Posts By J.M.French

Ashes

I saw him. Sat on the floor surrounded by fire and clutching at his bleeding shoulder. Who would wait to ambush a fireman?

He’d lost his helmet and his eyes were streaming but through the haze of tears he could still see me on the landing; his face was a mixture of horror at the sight of my minimal clothing and the desire to rescue me from the burning building. He made to get up but I pushed him gently back down, saying nothing as I took his hand away from the wound.

‘You need to get out!’ he roared above the deafening inferno, sweat dripping from his face as his body battled the heat.

I didn’t reply and only put my hands over the fleshy hole in his shoulder.

The bullet had travelled far into the joint and buried itself in the muscle until it hit bone. I could feel it as an imaginary bullet sliced into me, a weeping, bleeding hole manifesting itself on my shoulder. This pain was real, white and almost unbearable. I screwed up my face and the man, watching agape at the wound that was transferring from him to me, suddenly realised what was happening and screamed at me to stop. I shut him out and locked onto the bullet that was slowly being pushed out of his shoulder, the muscle and skin healing behind it.

I had to resist the urge to collapse when the bullet bounced onto the floor. I could feel my eyes ready to roll into the back of their sockets and my mind ready to slip into a delicious darkness.

Deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out.

My skin started to cover over the hole and within seconds there was nothing to show for the healing that I’d just performed. Without warning the man took me over his shoulders and pelted down the crumbling stairs to the open doorway. I pushed the flames back but his training showed him where to step and he darted in between the various fiery objects that stood in his way.

He put me down carefully next to a seat and we looked at each other for a moment. His eyes drew lines all over my body, taking in my bare arms, the blood stain where his had been and my distinctly clean face.

Our eyes met while I got up slowly and I waited until the last second to look away as I wandered into the night. I looked back for a final time when I got to the corner of the road and he was still watching me, bewildered and confused. He looked more afraid than when he was about to be burnt alive.

***

I took the bullet out of my pocket and studied it under the light in the kitchen.

There was something carved into the surface; words but not enough to make a sentence. I made a mental note to visit Ray and his magnifier.

There was a knock on the door and after the silence of the room it made me jump and drop the bullet. It rolled into a corner and I decided to leave it as the knocking on the door became more panicked.

I briefly looked through the spy hole but immediately wrenched the door open and pulled a frazzled Ray into the hallway. He was breathing heavily and his tall, wiry frame was shuddering.

‘What’s wrong?!’ I asked urgently.

At first he could only shake his head and splutter.

Eventually he managed a broken sentence; ‘bodies, burning. The smell.’

He wretched and I stepped out of the way as he barged into the bathroom.

I left the hallway to give him some peace and went in search for the bullet on my kitchen floor.

After about 10 minutes, Ray joined me at the kitchen table where I had set out two cups of tea. He gulped his down gratefully and exhaled slowly.

‘You ok?’ I asked.

‘Yeah,’ he replied, ‘just a bit shaken up.’

‘Really? I would never have noticed.’

Ray smiled at my sarcasm and took gulp of tea. Even slumped on the uncomfortable wooden chair he was still almost twice my height.

‘Come on then, spill!’ I encourage playfully.

He gave a shaky laugh and put his mug down on the table. ‘Ok, well I was just walking home from work like every other day but this time I decided to look down an alley which I didn’t even know existed before today!’

‘Ok, so what? You saw something or…’

‘I smelt it first!’ Ray rubbed his forehead, ‘literally as soon as I was opposite it I could smell it and once you’ve smelt the stench of burning bodies, you don’t forget it!’ He breathed out shakily and closed his eyes, trying not to throw up into his mug.

‘So they were burning bodies down an alley way? Were there people actually doing this or just the bodies on their own?’

Ray opened his eyes, ‘there were people in face masks watching them burn and stoking the fire with rubbish they’d picked up,’ he paused, ‘I swear they were laughing!’ He downed the rest of his tea. ‘They saw me pretty much instantly and basically chased me so I didn’t want to run home in case they came to find me there…’

‘So you came home and made them think that you live here?! Thanks so much, you’re a great friend!’ I grabbed the mugs off the table and slung them into the washing up bowl.

‘No, no wait! I lost them before I came here, I think!’ I still had my back to him and his uncertainty of losing these dangerous people made me even more angry.

He tried to back track, ‘I must of lost them because they haven’t started burning your door down yet!’

I gave a crude laugh at his joke but I wasn’t overly confident in his evidence; these people could be lying in wait to take me by surprise when I was in bed or leaving the house. Even though they couldn’t hurt me, there was no telling what I would do to them if they jumped out on me and there would be two more burning bodies to add to the pile in that alley.

‘Can I stay here tonight?’ Ray asked tentatively.

I sighed irritably, caught up in my thoughts. ‘You’re going to have to because if you get mobbed by these people I’ll have to organise your funeral and I really don’t have time right now!’

I heard him jump up and then felt a light kiss being planted on my cheek before he ran upstairs to snuggle into the spare bed.

A Casual Walk

There are always days when I do not feel very motivated to work. This was one of those days. To be productive in some way I decided to go dog walking on my own and this would have been a good idea had they been open. As I drove off I saw a member of staff stepping into a disinfectant boot wash which looked suspiciously like they were trying to get rid of kennel cough, but there was nothing I could do. Not wanting to go back to flat too soon, I drove to a part of the canal where I had always wanted to walk and had not yet been able too. Despite the huge, lake- like puddles in the car park it was a sunny day and I made it onto the towpath, overtook a man throwing bread to the ducks and wandered over a bridge.

As I stepped over the stile the smell of fresh cow poo hit me but living in the countryside for two years as a student has helped me to tolerate the smell so that it didn’t bother me at all. With no cows in sight I carried on walking down a well beaten path and eventually came upon the herd. I wasn’t scared, they seemed to be minding their own business and as I stared out over the fields, railway track and cooling towers of the power station I felt calm.

It was only after I had taken a few pictures and wandered round a bit that the cows started to look at me. They were blocking the path and, as a lone walker I didn’t want to push past them for fear of getting trodden on. The longer I stayed though, the more interested in me they became and I don’t know whether they thought I had food or not but they started to approach me. At first it was only a few of them and they stopped when I held up my hand. But then I tried to walk away.

I was becoming increasingly uneasy and when I turned round to walk back to the bridge I heard the trampling of hooves behind me. I don’t know much about cows, but I do know that they are big and these ones had horns included in the package. I started to back away and was a little scared when they started to follow me. All of them.

A young grey cow ran excitedly towards me but thankfully sticking my arm out in front of me was enough to stop her in her tracks. It wasn’t enough to stop them following me and so I walked backwards for about two hundred metres as they advanced slowly. I must confess that I was incredibly scared and even though they probably meant me no harm I couldn’t help thinking that if I turned my back, that would be their que to run at me and I would be tossed up in the air. The imagination is sometimes not your best friend.

I had now started to walk (still backwards) past a line of trees that overhung the canal, in my head I had planned to climb them if the cows decided to run at me but then I would have been stuck up a tree and possibly have to be rescued by my friends. That would have been way too mortifying! The cows seemed hesitant to follow me past the trees and the gap between the herd and I increased from less than a meter to maybe 20. This gave me a bit more space to breathe and I kept on walking backwards, knowing that the bridge was close now and I didn’t have that far to go.

In the end a pigeon was my savior. As I led the herd into its patch of trees it had obviously become annoyed and decided to flap noisily away with the characteristic clapping sound that pigeons are known for. Fortunately for me this scared the cows and a few of them leapt into the air and ran away. This left only a few, including an old, woolly headed cow that had been the one most intent on following me. She eyed me with slight contempt as I made a run for the safety of the bridge and I know this was probably because after all the walking, I had not led her to a pile of tasty treats.

