Life In Different Aspects: A Collection of Short Stories.
“Life In Different Aspects.” is a collection of all the short stories that I have written thus far. Their subjects vary from ‘Liberty’ to ‘First love’. I hope you enjoy them!
“Liberty: A Wandering Wondering.”
by Hetty Monksea.
Dedicated to my dear sister Amani; I would always free you from anything!
Liberty Mortimer. It’s a good name, her mother had said, an interesting name. “Good or bad, interesting?” Liberty had asked. “Well, it depends who’s talking,” her older sister Jess had said. “Anyway, what’s in a name?” Liberty had asked, quoting her favorite playwright Shakespeare. Her mother had smiled a quirky smile. “Lots of things,” she had said. Jess had looked up from the pot apples she had been peeling. “If you’re so interested in what purpose is in a name, why don’t you find out what yours means?” She had said whilst cutting out cores.
Liberty. Liberty’s English teacher, Mrs. Neil had said it meant freedom. But what was freedom really like? It came in many shapes and sizes, didn’t it? So what was its one, true form? What was it like to be free? To have liberty? To be as free as a bird? Like that Song Thrush that had flown out of the tree, spooked by her sudden presence? But that wasn’t a very good phrase, was it? Birds weren’t always free, were they? They could be captured or enslaved by humans.
Was having liberty to be free of all troubles? Peace in one’s own life? No parents and sisters squabbling, no infuriating machinery. Liberty sat down beneath the luscious shade of her favorite tree; the earth was soft and the grass and insects tickled her toes. Was having freedom simply not being imprisoned? To be able to go wherever one pleased? To roam the city or walk in the countryside?
Just then Liberty heard a tiny sound, a little whispered word, and the word was ‘help’.
“Who said that?” Liberty’s own voice sounded very loud and abrupt compared to the voice of well, whatever it was. “Me, Aveline. I’m over here,” the voice whimpered. Liberty whipped her head round and saw a sight that gripped her heart with sorrow. There, in the rosebush, caught on the thorns, was a fledgling House Sparrow! She looked pained and was shaking slightly. “Please… please help,” Aveline cheeped desperately. Liberty came over, hands trembling with fear for the little creature. She was so worried for the baby Sparrow that she didn’t think about how strange it was that it could talk. “I’ll try, dear one,” she said chokingly. Liberty gently Aveline away from the thorns, whilst being careful not to get her trapped on any more spikes.
Liberty cupped Aveline in her hands and brought her next to Liberty’s own breast, to try and share some of her body heat with the injured Sparrow. As she did so, tears fell from her eyes onto Aveline’s wounds and they slowly closed up. Liberty looked at Aveline, amazed and utterly stunned. “What… what just happened?!” she asked, still shocked. “You’ve healed me,” Aveline sang. Liberty gulped and then smiled. “I… I’m so glad,” she said truthfully, tears still dripping down and onto the tiny Sparrow. “Go now,” she continued. “Fly on, fly free.” Aveline nodded her head. “I will,” she promised. “Now I have been given my liberty.” And she took off from Liberty’s hand and flew high and graceful.
Liberty gazed into the distance, heart swelling with joy. She knew now that she had her answer.
“Butterfly Soul: A Short Tale Of Friendship.”
by Hetty Monksea.
Diego changed me.
Was that right? Zelda thought it was so she continued.
When he entered my life I was suddenly a different person. Before then I had often been shy, passive, or angry. Mama knew why that was. Papa’s death hadn’t been easy for her either. However, when Diego came my whole being morphed back into the happy, bright, and cheerful person I had been before. Diego himself was full of energy and nearly always had a joke to spare if someone was down in the dumps.
His hair was a very light golden color, so bright and blinding it could have been the sun, and he loved animals. We would sit for ages in the garden listening to birdsong and spotting squirrels. Maybe we’d then pick-up a game of badminton or dance among the trees and flowers. Those days never seemed to end, like they went on forever and ever. If only…
Zelda paused a moment before carrying on, caught up in memories.
Yet, those long, blissful, summer days did come to a close and so did the free, happy times.
Zelda now had to force herself to go on.
On the second of September, Diego came to me all sad, sorrowful and gloomy. “What’s up Go-Go?” I asked, concerned for my friend, he wasn’t normally like this. What was happening to make him so? “I’m leaving,” he said to the floor. “What?”
I whispered the word, wishing for it not to be true, for it to be a dream. My body, mind, and soul had gone numb as soon as he’d said the word ‘leaving’.
“I always knew the day would come but I didn’t want it to be now.” I didn’t say a word. “You see,” he said slowly. “I’m a faerie,” he told me abruptly.
I nearly choked. “W…w…what?” I spluttered. “I can prove it if you like,” he offered sullenly. I nodded with some uncertainty. Diego took a deep breath, holding all the air in his cheeks, he looked like a hamster, and suddenly he wasn’t Diego anymore. Where there should have been a normal human boy, in his place was a jumping broad bean, and it was emitting a yellowish-green glow.
I gasped and didn’t know what to say or where to even begin. Diego reappeared and let out all the breath from his mouth. “Do you see now?” he asked, gasping and trying to recover his breath. I nodded again, struck dumb. My mouth tried to say words but the sound didn’t come out. “Why are you going?” I managed hoarsely. Diego sighed deeply. “You see, because I’m a faerie I’m not really from this world. I’m from the Faerie Land World, which exists in a whole other universe. My friends and I were only visiting Your World for a brief period for faerie schooling. In person research, that kind of thing, you know. And now we must leave. My friends are already waiting outside in your garden, see,” Diego pointed out of the window where a dozen or so butterflies were gathered together in a cluster. “I must join them,” he said. Tears started welling in my throat and then dripping gently down my face.
Zelda’s eyes were going blurry, misted with tears even now and she took a breath before going on.
“Now?” I asked huskily. “Now,” he confirmed gently but firmly. I let out a sob, crumbling to the floor in a messy heap. Diego stood there awkwardly for a while watching me cry noisily. Then he shifted his position and came over. He knelt down beside me and looked sternly into my face.
Zelda gave a harsh but tentative cough to stop the tears from rising any further and then took a deep breath to collect herself and she then carried on writing.
He spoke softly but with authority. “Zelda, I know that you are stronger than you may think. You have a deep, loving, but sensitive soul. Me, I’m just a butterfly soul. I have too much energy that I cannot express, I flitter restlessly from place to place, not sure of where to land. Yet you, you know your ground, your space; when you need a break you take it, when someone damages your boundaries you tell them. You have many reliable resources within you. Your dad died and you’re still going strong. Although you may not acknowledge it or trust it, you have a wise, powerful soul. For you to be whole, you do not need my unsteady, depleting soul; your wholeness is standing waiting for you, you just need to allow yourself to find it.”
“But… how can I find it?” I asked, gulping down my sobs. “Here,” Diego said and then muttered the words ‘lux tua hic est’ under his breath. Suddenly, a great big ball of glowing embers appeared, hovering just above Diego’s hands. I gasped hoarsely. “This Great Ball Of Embers may help you regain your strength and wholeness,” he said and then gently pushed The Great Ball Of Embers into my torso. I yelled, surprised it didn’t burn me, instead it slowly evaporated into my tummy. I could instantly feel a warm glow emitted through my whole being until I felt full up with it.
“That will help you to recognize your strength, power, and endurance,” Diego told me. And I could feel it. He quickly glanced out of the window. “I need to go, Zel,” he whispered to me softly. “You’ll be alright now.” I nodded. “I know but I’ll miss you Go-Go,” I said and gave him a big hug. “Me too, Zel, me too,” and with that, he turned into a butterfly and flew out the window to join his friends. I watched them fly off until they were just a speck in the distance.
Zelda let out a long breath; she was done and it felt good. She ran from her bedroom, jumping and leaping as she went. And as Zelda laughed, the pieces of paper were whisked away by the wind and carried out into the world.
“The Wealth Of The Rich And The Wealth Of The Poor.”
by Hetty Monksea.
Oriana sat down and wondered. What would have happened if I had never made that bet? Would I still be where I am today? She thought to herself. Her mind drifted back to three weeks earlier…
Oriana was with her best friend Dilys in the park. She was just telling Dilys how she’d won a bet with her friend Ruby and Oriana concluded that she never lost a bet. Dilys grinned.
“Alright,” she told Oriana. “I’m going to test that right now. I bet you all of my chocolate stash that wealth isn’t all about money.”
Now, I want readers to bear in mind that financially Dilys’ family were poor.
“And I bet you all of my chocolate stash that wealth is definitely all about money,” retorted Oriana.
And I also wish readers to bear in mind that financially Oriana’s family were wealthy. The two best friends shook hands firmly but warmly.
“I know!” cried Dilys. “Let’s host a competition to see whose idea wins! We each gather as many people as possible and each one of us will propose our theory. We then let the public vote.” Oriana nodded thoughtfully.
“Ok, you’re on Dilys!” They both smiled confidently. They then grabbed their phones to tell everyone on social media about it, and try to get as many people on-side as they could…
On the day of the event itself, a huge crowd gathered around two tables acting as a platform on Library Park. On one table stood Oriana; papers to hand and reciting lines in her head. On table two was Dilys; her papers by her feet, and taking in the beautiful glow of the afternoon. In between the two tables stood Mr. Knightley; the girls’ head teacher. He would count and register the number of votes. He held up a microphone and spoke into it loudly to be heard above the hubbub of the people.
“Hello there, Comberton and guests! I present to you Oriana Lucas and Dilys Bowen on the debate of What is Wealth?”
The crowd cheered gaily.
“You know the rules. Once both sides of the argument have been told, you must vote your opinion! This event is being live streamed online so that other members of the public can vote on social media. I will now hand over the microphone to Oriana,” Mr. Knightley told the assembled crowd.
Oriana took a deep and shaky breath, then she collected herself and spoke as clearly as she could.
“Hey. Ok, so some of you must agree with me that wealth is about: money, coins, and expenses. It is basically a fact that when we say that someone is wealthy or rich, we mean that they have lots of money.”
The gathered people either cried their agreement or jeered sneering comments.
“Who cares what others say! We should go with what we know inside is right! The truth! That wealth is, was, and shall always be about money.” And here Oriana concluded her statement.
Mr. Knightley allowed for a pause, while people twitted and tweeted about their thoughts. Then he handed the microphone over to Dilys who was as composed as a victim who has accepted their fate and is determined to go as brave as a soldier. She knew she could win this and she would do it wisely. Dilys gently opened her mouth and spoke softly; which caught peoples’ attention.
She said “My people of today and tomorrow. I can assure you that wealth is not all about money. It is about possession. Why, if you look up the word in the Concise Oxford Dictionary it clearly states that wealth is: riches, or abundant possessions. That doesn’t necessarily mean money! I could have a wealth of food, for example. Or even a wealth of joy or happiness.
