Take Me Home

“Jacob?”

He turned, spine creaking, skin burning. A woman he didn’t recognise stood over him, dressed in yellow and framed in dying summer sun.

“You can’t stay here forever.”

Jacob looked back towards the sea, rubbing his eyelids with sandy fingers.

He could stay. He had to.

The woman didn’t go away like he hoped she would. Instead, she sat down next to him, pushing her bare feet into the sand and resting her arms on her knees. Big blue-green bruises patchworked across her ankles and calves, shimmering like fish scales in the light.

“You look tired.” she said.

Jacob closed his eyes. He was tired. His whole body hurt with it, and it hurt with sand and salt and sun. But it was so much nicer than the other hurt, the one that scrabbled at his belly, heart, and brain. That was the hurt he was afraid of.

“I can’t sleep.” he said.

“Not out here.”

“I can’t go home.”

The woman leaned a little towards him. “Not yet. Soon though.”

He shook his head. “Not without my sister.”

“No, I suppose not.”

The woman grinned and he stared at her strange face for a long while. Maybe he did know her? She wasn’t as old as he first thought – only just grown out of being a girl.

She sighed a long sigh and stood, holding out a hand for him. “I think we should go for a walk. It’s good to walk.”

He took the hand she offered – didn’t think it was odd, didn’t care if it was – and wrapped his fingers round her palm, gripping as tight as he could. His skin crackled as she hauled him to his feet and his muscles burned right through to his bones. She dusted off his shoulders, sprinkling sand and salt across his feet.

“We don’t need to go far.”

They walked hand in hand at first, but Jacob quickly slowed. The woman let his hand slip through hers, dawdling ahead. He stared down at the sand as he walked, trying to understand what was wrong with the footprints she left behind. But his eyes hurt and his head hurt and he couldn’t understand what was wrong.

Every now and then, the woman looked over her shoulder to ask how he was.

“Fine.”

Every time, she looked like she didn’t believe him. Every time, she carried on all the same.

The beat of the waves against the sand made Jacob feel better as he walked, and he smiled as he remembered how, just a few days ago, he had thought he’d never like the sound. At first – after his father had dragged him here, after he’d been kicked across the sand, dumped by the surf, pinned down and told not to return home without Lora – he had hated it. It had made him want to rip out his ears.

But now the sound wrapped round him like a blanket, cosy and snug, and he didn’t ever want to be without it.

The woman came to a stop by Cryer’s Cave, gazing up at the gaping scar of hollowed out rock.

“This is my favourite place.” she said.

Jacob hung back from the entrance, scrunching up his face.

“Are you scared?” She crossed her arms and leant against the rock. “I didn’t ever think I’d see the day.”

He frowned. What days had she seen him before?

“I’m not scared.” he lied and started forwards, his heart blundering at a strange rhythm – too hard, too quick. He hoped she couldn’t feel it too, though he was sure it was making the air shake. He tried to focus on each painful step and ignore the woman as she watched him, but he looked up as he passed her, almost stopping when he did.

Her hair was wet.

How had that happened?

She didn’t seem to notice the way her hair stuck to her neck or the way water bloomed across the top of her dress. Instead, she smirked a little smirk and followed him inside.

The cave was like a church, walls of rock towering up and up, echoes crawling off every surface, their breaths bellowing.

“Hello?” the woman called, grinning as hundreds of hellos rattled back. “Is anybody there?”

The air lulled back to quiet. “Your turn.” she whispered.

Jacob shook his head.

“Go on.” she teased. “Yell from right in here.” She pushed her fingers against her chest. “Take all the air you’ve got and scream.”

He shook his head again.

“Oh go on, Jacob.”

“No!” he yelled, and a rush of pain scrambled up his throat. He doubled over, coughing until his lungs felt bruised and he spat phlegmy blood onto the sand.

The woman pushed dripping hair back from her face. “I’m sorry. Are you all right?”

Jacob closed his eyes and waited until he was sure he wouldn’t cry, gulping blood back down his throat.

“I just want Lora.” he said.

