Monday, 24 April 2017

Long Way Home

My back aching with the strain of the extra weight, I pulled the child along in the sled as we traversed the field. It had been days since we had seen any signs of human life and I was grateful that the child slept now.

She never really complained – I expected tears, screams of terror for what she must have been through, for what she must have seen – but all she did was stare at my eyes when I spoke to her. Approximately 7 or 8 years old, I knew she had to understand me and sometimes she would acknowledge what I had said or asked with a quick, singular nod or shake of her head, her filthy hair flying about her face, sending dirt and dead leaves falling to her tatted t-shirt.

Her stare haunted me, her silence scared me even more. It had been some considerable time since I had had any human companionship and when I had finally encountered another person, a person who understood where they were, that person was essentially mute. Just my luck.

As we approached an abandoned house along our path, I gently shook the sled as I walked, never taking my eyes off of the house. I felt the sled move slightly behind me and the child let go a small grunt to indicate that she was awake and saw the house. As we neared the house, she jumped from the sled while it was still moving and ran to scoot under one of the back windows, hidden, while I headed to the front door.

The house was empty, thankfully, and there were a few treats left in the cupboards as well as some not-long-expired sun screen that it certainly wouldn’t hurt to carry. It was a small mercy that what happened was so sudden that there wasn’t really a chance for society to melt-down, no riots, minimal looting… A small grace, really.

As I came back outside, I handed the girl a protein bar and she waited until we had repacked the sled with our new loot before hungrily peeling back the wrapping with dirty fingers.

Now that I knew the house was empty, I spoke to the child. “No water, I’m afraid. The people who lived there clearly hadn’t any time to prepare. I did get some boxed juice, though, and some more matches.”

I handed her the juice and she kept her eyes on me as she drank slowly, carefully, and handed me back the carton. I nodded as I placed the lid back on the carton and set it thoughtfully among the contents of the pack in the sled.

We had been travelling with each other since I had come across her in a similarly-abandoned house just three days before. I had tried everything I could think of to get her to communicate verbally with me but she simply wouldn’t. It was a little frustrating to not know her name but walking with someone for the first time in months was a sort of relief…. At least I wouldn’t be talking to just myself anymore.

Once the pack was settled and we had each availed ourselves of the outhouse on the property, we set off once more.

Along the way, as before, I quietly told the child stories about my life before we had met and what I had hoped to find when I finally made it home. I told her stories of my own childhood, things I remembered from when I was her age – it wasn’t difficult, it had only been five or six years but I felt I had grown so much in that time – I suppose I had.

We travelled this way for six more days – I told stories to a child who wouldn’t opine, a form of therapy, I suppose – and we found places of shelter, scarce foodstuffs, a couple of farmsteads that had pump wells from which we could fill our water bags. A few of the homes we were able to find shelter in for short times during the day but I was eager to get home and the places were unsecured from attack, so we moved on quite quickly. We never stayed the night in any of the homes, it was too risky.

And still we had not encountered any further human life.

By the time the seventh day with the girl came, I was desperate for her to talk. I had been asking questions all week in the hopes of drawing out a response but the child remained resolutely quiet. I was grateful, however, that she had at least deemed I posed no threat. That night we still slept as lightly as before, but we slept snuggled beside each other. The warmth between us was welcome and, I felt, added an extra measure of security as, when one of us stirred in the night, the other woke instantly ready for any danger.

We were about fifteen miles from home and I had been singing the girl a low, sweet song I remembered from when I was younger. I was startled when she grunted, just loudly enough that she grabbed my attention but not so loudly as to alert others. I looked to her, not slowing my stride, and turned to look where she was pointing.

We suddenly both stopped. Ahead, was a house, but that wasn’t what worried the girl. As soon as I saw exactly why she’d wanted my attention, we began moving silently, slightly sideways to the house, keeping it in sight but hiding ourselves from being seen.

