The Colouring Book

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Thank you very much, Aunt Patricia, it’s lovely,” the little girl repeated dutifully.

She stared down at the book that lay on her knee, the pretty flowered wrapping paper slipping to the floor. The book was called “Magical Animals” and the little girl ran her fingers across the plain white cover.

It had a pleasing gloss to it and the words “Magical Animals” were imprinted in gold. Her aunt – well, her mother’s friend from University, actually – winked slyly at her.

Wait till you’re by yourself and then try it.”

The little girl smiled politely, never quite sure what to make of this large lady, with her flowing scarves and velvet dresses, rather dashing high heels and striking makeup.

The party took over and it wasn’t until several days later that the little girl remembered the book. She retreated to her bedroom and shut the door, reaching for her better quality colouring pencils… somehow she felt that this mysterious book would be contemptuous of her supermarket pencils.

She opened the book to select a picture and was at once swept away by the possibilities as the wonderfully detailed line drawings flooded her vision, just waiting for her to bring life and warmth with her pencils…

A unicorn! That would just have to be silver and pink – a little frog, she had several shades of green that would work for him… The animals got larger and more menacing as she turned the pages – a tiger, ready to spring from the book alive in orange and pitch black … an alligator, swamp green and brown; and then a creature she didn’t recognise, with deceptively soft drawn fur and claws like knives…

There was a little paragraph of writing underneath the drawing:

All animals, no matter how soft or tame they seem, have hidden wildness. Your pet cat can be a tiger, your dog, a wolf. This drawing is to show this wildness in every beast, to remind us to treat our animals, Mother Earth’s children with respect or -”

The little girl slammed the book shut, unnerved by the way the crouching, snarling monster had seemed to loom out of the pages towards her.

She opened the book again, careful to stay in the foremost pages and selected a picture of a rabbit. She worked hard on her colouring, wanting to bring warmth and a sense of life, of “fluffiness” to the picture – she’d had a pet rabbit when she was a very little girl and remembered with pleasure the soft warm fur.

She used a russet and a chestnut brown, colouring carefully the curved back, shading gently over the delicate ears and choosing a lighter brown for the large, round eyes. She sat back, and looked, pleased with her colouring, vivid and detailed, the little rabbit really seemed –

She laughed delightedly as he shook himself awake from the paper and leapt from her desk to the floor. He shook coloured pencil dust from his fur and sat back on his haunches as if to greet the little girl.

Shocked yet thoroughly pleased, she reached out a hand and gently touched the rabbit on the head, feeling soft warm fur and a living warmth. The rabbit hopped carefully around her bedroom, pausing every so often to examine a book, a discarded shoe.

Darling? Are you busy? Dinner’s ready!”

Her mother’s voice startled both her and the rabbit and quick as a flash he bounded from the floor to her chair to the desk and straight back into the pages of the colouring book.

Coming, Mummy!” the little girl called back, stopping momentarily to check the pages of her book. Yes, the rabbit was there again, captured in paper, the colouring exactly as she remembered doing … She touched the book wonderingly and smiled, a secret smile to herself, as she left her bedroom.

That night, before she went to sleep, she slipped the magical book under her pillow.

Tomorrow,” she thought, “tomorrow, I could try the unicorn!”

With images of wonderful silver horses dancing in her imagination, the little girl fell asleep, smiling to herself …

Only to awaken, later, heart thudding in fright and panic.

She could hear footsteps. They didn’t belong. These weren’t the careful, light steps of her mother, or the firm tread of her father … these were… creeping. She felt a wriggle from under her pillow and remembered her book. She pulled it out and dropped it frightened, to the floor, as the creeping footsteps crept and paused. Outside her door.

The pages of her colouring book stirred … and her coloured rabbit sprang from the pages of the book, followed by something much wilder and darker that slipped through the edges between reality and dreamtime … and between the hinges of her bedroom door and onto the landing.

A startled gasp – and then a scream of pain, followed by pounding footsteps that fled downstairs with her father’s voice roaring in anger…

Later, much later, after her mother had comforted her, and explained that a bad man had got into the house, but it wouldn’t happen again because he – well, it just wouldn’t happen again … the little girl looked for her colouring book.

