Trial By Fire

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Every morning Cat would wake in a panic and rush to the bathroom where her make up was gathered around her sink like a jury. She’d work through the routine, layer by layer she would remake her face into something acceptable. Concealer, foundation, foundation powder, blush, neutral eyeliner, defining eyeshadow, eyeliner. She saw her face as a collection of flaws to be patched up and buried. Each year the slap had grown thicker and thicker as new wrinkles and blemishes popped to the surface and her true face was lost.

Some days she’d try to imagine how it would be to be loved for all her flaws, to show herself to the world, could she really be so disgusting to look at? She’d make a deal with herself that tomorrow she’d walk down the street with her face naked, just to see what would happen. Would people shout? Laugh? Would strangers video this hideous creature to stick up on Youtube? She knew she’d never do it. Sometimes she’d dare herself to just step outside her flat and take the lift to the ground floor, say hello to Mrs Robey who liked to stand in the hall smoking a fag, maybe pop her head out the door to where Salman would be playing with his kids on the grass. The dare would quickly evaporate as she imagined their horrified reactions.

And then the fire happened. At three in the morning, the fire alarm rattled through the block with such a raucous demand for attention, she found herself standing on the grass outside before she remembered her face was empty of disguise. As the street filled up with scared occupants in dressing gowns and duvets, she tried to keep under trees in the shadows. She saw Mrs Robey, already lighting up a fag to calm her nerves, even in the panic she had thought to bring them with her. She saw Salman huddling his children to him, trying to keep them warm. As people from neighbouring blocks joined them, it became increasingly difficult to hide, all spaces were filled with people, both dazed and bustling, slowly filling up the spaces and edging her out into the light. And then she was in the middle of the noise and fuss, being offered cups of tea and wrapped up in blankets. And no one was recoiling from her ugliness, it was as if they didn’t notice any difference, as if they didn’t care. She slurped her tea and chuckled with her neighbours about how silly they all looked, about how scared they’d all been; and for once she didn’t need to think about her make up slipping or lipstick on her teeth. And it was quite nice.


Not Exactly an Award

The very lovely Chizurue. nominated me for the Leibster Award, which was most kind. I’m something of a crazy rebel, so I’m not going to nominate anyone for questions, but I like promoting other blogs, so I’m going to link to a few that I would give an award to if I was giving out awards. I’m going to pick mostly bloggers I’m new to to try and shake up my attention span a bit.

Jeyran Main – Jeyran writes thoughtful, useful reviews of books and poems. She writes about a diverse range of writing, and the blog looks just beautiful.

The Story Hive -I’m just getting to know this collection of curious and intriguing stories, but it’s always exciting to discover a mind that takes odd twists and turns.

Fictionspawn Monsters – beautifully painted pictures, and bizarre, delightful short stories.

Living in God’s Pocket with ABI – Not a new follow this one, but  I think it’s important that this information is spread. Jasper’s writing about his experience of living with a brain injury, it’s well-written and wise.

Dominique the writer  – Poems and thoughts and some unusual posts, well worth checking out.

Today’s Echos – An entertaining reviewer who’s not afraid to criticise, making for entertaining reviews.

Be Your Own Light: A Mental Health Recovery Blog – a thoughtful and intelligent blog about living with bipolar disorder. Honest and practical well worth a read.

These are the questions Chizurue asked me to answer, anyone else is also free to answer if they fancy.

What is your crazy dream (may be the literal dream or something you want to be)? The craziest one yet or you could list ’em!

I’m terrible at answering this question. Since getting PTSD many years ago, my dreams have been haywire, they wrecked my sleep for three years. Part of learning to sleep again was being able to ignore my dreams. I’m dimly aware they’re still pretty intense (last night I dreamt I was locked in a bare room while the years passed, with people being hung outside my tiny window) but I try to ignore them.

A character you would like to meet in real life and be fast friends with (or maybe more than friends)? Why? (Anything from anime, manga, k-drama, books, tv series)

Dirk Gently would be good. Mostly life doesn’t seem interconnected, it just looks like a bunch of random, inexplicable events that haphazardly cause a bunch of other events. When something happens that seems like it was right to happen, that’s a great feeling, so I’d like that to happen more. I think Dirk Gently would achieve this for me.

To follow up that previous one: Which fictional character would be the most boring to meet in real life?

That’s tricky, because if they’re boring they’re forgettable, so I honestly don’t know. Many female characters from the past were quite dull, so maybe one of them They were so well-behaved and weak, but that’s changing (a bit) now.

Favourite music or album you could listen to all day? And why? Is it the lyrics, the melody or the vocals?