Peering into the windows of the house was a human. As cautious as I had been when I first encountered the girl, we watched the human from a safe distance. I don’t know what the girl was thinking but I was hoping against hope. I’m not ashamed to say that I fought back tears when the human walked three times around the house, peering into the windows and sniffing the air before moving on. It didn’t try to enter the house. It didn’t remember how – it was no longer a part of this world.

That night I dreamt fitful dreams, several times waking to the sound of my own whimpering, the girl hovering over me, the look of concern and fear evident on her face. Each time, I apologised and tried to soothe her. Each time, I promised I’d be quieter. Each time, I woke with my heart pounding harder than the last.

For the remainder of the journey, I was too afraid to sing, too afraid to hope and too tired to try to keep up appearances for the girl. As we neared my home, my eyes weeping with relief, I turned back to look at the child who was suddenly no longer there.

Friday, 10 March 2017

The Countdown



“10!” The computerised voice boomed across the halls.

She whimpered as she lurched to her feet. She wasn’t prepared. She was never prepared for the countdown. Her bare feet skidded along the cool hardwood floor as she raced to find a safe place to be when the countdown ran to zero.

“9!” The voice again, slightly lower in volume this time.

Her heart juddered in her chest. She had managed to find an area that wasn’t close to one of the speakers, which also meant that she was further away from the seemingly ubiquitous microphones. She carefully exhaled, trying to calm her pulse as she kept her pace.

“8!”

She skidded around a corner and ran straight into a giant wardrobe that had been shoved into the centre of its room. Her knee banged painfully on the expensive, antique wood but she wouldn’t allow herself to cry out. If he heard her now he’d know her exact location and she would be finished before the countdown ended.

“7!”

She hastily wiped silent tears from her face with a filthy backhand as she manoeuvred through another adjoining room and into one of the hidden stairwells in the walls of the ancient estate. She prayed she could get somewhere, anywhere within the main house because she was sure he was outside patrolling the grounds immediately before the countdown.

“6!” The voice boomed.

She groaned inwardly about having brought herself closer to a speaker and another microphone but she was far beyond lamenting about the fairness of his little “game”. Her stomach churned slightly at the mental image of what was to come if she didn’t make it – and the premise was simple. She had to run and hide while the automated voice counted down. She had literally only herself and her knowledge of having been held on the estate for the past ten years at her disposal… He, on the other hand, had tech, he had gadgets…. Cameras, microphones, night vision, motion sensors, pressure sensors – he had it all.

“5!”

Virtually tossing herself down a flight of stairs she landed with a well-practiced thump at the bottom and immediately rolled back onto her feet. The lean diet he kept her on added to the daily exercise she gave herself prepared her for his “game”, kept her mind and her body agile, ready for the fight. A fight she was getting better and better at winning over the years.

“4!”

She gasped – He’d changed the timing interval between the two announcements, making them closer together. This was an unwelcome new development and she momentarily fretted that it was because he was closing in on her.

“3!”

She refused to allow herself to consider it, however, knowing that the “game” wasn’t over until the countdown was finished. She pushed on, rushing from room to room in the cellar, past old, redundant boilers and dusty chairs.

“2!”

She was desperate to win the “game”. When she succeeded, he rewarded her by leaving her alone for the night. When he “won”… the reward he took for himself didn’t bear thinking about.

“1!”

She’d numbed herself to it years ago while he was rewarding himself, but she hadn’t yet been broken enough not to fight during the game itself, she would never allow him to break her. So she ran and ran, praying that one day her father would set her free.

“0!”

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Girls and boys come out to play...

Girls and boys come out to play
The moon doth shine as bright as day
Leave your supper, and leave your sleep
And join your playfellows in the street.

An ancient song, I call to the children from the street – my voice soft, comforting, heard only by the innocent of heart.