As I sat with my legs dangling over the bridge, trying to get my heart beat under control, I saw a family of coots bobbing under a weeping willow. I understand why water can be a safe haven and one of my emergency plans to evade being trampled by cows was to jump into the canal and swim to the other side. That was as a last resort though, no one wants to have to explain to people why they are wet through when there hasn’t been rain for two days.

Even though it would have been nice to have some moral support in the situation, I was quite glad that no one was there to hear me feebly say ‘stop’ over and over in the vain hope that the cows would understand. Also the constant swearing and heavy breathing would have been hard to live down.

And so, what is the moral of the story? For a start maybe walking on my own was not a good idea, even though I had my phone with me, what would have been the use of calling one of my friends whilst walking backwards away from a herd of cows? Secondly, walking on your own in a field of cows is also not a good idea, unless, like one of my friends, you have lived on a farm and regularly hang out with them. Now I know that I should have waved manically at them but my instinct at the time said that this could have made them want to trample me. This experience really made me feel like a “towny” but I won’t let that deter me from going on walks again. Next time though I will take a friend.

Stranger Danger

They were relaxed and happy by the river. There was nothing but blue sky and green grass to see on the other side; Mrs Mangan was happily trimming her hedge into the shape of a fat swallow while her little scotty dog chased leaves in the slight breeze. It was idyllic, a scene often shown in the repeats of Miss Marple that Dylan’s mother watched on weekends. While he looked down at his own dog, Bruce, he was reminded of how lucky he was that he could live in such a beautiful surroundings. He’d find a way to stay in that village for the rest of his life even if it meant living at home for the foreseeable future.

He looked up from Bruce who was lazily snoozing in the shade of the weeping willow, his shaggy tail beating the ground as he dreamt of eating all the treats in the house. There were a few people out walking today, he could see them trekking along the other side of the river, map in hand and a determined stride as they navigated around the cows. A couple with a dog wandered by and Bruce woke up to whine in their direction. Even though a normal person would never have heard the sound, the couple and their dog stopped and moved their heads simultaneously to stare intently at Bruce and Dylan. The feeling they gave him was extremely unnerving and as they stared for longer, Dylan found his skin erupting with goose pimples despite the hot day.

Neither one of the couple was strange looking, their hair was brown and curly, similar to that of their small dog. They were too far away for him to notice any more distinguishing features. After what felt like eternity, the couple pulled their gaze away from him and looked at each other, he wasn’t sure but Dylan thought that he saw them nod. Their dog was still staring intently and even though Dylan really wanted to run into the house he found that he could only stare at them more.

They now all stood in a line on the opposite bank. Dylan’s eyes were glued to the dog though, which seemed to be growing with every second that passed by. Its head reached the woman’s small shoulders and still kept growing, its front paws lifting off the ground as it took up a human stance. Then the whole dog seemed to shift from canine to human features; the shoulder’s broadened, the face flattened and the feet lengthened and became encased in thick black boot’s protruding from wide trousers.

Dylan heard himself swear but he couldn’t do anything else. The newly formed human strode forward with the man and the woman and Dylan was horrified to see that they glided over the top of the water, leaving the same amount of wake as a pond skater. They landed in front of him and it was only then that he could run, he ran as fast as he could into the house and locked the glass doors so fast that he had to check that it was actually locked. The strange people walking calmly up the garden wouldn’t be able to reach him now.

He stayed by the door and watched them. The glass seemed to confuse them and their eyes flicked across the surface then rested on Dylan’s face. He was breathing heavily but he stopped when the strangers all placed their hands on the glass and pushed through it like it was a sheet of transparent silicon. Dylan stumbled backwards but before he got far enough away the man that had been a dog shot his arm forward and his hand closed one finger at a time around the baggy fabric of his T shirt.

His eyes were nearly popping out as he was pulled towards the glass door by the man and his body slid through it. He was now face to face with the stranger and stared into his white eyes that looked like someone had forgotten to colour in the iris. The man and the woman stood either side of him and held his arms. Behind him, Bruce was pawing at the glass and barking manically. None of this seemed to phase the strangers as they continued to stare at Dylan intently.

All of a sudden the white eyed man let go of Dylan’s shirt, Dylan blinked and opened his eyes to see a reflection of himself standing in front of him. The white eyed man had gone but the other two were still there. They no longer had hold of his arms and didn’t seem to care that he was there anymore. His reflection smirked but Dylan didn’t remember making the movement. He moved his hand to touch his face but the reflection didn’t follow, it blinked and for a second, Dylan saw the stark white eyes but they were gone in an instant.

His double stepped forward and Dylan let out a strangled cry of disbelief as he walked through him. Bruce had stopped barking and looked up at what he thought was Dylan. The real Dylan ran through the glass door and into the living room to his mum, he jumped up and down in front of her but her eyes were glued to the TV behind him as Miss Marple began to unveil the murderer. His double appeared behind the sofa, the man and the woman had left and it walked to stand where Dylan was standing. He stumbled backwards through the wall and found half of his body in next door’s dining room and the other half in his sitting room.

Dylan screamed in fright and frustration but no one could hear him because he was a ghost and very few people believe in ghosts.

The Art of Accomodation

Our faces were warm in the glow of the fire as it consumed our project of the past two weeks. We would have to plan better next time. My brother danced wildly about the fire, imagining himself as a Fire God and unaware of what his seven- year old imaginary powers were doing. I squeezed my father’s hand as he stood beside me, he knew as I did that it was right to burn everything and start again. We had no choice, if anyone knew of what we had done we would be executed.

The desk began to break down having given up its fight against the flames and the fire shifted its position to take advantage of the weakness. I looked up at my father’s face, glazed orange and yellow in the light of the blaze and was shocked to see that he was smiling happily to himself whilst the desk surrendered to the heat. The wind blew from behind us, dancing invisibly with the fire; making it twist and spiral. Hamish came running back to us and put his arms around my waist. ‘Will Cook bring out tea soon?’

I sighed, maybe when he was older he would hate my father and I when he began to understand why we had so many fires. ‘Cook doesn’t work for us anymore, she had to go home to her mother.’ Lies.

The servants had been dismissed that afternoon before they saw, we didn’t have enough funding to pay them for their silence. This time people would have to be sourced from further afield or replaced with people we could trust. If this sort of thing was to continue we might have to have to do without. The decision to cease business would never be within our control; Lord Barnon had our lives in his grasp and he wasn’t about to let go. Blackmailing my father with information that only I knew to be false thrilled him and every time he visited, his chummy manor with my father sickened me. Part of the deal was that I was to be promised to one of his sons, I would only know which one on my wedding day that was to be in four years; after my 20th birthday. The thought of what lay in my future made me want to throw myself in the fire but my father and my brother’s love stopped me.

Hamish began to shiver by my side, father felt his shaking through me and led us inside. After sending my brother to bed we went to the study. The desk had left a large space next to the book case and only the dents in the rug gave any indication that there had been something there.

‘I will have another one made tomorrow.’

I nodded, trying to look at the empty space and not Sir Trennaw’s clothes draped over the chair in the corner. ‘How long will Lord Barnon wait until he sends another of his associates?’

My father chuckled coldly, ‘it depends how long it takes for him to decide he doesn’t like them.’ He looked at my frown while I gazed at the floor just in front of Sir Trennaw’s empty, polished shoes. ‘It won’t be soon, people like this man do not disappear easily.’

I breathed out evenly, ‘is this how we must live? So uncertain and anxious until we are taken to hell?’

