Louise Jones: The Cracked Mirror

She started applying her makeup, pressing the fine powder onto her flawless skin, scraping the dregs from the pallet. Her lady’s maid began pulling at her hair in all directions, rushing her along.

“He’ll be waiting on you, ma’am,” she said, grabbing Clara’s dress. “The tailor has been working on your dress all night: he thinks it’s his best yet.”

Clara took the dress and felt the silk slip through her fingers. Her lady’s maid helped her slip into her petticoat before helping her into the dress.

She looked at herself in her mirror, and the crack made the green shimmer and her look beautiful.

The ballroom was larger and grander than anything she’d seen before. It was lit by rows and rows of chandeliers, and was full of crowds of people drinking and dancing to the sounds of the orchestra. The gowns, the jewels, the crystals dripping from the chandeliers, even the floor beneath her feet appeared to sparkle.

He was mingling with royalty from far-off countries. But when he saw her, they seemed to disappear. Everyone else around him was like a blur; he was the only thing to make sense.

His hair had fallen into his face, hiding his emerald eyes. Her favourite colour. His blood-red suit stood out among the black and white. The crown on his head shimmered like the chandeliers.

She watched him from the other side of the ballroom. He looked naturally like a Prince.

She was wearing a green dress that night. No, she was wearing a red dress. The one her mother said makes the boys in the village stop to get a second look. The one that transformed her into a different person.

Clara knew her biggest challenge of the night would be not to make a fool of herself, but a part of her knew that wouldn’t happen. She felt a new confidence in herself; she guessed the thought of him being finally near her again calmed her nerves, but obviously that was all in her head. What if he didn’t even remember her? That was a possibility. As much as her mother said ‘she’s a catch’, somehow she had not been able to believe that. Yet.

The nerves were biting at her stomach as she stood waiting. Every possible outcome of the night was darting around her head. Why would he remember her? He was a prince, for crying out loud. She’s made a mistake. This whole night was a mistake. She should just have stayed and watched the village performance, at least they’d have a-

“Clara?”

That voice. She turned around and there he was. He’d pushed his hair out of his eyes, allowing the emerald to be seen. His crown sat slightly slanted on his head. And his suit matched her dress. It was meant to be.

He took her hand in his and bowed. She giggled and wrapped her arms around him.

“I missed you,” she mumbled.

“I missed you too, my love,” he smiled.

“Shall we dance?

They fell in step, letting the rhythm control their movements. All the scenery and people around dissolved. It was him and her, alone.

His emerald eyes glistened, and a smile spread across his face.

Uncontrollable feelings surged through Clara’s body. As if she was dreaming, her body was acting on its own, no chains to hold her back from this pure paradise.

“I was waiting on you,” he said, spinning her around.

“My carriage took longer than expected.”

“Well, you’re here now” The most perfect smile spread across his face. She couldn’t help herself, and soon her face mirrored his.

They danced, they laughed, it was perfect. She’d never be able to describe this feeling to anyone. The feeling of love and being free.

Before she knew it, they were sitting by a fire, drinks in hand, laughing about an old family portrait.

“I wasn’t ready,” he said rolling his eyes.

“I don’t think it’s awful,” she lied.

“It’s bad.”

“Definitely.”

Clara placed her head on his shoulder. She wished they could stay like this forever.

“What time will your mother be wanting you home?” he mumbled.

“She wanted me home before ten,” she said, looking up at the clock, “but I think I’ve missed that.”

“Well, one more dance shouldn’t hurt.”

They made their way back to the ballroom, just in time for the final dance. He took Clara’s hands in his and swept her across the floor. When the music began slowing down, he cupped her face in his hands.

His hand felt cold on her cheek. When she met his gaze, his eyes were no longer emerald but blue, like her own. The guests around them started shrinking. His hand no longer looked like his, but smaller and more petite, like her own. A shiver ran down her spine as the chandeliers began cracking, splintering into the rotten wood of her floor. The gowns, the jewels were just attached to her dolls, sitting as they always were in their dollhouse. Playing make believe. The floor beneath her only sparkled with the glass from her mirror. Clara felt tugging at her hair, her little sister was pulling at it in all directions, rushing her along.

“Mum’s waiting. The production is about to start,” she complained. “And she said you’ve to get your mirror fixed.”

Eilish Harkins: Black and White Hawk-Eagle

“Late again, I jumped out of my bed. I put bird fat in my hair and slicked it back into the regulation bun. I quickly ran across the metal landing and down the stairs to the flyers’ room. There was no time for breakfast, which was a shame because balut was on. The texture of the squishy surprise inside! Nothing can top it.

The flyers’ room was the loudest of them all, as you could hear the last call of the bird before darkness embraced it. Not to mention the slice of the quick metal sliding down the wooden guides. I was at station 7 today. It was a big upgrade: I was usually in charge of the flightless birds, but today Ines was ill so I got to fill in for her.

They delivered my first bird. I’d never really done this before. It was a black and white hawk-eagle: it had bright, yellow claws and a sharp, curved, beak of a vibrant orange. It must have come all the way from Argentina; wasn’t I in for a treat? Usually they only give this type of bird to the experts, as they are extremely strong flyers. The strong flyers are normally put at the front of the pack.

The bird was locked in a plastic box, with its head poked through a hole created to hold it in place. It looked up at the blade, begging it not to fall. Then it looked to me, with a glimmer of despair in its eyes. They were striking, a piercing yellow surrounded by black plumage.

A strident call shattered the air, louder and more desperate than the others. That’s when I let the blade drop. With a satisfying thud the bird’s head fell on the table. I unlocked the plastic box and removed the body, which was enveloped in a thin layer of sticky blood.

I picked the carcass up by the neck and took a plastic tube. I threaded it right into the jugular vein and took a blowtorch to it. The plastic melted right in, sealing the wound.

The tube delivers blood to the body to make the wings flap. The head is cut off to remove any chance of rebellion, to take away the bird’s autonomy, thoughts and power. It was then time to fuse the legs. Having both legs moving separately can sometimes scratch the tubing, so to avoid that, we bond both of the legs together to create one limb. We pull the claws off and make a cut on the inside of both legs, creating two wounds which we then sew together to form one leg.

Bird after bird I got, head after head I chopped.

Before I knew it, it was feeding time. We all gathered in the feeding hall. We were having whatever birds had passed that morning.

After afternoon feeding I was back on the flightless birds. I was assigned to hook up a cassowary. I was in the blood chamber in the belly of the aeroplane; the cassowary was sedated on a roll-away table. I took the butterfly needle and inserted it into its throat. The tube was connected to the churners, two cylinders attached to every aeroplane that hold the blood. The churners are spun by owls: their heads are attached into a mechanism where they turn them from side to side to side. They spin it so that it doesn’t clot. Whenever it does clot, however, we all get bird blood clot soup for lunch. It has a funny texture: it’s very slimy yet not cold in the slightest, as they heat it up beforehand.

I locked the cassowary in one of the plastic-screened boxes lining the wall of the blood chamber. The door had a hole in it for the bird’s neck, in order to ensure that the tubing isn’t ripped out. It woke up half an hour later and panicked, as expected. It banged its body against the walls, twisting back and forth. This part was critical. I had to make sure that the tubing remained intact and that it couldn’t retract its head back into the box.

It started to growl. The cassowary has a strange call, a sort of dinosaur-esque growl. It sounded like a song of sorrow. No matter; its blood will fuel the plane for at least 30 years. Usually they live to about 60, but fuelling really sucks the life out of the birds, causing them to age faster.

I then went to the blood chamber in the next aeroplane, as there was a problem with the tubing. A rook had escaped and chewed through a quarter of all of the tubing. I had never heard of this happening before; a bird has never gotten out in the 5 years that I’ve been here. There was blood everywhere, birds squawking and screeching but worst of all, a ton of work to do. The rook was nowhere to be found. Probably dead somewhere. We sent out squadrons to capture it.

A team of three in my squadron and I rewired the blood chamber. It took hours. Thirty of the birds were dead, the rest were nowhere to be seen. Most of them flew out the second we opened the doors; the others bled out on the floor. I had never seen anything like it. By the time we were finished, I was starving and exhausted. I went straight to the feeding hall and got my portion of chicken broth with a side of talons. I was surrounded by hushed, curious conversations. Everyone was in shock; nothing like this had ever happened at the factory before.

How on earth had that rook escaped? We tested the cages so many times. They were supposed to be proofed against this.

As my head hit the pillow that night, I couldn’t help but think about where that rook had flown off to. I wonder if it knew how much chaos it caused? Of course it didn’t; it’s just a bird. A few hours later, I finally fell asleep.”

Their mother puffed out her chest, put the book down and sighed. She was wearing a pigeon-breasted blouse, with an impeccably-made skirt. On the tip of her hooked nose, balanced very delicately, were a pair of pince-nez glasses.

 ‘And that, my nestlings, is how the Great War began,’ she said softly. ‘This diary entry was taken by one of the Great Master of Espionage’s closest friends. The Master of Espionage was captured after his wrongful exile by the jealous King. The humans bundled him away and tried to make him work on the aeroplanes. They locked him in a cage and stole his blood. He was stuck there along with many other brethren.’

She continued, ‘Then he escaped: he destroyed the wiring in the aeroplane, taking with him countless others. He flew all the way to the Great Assembly, he pulled the sheep out from our eyes, allowing us to see again. He explained to us all the atrocities he saw there; he wanted to take action. However, the King and Queen were cowards, so he killed them.’

She spoke with a rush of pride: ‘He took over as our leader and led us into war. He created not only a united population but also an army! He gave us all tasks and duties, he made a place for us all.’ Then her voice took on a tone of warning: ‘One thing you need to learn, my nestlings, is that humans are never satisfied. They have legs, they walk. Then they want to swim, because walking isn’t enough. After swimming, they want to fly, so they steal that. They tried to strip us of our flight, but we will not have that. We will drop our droppings on many a human to come. We will grab garnets by the thousands and we will devour doughnuts aplenty! Because that means war.’

Vhairi Mulgrew: From Me (You) to You (Me)

The 8th of April, 2000. 20:22, precisely.

Mina was waiting beside the grandfather clock, like she did every year. Except this year, she was all alone.

With each year that passed, her birthday had slowly dwindled to become a party of one. First, her cat died, then her dog, then her grandmother, then her other dog, her father, then, in January, her mother. Not to mention that her grandfather was in the hospice and her sister was in a boarding school in Germany.

As in many aspects of life, she was totally alone. Sad, but at least the fact that she was used to it softened the blow.

Mina had given up on wishing. Specifically, blowing out her candles and hoping upon a miracle that this year wouldn’t be as bad as the previous one. Instead she had resorted to a scornful remark as every year she grew older. Eventually the birthdays seemed to blend together, and she wasn’t sure if it was her twelfth or twenty first.

Mina saw that the sun had begun to make its sad journey to the bottom of the hills, signalling the end of another day. To the majority of the seven billion other people out there, it was just another Thursday. They didn’t even think it was someone’s birthday today, and they probably couldn’t care less if it was. Taking an opportunity to bathe in her own pity, Mina decided she would blow her candles out while enjoying the slow sunset, acting as though she were the only person alive. So, she stepped outside, laying her cake on the patio and sitting down next to it, waiting a few moments, allowing herself to take in the cool breeze which was painting her face.

Then she brought the cake closer to her face, and without thinking too much about it, stated her wish out loud.

‘I wish this year… I had someone to spend it with.’ That was it; that was the wish she made, as her weary breath dissipated the lonesome flame into the atmosphere, her hope subsiding with every particle which vanished before her eyes.

As she walked back into her house, carefully ascending the steps so as to not drop the only thing she had, she found humour in her statement. What was she thinking? She was perfectly fine by herself. She didn’t need someone at her party. Just her, and her cake. That was fine. She liked cake.

Just as Mina set her cake on the kitchen counter, there was a vigorous knock at the door. And that was odd; she had a doorbell. Even more odd, there was someone at her door. That only settled in Mina’s head as her feet shuffled along the hallway and her hand reached for the handle of the door. Gently, she pulled it open and was surprised to see a girl standing there.

She had a poorly-wrapped box in her hand, and as Mina scanned her face, she realised she had no clue who this was. However, what struck her was the remarkable resemblance this stranger bore to her own features. In fact, her entire body was almost a mirror image of Mina’s own. But something was older in her face. More mature. The girl spoke, without any prompt from Mina.

‘I’m here to hang out.’ The girl walked in without invitation, her expression mostly unmoving, totally calm, with just a slight essence of a smile on her face. Mina was rather taken aback; who was this person and why had she walked into her house? Finally, she had to say something, after she was taken out of her state of shock.

‘I’m sorry, who are you?’ The girl turned on her heel and for the first time, the two really shared eye contact.

‘That’s a good question. But it has a very long story to go along with it.’ The mystery woman waltzed nonchalantly through the house, as though it was her own. Then she paused suddenly and pushed the gift towards Mina.

‘Oh, I almost forgot. This is for you. Happy birthday, kid.’

Mina’s brows knitted and her mind filled with questions.

‘Me? How do you know me?’

‘I’m still trying to decide how to phrase that.’ The girl responded to Mina’s confused expression with an even more perplexing answer.

She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, second guessing herself. Finally she said,

‘You’ll understand one day.’ She glanced around the kitchen before speaking once more. ‘Well look. I’d love to stay for cake, but I’m not a big fan.’.

‘Wait, but what was your name?’

The girl sighed inwardly, not answering, then produced a crumpled piece of paper from her jacket. She handed it hurriedly to Mina, whose eyes widened with confusion at the object.

‘Don’t open this until I’m gone. Or ever really, you don’t need to. Just, it’s important: don’t open it until I’ve left.’

And with that, the second Mina glanced at the gift, she had left, ambling out the door, prompting Mina to follow. She called after her, desperately not wanting to be alone again. Mina stopped at the door frame, staring longingly at the girl who now stood outside in the middle of the road, waving with an almost disappointed disposition.

Then, Mina blinked, and the girl had gone. Her mind’s creation had vanished before her very eyes, just like those flames did. Gone, almost in an instant. As the lonely feeling sunk in, Mina felt her eyes prick with tears, but she didn’t let any come out. It was her birthday after all. No one should be crying.

But she began to. Without her consent, tears came trickling down and soon her cheeks were stained and her eyes were blotchy and itchy. That feeling of loneliness was even more heart wrenching. It had more impact, the absence of someone.

At least, she thought, still blinking at the spot in the road she had just watched the female disappear from, at least she had gotten her birthday wish.

It was then her memory sparked, and she remembered the note the girl had given her and told her not to open until she had left. Mina rushed back inside and found it. She unfolded it gently, revealing the text across it:

‘You’re going to be fine. Ana will come back from Germany, bearing good news that she’s coming back to the US permanently. Sadly, grandpa doesn’t make it. He died peacefully, in his sleep, and you at least get to visit him one more time before he passes. This is your last lonesome birthday, I promise.

See you soon (literally). From Mina (you).’

Callum Thomas: Primal Instincts

A subtle wind blew through the forest, the blazing spring dawn light penetrating through the leaves. A dappled green glow lit up the forest floor like a flame, dancing with the swaying of the branches overhead. Pebbles and stones littered the ground as he silently stepped into the babbling brook, almost spilling up over the top of his boots, quiver on his back.