They join me sleepily, rubbing their eyes, curious yet cautious smiles on their sweet faces. Nightgowns, pyjama legs and bare feet cross dew-covered lawns as they walk to join me. Quiet chatter develops as they recognise their neighbours, their cousins, their siblings, and their play begins.

Tag, hide-and-seek, hopscotch – we play them all and more.

Laughter floats like bubbles into the brightening sky and it’s time to go. Hours have passed in an instant and my belly hurts from the laughter. I rise to my feet and call the children to me one by one. A single kiss placed on the top of each head and I motion them along on their journey. When the final child is kissed, I join the children and follow them home.

Tomorrow night I will travel to another town in another land and take their children – as I have done every night since before time began. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

The Button Collector

When I was younger my mother had a cookie tin filled to bursting with buttons. I used to sit beside her while she crafted, my small hands buried in the buttons. I loved how they felt as they slid across my skin, the noise they made as they slipped and came together, passing through my fingers... I loved the way they would catch the light, rhinestones glinting, flat plastic faces reflecting my mother's work light. It soothed me.

It's no surprise, really, that I began collecting buttons myself.

It started with stealing one or two buttons from my mother's stash... Ones I didn't think she'd notice. I kept them in the back corner of my closet where I'd peeled back just the very edge of the carpet. I lined them up so that they were tight against the wall then laid the carpet back down on top of them.

I would drift off to sleep at night staring at my half-open closet door - not because I was worried about monsters but because I knew there was treasure in there, waiting for me, calling to me.

I began seeing buttons everywhere... One under a seat on the bus - a cool oval tortoiseshell button with only two holes... Another under a rack of dresses in our local department store - a plain black plastic one with three holes... They both came home with me and I added them to my collection.

Eventually, my collection outgrew the space I could get away with on the floor of my closet so I started taping them to the back of my dresser. Neat rows of buttons adorned the side of my dresser that only I saw. Before the collection got too big, I used to count them all each night before I slept and, as I drifted off, my attention now on that chest of drawers rather than my closet.

Sometimes, I would see buttons on people's coats or their clothing while I was out with my mother and I would be transfixed. A sparkly button could make my whole day and going a day without seeing a button that I deemed interesting could certainly ruin my mood. I'd be thunderous until we reached home again and I could escape to my room and my treasure.

When my mother died, I made sure that I got all of her buttons, but it wasn't difficult - neither of my brothers were interested.

My collection grew and I started housing it in a glass-fronted cabinet so that I could look at them all the time. My brothers think I'm weird but they no longer lived in our mother's house so their opinions didn't matter. I was alone there with my treasure and it was just how I liked it.

Going out to do things like grocery shopping I began to realise that the lovely buttons that I saw on other people weren't being appreciated the way that I would appreciate them if they were mine. It's wretchedly unfair so I started carrying a small seam ripper with me. I was on a personal mission to liberate unappreciated buttons.

I became quite adept at "accidentally" bumping into someone and freeing a button from their coat or sleeve. I made it into something of an art - I was like a strange little pickpocket except I never stole anything of value to my "victims", never any money or anything like that. Just buttons. Buttons they didn't even know were missing until it was too late. Buttons they must have presumed fell off of their own accord, as buttons are wont to do sometimes.

It's been a few years since I've seen any interesting buttons. I guess that's to be expected where I live now but it saddens me. I still collect them when I can but my collection is super small.

I only have three buttons now and when I'm not in my room my buttons are hidden in a pair of socks. I keep them tightly wrapped in my fist when I sleep. I dream of them. I dream of buttons, of course. I try not to dream of the woman whose beautiful button took my treasure away from me...

She was standing on the platform, waiting for her train - I had followed her into the station from the coffee shop two doors down. She had the most amazing floral buttons on her dress and I couldn't tell if they were acrylic, resin or glass but they were stunning. Hues of pink and purple petals set off against a dark green background - they perfectly matched her summery dress. I had been waiting for my moment for some time when it finally came. Her train was approaching and I slipped my seam ripper into my hand, gripping it tightly, keeping it firmly concealed. Because the platform was packed for rush hour, I knew this would be easy - I'd done it hundreds of times before.