‘We will not be in hell, we must pray for forgiveness every night and the Lord will spare us.’ He sounded so certain that he would be saved but I could see that the occupation that had been chosen for us would make us mad and condemn us with no hope of salvation.

‘Why didn’t you burn the clothes?’

‘I liked them,’ he said shortly and I looked up at him in disgust.

‘You would wear a dead man’s clothes?’

‘He has no use for them.’ He sighed irritably, ‘I am making the best of the situation; we will be insane if we think this much after every person we accommodate!’

‘Will no one recognise them? The material is expensive and a tailor would surely recognise who he made them for, we should…’

‘Enough!’ My father shouted, clenching his fists so that his knuckles became white, ‘no one will be interested in a pile of cloth that may or may not have belonged to a dead man! His body is gone and there is no further suggestion that he was here.’

I left the room with tears in my eyes. I would have to make myself a heart out of stone and lock away my feelings if I was to survive the world that I had been pushed into.

Floating

I think I may be one of life’s floaters. All this talk of careers has really got me thinking of what I want to do in life and the reality for me that I want to do everything. I enjoy practicals but feel that if I was told to plan something on my own then I would end causing havoc and leak hazardous strains of E.coli that I accidentally mutated and start a major epidemic. Writing is where I feel safe, you can undo a bad sentence simply by holding down one button on your keyboard and no one has to know! I do have ultimate goals in life which basically consist of having my own donkeys and a dog with maybe some alpacas, sheep and ducks thrown in too. To achieve this, I know that I will have to work and earn some money but how to go about this has been a constant conundrum. Whether or not to carry on with science and get a job in that area is a possibility, however I fluctuate between loving my degree subject and then the next minute never wanting anything to do with it after graduating.

I go through phases of wanting to go chalet- maiding, dog walking, doing a season with a sailing company and becoming a ski instructor but none of these jobs seem to be something that people do for the rest of their lives. I know that being inside all the time or being in the same place day in day out is not for me; I need something mentally stimulating but finding a job that encompasses all of the things that I want to do may be hard and unrealistic.

Recently at university I have had a module that is based around careers and thinking about what is next for us after we graduate. This has made me think about my future more than ever and unfortunately panic has set in and I’m left with wondering if I can ever be passionate about for more than three weeks. For a lot of people, a career is a job where you start out in a company and work your way up to a more senior role. For me though, a career is what you make it; many different jobs that may or may not be connected or maybe floating could be a career; I’d be good at that.

Either way I know that I will use whatever job I get to fund my dreams which is exactly what my parents have done. We live in a small house, our cars are old and we don’t eat out a lot but all the money that is saved is put into going on holiday and building up memories that we can look back on a be glad that we spent the money on experience rather than things.

I am lucky that my parents will support me emotionally no matter what I end up doing and my mum constantly reminds me that I will always have a room at home. They spur me on to make the most of the time that I have, and even though I’m only twenty and probably have bags of time left, I don’t want to waste any of it. A lot of what scares me about moving into the big wide world is moving into a job where I don’t know what I’m doing. This, as I’m constantly reminded by my dad, stems from my first swimming gala where in the days before I was scared stiff of no knowing where to go but as I found out, there will always be someone there to guide you.

I wonder if there is a guide for floating in the right direction.

Hopefully.

Instant Results

Recently I have been going through another one of my ‘I want abs’ phases. How long this will last is anyone’s guess but based on past experience then it will be a week at best. I am one of those people who wish they could be fitter but find the thought of the gym far too daunting to even consider putting on gym clothes for it. I have a few friends who are, or used to be, totally devoted to the gym and this infatuation rarely made any sense to me whatsoever because I think the last time I went to the gym was when I was 13.

For me, the thing that does not appeal is the thought of getting sweaty in front of many other people who don’t seem to perspire at all. There is also the fear that the regular gym goers might look at you and think, ‘does she even know what she’s doing?’ and, because I have never been to a gym induction the answer would most definitely be no.

Unfortunately, I have very little patience when it comes to exercise even though I know that instant results are not going to occur; I will not simply grow abs in my sleep after I have done one round of sit ups. This is now something that I am slowly getting used to. It seemed to be the ‘done’ thing to get a gym membership at university and in my first year I used it to its full extent (expect for actually going to the gym). I went to multiple classes a week, swimming and even went to a spin class led my friend. However, now in my second year I have rarely used it; out of the three things listed above I have only continued with one which is the spin class, and although it is keeping me fit and giving me something to do on a Tuesday night, I know that I have let myself down and resigned myself to being a slobby student.

This thought, of not being active enough, my face filling out and not quite fitting into some of my clothes anymore, spurred me on to do something different and that’s where dog walking came in. I’m lucky in some respects that my Nottingham University campus is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by never ending fields, a canal and a river. I have a passion for dogs and, one day, hope to own one but the closest I can get to actually having one of my own at the moment is volunteering at a dog shelter which is a five- minute drive from my university halls.

There have been so many times that I have nearly taken a dog home and went so far as to take my parents dog walking to show them that I can actually pick up dog poo. I think that going outside in the fresh air is my type of exercise and not being inside breathing in other people’s perspiration. My first long walk certainly made my legs ache and one of my friends commented on how toned my legs are although this might be down to sixteen years of skiing. The dogs are a welcome companion an it is also something that I can do with my friends; instead of sweating away on a treadmill, not being able to talk for the lack of air in my lungs, I can have long conversations (albeit about dogs) for almost two hours. I like to run with the dogs and the people who know me best know that I hate running unless it’s for a bus to my lectures. In this respect it’s a win- win situation.

So for me, exercise is about getting out and doing something that will make you forget that you’re exercising and make you feel good. I know that because the price for my university gym membership is sky-rocketing next year, I will have to find different ways of keeping myself fit and must remember to continue doing Pilates in my room and maybe get a sort of six pack.

Life in the Lake

There was a lake on the estate, at night it was an opaque inky black, the darkness seeping up through the stones and spreading across the water to the shore as evening set in. He had watched it happen. When he was a boy he had tried to tell his parents what happened to the lake but they refused to believe that the clear blue waters which sparkled during the day could ever become so sinister.

There was a folly near the lake. Something that his great grandfather had installed to give the place a feeling of history and importance. When he was younger, Will would pretend that the door was a portal to send him back in time and he would make his sister dress up in their mother’s long skirts and pretend to be a medieval wench. When he was ten he had taken to sitting in the door way of the folly and watching the sun go down. The inky blackness would seep through the water more and more as the sun got lower and lower. Sometimes he dangled his feet in the lake, waiting for the black to reach him but always getting scared and the evening ended with him running up the hill to the safety of the folly before it touched his toes.

Will was nineteen now, and stood firmly with his feet in the water, watching nervously as the sun dipped lower and lower. He needed to know what would happen before he went to travel for a year.

The ink had become visible as soon as the sun turned into a flaming orange ball and spread faster as soon as it touched the horizon. The darkness swirled and twisted out of the middle of the lake, reaching long, oily fingers through the water. A swathe of black silk looked like it had settle on the surface of the water and it shimmered in the remaining light which was slowly being dampened by a mist that had suddenly started to close in.

Will looked back at the folly that should have been behind him but he could barely see it through the dense curtain of fog that now surrounded the lake. He looked around him and saw that the mist had made a cylinder around the lake and the moon was getting brighter and brighter; all of its light focussed on the area around him like a spotlight. He looked back at the water and his heart nearly stopped as he saw that the silky ink was less than a metre away from his toes. He should turn back and run to the safety of the folly, that was what his body wanted to do. No, his mind was convinced that he would stand his ground.