Over the songs of the larks and rush of the stream, he could faintly hear his prey, one which he had been stalking since the break of dawn. A stag.

Stood proudly with its illustrious pelt shining in the sunlight. Its be-speckled coat was gorgeous, matched only by the nobility and beauty of the animal which bore it, with antlers which spread from its head like well-groomed branches of a tree.

Disappointed would he be if this was not a successful hunt and yet, something stirred inside him as he edged ever nearer to it. How sad it would be to see that creature mottled by the blood from its very heart. Such a majestic animal to be taken so cruelty by the need of his for food. But he did not have any other choice.

He walked as softly as he could, the twigs on the floor proving to be his biggest enemy, one wrong step and he would go without dinner for the fourth night on the trot. As it happened it was only a matter of time, soon his foot fell, and, crunch. He had not stepped on a twig but a branch and the sound shattered the silence of the wood like cannon fire. Slicing through the tranquility of morning. It was almost deafening, and it did not fall on deaf ears. No. The stag lifted its head cautiously, and looked around like he was trying to find someone in a crowd. And in the crowd of trees he spotted the boy rooted to the spot.

Countless things happened at once; the stag’s ears perked up, and the next thing that the boy knew it had turned tail and took flight. Simultaneously he had broken into a sprint in hot pursuit. All that he was thinking was that he had to chase this stag. He had to catch this stag. But then in the back of his mind he thought, ‘Why can I not let this beautiful creature go, I need not kill it, I’m sure I will find another.’ Quickly though, the part of his brain which was embittered by hunger and exhaustion quashed this thought, thinking only – I need food. Those primal survival instincts kicking in.

He thundered through the forest, his heart pounding in his ears, trampling small shrubs and the twigs which had first scared off the stag and leaping over the bigger logs. He fixated his eyes on the stag, though they were fleeting glances blocked by trees and boulders. Soon enough though it seemed hopeless, he had lost it. But spurred on by his hunger he kept running, following the tracks, which, with him, had left far behind by the gorgeous beast . Until suddenly he tripped. Falling for what seemed like a life time until finally he hit the ground. Then all went black.

He came to, but after hours, he could tell because the sun was now beating down directly over head. Dazed, he simply lay there, with a trickle of warmth dripping down his face, and falling into the pool of blood in which he lay. Tentatively he raised his hand to the side of his head. A throbbing pain coursing through his temple. As he took his hand away he saw to his horror, a hand covered in blood.

Despite this minor inconvenience he gritted his teeth and, with his resolution set, stood up. Then the world flipped upside down and then back, spinning like a top. He staggered maybe ten yards and then reached out for a nearby tree, missed and then fell to the ground again. But this did not deter him, he got back up and noticed where he was. A waterfall was draped down a cliff like a cloak into the shimmering pool in the valley. Water. That is all that went through his mind. He began to tentatively creep down the hill, grasping at anything he could for support.

His mind suddenly became clear, however, as he saw in the reflection of the pool that beautiful creature.  One with a be-speckled coat and sculpted antlers rising elegantly from its head. Bent down and taking a long drink. The very stag which he had stalked this morning. This was the very stag which he had foolishly scared away. This was the very stag which he had chased this very morning. This was the very stag which was the last thing he saw before all went black this morning.

He dropped to the ground, his view only obstructed by the shoots of flowers penetrating through the hard ground. He took his bow from his back and an arrow from the quiver. He cocked the arrow and waited. He could feel his heart trying to burst through his ribcage it was pounding so intensely. He attempted to judge the distance, forty yards. Easy shot.

He took a moment and looked at the stag, gaining his composure. He really didn’t need to kill it did he? The battle in his head between the admiration for the beauty of this stag, and his own primal instincts as old as the Earth which he stood on. He needed food and yet he couldn’t bring himself to kill this creature, such a crime to nature would leave a deep and indelible mark on his soul.

This stag was ultimately just the same as him though, a stranger going through life. It seemed so human in its actions, drinking as he would from that pool.  But the cave man inside of him longed for food. It longed for nourishment. And it beat back his instinct to let this magnificent stag go.

Resigned to his fate, he drew back the arrow until the cord was as tight as he could make it. And in that instant, for the second time that day it looked up and locked eyes with him. But it did not run; it too seemed resigned to its fate. Its big doleful eyes made a last plea to the boy. But he simply ignored it.

He breathed in, deeply. And then out again, and just as there was no air left to exhale, he released the arrow.

Peter Inglis: The Food Trolley Lady

‘It’s that time again’ she thought to herself, while tearing off a piece of some sort of stale bread to dip into her soup in the Hogwarts staff room. She slipped on her red cotton tank top and headed to the secret nook she had found a few years ago. This was her place, where she did it every year. She swished her wand a few times at a large silver trolley as blue and pink sparks spewed out of it and just like that the trolley was filled to the brim with every kind of magical sweet you could imagine, with a little tray on the side for the money.

The small, old lady hobbled along to Dumbledore’s office to say she was off. After a brisk and painful walk to the train station she made it just in time for the departure to Kings Cross, platform nine and three quarters. She was hoping there weren’t any nasty first years this time. She looked back into the past when Fred and George had joined Hogwarts and played a nasty trick on her by giving her the teeth of a rabbit, meaning that every carriage she went to she got lots of strange looks and sniggers.

The train had arrived and crowds of children with all sorts of things with them piled in, looking for sweets and seats. After a while of confusion and tearful goodbyes, the great steam-powered beast started to move again, letting out a blood-curdling scream of the whistle as first years scurried to try and find somewhere to sit. It was her time.

She went around all of the little pockets in the steam engine, saying the same thing every time in her soft old voice: ‘Anything from the trolley, dears?’ Usually people would just buy a few chocolate frogs or some Berty Bots jelly beans for a joke, or a group of Slytherins would rudely tell her to buzz off.  She didn’t like most Slytherins, because they were like spiders waiting to catch someone in their web of mischief.

As she made it to the final seating area and opened the slightly rickety door she immediately recognised a face she thought she would never in her lifetime see in person… Harry Potter. This was nerve-racking, as she thought he would be a mean, lean, cocky machine, but to her surprise, he seemed very timid compared to what she’d heard. She said her line and all he replied with was ‘We’ll take the lot,’ handing her a big pile of money. This obviously surprised the Weasley who was sitting across from him as well, with his bright ginger hair and many freckles.

And that was her shift for another year, and it was a good one at that.

Eva McGhee: The Food Trolley Lady

I love my job. The kids are so nice, apart from a few who I won’t go into much detail about! If you didn’t already know, I’m the lady who sells sweets off the trolley on the Hogwarts Express. Now, I know you’re probably thinking that you don’t care and that this is going to be some boring story about my job because the kids don’t think much of me. I mean don’t get me wrong, they’re nice enough, they know their manners and thank me when they buy sweets off the trolley, but they definitely don’t think much of me. I’d be surprised if they even remembered what I look like! For example, not one of them said to me ‘good to see you’ or ‘how are you?’ But I’m used to it by now, I’ve been doing my job for years. Now, enough of me complaining! Let me tell you my story.

A long time ago, I went to Hogwarts myself. I was a pretty good student, straight A’s and generally good reports but I had this one teacher who hated my guts! Professor Dolicrumus. Stupid name, I know, sums up his stupid personality! I’ve heard some of the kids talking about Professor Snape and thought he sounds a lot like Dolicrumus. Although that’s just from what I’ve heard, he could be a perfectly nice man for all I know! But anyway, back to the point. Dolicrumus hated me and my best friend Lilly Potter. Her name wasn’t actually Potter, I just called her that because she had the hugest crush on James Potter and I knew he liked her too and I always knew that they were going to get married! Dolicrumus would always give us extra homework and random detentions for not knowing answers to really hard questions and would make us write lines which took hours, or at least felt like it! Lilly was a good student as well, we didn’t know why Dolicrumus hated us so much. Lilly said it was probably because she was in Griffindor, but I was in Hufflepuff but there was no excuse for me! He was the head of Slytherin, of course, with platinum blonde hair, and he kind of looked like a rude year 7 boy I served on the train a couple of days ago. Would be a coincidence if he gets Slytherin too!

Anyway, there was this girl, Estella who bullied me for not having enough money, for having hand-me-down robes and not living in a big mansion like hers. Although it bothered me, Lilly always stood up for me. She was very confident but I was very quiet and easy to pick on, so how we became friends, I don’t know! One day while Lilly was sick and was staying at the Griffindor dorms, Estella was horrible to me again. This had been going on for about a year now so I just FREAKED OUT, stood up and punched her. She was taken aback, especially since Lilly wasn’t there so there was no way she could back me up now. I was scared of what Estella was going to do to me. But she didn’t hit me back; she just fake-cried and screamed ‘in pain’. I didn’t know what to do. ‘Should I run?’ ‘Should I hide?’ Thoughts came rushing into my head but there was no chance: Professor Dolicrumus ran out of his office as if he had been waiting for this moment his whole life.

“I should have known it would be you.”

And with that, he grabbed me by the scruff of my collar and dragged me along the corridor, up the moving staircases and to the headmaster’s office. I remember crying because I felt so sorry for myself and because Dolicrumus was holding me so tight and it hurt!

And that was it. My Hogwarts journey over, and only in year 11… What were my parents going to think? Were they going to think I was a disappointment? What about Lilly? She wouldn’t know what had happened to me. I cried and cried. The saddest part was, I never got to see Lilly again.

I didn’t know what to do for a job since I couldn’t just get a normal job in the muggle world, since I’m a witch of course! So I begged the headmaster for a job at Hogwarts. I was willing to do anything! But he said no. So I finally found a job here. A train worker. Pathetic, right?!

I always wondered what happened to Lilly, and if Dolicrumus was still nasty, but that was an obvious! Then 11 years ago, I heard the news… Lilly was dead. It broke my heart. I cried for weeks and despite me having been her best friend up to year 11, I couldn’t go to her funeral since I had been expelled from the school. What if I could have helped? What if I could have been there? I really regret punching Estella. I wish I could have said goodbye to Lilly.

Then, on the train, I heard the kids whispering ‘Lilly and James’ kid’… ‘Yes, yes Harry Potter’. My eyes lit up but then again, I thought it must be a joke until I went into a carriage and saw him. Those eyes. That scar. Definitely Lilly & James’ kid. I asked him if he wanted anything off the trolley and he replied “We’ll take the lot”. I thought he was joking until he pulled out so much money! It was more than I’d ever seen in my life all at once! It was crazy! Exactly what Lilly would have done, I thought. I gave him the sweets and left. I didn’t want to embarrass him.

Besides, he probably doesn’t know who I am because after all, I am just a failure who was expelled from Hogwarts…

Aoife Toner: Gorilla

He’s built like a ten-storey building

Eyes like two glowing full moons

Muscles like a seven-foot bodybuilder

Pupils like lumps of coal from Santa’s naughty list.


He lumps along like man and load,

Swings through the trees like Tarzan himself,

Or glides through the jungle like a jet-ski on waves

Gobbling up everything in his way.


He lives in the jungle with trees so high,

Rivers flowing fast to cool him down.

Treetop platforms make for great naps,

Sun blazing warm all day,


Until it sets at dusk

And he begins to snooze,

Snoring like a grandad in a deep sleep.

Darcey Kerr: Panther

Fur as dark as midnight’s sky,

Eyes as orange as summer’s first dawn.

With a calls that could break the deepest of sleeps,

And stride so strong and powerful.


The panther darts and dances and dives

Gliding along the damp forest floor

He cries with the might of a million years,

Alive in the buzz of the deep green maze.


He will sing his song of hope and glory,

And speak his words with tenderness and love.

Yet the panther is watched by the animal kingdom,

As they gaze at the creature with a fearful stare.

Rory Conway: Tomorrow

Mr. Sweeney sat alone on the fourth floor of the library almost directly underneath the sign for the expired books that read ‘PUBLIC DOMAIN’. He sat with his legs crossed and the lid of his pen between his teeth. His hair was overgrown and the humble beginnings of a poorly-kept beard were visible. Outside it was warm. Inside he wore a dark tweed jacket and trousers that rested on him loosely. The sun was bright and illuminated the threadbare carpet. It glared on the dust that came from the carpet with every step.

         “Good afternoon”, the librarian said. The wrinkles around her eyes smiled at him. He had known her for years but didn’t bother to learn her name. He had no reason to.

         “Is it?” he replied. The librarian tensed quickly and returned to her screen. She should be used to him by now. The ageing woman addressed him slyly. “You should be out, no? You’re wasting a day like this.”

         He glanced at her as she spoke mindlessly at him. He hadn’t ever looked at her long enough to see past her tired blue eyes. She had a face that seemed to fade as quickly as the cries of a hungry child. Her fingers were long and told of her age. She wore a modest ring, likely engagement, but had no wedding band. He got back to his work.

Some time had passed. He had flicked through a number of children’s novels before returning ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ and deciding to leave. His eyes pointed from person to person. Students sat, just as countless others had for years, studying for the same exams that occur each year. ‘Why them?’ he thought. A life so easily replicated. He stopped himself. He didn’t want to think this way during the day. They shifted in their seats as he passed them like a cold breeze from the warmth of outside. He noticed but did not care. The door before him opened politely but he didn’t move. He heard a shyly muttered apology and saw the reflection of a young woman in the door. His breath shortened. She seemed just years younger than him but he felt decades older. Her hair was long, like her’s was. Like her’s, her hair was perfectly curled at the bottom to rest just above her waist. He remembered that day they came home from the library together. She wasn’t behaving like herself this day. Her steps were nervous and her eyes wandered from him tentatively. It was the day she decided to abandon their studies and it was the last time they would see each other. She announced with ease her departure.

         “What?” he muttered.

         She repeated herself. His jaw tightened as he shrunk under the weight of the news.

         “I’m leaving,” she said coldly. She explained how she couldn’t ‘fix’ him and that he needed help.

         “I’ll call you,” she promised. He waited for her to call but she never did.

         His feet remained still as he stared blankly at the woman in front of him, trying to swallow the lump building in his throat. She had crossed her arms before reaching into her bag. She seemed awkward and wanted to look busy. She excused herself and he kept moving, but his mind stayed right where she left him.

His head hung low as he walked home against strong winds. Leaden clouds were moving above the trees that lined the pavement. It had gotten dark and he could not escape the echo of her final words to him. The streetlight was very bright in the darkness of his cul-de-sac. It cast light on the impressive home he occupied, and the dignity that he had lost. It was once a fine home. It hosted respectable parties. The walls, plastered blue, had heard the sound of first words and honest laughter. His car that sat parked across the street wasn’t always that dirty. The ivy growing over his windows was once kept at a careful length. The grass outside his home hadn’t always crept up beyond the windows of his front room. The nursery, now with four yellowed walls, was once home to teddy bears and tired eyes at 3 A.M. awake for feeding.        

         He knew he had veered off course but didn’t bother to straighten himself out. What was the point? He never stopped going to the library, but he would sit at night alone. The TV would play something he wasn’t interested in. His books would collect dust and lay untouched. Sometimes, looking at the dull cards that had sat for years on the mantelpiece, he would think. Initially, he would think of the gifts of clothes that would “fit when he’s a bit older” that went to waste. He would think of the money innocent relatives spent on a life never to be lived. He would blame himself for not thinking to donate what was left. And then, he would blame himself for not being the one that was taken. They called it ‘survivor’s guilt’. But he was only a child. He was so harmless and vulnerable, yet so overlooked. How could he be wrong for wishing it was him instead?

