the brink of this for seven years, but the finality shocks me to the core. “No! Don’t!” I cry, running to you. I reach for your hand, thinking that if you felt me, you wouldn’t be able to kill me.
But you draw away with a look of pure loathing and turn your back on me.
I know now that I am dead.
Sinking to my knees, I look down at my see-through fingers. A sharp searing pain tears through me as you rip me out of your head. Tears are flooding from my eyes; everything is a watery blur. I can feel myself being undone by you, my seams being torn apart, the colours under my skin merging with the air.
For a brief moment I am suspended in the air. I am everywhere; and then… I am nowhere at all.

Dreaming Adam

Children
I’m at the beach.

The sea is slurping at the sand, toying with small pebbles, pushing them back and forth. The smell of salt is in the cold wind coming off the sea. Children dressed in bright clothes, the only colour in sight, dig and play in the sand. I feel like I’ve been here before, like this has happened before: but I can’t remember when.

“You came.”

I turn.

Behind me stands a young man, his chestnut hair wet from swimming. He’s barefoot, his jeans rolled up to his knees. I know him. He’s Adam. I’ve definitely been here before, I remember this! My sense of deja’vu is making this whole thing feel a little surreal.

“Of course I did,” I tell him, smiling. “You know I can’t refuse you anything!”

He smiles back, but his eyes are worried. He looks like he’s about to say something; but nothing comes, and he closes his mouth.

I feel as though I’m in a play, reading out my lines. This has been said before, done before. “Are you okay?”

He stares at me, his eyes intense and so deep I feel like I’m at the bottom of the ocean.

I feel like I know what should happen next. He’s going to smile, shrug. His line is, ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing’. And then he will take my hand, pull me into the shallows, and we paddle and laugh and get soaked.

I’m so sure what will happen that when he blurts out, “Jenny, you’re in trouble,” I freeze.

Why isn’t he following the script? An odd feeling of fear slides into my heart; by breaking away from the script, he’s broken a rule.

The words jump from my throat without permission. “Don’t say that!” I cry. “Don’t!” If he does, if he does, something terrible will happen, this world will break down…

He speaks over my frantic pleas.

“You thought you’d escaped Dan after New York, but he’s close. He’s right on your tail and closing in. You’ve got to get out of there, now!”

This is wrong. The Adam from this memory couldn’t possibly know these things. This was Adam before any of this started, this was Adam from before New York…

The world feels like it’s spinning. The sound of the seagulls, of the lapping of the sea, children screaming; everything seems to mute. My vision tunnels so I can only see Adam.

“How can you possibly know that? You don’t even know where I am!”

He smiles sadly. “No, I don’t. And I never will. Wake up now, get up and get out! I don’t want you to end up the same as me.”

I’m so dizzy, the world is flying away from me. The bright clothes of the children are so colourful they make my head ache. Adam’s face blurs. The world is pulsing to my heartbeat.

“What are you talking about?” I cry, feeling suddenly alone. My voice echoes in the emptiness of the void.

I can’t see Adam anymore, but his voice is as clear as if he’s talking in my ear.

“I’m dead, Jenny.” He whispers. He speaks haltingly, emotion snapping and splintering his voice. “Daniel killed me. Now stop dreaming and wake up before they get you too!”

The beach disappears; I’m falling through black space, tumbling in empty air, my fingers raking through nothingness for something to hold…

I wake up with a start and tears on my cheeks. Adam’s voice echoes through the emptiness of my head.

Get out… before he kills you too.

Military Brats

Military Brat 3

My seventh school

The sea of strangers surrounds me

I introduce myself to a girl in the lunch queue

“Why did you join in the middle of the year?”

I tell her my parents are in the navy.

“Oh.”

She says, her face calculating.

“You’re one of those.”

 

Mother’s eyes are stone.

“Later, I’ll inspect your room.”

Look down, nod. “Yes, ma’am.”

 

Every night, we watch the news.

The war footage is hellish and with every death they announce a fresh terror seizes me.

I keep checking the photos, but it’s never my Father.

Relief fills me… but then I feel guilty;

Somewhere in the world a family is mourning.

What right do I have to feel relieved?

The news theme tune is the soundtrack to my nightmares.

The cycle never ends.