The black ink began twisting and swirling more aggressively as it grew closer and closer to him. He had to open his eyes wide in disbelief as the oily blackness morphed into a pair of hands and his heart beat increased a hundred fold as they reached with the fingers outstretched. His breathing quickened and by the time that the hands enclosed around his ankles he couldn’t remember how to take air into his lungs anymore.

The hands were cold on his skin which seemed to absorb the feeling like a sponge; it spread up his legs and through the rest of his body. He looked down in horror as the oily hands clung to his ankles, the darkness hadn’t extended past him on his side of the lake and didn’t touch the shore. Slowly Will’s breathing became heavier as his body grew colder and colder and his muscles spasmed in a series of shivers.

The oil began to clump together and a pair of arms started extending from the hands, a head shape and then shoulders formed followed by the rest of the body so that it looked as if a shadow was lying face down in the water. The hands that still gripped his ankles became warmer and so did his body. He had to catch his breath as the head lifted out of the water, encased in a thick layer of what looked like dense black oil and glistened in the moon light.

The hands released his ankles and the figure started to stand up out of the water. Once stood, the oil melted off of them back into the lake and twisted its way to middle before sinking down to the bottom. What was left was a girl standing in front of him. She was completely naked but he couldn’t stop looking at her eyes which were completely black.

The girl blinked and seemed to wake up. For a moment they just stared at each other but when she shivered it seemed to break the spell. Will took off his jacket and offered it to the girl. She looked at it for a moment and took it hesitantly, staring at him intensely as she wrapped it around her pale body.

Will cleared his throat but didn’t know what to say. He was just so dumbfounded by what he had just seen that he was sure he must be in a dream.

‘Kayla.’

Her voice made him jump, it was the first sound he had heard for what seemed like hours. The mist had dropped now too and everything around him was visible again.

‘Um, Will.’ He said and she nodded then stepped past him out of the water and made her way up the slight hill away from the lake.

It took Will a while to realise that she had gone and after rubbing his eyes he turned to follow her. She had already made it past the folly and nearly into the trees by the time he had put his shoes on.

‘Wait!’ he called but she didn’t look round, just kept walking.

He ran faster, and caught up with her, putting his hand on her shoulder to spin her round.

Her head whipped round and Will found himself staring straight into her black eyes. She had wanted to scare him away but when he just stood staring at her again, the girl didn’t know what to do.

‘Where are you going?’ Will asked eventually.

The girl flinched at his voice but composed herself straight away, ‘I don’t know.’ She sounded confident in her lack of knowledge but Will still felt like he wanted to help her.

‘Why don’t you stay in that building just back there until you do know?’ He gestured to the folly but didn’t take his eyes off of her face for fear that she would run away.

They stood in silence almost forever until she finally spoke in her soft tones.

‘I don’t think I will ever know.’

Vanity

I knew I was vain, but I never realised how vain until I got told I had a minor eye infection and I couldn’t wear my contact lenses for a week. I’ve always been one to constantly check my reflection in every mirror I pass and it definitely got worse when I started wearing contact lenses at 15/16 years old. My eye sight is, on the whole, not really there. I can only just function if I don’t wear my contact lenses or my glasses but trying to look for something I’ve lost in this way is a non- starter. When I first started not being able to see properly in year four, I was determined that I would never have to wear my glasses full time but within a month this was massively unrealistic and I could no longer see more than a few centimetres in front of my face. Since then my eye sight has either stayed the same or got a tad worse.

In college I never once wore my glasses into any of my classes; I was just too worried of what people would think of me. Even though nearly everyone seems to be wearing glasses nowadays and I would never get bullied like my mother did for wearing them, I have never been confident wearing them anywhere except for at home. Possibly this was because I was exposed to a new set of people in college who I knew would already judge me for my posh accent and the school I went to, I didn’t want another thing for them to pick up on – ‘she has spots and glasses? Ew she will be forever single’. The school I spent the previous 14 years in had become a second home and I was always comfortable wearing my glasses there, even though I definitely preferred my contact lenses.

This feeling has lessened since starting University. Letting go of keeping up what I thought of as looking good, especially after a night out, was a step that I took to feel more confident about myself. Possibly breaking up with my last boyfriend made me feel a bit less confident about wearing my glasses because before then I had never been interested in looking good for anyone else. There is definitely a pressure that I have put on myself to try and impress every boy that I like the look of, even though I also want to be a strong independent woman. I will never make it as a feminist because I am constantly trying and mostly failing to convince myself that I don’t need a man. If I do gain another boyfriend though, they’ll have to cope with me wearing my glasses at some point! For now, however, I am confident that my flat mates have seen me at all states of the tide and will accept me for who I am whatever I do with my face.

I suppose this week of being banned from my contact lenses will be a test of how comfortable I actually am in myself and if I have taken my contact lenses for granted for too long. I suspect that I have come to rely on them too much and at first I was angry that this had happened to me and it had to have happened in the one week when I am due to go out clubbing twice. However, going out in my glasses can’t be as bad as being the only one wearing gothic Star Wars themed make up to an event where no one else dressed up. And as my mum pointed out, it will possibly keep the boys at bay on those nights out.

Life throws many hurdles our way. My mother has suffered a similar problem with her eyes, except that hers involved getting bread dust stuck in there which sounds considerably more painful than what I am experiencing. This meant that she absolutely could not wear her contact lenses for nearly a month and she reminded me of this when I phoned her about my situation as soon as I was out of the opticians. She also hates wearing her glasses in public, even more than me! After work she would go straight home to avoid seeing anyone that she knew whilst wearing her glasses. At the time I thought she was mad but now I understand completely. Even walking back to my car after the optician’s appointment I felt upset and just wanted to hide away for a week. I can see now that feeling like this is silly and that for the people who I am close to, it doesn’t make a difference whether I wear my glasses or not.

There are still a few people in my lectures that haven’t seen me in my glasses and I think I am sacred of how they will react to me wearing them. However, yesterday my friend entered the room, exclaimed. ‘you’re wearing glasses’ and then sat down next to me without mentioning it again and life continued as normal.

I think that as a society we instantly make a decision about people based on their appearance, first the face is taken into account, and afterwards the body shape and clothes that are worn. Maybe this is why I and so many other girls spend a lot of time perfecting their make- up technique for going out. I don’t normally wear make- up during the day unless there is a particular social situation in which I feel it is needed but when I go out I put a whole face of it on. In clubs, your body is lost in amongst the bodies of others, so I suppose that the face is the best representation of who you are in this situation. Especially to boys whose eye you might drunkenly catch. I have, thankfully, given up on catching boys eyes on nights out, especially seeing as I always seem to catch the eyes of a boy that I didn’t intend and the one I was aiming for waltzes away oblivious.  So many awkward situations to be had.

I’m sure that my eye will heal up and when it does I will probably go back to taking my contact lenses for granted again. This time though, I will have this post to refer back to and remind me of how silly I am.

Delicacy

The two girls that stood before her were beautiful, in the future she could see that they would develop, like flowers, into two beautiful women. Despite having doubts the night before, she now felt it was her duty to help them to become the ladies they deserved to be. They had been kept out of care for two years by their neighbour who had unofficially adopted them. It was the least she could do after they had been left in their home while their parents jetted off to New Zealand without them. Unforeseen circumstances meant that they were now her responsibility.

The oldest was four years old and the youngest two. They stared up at her with innocent eyes and she knelt down to their height, taking them into her arms while tears sprung from her eyes.

‘You’ll be safe with me.’ She whispered and felt them hold onto her tightly.