She turned, cautiously to the page where she knew the rabbit lived. Yes! He was still there! But what was that trace of red on his whiskers and about his claws? The slight dark shadow behind…

Thoughtfully, she closed the book and laid it carefully back on her desk.

She hasn’t used it again – yet.

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The Alternate Path

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Oh, he’s here now, I’ll get the door!” the man called back to his wife.

She looked up at him over the top of her glasses and smiled, lovingly.

Thank you, you’re so good to me.”

He smiled back and went to answer the door. Her son stood on the doorstep:

Ah, good to see you, young man! Come in!” The older man gave him a quick hug and took his bag from him.

Your mother’s just through there, she had one of her heads yesterday. She still gets a little… unhappy.” The man laid his hand on the younger man’s arm.

I know, I know, don’t worry, I won’t upset her,” the son reassured the older man.

Darling, it’s wonderful to see you!”

He entered the warm, bright sun room as his mother rose to greet him. Small and gently blonde, she radiated happiness as she accepted her son’s embrace.

It’s good to see you looking so well, Mum,” he said.

Oh, it’s all down to him, you know, he thinks I don’t notice, but he’s so kind, always there; I – I’m not afraid any more.”

The older man re-entered the room and glanced sharply at the woman, both assessing and reassuring as he gently touched her arm.

Come through, my love, I’m making tea, and then we can sort something out for dinner while we catch up…”

The younger man followed his mother and her husband into the kitchen, another warm and inviting room and took a place at the table.

He watched his mother move about the kitchen confidently, putting dinner together, her husband passing her things as she reached for them and always tender, aware.

The younger man told funny stories about his friends and their escapades at university, scandalous enough to elicit gasps of delighted shock from his mother and humorous, reproving glances from her husband.

After dinner, a comfortable silence prevailed and the son was quietly pleased with his mother’s progress, as she leaned against her husband, watching some television programme.

He closed his eyes briefly and was instantly taken back to a small, dark, smelly room, his mother sobbing in the corner as the small fat man shouted angrily at her, berating her for yet another imagined slight. She shrank in fear as the small fat man, his father, raised his hand and –

Darling, whatever’s the matter? You’ve gone as white as a sheet!” His mother looked at him anxiously.

Nothing, nothing – I thought-for a moment, we were –”

No. No. That’s over.” Her husband leant forward and patted him comfortingly on the knee. “Look. Go to bed. You’ve had a long journey and you’re obviously tired.”

The son said goodnight and left, and as he did, he glanced back and was inexplicably moved by the tender way the older man lifted gentle hands to his wife’s face. He smoothed her hair and kissed her softly. For a tall man, he was quiet and controlled in his movements, calm and gentle to be around and as his mother leaned into her husband’s embrace the son watched and had a sense of truly coming home.

* * *

That night, he slept badly. Disturbed by dreams of past, loud voices and banging footsteps, screaming televisions, slamming doors and womens’ tears.

As he woke, he woke in a blur, cold sweat beading his face and sticking his armpits. It was early, but he could hear voices, so headachy and cross he went downstairs.

He opened the kitchen door, the door to his past and was taken straight back to the nightmare. His mother, tears rolling silently down her bruised cheeks, thin shoulders trembling as she stood in the corner, facing the small fat man who was his father, brandishing fists and words…

OR

His mother and her husband looked up from the Sunday papers they were reading, startled by his abrupt entrance into the quiet warmth of their kitchen.

Darling, would you like some tablets – perhaps the wine at dinner last night didn’t agree…” She looked concerned and put her hand on top of her husband’s. “Would you –”

I’ll get them. Don’t worry.” He rose to his feet and as he passed the younger man, briefly rested an arm across his shoulders.

Don’t worry.” He said again, and smiled, kindly.

As the Barrel Swings…

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I must thank Lady Joyful for lending me the use of her picture, please go and have a look at her lovely blogs. As well as being a talented card maker, she also does the Photo A Day Challenge and we both agreed that this particular picture looked as though it had a story to tell.