Throughout history, this has always been the case. Wealth could be measured by the number of slaves or servants that you had; even how many wives or kids! This counted just as much as the gold or silver that one owned. Spices too, or sugar was sometimes priceless. Salt, or fine fabrics could be as expensive as money for those who couldn’t easily access them. You might even say that the wealth of the rich is money, and the wealth of the poor is love.”
Oriana felt that Dilys was having a dig at her and she flinched.
“And to conclude,” Dilys continued. “I leave you with this one question: what even is it to be rich or to be poor?”
And Dilys Bowen bowed. Oriana felt numb as a collective cheer rose from the crowd. She had lost. She knew it already. She felt that there was no need for a count but she let Mr. Knightley do so anyway. The results were in. Mr. Knightley stood on the tables next to Oriana and Dilys.
“The scores are as follows,” he told everyone. “Out of the fifty five people here, five have voted for Oriana and fifty have voted for Dilys. As for the online viewers,” here he waved at one of the cameras. “Fifty have voted for Dilys and five have voted for Oriana. Here by crowning Dilys the winner!”
The crowd erupted into applause. Oriana felt detached from her body. She was looking down at herself from the heavens. As if she were her own guardian angel. She’d lost! Lost the vote and lost the bet. Lost her chocolate stash. Lost her belief in herself. And she was angry; very angry. It was the helpless anger that came when there was no one to blame. The anger that blinds people from reason. Tears of frustration; rage, and hurt rolled down Oriana’s cheeks as she ran through the crowd.
The people jeered. Pointing at her and shouting rude words. People booing. People sneering. Oriana covered her ears as she tore through them in a desperate attempt to block it all out. It was in vain. She would never forget those whispers. Never forget the feeling of rejection. Or how evil a mob can turn…
The next day Dilys came round. Oriana had answered the door. Her smile disappeared when she saw who it was.
“Come for your prize then?” Oriana said it coldly. “Come in and I’ll get it for you Miss Winner.”
Dilys followed Oriana inside but spoke not a word. Oriana fetched the bundle of chocolates and tossed them passively at Dilys. She caught them with ease. She then looked Oriana deep in the eyes.
“Thank you.” She said it clearly and very meaningfully. Oriana gave a stiff nod of the head.
“You’re welcome,” she replied haughtily. Dilys gave a sigh.
“Look,” she told Oriana. “You were wrong.” Oriana snorted.
“Yeah, thanks for rubbing it in,” she said.
“No, just listen. You were wrong, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t change,” said Dilys encouragingly. Oriana let out a groan.
“But how? How can I possibly change Dil?”
“Let me teach you Ori,” said Dilys hopefully. Oriana rolled her eyes.
“Alright,” she said, her smile returning at last. And that’s exactly what happened.
And here I now am! Oriana thought happily to herself.
“Scared Of Speaking My Heart.”
by Hetty Monksea.
Breanne Jefferson was a unique girl. Some would say that she was wise for her age. There definitely weren’t many more emotionally intelligent fifteen-year-olds. She once likened how she felt to ‘needing to clear out the ashes of the fire of her soul and start anew’. She was very caring; open and thoughtful. And Breanne also looked after herself pretty well too. She took time to sit outside and take in all of nature. She learnt yoga. She meditated every night. She wrote a diary. She expressed her gratitude in life. She tap danced out her anger. She played her pain; sorrow and joy on her harp. Breanne looked after everything in her care including herself. There was only one main thing that hindered her. And that was love.
When it came to love Breanne felt trapped; as if she was locked inside her thoughts and emotions. She was a prisoner to her heart’s desires. That happened when she fell in love with Winston Seymour. What Breanne found annoying was that he was simply an ordinary boy, with the exception of his long toffee hair which he kept up in a loose bun. She felt that she might as well have fallen for one of the boys in her Spanish class. And yet, her heart’s thoughts told her otherwise. These smitten thoughts sanf of how lovely and funny he was. They hummed how beautiful his voice was. They whispered how handsome his deep blue eyes were. Sometimes Breanne would lose herself to these thoughts but then she would snap out of them. And she would chide herself as she did so. She would mutter “Stop it Breanne; you hardly know the boy,” under her breath. However, she couldn’t stop. To some extent she didn’t want to either. And this was because she truly loved him.
At night she would often think of nothing else. Sweet memories of him would fill her head and heart. And she wished with all her soul for two things. One was to tell Winston how she felt. The second was him to love her back. Both to her felt impossible. For the first she was scared, terribly scared. What would he do? What would he say? For the second she couldn’t believe it would ever happen. It seemed too far-fetched. Breanne carried on like this for months. She felt that her thoughts were a mixture of exquisite pleasure and emotional torture.
Then one night Breanne had a dream about Winston. Breanne had of course dreamt about Winston before but generally he was just a side character and definitely nothing remotely romantic ever happened in these imagined scenes. Yet, this time it was a little different. The dream itself went something like this:
Breanne and Winston were in her garden alone in the evening by a fire. Breanne was tired and asked Winston if she could rest her head on his lap. He nodded and so she did. They then seemed to get lost in each other’s eyes for a moment. He suddenly opened his mouth and the words “You know I love you?” tumbled out. Breanne stared at him.
And there the dream ended. Breanne woke up shivering and a cold then hot feeling enveloped her body. Her heart gave a funny little flip every now and again. The dream left a strange tingling sensation in her chest and upper stomach. Breanne doubted it would ever actually come true but still there was an infuriating feeling of quiet hope that refused to leave. For the next few days Breanne was utterly distracted by her thoughts of Winston and the dream. Her heart and gut told yes but her brain wasn’t so sure. Her confidence just didn’t exist. Breanne wanted to ask Winston if he loved her so badly. And yet it required a certain bravery. A bravery that Breanne didn’t have. So she decided to let it go for the time being.
One day Breanne was talking to her Aunt Mabel on the phone. She was chatting to Breanne about food, but then Aunt Mabel never did chat about anything else. “And that’s the only way to make an omelet,” she said to Breanne. “Oh, really?” Breanne asked. “Yes, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise,” Aunt Mabel concluded firmly. “Ah, and you know what else is nice?” “No, what?” At this point Breanne was beyond boredom. Aunt Mabel could rattle on about food forever, and I mean forever. “Nettle soup! Fresh nettle soup!” Aunt Mabel chimed. Breanne’s ears pricked up. “Wait, fresh nettle soup?” she asked. “Yep-a-doodles!” Aunt Mabel cawed. “But how do you pick ’em without getting stung?” Breanne was genuinely interested. “If you just go for it they don’t seem to sting you,” hiccupped Aunt Mabel. “But how are you brave enough to go for it?” asked Breanne of her aunt. “You just got to go with the moment, love,” Aunt Mabel said wisely before then rambling on about radishes. However, those words stuck to Breanne like glue. You just got to go with the moment, love. Breanne kept that with her for the rest of her life. And she unconsciously put the words to good use.
A week later Breanne woke up with an unpleasant sunken sensation which just made her want to cry.
She decided to sit down and do a loving kindness or metta meditation. What did her heart want to tell her? It wanted to tell her two things. Her heart told her how painful it was to be without Winston. “I know, I know,” Breanne whispered in reply. It also wanted to tell her how terrified it was. And how sure it was that it could never tell Winston how it felt. “I know, it’s ok. It’s alright,” Breanne cooed to her heart. Breanne’s breath wished to tell her something else also. It said to let herself go with the flow. Breanne nodded her head to acknowledge what her breath had told her. She then suddenly stood up and, in a trance-like-daze, went over to her harp.
Breanne sat down and rested the instrument in her lap. And then she began to play “The Turtle Dove.” like she had never played it before. The music swirled around her and Breanne seemed to become the song, such was her soul in the piece. She was playing for the person she cared for above all others. Breanne was playing for Winston; as if he was really there. She was playing for the boy she loved. And then Breanne started to sing. And as she sang word for note and note for word, she entered her own world of peace and music. She spelled out her love and joy in every careful phrase. These were the words that Breanne sang:
“Oh fare thee well, I must be gone and leave you for awhile. Wherever I go I will return, if I go ten thousand miles. If I go, if I go, if I go ten thousand miles.
Oh, ten thousand miles it is so far to leave me here alone. Well, I may lie, lament, and cry, and you’ll not hear my mourn.
And you’ll, no you’ll, and you’ll not hear my mourn. Oh, the crow that is so black, my love, will change his color white. If ever I prove false to thee, the day will turn to night.
Yes, the day, oh the day, yes, the day will turn to night. Oh, the rivers never will run dry, or the rocks melt with the sun. I’ll never prove false to the boy I love till all these things be done.
Till all, till all, till all these things be done.”
And as she spread the last cord of the piece, Breanne was brought back to the room. She was slightly panting as if the music had clasped her soul and ripped it from her person. Now all that was left was the sense of loss and the calming feeling of peace. It made for quite the confusing mixture.
Then Breanne heard a pair of hands clapping. And a voice which she knew better than her own said “That was amazing.” Breanne whipped her head round and there he was, sitting behind her. Winston Seymour. He was no dream nor vision. He was as flesh-and-blood as Breanne, and he had heard the whole piece. She stood up. It was time. Breanne could feel it rising from her toes up onto the tip of her tongue, where it finally broke free, and the words “I love you.” fell from her mouth. She licked her lips. Breanne had managed to do it and it felt so good. A sense of harmony enveloped her; a burden had been liberated from her bosom at last. Winston nodded as if he already knew and Breanne smiled. The impossible had been achieved. Breanne felt braver and bolder than she could ever have imagined.
For my sister, who always loves Christmas.
Have you ever seen a Christmas Fairy? No, I haven’t either but that’s not surprising as they are very elusive creatures like lynx. Let me describe one for you. They wear soft gowns or trousers and shirts in light dreamy colors like cream or mauve. From their eyes emits a glowing flame and they have an aura of magic about them.
You know how Santa or Father Christmas has his elves? The classic ‘little helpers’? Well, there are some other ‘little helpers’ that Santa has frantically working behind the scenes to make sure that you have the most perfect Christmas ever. And these are his Christmas Fairies. Christmas Fairies run their own special secret Christmas postal service. In this postal service they collect children’s Christmas lists from around the world and then copy them and send them off to Santa in the North Pole. This way Santa can make sure to give you the presents you want.
One year disaster struck when the head of the postal service fairy was found murdered in her bed! This was awful; how was the postal service going to survive without her? Afterall she was the most magically gifted Christmas fairy of them all.
Pandemonium rained. Fairy folk shouting and crying in the streets. Everyone knew that Christmas would be ruined if no solution was found immediately. They all knew that they would be blamed for this. And so, the fairies started to blame one another. The older fairies knew that if this continued Christmas really would be ruined!