Refugee

I sip the hot drink and feel the skin on my tongue tingle from the burn. It’s heavenly; so rich and strong, the consistency of syrup or melted chocolate. I clasp my hands around the mug and shiver as the warmth rushes up my arms. Raising the mug to my burnt lips, I take another sip.

I close my eyes, and allow myself to think about the others. How cruel this world is, that luck decides who lives and who dies. If one of a million things had happened differently, Randy would be sat in this refugee camp drinking too hot, too strong hot chocolate and I would be the one buried beneath our high school.

If I look back now, I can trace back the cause and effect.

My sister was two years older than me and amazing at everything. My parents adored her and I grew up in her shadow, doing exactly the same things that she had done two years previously; but I could never do anything to her standard.

When she moved up to high school, she joined the school gymnastics club. Soon she was being entered into county, and then regional, and then national competitions and winning everything she tried. She was amazing. When she came home with all her medals and trophies my parents would turn to me and tell me that “if I worked hard that could be me”.

When I moved up to high school, I didn’t join the gymnastics club. I joined the basketball club.

I was the only girl on an entirely male team. At first, I was terrible. I knew nothing about the rules and the boys teased me mercilessly, but every time I felt like giving up I thought what my parents would say. They would compare me to my sister and wonder why I had turned out so badly. So I put my head down and worked like hell. I improved slowly, but a time came when I was officially a member of the team, and we would go and play games against the other schools, and gradually we began to win them.

I wasn’t at school on that day because of a game. It was huge; if we won, we would be entered into the South West tournament, further than we’d ever got. We’d been training for months. I more was terrified than I’d ever been in my life, but somehow, when I stepped into the court, everything fell away. The match was infinitesimally close but we won, and were in the coach on the way home when our coach driver turned up the radio and we heard the news report.

I am alive because I didn’t want to be my older sister. Is that fair? I decided to rebel and my reward is that I get to survive, while my sister, who never did anything wrong, is dead.

Or maybe it’s not my fault at all. Maybe it’s not my fault but pure luck. Maybe an earthquake on the seabed a thousand miles away caused a small disturbance out at sea that became a giant wave that came and swept away our city. Maybe the world is just randomly evil and cares not for who it destroys.

Or maybe we did something wrong. Maybe our city was evil and didn’t deserve to exist, and some God somewhere decided to sweep it off the face of the earth, like a spring cleaner carelessly ripping through the delicate cobwebs of spiders.

Or maybe this was going to happen anyway. Maybe nothing we could have done would have changed the changed the pattern of events. Maybe, in the future, people will look back on this day and say that this was when everything changed, the pivot point on which everything rests. Maybe this was necessary. Maybe all this death and destruction has some ultimate purpose. Maybe there’s some lesson to be found from this mess.

If there is, I can’t see it from here.

 

 

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

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

Spider’s Tightrope

Gripping the tightrope with my legs

I try not to look down

Or remind myself of just how thin the string is

From which my life hangs.

Written for Ermilia’s Picture It & Write

Irony

 

If I could still breathe, I would laugh with irony.

All my life, I had one obsession: I wanted to live forever. I wanted to live on, and on, and on. I wanted to never feel the aching of old age, never to be ill, never to die.

I spent my days obsessing, worrying, freaking out over the tiniest things. I called the doctor when I had a cold: I carried around a first aid kit with me everywhere. I wasted my days away, worrying about death, when I should’ve been more concerned about living.

It was an absolute obsession and it consumed my life. As a result, I never truly lived. I never watched the sun set, or felt the silkiness of a bird’s feathers, or lay down in the woods and listened to the wind in the trees. I never did anything last minute or spontaneous. I never did anything that could be the slightest bit dangerous: I never had proper, good old-fashioned fun.

So I wasted away my entire life worrying about my death.

And, of course, I died. There was no way of stopping it. After all my efforts, I couldn’t prevent my death from coming. I couldn’t hold it up for one single second. Along with everyone else, I died.

But I’m still here.

I don’t know what’s supposed to happen, but I know it’s not this.

The house I lived in is now my prison. Perhaps it’s because I wasted my life indoors that, after my death, I am eternally confined to my house. I sit here, unchanged, as my house falls to pieces around me. I watch as the cobwebs stretch out to cover every surface, as the water drips through the ceiling from a hole in the roof I never mended, as the windows grow darker and darker as the layers of grime build up.