The evening had passed and with it the winds grew fiercer. By now he had drunk so much that he didn’t know if he was sweating or crying. The winds on the door grew into a knock and he struggled to his feet. It was his sister. She tried to see him often but he rarely complied.

         “Hi, Jill,” he said. She immediately embraced him and his attempts to forget the significance of the next day failed. She welcomed herself into his home and handed him flowers from the nearest shop and a small card. A cartoon bear held a sign that reminded him she was “Thinking of you!” They sat together for some time but he could never recall what they were talking about. He could tell she was growing frustrated but hid it well.

         “Do you want anything to eat?” He realised he hadn’t offered her anything yet. She followed him into the kitchen.

         “I’ll help myself. Sit down, will you?” She replied as she rummaged through his cabinets. She was wearing an expression that told him she had news she didn’t want to share with him. He was right.

         “I’ve met someone. Finally.” she confessed. “I’ll be moving again. Further, this time. I’ll come and visit when I can, but it won’t be as often. I – I’m sorry.” Her words trailed off as he tried to find something to say. He gave a slight, involuntary sigh. He had the urge to tell her all that he was feeling. He wanted to make a joke of it, lighten the mood, prove to her that he was better. But he would never get better, nor would he ever want to be, he thought. What was the point?

At last, she left. As she floated out the door she rhymed off that he could “call me if you ever need anything” and that he was “doing him proud”. He heard her car door slam shut as the headlights of her car beamed in to his front room. As her engine roared into the distance the silence returned and once again engulfed his home. As he shut the door he threw the supermarket flowers away. But he couldn’t bring himself to toss the card. He read it over and over. Eventually he sat down again and reached under his sofa for the only toy he kept. He held the old teddy for a moment. Its glossy eyes seemed to stare at him and he could see his reflection. He thought of all the toy bears he had been given since he passed. With every one, he was told it would get better with time, but he knew it would never really leave him. He knew in that moment that people would leave and find happiness, something he couldn’t provide, and no one would really stay. But, at least, this would.

He lay alone with the stuffed bear by his side. It had gotten cold but he hadn’t bothered to pull up a blanket. He looked at his alarm clock, whose red lights read 02:36. The cold night breeze outside rattled onto the windows of his bedroom as his mind drifted. He thought of the bear that comforted his chest, moving as he breathed. He marvelled at how animals of such force had been reduced to this. How his son’s life had been reduced to this. He thought of their struggle, always alone and never settling down, but always ready to escape. He thought of how they were lured in with promises, only to be shot down. His chest swelled as he imagined their helpless defeat displayed as a human victory. Like them, he lay exiled from the peace and life he longed for as he submitted to the fatal listlessness that would consume his tomorrow.

Arianna Connelly: Bassiano’s Monologue

Gold. Silver. And lead. Hmm, which I shall I choose? Gold, a beautiful metal, would symbolise materialistic and valuable possessions; however, a sense of greed…  Silver, despite its preciousness, it’s not as quite luxurious as gold – perhaps displaying a cautious greed… At last, lead. Lead? I wonder why lead is present within the range of these caskets. Lead portrays warning and danger; if so, I’d risk anything for my beloved Portia – in spite of the consequences. I have nothing to offer but my love for her, I don’t own anything as exquisite as gold nor silver which is why I’ve made my decision to settle with the lead casket. Portia is more than a priceless necklace or a shimmering crown. She needs someone who would risk everything for her, a brave and courageous man like me! However, I can’t stop contradicting myself. I couldn’t bear the thought of some disgustingly rich prince stealing Portia away as some type of reward or to boost his ego even more plus benefiting his wealth.

The lead casket is calling to me. I can hear the words, “Open me, open me” repetitively spiralling in my head. The words get gradually louder and louder- until I reach my hand out.

I examine the casket carefully, the chest is made from a humble metal, and within the chest, I encounter a picture as well as a poem of Portia. I glance at the poem, scanning every cursive word. And just in that moment, I realise that I have opened the correct one! I’m still in disbelief that I have obtained the fairest woman within the land. Oh, my sweet Portia! Even the moment I laid my eyes on her I was captivated by her enchantress; her long, luscious hair as it glistened in the sun and her angelic ocean eyes hypnotising me into an extraordinary spell.

Nonetheless, the lead casket recognises Portia as herself. Portia won’t remain young and beautiful forever. Eventually she’ll grow to be old and plain – despite it, her inner beauty will last for eternity, furthermore my unconditional love.

*  *  *

Finally, the day arrived when I married my true love. I felt superior as numerous amounts of maids were either polishing my shoes, delicately washing my suit or fixing my hair with many applications of gel. I already felt one step closer to being a king. I was escorted to my bedroom, the maids insisted of cleaning my room before my arrival. As I entered the room I was continuously gazing at the magnificent golden decorations throughout the room, appreciating every amount of detail. Most importantly a gigantic bed full of soft clouds – it was very tempting to lay amongst it, however I managed to resist the urge. I was startled by the loud knock from the door; it was Portia’s lady in waiting, Nerissa? I’m positive that was her name. She led me to the church, to end up discovering that the whole nation was invited! A wave of terror washed over me. My heart was pounding. Palms sweaty. Knees trembling. Nevertheless, I managed to relax myself – breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Slowly, step-by-step, I made my way towards the altar, patiently waiting for Portia. As the doors slowly opened, an elegant melody began playing – and as they widened, Portia finally appeared. As she walked along the aisle the church began to brighten in her presence. She was breathtaking, radiant, glamorous – no possible words could describe how perfect she looked. I held her hand tightly, with a beaming smile upon my face. I looked deeply into her eyes and said…

“I do…”

Tom Ralph: Maria Antonia

This feeling.

I wouldn’t call it shock, we all knew this was coming.

Maybe a twisted sense of relief. Relief that the wait is finally over. That the blade hanging over my neck has finally dropped.

I know what’s coming. I’ve seen what they write about me; how I plunged the nation into poverty, how I have no understanding of the real issues the people face. They see me as a monster, some kind of beast whose only goal is to ruin the lives of my countrymen. They turn those who wronged me into heroes and those who helped into demons. It seems they want nothing more than for this country to fall into ruin, as long as it is at my hands.

Who blames the naive king when there is an evil queen?

I am told Louis is trying his best to calm the mob. He has invited some of those desperate enough to march on the palace to negotiate, meanwhile – much like the rest of my life – I am kept in a bedchamber and told to look wait and pray for the best. Just like a butterfly, I always thought, admired for its beauty but caught, killed and displayed if the chance arises.

What these revolutionaries fail to see is that I tried to help, but I am always dismissed. Louis doesn’t acknowledge my solutions, in fact, he doesn’t acknowledge me much either, I think he’d rather have married a lock and key than me. After all, he’s always made it clear his only true passion is locksmithing. Sometimes it seems I spend more time fretting over the economic crisis than he does. I tried so hard to be the perfect wife, but instead of praise my efforts were met with rumours of affairs and scandal, and there was a time I had to accept my tastes are not those of the king.

BANG! BANG!

It takes me a moment to realise that the noise is coming from the door rather than outside.

The children. The thought I’ve been trying to ignore for the past however-many-hours comes before I can stop it. I see my knuckles whiten as my fist tightens around the door handle.

“Now is not the time for rage, Maria” I tell myself softly, “It is not just your life that depends on it.” And with that, I reluctantly open the door.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I am met with the timid face of a servant rather than one of those grotesquely distorted by rage banging on the palace walls.

 “Sorry to disturb Mademoiselle, but the King requests that you ensure you are proper in case your presence is needed,” she said. Of course, even in the face of death, the King does not trust me to handle myself.

“Merci, there is no need to continue. You can be assured that I need no one’s guidance in anything concerning propriety.” I watch as she scurries away, clearly relieved to no longer be addressing me, and that never stops being painful. I turn around and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Louis was correct. If I am to appear, even for my death, I must look proper and now I look anything but it.

Something people don’t understand about being a queen, dressing is a difficult task.  Of course, I usually have people to help but I think being alone is the best thing for everyone right now. I look past my most extravagant wigs; now isn’t the time, the people will be angered enough by my presence alone, they don’t need any more fuel for their hate. It may sound ridiculous but knowing what to wear isn’t easy, you have to balance showing no weakness; your allies and enemies can’t see us as any weaker, but dressing lavishly will make the poor hate us. It seems everything I do as Queen is unnecessarily complicated. It’s certainly not what I had in mind when I was told at 12 that I was going to be whisked off to France to marry some prince. It sounded like a fairy tale: too good to be true and quite obviously it was.

I decide on a rather simple pouf style, something more humble while still showing a sense of power. Looking for a necklace, I reach out for a larger diamond one, but I think better of it. It was only a few years ago the ordeal now referred to as the affair of the diamond necklace took place, while some may think nothing of it I have been told the woman who masqueraded as my friend has been turned into somewhat of a hero. It’s utterly ridiculous, that swindler is being praised for breaking laws while I am made into some sort of puppet master of the crimes.

Now I can hear the hustle from outside the palace walls, it appears that this is indeed the end of this fateful facade of power which has been rather pitiful of late. That seems to be a common theme in my life recently, everything around me decaying while we simply watch, doing nothing to stop the now-recurring pattern of a rich man’s disregard leaving destruction and dolour in his path. Often it feels as if no matter how many homes for mothers I open or royal property I sell to help the poor there will always be a rich man, emblazoned by a life of privilege, willing to send men to their deaths and empty our treasury rather than bruising his already undeserved ego.

Now I can hear footsteps coming down the hall. I edge slightly closer to the door to listen for any clues to my fate. There are voices. Even from a distance, I can tell they don’t belong to the servants.

Louis failed.

Instead of panicking, I do what I must. I must be a queen. I return to my seat and wait. It’s rather poetic is it not, the people were made to wait to gain their power, and now I must wait to lose it.

I watch the door handle as it is pushed down, such a mundane thing turned into a death sentence, the reality that there is no escape. The man swings it open and says two words. The two words that have haunted me for the past twenty years.

The words which marked the end of my life in Austria.

The words which now mark the end of my life in France. “Marie Antionette.”

Ruaridh Kelly: Norse mythology

It was calm for once near the cliffs of Midgard, the Centre of the Universe. The winds were gentle and somewhat quiet, so you could hear the waves smashing themselves on the rocks below. The waves punched and crashed into the stones hard, over and over again, making the rocks shine black as the waves drenched them. Rising above the water, on top of the cliff was a beautiful patch of greenery stretching as far as the eye could see. The grass was as green as the most prestigious of emeralds; the bluebells as cool in colour as ice and the daises as white as the snow on the high mountain tops overlooking the meadow. There was a single flower however that captured the most attention. A scarlet rose lay in the middle of this majestic meadow. There was no other flower like it. The rose stood near a large stone facing the sea, as if it was guarding this stone. Suddenly the winds began to change. They became heavier and more violent and the waves too became almost angry. Then, as if nothing had happened, back to calm. Someone had arrived at the meadow. That someone, was a god to the mortals of Midgard. His name was Thor, the God of Thunder.

Thor was taller than most of the men of Midgard and struggled to fit through most doors. He was stronger than any wild beast that wandered the land and could cause the trees to fall with his fists alone. He had a magnificent flowing red beard and hair. The colour was similar to that of a dragon’s fiery breath. His garment was an earthy brown with a fur shoulder wrapped around him to protect him from the bitter cold mountains. The helmet he wore was gold plated with two large antlers sticking out. His whole presence was menacing to every enemy he faced. As he walked he put his left hand out to feel the breeze and the long stems of grass. In his right he wielded his mystical weapon, Mjolnir.  It was grey like the rocks of the cliff and was in the shape of a blacksmith’s hammer. It was immensely powerful as it could summon lightning strikes and storms with a simple command.

Thor wandered through a plethora of beautiful violets and lilies until he reached the tall stone and the rose at the meadow’s heart. He sat before it, placing his hammer on the earth. Carved into the stone was the name of a woman who had been close to him. He looked at the date. He had actually forgotten how long ago it was. He had been on this Earth for more than 500 generations. Thor knew she was mortal and so it was inevitable she would grow old and wither. He missed her. Perhaps he had even felt what she had described as love.

As Thor pondered, he began to feel a cold sensation slither down his back. He looked to the sky to see it had turned to a white blanket, completely enveloping the once clear blue sky. He then felt snow fall on him, getting heavier and heavier, until it quickly completely covered the meadow. Thor in confusion looked to the distant mountains, and there he saw the behemoth. A Frost giant.

The frozen colossus marched through the high mountains and hill tops. The juggernaut’s footsteps obliterated everything in its path. Trees and boulders were destroyed in an instant. The size of the creature was unmatched to any other being Thor had seen. The beast was so large that it was almost touching the snowy clouds. No hair could be found on the frosty monster as every aspect of its body was completely frozen. Its eyes were as blue as the frozen sea. The teeth were jagged like chunks of broken glass. Its shoulders were wide and appeared to have sharp glaciers protruding from all over its body. A tunic that was old and withered attached to the giant but was full of holes and gaps. The creature grasped at what appeared to be a large rime axe which was almost as big as the ice giant itself. As Thor continued to gaze upon the beast, it seemed that it was also looking back at Thor. For a brief moment the being looked confused and even frightened, as if it knew what the Thunder God was capable of. The giant tried to flee from the mountains. The god knew he would have to act swiftly in order to stop this monster from escaping. He rose like an arrow above the bed of snow and into the clouds which darkened as he did so.

With the clouds turning as dark as night, Thor struck. The Thunder God was like an ant compared to this icy Goliath but carried on with a smirk on his face. He raised his hammer to the sky and soon enough heavy rain fell upon on the land and washed away the snow that had gathered by the colossus. Thunder boomed from the sky and could be heard by every living being in Midgard. With all this power granted to him, Thor gave a cry of attack and launched himself at the beast. As he did so, a lightning bolt struck the giant with a mighty crackle. Thor then slammed his hammer into the forehead of the frost giant. Cracks appeared across its skull and the lightning strike had blinded it in one eye. This juggernaut, although fatigued, did not give up and attempted to hit the Thunder God back with its ferocious axe. Thor, with his quick reflexes, managed to swiftly evade this deadly attack, and again flew to his opponent and flung his hammer. Thor had demolished the teeth of the beast. One more hit and it would not get back up. One more hit and it could not return to the home it was trying so desperately to reach again. For a final time, the giant lifted its weapon to try and defeat its foe. Thor was ready. The giant looked up to see a flash of light and could only hear the roaring of the thunder. The forks of the lightning strike had pierced through its cold heart, and then the all-powerful Thor smashed open the giant skull causing ice to splinter in all directions.

The giant crashed to the ground causing a shockwave through the earth when it fell. Its pain was relentless. It had never felt such a feeling as this before. It did not want to fight anymore, only to rest. The sad creature looked to the sky to see an evening sun shining upon the frozen behemoth one last time. And with that the giant closed its eyes to sleep and never again wake. Thor glided down to the corpse of the colossus. He then in surprise saw that a single tear drop had frozen on the cheek of the giant. Thor began to feel a sense of guilt and even felt pity for this fallen creature. Maybe he did not have to kill the wandering giant. Maybe there had been another way. Thor returned to the now dry meadow, and as he approached he could immediately smell ash and cinder. Thor found a crater where the flowers and stone once stood. A stray lightning bolt had destroyed the meadow, destroying the violets, the daisies and the once magnificent scarlet rose, as well as burning everything left. The centre of the stone had split in two and the name upon it could now hardly be read. This grave had belonged to someone. Thor turned his back and began to walk. That mortal being was no longer of any importance to a thunder god.