They gathered together and decided that the best thing to do was to hold a council and try to find a way forward. So all the fairies met in a great chamber and argued about how to move on.
“We need to find the killer!” they called up to the elders. “Then they can be held responsible for all this.”
The elders agreed and they ordered an investigation to begin work on it straight away. The investigation that ensued went on for three whole weeks. People were questioned and theories were explored but nothing led anywhere. And then on the third day of the fourth week. Someone confessed. The fairies got excited but the news was not as they had imagined at all!
The fairy who confessed was a maid to the head of the postal service. Her name was Joan Smythe. Joan said that on the evening before her mistress was discovered dead she had requested that Joan bring her a bible and then go home early.
Joan found this odd but said nothing and did as she had been told. She found it even more weird when her mistress asked for a penknife. It was not until the following morning that she suspected anything.
“I was right shocked I was when I see me mistress’s death in breakfast papers,” she laughed. The investigators then asked if she knew why her mistress had asked for these things. Joan looked at them as if she thought they were dumb.
“Because she murdered herself didn’t she?” she said simply. “She wanted the bible to say her last prayers and she didn’t want me hanging around in case I stopped her. The penknife was what killed her I tell you. Ain’t it obviously?” they told her it was now that she’d confessed. And they thanked her for saving them from looking like fools. Also this meant that there was a chance they could save Christmas.
Joan said it was a relief to get it off her chest and told them that they were most welcome.
The investigators looked again in the head’s room and found the penknife and bible. This proved what the maid Joan had said. And when they tested the knife they found that only the head’s fingerprints were on it and no one else’s. This settled it.
The next day the investigators announced to all the other Christmas Fairies that Claudia Haynes, the head of the secret postal service, had committed suicide. She had, they said, stabbed herself fatally in the heart and died quickly. They also discovered her will hidden away in a crack in the wall. It read that she passed on her magical ability and important job to her most loyal friend and servant Joan Smythe.
Everyone was pleased with this, especially Joan Smythe! And so in the end Christmas was saved just in the nick of time and all was well. With the exception of Santa’s elves, who had eaten rather too many sugarcanes and were sick everywhere on Boxing Day.
“This Is Beauty.”
by Hetty Monksea.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
You think about this as you wander through your garden. In one great swing you hoist yourself up into the Great Weeping Willow that is your watchtower. From here you can view all of your garden and most of the surrounding area. You like to come here every day to see how life fares in the Nature World.
In the distance you spot two, no, three buzzards mewing softly to each other. They are circling in on something; a mouse or even a hare perhaps. Every now and again they call out to each other saying where the prey has moved to. You love how each cry they utter is unique. You enjoy seeing them twist and turn with such grace, ease and elegance. There is so much beauty in these creatures, you think to yourself.
It is then that your attention is drawn to all the trees around the Willow. All the ashes, hazels, and hornbeams. And you see little clusters of birds clinging to the branches.
A banditry of tits chatter together excitedly. You also take note of a round of robins, a host of sparrows and a charm of goldfinches. Smiling, you whistle high and low in quick succession. The birds swivel their heads around and you giggle at their confusion. This last year you have been watching the birds in your garden very closely. You’ve taken note of their behavior and now know how to be around them with ease. You can tell them when you are coming and if they don’t hear well, then you can always Fox-walk.
You also know the hierarchy of the birds too. All the normal garden birds like wrens, and finches are the common folk. They just toil away most of the time but are in it together. Then the corvids plus pigeons and doves are the lords and ladies. They can be pompous, cheeky or powerful. And the predator birds like eagles and hawks are the true rulers of the sky. They are mighty or impressive and sometimes slightly evil.
You glance down from the Willow and notice a couple of frogs croaking energetically to each other. A smile slowly spreads across your face as you look at your guinea pigs run. They squeak and leap at odd moments as if they have hiccups. Then a yawning meow pulls you back from your thoughts.
A silver-grey cat is leaning towards you from over the fence that separates your garden from your neighbors. You recognize the cat because he’s yours. You’ve had him for at least four years now and he’s name is Fowler.
“Meow!” you call and stretch out your hand to him. He climbs up and sits on your lap comfortably.
“Don’t you think about it!” you warn as Fowler gazes sharply at the piggies run. He gently rolls his eyes and heavily falls asleep purring. As you stroke his soft and wispy fur you tenderly kiss his nose. You laugh inside as you think how beautiful he is but to his prey he must seem as fierce and ugly as hell. Sometimes it can be very hard to decide or define what is beautiful and what is not. And as you look all around you you know that there is one thing we can all agree is beautiful. And that is Nature. You then also catch sight of the pink glowing sun setting in front of you and the swelling yellow moon rising behind you. And you are so happy that you could explode with bliss.
There once was a crime in Barrington. It wasn’t a petty crime like someone stole one of their neighbors pencils. No, it was much bigger than that. And it needed two people to work it out. Those two people were my human owner, a girl called Tallulah Knox and myself.
I am a cat. Don’t mock, cats are extremely clever. Well, they have to be to catch prey as sneaky as mice and rats. Also, I am no ordinary cat, I mean I did solve a crime! With help from my girl of course.
First let me tell you a bit about myself.
My name is Basir which means wise in Muslim; Tallulah told me. I live quite comfortably in Tallulah's house with her father Theodore and mother Lotus. They also have a great garden for exploring and catching mice or shrews. I was happy with my life and all was well. It was earlier this summer that things started to happen.
One day I was looking at myself in the mirror when a human voice said
“Look at me!”
“Who’s there?” I asked, startled when I realized that the voice was me! I could speak human! Well, as you can imagine I was utterly shocked and didn’t know what to do with myself. I ran straight into Tallulah's room.
“Hey what’s spooked you?” she asked. I opened my mouth to meow but I was worried that I might accidentally speak human so I shut it again. I simply twitched my ears instead.
“Come here,” Tallulah told me. “You can stay here with me for a while if you like,” she said and patted the space next to her on the bed. I gladly took it up and snuggled into her. I slept well but my dreams were taunted by the thought that I wasn’t a real cat; I was a freak cat.
For weeks I tried to forget but my thoughts tortured me into submission. One day I could bear it no longer and so went round to see Jeeves who is next door’s Scottish Fold.
Jeeves got his name from the tales of P.G.Wodehouse. You see, his owner Mr. Doyle Stevenson was a big fan of the stories and when he got this strong old Scottish Fold he knew that he could depend upon it, just like Wooster depends on Jeeves, though Wooster would never admit it!
Anyway, Jeeves is very thoughtful and a good friend of mine so I went round to see him. I climbed over the blue knackered fence between the gardens and jumped down. Slinking across the garden path I reached Jeeves’ cat-flap.
“Meow!” I said and urgently scratched at the wall.
“Ugh! It’s that cat from next door,” I heard Mr. Stevenson say. “Go see what he wants,” he told Jeeves. Jeeves stared back at his owner coolly. He then plodded along to the cat-flap.
I told Jeeves that I needed to speak with him on a matter of urgency. Jeeves nodded and slipped through the cat-flap. We stalked through the grass until we were sure that Mr. Stevenson wouldn’t hear us.
“What is it, O, Great Wise One?” Jeeves asked me. ‘Great Wise One’ is his nickname for me.
“I am rather in shock,” I told him. “You see, I’ve learnt that I can speak human,” I said and demonstrated.
“My dear friend,” said Jeeves. “Do not worry! This is a naturally-occurring phenomenon. I can speak human too,” he said and showed me.
“But how does it come about? Can all cats do this?” I asked.
“No,” said Jeeves and his shoulders seemed to slump. “You know how my ears are folded?”
“Well it’s because of a deformity. Something went wrong in my DNA and so my ears are as they are. It’s the same idea with speaking human.”
“So you’re telling me that something went wobbly in my genes and gave me vocal chords that can say human words?” This seemed impossible; it was too far-fetched.
Jeeves nodded gravely.
“Mouse Tails!” I squeaked and then quickly apologized for my language.
“It’s ok, I was the same when I found out,” Jeeves told me. I thanked for helping me out and I promised to visit him again soon.
“It’s alright, I’d do anything for you my friend.”
“Oh, and one last thing,” called Jeeves as I began to climb the fence. “Let’s keep this between ourselves, as your owners would probably freak if they found out their cat could talk.”
“Roger that!” I said and went back home. I felt so happy that I wasn’t a freak cat. And yet, I was still unsure how to prevent myself from speaking human.
What would Tallulah and her parents do to me if that happened? This thought kept on chewing worry inside me. I could feel it niggle a hole at the pit of my stomach. Every time one of the Knoxes asked me a question like “Shall we get you some food then, eh?” I would open my mouth to say “Yes please!” in cat, only to remember that I might accidentally speak human.
Then one evening, I came out to the Knoxes’ front drive. It was rubbish-collecting day in Barrington and so everyone for miles around were putting out their bins, including Tallulah. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mr. Stevenson dragging a huge and bulky package towards the woods.
My tail twitched and my ears swiveled round. Tallulah noticed.
“What’s up, Basir?” she asked me.
I wanted to tell her there was something wrong, really wrong, with that package. But the consequences… no, I would have to tell her as a cat and nothing more. Surely there was someway I could show her without speaking human words, surely. I focused hard, putting all my effort into not speaking human.
“Meow!” I screeched. I scratched furiously at the ground with my paws and vigorously rubbed my head on Tallulah's knee. A minute later Tallulah finally got the idea that I wanted her to follow me.
Cautiously we tip-toed after Mr. Stevenson who kept on dragging the odd package with him. Tallulah soon realized what we were doing.
“Why are we following him?” she asked me. I opened my mouth and then closed it again when I realized that, of course, she was expecting me to actually reply.
Suddenly a sharp smell came sailing through the air and hit my nose. I knew that smell. It was the smell of a dead creature. As soon as Mr. Stevenson had dropped the package and returned to his house, I ran towards it. I had to find out what or rather who was inside that bag. I nearly yelled “Come on!” to Tallulah but I didn’t need to as she was already chasing after me. I scrabbled at the package until Tallulah opened it for us to see inside. I was already expecting something gruesome but Tallulah wasn’t quite so prepared.
“What the-” she cried and was then violently sick in the bushes. For there, concealed within the bag, was the body of a young woman who had been stabbed to death. How we knew this was because there were great stab wounds in her chest, covered in blood. This woman had been obviously murdered and we needed to solve her crime. Clearly Tallulah was on the same page as me because she quickly pulled out her phone and snapped some photos.
“For evidence,” she told me.
We walked back home, slightly shaken up by our encounter. Tallulah went through her photos, looking at them thoughtfully.