At first, I thought; “Someone will come. Someone will come to check on me,”

But as the years drifted by, unchanging, I realised the truth.

Why would anyone come a visit me when I had never visited them? The truth was, I had no friends in life. I had no need for friends, so consumed was I by my foolish quest. And I would spend my death lonely as a result.

The years yawn by and here I remain.

If I could go back – try again – I would. I would do things differently. I would travel to another country and lose myself in their culture. I would learn a forgotten language just because I could. I would go for long runs and not stop until I was exhausted. I would live as though I would die tomorrow. Because, I think, I’ve learnt my lesson now. Life is a gift. And I threw mine away unopened.

I wasted my life obsessing about my death.

Now I’m going to spend my death obsessing about my life.

If my lungs weren’t clogged up with dust, I would laugh with the irony.

Image was taken and edited by me

Dark Lands and Evil Plans

Bloody feet, aching muscles, frozen bones, burning throat, pounding heart. Running through the night, the darkness, the wild woods; barefoot. Running away – away! – a vision of red, a flash of colour in the dark. Gasping, choking, trying desperately to breath. Running through the midnight hours.

A wild thought, racing through my head: Have I escaped? I am safe now?

Then, wearily but with utmost calm; I can’t run another step.

Bending down, panting, black spots swimming through my vision.

In my arms, the warm ball of fur meows, stretching. I bury my face in his soft fur. I hear Chief’s solemn voice: Protect him. His stomach rises and falls slowly, lazily, and I try to calm my breathing to the same pace as his.

I can’t. I can’t stop gasping. I feel like I’m drowning, breathing in water when I’m dying for oxygen. The blackness consumes my sight and for a second I sway.

What’s wrong with me?!

I lean against a tree trunk, my arms still curled around my warm ball of fur. I feel faint, light-headed, dizzy. I need to sit down. I need to rest. I need sleep. I close my eyes, my breath wracking through me, trying to relax.

Voices, calling. Shouting. Men’s voices, angry, hunting. They don’t even try to be quiet. My eyes fly open in shock. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…

Tucking pussy in the crook of one arm, I push away from the tree, grab for another. My feet are raw, bloody, and each step is painful. Got to keep going. I stumble from tree to tree, grabbing hold of them like a drowning man clings to a raft. My only lifeline. The voices are everywhere, deafening loud, gruff and angry. I’m surrounded. Hopelessly surrounded.

I can’t keep going. I can’t escape.

I stop, grab hold of the rough bark. Somehow, knowing that I’m doomed gives me strength. I pull myself up, straighten my back, push back my shoulders. I let go of the tree and stand unaided, gently holding my beautiful cat in my arms. Protect him, Chief says again. I nod in the darkness. Sadly, I tell him: I tried.

Out of the darkness come ghosts, pale figures in the dark, that solidify to become men. They look feral, half wild, but I stand bravely, rooted to the forest floor. I’m aching. My feet are screaming in pain. My breathing is quick and shallow and black dots still swim in and out of sight. But at least I tried.

Image: Brooke Shaden

I’m Not Calling You A Ghost…

I lie in bed and listen to the wind whistling outside. In here, I am warm – safe. The streetlights outside shine softly through the curtains, bathing the dormitory in a cosy glow. All the other girls are fast asleep, their relaxed breathing familiar and comforting.

Why am I feeling so nervous? Everything is normal. But I still feel… on edge. Like something big is about to happen. Why can’t I just join the other girls and slip into a deep and dreamless sleep? Somewhere where these feelings of trepidation can’t follow me.

I curl up in my duvet, pulling it over my head so I’m in a warm, dark cocoon. I close my eyes and will myself to fall asleep. But I can’t. The sensation of unease is growing, taking control. My palms are damp: a sure sign that I’m nervous. But why? I’m safe. I’m home. I’m fine.

Inside my dark cocoon, coldness suddenly sweeps over me, like a wind. Goosebumps prickle my arms and I shiver. Realisation sinks in. Not again. Not now. I push the duvet away from me and sit down on the side of my bed.

“Leave me alone,” I speak quietly into the darkness of the room. I don’t need to raise my voice; I know he can hear me.

“I did what I could for you. Please stop haunting me.” I ask in a low voice.

