Fog

fog

I remember, when I was little, my Mamma sitting me down by the fire and telling me stories before I went to bed. They were stories with reasons behind them, like “Don’t be cruel to children younger than you,” and, “Always eat what you given.” But I remember, one night, my Mamma telling me a different kinda story. She sat me down on a stool in front of the fire and began brushing out my hair gentle and real slow. Even now, I still remember the feeling of it tugging lightly at my scalp.

“Once there was a valley and in the valley everything was perfect. The grass was green; the soil was rich; and the weather warm and wet. But not many people lived in this valley. Despite it being so nice, people were afeared of it. Because the valley is surrounded by dark, gloomy mountains. And the mountains are cursed.”

Mamma had my full attention now. I stared into the golden fire, my eyes unfocused, focusing on her words.

“The mountains would spew fog that would drag itself down to the valley and swallow the town whole, till everything was grey. Then the fog would play tricks on people, showing them their dead loved ones and whispering words into their ears what turned their minds to soup. If you listen, then you gone for. It take hold of you, the whisper sickness, and you go mad; you try an fight your way out, into the fog, and the fog would swallow you whole. The next morning… they never find any bodies. And then next time the fog come, it got one extra loved one trapped in its belly, whispering lies.”

I was shivering by now, despite the hot fire flickering at my feet. Mamma turned me round to face her, and her face was so serious I was scared. Her voice was low and urgent.

“This is why you can’t go out at night, you understand? This is why you’ve got to hurry home from school. Because I don’t ever want to lose you and see your face in the fog.”

I nodded, partly out of fear for the fog, partly out of love for my Mamma.

She smiled and sighed with relief. She turned me back round again and carried on brushing out my hair.

“You’re a good girl,” She said softly. “Such a good girl.”

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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.

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.

Tunnels

Which tunnel?

They both look exactly the same

Two dark eyes, glaring at me

The walls press in on me

A whisper in the darkness,

I’m coming for you.

I don’t have much time

The air is burning my throat

Which tunnel?!

One leads out of this labyrinth

The walls are closing in on me

A thousand tonnes of rock above my head

Are squashing the air from my lungs

There’s no time left

I’m suffocating in the dark

The two dark eyes glare at me

I stagger forwards, and

Before I change my mind,

Stumble down the right tunnel.

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

The Strawberry Picker

The Strawberry Picker is a crime novel set in a sunny, peaceful, idyllic part of Germany. Everything is perfect: the summer is just in bloom, and everything is beautiful. Rows and rows of scarlet strawberrys infuse the air with sweetness. But this illusion of heaven is quickly torn to shreds by a string of terrible murders.

This is unlike any other crime story I’ve ever read. The identity of the murderer is not a massive secret: the brilliance of this particular book is the way it juggles so many complex and realistic characters at the same time and still manages to have you turning the pages in a fever.

The climax is one that will set your heart racing; as all the pieces fall into place it begins to dawn on you just how much danger they are all in…

A great story that kept me hooked from the begining. The characters are all so complex and likeable that I had to continue reading, if only to discover their fates.

A Knife in the Dark

[EDIT] I’ve changed parts of this after some very helpful criticism! 

Hope you like the new version.

 

I dream that I am sitting at my kitchen table at night. In the dream, I know that there is someone behind me. I need to turn around and look, to know who it is, but I can’t move. My hands are clamped down on the arms of my chair. My body disobeys me. Footsteps come closer, echoing in my eardrums. I need to turn around.

Fear begins to grip my intestines like an invisible hand. I feel an urge to vomit, to shriek, to stand up; but I am not in control of my body. The sound of a sword being drawn sets my heart fluttering in my chest. I can only sit here, bound to this chair in terror, as heavy footsteps come closer. In the dim gloom, I can see moonlight gleaming off an impossibly long blade. My heart is thrashing in my chest, a small red bird caught in a cage of white rib bones. The blade sweeps towards me, and in that instant I know: I will die.

I wake with a strangled gasp and a knife at my throat.