She took them up to their shared room. When they got older she had decided that she would give them separate rooms, there were plenty to spare in her house of five bedrooms since she currently had four unoccupied. It was important that they learnt to share something and it might help them to grow together. She would be able to cope with the falling out when that happened, she had coped with much worse in the past.

Tucking them in that night reminded her of her late mother doing the same with her and had never imagined that she would get the chance to experience it for herself. Even though they weren’t hers, she would make sure that the two girls knew they always had a home with her.

10 years passed

Harriet looked up dreamily through the petals of the flower. She took a photograph in her mind to remember to paint the scene later and start a new chapter in her paint book.

‘Harry get your head out of the mud, you’ll get worms growing in your hair!’

Harry lifted her head up from the flowerbed that she was half lying in, ‘that’s a lie, you shouldn’t tell lies Penny!’ she lay back down again and looked over through the rest of the flowerbed, there were so many colours and it made her smile.

‘I’m older than you so you should do what I say!’ Penny was standing at her sister’s feet with her arms crossed over her chest, ‘Mummy would tell you the same!’

Harry sighed and addressed her bossy older sister from the flowerbed, deciding that she wasn’t the worth the effort of sitting up, ‘Mummy tells us to do things that make us happy.’

‘And lying in a flowerbed, getting mud on your clothes and bugs in your hair makes you happy?’

Harry sat up this time, feeling small specks of soil trickle down the back of her neck, ‘looking at flowers makes me happy, you’re too old to understand me,’ and lay back down defiantly.

Penny stormed off and left her in peace. If they had been sharing a room still, Penny would have locked her out to prove that she was the more powerful sibling but seven years ago they had grown out of sharing a room. Their mother, although incredibly patient, had decided that an argument a night was putting too much stress on everyone in the house and that one of the three empty bedrooms needed filling.

The sun was warming on Harry’s face and she closed her eyes only to be woken by Boris, the gardener’s dog, licking her toes. She sat up and Boris looked at her in embaressment. She stood up, laughed and chased him barefoot around the garden until she lost her breath and had to sink down into the swinging chair by the pond.

Penny used to play with her more, but now she was grown up and going to parties and trying to be older than she was. It sometimes made her sad but Mummy had said that Penny was her own person and would later realise that sisters were more important than friends. Harry wanted to believe her but part of her was worried that Penny preferred the company of boys to hers and since the summer holidays had started every day she was spending more time with her school friends than her. Recently Penny had been talking about running away to New Zealand and going to live with their real parents. That had worried Harry a lot.

She had friends too of course, and they often came round to play with her and Mummy would drive her to play with them if she asked. Sometimes though, Harry preferred to be at home and paint and try to have fun conversations with Penny that didn’t involve which boys she fancied at school.

7 years passed

Mother had said she would be on the platform and Harry had been looking out of the window for the last hour to see if she could see the station. When it did come into view she packed away her drawing which she had hardly touched for the whole journey and got ready to run off the train into her mother’s arms. It had been four weeks since she had last been home and then she had been too busy packing her life into her mother’s estate car to worry about missing anyone.

She ran through the crowds as if she was chasing Boris when she was younger and dropped her bags before she engulfed her mother and grinned widely.

‘I’ve missed you so much!’ Harry whispered into her mother’s hair and she felt the arms tighten around her waist. She was briefly reminded of when she first met this amazing lady, she had only been two but that first hug was the beginning of feeling like she belonged somewhere.

Her mother took Harry’s bags and they drove off towards the house that she had been yearning for since leaving it behind for a smaller, damper living space. Penny wouldn’t be there, that was the only thing that was missing but her sister had deadlines to meet and essays to write. Every time she picked up the phone to her younger sister she would make excuses to put it down again as soon as possible, and Harry soon realised that Penny didn’t need her as much as she needed her older sister. It had been like that for the three years since Penny had been at University and Harry was desperately waiting to get her sister back.

‘She is still discovering who she wants to be, and when she realises that she still needs to be a sister to you when she finishes her course there’ll be no going back and you’ll have a sister forever.’

Harry sank into the car seat and pondered her mother’s words. ‘I really hope you’re right’ was all she could say because she felt like Penny had been forgetting about her for seven years and that she was nearly becoming the ghost that Penny was treating her like.

It was a delicate relationship that Penny was tearing apart.

Fired Up

Meditation is the key.

A phrase that they had drummed into me since I had arrived. Then we had to look up into the sky and watch the clouds move and twist like smoke in the breeze that was far above us and out of our control. It was Mira that controlled the weather and for the last week it had been sunny and warm, they must have drugged her. The week before had been thunder, lightning and torrential rain all day and only cleared up when she fell into her troubled sleep. Then the rain would turn to drizzle for the two hours that she slept.

I didn’t sleep and watching the clouds that Mira played with in her hazy mind made me crave my bed in my cosy flat that I had been ripped out of a month ago. My plants would be well and truly dead by now.

Without noticing I let out a sigh and I could feel my hands becoming hotter and hotter.

‘Share,’ the woman leading our session said abruptly. She had white hair but was young looking despite this natural trait. Every time we made a sound that might indicate that we were thinking about what we had been taken from we were forced into sharing our feelings, or made to visit a man who could read our thoughts in a second.

The heat from my hands began to spread up my arms to my elbows and then my shoulders; despite the calm, this place irritated me. ‘My plants at home, they’ll all be dead.’

‘This is your home, there are no longer any plants.’

The heat reached my neck and spread through the rest of my body. I tried to think of peaceful things like the sky that I could see through the hole in the ceiling. There was a crackle and I looked down in dismay to see flames springing out of my palms.