To listen all day, it would need to be something mellow like Yann Tierson. It’s the piano, I find it soothing and melodic. I don’t think I could listen to people singing all day if I could understand what they were singing, but incomprehensible chanting would be ok, something monk-like.

What book / anime would you recommend to someone who has never read / watched anything from that medium?

I don’t know anything about anime. If I had to recommend a book to someone who’s never read, then it would be The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Not because it’s really good (it’s entertaining but quite badly written) but when I was working in a bookshop a number of customers came in saying they’d never managed to read a book until they read that one, so it’s clearly a good starting point.

What are you deathly afraid of?

Serious, chronic illness, either me getting sick or people I care about getting sick.

What is the funniest word to you? (Mine is apparently ‘pengwings’) Or anything that makes you laugh when you hear it?

Biscuits! A colleague of mine often substitutes this word unexpectedly for swear words, and it’s always funny (especially since he’ll eff and jeff most of the time without pause). A sudden ‘Son of a biscuit!’ makes me laugh.

What mythical creature would you like as a pet?

Mythical creatures are often quite scary, aren’t they? I can’t imagine a Minotaur or a Gorgon being too domesticated or easy to toilet train. So I’d go for Pyrausta an insect sized dragon, it has filmy wings, four legs and dragon’s head. It needs to be in fire though, so it’d be tricky to look after, but dragons and insects are both great, so a combination would be awesome.

What’s the most useless talent you have?

I can write backwards, upside-down and backwards and upside at the same time. I recently (after 30 years of having the ‘talent’) found a use for the writing backwards, but it’s not exactly an everyday skill to use.

If you could level up humans as a species, what stat or ability would you increase? And why?

Stamina – it would be very useful in my job.

Would you rather live your entire life in a virtual reality where all your wishes are granted or in the real world? Explain your choice.

It depends. If everyone I cared about, plus lots of other real people, were in the VR world then I’d live there. I’m not that fussed about all my wishes being granted, but I’d like to have constant good health, no pain and to go on adventures to the ends of the Earth, and to the depths of the sea and so on. I don’t dislike real life, but I don’t think it has an automatic greater value than virtual reality. The brain makes our current reality real, so as long as I can fully experience the senses and connect with people in VR, I’ll be happy there.

Great questions! So if anyone fancies answering them too, that would be ace.

The difference between existing and living

Some interesting thoughts from David Swan here about the difference between living and existing. I could especially relate to the idea of it being better to try and fail, than not try at all, it’s not something that works for everyone, but for me, it’s what I need to do.

Work In Progress

I’ve been musing on these two terms existing and living and with my recent forays into the world of the low paid, I get to understand more about existing. To exist is to just get by. It means holding down a job that you don’t really care that much for and then entertaining yourself with monotonous distractions at the weekend. If you are just existing then no doubt you will want to lose yourself in endless television, junk food, and pointless conversation with friends in similar circumstances.

The importance of these two terms is important to understand so that you can recognise that you are just existing and want to push yourself into the realm of the living. The living take long walks anywhere, and great gulps of air. They relax so much more into the now and take their time with living. They pursue their dreams and don’t let…

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Flash: The Empty Shelf

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This flat is too big without her in it, the wind seems to rush right through me, the floor echoes my footsteps instead of her laughter. We never even argued. She snapped sometimes, I just assumed she was tired, and I’d give her a hug to cheer her up. Maybe if we’d had a proper screaming row, I could understand the pattern that led us to here, retrace my steps. There must have been steps, there must have been signs.

I walk past where she kept her coat, folded over the sofa. She always wanted a hook on the wall, but I explained I had just the right number of hooks for my coats, and I didn’t want to spoil the paintwork. We’d laugh about it of course, I’d say give it another year and you can have your own hook, and we’d laugh. Laughing is the backbone of a relationship, I always think.

She was here three years. They were beautiful years, but I had to rearrange my life around her, I don’t think she saw how difficult that was. I’d find her hair in the plug hole, or she’d want to watch the Apprentice; it was tough, but I kept altering my world to fit her in. She wanted somewhere to put her stuff, so I cleared a shelf in the cupboard under the stairs. She kept her shower gel there, a change of clothes.

When the lack of her gets too much, I open the cupboard and stare at the empty shelf. I thought she’d be pleased with it, I had to clear away my motoring magazines to make space and I thought she’d fling her arms around me joyfully and be so happy, but she just nodded. Nobody else in my life ever had a shelf, she was special. I wanted her to know that, but it was like she couldn’t feel it, like she blocked all my efforts.