Immediately I stiffen like a dead body, pushing myself down, into my pillows; as far away from that knife as possible. But, like a horrific imitation of a clinging child, the knife stays firmly glued to my throat. I suddenly find that I need to swallow; my mouth is full of saliva. But I can’t. If I swallow, the razor-sharp blaze will shred my skin to ribbons. My heart is trembling in terror, as though the bird inside me knows its death is near…

A man’s voice sneers in my ear, “Hello again, milady. Remember me?” He’s so close to my face that I feel the heat of his breath sweep across my skin, smell the odour of rotten teeth. My eyes adjust enough to see his pale face, a lumpy moon in a starless sky. His eyes seem to bulge with madness in the moonlight coming through my curtains.

Remember you? How could I forget? You’re the only person who introduces themself by breaking into your house then waking you up with a knife at your throat! I’m so angry. I’ve never wanted to hurt someone more in my life. But I’m totally helpless, as useless as a baby. I couldn’t save myself if I tried. The knife is freezing cold at my throat. Hatred wells up in me. I glare up at him with furious eyes.

“What do you want with me?” I demand with anger. “I did what you wanted. Now let me go!” He opens his mouth and sniggers. His teeth are disgusting – he only has about five, and most are the yellowy colour of puke. The ones that aren’t yellow are black and rotten, like pea-sized stones sinking into his pink gums.

“You did do what I wanted. But I came here to remind you of our agreement.” His voice is suddenly deadly serious. Fear creeps up my spine like a cold chill, but try to assume an expression of haughty fury. I swear the knife is getting colder… as cold as death. He bends down and hisses into my ear, “If you tell anyone – anyone – about this, you won’t wake up with a knife at your neck.” His eyes gleam in the darkness. “And do you know why? Because you won’t wake up at all.

I gasp, fear blocking my throat. I want to scream at him, to stab him, to make him as afraid as he has made me. But he’s gone so suddenly that I blink, still seeing an image of his face looming above me. I have to touch my neck to reassure myself that the blade is no longer there. I sink down into my bed, trying to erase all memories of that despicable man. But his face is seared into my memories. I stay lying down until I hear the roar of a motorbike, which revs loudly before fading into the distance. He’s gone. I’m free, thank god.

I sit up slowly, peering through the dim moonlight. The door to my room is wide open, the blackness of the corridor spilling in, making me uneasy. I never used to be afraid of the dark. And even though I know he’s gone, I want to put as many barriers between him and me as possible. I throw off my bed covers, stride over to the door and slam it shut.

With my back firmly against the strong wood, I feel better. But my mind is still uneasy. He can get to me so easily. After the first visit, I had put up extra defences. A lock on my bedroom door. An ultra-modern burglar system. Motion sensors in every corner of every room. And he still managed to break into my house and sneak into my room. Maybe what he said was true. Maybe one night I would go to sleep and wake up with a slit throat.

Anger seeps through me and I yank open the door, burst out into the hallway. In the gloom I can see the small white box, sitting like a spider in the corner where the walls meet. How did he get past that? Then I notice that the little green light on the motion sensor isn’t on. Neither is the red one. He disabled it. Smart little beggar. And the burglar system too, I bet. And as for a locked door… that’s nothing, not to a man like him.

I walk back into my bedroom. Even though I know it’s pointless, I close and lock the door. My head aches. A mixture of stress, panic and adrenaline races through my blood. I’m exhausted, but even before I curl up in my bed, I know I won’t be able to sleep.  So I lie there in the dark for hours, my mind whirling like a tornado. I close my eyes and will myself sleep, but all I can see are his eyes, bulging with madness. His sniggers. His disgusting teeth and the foul smell of his breath.

So I lie in the dark with my eyes wide open.

Fear

“Fear is poison

Once it’s inside you, it slowly begins to drag you down until it kills you

Fear is fire

The tiniest spark of doubt can grow into a blazing inferno of terror…”

To read more, click here –  or you can find it on my poetry page.

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