Orla Keenan: What Happened Next?

Lieutenant Kotler made his way into the trench, allowing his legs to collapse beneath him. The distant sounds of weapons being fired were slowly merging with a ringing noise that was growing louder by the minute. He had been here for so long that he was losing sight of who he was before. He could remember snippets, of a Bruno? or maybe a Gretel? He shook his head; he was being silly.

He slumped against the hard trench wall, knocking blades of grass over the edge of the trench as he slid down onto the floor. He found a ragged blanket to shield his clothes from the dirty floor. The ringing was becoming deafening. He looked up into the grey sky and pondered… where did he desperately want to be? He wanted to be back at the manor, being ordered around but warm and full. What did he want the most? To see his father again, he

He awoke with a gasp as rain hurled down on him. The trench floor had become somewhat of a mud bath and the mud was seeping through the rag. Though… something was missing… something he’d been listening to for what felt like years. The noises had stopped. It was eerily quiet. He reached out for a stray weed hanging out of the wall and used it to pull himself up. He peered above the wall. Just as he thought. No guns were being fired.

He slow rose out of the trench, stumbling over the loose dirt on the edge. His head pounded, his eyes couldn’t focus and it was just so hard to walk.

He reached the barbed wire, hesitating to look around. His hands automatically latched around the wire, he hissed through gritted teeth as he quickly pulled them back as the spikes dug into his skin. A mist hung over no-man’s land, helping the droplets of rain to blind him further. He clambered over the barbed wire, lodging a sliver of wood into his palm, but that didn’t matter. He was going to get into the Allies’ trench and stop the war and –

Thud.  

Philippa Keenan: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.

He loves me.

‘How to know that you are in love’.

 ‘You can’t stop staring at them.’

Check. When I see him, everything else in that room goes dark, it’s like he’s the only thing that matters, he is the only thing that matters.

‘Time flies by when you’re together.’

Check. I’ve known him for eleven years, it feels like it’s all gone by in a couple of seconds.

‘You want to touch and kiss them.’

Check. The way he holds me in his arms makes me feel on top of the world, I never want it to stop. And when he kisses me, it feels like gold dust falling on my lips.

See, I am in love. It’s normal to get cold feet before your wedding, right? It’s normal to feel like your life is ending, right? I love him. I’ve loved him since we were sixteen. We grew up together. We got each other through the end of high school, college, my mom dying, his dad leaving. He’s the only boy I’ve ever loved.

Which makes me wonder; what if I had never met him? Maybe I would’ve became a doctor like I’ve always wanted to, and not a useless girl with a useless degree because, ‘why should you need a job if I can provide for us?’ Or maybe I would have travelled the world, gone to all the places I’ve always wanted to go to but ‘I have to finish my law degree, maybe we can travel another time’. I never planned on being the ‘trophy wife’, but here we are.

Its not like he isn’t good to me; anything I want I always get. Whether it’s a Chanel bag, or Dior perfume, or this massive rock on my finger. He ‘provides’ for me, we live in a big penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. It’s a dream. We have five bedrooms, one for me and him, three for our future kids and a guest bedroom. It always feels cold in the house, he’s never home, just me in a big house myself. Maybe it will feel like a home when we have kids.

He loves me, he always tells me that. But sometimes, sometimes I don’t feel like he does. It didn’t use to be that way. But once he started working, he became angrier. He wasn’t the sweet boy I fell in love with anymore. Then it got worse: one day after a long day in the office he came home, dinner had taken a bit longer than usual and wasn’t ready. I’ve never seen him get so mad. It took me a while to cover the bruise, slowly I got better at covering them. No one knew, no one knows.

I’m getting married in an hour. I need to decide, do I go to the wedding, get married, have kids, grow old with the ‘love of my life’? Or do I run away, start fresh, travel, become a doctor? But who am I without him? The only ‘friends’ I have are the wives of his friends. The only source of money is from his pay check. The only life I’ve ever had is with him.

Suddenly I’m back in the room; I must’ve spaced out because now my hair and makeup are done. I wanted to wear my hair up, but he prefers it down. The room is in panic, we must be running late. I have 3 bridesmaids; my little sister, his big sister and my best friend. His mom is here running the show. Thank God for her, because she basically planned the entire wedding, apart from my dress.

My dress. It’s the dress I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little girl. It’s slim fitting, mermaid shape, with a long train. It has white roses patterned all the way down it, it’s perfect. It’s the perfect dress, for the perfect wedding, for the ‘perfect’ marriage. ‘We’ve got to go! We’re running so late!’ I hear his mom shouting from down the stairs. We rush out of my room, down the stairs and into the limo.  

My hands are shaking. I’m really doing this. I’m signing myself away to this man, this life. Cooking dinner, gossiping with other wives, waiting for him to come home at night. Or finding out about his mistresses, covering bruises, convincing myself that he loves me. We are almost outside the church, the girls have music on, champagne is in everyone’s hands.

‘Why is everyone standing outside the church?’

Silence

Every head turns and looks towards the church. I can hear my heart pounding. My legs are shaking. Every girl is looking at me for answers, I am looking at his mom. We link eyes; she looks as worried as I am.

His mom orders the limo driver to stop. ‘Wait here I’ll find out what is happening.’ She opens the door and gets out.

The chat between the girls continues, more champagne is poured, more gossip is spilt. I don’t join in, however; I watch his mother as she approaches one of the ushers. The usher puts one hand on her shoulder, pulls her in and whispers in her ear. She looks at the limo and looks back at him.

Slowly she walks towards the limo and opens the door. ‘Can you all get out, please?’

She sounds pleading; something bad has happened.

The girls are slowly budging out and taking their champagne with them. It’s just me and his mom sitting there now.

She is upset, she’s crying.  

‘He’s not here, they can’t find him anywhere’.

He loves me not.

Niamh Jackson: The Butterfly Pin

Have you ever seen a pin, dropped in a crowded room? That was my life, a bustling room. Hundreds of things going on all at once. Until at one point everything stopped. Why did it stop? Well, that’s because somewhere along the line, somebody made the mistake of treading on that pin. The pin that I fatefully stepped on was Alma. It was my decision to do stupid things for love. But just like finding a pin in your foot, there was going to be blood. Blood that I had to live with, which stained my life forever. In that moment I didn’t care about the boy staring daggers at me. I didn’t care that hours later I had assignments due. I wanted to be with her. I shouldn’t have gone out that night. I didn’t think of the blood.

The investigation began on the 2nd of February. When interrogated, both suspects seemed to distance themselves from the victim.

3rd February – Interrogation Room: Suspect One

Oh yeah, Alma. That girl from art? She’s confident, way more confident than me at least. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get along. But what happened to her was a step too far. Listen, just because we weren’t ‘best mates’ doesn’t mean I’d do something like that to her. The night she went missing, I was home alone. 11 Priestly Gardens. We’ve never spoken outside of school, there was no reason for me to be with her that night. I don’t know why I’m here, my parents are going to kill me if they find out that I’ve been brought in by the cops. I don’t know what you want to do with me. I’m no expert, but you could try your luck with that girl from art class. She’s always had some obsession with Alma. Since day dot. Always staring at her. But what do I know, huh? I just want to get outta here. So if that’s all you wanted to get out of me, I’ll be on my way home.

3rd February

I couldn’t tell them the truth. My mouth was coated in the metallic taste of my blood. I’d been slowly nibbling at my lips as I was sat in front of the officer. I’d been summoned to the station earlier in the morning. I knew that they’d found out. I couldn’t tell them that this was all my fault. I couldn’t tell them that I was the one who had said she should go for a walk to clear her head. I couldn’t tell them that I was jealous of the girl in our art class. I couldn’t tell them that I was going to meet Alma the same night she went missing. I was going to meet her. I swear I was. I kept telling myself that she’d never want me. So I sat in my hallway. While she was pacing down the street, waiting for me to show up. I sat there, staring at the rough soles of my shoes. Eventually I shook off my nerves and left to catch up with her. I was too late. I should’ve gone. I should’ve been there. Those few minutes of contemplation would make the difference of whether or not she was alive right now; I think. I can’t forgive myself for that.

3rd February – Interrogation Room: Suspect Two

Alma. I’d heard of her. I’d talk to her in art, period five on a Tuesday. I didn’t know much about her but her art was beautiful. She’d use colours to communicate animals. Butterflies. She’d paint hundreds at a time. I’d never admit it, but I watched her from the corner of my eye. I couldn’t help it. She was mesmerising. I got lost watching her delicately swipe at her canvas. Each stroke led to another array of bright butterflies scattering across her work. I couldn’t imagine what she’s going through, but I’d never hurt her. She was perfect. Everything about her. On January 31st  I was starting my art project, due the following day. The only communication I had with her was that I tried contacting her about what pastels she’d use for her realism portrait. I didn’t get a reply. You can check my phone. I had run out of charcoal and it was late so all the craft stores would be closed. It sounds awful, but I wandered through her location on Snapchat. I had seen that she wasn’t home. She was near this address that I’d never heard of. It was called Priestly Gardens or something. I didn’t pay much attention to it. A few hours later I got a message. Through Instagram a guy from my art class who I’d never talked to before. I can show you the text, but from what I can remember he asked if Alma was with me. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I would never have spoken to him but he seemed really worried. I said I hadn’t heard from her but if I could help, I would. I’ve not heard from him since.

3rd February

She had called me that same night. She was alone. She was going to meet the guy from art. Apparently she hadn’t heard from him. He’s always hated me. I could see him scowling at me whenever I got too close to Alma. His eyes would burn into the back of my head. Especially in Tuesday art. I said that I was free if she needed a rebound. I could tell she was upset. When she agreed I quickly packed up some of my dad’s half empty gin and slipped out into the bitter night air. Christ, I wish I hadn’t been so eager. I’m the reason she was wasted and out of control. I should’ve stayed with her. Made sure she got home safe. I didn’t though. I met with her and we went out to the park. She was wearing nothing but a butterfly patterned dress. I offered her my jumper and she took it. That’s most likely how I ended up interrogated by the cops. The girl that went missing was last seen wearing my clothes. I couldn’t tell them that I left her crying for help.

19th July

I still think about her. I think about how I got jealous of anyone she spoke to. That guy from art class? I never spoke to him again, we occasionally catch each other’s eye. I can’t hate him, I can’t bring myself to. We’ve both lost someone we loved. Alma. God, Alma. I like to think of her as one of her butterflies from her paintings. Beautiful, bright wings sprouting from her back. Unlike her paintings that are now hung next to a memorial of her in the art classroom. She’s free, and she is as perfect as ever.

Alexandra Carson: Her Muse

The light peeks shyly through the curtains, diamonds sunlight flows, glowing rainbow hues onto the walls and illuminating the French flat, revealing the chic interior that matches the Parisian streets. Hundreds of similar canvases, each with their expressive colours, a wooden easel with slight stains of red and the light slithers across the floor and climbs up the beige walls, the purple curtains and into the bedroom. It is the stage on which her ideas perform. Arisen from her slumber, the dark bobbed woman opens her eyes to the warmth masking her face. Her silk pyjamas slide across the bed as she slithers off to her feet. She makes contact with the freezing floor, silently stepping to her wardrobe, floating, to grab her light brown trench coat. She walks through the open space admiring her quirky furniture and her exciting art. Her portal of inspiration. From her window comes a refreshing gust of air, enlivening the senses and relaxing breath.

The city has a heart, a rhythm and a beat, its blood is its people, and its beat is the people walking, and she can feel this from her balcony. Her eyes are diligently watching over her city, her eyes moving from one person to another, examining each one. Who will be her next victim? She has never painted a boring person. Luckily the streets of Paris cannot produce one. Everyone flows with such grace, each with their own quirky style, not afraid to be an individual and yet fitting the aesthetic of her city. Walking across the road is an elderly lady with her silver hair shimmering in the suit, oversized sunglass making it seem as if she is some Hollywood actress and a monochrome pink outfit. A young blonde woman with a scarf tied into her hair, a dress overall layering her striped shirt ridding her green-blue bike with a wooden basket in the front containing some beautiful flowers; or the elderly gentleman walking with a skip in his step in his bright shirt and tie, beret, dark emerald suit and same coloured trousers that are short enough to show his brightly coloured socks that are long enough to reach into his trousers. Or the young man, she has seen him before; he walks past her flat every morning in his expensive suits, shined shoes and slicked-back hair. Like every other morning, he opens the door to the beautiful bakery; when looking, you’d think the glow was coming from the pastries. She should probably go there one day.

She remembers her first; it was where she gained her passion. It was like love at first sight. She met her first muse years ago when she was a starving artist on the streets of Paris, not a penny to her name, trying to make something of herself. Then he came to her; he saw her talent, and he pushed her to be more. He promised her all the fame in the world she’d be up there with Van Gogh and Picasso; people would flock to get a glimpse of the colour she used. But it never came. Their perfect little life was crumbling in front of them, was nothing they could do. The successes soon seemed so far away, and he blamed her. During the countless nights of arguing, he shouted and screamed insults to her face. To him, her talent disappeared. There was nothing to set her apart; she wasn’t an artist. She just painted.  And he just kept pushing her and pushing her and pushing her until she reached her limit; she hated painting. So the screaming stopped; he was gone. And so she dedicated the last picture to him. However, as it turned out, this was just the first of many. This painting helped her find her eccentric style and the obsession with putting life in her paintings.

The soul in her paintings caught the eye of many, and she was finally recognised for her talents in galleries; critics and fans herded around her artwork to just get a glimpse of the ruby red that characterised her canvas. The fame came at once, and she had the desire to recreate the success and feeling that came as a result of the first, but she was apprehensive. There was no way passion came from her unique process. She was terrified at the thought. And so she made recreations using different methods, and she hated it plain and simple. It wasn’t the same; there was no life in the photos, and models were terrible to work with. They thought they could manipulate her. What did they know about art? Nothing. It was easier this way. Her passion had returned, and the flame only grew brighter with her painting thrown on.

She stops her reminiscing and realises her coffee mug is empty, and so are the streets. It is time to return to the inside of her chamber to continue her work. The painting is always satisfying for her, it is like a form of meditation, and the end product is always worth it. The end product is beautiful, the satisfaction of creating something with her own two hands, everything from the brush strokes to the paint. Every person she paints is personal; she never uses the same paint twice; they are individuals with a story and a part in hers. Every time she picks up her paintbrush, she becomes part of it. She dips her brush in the sweet red sap, thin and flowing, as she circles the brush around. Slowly sliding her hand to the blank canvas, she begins the journey. Sliding her brush from one side to another feels like an elegant dance. She can do it so quickly now; she feels as if she knew this person. She did, but they did not. They were a young woman, tho older than her, with dark hair much like her own. She brings her hand down and round to show her long and thin face. She moves the dark gushing red to contour the face of her muse, her hooked nose and sunken, light eyes.