A cool hand closed over my shoulder and a white mist clouded over my eyes.

~~~~~

‘You should try to enter into the meditation more.’

‘Ugh, don’t; you sound like Sihan.’

Liam grinned as he took the catheter out of my arm and wheeled the drip into the corner. ‘Seriously though, it might save you having to be brought here every other day!’

‘I’ve gone three days now without having to be neutralised!’ I sat up and perched on the end of the bed, ‘can I go now?’

‘Yes, but I don’t want to see you for at least another week!’

I turned in the door way and stuck my tongue out at him as if I was six years old then instantly face palmed as I walked down the white washed corridor to the recovery garden. An old man, Eric, sat on a bench waiting for me. I trusted and respected him because apart from Liam, he was the most understanding person that worked there.

‘What happened Dani?’

‘Sihan happened, that’s what,’ I sat down heavily beside him but he stood up and walked carefully away. I got up and followed him. ‘Meditation just makes me concentrate on how much she irks me and then…’

‘You lose control,’ Eric turned his head and his wise eyes met mine.

‘It was one tiny flame!’

‘It would have got bigger if I hadn’t stopped you,’ he sighed, ‘one little flame can become a bigger flame and …’

‘I know; before you know it a house is on fire and you’ve killed someone.’ I looked at him but he didn’t seem impressed by my dismissive tone.

‘You won’t progress until you’ve learnt to control this amazing gift that has been bestowed on you.’

I looked down at the gravel that crunched underneath my bright white trainers. We were walking on a path, by the time I had walked to where we started I was supposed to have reflected on my mistakes and made plans to fix them. We were a long way away from that.

‘I know you’re restless Dani; that is also one of your mistakes. You sit and wish that your stay in Meditation would be over and you could be in Development setting fire to whatever you want.’ He shook his head, ‘but this won’t happen until you can drown out the things that make you angry and fight them with thought instead of fire.’

I breathed out steadily and felt the cool, natural breeze wind through my fingers. If only Eric led mediation, I would be in Development in no time and then back in my flat watering my plants and cooking food that didn’t have any health benefits built into it. I thought of Sihan with her white hair and furrowed brow, did she have any anger inside her? Or was it just contempt for the difficult young adults that she had to sit with every day and listen to their anger? My hair would go white if I had the life that she did.

Eric and I reached the end of the circular path and this time I actually felt calm and didn’t have to lie about finding solutions. Eric’s smile was genuine as I left him to walk to the lunch hall and I felt such a big surge of relief that I couldn’t stop a smile spreading over my own face.

As I entered the lunch hall though, my feelings were immediately dampened; Sihan sat at the head of my table and I could feel that an inspirational talk over some kale was in store for me.

‘Dani, so nice to see you cooled down.’

I smiled tightly at her joke and sat down, digging my fork into the unappetising food that was on my plate. ‘I feel so much better, thank you!’ my tone was dripping with fake enthusiasm but I couldn’t help my sarcasm.

‘It is good to see a young soul temporarily healed, I hope that you will not rip off the scabs before your wounds are healed.’

‘I’ll try my best to keep them intact.’ I looked down at my food and held my breath to stop me sighing.

‘Share.’ Her voice was smug and I looked up slowly, trying to think instead of spark.

‘I…’ but before I could finish the door to the lunch hall burst open and three tall, muscular handlers stood scanning the lunch hall. Their eyes all latched onto me simultaneously and they dodged through tables and chairs in their efforts to reach me. I jumped out of my seat but instead of stopping them, Sihan moved quickly out of their way.

I panicked. Huge flames leapt out of my hands and engulfed my arms up to my elbows. The men stopped and I noticed that six more had crowded round me. Eric appeared in between two of the largest but he blocked their path to me.

‘Stop!’ he shouted above the noise of people’s voices and the roaring flames, ‘can’t you see that she’s scared?!’

They couldn’t and someone behind me tried to reach out and neutralise me but the flames were to strong and he leapt back, cradling his scorched hand.

Eric turned to me, ‘you’ve got to think, Dani.’

‘But what do they want me for? I’ve not done anything!’ The flames were now licking my shoulders and threatening to rise over my head.

Eric searched for the right words, ‘the Mind was found in his room just now, burnt to death in his bed. He hadn’t been seen since yesterday evening.’ Eric’s eyes searched my face but they found nothing but confusion.

‘It wasn’t me! I was in bed all night…’

‘The cameras were all down and…’

‘It wasn’t me!’ I shouted and the flames grew so hot that Eric had to take three steps back. Then he closed his eyes and I knew what was coming.

It was a blast so cold that there was almost no heat left in my body and I lay shivering on the floor looking up at Liam, icicles protruding like teeth from his fingertips. His eyes were apologetic but I didn’t get to look at him for long before nine men encased me in a cold, white anaesthetic mist which was so strong that I wasn’t sure I would ever wake up.

Claimed by the Sea

The woman lay huddled against the concrete pier support. She couldn’t move; she didn’t want to move. All she wanted was for the tide to come in and take her away. She wasn’t ready for this, what lay ahead of her was far worse than what had happened already. Nobody would believe her story, so she had to forget or at least appear to forget. It was the only way.

The tide had gone out more than she wanted and if she didn’t move then people would start to notice her, even in the shadow of the pier. She breathed in deeply, ignoring the sand and salt that was encrusted around her nostrils, and hauled herself up. Her bedraggled hair fell across her face but she didn’t care. Slowly, she stumbled out of the shadows but recoiled as the sun hit her eyes and the wind ripped through her. Her soggy clothes flapped heavily in the wind, they would dry out soon.

Whilst shielding her eyes against the sun she struggled up the beach through the shingle, her bare feet sinking lower with every laboured step she took. It didn’t hurt, in a distant past she remembered the sharp edges of shells and broken stones cutting into the soles of her feet. Not now, now her feet had a cold numbness about them. Her whole body felt numb and heavy; it was so different from the weightlessness of being in the water.

As she walked into the police station, a trail of water from her soaked clothes left behind her, no one knew what to do. Her picture had long since been covered up by wanted criminals and in the five years she had been gone her face had slowly slipped out of everyone’s memories.

‘My name is Amelia Strally, I went missing at sea five years ago.’

The woman at the desk didn’t know what to do, she looked at Amelia as if she were a ghost and quickly picked up the phone. Soon people were around her with blankets and hot tea. An ambulance was called.

The cup burnt Amelia’s cold, shrivelled fingers and she put it down on the table, wrapping the blanket tighter around her like a cocoon. Nothing could protect her from what was to come. The ambulance arrived and she was sped off to hospital for no reason that she could think of other than her appearance of near death. She stared around with dead eyes at the people giving her air and taking her temperature. Despite her ability to walk she was wheeled into the hospital on a bed and a curtain pulled round her.

She was finally alone.

Not for long.

‘I just need to take a blood sample and the police will be here soon to ask you some questions.’ A doctor briskly pulled back the curtain but she stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw Amelia. She nervously stuck the needle into Amelia’s pale skin and held her breath but she gave no reaction. The doctor scuttled away as soon as she could and left Amelia staring blankly at the curtain.

No one visited her until the police came and the rest of the room stayed deathly quiet. Amelia stared down at her hospital gown and wondered what they had done with her clothes, maybe burnt them. It didn’t matter, it had only been a t-shirt and leggings.

The sound of voices made her look up sharply and a police woman peered through a gap in the curtain.

‘Is it alright if we come in?’

Amelia nodded and attempted to smile but the muscles in her face hadn’t quite worked out how to do that out of the water yet.

The police woman sat down in a chair next to her bed and opened a folder to take out a note book. A police man stood awkwardly with his back to the curtain at the foot of the bed and tried not to look at her. ‘My name is Jane, can I ask you what yours is?’ the policewoman bit a piece of dry skin off her lip.

‘Amelia Strally.’

‘Can you describe what has happened to you since you disappeared five years ago?’

Amelia turned her head slowly to look at Jane and thought about her answer, ‘I can’t remember anything after being thrown over the side of my boat in a windy patch of the sea. And today I woke up next to the pier after the tide had gone out.’

Jane scribbled some words in her notebook then looked up to meet Amelia’s eye but looked away quickly from the intense blue stare. She cleared her throat, in the silence it was loud and unnecessary, ‘Do you know what happened to your friend, Kelly?’

The heart rate monitor spiked and the two police people looked at it in alarm.

‘I assume that she’s dead.’ The heart rate monitor returned to normal and Jane wrote some more messy, unreadable words in her notebook.