So, here you are. Thank you, Lady Joyful, for lending me your picture and providing me with a haunting title…

As The Barrel Swings…

The landlord was proud of his beer and justly so. His inn was warm and welcoming, clean and restful, and the brew he served danced as lightly on the tongue as if it had been stirred by the Little Folk themselves. The landlord like his father, and grandfather before him, believed in giving a good beer to his customers and proudly hung a barrel outside his inn, directly outside his daughter’s chamber window, and as she lay in her bed, she could hear it creaking gently in the breeze – a badge of office and confirmation of the delicate beverage to be found within.

The customers came, from far and wide, to drink this beer and eat home made bread and cheese, the yeasty dough and white crumbly cheese the perfect accompaniment to the golden, summer-smelling beer.

The landlord’s reputation spread, attracting custom from all over the county, including the gentry and their friends. Sometimes the landlord’s wife and daughter would be obliged to help serve thirsty farmhands their drinks, while the sons changed barrels and cleared tables, good humoured and bluff.

And then one day, as the breeze blew, it brought something new. Something slim, dark and rapier sharp, riding on a fine grey stallion, soft of mouth and light of foot. The young man was friend to the squire’s son, but a very different being in this country of blonde men and women, apple cheeked and round limbed. No, this young man was dark and fine, delicately drawn and thin but strong, as the muscles corded and rippled through the fine cotton on his shirt.

The landlord’s daughter couldn’t take her eyes off him. Her eyes lingered admiringly on the strong young throat, shadowed darkly with sleek hair, so very different to the yellow coarseness of those around her like the stubble on the fields when the wheat was harvested.

He laughed and lowered his tankard and his eyes fell upon the landlord’s daughter. A speaking silence hung between them, dark eyes locked on blue. A brother’s shove flung thoughts of love aside and she returned to her duties.

A murmuring, a discontented mutter from the brother to the father and all eyes turned to the dark young man, slim and elegant like a shady flame.

His eyes returned again and again to the landlord’s daughter, plumply pretty and moon fair.

He watched her and waited, a sleek dark fox patiently seeking his prize. As she slipped out the back to empty the spitoon, the young man nonchalantly left to use the privy. He caught her by the stables and looked deep into her eyes. She gazed back and was lost as he raised a hand and placed it gently, oh so gently, on the soft skin of her throat. A meeting was arranged, a time was agreed; and they parted with the promise of passion to be shared.

A figure slid out of the shadows by the stables, a brother had heard and reported back all to their father, not a word left unsaid.

With fury and rage, the landlord simmered. He and his sons swore that the daughter would not stray and resolved to stop this in the country way.

Night time fell, a summer evening sweet with promise, yet anticipated chill as Autumn waited around season’s corner, the wolf of Winter not far behind. The scent of honeysuckle gilded the air as bats slipped through the sky and an owl called softly as it flew past on moth-downy wings, startling the girl who waited by the elm. Her heart beat brightly in her chest with pleasure as she waited for the one who held her love.

The slim young man set out eagerly on foot, weaving through the darkness to where his love waited, the one in whose eyes he had seen his future. His foot fell on the gravel path – at once he felt a warmth at his back and a fear at his soul. The breath left his lungs with a terrible blow.

His love stood waiting, waiting by the tree as he fought for his life and tried to struggle free.

The landlord and his sons – for it was them of course – beat the young man until he was dead. The daughter’s heart broke, piece by tender piece, as the promise of a future slowly disappeared, as the evening dew fell, as mist wreathed the tree.

Left with a body they had to hide, the man and his sons took it inside.

And into the barrel they carefully packed the fine young man from whom they had hacked, body and soul, life and limb. They emptied his life into the barrel, they sealed it with tar and hung it with care.

The barrel was replaced outside the daughter’s chamber window: she returned home, sadly and quietly, a little bit older and a world of grief wiser and retreated to her bed to cry and mourn.

She never married or looked at another man, grieving for a love so briefly held and lost, yet unawares that the man she mourned and longed for hung within touching distance.

As she aged, he decayed, united in loss; and the landlord thrived.

Alice Updated

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“Don’t worry, you’ll make friends once you’ve settled in.”

“Don’t forget to work hard, we know what you students are like, out all night.”

These words fell on frightened ears as her parents left her. They left her, in the hall of residence in a nameless, faceless block in a city she didn’t know and she was afraid.

It was bleak, it was dark, it was autumn and she longed for the golden days of when she was at school. The city was brutal, it was dark and it rained. She didn’t know where she was or she felt to be so tenderly abandoned. She was not equipped for this!