Stepping back, she admires her work, her eyes following every stroke. She has red paint all over her clothing and face; she loves how it feels, connecting with her artwork as one. The face is exactly as she remembers as if she was alive next to her as if it could speak to her.

She has a spot for her newest creation, and so she carefully hangs it up. She never waits for her paintings to dry. She loves how the red drips down as if it is the blood that flows in the body. She stares at it for a good few minutes; she feels like crying. Instead, she turns around to her workspace behind her and realises it’s time to clean up; the part she hates the most is when she realises the mess in her apartment. She grabs her pots brushes and walks back into the kitchen to grab her mortar and pestle filled with white powder she had ground previously and heads toward the bathroom. She always keeps it locked, and so while balancing the pots, brushes and mortar and pestle, she reaches into her trench coat pocket and brings out an old looking key; it is beautiful and intricate, much like her work. She slides the thin key into the keyhole and turns. Walking into the heavenly white bathroom in front of her is the sink and an antique mirror. She looks at herself, her pale skin, black eyes, and red over her face as if it was her blood. Bending down to the sink, she places everything that is in her hands in the basin. Watching as the water slowly purifies the deep red and black, her sins washed away, baptised into a new life. After cleaning, she sets them to her right to let them dry and then turns to her left. And to her left is her bath and in her bath is a body. A woman with dark hair, a hooked nose, dark and sunken eyes, the same red on her canvas, covered her walls and the woman. She bends down to her bath to ensure her dark eyes are in line with the lifeless ones in front of her, and in her sweet voice, she whispers, “I’m making you immortal, my muse.”

Niamh Stevenson: Project – Afton

Tam was in the back of the van with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts. He knew he should have snuck out the back door, but there were police at every exit, so maybe he would have been caught either way. He had messed it up nonetheless, and now he was going to have to face the consequences.

Crash!

Tam was jolted from his thoughts and thrown from his seat. He was lying on the ceiling of the dingy police van, looking out of an open door. This was his last chance to complete his unfinished business, before he was confined to a cell for the next 10 years.

He got up, stumbling. The blood was pouring down his face and he felt dizzy, but that didn’t stop him. Without thinking, he sprang over the barrier on the motorway and dashed towards the wooded area on the other side of the road. It was barely bright enough to see and the tall, thick trees only made it worse. The cold chill down his spine made him nervous. Tam knew that the police weren’t far behind him: they were bound to spot him at some point.

A few metres ahead, he ducked behind a thick tree and held his breath. ‘Where’d he go?’ He heard footsteps gradually getting quieter and he sunk down onto the ground: his breath was sharp and the sweat was dripping profusely down his face. When the coast was clear, he got up and ran away.

The sun was starting to come up, which made him hotter and sweatier than he already was, but the trees blocked out the light and occasionally he would trip over his own feet, or a large twig. Worst of all, his stomach was beginning to growl like a lion, and his throat was as rough as sandpaper. He hadn’t eaten since the night before.

He kept going for what seemed like hours until he came to a large town. He began to look around and found what he was looking for: “The O’Shanter Medical Research Laboratory”. Tam’s face was glowing. He snuck into the medical lab to the left of the main entrance.

It was nowhere to be seen. In a few hours, he would be too late. Then he spotted a clear bottle at the back of the cabinet containing a green liquid. The label on the front read: “Sweet Afton”. Tam picked up the bottle cautiously, examining the label: “Warning: still to be tested, only to be handled under supervision, can kill”. This was what he had been looking for. From the desk drawer, Tam removed a syringe and began to transfer the liquid. Once it was full, he put it in his pocket and dashed out of the front door. When he got outside, he tried to figure out which direction he had to travel in. He prayed that he was going the right way and hurried off.

He was almost there and started looking for number 34. He was on the right side of the street. 28…30…32…34! He ran up the stone path and stood in front of the wooden door. Tam removed keys from under the mat, but couldn’t find the right one. Everything seemed to be delaying him.

He burst through the door and bolted it shut. A tall, thin lady came running into the hall and pointed at a door to the right of the stairs. She looked frightened, but also relieved to see him. There was a banging on the front door and the hinges and locks were wailing with the strain. Tam hurried into the small room and headed towards a little girl lying in bed. He whispered under his breath, “Don’t be too late, don’t be too late.”

He took the syringe out of his pocket and rolled up one of the little girl’s sleeves. The front door gave in and two officers stumbled in just as Tam injected the liquid into the girl. The officers raced into the bedroom: one snatched the syringe and examined it while the other forced Tam’s hands behind his back.

‘We’re too late,’ the officer said, shaking his head. Then he turned to Tam and said, ‘what did you do?’

As he was led reluctantly away, Tam could hear the creaking of the bed as the girl sat up. ‘Dad?’

He spun around, a mixed look of disbelief and the beginning of hope on his face. The girl continued to speak. ‘How did you get the medicine? Mum told me the police caught you.’ ‘Dad? Medicine? What is this?’ the officer cried out, turning to look at the other in confusion. His partner displayed an equally confused expression on his face. ‘She was ill, really ill,’ began Tam, ‘but we didn’t have enough money to get the medication she needed to survive.

Both officers were now wearing looks of guilt on their faces, having realised the true motive of Tam’s escape.

‘Give us a moment’ one said and they began whispering to one another. Eventually, they turned around. ‘You need to come with us.’

Tam was in the back of the van, again, with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts. But this time, he was content in the knowledge that he had saved his daughter.

Juliet McKay: The Striped Paper Bag

The taxi pulled up as the rain poured down. The door slid open and a spindly woman was helped out by the disheveled driver. It was cold yet she was wearing a thin dress and was dressed entirely in black. She opened a large umbrella which I didn’t think necessary as her wide brimmed hat caught every water droplet that fell from the sky. None of the woman’s skin was showing including her face which was shrouded by a black veil.

The woman’s head turned towards me. Although I couldn’t see her eyes I knew she was staring right at me. Her hand reached down into her deep pocket reappearing holding a red and white striped paper bag. Peppermints. They were my favourite and they always had been. She held out the bag. As I reached forward I noticed that her sleeve had slightly pushed back and I peeked at the first visible bit of her skin. It looked grey and lifeless, how you imagine the skin of a rotting corpse. Something felt terribly wrong yet I still reached out for the sweets.

The woman bent her long legs to be down at the same height as me. If it weren’t for the veil we would be eye to eye. She dropped her umbrella which clattered as it hit the wet pavement. Still crouching, she lifted her free arm and gripped my shoulder. I looked down at her wrist. On it was a wristwatch. The glass was smashed and the hands weren’t moving yet it still made a small ticking sound.

She dangled the bag between my eyes. I grabbed it. For a brief moment our hands brushed against each other and my hand was filled with a cold sensation that spread up my arm. I took a step back, shaking her bony grasp off my shoulder. I took another step then another, then I turned and started to run as fast as I could. The rain got heavier as I ran and I could almost see the fog appear. The mist grew so thick in a matter of minutes that I could no longer see the paper bag of sweets I held in front of me. Then out of the fog I heard my name being shouted. I followed the disembodied voice through the thick grey clouds. As I blindly walked further I seemed to hear more voices. I walked backwards hands over my ears. The voices were deep inside my head and I couldn’t get them out. I could hear them closing in on me. I sprinted.

I blindly turned down random streets and quietly searched for my own house. I finally got there and slammed the door behind me. I stood, back hard against the wood, for a second steadying my breathing, still in shock and disbelief.

“Are you ok sweetie?”

I looked up and saw my concerned mum standing in the hall. She then glanced down at my right hand.

“Where did you get that bag of peppermints?”

“What? How did you know what was in here?”

“Who gave these to you?” she said her face a mixture of anger and worry.

“Just this nice woman in town..”

“Wearing all black?” My mum interrupted.

I nodded slowly still confused.

“Upstairs, now!” She said snatching the striped bag from my hand.

“Lock the door and do not let anyone in! I will tell you when it’s safe.”

I did as she said, frightened and confused. All of a sudden the temperature in my room dropped. It felt like a gust of freezing air had passed right through. I checked the windows but they were tightly shut. I went into my drawers to get a blanket and noticed a familiar leather strap. I lifted it and saw the dreaded cracked face and unmoving hands. I heard the strangely innocent ticking of the wristwatch. I shook the broken watch in a feeble attempt at getting it to work. A small bit of paper fell out of the back. Once unfolded it seemed to be a letter.

‘She’s coming for me and if you are reading this she’s coming for you too. I took her peppermints. She is sure to be here soon. You are in grave danger, it is too late for but I wish you the best of luck. Please keep in mind that if she can help it Zakara never loses a victim. Remember, no matter how tempted do not open the door. The letter worried me and left me with many questions. Who was Zakara? I went over to the window to close the curtains. She was there. The veil had been lifted and her grey skin was pressed right up against the glass. Her white eyes stared right into mine. I quickly closed the curtains. Shocked and dazed I sat on my bed. Then the thumping started. It began quietly and got louder as it continued. The window panes shook with every thud. I covered my ears and hid under my covers. I felt a single droplet of salty water run down my cheek. The tears rolled faster as I sobbed harder into my pillow.

I didn’t remember falling asleep but when I woke up the thumps had stopped. The silence was comforting. Then there was a knock at my door.

“Sweetie, come out, its all safe now!” My mum’s voice called out. I was relieved and walked towards the towards the door. As I walked closer the letter on the floor caught my eye. “Remember, do not open the door” I looked through the keyhole to see the abnormally slim waist of a woman wearing all black. I took a step back. Behind the door was some scratching and a single peppermint slid under the door. The door handle started to turn. There was no escape.

Elise Keenan: Meat is Murder

Douglas was an ordinary lad, who lived in Aberdeen with his dad Hamish, who was a pig farmer. As for his mum Morag, she and Hamish argued constantly. Morag was vegan, she would rant about how animals will one day take revenge. Douglas and his dad often ignored what she was saying, which had caused many of their arguments. Deep down Douglas knew they weren’t right for each other. They argued over the littlest things: who would get the groceries? Who drank all of the soy milk? One day the arguing stopped. She was gone by the time Douglas had woken up. Douglas and his dad were distraught for a while but they quickly adjusted to being a family of two. The one thing Douglas hated about his mother going away was having to meet all the women his dad had met on Muddymatches.com.

Tomorrow was the day that the pigs were scheduled to go to the slaughterhouse all ready for the market season. Douglas hated the slaughterhouse almost as much as the pigs. The outside was black like death; inside it was empty except for the ‘slicer’ and the ‘mincer’ in the corner. ‘Drip, drip,’ the blood splattered all over the walls, occasionally fell into a puddle on the floor. If you listened closely you could hear the past shrieks of all the pigs as they were brutally sliced into bacon and sausage.

Although the pigs couldn’t speak Douglas believed that they knew how their ancestors had been brutally killed and how they were going to meet their end. Douglas thought of last year; he remembered one of the pigs more than the others: that pig was trembling with fear, as it got closer he could see water pouring out of its head almost like sweat.

That night Douglas had a peculiar dream, he dreamt that he was at his annual school fair, but he had no control over his legs. He felt bewitched. They led him over to a small black stall; from within some kind of green smoke seemed to be drifting out in clumps. He wanted to stop, his legs kept moving, and as he got closer a large, bony finger grabbed the back of his neck. His brain was telling him to scream and kick his captor, but his body failed to move. It was pitch black and silent except for the slight thud that the captor’s feet made and he dragged Douglas. Two seconds later he was falling down some kind of black tunnel, falling until he landed with a bang. He seemed to be in a witch’s lair, an enormous cauldron completely black except for the slimy green goo frothing out of it. There was something wrong with his body; again it seemed totally under a spell, forcing him to walk towards the cauldron, bend down and take a huge gulp of the liquid inside. It tasted like acid, surely burning his insides.

Suddenly he noticed he was shrinking rapidly. His hands turned into trotters; he was turning pink. Seconds later he had completely turned into a pig. Douglas awoke with a jump. ‘It was only a dream, it was only a dream’, he told himself. But it wasn’t. He rolled out of bed, and fell onto all fours, he tried to scream but all that came out was ‘Oink’.

It must have been a very loud ‘oink’ as his father had woken up quite startled, he was now standing outside Douglas’s room. He opened the door; at once he saw the pig, and not knowing it was Douglas, he grabbed it and put it outside in the barn with the other pigs, who were sleeping peacefully. Douglas tried to attract his father’s attention, but he couldn’t speak; all he could do was ‘oink’ hysterically.

Although he was a pig he had a human brain, so you could say he was the smartest pig in the world. Then it dawned on him: tomorrow was slaughter day for the pigs, and more importantly him. He was going to die. Yet there were 12 other pigs and he was the skinniest; maybe they’ll kill the fatter ones, he thought. At the back of his head he stopped fooling himself: he knew that there was no chance of his life being spared. He thought about running, but his trotters were no running material and although the skinniest of the pigs, he was still heavy. He managed to fall into a light sleep but still dreaded the next day. His mind was filled with possibilities: maybe his father would realise he was gone and would remember the pig he found in his room. Maybe he would recognise his bright blue eyes, different from all the brown-eyed pigs. Maybe he would turn back into a boy after a few hours. He vowed if this happened he would become vegan and never hurt another animal ever again.

The darkness became light; the night was now morning, Douglas was very tired as he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. His father came with the last feed for the pigs, he poured it into the trough, then left. Douglas didn’t feel like eating at all: he was far too nervous.

Soon all the pigs were on the conveyor belt that led to the slicer; his father was up above controlling it. Douglas stared up and his eyes met his father’s. Fear took over his body completely: his legs were shaking in terror, sweat was pouring out of his head. How he wished he had sided with his mum, he would be safe then. Douglas was at the end of the line, finally it his turn. He braced himself. ‘Slice.’ Douglas is now bacon and sausage.

Matilde Radice: Untitled

Introduction

Imagine a world, an alternative universe, where everyone is born with a small tattoo on their ankle; a birth mark if you will. Everyone’s tattoo is unique, no two will ever be the same, and every time you fall in love, the other person’s tattoo appears somewhere on your body. It could appear somewhere easily visible, like below your eye or on your wrist, or, it could appear somewhere hidden like on your rib or foot. It will always be there, permanently inked on your skin, even when you don’t love them anymore. This story will talk about four different people. One who fell in love for the first time, one who’s fallen into a forbidden love, one who’s had their heart broken, and one who believes she’ll never find a love of her own.

First love

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.” “Sure.” They kissed, one of those kisses that left her with a smile on her lips and made her heart skip a beat. He walked up to his house, opened the door, turned around one last time to give a small wave and then went in. Finally she could let that overtaking smile turn into a grin and quickly turned away just in case he could still see her, smiling like an idiot, through his window. It was a cold night, she was still wearing his jacket. She hugged herself at the thought of a part of him still being with her. She couldn’t believe that this was now her second date with Nathan Robinson, the boy she’d had a crush on since primary six. She was rubbing her hands together trying to heat herself up, when she passed under a street light and something caught her eye. A small star-shaped mark had appeared on her index finger. Her eyes glowed as she remembered back to primary seven when she’d noticed this very mark on Nathan’s ankle. Her head started spinning, she stood still in the cold staring at her hand. She always thought it, but here was the proof inked on her skin. She was in love, madly and uncontrollably, with Nathan Robinson. Her first love. She sighed and continued to walk home, not knowing what to expect from the future. All she could hope was that her tattoo was somewhere on his body too.