“I know.” said the woman, ruining the echo of Lora’s name. “I just want to help.”

When Jacob opened his eyes again, he froze. He blinked, then blinked again, sure his eyes were wrong. But what he saw didn’t change.

The woman’s face was bleeding.

A huge gash had torn across her cheek and blood poured from it, spilling down her jaw and neck. The taste of his own blood made him grimace as he looked at it.

“Is something wrong?”

“Your face. You’ve cut your face.”

“Oh.” She ran her fingers along the gash, frowning.

“Doesn’t it hurt?”

“No, not really. Not anymore.” She wiped the fingers across her dress and turned, scaling a crop of rocks and picking her way across them. “There’s something I need to show you. It’s here somewhere, I just…” She stopped and faced him. “You have to promise you won’t run away.”

He would have laughed if his lungs hadn’t hurt so much. Hadn’t she seen he could barely walk?

“I promise.”

She cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “You’ll want to, but you can’t”

“I won’t go anywhere.”

“Good.” She smiled, satisfied. “I won’t be long.”

She turned and clambered down the other side of the boulders, disappearing.

The sea and Jacob’s heart thudded in sync as he waited, and a horrible ache built under his skull.

I won’t be long.

The words went round and round, and made him want to scream. They were the worst words he’d ever heard and the worst words he’d ever said.

He tried to reach back four days and pull them out of the air, tried to erase them from his mouth and from Lora’s ears. He dug his toes into the sand and tried to go back, tried not to walk away, tried not to leave her playing all alone.

I won’t be long.

The sound of shuffling footsteps dragged him out of his looping nightmare. The woman reappeared at the top of the boulders, carrying something. Something with dangly legs and a floppy head. Something covered in shimmering bruises. Something wearing a yellow dress.

Jacob edged back as she descended the rocks towards him, the hurt he was afraid of rearing in his chest.

“Don’t run.” she pleaded. “You promised.”

The dangly legged, floppy headed something swayed at every limping step the woman took, its hair dripping and dress dribbling and face painted with purple-brown blood.

Water bubbled from each corner of the woman’s mouth as she handed the little body out to him.

“Please.”

He took the body in his arms and tried not think about how it was heavier than he remembered.

“I’m sorry.” he said, and the woman smiled.

“Take me home.”

Footprints in the sand at Lyme Regis, Dorset.

>>> No matter how hard I try, I can’t quite get this story right – but I’m releasing it into the wild anyway, because it needs to be free of my head and my laptop before it drives me mad with all the potential edits that can be made to it. The main idea for it comes from how people experience the unexpected death of a loved one. I was reading old accounts from families who lost relatives in World War I, and most of them wrote about seeing/hearing their loved one at the time they died – walking through the garden gate when they should have been (were) in France, appearing in a dream, etc. – and it kind of twistedly got me thinking about how there are no accounts where people see the death itself. It’s always very ethereal and rose-tinted, rather than visceral and horrible to watch. Here, the death has already happened and Jacob is witnessing the drowning retrospectively (and obviously a bit abstractly), to the woman Lora would have been. <<<

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Sky Painter

Some nights she found it hard to paint the sky – matching it just so to how everyone had come to think it should look. Some nights she didn’t have to paint it at all – those nights were hard too, hard on her itching painter’s hands. She would stare at the top of the clouds and wonder what to do. Sometimes she would doodle across them, patterns of all different colours and shapes, patterns only she could see. Sometimes she would burst with anger and boredom and tear great, bright gashes through the air. She always regretted those and erased them as fast as she had made them, roaring with all the air in her lungs. And sometimes she would paint it just the same as on a clear and crystal night, because practise makes perfect and perfect was how people thought it should be.

There were nights, however, that she could paint the sky just how she wanted to, nights when no-one would notice the stars were missing.

Those nights, she would pour her whole soul into the moon, big and bright and shining. She would swirl the glowing, glossy emulsion round and round until she was dizzy and heartless and soulless, and when there was nothing left to paint with she would fall, swoop, glide to the ground and walk until her feet were sore – which happens quickly when you hardly use them – glancing up at her whole life, hoping, when the time came, it would fit back in under her ribs and skull.