“I think I know the woman,” she told me eventually. “I’m pretty certain she was Mr. Stevenson’s girlfriend. I saw them kissing in the garden a few weeks ago.” At a normal time I would have disapproved of Tallulah disturbing someone’s privacy but this was important. If the woman truly had been Mr. Stevenson’s lover then there was a possibility for motive.
I needed to find more evidence. So that afternoon I snuck into Mr. Stevenson’s house. Luckily Mr. Stevenson himself was out; Jeeves told me. When I told Jeeves why I was there he immediately said that I must solve this terrible crime. I was glad he was on board. Searching in Mr. Stevenson’s bedroom we found two crucial pieces of evidence. One was a bloody shirt presumed he’d worn when murdering the victim, and the other was a USB stick. We discovered that when Tallulah plugged it into her computer, it contained some photos and videos of his girlfriend with other men. It seemed like Mr. Stevenson had got a little jealousy problem and he thought the best way to fix his girlfriend was if there was no girlfriend.
“We need to show the police what we’ve found!” Tallulah told us.
“Meow!” Jeeves and I said in agreement.
Over the next few weeks the police spent a lot of time in Barrington. Mr. Stevenson was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend Grace-Lynn Parker and sentenced to spend the next five years in prison.
Plus, Tallulah and I got our pic in the newspaper. Tallulah read it to me. It said:
Miss Knox & Her Cat Solve Local Murder!
Murder in Barrington!
Written by Daniel Sparksmith.
Miss Tallulah Knox and her cat Basir were the two people behind solving the murder of 23 year old Grace-Lynn Parker, who was murder by her partner Mr. Doyle Stevenson who has now been sentenced to spend the next five years’ imprisonment. When asked why Basir was important to solving the crime Miss Knox simply said “He solved the murder; not me. I only told the police.”
And so, from that day forward, I was happy that, although I might be a very unusual cat, I was a very brilliant one indeed. I was simply as content as a cat could be.
by Hetty Monksea
Dark water hunting I go. My heart pounds. My fin tingles. The game has begun so I am silent.
If only people enjoyed my presence. Then they might play with me.
Often I like to imagine a world where sharks and humans lived in harmony. If only it were so.
by Hetty Monksea
Whilst the toast tasted contaminated the water felt fresh.
For Mika, as you are a fine archer.
Myla Perry shook out her glossy feathers. She used to look at those feathers of hers and wish with all her heart that they would just become human hands again. The feathers were also a constant reminder of what she was now branded. A loser, a failure, a coward.
Myla flew free over the trees to spot a carcass. This one was a deer. She was glad to find food and began to help herself. Well, no one else was going to eat it. The deer carcass must have been weeks old but Myla didn’t mind. She was just glad it wasn’t a boar. If it had been a boar she would have puked. That is if crows could puke, Myla wasn’t sure, but if she could have puked she would have. She simply couldn’t look at a boar ever again, not after what had happened.
Myla’s mind wondered to Sheryl, which was no surprise as it often did. Myla asked herself if her love would even recognize her now. She knew the answer though; no one in their right mind would think a common crow could be the once famous archer beloved of Diana. Oh three curses on Joanna and that boar!
Far away, in the stormy clouds of Olympus, a goddess raged. “That girl should be treated with contempt, not congratulated for disobeying my orders! Why ask for something that would make me into a soppy deity of forgiveness? Do you wish me to be a laughing stock?” Diana demanded.
“No, of course not. It is just that ‘that girl’ has now served her three years now, my child,” soothed Diana’s father, Jupiter. Diana snorted. Jupiter and his daughter weren’t on the best of speaking terms but, to be honest, they usually weren’t.
Sensing the tension, the Queen Juno stepped forward, took Diana’s hands in hers and spoke.
“Diana, I hate to agree with your father, I really do… but he is right.” Diana was stunned. These were rare words from the Queen’s lips indeed.
“But Myla Perry was the best archer in Venice, why would she miss a boar by five inches?”
“I don’t know Diana, but there must be a logical reason. It must have been either an honest mistake or it was deliberate. And if it was deliberate, then maybe find out why.” The Queen said.
Diana snatched her hands back.
“You think?” she asked Juno, pondering. The Queen nodded.
“Alright, I will,” Diana said and then vanished into thin air.
Myla had finished her carcass and was now cleaning out her feathers. It could be quite lonely as a crow and more than once she’d wished she had someone to talk to. Someone to share this burden of hers until the gods allowed her to become human once again. If ever, thought Myla as she shivered in a cold gale that was sweeping over the land.
Leaning on a windowsill overlooking the starry night sky, the goddess Diana wondered what she should do. Suddenly the answer appeared before her very eyes. A pear tree!
Myla rested her weary claws on the branches of an old pear tree.
“If only you could talk to me,” she told it.
“Why? Do you wish for someone to talk to?” boomed a voice from within the tree’s core. Myla jumped and her feathers caught the wind making her hover for a minute.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve never heard of a talking tree before,” she explained to the tree as she settled back down on its branches.
“It’s alright our numbers are few and far between these days. Anyhow, what was it that you wanted to talk about, my friend?” the tree asked her.
“Well, some time ago, it must have been three years now, I was a human.”
The tree’s branches seemed to move as if it was nodding. “My name was Myla Perry,” continued Myla. “And I was the eldest of the three Perry sisters — the most skilled sportswomen in all of Venice. I myself was the best female archer that Venice had ever had, and I was most beloved of the goddess of that sport. Then one day, a festival was held in Venice, in honor of the goddess and I was there to shoot the festival boar, as a sacrifice to her Greatness.
The chase began and I was ready with my bow and arrow. But when I saw the boar’s face… I can’t describe it… but somehow the boar just was my sister Joanna. To my eye it seemed to transform into her. I couldn’t shoot it… I simply couldn’t. When I leashed my arrow I pointed it ever so slightly off course… and I missed.” Myla the crow was crying now, tears glistening on her feathers and beak. The tree gently dried them with its leaves.
“And then that monster of a hot-headed goddess turned me into a common crow, left to bring death on the world and scavenge for food for the next three years. Now I was a failure, a loser, a coward.”
Inside the tree, Diana tried not to hit the crow at the words “hot-headed monster”. Instead the tree spoke calmly.
“And do you still accuse the goddess of being a monster?” it asked Myla.
The crow shook her head.
“Deep down I know that she had every right to be angry and so… I forgive her.”
The tree seemed to smile.
“And she forgives you too.” and with that Myla felt her wings sprout hands and her talons become feet again! Myla shrieked with joy as she transformed into the sixteen year old girl she was meant to be.
“Many blessings on you, Great Goddess Diana!” she cried and then ran down the path, skipping as she went.
Myla turned back and looked at the tree.
“By the way, what is your name?” she asked it.
For a while the tree didn’t answer but then it said “Caparinda Jyotivasina,” as if it had just remembered.
“Well thank you Caparinda Jyotivasina,” Myla shouted back and then left.
“So, why did you forgive her?” the Queen Juno said, startling Diana who had been gazing at her companion the moon.
“Well, you might not remember as it were many moons ago but when I was first made a goddess I was a little lonely. Yes, sure, I had my nymphs and some priestesses but I missed my mother Leto. she was only mortal and so she died and left me for my uncle Pluto. I was heart-broken but carried my grief wisely, as a woman should.
Then one day I came upon a Golden Retriever and like Myla I couldn’t explain it but that dog was Leto, every inch of her. So, I named it Leto and it became my most faithful hunting companion. However, that is not the point. The point is that I thought that Myla Perry was a coward, that’s why I turned her into a crow. But I was wrong; she was not a coward at all, she was just a kind heart.”
The Queen Juno nodded and smiled.
“I believe you are right, my child,” she said.
Myla had been dancing her way back home when she suddenly stopped short. No, it couldn’t be… she thought as a tall blonde young woman came into view. When the young woman saw Myla she gasped and started to run towards her.
“Myla! Oh, Myla!” the young woman cried as she embraced Myla tightly.
“Oh, Sheryl! Sheryl!” Myla exclaimed back.
“Has the goddess let you go? Has she?” Sheryl asked anxiously.
“Yes,” said Myla. “Yes, she has.” And the two lovers kissed each other passionately, tears of joy pouring down their faces.
“Do you hate me for being a coward?” Myla asked Sheryl.
“A coward? What are you talking about Myla? You didn’t shoot one of the goddess’ boars and so you had to face her wrath. Anyone who faces a deity’s rage must either be very brave or very foolish. And you are no fool Myla Perry,” said Sheryl wisely.
“You know what, my love? I don’t think you ever spoke a truer word,” Myla declared and the two of them walked back home together.
It was the one day that I wished that Jeeves wasn’t so reasonable. I told him quite plainly that I wanted to do this alone. But he still persisted until I gave in on the condition that I put his leash on so it might seem like I was taking him on a walk.
“And no talking!” I said. “People will think it strange if my cat can talk.”
“Right you are Miss Marple,” promised Jeeves and we both got in the car. Miss Marple is not my real name of course. I am actually Ophelia Thornton (née Parker) but Jeeves likes to call me Miss Marple because he says that I am just as smart as the character in Agatha Christie’s books.
To be honest, I’ve been called many different names over the years. My late husband, Benjamin Thornton used to call me love, our son, Chris Thornton still calls me Mama, and my guardian and aunt, Emma-Ann Parker, used to call me Opie.
I know what you’re thinking, why did she have a guardian? What happened to her parents? Well, I can tell you now that my past was not a pleasant one. My mother, Grace-Lynn Parker was twenty three when she met my father and had me. Then when I was just a week old, my father, Doyle Stevenson, killed my mother. Yes, like he actually stabbed her in the chest. I didn’t know this myself until I was fourteen.
At first I simply refused to believe it but then Emma-Ann showed me some newspaper clippings and photographs. I then asked Jeeves if this was true.
Jeeves is Scottish Fold and he used to be my father’s cat. He said he was very sorry but it was so; he’d seen the proof. The reason that Jeeves could tell me this was because he can talk. Like real human words! He can also live for over 100 years too.
I asked Emma-Ann if my father was out of prison yet. She said that he had been for seven years now. I was furious and said she should have told me before then. Emma-Ann just shrugged and said that I wouldn’t have been ready before then to hear it.
She then told me that he’d sent a ton of messages and gave me her phone. They were all recordings. There were twenty one of them all together. They told of how, once he’d got out of prison, he simply couldn’t face seeing me. He regretted what he’d done to the depth of his soul. He said he was now living in Chicago with his new wife Jacklyn Stevenson. They’d had a child together called Hamish Stevenson. And now they wanted to meet up with me to tell me how sorry they were etc.… etc.