‘Thank you,’ she stood up and the policeman backed out of the curtained room, ‘we may see you shortly.’

Amelia left the hospital that night. No one seemed interested in her so she decided not to take up any more bed space. She walked barefoot to her flat, looking dead ahead all the way and ignored passers-by commented on her hospital wear, only giving them a sharp, icy stare. Her flat was on the seafront in at the end of Worthing where the promenade became narrower and more uneven underfoot. After locating her spare key from a hole in the wall she was standing in her hallway as if she had never been away. She shoved the hospital gown in the washer and made a mental note to return it as soon as it was dry.

On the way to the shower, Amelia passed a mirror. It didn’t shock her how pale and almost transparent her skin was, she had spent five years in the arms of the sea and in the company of creatures of a similar skin tone. It was normality. Her eyes bothered her most; they changed her face and the striking blue made her look cold and alien. She felt a drip of water on her foot, it had come from her hands, water was seeping out of her finger tips, accumulating into drips and falling softly onto the floor making a dark, damp patch on the beige carpet. Hopefully it would evaporate before anyone came to visit.

Amelia got into the shower and switched it on. Too soon the cold, refreshing water that reminded her of the sea heated up but she stood underneath it anyway letting it wash over her face and body. Around her a wall of water rose up and she encased herself inside it like a cage, as it touched her skin it went cold and the steam stopped rising into the air. She let the water drop and gave a deep breath out. Breathing was and option now, not a necessity but it made her feel human and worried less people when she was being scrutinised. It also gave her something to concentrate on. Anything to stop her thinking of what she had been sent back to do.

She had to prove herself and so she had no choice if she wanted to return home.

The land wasn’t her home anymore.

Modern Art

8am

‘We could pass it off as modern art? It could be the next Unmade Bed!’

Derek twiddled with his moustache and sighed, ‘possibly.’

‘Or we could say that they’ve been taken off for cleaning, or that we’re doing another display, or…’

‘Roger please shut up!’ Derek snapped, ‘go and check the security footage with Hugh!’

Roger scuttled off, his shoes squeaking loudly on the floor and echoing around the empty room. When he had gone Derek covered his face with his hands and moaned in despair; a whole room of paintings gone and only a jumpy, squiggly video to go on.

The thing that bothered him most was the fact that the paintings were huge and must have weighed a ton with the frames! No one could have stolen them and if he was honest they would be the last paintings that he would think of to steal in the gallery. They were a series of landscapes set at night and although they were nothing special, Derek had liked the attention to detail, especially in the clouds and stars. Sometimes it was almost as if they were moving and sparkling if you watched it for long periods of time.

The children that visited The National Gallery seemed to love them and he often had to tell them to leave when the gallery began to close. He hoped that they would turn up somewhere, they had to; he had a special visitor coming to look at them in a weeks’ time and he didn’t fancy telling them that they had vanished.

11.30pm

Chloe was getting cramp in her leg. Why Lilly had decided to use the ventilation shafts as a way into the building was beyond her. Lilly’s brother Liam, although sceptical about the whole thing, had been fine with simply walking in through the front door! Apparently though, this was how it was supposed to be done and that walking through the front door was how idiots stole paintings. Although they hadn’t exactly stolen the painting, just covered it up with some clever technology that only the army was meant to be in possession of.

‘Lilly!’ Chloe kept her voice soft but made sure it had enough annoyance to convey her discomfort. Her view of the sky was momentarily blocked by Lilly’s body as she shuffled into the metal tube and adopted the same position as Chloe; scrunched up with back and feet pushed up against the walls.

‘Let’s slide!’ came Lilly’s instruction and Chloe gratefully curled up a little more so that she could slip down the shaft. Lilly came soon after and after some crawling they dropped into the room in which the manager, Derek had been stood that morning.

The only difference was that the two girls were there to study the paintings. Chloe glanced up at the cameras above the doors, hopefully Liam had already interrupted the feed and their figures would be lost in a sea of green zigzags. She turned back to see Lilly reaching into a gap that looked like it wasn’t there. She flicked a switch and a painting flickered into view like a television as if it had never been away.

Chloe switched the others and soon they were gazing up at the series of paintings which had supposedly been stolen. Looking at the paintings was like looking through a window, and in truth it was. They were windows into the past but showed a wholly different place that was not much different from Earth but further away than anyone could imagine. This was Chloe’s home. She had been locked out because of a mistake that had been out of her control and had resulted in her father’s execution, her mother’s enslavement and herself being thrown onto another world but thousands of years in the future. It was her grandfather that had found the paintings and in the last days of his life he had stood in that room watching his home slip away from him.

Chloe stood close to the centre painting; and touched it. The surface rippled away from her finger and she almost felt the urge to plunge her fist into the fake canvas.

‘Are you alright?’ Lilly stood next to her and the concern in her voice made Chloe smile. Lilly was the daughter of a Fantasy Theorist; the man who believed in what most could not and had made it all possible for her to be this close to her home in the dead of night.

‘Yeah, I…’ Chloe sighed frustrated, ‘I just wish I knew what he meant!’ she laid her palm on the painting and felt an energy rush past her fingertips.

‘The clouds do look darker,’ The painting was now depicting the daytime, ‘maybe it’s just going to rain?’

‘It doesn’t rain there,’ Chloe said quietly, ‘the land is getting angry.’ She had to get back.

‘Right.’ Lilly twiddled her thumbs awkwardly.

Click

A light was flicked on in a distant room and shiny shoes began squeaking their way towards them.

‘Switch them off quick!’ Lilly hissed urgently.

They both dashed about the room and just as the squeaking shoes with their owner rounded the corner Chloe turned to stone in a dark corner and Lilly hauled herself up so that she was hanging from the ceiling. The man stood in the middle of the room, he had noticed the camera had broken again and took it upon himself to investigate. He was almost relieved that there was nothing to see, the paintings were still gone and thankfully there were no hostile people waiting to clobber him over the head. He turned the light out as he left.

Like a spider, Lilly descended from the ceiling and tapped Chloe on her cold, stone shoulder which became flesh in the blink of an eye. ‘We should leave, they’ll still be here tomorrow,’ she smiled in the darkness but Chloe was staring at the empty walls wishing she could step back into the world that she loved and understood.

One week later

He was coming. A man, who could probably have anyone that irked him killed and forgotten with one phone call, was coming to look at some empty walls that were meant to have paintings on them. Derek had tried to explain that they were no longer on the walls but the man had insisted on coming anyway.

He was tall and looked like he wouldn’t notice if a lorry hit him. ‘Malcom,’ he said, stretching out his hand. Derek took it and had to resist jumping back as a large electric shock passed through his hand.

Malcom didn’t seem phased by the absence of the paintings and with a nod of his head Derek stopped drivelling and a bead of sweat that had been working its way down the side of his head froze in its tracks. Without flinching Malcom rewound the time that had passed in that exact spot, thousands of people streaming through him as if he were a ghost. Day and night blurred into one while he searched for the one face that he knew had been there before him.

He paused as Chloe stepped towards the painting and touched it. She couldn’t see him; he had never really been there. He smiled devilishly and watched as both Chloe and a girl whose name he didn’t care about reached behind the paintings and they faded into the wallpaper behind them.

The bead of sweat began to trickle down Derek’s skin again as Malcom returned to the present.

‘If I could interrupt you,’

Derek stuttered to a halt in his explanation. ‘Ah yes, of course sir,’ and he smiled uneasily.

Malcom walked up to the right hand side of where the middle painting should have been and reached his hand around what he hoped was the side. He ignored Derek’s gasp as his arm disappeared but the corners of his thin mouth rose up triumphantly as he found the large, smooth switch. Derek’s gasps increased in volume as, one by one, the paintings were revealed and the night scape stretched across every wall once again.

‘I would like to purchase them all and install them in my personal collection.’

‘Um, of course,’ Derek gulped, ‘I will make the necessary arrangements with my superior today.’

Malcom grinned. Chloe would never find her way home now and despite having to buy the windows to his world, he would be richer for it when he returned to it.

The Field House

