Monster

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Ahh. That time of year again. The crispness of approaching winter in the air, a relief after the slop of soggy leaves underfoot. A sinuous mist that hung and curled, cat-soft around the corners of the city streets.

The veil is thin at this time of year, and as he thought, so he stretched his wings, the grimy sandstone rippling into leathery life. He turned his head, grating and grinding. Perhaps a good year to fly, although the last time he had ventured forth was when good King Richard ruled. He had seen what had passed since and decided, yes, a good night to fly.

Creaking and stretching he extended one scaly leg to his left, balancing, then – away. His powerful wings beat away the layers of time that had settled like a second skin and carried him up. Up, and over the city.

He noted how it had grown, the small mean buildings had given way to brick built structures and gleaming glass towers, far more splendid than his own humble church. Surely these splendid buildings were houses of happiness and joy, and his stony heart swelled with the thought that people had discovered how to live together with love and kindness.

But as he flew, silver threads of thoughts and scenes drifted up to him. He saw:

young men, reeling, drunk

girls, staggering, vomiting

children, crying in pain and fear

dogs whimpering in fright

women, weeping in the cold

And then. He saw a tall man, bending over the body of a woman. He paused, outside the window of the house. He watched, as the man delivered one final punch to the woman’s face, and as he stood upright he licked the blood from his knuckles with relish and saw the silent watcher at the window.

Their eyes met and held and the watcher knew fear, the spine creeping chill of evil and despair. He let his wings carry him away from those eyes, cold and stony dead.

Now who’s the monster

Desert.

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The sniper sighed and shifted his position slightly, careful not to disturb the smallest rock, anything that might betray his spot to unseen watching enemy eyes. He slowly eased his finger back and forth on the trigger of his rifle and squinted into the sight, grimacing as a bead of sweat rolled down his forehead and stung the corner of his eye.

He waited. High overhead, a hawk wheeled aimlessly in the sky, searching, looking. The soldier rolled over carefully, onto his side and allowed himself a drink of water. He knew it was all about being patient, not losing the “edge” – or his nerve, but still he wished something would happen.

Night fell. He closed his eyes and dozed, a little, stirring once as a bold jackal ventured closer to investigate and sniffed delicately at his boots. Early hours – he awoke and stretched, another drink of water and a bite of chocolate – quick energy boost.

Dawn approached and the desert was painted in uniform hues of grey and silver. The sniper amused himself by focussing and re-focussing his rifle sight and settled down to wait again.

An hour or so passed and he watched a scorpion, intricate and jointed, scuttle across the rock in front of his nose. He knew it was harmless and didn’t flinch from it, momentarily distracted by its hinged legs and shiny carapace.

There! What was that? A flash of movement caught his eye and he raised himself up on his elbows to gaze through the rifle sights, anxious not to miss his target. But. This was not the expected enemy army convoy… a ragged group of men, dressed in what looked like robes and armed with – swords?

And as he watched, mouth agape slightly in shock, some men on horseback appeared – how? – and fell upon the ragged little group. The riders were richly dressed, the blues and greens of their robes stood out clearly in the sepia morning light.

He saw the ragged men fall apart, one man landing hopelessly, clutching at his stomach where rubbery ropes of coiled intestines slipped between his desperate grasping fingers.

Savage yells of pain and rage reached his ears, the whinney of a frightened horse whose rider was pulled from his saddle and set upon in a blur of blades and fists. They hacked and sliced and cut – the watching soldier winced as he clearly heard the wet thubbery sound of blade striking flesh and the myriad sucking, slicing sounds as the swords withdrew and bit again amidst angry roars and yells of pain.

He moved slightly and blinked and what? – The men were gone. Nothing. A swirl of sand blown by the wind made a miniature whirlwind across the patch of ground where seconds before he had glimpsed a horrific battle scene.

Nothing. The sniper sighed, and settled down to wait…

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.

Howlite and Hauntings

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I’m not a great sleeper. Don’t get me wrong, I love sleep, I’m just not very good at it. I mentioned this in passing to my son’s lovely crystal lady Lizian and she suggested I try some Howlite, placed under my pillow.