When she left it only took five minutes to up and out of my life. She cleared the shelf, picked up her coat and was gone, as if she’d never been here. Apart from the mug ring on the coffee table, she erased herself from my home. She hasn’t called. Why hasn’t she called? She must be regretting her decision by now.

We were happy, weren’t we? I was happy. She was special.


Snowflakes and the Sun

A very funny, and mild-rage inducing post from Calmgrove here…


On March 5th 2018 the so-called newspaper called The Sun made a rare foray into the literary world, only to shoot itself in the foot.

Writers Gary O’Shea and Thea Jacobs quoted a couple of academics who’d suggested — unsurprisingly to anybody who’d read Frankenstein — that the Creature was a victim whose actions could be understood even if not condoned.

According to the journalists (is that the correct description?) students who expressed sympathy for the Creature’s plight were to be dubbed ‘snowflakes’; for anyone not au fait with this term of opprobrium it means anyone who is, frankly, not a rabid gun-toting neoliberal who thinks the poor, the disabled, LGBTI campaigners, women and ethnics have only themselves to blame for being victims.

Sadly, it’s not at all obvious that the writers have read either the 1818 text or the 1831 edition, in which it’s abundantly clear that the Creature…

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We All Carry Ghouls

All the world rumbles past at speed, but I live at different pace. While you rush up and down flicking through your phone whenever you have a moment’s pause, I see the slow world, always shuffling beneath your perception. Because I’m slow, because sickness has dragged me to a slug’s pace as the world speeds around me, I miss a lot: I don’t get how the latest crazes work and it’s years since I chatted celebrity gossip with a stranger at the bus stop, but I see the seasons. Not as you do, not the sudden blazing heat or the rain. I see the first bud break and the very last gasp of summer. I don’t see you when you’re running for the bus, that’s too fast, but when you’re waiting at the bus stop, I hear the gentle click of your brain as boredom sets in.

And most of all, I see the ghouls. I see them oozing through the streets looking for lunch, dripping in slow motion from the lamppost. I see them sliding their liquid fingers around the shoulders of that boy who has paused at the side of the road, waiting for the cars to pass, clamping their mouths around his neck while they masticate with painful slowness on his will. Sucking on his marrow at such a speed it will take decades before his bones are sucked dry.

Horror films always show monsters as fast-moving things, but ghouls aren’t like that, their disguise is their interminability. They surround you, but they move so slowly you can’t perceive them.

It wasn’t until I got sick that I saw them. When you’re ill you slow down. I don’t mean flu ill, a few weeks won’t teach you anything. I mean when the months stretch into years, when your voice fades and you adapt to the fact that moving your limbs is like wading through syrup. When my thoughts finally emptied out and there was space in my head, that is when I saw them. And I realised the ghouls were everywhere.

Some people carry more than others. The man with the frizzy beard who smells of pee, the ghouls crowd and shuffle at his shoulders, they like him because he can glimpse them sometimes. They whisper to him, they suckle and chew on his ears. That young girl with the face too tired for a child, they cling to her, weighing her down as she staggers along. I watch them out of my window, a street filled with slow-moving ghoul parasites, feasting on their hosts with the same messy abandon that children have when eating crisps at a party.

We all have them, you have them. Once I slowed enough to see, I could feel their greedy, destructive chomping as they guzzled on a vein, or scooped out my innards with a stick. I wondered how I could stay alive with so much damage, how any of us could.

I tried batting them away, but their liquid bodies just slid around the attack. I tried burning them with a lighter, but the flame fizzled and went out. I saw the doctor, and he listened patiently, then wrote me a prescription for anti-psychotics, but all the while a ghoul had its finger sunk into his eye socket and it looked at me and winked.

As I trudged my slow way home, the ghouls chewed on my hair and giggled, they knew I had no way to stop them, I couldn’t make them leave. Opening the door to my flat, I made my slow way to the fridge and cut off a hunk of cheese, too tired to make a sandwich. I sat on the sofa while a ghoul gnawed at my knee. Without really thinking I reached out and patted him on the head and he looked up, surprised.

“We get lonely sometimes,” I said, “us slow ones.” Another ghoul that was sitting on my shoulder also stopped, so I reached up and stroked his back, tickled him behind the ear. I don’t think anyone had ever been nice to them before.

That was three weeks ago, and everything and nothing has changed. I’m still ill, still slow, still carry ghouls, but they’ve stopped their gnawing and destruction, instead thy keep me warm. When I’m alone, which is mostly, I chat to them,

“You’re beautiful,” I say and scratch one on his nose. “Aren’t you a silly little pookums,” I say, as one nuzzles at my neck and purrs. We all carry ghouls.