I listened to those recordings all night long. My father’s voice sounded husky. I hated it. I hated all of it. I hated everything about my father and his ‘perfect family’. So that was it. I ignored my father’s pleas and moved on.
I grew up. I moved out and went to uni to study Surrealism, which was my passion. I got a job looking after old pieces of art. I met my husband Benjamin Thornton, who was a fellow art enthusiast. We got married and a few years later our son Christopher was born. He was our joy. Then he grew up and moved to New Zealand to study ancient ways of life there.
It was a few years ago that I finally decided to meet this father of mine. However, our presence together was awkward and I still couldn’t get over my residuals of hate. We didn’t meet up again. We kept in touch, a bit. Yet, our messages always felt strained and sieved, so that we never really said what we wanted to. It was as if there was no connection to draw us together.
Then two years ago the messages stopped coming. At first I thought nothing of it; maybe my father was tired of all this. It was one Monday morning that I got the call.
Father was dead. He had been 102 and had died peacefully in his sleep. It was half brother Hamish who had called me. The funeral was a week later. I didn’t go. I had an operation on the same day. Secretly I was glad this was the case. I couldn’t face seeing my father’s other family. Besides, I hadn’t really known the man. He might have been my father but it amounted to nothing more than name.
Two years on and something changed. It was after one of my good friends, Iris Langley, was reunited with her father, Karl. Iris had told that she had never experienced such joy within herself. Her father was more than she could have ever hoped for.
It was then that I felt something inside me slide into place. I knew it was time to rediscover my father for the man he actually was. I called up my half brother Hamish Stevenson. He was still living in Chicago but decided to come over to England for a week so that we could meet up more easily. Now it’s the actual day I feel really quite nervous, which isn’t like me at all. Jeeves also isn’t helping but I try to ignore him as best I can.
As I walk down the streets, Jeeves in front on his leash, I notice how dull many people’s eyes are as they go about their day. That’s how I must look — a miserable old lady, I think to myself. I get to the park on time and standing there waiting is a tall man with broad shoulders. He waves and comes over.
“You must be Ophelia. I’m Hamish Stevenson,” he says as he warmly shakes my hand. Hamish looks so jolly and full of life. Just like Benjamin always was, I think and quickly swallow down my rising tears.
“Good to meet you at last Hamish,” I say and mean it.
We sit down on a bench and cross our knees in unison.
“This is Jeeves, he’s my cat but he used to be father’s,” I add as he jumps up onto my lap. Hamish grins.
“I know, Dad used to talk about him quite a bit,” and he gives Jeeves a chin rub. “You’re quite famous in the Stevenson house, you know, my friend.” Jeeves gives Hamish a look as if to say ‘Why, of course I am!’
“Did father ever mention me much?” I ask and just as I say it I realize how badly I want the answer to be yes. I want to be the daughter that my father longed to reclaim but couldn’t.
Hamish’s face clouds over.
“No,” he says slowly. “He didn’t much. I think it was too hard for him. I remember he once said how upset he’d been when he had realized he’d murdered his child’s mother. But I knew he thought about you a lot.”
“How do you know that?” I ask, sniffing and blinking furiously.
A sly smile creeps over the corners of his mouth. “Because I read his diary once,” he admits.
At that I laugh. “And what did it say? That I’m a waste of his space and he wishes that he’d murdered me too?”
Hamish’s jaw hardens.
“Look here, Ophelia. Dad wasn’t all bad.” I forced myself to look into his steely grey eyes. I gasp.
“They look like Dad’s don’t they?”
“Dad was a good person, Ophelia, honest. I’m just sorry you never got to see him like that. You probably haven’t been told this but Dad saved a woman’s life once.”
“No,” I breathe.
“Oh yes! He saw her drowning and knew there was no way she was going to survive without help, so he dived in and saved her.”
I feel gob smacked.
“Why didn’t he tell me?” I ask.
“He didn’t like the fuss,” Hamish says.
“So he was modest too,” I mumble.
“Yeah, he always was,” Hamish smiles.
“I’d better go now,” I say, getting up and putting Jeeves down on the floor. “But thank you,” I say to Hamish.
“You shone the light on what I couldn’t see,” I tell him.
“It’s a pleasure,” he says and shakes my hand.
I walk down the streets feeling uplifted. I’ve seen my father from the other side and I know that he truly was a brilliant person. All my hate is gone and what is left is only love.
“Well, what an interesting man he was, but a great son,” says Jeeves thoughtfully and I smile.
I agree with Frida Kahlo: long live life!
Stefanius shivered as a bone-chilling breeze blew over the frigid and expansive landscape. It might be June but here at Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall the earth showed no sign of it. Pine trees were protruding onto the path and thistle flowers popped up in surprising places.
“All clear, Stefanius Vitus?” barked the commander.
“All clear!” Stefanius called back.
He had been in his post all morning and by now was truly bored. He tried to entertain himself by naming as many colors as he could in the surrounding area. Brown, black, grey, green… Stefanius sighed. This was his life. The life of a common Roman soldier. One who had been sent to the freezing fields of Britannia, one had sworn to serve and protect his empire as best he could.
This had, of course, been exciting at first but now he had gotten used to the routine it thrilled him no longer. Only in the hours that soldiers sparred with one another to keep fit, did Stefanius find any amusement at all. Oh, how he wished for a real battle…
Over the rough stony Wall and across the jagged-y hills, there lay a Celtic Caledonian settlement of local tribespeople. In one of the little mud roundhouses lay a fire and a girl, burning away her thoughts into smoke. She too longed for something daring to do, something worth doing, worth living for.
This girl’s name was Cailín. She had hay-colored hair and eyes of the freshest grass.
“Cailín? Cailín? Are you there?”
Cailín looked up to where the soft sound of her friend Ailsa’s calling was coming from.
“I am here,” she heard herself say.
Light, quick-paced footsteps and Ailsa’s cheery face appeared in Cailín’s view.
“What are you planning, Ailsa?” Cailín asked as she saw the familiar sparkle of mischief in her friend’s eyes.
“Well…” Ailsa started carefully. “Do you want to do something a little bold and daring?”
“What did you have in mind?” mused Cailín. She felt intrigue stirring in her chest and her pulse went double-quick. It was time to leave her boredom behind…
“Come on Cailín!” came the shout of Ailsa as the two of them wound their way through the folds of the forest.
“I’m coming,” Cailín replied, holding up her skirt to avoid the clumps of spikey thistles.
“Race you to the Wall,” she cried to Ailsa.
And the two of them ran, skipping joyfully over star-moss and bounding wildly through brambles. Cailín led them onwards. The Wall loomed nearer and nearer…
Stefanius stared absently ahead over the imposing forest. Crack! Stefanius whipped his head round.
Something was moving those hawthorn bushes. Just a deer, he told himself to ignore it. In his gut though he knew it was too large to be a deer.
“Why don’t you go check that out, Stefanius?” suggested his fellow fighter Flavius Vergilius. “I’ll take your post.”
He climbed slowly down the steps to the other side of the Wall.
“Show yourself and I shall not harm you,” Stefanius shouted to the hidden enemies. He tried to stand tall and proud against the wind. Suddenly Stefanius stopped short…
Cailín’s arms were tickled by the long grass as she snagged her skirt on the hawthorn. As she tried in vain to remove herself she heard the deafening clank of Roman bronze creeping closer and closer.
In desperation she finally managed to tear herself away from the tree. Whilst she did so she heard one of the soldiers shout “Show yourself and I shall not harm you.”
Maybe it was the force from tearing herself away that propelled her into the open or maybe she’d stumbled. Either way, she was now left standing face to face with the Roman soldier.
Cailín felt all the breath leave her body. He just stood there. In all his entirety. His brass helmet, red tunic and leather topped with chainmail, all the way down to his hobnailed boots.
Cailín looked into his eyes. They seemed to mirror her own fear, curiosity and a hint of admiration.
Something in his face seemed to harden and he clumsily fumbled for his sword to point it shakily at her. She deftly drew her own dagger in response. They circled each other slowly, unsure what move their opponent might try.
“What do you want?” the soldier’s voice wavered.
“Nothing, I only sought an adventure,” came Cailín’s reply.
“Leave now and I shall say it was only a deer,” he offered.
“Don’t you wish to see what this deer’s made of?” she quirked at him.
The soldier smiled.
His was a genuine pleasing smile, fresh as a bird’s egg.
“Alright,” he said.
Just then footsteps could be in the distance. Twigs cracking coming nearer and nearer and the cry of “Cailín? Cailín?” echoing through the glade.
Oh Great Beira! It’s Ailsa, thought Cailín.
The soldier seemed to sense her panic as he sheathed his sword and said “meet me here after dark, no weapons.”
“For neither of us?” she pressed.
“Neither of us,” he repeated.
“Alright,” Cailín agreed, sheathing her own blade. “Until, the moon shall light our way,” she said.
He nodded and left.
“My goodness Cailín, you have quite the appetite for long running,” retorted Ailsa as Cailín turned around to face her friend.
“And for adventures,” she whispered happily to herself…
“What was it?” Flavius asked when Stefanius returned to his post.
“Only a beautiful wild deer,” came Stefanius’ unusually exhilarated reply. As he resumed his position, he could think of nothing other than the surprising evening to come…
Two weeks later:
Ailsa and Cailín were out foraging together, brushing their way past tips of cold dew, which clung to the clusters of grass. Cailín had some news she had to tell Ailsa. It was big news, humongous news, and she needed to break it to her friend gently.
“Ailsa?” she said carefully.
“Yes?” her friend turned to her, a dry hard dandelion root in her hand.
Cailín took a deep breath in and out.
“I’m getting married,” she blurted.
Ailsa dropped her root.
“What?” she asked, astonished.
“I’m in love,” Cailín told her. “I met a Roman soldier. His name is Stefanius and he’s amazing. He’s caring and loving and fun. So full of life. We’ve been meeting every night by the Wall, hidden in stretches of shadow. He asked me yesterday and I said yes. I had to. I love him, Ailsa.”
“What I am to tell Fearghus and Glenna?”
“Mama and Papa will be fine; they have the whole village to look after. I will reinvent myself. Stefanius and I agreed. I will now be known as Camilla Sylvia Marius and not Cailín Sorcha. We are to be wed tomorrow,” she said excitedly.
“Well, if this is what you want to be happy, then you have my blessing,” Ailsa embraced Cailín and the two friends squeezed hands for the very last time…
Five weeks later:
And so Stefanius and Cailín were wed to the chirping of blackbirds and many happy days unfurled in front of them, lining the weeks with love.
Stefanius was promoted to a higher position. Cailín became friends with the local Roman women.
Those days seemed never ending, as if they could curve on beyond the horizon. Then one day Cailín discovered something extraordinarily beautiful. All that love and joy had produced another life, a life which now lived inside her. Everything was excellent. All was well and just as it should be.