My brother had always wondered who lived in that house, even when we weren’t on holiday in Cornwall he would ask me what I thought they were doing at that moment. I had never been particularly curious about who lived there but every time I humoured him and said ‘staring out to sea I suppose.’

It was the path that led away from the house that intrigued me the most; every year as a family we would walk there at least once and make our way to the secluded little beach wedged in between two steep cliffs. As soon as we touched the sand, my brother and I would write KEEP OFF in large letters in the sand, not realising or caring that the message would be washed away by the tide and we would have to write it again the next day.

That was a few years ago and, although my brother was now a high flying business man in London, I had taken the rural path and moved back to our childhood holiday destination. The house still stood looking over the field, its empty windows giving it eyes that reminded me of a skull at Halloween. The trees had grown up around it and from a distance it appeared to be comfortably nestled in between them.

Pippa gave a small bark to draw my attention away from the house and back to her. She skipped off into the wheat as soon as I began walking again, her little furry legs carrying her swiftly through the crop and I could see it wave back and forth as she charged through it. She reappeared two metres in front of me, checked I was still there and disappeared again in search of rabbits. I smiled to myself as she went. I turned back briefly to look at the house and I was surprised to see someone in the window, a pale figure who stood out against the darkness behind them. After the many years of walking the same path I had never once seen anyone at that window!

Pippa appeared at my feet and whined, I only glanced down at her for a moment but when I looked back at the window was empty again. I thought nothing of it as a gust of wind blew my hair over my face and Pippa ran off towards the coast.

The little beach was busier than I had anticipated; it seemed that more and more people had discovered the cove since I had been there with my brother. When I say busy, there were only seven other people sat quietly on the sand but in the narrow space it felt crowded and almost claustrophobic. Pippa didn’t care though; she ran straight into the sea and chased the waves, barking at them as the washed over her legs and splashed her face. I removed my shoes and sat as far away as I could from everyone else but Pippa soon had me splashing in the waves with her.

A whistle made me look up from the water, it came from behind me but even after shielding my eyes from the sun I couldn’t see anyone trying to get anyone else’s attention. I looked back to find Pippa gazing up at me with her ears raised and head cocked; she thought I had whistled for her. Looking around again, it seemed that no one had heard the sound. A surfer emerged from the glare, smiled at me and ran into the waves, throwing his board down and paddling easily to get past the surf. Pippa barked and began to swim after him but she gave up after she had gone a few feet.

‘She seems very lively, your dog,’ a woman had appeared next to me and was watching Pippa swim in circles.

‘She’s doing better than me!’ I laughed.

The lady chuckled, ‘you and me both!’ she looked behind her and then leaned in closer, ‘I’ll leave you to it, my husband is wanting to go home for some tea.’ She stepped away and I looked at my watch; three o’clock exactly. A small shower of sea water from Pippa rained on my leg as she shook herself dry. She almost looked like she was ready to go home for tea too.

On the way back I looked up at the window, it was still empty apart from now a tall vase of flowers had appeared in the centre. When I got home I tried ringing my brother, surprisingly he picked up after two rings.

‘Hi!’ he sounded enthusiastic.

‘Hi Chris!’ I paused and mulled over what I was going to say, ‘guess what I saw today?’

Chris laughed but humoured me, ‘a pink cat?’

‘No! someone standing in the window of that house we used to pass in Cornwall!’

There was a moment of silence, my news had not had the impact I hoped for.

After a while he responded with a more fake edge to his enthusiasm, ‘that’s great! So there was someone living there after all!’

‘Looks that way!’ I said biting my lip.

He sighed and I heard him tapping away on his keyboard, ‘can I talk to you later?’ he asked absent minded, ‘Sally’s just sent me the schedule for tomorrow and I’ve got some stuff to prepare.’

‘No problem!’ I said, trying to make my voice bright and breezy, ‘speak soon!’ He put the phone down.

The next day I went back there, and as I was coming round the side of the house to get into the field I heard a voice call out.

‘Excuse me!’ it was soft and timid.

I looked over the fence to see the woman that had been on the beach the day before, ‘are you alright?’

‘Would you mind helping me move these logs, some of them are quite heavy and my husband has gone to see some friends today.’

‘No problem’ I said smiling at her.

‘There’s a gate at the side you can come through.’

Pippa went first and disappeared round the side of the house with her nose to the ground. The woman was standing next to a pile of large logs of a different shapes and I began picking them up and moving them into the wood shed that stood huddled against the wall of the house.

‘Can I help you?’ I threw a log onto the pile and turned round to see the brown haired surfer that had passed me yesterday. He was about my own age and stood on the grass in bare feet with his hands deep in his pockets.

I looked around for the lady but she had disappeared.

‘Oh um, I was just moving these logs for the lady that lives here.’

The man smiled and looked as if he was about to laugh while looking up at the sky. ‘I’m the only one that lives here now,’ he said looking at me again.

‘Oh right,’ I suddenly felt very uneasy and confused.

‘I saw you on the beach yesterday didn’t I?’ he asked, trying his best to make me feel less of an idiot, ‘where’s your dog?’

Pippa bounded up to us perfectly on queue and we both smiled.

Suddenly his brow furrowed, ‘you’re bleeding,’ he gestured at my hand which had quite a large gash on the palm, I didn’t remember doing it; it must have been the logs.

‘Come in and I’ll give you a bandage or something for it,’ he nodded his head towards the house and walked around the front.

I followed him and told Pippa to wait outside. She lay down obediently and rested her head on her paws. The man was in the kitchen rummaging in a cupboard above the sink. Eventually he produced a dusty green box with a white cross and First Aid written in peeling letters on the lid.

‘Thanks,’ I said taking the box and sitting at the kitchen table. I found some wipes and cleared around the wound, putting them in my shorts pocket when I had finished with them. Next I found a small dressing and then a bandage. I glanced up at the wall, on it was a picture. I walked closer to it so I could look more closely; the lady that asked me to move the logs stood smiling next to a man with grey hair and a white moustache.

‘Are these your parents?’ I asked.

The man turned from the sink where he was filling up a glass and ran a hand through his tousled hair. ‘Yes but they died last year,’ He took a sip from the glass, ‘within a couple of weeks of each other actually,’ he put the glass on the side.

I stalled, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that!’

‘It’s alright.’

I wrapped the bandage around quickly and unsuccessfully tried to tie the ends together.

‘Shall I have a go?’ he walked over to me and tied the ends together in a swift movement.

‘Thank you,’ I stood up from the table, ‘I’ll probably see you around.’

He nodded at me and I walked out of the house to find Pippa exactly where I had left her, she looked up at me and trotted off. As I was about to walk through the side gate I heard him call.

‘Wait!’

I turned round to see him rounding the corner, ‘I didn’t get your name,’ he said it quietly as if he hoped I wouldn’t hear.

‘It’s Jessica,’ I said smiling.

He nodded, ‘Andy.’

We smiled at each other and even as I walked away I couldn’t stop myself smiling all the way to the beach.

Revision Break

There’s nothing better than sitting in a deserted woodland car park with your sandwiches while you belt out odd lines if Pitch Perfect in between mouthfuls. Whilst carrying out the arduous task of revising I often crave the freedom of the outdoors and find myself wanting to get out of the house, by myself, and just do something that isn’t sitting around staring at a screen. Being at University is, as my course convenor described to us on our very first day, death by PowerPoint. As I stared into the trees of this car park though, I began to feel more like myself and less like a moody student content on getting a degree in Procrastination rather than Microbology. Taking pictures helped too and with my phone I tried to capture some of the clouds as they raced over my head into the distance. The shapes and colours changed every second as I sat staring out of my windscreen.

Other cars pulled up which, in my delicate state of revision mind, annoyed me somewhat but, just as the clouds, I let it wash over me and cooed internally at the other people’s dogs. Soon it was time for me to head home; I am not so dedicated to procrastination that I am prepared to sit defiantly whilst precious hours of my time wiz past me. Deep down I know that I want to pass these exams but as I stare at another 73 slide PowerPoint my resolve slowly diminishes and I’m left feeling as I did before lunch time. Thoughts that are going through my head mainly consist of: will I really need to know this? and what would happen if I did fail these exams and dropped out of University?

All of the answers that I can think of are negative and end up with me not having a clue what I’m doing in my life. This then gave me a little more incentive to carry on but as always when exams are on the horizon, my mind focuses on the what if and not what is now.