Forbidden Love

The lady at the till gave him an odd look. He smiled back and tried to ignore the fact he was purchasing several tubes of concealer. “It’s for the wife,” he said. But it wasn’t, it was for him. He left the beauty store and hurried into his car, his heart beat increasing. With a shaking hand he opened the first concealer and applied it over the tattoo of a rose which had he discovered on his wrist the night before. It wasn’t meant to turn into this, Lacey was just someone he’d go to when he was alone, for his wife had been a bit distant, her job beginning to take up her life. Lacey was a friend from work, and she was known for not being interested in serious relationships. She started by asking him to drive her home on rainy days or touching his hand when he walked past. It wasn’t meant to turn into this. He never would’ve thought of himself as the type of man to have an affair and he never thought what he had with Lacey could turn into love. Whilst he knew that he and his wife weren’t what they used to be, he still cared a lot for her and knew he couldn’t break her heart by showing up at home with another woman marked on his wrist. He would tell her, eventually, he knew he had to, but he wasn’t ready. So for now all he could do was cover his arm in concealer, covering up the truth. 

Broken Love

He lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, he had nothing in him anymore. No more tears, no more anger, no more of that unbearable pain in his ribs, just nothing. He felt empty and alone, as if any light or happiness in his life had vanished. He moved his hand up to the side of his neck, to touch the cube shaped tattoo. This was Harry’s tattoo. He couldn’t feel it but he still knew it was there, marked on his skin forever. He felt his eyes begin to water again. He’d always been afraid of love, afraid of giving himself completely to someone, afraid that if he put his heart in someone’s hands, they’d easily be able to drop it, until he met Harry. Harry had made him feel safe and feel that it was okay to love another man. He made him feel loved. They’d had a secret story for a few weeks now, neither brave enough to tell the world. But at this party, he’d caught Harry with another girl, Nora. She was Harry’s ex-girlfriend from last year and believed that they were still in love. He couldn’t take in what he saw so he just started running home and eventually he could hear someone trying to catch up with him. Despite the tears blurring his vision, he knew it was Harry, calling out for him to wait and promising he could explain.

He rolled over in his bed and shut his eyes, attempting to forget these events which his mind kept replaying. Eventually he fell asleep, his eyes still wet with tears and his hand still holding his neck.

Impossible Love

She wasn’t a very happy person. From the age of 14 her life consisted mostly of therapy sessions and prescriptions. She hated it, just like she hated everything else; the pills made her feel sick and the therapy made her feel stupid. She hated how she did badly in school, how she never reached her goals, how she’d treated some good people in her life, the way she looked, acted, spoke, how she had no talent. She hated herself. But the worst part was that all this self hatred wasn’t even her fault. She was born like this, set up to fail, the chemicals in her brain constantly imbalanced. She wasn’t very lucky with friends either. Except for Ty. Ty had been her friend since they were 2; 15 years now. She could always count on him, he was loyal and would always make her feel better. She’d call him when she felt sad and he’d come over. Sometimes he’d bring food, sometimes he’d bring a film he knew she loved and sometimes they just sat in silence on the porch, looking out at the world from her backyard. Tonight was one of those times, although Ty seemed a little different.

“What’s up with you”

“What you mean?”

“You just seem…weirder tonight”

Ty looked over to her; something had changed in his eyes. “You have no idea how much I care about you, do you?”

She looked at him oddly, no idea where this conversation was heading. “Last week,” he continued, “when we were watching Notting Hill, you said you’ll never find someone who would look at you the way William looked at Anna.”

“Well yeah, I mean I can’t realistically see anyone falling in love with the mess that is me.”

They both smiled at this, and sat it silence for a little longer. Then, he pulled his sleeve, showing a small sparrow marked on his arm. At first she didn’t understand why he was showing her this. Was he trying to rub it in her face that he’d found love, something she never would? And then it hit her. She looked down at her ankle, just to double check, just to make sure that she hadn’t imagined that her tattoo was now permanently on his arm. She couldn’t understand and despite her best efforts, she couldn’t say a word.

“I’m in love with you” he said “and I’m sorry if that hurts you, and I know that you might never love me back, but I just wanted to let you know that just because you don’t see how beautiful you are, doesn’t mean no one else can”.

James Barton: The Strange Tale of Graham McKinnon

The city outside of my window looked cold and grey but the fire in my meagre hearth provided a comforting warmth that allowed me to doze softly. The flames cast dancing shadows over the cluttered office in which I sat dozing, reclined in my chair behind a desk strewn with paraphernalia: a magnifying glass, an empty whisky glass and newspapers. I was dragged suddenly back to reality by a sharp rap on the thin wooden door that led onto the empty corridor outside where any prospective clients would wait. Blinking groggily, I sat up with a groan and rubbed my temples. I’d been having such a strange dream. Only a great uneasiness and an indescribable terror clung to me. Failing to snatch more of the fantasy from my memory, I arranged my hands on the desk, aiming to exude an air of professionalism that was not aided by the state of my office.

I called for the client to come in. The door swung open and a large man entered. He had a long face and a weak chin. His suit was prim and proper and his buttons gleamed. But it wasn’t a client. DCI Crowley greeted me in his usual thin, rasping voice. I, in turn, greeted him and asked how I could be of assistance. He hesitated and licked his lips. He was more nervous than I had ever seen. I gestured to a chair which he gratefully accepted and sat down. An almost palpable silence bloomed. I repeated myself which made Crowley shake himself. He coughed. He asked if I had read about the spate of the, as yet, unresolved disappearances in the Highlands and the police’s lack of leads or evidence. I answered affirmatively. Crowley explained that the detective heading the investigation had now vanished. Perplexed, I inquired as to how this fact related to this consultation. He explained that the missing policeman was my old friend DI David Matthews. Surely David couldn’t be gone?

With great effort, I overcame the oncoming fear and apprehension and asked Crowley if he wanted me to continue the investigation in David’s stead. He nodded appreciatively and coughed violently. It sounded a painful racking cough.

Crowley explained that most of the victims had been from Alt Na Durach, a small village near Loch Ness. He promised that I’d receive all the police had on the case and stood to leave but paused. In a nervous voice, he commented on how strange that place felt. He described a feeling of being watched and of desperate isolation despite the villagers’ presence.

Crowley then left me with that eerie sentiment to ponder. True to his word, I had all the evidence files within a few hours. For once, the media were not exaggerating; the police really hadn’t a clue. There was little to no tangible evidence and what existed was not nearly substantial enough to warrant any more action. The only thing that linked the victims was the same obsession: that of the occult and one entity in particular: Shar-Nargrathoth. The name sent a thrill through me. I was sure that I’d never heard the name before but, at the same time, it sounded inexplicably familiar.

Being unable to glean more from Crowley’s documents, I headed out to catch the next train to Alt Na Durach.

The landscape flew past the window of the train as though it were being chased by some invisible beast. The peace of the train allowed me to mull over the facts: the villagers appeared suspicious; no leads; insubstantial evidence; this link to the occult and Shar-Nargrathoth. That name, so familiar yet alien.

On arrival at the desolate station of this small village, the first thing I noticed was the bitingly cold air. The second was a man standing by a car looking straight at me. There was something distinctly unsettling about his appearance but I couldn’t decide what. He approached and explained that he was a servant of Lord MacAndrew, the local laird and that DCI Crowley had called ahead to say I would continue the investigation. His voice was unsettling too, like a cobra’s hiss before it strikes. I got into the car. He drove us through the village. It was small and eerily quiet. We left the village and drove a short way out to a baronial castle that looked like it had seen centuries rather than decades of inhabitancy. The shadows were long when we reached the edifice.

The snake-man opened the car door for me and we both entered through the heavy oak doors. I was led through the grand hall into a room that seemed part-study, part-library. A writing desk occupied a corner, a table and chairs in the centre, whereas the rest of the room was full of books. Upon closer examination, most appeared to relate to the occult, while others were histories describing creatures and civilisations of such foul and phantasmagorical natures that I couldn’t bear to read further.

Peering out of the frosted window, I saw movement. My poor heart almost stopped at the sight of some form of creature outside. Ages after, I still haven’t the words! Its limbs were inhumanly long and it was staring at me with deep-set white eyes! Behind me, the door burst open! Pain flashed across my skull and the room slipped away from me.

It was the faint chanting, then the sickly scent and the damp air which eventually brought me back to some form of consciousness. Even now as I try to recall these events in this journal they’ve given me, the detail is hazy and too incredible. Like the flashing images from an old projector, I saw myself tearing the ropes that bound me, grappling with Lord MacAndrew and his acolytes, garbed in their flowing white robes. My one and only objective was escape. The cave walls fly past as though yanked from beneath me. The cool Highland air, the birds’ chirp, concerned voices then the stagnant lights of my newest prison.

Even with my failing memory, the followers’ screams of unadulterated terror and the unearthly screeches of the entity they had called forth as it satisfied its blood-lust, being cheated of its victim, will remain with me forever.

* * * * *

Patient: Graham McKinnon

Patient still maintains belief that he was kidnapped by cult. Suggested PTSD.

Dr MacAndrew

Anthony Thompson: More than just a stadium

Some people say I offer guidance. For others I provide hope. For many I am part of a weekly pilgrimage. They are faithful, devoted. I may not offer the healing of Lourdes. I may not offer the suffering of El Camino De Santiago. I may not off the riches of the Vatican. But the community which I provide offers an awe inspiring sense of camaraderie. Transformation: the city, the atmosphere, families, lives … communal, commune, communion.

Art surrounds me. Abstract buildings which lack any kind of symmetry. Every individual curve contributes to the uniqueness of this rare beauty. Construction is constant, changing, a chameleon. Pencil turrets protect the holy family stretching heaven-words. Yet Picasso’s words have never felt so true “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. In this place I call home los niños produce art in the most modern forms. Light and shadow, the modern designs, waves and undulations provide a canvas for new inspiration. Just as the artist flicks paint from the palette vigorously stroking ideas into the fabric, so too do Barcelona’s youths stride through the fiery orange sunset casting shadows and creating reflections on the concrete below. It’s a marriage of old and new and there is old and new art created within me, underneath my halo of light.

Here the canvas is green, organic and the art is created in moments. The physical motions produced are fleeting, not tangible. However the beauty constructed offers memories which last a lifetime. These memories unite people from all aspects of life(an art in itself) in a way that a frame on a wall could never achieve the passive experience of standing in an art gallery allows you to soak in and admire yet the experience here is so much more. It is a family it is synergy, it is adrenaline, it is climax, it is anticipation, it is bitter disappointment, it is art. And it is art which is constantly evolving, adapting to the style of the modern game. The generosity lends itself to the short sharp precision and equality of tiki-taka and still there is delicate weaving fluidity from individuals. The very laws of physics and the universe are called into question when a goal is in sight.

The worshipper strides towards the altar, genuflects then kneels in prayer.

These worshippers burst through the turnstiles, bustle through their row and raise their scarfs to the heavens.

The priest blesses the bread and the wine, creating the body and blood of Christ. Consecration. Genesis.

The player with his back turned to goal, transforms a dead ball, giving it life, creating hope. Magical. Messi.

Their voices chant in praise: “I believe in one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible”.

They chant, reaffirming their belief in this God. “Ole -le ola, ser del Barca ēs el millor que hi ha!”

The priest reads from the book of Genesis. “And on the 7th day God finished his work that he had done and he rested.

In the commentary box they pontificate over the work of this divine player: he had finished the work he had done, now is his time for rest.

I am part of history. This combination of oxymorons are the raw ingredients of the beautiful game.

Pedro Alonso, 96, sits front row with his wife of 70 years. The lines engraved on his warm face represent memories of close to a decade of Catalan history. He remembers the solidarity as the crowd booed de Rivieras dictatorship; he watched idols enlist to fight for the values of their city in the civil war. He helped rebuild the Barcelona stadium after a devastating attack. He remembers the football of old, the slow laboured pace of 11 locals scrambling in defence. Then came the revolution. Short electric bursts from geniuses exploding into attack. These are not just any players, they certainly were not just the 11 best athletes in the city. They have been mined, treasure, from the very ends of the earth. The commitment and longevity towards Pedro’s marriage seems mediocre when compared to his first love, F.C. Barcelona.

Pedro is one of my many thousands of children to whom I provide 90 minutes of pure escapism. I watch over them and follow each story. I have been with them through tragedies, supported through bereavements and have celebrated with them on so many levels.

Rivalry stains the city blood red, it flows through the streets like a Rioja during a fiesta. My greatest rivalry lies less than 5 miles to my east where the red cape billows in the wind striking into the bull. The matador and the bull are sworn enemies; showmanship, skill and sadism are pitted against the innocent angry animal instinct of the bull. It is versus animal, good versus evil, Barcelona versus Real Madrid. The red of the bull fight symbolises dominance, blood, rage. It is time for the cape to be buried in the dust of the arena. This rivalry is slowly dissipating. My spectacle, el Classico, is Barcelona’s main attraction. The red here symbolises the humble benevolent nature of my congregation. The ox blood stripes on the Barcelona kit represents the determined hearts of the players. They play for Catalonia. The cold monochrome of Real Madrid is indicative of their selfish character. This team play for the monarchy, they play for the rich wealth of Madrid. This team is here for themselves not the supporters. They embody the corruption of Spain. They are reckless, careless attackers who will win by any means necessary.

I am a proud father who has nurtured many sons and have been by each of their sides as they achieve greatness. I don’t have favourites, I see their flaws but I celebrate their successes. A few stand out … The eldest, Cruyff, is an innovative genius on and off the pitch. Ok, ok, I know I’m biased though it’s true. The balletic grace of a 180 spin simply just to change direction is a prime example of his practical magic … these seminal movements are unforgettable. Don’t even get me started on Maradona, the mischievous characters that everybody loves to hate. Fiery, feisty, fighty. Maradona done everything to win. It frustrates me that people remember him as a cheat with the “hand of God” but that kid had stunning technical ability. And the baby, my golden child with the golden boots, Messi. Although he is the youngest, Leo is a glittering example of sacrifice. I will never forget the day I welcomed this 13 year old into my home, his home, out home. A child on the cusp of adolescence, an amateur on the cusp of professionalism, an ordinary man on the cusp of becoming a legend. He is eclectic, reliable, inspirational, a leader, magical. They are everything to me. Mi amor por ellos es Infiniti.

On Las Ramblas, sipping Estrella with friends, they prepare. In La Boguiera enjoying cheese, wine and the bustling atmosphere, they prepare. Travelling through the pulsating arteries of Barcelona’s metro, they prepare. The manager delivers his sermon of motivation; the players indulge in last minute superstitions; the noise from the crowd channels hope within the players … they are prepared. It is 7:45. It is Saturday night. It is time. This is not a game, this is a legacy, a community, a family. Because without each other we are nothing. “We are more than just a club”. We are Barcelona

Maria McKeown: Untitled

A regular on the 38 bus service, a 15 year old steps on board. ‘Pound please’, she says casually to the driver as she drops a pound into the coin slot in front of him. She proceeds to climb the stairs to the top deck before taking her usual seat towards the back.