It was not to last.
One day Stefanius was called upon. The Celts from Caledonia were advancing. They wished to conquer the Wall and take back Britannia.
Cailín was four weeks pregnant and so stayed at their villa. She has begged him not to go, for she knew nothing good would come of it. It was her friends and family against her one true love. Stefanius however, knew he had to go, otherwise he could be killed for disobeying orders.
The battle was fierce. The Romans had numbers but the Celts had fire.
Stefanius had been bred for this. He made kill after kill, not pausing to think. And then a scream. A scream so torn and choked with betrayal. A scream from a throat that Stefanius knew so well.
He looked over his shoulder. There was Cailín with their child in her womb standing on top of the Wall. she was screaming, screaming her heart out over the Wall.
Stefanius turned to look at his latest victim. Ailsa lay lifeless at his feet. His sword was dipped in a friend’s blood and therefore it also held his wife’s blood, his child’s blood.
The Romans won that day.
Stefanius knew not at what price.
Within the minute he had killed Ailsa, he had killed his wife and their child with her. He was never to see her again. She had disappeared over the hills and did not return.
I was born in a burrowed nest, deep within a wall, safe, warm and snug. Though the wall might have been hard stony brick we were hopeful, my siblings and I, of what lay beyond the wall.
Tiger wanted there to be some other males to fight with. Flax, my younger brother only wanted more food. I, however, wanted love.
Companionship and friends was what I felt I needed the most.
My name was Sunflower Seeds. We were what you would call goldfinches. We had our own name for ourselves, which you would say along the lines of “the-creatures-who-call-the-sun”.
It was on our first flight that I remember seeing them.
They were wandering through the spiky thistle flowers, looking a little aimless, as if they had lost something. There were three of them, two quite bigger than the other and they all wore jagged-y spines on their backs.
“Did you hear that?” asked Flax.
We shook our heads. A squeal then penetrated the sky.
“You both heard that, right?” Flax persisted.
“Yes,” we chorused, diving down to investigate, Ma and Da following us.
We landed just beside the creatures, startling them into shock-balls. Tiger popped around them, inspecting them. He pulled out a wing to pat one of them.
“Ow!” Tiger cried, flapping his injured wing in distress.
A set of bright blue eyes looked up at us.
“I am terribly sorry,” said the creature the eyes belonged to.
“It’s alright,” grumbled Tiger.
“Who are you?” I asked, bounding over to them.
“We are the-soft-sharp-earth-bellied-creatures,” replied another with green eyes. “My name is Emerald, my husband Chestnut,” she pointed to a creature with brown eyes. “And our daughter Periwinkle,” Emerald pointed to the blue-eyed soft-sharp-earth-bellied-creature or hedgehog as you would say. “We are looking for a new home.”
“Our old one was burnt by lightning,” sniffed Periwinkle.
“Come with us, we shall find you a new home, my name is Sunflower, these are my brothers Tiger and Flax, and my parents Wriggle and Shell,” I told them.
“Thank you, that would be very kind,” replied Emerald as Periwinkle smiled at me.
Together we found a lovely large log pile, covered with layers of leaves. Emerald, Chestnut and Periwinkle made their home from that, happy to have somewhere suitable.
We all became firm friends and lived out our lives together, all eight of us.
The water glistened like stolen pearls. Our boat left a wake of foaming tides behind us like strings of diamonds.
I stared ahead. The island loomed closer and closer. I suddenly shivered, though the sun beat warm on my skin. The time had finally come to face my past again…
I stepped off the boat, wobbling on my sea-legs. I glanced around me.
The grass seemed less long and the trees had been cut back to make way for grazing sheep. This made me feel oddly relieved, even though in those days the forest had always been my greatest friend. I suppose in some sense it was reassurance that life moved on, the earth moved on, regardless of the tortuous past it left behind.
How hard it had been for me to forget. And, although I loved my daughter dearly, I was glad that Clover was not with me; it would have made it too real.
As I wandered up the winding gravel drive path I saw the Castle come in to view up ahead.
I sucked in a breath. How surreal it felt, looking as grand as the first day I saw it…
Up the hill I had skipped, Clover jumping behind me.
“Here it is,” Torkel had announced, spreading his arms wide in that unusual dead-flap of his. I had smiled shyly, silence stinging the sky.
“What do you think?” Torkel had asked roughly, his mood dark once more. I had bit my lip, nervous about what to say.
“It’s very… proper and commanding,” I had told him.
Torkel had laughed, joy had sprung back into his face. I had grinned, happy to have said something right…
Coming closer to the Castle itself, I thought about how Torkel was doing now. To be honest, I didn’t care whether he was in Wales or Hawaii but he was still Torkel; friend, enemy, genius, idiot. He still intrudes into my thoughts now, though I often wish he didn’t.
I recalled our first meeting. How ordinary it had all started…
My good friend May Haddon had introduced us at a café.
“Yvette, this is my acquaintance Mr. Torkel Fountain,” May had told me, revealing Torkel.
The one thing I shall never forget about Torkel is his appearance. He almost always had a pair of bright orange shorts, together with a tweed jacket held on by brass buttons and topped with his hat. Torkel always wore his hat. It was a turquoise cap, cut to a sharp point at the third eye. However, the most odd feature of Torkel’s hat was how, from either side just below the ear, hung eight in-seed upside down dandelion flowers. The effect of this was that, every time he moved, he left a trail of soft seeds behind him. I remember I once asked him why he had the dandelion seed feature. He had looked at me like I was crazy and said simply “because then I leave all of my weeds behind me, of course!”. Back to the café introduction. “Haló, tha mise Yvette Blakemore,” — “Hello, I am Yvette Blakemore,” I had said, shaking Torkel’s hand.
We had then eaten a pleasant meal and sat down to play cards. Torkel had asked me what job I was employed by.
“A teacher,” I told him. He had then offered me a position as housekeeper in his castle. I had been a bit stunned and uncertainly asked what price he was talking. The answer had shocked me senseless. It was too much to imagine. After a minute I had hesitantly agreed. For one, the money would be useful and for two, I was intrigued by this Torkel Fountain and wanted to know him better.
“One last thing,” Torkel had demanded. “Why do you always speak in Gaelic?”
I had paused, unsure how to answer. “I-”
“You will always speak English with me,” he had warned. I remember quite clearly how the hairs of my neck stood up in fear and anger but I had no idea then how swingingly different Torkel’s behavior could be…
I stood in front of the door. Its frame had long since collapsed but one could still make out the bell on which visitors rang on the rare occasion when Torkel had a friend round to stay. Now staring at this demolished door I remember my first entrance to “Castle Fountain.”…
Torkel and I had finally arrived, Clover clinging onto my back. The grand front door peered down intensely at us.
“Wow,” I’d gasped.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Torkel had said, still content for that moment.
I had nodded, lost for words. Clover had stared at the castle, curious, her black bob bobbing from side to side.
“Dé am Mama a tha sin?” — “What is that Mama?” she had asked me.
“Ar dachaidh,” — “Our home,” I had replied.
At least I had been able to speak Gaelic with Clover. Torkel didn’t seem to mind that.
Torkel had stepped inside, his knees bending in an exaggerated way.
“Jayne,” he had called, slinging off his rain jacket.
“Yes, sir?” a maid had asked, appearing out of nowhere. She had worn a navy dress covered with a white apron and her curly amber hair had been tumbling out of her cap.
“Is Mrs. Fountain in at the moment?”
“Why yes, sir. She’s in the lounge complaining of a headache.”
Torkel had let loose a snort.
“Sounds just like her,” he had said gruffly to himself. “Anyways, very good. I want to introduce her to the new housekeeper Miss Blakemore,” here he had waved an absent hand in my direction. Jayne had looked over at me and given a little wink to me. I had known then that I liked Jayne, I liked her very much indeed…
I walked round to one of the broken glass windows from where you could still see the lounge, though there was now a huge pile of rubble which sat on top of it. This rather ruined the lovely furniture. Through the wreckage I spied the large chaise-lounge where I had first met Mrs. Fountain. That was when all the mystery really began…
Torkel had led Clover and I to the lounge. There, lying lifelessly on the chaise-lounge was a pale dark-haired woman. Her grey-blue eyes stared dully off into nothing and her red lips had hung slightly limp and open. Torkel had strode forward.
“Darling,” he had said, addressing the woman. “This is our new housekeeper Yvette Blakemore.”
“How do you do, Mrs. Fountain?” I had said, offering my hand.
“Oh, how lovely to meet you, my dear. Make sure you behave yourself. It will be nice to have a new housekeeper again though,” she had replied, her hand heavy as I shook it.
“You must remember to look after Master Appleby well,” she had told me, a fierce look in her dull grey eyes.
“Who’s Master Appleby?” I had asked, interested.
“NOBODY!” Torkel had shouted.
I had jumped back, hugging Clover closer to my chest.
“I mean, my wife’s just confused, aren’t you darling?” Torkel had pressed.
Mrs. Fountain had bit her lip, tears in her eyes. She had nodded, trembling all over.
“Now I will leave you two ladies to get to know each other,” Torkel had said and walked away, his arms flapping from side to side.
Once Torkel had disappeared from sight and sound Mrs. Fountain, whose name I later learnt was Lirit, turned to me. She had beckoned me over with a little hand wag.
“Please don’t mind my husband, dear,” she had pleaded with me, her voice now soft and gentle. “I do try to please him but sometimes I just say the wrong things,” she’d told me in barely a whisper.
But what are the wrong things? I had wanted to ask but didn’t. I knew from that moment onwards that something strange was going on and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what it was…
I trotted on to peer through the window. Looking through I could just make out the wooden dining table and chairs. I thought over the many meals I had had there. Of course, the most memorable one happened on the night of my arrival…
“Right,” Torkel had said , addressing me from across the table. At once everyone had laid down their cutlery.
“I have just received a telegram and must go down to London at once. I am so sorry that it had to be soon after your arrival, Miss Blakemore. However, I am sure that Jayne will help you to get your bearings and that you’ll manage just fine without me for a few days,” Torkel had told me.
“Of course, sir,” Jayne had chipped in. Torkel had beamed at her and an understanding seemed to pass between them…
I looked up to where the landing was now visible through the collapsed ceiling. I thought of my room, which had been third from the right, and of all the secrets it had once held…
“And here is your room, Miss Blakemore,” Jayne had said, opening wide the green door to reveal the room within it. She had just been showing me around the Castle to help me get to grips with managing it.
“Thank you Jayne,” I had replied.
“You’re welcome, Miss. and if there’s anything else you need please call me,” Jayne had said before she left.