The gentle county of her youth, her kind teachers and thoughtful friends, the lessons, the plans, the routine, these were things she understood.

Scornful tutors mouthed incomprehensible words in echoing lecture theatres and people laughed. She couldn’t eat, she didn’t know how. And yet, and yet, she was touched with kindness as others saw her and were drawn to this sad, lonely girl, “Alice of the Otherworld” as the darkness called her.

“Here, come out with us, have a drink, you’ll feel better!”

The tall, dark, boy laughed like a maniac with knives in his eyes and pushed the glass towards her.

She drank; and was transported. Down and down she fell, tumbling down a smooth golden tunnel that smelled enticingly of childhood and weepingly of home.

When she opened her eyes, she was lying in a field. The day was golden, and dusted with sunshine, the old oak tree she reclined against felt warm and comfortable, as comforting as her bed at home.

She sat up, and her hands touched grass, grass that slithered through her fingers as soft as silk and warm as blood. A winged rabbit fluttered by, its delicate wings etched in green, flushing pink as it startled at her presence and shied away.

And as she looked, and looked again, what at first she took for flowers, beat their wings and flew away in a chattering flock and she heard the swallows singing at home as they prepared to fly to Africa.

She sighed and laid down again. This was not home, but it would do, the echoes were familiar and some of it was comforting. She drew this atmosphere around her, like her duvet at home, and shut her eyes.

***

“Ally! Ally! No! Ally, wake up! You bastard, what did you give her?”

The dark youth smiled uneasily and slid away, as her head lolled and a trickle of thin, yellow vomit escaped her smiling mouth, while the one who would have loved her grabbed his phone and cried.

Trapped

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She was the most beautiful thing in the world to him. She couldn’t believe her luck when he looked at her and chose her. He made her feel special with his attention, as he paraded her in front of his friends, remarked upon her intelligence and complimented her.

Previously unliked by men and women both, she bloomed under his guidance. The few friends she had carefully cultivated, the ones who liked her kindness and welcomed her company did not meet his standards. Under his secret sneers and uncomprehending gaze they lost heart and withered away from her. Puzzled but happy, she accepted their gradual withdrawal and instead immersed herself in her new love.

She joyfully signed away her independence, trusting to her new love to keep her safe. The door of his house closed behind her, implacably, impermeable, impregnable.

She quickly learned. A place for everything and everything in its place. Clean and tidy by nature, she realised she must not clean and tidy, without first informing him of her intentions and replacing things exactly where they were. She quickly learned. Fond of reading and music, she realised she must not read in his presence as he required her full attention, every minute of every day. She restrained her love of music until she knew she was alone in the house, and danced, summoning the joy she dimly remembered from months past.

Her intelligence, once an asset, became a burden. Once praised, now ridiculed. She quickly learned. She stifled independent thought and individual opinion. Crushed them down until they crumbled away. Told she was stupid, she began to believe. Told she was untrustworthy, she began to doubt. Told she was pathetic, she began to die.

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Home

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In her day to day life she coped. She managed. In the workplace, her co-workers noted her for her dedication to her job and her determination. No-one knew what lay beneath. At night time alone, alone in her bed, she hungered. The memory of his touch burned her skin and branded her soul. Above, she was as calm as the proverbial millpond.

Occasionally, the passion that simmered beneath burst through like bubbling lava. It manifested itself in outbursts of temper, quite unlike her usual moon-calm self, as sudden and unexpected as a desert storm. Her colleagues noticed.

When she woke from sleep heavy eyed and angry, she could bear it no longer. Never one for the doctor, she had no wish to bare her soul to the kindly old man who had known her since birth, and turned instead to a more “New Age” solution.

Her colleague, a wispy woman who spent most weekends at spiritual events, had taken her aside once, confidingly:

“You’re an old soul, my love… has anyone ever suggested hypnosis to you? Perhaps you have some issues from a past life that need resolving…”

She thanked her colleague politely and gently removed the woman’s hand from her arm.

The idea, however, took root. Waking yet again from another dream where her soul was left yearning for she knew not what, she took matters into her own hands. She researched thoroughly the credentials of each hypnotist she found – she was that sort of person, ordered and methodical. She determined that she would find the cause of this underlying distant unhappiness and eliminate it. It had no place in her life.