A young man ambles up the same stairs and to the middle of the top deck, where he slouches on his seat. He must be in his early or mid twenties, though his youth is hidden by the grey cast on his skin caused by the withering of his face by cigarettes, drugs and alcohol that he has probably been consuming since a too young age. After this journey he will walk briskly home in his matching grey tracksuit and worn out black nike trainers that look ready to forfeit at any moment. Accompanying his brisk pace will be his hands in tight fists switching back and forth nervously from his pockets to his shaved head. His final destination is one of the many neglected high-rise blocks of flats Glasgow so shamefully hosts. The flat where his family are forced to reside. But while he is understandably unsatisfied with his living conditions he is admirably happy, this is what he knows, what he is used to, home, Glasgow.

He watches as a woman tiptoes along the aisle, climbing gently with a nervous giggle over his rucksack that lies limp crossing into the aisle. She perches upright in a clean red coat with short blonde hair, probably dyed and well kept, though coarse, most likely with age. Her clearly expensive black leather bag sits neatly beside her, her with her wrist cautiously though casually rested through the handles, obvious that she is slightly paranoid while she is hesitant to draw attention to it. She answers her phone with an obviously watered down well-spoken Scottish accent and learned vocabulary with a put-on Glaswegian dialect. She’s well off, definitely comfortable with money, working a nine to five job as an accountant. By taking the bus she can feel humble, as though she is just a regular person, one with the less well-off people for whom the bus has unofficially become the typical form of transport for those with a lower income. Even though she knows plain well that in one aspect of life she is above the rest. She survives in the top.

She grins at the parents of two children who run relentlessly up and down the aisle, occasionally knocking into her. Their father, in his mid-30s sits forward, gripping the headrest of the seat in front as his wife seated across from him stares blankly out of the window. They pay no attention to their two children who run endlessly up and down the aisle, pausing to climb onto seats. Married seven years, there isn’t much excitement in their lives these days. At the start of the relationship there was though, spontaneous holidays and trips, nights out, being with friends. They unknowingly surrendered this lifestyle when they had children however. Since then the only excitement comes from the rare night at a restaurant or evening where the children are at sleepovers. The occasional obligatory dinner party with their daughter’s friend-from-school’s parents – and as you would expect these evenings struggle to make for a particularly interesting evening. On this occasion it was an attempt at a fun family day out, taking the kids to the cinema only to find themselves sitting through two hours of Pixar’s finest new animation. Two hours sitting in a room full of other children crying, shouting and screaming as though the end of the world for the duration of the film. And a room full of tens of other parents all enduring the same torture. Now they return home to a nice middle class home, parents exhausted from the frustration of children shouting through the film, children still full of the energy they had before the cinema. Tomorrow they will be straight back into the usual routine: up at seven, breakfast, get dressed, kids to school, get to work, pick children up from school, son to football, daughter to dancing, dinner, bed.

And so it goes.

But don’t believe everything you see- or read, for that matter. For these are merely the observations and assumptions based on stereotypes, created by a 15 year old from the top deck of a 38 bus service from Bath Street as she fills her otherwise boring journey with the stories and lives of those around her. And who knows, maybe the man in the grey tracksuit simply wears it for comfort, and is really just going home to an average household to greet his own family – his wife and two children. Maybe she was just being cynical, and the woman in the red coat takes the bus for practical reasons – it’s cheaper than the train and takes her closer to her house. The bus was not made for one group of people with a specific income. Maybe her well- kept, expensive-looking clothes are simply her work clothes, a set of garments selectively and hesitantly chosen on an otherwise smaller budget. This outfit is nicer than the rest of her wardrobe and only worn to work to fit a more prestigious look required for her average office job. It is entirely possible that the family had just had a very exciting day out, at a museum or another more interesting trip. The girl from the back of the bus will step off soon, and go back to her home where instead of living in other people’s stories, will have to live in her own unfulfilled one.

Tiernan Blain: Halloween Poem

All darkness, except for the lights from the houses casting an orange glow down the street.

Silhouetted birds sat in the trees, like death himself.

The wind wailed as the leaves rustled around.

Jack-o-lanterns stared like dead dubious delinquents.

A cold breeze nipped my nose.

A million eyes stared at me.

As I stepped, the mud turned to stone.

Every sound seemed to echo around.

There was a crunch of gravel that I didn’t make; could it have been made by the one I loved?

She will go back to where she belongs

Tomorrow by night.

Louisa Fenney: Christ

Crown of thorns, bated breath, ragged pulse.

Crown of thorns, bated breath, flowing red.

Should the dial be reversed by command of the sun,

Should it be held high upon the horizon,

thundering would be all that was heard,

The thundering of a whip,

The crack so distinct, so jarring against his flesh

Flesh, which was the very same to be prophesied,

Flesh that was bound to be sacred and chaste.

Now, it holds no such promise,

Now, eyes remain clouded

Now, cheeks are wet

Mutters escape the lips of those who watch,

Mockingly some stare, they snarl and yap like wild wolves as they feast their eyes upon their bloodied meal

His hands fastened with iron

His ravaged limbs twitch beneath the heat of the sky

‘ Christ, what did you die for? ‘

One beast howls from the pack,

Heads snap,

Tongues are held,

Pulses shudder.

They await their answer,

They expect an up rise, They crave the signal from their wretched messiah.

Catriona Chong: All Kinds of Beautiful

All Kinds of Beautiful

They say the best things come in small packages:

Far in the west of Scotland is a very little, yet precious, gem.

Often in the business of my city life, my mind wanders

From the hustle and bustle of a loud city Glasgow away

To precious and humble Barra, often wishing that it was summer time,

So I can get on the ferry once again, and travel back to my Hebridean home.

Kishmul Castle stands strong as ever,

Having faced battles against crashing waves and bitter winds

All of whom fail to defeat her.

Proudly welcoming the Cal Mac ferry as it cruises into Castlebay

As a rightful queen in her stunning kingdom.

But she isn’t the only jewel in the treasure chest.

Over the hills past the wiggly one-car roads lies Borve,

Tucked below the road, her deep blue waves peacefully dance together

Pulling back, releasing out. Building, spiralling upward then plunging back in,

Like Mother Nature is directing the most beautiful ballet your eyes have seen.

The sand beneath your feet is like pillows, that cradle every step,

like a mother does her child, making you feel warm and at home.

In Northbay, the fishermen keep their boats anchored.

Our Lady, Star of the Sea up on the hill,

Watches over them while they work,

Along with Saint Barr of Fishing, his church overlooking them as they depart.

Inside, we too pray for them, their families and their health.

Because, although her waters are in all ways breathtaking,

It is a dangerous place to work.

In Ardmhor, however, the waters are tranquil.

The cockle strand, either a vast swathe covered in sandy shells,

or completely filled with her waters, little waves bobbing up and down.

Tiny Barra planes glide in from the clouds soaring down

Onto the runway like a swan onto a lake.

The only airport where you land on the beach, and what a perfect beach to land on.

Behind the airport and over the sand dunes hides the west sands

A real contrast to Traig Mhor on the other side:

The sand, gorgeous pearl white and soft at our feet,

 a small yet beauteous horizon and loud crashing waves spiral in a conch shape

Loud and present, commanding attention.

The strong wind carries the gulls and a little kite, frantically flapping around

Up in the north is Eoligarry beach, a Sandy strip covered in a cyan blanket.

A picture perfect body of water, turquoise which melts into a royal blue in the distance.

Like a pool of diamonds sparkling in the light, hardly any movement except the

Disturbance of a kayak, causing little ripples as they paddle.

A mosaic of crushed shells, blue, purple, pink and orange glistens in the sands.

And best of all the little seals, sticking out their heads and disappearing down again.

The weather changes from

A blue and sunny sky in the morning

To pouring rain in an eyeblink;

Sun, clouds, blue sky and raindrops tossed into a wonderful blender.

Even in showers of rain, the waters are still bonnie,

each drop creating a thousand tiny fountain-like splashes

Like many hands praising god for feeding her fields and keeping her mountains lush.

Barra is a mixture of all kinds of beautiful, each beach, field or mountain

is a snowflake, unique to themselves yet just as sublime as the other.

Lauren Boyle: Father

The dark, navy sky blankets the huge, thick forest. Silence fills the air. Blackness engulfs the forest: all is eerily still and quiet, as if there is no one alive left in the world. Snow falls heavily now; thick, white snowflakes balance precariously in the fir trees’ branches, creating a perfect Christmas card background. The Russian winter of 1941 has come early.

As the virgin snow drifts in the light wind, untouched by human footfall, the war feels many miles away. A sound breaks the silence. A howl slices through the thick air like ice. A wolf’s howl. The forest hides hundreds of them, waiting, prowling. Another howl, this time more desperate and deafening than the last, echoes into the haunting night sky and seems to rattle the window pane of our wooden cabin nestling in the forest.

I suddenly open my eyes and they are drawn to the rattling window. Another howl echoes through the everlasting night sky, pleading and desperate. In one swift action, my jacket, shoes and hat are on and I’m flinging open the door and stumbling into the darkness. The waiting snow scorns my sensitivity as I yelp in pain at its frozen grip. My legs are immediately immersed in an icy bath up to the knee. Again, a howl engulfs the night. It speaks to me and anticipation ripples through my frigid body like an electric current, warming my bones.

Through the darkness, green, hollow orbs stare me down. Yet, I feel no fear. Instantly, a kaleidoscope of different coloured eyes appear in the darkness, unblinking and unwavering. A smile dances on the edge of my lips. The green-eyed wolf howls as if only to me, slowly and thinly, like a whisper from tree to tree, a sound travelling on the scarce wind. Now, the smile bursts across my face.

Father is back home.

“Tatiana, why are you sleeping here at the front door? Get up!” My eyes open, my vision blurry as a yawn escapes from me. I see my mother standing there. A middle-aged women, hands on hips, wearing a bizarre combination of patterns on her trousers and thick knitted jumper, her face drawn and careworn. She is annoyed that I have fallen asleep on the door step again. “Mother you have to believe me, the wolves were calling me again last night!” I exclaim, scrambling to my feet shaking life back into my numb legs and feet.

Her eye roll is her signature action when I mention the wolves. She opens the dusty curtains, letting the yellow streaks of sunlight dance on the table. “Tatiana, what would your father say? Wolves are vicious animals, you have to stay safe.” The mention of father creates a knot in my stomach. If I close my eyes I can still see him waving goodbye to us, proud to go and fight for Mother Russia and Comrade Stalin. That was over a year ago. Six months later, a pack of wolves arrived, often visiting the cabin at night. “But he’s got father’s eyes,” I say quietly, almost to myself.

Recently, Mother has overheard whispered rumours in the village that the Germans are advancing and the war is not going well for us. The empty shelves in the shops speak of food shortages. The next night the nightmares came. I wake up, lonely and trembling with sweat dripping down my forehead, hands curled into fists with anxiety. The Germans are coming. At least that’s what I heard mother say. They will do terrible things to us, they want to destroy us. Why is your father not here to protect us? She is increasingly anxious for our safety, saying we may need to find another place to live.

As usual my minds racing and my head’s thumping making me unable to sleep. I walk downstairs to find mother sitting at the kitchen table. She looks like she couldn’t sleep either, with a cup of tea nestling between her hands. Suddenly the sound of a window smashing echoes into the living room, I jump in fright, mother’s eyes as wide as saucers. “Tatiana. Don’t. Move,” she hisses at me, her body frozen in terror. I steady my breathing. Have the Germans arrived, is this the end?

The door of my room falls off its hinges and what seems like a hundred wolves stare at us, with teeth bared and mouths dripping with salvia. The green eyed wolf leads the pack. Mother screams, “RUN!”

We sprint through the front door into the knee deep snow and the darkness of the forest beyond. The wolves are chasing, or are they shepherding us to a place within the forest? On and on we go. Mother and I are now far from our cabin, surrounded by snowy fur trees that seem to form a protective blanket around us. I can see a glimpse of our house, in the distance through the trees. “Mother, let’s go back, please!” I’m crying now. About the wolves who I thought were my friends. About father who is not with us. About the Germans destroying our lives. About everything.

Mother is shaking her head, staring into the distance at our cabin. “Tatiana, our house…the Germans have it.” I see in the distance the fire devouring our cabin, the house I’ve lived in all my life. “Mama!” I exclaim. “The wolves saved us! Don’t you see they got us out of the house before we were killed in the fire too! Mama!” The green eyed wolf emerges from the now quiet pack and in the darkness, lit only by the distant flames from the cabin, bows his head slowly.

My mother is silent for a moment. Everything has changed. “We need to go,” she says, a steely edge in her voice. I know it will be a struggle, but I have my mother and the spirit of my father with me. We have survived, we are together and alive.

In Russia, in the terrible winter of 1941, that is enough.

Orla Morrow: Debbie Downer

I’ve never liked waiting rooms. The anticipation makes me anxious. I look around, trying to find something positive-colourful to focus on; white-washed walls, polished floor, white vinyl chairs, the kind that squeak when you move. A painful noise. So much for colourful. I hate it. Everything is so clinical.

The door finally opens, I am greeted with a smile. The woman seems friendly. I shuffle into the office. The room is warm, drenched in a sweet perfume of lavender -an attempt to make people feel more relaxed, I guess. Not me. It’s too sweet – turning my stomach to jelly.

I lower myself onto a chair accompanied by a glass of water and a box of Kleenex. What have I gotten myself into?

She sits across from me with welcoming eyes, pen and pad at the ready. We sit in silence. I try to appear calm, deep breaths. Inside I’m screaming.All I can think about is her, about Debbie. I watch her watch me from the corner of the office. I plan out what to say in my head;

‘Debbie’s my best friend, we do everything together. I remember we first met last December. We had so much in common and soon became best friends. Inseparable. She’s always there for me when I’m alone. It’s comforting – to an extent. No one knows me like Debbie does. However, she can be difficult at times. Debbie craves attention. She gets angry if I ignore her for too long. Things get scary when Debbie’s angry.’

I shift uncomfortably and start pulling a thread on my school skirt. Everyone would be in 4th period by now. I wonder if anyone noticed me drive off earlier… I refocus my thoughts;

‘Debbie loves long drives. She insists on choosing the songs, I don’t argue, considering she introduced me to the blues. Debbie has a special connection with music. It’s her way of expression. She sees the sad melody as though it were a river, sloshing over every building, swamping the streets ,one with the rain that cries down the car window. It’s amazing how music can do that. Although, sometimes her pessimism drives me crazy. She has negative opinions about everything and feels I must acknowledge them. Especially when they’re about me. Some days, when she’s round, Debbie sits by the mirror and lists all my mistakes, or sings about my insecurities, or she just attacks my appearance- it varies. ‘It’s all constructive criticism,’ she claims, staring through the glass with a look of disgust. I frown. I drink it all in though. A good friend would only state the facts, right?’

I need a drink. I reach for the water, hands trembling. I take long sips, drowning with every gulp, sinking into the silence as I continue to think;

‘I wish sinking into sleep were that easy. I can’t whenever Debbie sleeps over. Most nights, she forces me to stay awake for hours arguing. It’s become so frequent now that in the mornings, I can’t get up anymore. When Debbie’s around, she scares me.I used to be able to escape her but eventually she overpowered me. Now the only escape is sleep (if I can).’

I feel a yawn coming on. Why am I so tired? Is it the lavender? I can’t be bothered with my plans anymore; A friend’s birthday party. I’ll have to rain check… again. Concentrate now, keep thinking;

‘I’ve been cancelling a lot lately, much to Debbie’s delight. She gets so jealous. Whenever I make plans with friends, she convinces me to stay home with her instead. She loves hearing the disappointment in their voice after my pathetic “I’m sick, sorry” over the phone.