“Seall Clover, is e seo an seòmar againn,” — “Look Clover, this is our room,” I’d told my daughter as I put her down.
“Gu bràth, Mama?” — “Forever, Mama?” she’d asked.
“Chan eil fios agam, is dòcha,” — “I don’t know, maybe,” I’d said, shrugging.
Clover had then run off to play as I unpacked our belongings. After a couple of minutes Clover had come running back to me.
“Dè tha seo, Mama?” — “What is this, Mama?” she’d asked me, holding up a book. I’d taken it from her, examining the pages. On the cover it had simply said “journal” and on the inside it read “property of Master Hugo Appleby, age 12”. I’d got a shiver down my spine.
That was the name Lirit Fountain has mentioned to make Torkel shout.
“Uill, dè a th’ ann am Mama?” — “Well, what is it Mama?” Clover had been impatient.
“Chan eil dad, a ghràidh,” — “Nothing, darling,” I’d told her as I put the journal on my bedside table. Clover had gone off to play again. I, however, was intrigued…
Finally I strode into the back garden where the shady trees lengthened the soft shadows. The red brick shed, which had never been in use even in my days as housekeeper, was now well and truly abandoned. The long leafy rhubarb plants helped to give the trees extra shade. The darkness they created now felt rather menacing though in the days of the past they had radiated quite another feeling…
By the third day of my time at Castle Fountain I had become quite familiar with how to manage and run it, so on my break I decided to go into the garden and read in the shade of the trees. Jayne had agreed to entertain Clover for me so off I had gone, Hugo Appleby’s journal in my hand.
Normally I would have had strong views on reading someone’s personal thoughts but this book might have just been the key to unlocking the Castle’s past. I had to have a go at trying the door.
I had sat down, leaning against the trees. Their presence had calmed me from whatever contents the journal might have held inside it.
Reading through the pages I had quickly discovered who Hugo was. He had been Torkel’s godson and when both of his parents had died tragically Torkel had taken the young Hugo in.
The journal itself had ended some weeks ago with Master Appleby saying how Torkel had asked to go on a walk around the grounds the following day which Hugo had of course agreed to…
I sat down in the exact same spot I had done to read Hugo Appleby’s journal. I lent against a tree thinking of how it had all unraveled after that…
I had gone to Jayne first.
Torkel had still been away and I hadn’t dared to go to Mrs. Fountain in case she started crying or flipping out.
“Jayne,” I’d called to her. The evening had just drawn in and I’d just put Clover to bed.
“We need to talk,” I had said, showing her the journal.
“What-how?” she’d asked, astonished.
“Clover found it in our room,” I had explained.
She’d sat down on the sofa, pale and shaky. I had sat down opposite to her, my eyes had never left hers.
“You know this is not a happy tale?” she’d said.
I had nodded.
“Go on,” I’d told her. I had needed to know the truth, no lies, just the truth, plain and simple.
“Well,” Jayne had begun. “Master Appleby came to stay with the Fountains late last year. He was a sweet child and very good natured,” Jayne had smiled at the memory. “At first Mr. Torkel was very taken by the boy, we all were, but as ever his mood swung and he became deeply jealous. You see, Master Appleby had inherited his parents’ money and estate when they died, not that he was old enough to use either of them, but if Mr. Torkel died without an heir of his own then Master Appleby would have inherited this estate too. And that was something Mr. Torkel could not abide. So one morning Mr. Torkel took Master Appleby out for a walk about the estate. He pretended kindness to Master Appleby and when he wasn’t looking Mr. Torkel drew a dagger and stabbed the poor child in the back.”
“How do you know this?” I’d asked her.
“Korinna Holt, maid to Master Appleby and the housekeeper before you, told me. She was a good woman with few flaws, it was those flaws however that led to her downfall. You see, she was the only person who witnessed Master Appleby’s death. Mr. Torkel was afraid she would tell but Korinna loved Mr. Torkel and so she helped him to bury up the truth and the two of them pretended Master Appleby had accidentally killed himself in a fall from a tree. Mrs. Fountain was heartbroken for she had loved Master Appleby dearly and was greatly saddened by his death. Mr. Torkel pretended to care for his wife and grieve with her. Yet, soon after Master Appleby’s death Mrs. Fountain became pregnant. Mr. Torkel was delighted, dreaming of all the things he would show and teach his child,” Jayne had sighed sadly. “He ought to have been content with that,” she had said.
Upon seeing my confused expression she quickly explained. “While Mrs. Fountain was pregnant Mr. Torkel began an affair with Korinna Holt. They were happy for a short time but it didn’t last long. Mrs. Fountain soon found out about the affair and she was outraged. Mr. Torkel quickly claimed it was all Korinna’s fault and she was at once sent packing. The tragedy didn’t stop there though. Very soon after Mrs. Fountain miscarried her child. Mr. Torkel was distraught and wouldn’t talk to anyone for days.”
“Gosh,” I had whispered to myself. “That’s awful.”
Jayne had just nodded…
I lay back against the tree, enjoying the feeling of the leaves and the bark. I thought about what had happened after that…
I had confronted Torkel the day after he had got back from London. He had of course been at Hugo Appleby’s funeral as I had found out from Jayne.
“More toast please, Jayne,” Torkel had ordered, reading his newspaper.
Jayne had curtsied and left.
“Would you like some child’s blood on it, sir?” I’d asked him.
“WHAT. DID. YOU. JUST. SAY?” Torkel had demanded. His temper hadn’t seemed to faze me, even though I knew it could lead to death.
“Nothing, I just thought you might like to give cannibalism a go now that you’ve tried murder,” I had told him, brazenly.
“GET OUT! GO AWAY!” Torkel had yelled at me. At the same time he had smashed his crockery onto the floor bringing Jayne running.
“What happened?” she had screamed.
“Her! She knows!” Torkel had pointed a damning finger at me…
I let out a satisfied sigh. I remember it had all happened pretty quickly after that. The cries, the tears, the scurrying off the island. The shock proved all too much for Mrs. Lirit Fountain, who died shortly afterwards. Torkel was put in an asylum but he soon escaped. Jayne retired to a family life in Cornwall. And I, I could now finally let go of the past…
For everyone at Story Club, you help my stories come alive, but also for all my friends and family, you help me feel alive!
A mewl echoes around the room.
“Goodbye Orion,” I say, bending down to stroke his soft shiny fur.
“Are you ready yet, Kyna?” calls Dad.
“Yes, coming,” I reply and jump into the car.
We arrive fifteen minutes later and I get out, bubbling with enthusiasm as I clutch “The Deathless Girls.” to my chest.
Last month at the end of Book Club it was agreed that I would choose the next read. Of course, I knew what to choose straight away.
“The Deathless Girls.” was the only book by Kiran Millwood Hargrave that I hadn’t read. Not to mention the fact that it was aimed more at my age group than some of her other stories.
I had devoured it within a couple of weeks, loving the darker spin on her beautifully poetic language that made her writing style so unique. Reading her first ever YA book is like seeing my favorite author in a whole new light. I enjoy myself at Book Club, drawing out the themes of vampires, death, race, belonging, gypsies, and queer romance.
After it’s over Ofelia Sweeney as I am talking to Mazal Quinlann, the best friend ever.
“Hey Kyna, nice choice of book,” Ofelia says.
“Thanks, I really enjoyed it,” I return, smiling happily.
“I have heard you like writing stories and I was wondering if you’d heard of the JAWC or Jane Austen Writing Competition, it’s a short story competition for teenagers and it’s open at the moment,” she explains.
“Oh, cool,” I say, thinking of when I read Pride And Prejudice a couple of years ago. “Thanks.”
After Ofelia leaves I google the JAWC up on my phone.
“Oh my god, Kiran Millwood Hargrave is one of the judges this year!” I exclaim, scrolling down the web page.
“Well, then you have to enter,” Mazal bubbles excitedly.
“Yeah!” I say, just as my face starts to fall. “No,” I groan as I come across the damning sentence ‘all entries must be written in the genre of romance’.
“What?” asks Mazal, concerned.
I show her the page.
“Oh,” she says, her voice suddenly flat. “Well, I guess you’ll have to polish up your romance writing skills,” she tells me, her face doesn’t look very hopeful though.
“Yeah, right,” I laugh sarcastically.
“You’ll be fine, don’t worry,” she says a little too dismissively.
I’m not sure. To me romance is basically dead. The only time I went out with a boy it was for six weeks and it turned out he was just using me to make another girl jealous. Not a good record.
“Let me help you, Kyna. you can’t turn this down simply because of your past,” she says, trying to cheer me up.
“Like you know much about romance,” I say, not unfairly. Mazal herself has never kissed a boy before, let alone gone out with one.
Mazal wrinkles her nose, clearly thinking the same as I am.
“Yeah, well, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help you though, does it?” she retorts.
“True,” I sigh.
“Come on, we can do this,” says Mazal as she links her arm around mine.
“Fine, together,” I say, leaning my head on her shoulder.
“Together,” she promises fervently and gives my hand a little squeeze.
“Sooo,” Mazal begins, trailing off as she wriggles up the side of the sofa to get a better view of the google document.
I smile at her, trying to contain my laughter.
“What?” she asks, annoyed.
“Oh, nothing. You just looked funny doing that, that’s all,” I tell her truthfully.
“What, doing this?” she asks, starting to wriggle again.
I collapse, a heap of giggles and Mazal flashes me a wicked grin.
“Anyway, focus!” she says, serious once more.
I nod, trying to cover up the last of my laughter with a vain attempt at a cough.
“So, how’s the story coming along?” she asks.
“It’s not,” I moan, showing her the worst three sentences I have ever written in my life.
“Have you tried any writing exercises to help?” Mazal says, indicating to my book full of them.
“Tons,” I grumble, feeling quite downcast. “It’s like, I know what I want to happen. Soft, gentle Melvin Duran meets bossy, controlling Rochelle Laurence and they hate each other. They are then forced to work together at the school music concert and end up falling for each other, yet, when I am actually putting it on paper, I just can’t, it’s all… stuck,” I say for want of a better word.
“Well,” Mazal says slowly. “Maybe you’re fantasizing too much, maybe you need to be inspired by real people to get a feel for your characters’ personalities.”
I pause, thinking about what she has just said.
“You know what? I think you’re right,” I tell her, closing the laptop screen. “I can’t force a story to come to me, it just won’t work. I do need to be inspired.”
“Cool. Well, I’ll check in on you in four days and see how you’re doing then,” says Mazal, enclosing me in a loving hug.
She gets up to go before turning around and giving me a little wink.
I feel a glow fizzle inside and start writing at once.
Just chillin’ by the beach, reads Mazal’s WhatsApp status update. Cool, looks fun. Wish I could be there with you, I type back in my reply.