Her appointment time arrived and she dressed with care. Comfortable loose clothing and an open mind. The pleasant woman hypnotist welcomed her in and directed her to a padded chair. She sat down and surprisingly, for one who considered herself so strong minded she was there. He was waiting. She was lost in his deep, dark gaze and her body knew him and mourned his passing.

But he was there, arms outstretched and as they enfolded her she went home.

***

The hypnotist panicked. Unable to recall her, she ran for her phone to call emergency services. If she had stayed and watched, she would have seen the woman’s chest cease to rise and fall; the faint smile that curved her lips as she stopped breathing.

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The Thought Mouse

Mousie (3).jpegWhere’s a real mouse when you need one? Still… you get the idea…

The old lady sat in her chair and looked out of her window, over her back garden. The front garden was little more than a token, a slip of green and a stone step, enough on which to set a pot of cheerful seasonal bulbs. But her back garden brought her pleasure: crammed with old fashioned roses that lounged against the walls or reached joyously upwards, spilling silky petals and heavy scent.

The potted jasmine threw lacy designs against the trunk of the old lilac tree, growing delicate white flowers, the shape of an elegant lady’s shoe that overflowed with perfume. As the old lady’s sight had failed, she had come to value her other senses more dearly and had taken care to grow plants that spoke to her with their smell and touch. She reached absent-mindedly down to the side of her chair, reached for the soft warm ears and rounded head of her dog, then sighed as she remembered. He had passed from this world and into the next a couple of months earlier, lying in her arms while the nice young lady vet spoke soothingly.

The old lady felt a shove of grief, as vicious as a mugger but pushed it aside and resolutely peered into her garden, seeking distraction at the bird table. Bold starlings chattered and bustled, while little brown sparrows darted in to seize a beakful of seed and deliver it to their half-fledged babies, chirping sweetly and fluttering their wings imploringly

But what was that? A sudden scurry, a swift rush, sharp enough to catch her old eyes. A little mouse! He looked cautiously from behind the geraniums and darted a little closer to the food. The old lady smiled to see him select a sunflower seed, holding it in his tiny pink paws and nibbling at it delicately. She watched as he wiped his whiskers fastidiously and left, following an obviously familiar route along the old brick wall. Weeks passed, and it grew to be a regular event.

“Come on then, cheeky,” she would call and a small brown head would pop out of a crevice in the wall, black beady eyes alight with interest, The old lady waited for his visits and he brightened her hours, for as summer progressed, she knew she hadn’t long left.

One day, she left a little piece of chocolate by the bird table, a particular treat for herself and something mice preferred above all else, she recalled hearing somewhere. She waited for the little mouse. He arrived, following his usual route, but instead of seizing his chocolate and retreating, he sat up on his haunches and regarded her steadily.

“What is it then? You’ve got a look in your eye like my old Rex when he wanted a stroke!” Gently the old lady reached out and touched the tiny head. Smooth warm fur, soft as silk met her fingertips and the old lady smiled.

A sudden flurry of wings startled the mouse and he left rapidly, with a whisk of his tail. The old lady got to her feet – for all her age she had remained fit and limber, thanks in part to careful eating and regular walking. Suddenly tired, she returned indoors to sit in her chair, and enjoy the evening sun as it set over her garden.

“I’ll just close my eyes a minute, then I’d better see to dinner,” she thought. As her eyes closed, she felt again the warmth and fragility of the little mouse head under her fingertips and smiled, as the last of the evening sun fell upon her tired old face.

***

The house was empty and clean. Airy and welcoming. The young couple marvelled at the price and high ceilings, loved the mortgage and picture rails.

“All untouched, so perhaps if you fancy a good make-over project, rip out the garden and extend the kitchen into this area…” The man and woman looked at each other. It was peaceful, happy and welcoming. No one had lived there for months and it would be a lovely house to raise a family, pleasant and untouched.

And yet, if anyone had cared to look, as the smart young estate agent swept the hopeful young couple out of the room, they would have seen a trail of tiny pawprints, along the old skirting board and disappearing outside.

Words and drawing Copyright © 2016 Samantha Murdoch