It’s not the most beautiful crystal I own, but it is certainly one of the most useful. It has a cool, silk texture and a satisfying feel to the hand, one of those crystals that conjure “mind pictures”, and I at once thought of a tall glass of milk, cool, soothing, calming.

I was unsurprised to learn, therefore, that it is in fact, a wonderfully beneficial stone for those with insomnia. I use it in conjunction with Selenite, and these two crystals combined allow me a glimpse of the Promised Land … Slumber.

Howlite stills the mind, turning down the volume of everyday life and allowing serenity and calmness in. In that breathing space, reasoned communication can be achieved as it allows your open mind to receive attunement and wisdom; its patterning of soft grey lines almost showing you a mental map, a way forward, to release selfishness and criticism and fulfill your own positive spiritual and material ambitions.

img_8998Dyed Howlite (or Turquenite) balances mood fluctuations and brings inner peace 

My appalling sleep habits started when I was tiny, and although I have gone through weeks, months even, when I have slept all right, the demon of Insomnia returns to pluck at the edges of my consciousness …

I had the most terrible nightmares when I was little, perhaps about two or three years old. I can remember to this day the metallic taste of my own fear, the creeping terror that chilled my limbs and numbed my brain, while the blood pounded and thumped its slow sluggish way through my heart…

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My parents had finally earned enough to move out of the veterinary practice house, and buy a house of their own, for themselves and their two daughters. It was a brand – new house, built in the late ‘60’s, when the city we lived in had a rise in population and people moving away from the city centre to the suburbs. The sandy coloured bricks were clean, the woodwork shiny white and fresh … an immaculately kept front garden, four bedrooms, good sizes, beautiful modern bathroom and a fitted kitchen with all mod-cons. My mother loved it. I hated it.

She set about making this house into our home, and yet … and yet …

Looking back, this house had the fetid fug of unhappiness clinging to it, like the shredded remnants of a corpse shroud. And I began to dream … and what dreams. Nightmares of being stuck in a multi – storey car park. Hiding desperately behind a car, hearing the tick – tick – tick of its cooling engine, and knowing that out there waited a sword – wielding maniac with clothes that smelt of blood and a laugh like poison.

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Dreams of ogres, that clawed and dragged their way up the stairs of this house ; not cute ogres, but creatures of terror and despair, yellow rotting fangs in a mouth open wide to tear my body apart, so afraid, so frozen with fear I could hardly scream or breathe, clawing my way back to cold, sweating wakefulness with tears of sheer horror clinging to my face.

I developed asthma and a reluctance to go to bed. Every night, at a certain time, my parents in the front room – my bedroom was directly above it – would hear a thud, and then footsteps, going from my room across the landing and into the bathroom. The dogs would raise their heads and watch the footsteps travel across the ceiling … My father tried to pass the noises off as my cat, jumping off the bed and walking across the landing. My mother kept the cat in the front room with them, and yet the noises still happened. Whenever my parents went to check on me, I was in bed. Asleep.

And then one night I had a convulsion and stopped breathing. On this particular night, I had already been unwell, wheezy and tightchested, but had gone to bed, soothed by the promise of regular checks from my mother. At the usual time, she heard the footsteps and rushed upstairs to check on me… I remember to this day the awful sensation of trying and trying to expand my chest and simply not getting enough air… and that’s all I remember about that night.

Apparently, I gasped and stopped. Breathing. Panicked, my mother shook me whilst screaming for my father to ring the doctor. The breath came back to me and I was all right, I was breathing, but the doctor came anyway and gave me an injection …

At work the next day, my mother was relating the tale of my brush with Death. A colleague said to her:

Well, I was quite surprised actually anyway, when I heard you had bought that house…”

My mother, pounced on this statement, perhaps thinking of the faulty damp course and demanded an explanation. The colleague obliged.

Oh yes, it was such a tragedy. The family that lived there before you, they had a little girl about Samantha’s age. I think she had asthma too… well, anyway, poor little thing. One night she had a really bad attack and died… Couldn’t do a thing for her…”

The house went on the market that same day and my family returned to the practice house.

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***

(As a post script to this story, I Googled the address of this house where we used to live. I was interested to see it was up for sale. Again.)

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.