I approached the woman as she bent to grab her bags in readiness for boarding the train and I rushed forward, pretending I was eager to be one of the first to board the train. She was significantly distracted. My hand moved in a practised motion and in one swipe the button between her breasts was mine. I pocketed the coveted button.

But she had felt her dress pull apart and she jumped back slightly, startled. I never understood how, but at that instant, as the train pulled along the platform, she was suddenly shunted forward and into me. I put my hands up to protect myself as she crashed into me and we fell to the platform.

My chest felt warm and wet and I couldn't work out how or why as I started trying to push the woman off of me when I realised people were starting to shout around us.

I couldn't hear what they were saying but there was so much warm water on me that I began to wonder if the woman had peed herself.

When I finally slid out from under the woman and stood up the shouting turned to screams and I heard the words "She's got a knife!". I looked down at the woman, confused - If she'd had a knife, I would have seen it. I'd been watching her quite closely and she definitely didn't have a knife. I knew they weren't screaming about the woman on the platform but I was then confused as to why she was still down where we had fallen together. She wasn't moving.

It didn't matter, I had to get out of there. Knife person or not, I definitely needed dry clothes.

As I approached the barrier to leave the station I turned to look back at the platform. I wasn't holding my seam ripper anymore, I must have dropped it. It was OK, I had several more at home but I wanted to see the woman whose button I had taken. I wanted to make sure she had made her train. I didn't want her to be late.

She was there but she still hadn't moved.

And there was a wet patch all around her, spreading out from under her on the platform.

As I walked back to her, I noticed that people were moving out of my way, some were running. The whole thing was very confusing.

As I knelt down to ask her if she was OK, to ask her if she needed any help, I saw my seam ripper. For a flash I was excited. I didn't want to lose a seam ripper.

But my excitement was short-lived as I was abruptly tackled from behind. As I fell forward, smashing my face into the platform, I realised that my seam ripper was embedded in the neck of the woman with whom I had fallen. What a silly place for her to have put it!


Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Waiting

#FoEWritingChallenge

I watch her in her room, playing with her makeup, speaking to her toys as though they're going to respond. How ridiculous!

She acts as though she doesn't belong where she is, she dreams of places and worlds she has never visited, yet that she longs for, as though she was never offered the chance to leave the life she loathes.

I gave her the chance to escape. I moved the stars for her and she denied me. At the very end, when I thought I had offered her the very thing she begged me for, she denied me.

She claims I have "no power" over her... Yet every night she dreams of me. Every night I hold her in my arms and we dance - the masquerade masks, the music, the life for which she yearns, all within her grasp.... All she has to do is say her right words.

I have given her so much already and even though... No. In spite of her denying me, I have given her everything.

I have given her the power. The power to bend me to her whim. All she has to do is speak the words that will bring me to her once more, the words that will, once more, enslave me to her.

But she's making me wait.

And so I will. One doesn't become the King of the Goblins without learning patience, of course.

In time she will see that I am right. In time she will call for me.

She has no choice for I am hers and she is mine. Forever.

///

Written for the #FoEWritingChallenge

An homage to/story follow-on from my favourite movie.


I want...

Yesterday I paid for drugs.

Lots of drugs, actually, worth over £700.00 in total.

This fact leaves me feeling all sorts of emotions at the same time. So many that I am not sure I can articulate them coherently, but I feel I should try.

In 14 days our home will, once again, be filled with needles and alcohol wipes and my abdomen will again become filled with tiny holes. Holes through which I will inject the necessary hormones for trying to conceive via IVF.

Spouse and I have travelled this road together before. After "forever" of trying naturally, we started in October 2016. By December we learned that we'd not been lucky.