Mostly, it did fit.

Some nights, there were pieces of it that didn’t.

And on those nights, she would scoop up the pieces of her life and soul and heart she had no room for any more and scatter them across the ground, hoping, when the time came, they would brighten someone’s dark.

Always, they did.

Full moon on a misty, foggy night in Dorset, England.

The Noisy Library

Once upon a time there was a woman who went out in the rain – pouring, sideways, punch-you-in-the-face, pissing-it-down rain – and immediately regretted it. She regretted her ballet pump shoes and regretted her flimsy umbrella, though she was thankful for her many-sizes-too-big raincoat which made her look like a walking tent (even if said coat meant all the rain just ran down onto her jeans. At least her top half was dry. Well, all the top half that wasn’t her face. That was very wet).

Anyway, when the woman realised her mistake she figured the best thing she could do was seek shelter in the library.

And the library she found shelter in was noisy.

No sshhhs. No keep quiets. No awkward, stifled coughs. Just lots of people – kids, parents, friends, half-soaked women – exploring and enjoying the library. Not loudly in the grand scheme of things, but loudly in the library scheme of things.

It was nice.

Peace and quiet are lovely. They are a sanctuary.

But a noisy library on a rainy day?

That is something special.

The Haunting of Hill House

I read The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson over the weekend, and in all honesty I don’t really know how to describe it or what to make of it.

All I can say with certainty is that I haven’t read anything quite like it, or anything quite so disconcerting.

It is really unsettling. It is really strange. I loved it and was kind of repulsed by it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson.

Despite having ‘haunting’ in the title, there are no ghosts in the book. Just lots of bumps in the night, doors that won’t stay open (and may or may not lead to the room that you thought was there before), and a lot of unreliable – or maybe it’s reliable, who the hell even knows? – narration.

It’s brilliant. You should read it.

And if you do, can you please let me know and help me understand what just happened…

Morning Rain

The sound of rain outisde my window early this morning made me happy.

The drips and drops and thousand tiny splashes humming on paving slabs and freshly unfurled leaves made me want to run outside and stay there until my skin became only a half-skin, the rest of it made up of water and sky.

Once I’d got up, once I’d made a cup of tea, once I’d cuddled one cat, two cats, three cats, I stood at the doorway in my pyjamas and listened to the garden echo with rain and birdsong. My toes got wet as they gripped the doorstep. My lungs got clean as they filtered soggy air. My heart got heavy as it realised I wasn’t brave enough to step out into this soaking, squelchy, drowning world because my head had decided it was a silly thing to do.

It was silly. Totally silly. Silly through and through.

It’s natural to want to bask in sunshine, but to want to bask in rain?

Not. Sensible.

That, though, had been the point.

I’ve spent the rest of the day trying to make up for my lack of bravery, but being kitted out with boots and a raincoat kind of takes the magic away.

So tomorrow, I hope it’s raining when I wake up.

If it is, you’ll find me in the garden in my pj’s, clutching a cup of overflowing-diluted-rainy tea, being completely and utterly ridiculous.

Come join me!

What I’m Reading – Slade House

‘A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t.’

Every 9 years, a mysterious and mind-bending house appears along a dark alleyway – ‘too grand for the shabby neighbourhood, too large for the space it occupies’ – and a victim is lured inside, never to be seen again. In Slade House by David Mitchell we follow a handful of characters as they are led – disorientatingly, bewilderingly, mind-bogglingly – to their deaths.

Slade House by David Mitchell book review.

The book is entertaining if not engrossing, bouncing along from one character’s messy demise to another. The individual stories are claustrophobic and macabre; drawing you in, chewing you up and spitting you out of the other side (much like the house). I enjoyed the little details that intertwined cleverly across each narrative (and if you’ve read The Bone Clocks there are plenty of details weaved in from there too), and the ending is satisfying whilst leaving the potential for more.