The coldness draws closer and my entire body begins to shiver uncontrollably. He’s right behind me, but I don’t turn around, don’t look in his direction. I keep staring sightlessly ahead at the rows and rows of sleeping girls.

His reply is slow and laboured, and sounds like leaves on a windy day. His frozen breath sweeps over my back and my teeth chatter like castanets.

“You had a chance to save me… and you let it slip through your fingers. You let me fall.”

Anger spikes in me, so much that I forget the cold and say with venom, “That’s unfair! I wasn’t the only one, and yet I don’t see you haunting any of the others!” My voice is too loud, echoing off the walls, and I stop abruptly. A couple of the girls whimper and fidget in their sleep. Taking a deep gulp of the freezing air, I try to calm myself down. He is silent too, waiting for me to continue.

This time, my voice is quiet and perfectly calm.

“I’m sorry for what I did. I truly am. But when I realised, I did what I could to rectify my mistake. Can’t you see that? Even when I knew that it was hopeless, I stayed behind to try and save you.” He is as silent as the grave.

“But that’s all in the past now. When you died, I left it all behind me. This is my home now.” I gesture to the girls, their faces childish and innocent in their sleep. “I live here. I belong here with my sisters. They need me, they look up to me, and I love them. I did what I could to save you. Please, stop haunting me.”

For the first time, I turn to look at him. I suck my breath in involuntarily as I drink in his familiar face. He looks exactly the same. Even after all these years. He’s standing on the other side of my bed, his arms limply by his sides. He still wears the jaggedy old jeans I remember so well. It breaks my heart to see him standing there, and I long to stand up and throw my arms around him.

But he’s dead, and his appearance is skin-deep. He’s deathly pale. Not just his skin, but his clothes and eyes and hair too, as though he’s a painting left out in the rain. Any colour that he had has been washed away. He still has his adorable dimples but his eyes are cold, frozen, unfeeling.

He opens his colourless lips and says, with a certain finality, “If you love those girls half as much as you loved me, then they are the luckiest children in the world.” He pauses and says in his voice like rustling leaves, so quietly I hardly hear it;

“I forgive you.”

It’s only then, as he says those three fateful words, that I realise just how much I needed his forgiveness. The guilt that hung around me, lingered in my mind, weighed me down… has gone. I’m free. I open my mouth, to thank him – to talk to him properly – when I realise he’s fading away.

He becomes paler and paler until he is water vapour, a vague shadow, and then… nothing. The frozen air slips away as he does, and once again I am alone with the rows and rows of sleeping girls. The warm, stuffy air of the dormitory meets me and I smile at the familiar smell. Wood polish, fresh linen, and the talcum powder-y smell of children.

I climb back into bed, and listen to the soft breathing of the other girls. My sisters. I fall asleep happier than I’ve felt in a long time. I feel light as air.

I’m free from my ghost.

One Swing Too Far

The little boy swung backwards and forwards on the swing, urging it higher and higher. The trees flashed past, then the leaf strewn ground, then a patch of clear grey-blue sky. Backwards, forwards. Fast enough to make his head spin. So fast he couldn’t tell which way was up anymore.

He kicked out with his legs, using them to pull, to push, to pull himself further into the sky. If he went far enough, he could forget everything. If he swung high enough, he would be free. He could slip off the swing, up into the grey-blue sky, and fly like a bird. Up, up, all the way up. In the grey-blue sky, surrounded by nothing but empty air, he might finally find peace.

He pushed himself higher, swinging in a great arch. His wide, happy blue eyes reflected the sky. Higher and higher, back and forth. His head was up in the clouds, his soul lost in the vast emptiness of the heavens.

At the highest point of his arch, he slid off the swing. His small body flew up, just like he imagined it would. For a brief moment, the happiest of his life, he was truly free. He was suspended in the heavens, arms and legs spread-eagled; like someone had paused him mid-way through a star jump. His young face wore an expression of pure joy.

But everyone has to come down to earth sooner or later.

Gravity dug its harsh claws into his body and dragged him back down to earth. He tumbled over himself, falling through the air like a puppet with its strings severed. The look of joy turned to fear and then horror as the rock hard ground rose up to meet him.

He bounced once and then his body lay still. One of his arms was bent back at an unnatural angle. He lay on his back, his blue eyes were wide open… and his soul still floating in the vast emptiness of the heavens.

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