Of the eleven eggs removed; four fertilised. Two perfect embryos were implanted - and two perished before they could be frozen. The two that were implanted didn't "stick" and so the seven pregnancy tests I took that fateful day all came back negative.

No one knows why our embryos didn't "stick". I wrote cryptically about my reaction here and, to this day, the box has not been opened.

But it's not such a large box that I am unwilling to perhaps create another.

I adore my daughter; she's one of the most amazing people I've ever met, hands down, but I want a baby. I want a child with Spouse. I want to see his little face on a tiny human that he and I made together. I want to help raise amazing people who will change the world. I want to once again see my heart outside my body. I want...

I want.

The decision was fundamentally down to two things: me and finances. Spouse has been amazing throughout all of this. He cannot bear to do the injections or even watch me do them myself (I have no problem with them, thankfully), but whatever I have said, done, wanted or needed, he has been there, done that - no questions (other than the occasional checking in to make sure I'm not holding something back - I do have a tendency to do that).

As an aside, when this works and our child/ren ask where babies come from, we're going to tell them: When two people love each other very much.... Mummy becomes a pin cushion!

Or maybe not. But the chance to have to make that decision is a chance I cannot pass up.

So, I will be drugged and we will hope for "sticky" babies this time and I will be grateful that this option is available to us for we have tried and I am ageing and I want...

I want.

Monday, 6 March 2017

I wake in the night

inside my heart echoes my howling soul

beside me he sleeps, dreaming dreams I do not yet know

a simple touch, my chilled hand on his warm arm

I am stilled, my stampeding pulse calmed


I snuggle in again, welcoming sleep

I drift into morning where, 

together, we face the coming day

Sunday, 5 March 2017

A weekend in pictures

Frozen "White Russian"

Enjoyed in front of a roaring fire


A chilly, wet walk along the seafront...









 With added political statements...



Before a much-deserve hot drink...




And then heading towards home...


Making my own Jarvis

There's a software development concept known as rubber duck debugging and, having been reminded of it recently, I knew having a duck couldn't hurt during times when I feel stuck with my writing.

A duck could help me work through problems with plot, characters, setting - any number of things.

Looking around, I quickly found The Perfect Duck but he is Out Of Stock and ne'er to return, very sadly. (Yes, I did ask.)

Needing a replacement, I decided to make my own Perfect Duck, one that's more me than the original would have been and hopefully, therefore, a better solution for externalising my ramblings.

I bought three white "racing ducks" from the wonderful people here (Thank you, Lynn!) and the ducks certainly lived up to their name with their arrival speed. They're actually a hard plastic, rather than "rubber" or a soft plastic and I prefer it that way, it means that their surface is more easily customised by simply applying paint or glue, I feel.

Huey, Dewey, and Louie

Wanting to customise them quite substantially, I first had to remove their cute little faces...

Acetone-free nail polish remover to the rescue!

Looks like someone's been eating Cheetos/Wotsits 

Cotton buds/Q-Tips managed to get the rest of the bills off.

Now, time to get creative.

My favourite colour is Aurora Borealis (AKA: "AB" or"iridescent") and I'm a sucker for anything glitter so the idea was pretty easy and pretty obvious. These little beauties would be covered in AB glitter. Duh.

Apart from stripping off their bills and eyes, I didn't do anything to prep the ducks.

I did hot glue the ducks to the tops of soda bottles so that I could access all of the curves of the ducks without covering myself in paint/glue...

I call this "Naked Ducks on Soda"

I used a cheap, acrylic kid's craft paintbrush and applied Mod Podge Extreme Glitter by Plaid - one coat on each duck.

While I certainly got far better "glitter payout" than I expected (it's a great product), it wasn't glittery enough for me. I demand glitter. I used the Mod Podge for two more coats on one of the ducks but on two, I did a single coat more before coating them in loose AB glitter.  I did two ducks this way because I wanted to then compare a duck who had been clear-coated to adhere the glitter better to the duck versus one that hadn't been coated. I presumed the glitter would fall off of the uncoated duck but needed to see if the clear-coating would dull the sparkle of the glitter in any way before deciding which duck was perfect.