I stay there a moment, staring at the picture while the lyrics of “Carey” play in the background. I smile at Mazal’s grinning face against the backdrop of the swirling sea. The perfect Rochelle Laurence, I think to myself.
I’ve been rewriting my story over the last couple of days. I have changed the boy but decided to keep the girl, though I may change her personality. The story so far comes something like this: fun, lively Rochelle Laurence meets sky, quiet Fraser Kendall. At first they don’t think that much of each other. They then get trapped in a cellar during a game of truth or dare and whilst together they learn that they share a deep love of art. Together they enter the school art show and share their first kiss after their joint piece of artwork wins the school show.
My phone bleeps with a new message.
I wish you could be here too. I hope your story’s coming along. I can’t wait to read it when I get back from holiday. I know it’s gonna be awesome!
Thanks! I hope you think so, I reply, my heart beating with happiness and bursting with joy.
A bird twitters in the trees.
I smile at it distractedly, deep in thought as I write my story down.
Mazal’s sitting on the grass beside me, headphones in her ears as she silently reads what I have typed up thus far.
She stops scrolling and looks up at me. Mazal takes out her headphones.
“It’s much better,” she says.
“Thanks,” I reply as I glance back up at her.
“I mean, it could still do with a bit of work but I’ve left suggestions on the docs so you can look over them later,” she tells me.
“Ok, cool,” I say, putting down my pen.
Mazal glances quickly down at her phone.
“I’ve gotta go but I’ll see you tomorrow, yeah?” she says, packing up her things.
“Yeah. no, ‘course,” I tell her.
“Cool. My place, 4pm sharp,” she insists.
“I’ll be there,” I promise, waving her off.
“Tada!” Mazal cries, finally appearing from out of her bathroom.
“Wow,” I say, thinking how impressively stunning she looks in a deep red knee-length dress with a wide V neck.
I shake my head.
Sure, Mazal’s my best friend and hot as hell but I’m not actually attracted to her, am I? I can’t really be bi.
“Oh, thank you! You don’t look so bad yourself,” Mazal says.
I nod, speechless. My pale blue gown suddenly seems to be a mere shadow in the presence of Mazal’s dress.
We proceed to do each other’s hair and nails. I paint Mazal’s nails black to contrast her dress and she paints mine blue to match my gown. I get the shivers as Mazal combs and ties my hair.
When Mazal asks me to do hers I gulp, scared I will mess it up. However, I breathe and decide to take a leap of faith. I know what I am doing, I tell myself firmly. Once I’ve plaited her locks and piled them on top of her head it actually looks ok.
“Oh my god! That looks amazing, thank you so much,” she screams, throwing her arms around me.
I am shocked for a second and then gently hug her back, careful not to crease her dress.
We soon arrive at the party and Ofelia Sweeney rushes up to us.
“Hey guys! I’m so glad you could make it,” she cries happily.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Mazal reassures her.
“Yeah, epic party,” I tell her.
We go off to get drinks then join the rest of our friends on the dance floor. Yet, however much I waltz about or talk to people there is only one person who I cannot take my eyes off. Mazal Quinlann.
The trees rustle, whispering rumors amongst themselves. I ignore them, head down, as I desperately try to finish my story.
Mazal is reading more of the typed up version on her laptop. A clap of thunder booms in the distance. Mazal looks across at me wearily.
“We should go inside,” she says, a note of fear in her voice.
“No, just wait. I’m nearly done,” I tell her impatiently.
“Kyna,” she warns me.
Just then another clap of thunder rolls in just as a streak of lightning strikes the sky. The wind howls in our faces, bellowing icy rage. I get goosebumps and a cold feeling travels up and down my body.
Panic seems to wash over Mazal. She grabs my arms, pulling me towards the house. Pages of precious paper are ripped from my hands, torn away by the cruel wind. The rain starts to fall along with my tears.
“No!” I scream. “Not the story,” I sob.
Mazal isn’t listening, she’s heaving us inside, locking and bolting the garden door. She sits down heavily on the sofa, sweat seeping down the sides of her head.
“Phew! That was close,” she exclaims.
“That was close? That was CLOSE?” I yell at her, finally losing it. “My story was just DESTROYED! My story, MY STORY that I am meant to send off by next Tuesday, next TUESDAY! How on EARTH am I meant to finish it NOW?” I scream at her, absolutely furious. “Do you know how HARD it has been for me to even get THIS FAR? Do you? Do you really? Dad’s been distant ever since Mum died, Lorcan and Shane are two Mazal, TWO! Orion is a cat, A CAT! No one believes in me, no one cares. No one blooming cares,” I screech. I am sobbing now, salty tears streaming down my face. I collapse in a heap on the floor.
All my anger is spent now. My energy has drained. All that is left now is utter sadness and that hollow empty feeling.
“Hey, hey,” Mazal whispers to me gently. “Hey, look at me,” she says.
I look up at her, my tear streams smudged and gulping back sobs.
“Listen to me, Kyna,” Mazal says, carefully taking both my hands in hers. “Look, you are an amazing talented person. You are kind, thoughtful and very capable. You can do this. You can, trust me. I believe in you Kyna, even if no one else does. I will always believe in you, no matter what,” she tells me fervently.
“Wow… thank you Mazal,” I say.
“Don’t worry, it’s what best friends do,” she says.
I shake my head.
“No, it’s what girlfriends do,” I reply and lean forward. I kiss her. A feeling of bliss sparkling between our lips and butterflies dance jigs in my tummy.
Our lips break apart.
“Alright, girlfriends,” Mazal agrees and brings me towards her again.
“You look smart,” says Mazal as I descend the stairs to the front door.
“Thanks,” I reply as my tummy ties itself in heart-knots. “You look rather chic yourself,” I say, indicating to her gold and green dress.
“Thank you darling,” she says before gallantly taking my hand.
“Oh Mazal! I do love you,” I say.
Mazal flushes pink.
“I love you more,” she declares, planting a soft kiss on my cheek.
We hail a taxi and soon arrive at the restaurant for our first date. As we are being seated I think about my story which I finally finished and sent off. After mine and Mazal’s first kiss, I had decided to rewrite my whole draft. I knew what had gone wrong now. I couldn’t write a boy-girl love story when my own real romance was a girl-girl love story.
I enjoy our date very much when, just before dessert, my phone buzzes. I fetch it out of my handbag and open the message.
“Oh my god! I’ve won! I’ve won the competition!” I practically scream.
Mazal’s eyes go wide and she starts grinning madly.
“Kiran Millwood Hargrave loved it! Look, she says ‘I loved this gentle yet bold and fiercely loving tale of a teen queer romance. I found it adorable how Lilian Scott and Renita Lyle bond over a lost baby deer and I can’t wait to read more by this talented young lady.’!”
“No way!” Mazal cries. “Kyna, that’s amazing!”
“I know!” I say, my voice squeaky with excitement.
Mazal reaches for my arm and kisses me passionately. It is all ending just as it should be. Perfectly.
Once upon a time, a long time ago when the skies were ruled by Zeus there was a girl called Kalandra. Now Kalandra was mute, yet that didn’t take away from her loveliness for she was the most thoughtful, warm, loving and kind-hearted there was. She loved to serve others, cleaning their clothes, sharpening their spears and playing with their children. She was pretty too, with shining golden hair and endearing eyes of chestnut brown. Kalandra was so lovely that there was not a person she met who disliked her and everyone was sure she would be the most sought after girl in the village when the time came. However she never was. For although the boys would moon over her with adoration in their eyes none of them were prepared to enter the sacred ritual of courtship with her.
At first, Kalandra wasn’t fussed and it didn’t bother her much. Yet as time wore on, all her friends coupled and moved on to other lands to start their own families. She suddenly found herself sixteen and all alone. However, what Kalandra didn’t know was that the Sun God Apollo had claimed her for himself meaning no man would ever touch her until he himself came to claim her from the underworld. But Apollo was off bickering with his twin sister the Moon Goddess Artemis and so did not notice her sadness. Zeus however looked down from the heavens and saw the lonely girl sitting by herself alone and, knowing Apollo was busy, sent her a gift. This gift appeared as an old man who travelled from Zeus’ temple at Dodona to Kalandra’s village of Rhodes in the middle of the Aegean Sea.
So one day, whilst Kalandra was plotting herbs in her garden, the old man, whose name was Deacon, came up the path. He stood outside her garden and called across to her “Are you Kalandra of Rhodes?”
Kalandra nodded and smiled at Deacon, gesturing for him to come into the garden through the little gate. He came through and held out his hand for her to shake.
“I’m Deacon of Dodona,” he said as she warmly shook his hand and smiled once more. “I hear you have had no suitors thus far in your life,” he asked her.
Kalandra shook her head sadly. A kind of grief filled her eyes. She circled her face with her index finger and then patted her heart.
“They think you are pretty,” said Deacon.
Kalandra nodded. She pouted, then shook her finger.
“But none of them kiss you?” asked Deacon.
Again, Kalandra nodded. Deacon sat down.
“Child, let me tell you something,” he said, patting the space beside him. Kalandra sat down, eager to hear what he had to say. “Sometimes in life, dear child, some things are not meant to be. You can be as lovely as you want but no one will touch you.”
Kalandra’s eyes started to fill with tears. She did not want to be alone forever.
“But let me say something to you now,” Kalandra looked up at him, a spark of hope in her eyes. “No matter who leaves you, Earth is always here for you. No matter who cannot love you, Earth loves you; Earth will always love you and never leave you. Now let me show you something my child,” Deacon offered her.
Kalandra looked at him inquisitively.
“Come on,” he said, helping her up.
Together they walked down the path and into the forest. The birds sang songs in the canopy, squirrels danced through the trees and the fish swam merrily in the streams.
“See,” said Deacon. “See how Earth embraces all life. She loves all life as her own, including you, child.”
Kalandra looked around in wonder at all the wildlife bounding happily through the forest. A nearby tree leaned down and her, smiling its bark face. Kalandra laughed silently into its branches. Her heart glowed inside her chest with joy. Her soul felt replenished with all the love shown by the Earth in the forest. Mother Earth was watching over her, caring for her better than any lover could.
Kalandra turned around to thank the old man but he was gone, vanished like smoke on the breeze. From that day forward Kalandra decided to move into the forest. She made friends with the squirrels and the birds. She learnt to hunt the wild boar and fish, and she made shelters from the trees.
Then one day Apollo appeared to her, saying “Kalandra my darling, you have done so well. Better than any other mortal I have known. I am proud of you my love,” said the Sun God, caressing her cheek before he vanished.
And so Kalandra carried on until it was time for her to drink from the waters of the River Lethe and once she had crossed the Great River Styx, Apollo was waiting for her on the other side.
Thanks for reading, I really hope you liked the stories.