I wouldn’t jump up and down and insist people read it, but it is a fun book full of vivid characters and saturated descriptions that kept me wanting to know what was around the corner, through the doorway that surely wasn’t there before, and up the ominous flight of stairs.

3/5 stars.

What I’m Reading – The Bear and the Nightingale

The weather for the last week here has been beautiful – sunny and warm, the air filled with bumbling bees and dancing butterflies, the ground bubbling with bluebells. When it has rained, it’s been a gentle rain of blossom trickling to the earth.

And every chance I could snatch throughout the week I was outside in the garden clutching my copy of The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden, being transported to the wilds of northen Russia.

The Bear and the Nightingale book review. Book cover. Folklore, fantasy, fairytale.

The story follows Vasya as she tries to keep her community safe from forces they themselves have awakened after they abandon the old folktales and instead rely on the fearmongering of an ambitious, beguiling priest.

The story brims with creatures and magic – it had me keeping an eye out for Domovoi in the kitchen just how The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe had me checking the back of my wardrobe (plus pretty much any cupboard in the house, just to be sure) for another world.

I absolutely loved it. It’s enchanting, beautifully written, and the creatures and characters – especially Vasya – come alive on the page.

I didn’t really want it to end, so I’m very happy to hear that it’s the first book of a series.

Happy reading and happy Easter!

What I’m Reading – The Faerie Thorn

The Faerie Thorn by Jane Talbot is a collection of seven short stories inspired by folklore, fairytales and magick. They’re deliciously dark and gruesome – full of faeries, trolls, mermen and maids, shapeshifters, spells, dastardly deeds, bittersweet bargains, nightmarish consequences, and satisfying comeuppances.

I’ve found the stories both enchanting and unsettling. Their short length gives them an addictive energy that’s made a refreshing change – kind of apt at the beginning of springtime – after struggling my way through Dracula.

The style of writing is unlike anything I’ve read before – it has a lyrical, slightly poetic feel to it which I really enjoyed. In my head I felt like I was listening to the stories being told around a flickering fire, sat right forward, barely blinking, hanging on every word.

Captivated.

It’s definitely worth reading. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t want to put it down!

Book review of The Faerie Thorn by Jane Talbot.

ghost trains

I used to know a train was coming.

I could hear it wailing in the distance, its metal wheels clickety-clacking closer and closer. I knew that soon the whole world would be roaring with a whoosh of steam and a shriek of sparks.

The earth would rumble and my bones would shake and a train would definitely come.

But when I told my mum she’d laugh gently and carry on picking the blackberries growing by the path.

No trains, Pippin. Not any more.

And I would look at the mangled metal at my feet and know that she was wrong. I could feel it. Somewhere in front of us, somewhere close, a train was coming.

*

Now. Now it’s different.

I look at the rusted, twisted tracks at my feet and I can’t feel the train. I don’t hear it screaming and I don’t feel the ground trembling. My stomach doesn’t sink and fall and churn, my heart doesn’t pound.

The air stays quiet. No sparks. No steam. No wailing.

Now I only see old tracks that poke up out of the earth, threatening to trip me up if I’m not careful.

I don’t know a train is coming any more.

But then.

Maybe now is when it will.

Snapshots

One of the habits I’ve been trying to get into this year is to write down at least one moment, one little snapshot, from every day before I go to sleep.

It could be something that made me happy or sad, something I overheard or eavesdropped, a decision I regret, the gist of a conversation, an idea. Anything.

I haven’t actually managed it every day, but I’ve managed it enough so that reading back over some of them – even though it’s only February – has reminded me of things that I otherwise would probably have forgotten. (The good things especially – for some reason the less good things seem to stay in my head of their own accord.)

Some are a description that I’ll use again. Some are feelings I can plunder. Some, to be honest, are pretty boring. But then maybe they’ll become less boring as time goes by – maybe they’ll be something that’s randomly significant – or maybe they’ll just become more boring. I don’t know.

All I know is that I’m really enjoying it.

And my snapshot from today will more than likely have something to do with feeling happy about finally writing another blog post.

Have a lovely weekend!