Clear-coated duck, natural sunlight, outdoors 

Clear-coated duck, natural sunlight, indoors

Clear-coated duck, "bright white" light, indoors

I've named him Jarvis and I think he's perfect. I see no loss of sparkle from under the clear coat, which is a relief!

He's much more me than the duck I had originally wanted and I still do want that duck, but not as my Rubber Duck Debugging Duck. Jarvis is the duck for me in that regard.

Do you use Rubber Duck Debugging?

How would you customise a rubber duck?

Monday, 23 January 2017

I rose.


On Saturday, 21st January 2017, I became an active part of history.

On the morning of that day, I was full of nerves, full of self-doubt. Never before had I felt strongly enough about anything to "take to the streets".

Was I doing it for the right reasons? Was I doing it at all? Why now? What's so important this time?

I don't like crowds of people. I find people, en mass, to be scared, excitable beings, prone to being startled into stampeding. That scares me. Quite substantially.

What scares me more, however, is the idea that the sexism, misogyny, racism, intolerance, disrespect will continue to worsen over the next four years. That I cannot abide.

I set aside my personal reservations and applied my lipstick (my Lips of Power) that morning with a false resolve I hoped would solidify into the real thing.

I tried to buoy myself on the journey into London. In the car, I felt an unease, a low almost thrumming in my chest that always signals an impending panic attack. The feeling never abated but it also never grew, for which I was grateful.

My early morning thoughts before applying my Lips of Power.
We parked, walked to a place to have lunch and I tried not to shove my food down my throat too quickly - I was anxious and just wanted to get going. Now that I had committed and was so close, I just wanted to be there.

Finally, we were on our way. We joined the marching and I was plainly relieved when the tight crowd parted to allow inclusion for even more supporters.

No one was angry. No one was shouting foul language. Everyone was smiling at each other, showing solidarity, kinship, welcome.

I saw people of every description that day. Every age group. Every shade and colour of skin. Every gender. Every physical ability. As far as I could see, everyone was represented and London, my darling London, the "melting pot" that it is, truly did her citizens proud.

We marched to Trafalgar Square, which was already packed. Sandi Toksvig spoke briefly, though, I'm not really sure what she said as the sound system wasn't robust enough for the message she was trying to convey, the quality of her words had diminished so much by the time it reached us that what she had said was unintelligible to us in the back.

Sandi left the stage and we were lead in a rendition of Sister Sledge's "We Are Family" - I will forever think of the 21st of January 2017 when I hear the words "I got all my sisters with me".

The song, the thousands of voices joined in expressing the perfect sentiment, was what finally broke through all of my reserve.

I'm not ashamed to say: I cried. I wept. In public.

I didn't cry for long, however. I was reminded of the reasons I was there, the reasons others were there, the reasons that so many people left their comfortable homes on a bright, cold Saturday to show solidarity, to show unwillingness to accept, to publicly decry injustices that have fallen as well as the fear of future offences.

I took one photo, the one at the top. One solitary photo. I was too enveloped in the scenes, the emotions before me to worry about getting a snapshot. I didn't need to take any pictures. There are plenty of photographers who are better than I at capturing crowds who have captured thousands of images of the day. From marches all around the world, images of my sisters, my brothers, all my siblings, worldwide who rose that day.

We decided we should leave the rally and find warmth, find food. I had done what I had set out to accomplish. I had proven, if only to myself, that what is happening in the world, what is happening in the country of my birth, was not something I could sit idly by and allow my silence to imply agreement or acceptance.

I do not accept. I do not sit. I rose and I will rise. I will go high.

I will ever send all of my love and my gratitude to every single person who made that day possible.

If you want to know what my reasons are, please feel free to ask. This, however, is not the place for my reasons for marching, so I have left them aside.