I’m sick of it. She’s distancing me from everyone I care about. ‘They don’t like you anyway,’ she whispers. I hang up, empty guilt in my gut. Why do I listen? I tell myself, ‘maybe it’s time to tell someone what’s going on, I need help.’

‘No one cares.’ ‘You’re just overreacting.’ ‘You’re just seeking attention.’ ‘You’ll just be a burden anyway.’

Why do I believe her every time?

Defeated, I turn the lights off and crawl back to bed. Debbie hugs me, her grasp suffocating. I don’t fight it. Instead, I welcome the blues as I turn on her music, ready to be submerged into the depression of the lyrics again. I feel the hollow numbness, the confusion as to why I’m so… wrong. Why am I so broken? Everyone else is living their life, having fun, and here I am, night after night, lying awake in agony, all hope and joy- dead. Is this how I’ll feel forever? Nothing? It’s petrifying. NO. I don’t want to be like this anymore.

I want help.

I need help.

Suddenly, I feel a painful surge of energy and begin to cry. The first time in weeks. I didn’t think it were possible. Debbie hates emotion. Tears. Real tears. They drip down, like the ones on the car window. Hope.’

I feel a tear escape my eye, then another. A waterfall. I grab the tissues. All this thinking and no speaking. After 45 minutes of silence, I’ve cracked. I can’t bottle this up any longer. Uncontrollable sobs are released. The woman nods, as though she knows, as though she can read minds. Her welcoming eyes unravel me. “It’s smothering me.” I cry. “It feels like a nightmare; one I can’t escape. It’s terrifying.” Debbie sits in the corner, silent. Infuriated. She’s exposed. My ugly secret is out.

The woman simply smiles, speaking gently. Comforting me. She tells me I’m not alone. She’s the only person who understands. At this moment, relief washes over me. I relax. We speak for the remainder of the session. The more we talk the lighter I feel. She gives me advice, reassurance. It feels as though everything could be ok; As Debbie slumps, unwelcome in this space, I think to myself that maybe, things will be ok after all.

That first session was 4 months ago. Debbie stopped tagging along after week 6. She rarely visits nowadays. Now when I look in the mirror, I smile. I sleep well, I go out with my friends. I feel. Debbie isn’t gone completely, it’s impossible to dispose of such a wicked illness – but speaking about it helps. I am aware of her presence when she visits, and sometimes, I can feel her darkness leak in, but I’m learning to find the joy in life to light my path once more, one whiff of lavender at a time.

Thomas Gillen: Panic

It begins with a ringing in my ears, as always.

A fire spreads throughout my body, blazing through my arms, then my legs, a sickness advancing from the deepest reaches of human imagination – the mind at war with matter. I’ve been shaking and writhing quietly for weeks, told my skills were too valuable to get rid of. Work yourself half to death with bones popping out and guts oozing out of the wrong places and the Doctors will chuckle, saying ‘Walk it off, it builds character.’ Losing focus. Shadows blurring together. I would laugh at the Medicals now if I could, through laboured breaths and a cold, piercing sweat, at how I was somehow deemed perfectly healthy; ‘a prime specimen’. A bullet to the leg never hurt a fly. The trenches wash away that kind of naivety.

A faraway banging snaps me back to reality, dreary as it is. Something compels me to put one leg in front of the other, and then the other, until I enter a trembling rhythm, like a stumbling march down a rock-face to certain death. As I limp forward, a cursed stench fills the air, somewhere between blood and the droppings of a cow, accentuated by the rotting of the wood under foot. I wade through mounds of dirt, shaken, shivering, and waterlogged from near constant downpours into His Majesty’s personal sewer. My head pulsates and the dizziness intensifies, and I am left blundering through unfamiliar backdrops, grey outlines in my vision as I tumble from one corner of my foul surroundings to the next – memories and nightmares flooding to me with every waking moment.

Shrill screams and deafening cries ambush me, crimson bleeds into the sky, and the ground itself seems to move as though trying to swallow me whole. My hands begin to convulse uncontrollably, clamming up, and that accursed banging continues in some distant world from mine. I’m reminded of the teacher’s belt clamping down on an unruly child, the scraping sound of leather on flesh echoed through the pounding in the distance. Pain flares up in my palm at the memory. Keep moving. My throat dries up. No water. Bottle empty. Fire and brimstone. Eyes grow from the trees, contorted and weeping, bearing down on me from their perch above me, leering at my very being. A wave of coldness floods over me as I trip into a puddle of muck, and the vision of Hell is briefly replaced with a wall of ice trapping me under the surface, before I am once again sent reeling back into the ground by that damned banging. Slowly getting back up, I begin to trudge forward once again. The walls close in and the shadows seem to whisper of conspiracy. I can hear the maddening tittering of someone nearby, or maybe that’s me, or maybe…

A flash of light brings me hurtling to a stop in a field. Home. The sun inches out from behind the clouds and for a brief moment I’m back where I belong. Where trees do not cry into the soil, where the weary can get their peace. I can smell a fragrant, pleasant scent. Strolling forward, small figures seem to appear in the distance, radiating warmth and with gleaming smiles on their faces, a time before all of the suffering of the present – my family, toiling the fields for what little harvest they can glean, labouring tirelessly, but still… happy. Some way away, I can see my little brothers and sisters out in the garden, playing at soldiers and enjoying the sunshine. As far as the eye can see, pure bliss.

And next to an old tree, her.

Liz, the girl an angel couldn’t hold a candle to. Sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, everything to anyone, able to lift the spirits through the hardest times, always there when you needed her. I’d known her all my life, and from day one she was the sort of person who you loved before you even knew what ‘loved’ even meant; no-one better from here to America.

I walk up to the ash tree where she lies. A grey cloud is suddenly rolling over head, and a light breeze begins to rock through the hills. The hairs on my neck begin to spike up. I square up to her, needing to say something I should’ve really said a long time ago – but I’m stopped by a terrible sight. The corners of her mouth are dried with blood and part of her arm is rotting. The light drizzle transforms into a raging storm, and as the rising gale blasts through, her face starts to peel away, leaving nothing but gore and bone, a sick and wicked sight. I turn around, unable to face what I have just seen, and watch as my little bastion of hope is ripped apart around me as the wind ruptures the very fabric of my world.

I drop onto my knees, breathless. Wrestling myself back up from the ground, a tall spectre of a man slithers into view, here to collect me. I barely hear any of his words, but I make out enough. ‘Is this all the back-up? My God, they ARE trying to get us all killed…’ the vision mutters, spitting venom. ‘It’ll have to do. Alright, boy, if you’ll steady yourself for one moment…’ the rest falls on deaf ears. Something about an attack over the top, the Somme, your bit for king and country. A bang slams down nearby, flaking shrapnel and nearly hitting a few men near the dugout. One of them appears to be shaking.

I’m nudged towards the ladders, and told to take my time with any last prayers before we move out, as if God hadn’t already abandoned me out here. I walk up to my ladder, gripping it unsteadily, and slowly make my way up it.

A bell rings out, and we attack.

Eva Pryce: Twin

I sit poised on the edge of my seat, my hand twitching towards my foot, where painful blisters are appearing. I hate high heels. My auburn hair has been dragged up into an excruciatingly tight bun and I can’t help but rearrange the slightly baggy, dark skirt, over my slim long legs. I turn and see my features slightly distorted in the glass pane of a door. A small smirk appears on my reflection: I knew she was bigger than me.

Two minutes later, an officer arrives and I follow him downstairs, into the depths of a building I will never see again (hopefully). The officer can’t help but glance back at me. Over. And over. And over again. I’m used to this. “The price of good looks is prying eyes,” my mother used to say. All of a sudden, my thoughts drift to home and to a garden I know every inch of. Across the garden, I see my reflection waving and smiling and I can’t help but beam back at her. She runs towards me in her fairy costume, with a beautiful, neat bun and tiny silver heels (some things never change). I adored my twin. We were inseparable. I see 3-year-old us, dancing in our horrendously pink room. Flash forward and I see us standing hand in hand, as we enter our new high school for the first time. Flash forward again and I see her, hand in hand. But not with me. With a stranger. She beams up at him, as she leaves me standing all alone, for the first time.

I feel a hand brush my shoulder and almost jump out of my skin. The officer signals to the door in front of me and I take a deep breath and step through it. The smell of bleach stings my eyes and throat and I pray I can leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I’m in God’s good books at the moment.

The morgue attendant rushes over to me. On cue, his wrinkles form perfectly into a solemn expression and I wonder if it is simply a trick he has perfected over time, or if he is truly sad every time a body comes through his morgue. I decide to choose the latter. This is unlike me. I am normally cold and unforgiving, like the place where I stand just now but something about this man tells me to trust him. It could be his kind eyes or simply that I haven’t trusted someone in so long, that my mind aches for someone to talk to. To tell my secrets to. To believe in. I hope this feeling goes as quickly as it came.

My steps echo. The silence breaking with every clack of a high heel on a tile floor. Then I see her. I stop. Even across the morgue, I can recognise those features, so very like my own. My face slips into what I think is the correct expression for this kind of occasion. The perfect mixture of sadness and confusion. I step closer but with every step another image rushes through my head. Rushes. A river. Trees. Darkness. Wind blowing my hair all across my face. My palms clammy despite the cold. A twig snaps under my feet. And. And……

I gaze up and see a bright light. It hurts my eyes. I squint and role onto my side. The sterile smell brings me straight back to reality and I began to stand up. The morgue attendant forces a glass of water into my hand. The light glints off the edge of the glass and I see stars. I stumble back but the ever-watching officer reaches out a hand and stabilises me. The morgue attendant smiles weakly, “You’ve fainted dear.” I mumble a few sorries and I hear him say something along the lines of “happens more than you’d think”. I nod and step towards the body.

Every feature is mine. The full lips, the sharp jaw, the large eyes and the slender limbs. Not as thin as me, I think. I can’t help it. But then I see the differences. Her lips are blue where mine are warm and pink. Her eyes are shut tightly and her limbs, stiff and still.

The officer steps forward, “Please state your name for the record.” I open my mouth but have to stop myself. No, I think. Slow down. I allow some time to pass and then say in my quietest voice, “Jac Bright”. It has the desired effect. The morgue attendant gives me an encouraging smile and the officer asks me to identify the body. “Julie Bright,” I say.

I step away from the table and shut my eyes. I hear the officer tell the attendant that a man has already been arrested, and I feel the colour return to my cheeks. Part of me is slightly shocked when the officer says that he can take me back upstairs now. I had expected paperwork and interviews. This seems too easy. However, given that they have made an arrest, I must be nothing more than a grieving relative. This comforts me. I say goodbye to the morgue attendant, whose name I never really caught and follow the officer back out and up the stairs. The place seems obnoxiously loud after the silence of the morgue. High heels clack. Officers laugh raucously and some man is making a scene in the reception.

I practically sprint out of the station and into the taxi that is waiting for me. I arrive at my house remarkably quickly and take my time walking up the stairs to the front door. I want to take it all in. There is a beautiful hydrangea beside the front door. That will have to go. I step inside the house and stop. A wonderful wooden staircase lies before me. Her husband’s death made her rich. Well, my husband now. I sigh and stroll into the main lounge. I throw myself on a plush sofa and let my mind wander.

I think of her. I feel the cold blade in my hand and shudder. I look around her house and absorb the life that is now mine. I have taken her life but I feel no remorse. She left me. She abandoned me. I was her twin. Her soul reflected. I banish thoughts of her and turn to see my 65-inch television. In it my reflection smiles. There are advantages to being a twin.

Eva Black: The Village Idiot

Dear Diary,

Wow… just wow. I had the WORST day ever today. After strain and excruciating pain, I eventually put together my speech for Bothwell’s annual, local village politician elections. I even put great, big, smart words in it, like boondoggle, idiosyncratic and narcissist… don’t laugh! They are real words, it even said so on the website www.100wordstomakeidiotssoundsmart.com! But these young, modernised, stupid millennials don’t understand these words like I do! They can hardly say them, never mind know what they mean. For example, they don’t know that spectacular means very, very bad, or that insidious means extremely happy, or even that tedious means really good! Who doesn’t know that?! Anyway, I’ll tell you all about my spectacular day…

I woke up at ten o’clock sharp, to the sound of my Thomas the Tank Engine alarm clock. I got out of my bed and put on my clothes; my bright red tank top, my sunny yellow trousers, my lucky, green socks and my matching green shoes. I strolled down to my kitchen, where my wife was making my breakfast. She looked at me, her face full of love and compassion and said, ‘Oh, it’s you… Are you sure you want to be the local politician? I mean, it is a very important job and you might not be able to cope with all of the responsibility and pressure.’ I laughed; this woman knows nothing. ‘I did not take one… I mean nine years of online university to back out of a huge election like this!’ I said. She sighed and looked at the floor. ‘Of course darling, I didn’t mean to offend you… now sit down, I’ve made you some breakfast.’ What a silly woman. ‘Lauren, you know that I cannot eat a big breakfast today! I have to go to the town hall to prepare my speech and election campaigns,’ I explained. ‘Now goodbye,’ I continued, walking out the door. ‘Make sure to vote for me, Neil Black at today’s elections.’

When I got outside, I breathed in the cold, crisp, new spring air. ‘Today,’ I thought, ‘is the day, in which I will become the greatest village politician of all time.’ I chanted my motto three times in my head – ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again.’ – then walked down my driveway, opened my gate and strolled down my street, towards the town hall. Momentarily, I saw Mrs Moon, my neighbour sauntering towards me, with her small, white dog Coco. As I passed her I called, ‘Hope you’re feeling insidious today, Mrs Moon! Make sure to vote for me at the elections!’ She stared at me rudely and shook her head, which I thought was rather odd, but Mrs Moon’s always acting out-of-the-ordinary, so I walked on.

Soon I was at the town hall. I lifted my head and looked at the clock face smiling down upon me. I stalked into the town hall, and was greeted by my faithful assistant Bobby Jones. ‘Hello, Mr Black,’ he said. ‘Nervous about today’s elections?’ I rolled my eyes in disappointment. ‘Bobby, have you listened to anything I said in the past? Success is most often achieved by those who don’t know that failing is inevitable, as I like to say.’ I replied, full of wisdom. ‘But Mr Black,’ Bobby started, ‘it was Coco Chanel that said that…’ ‘Quiet Bobby,’ I commanded, haughtily.

After practicing my tedious speech three times, the election hustings was about to begin. I chanted my motto three times again in my head: ‘Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again! Make Bothwell Great Again!’ Suddenly, I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. Bobby was standing, trembling with fear, pointing at something. I turned to see what he was pointing at: my arch nemesis, Tom Humphrey. Oh, how spectacular he was! Oh, how I wanted to beat him in the election! He smirked at me, showing me his perfect, pearly white, gleaming teeth. I felt an urge to punch him square in the face, but decided against it as he would probably get very, very hurt. So I smiled, through gritted teeth.

I felt another sharp tap on my shoulder. I turned around to face the most beautiful woman I had even seen. Her bouncy blonde hair danced like… dancers, her gorgeous blue eyes sparkled like… sparkles and her smile gave me buttercups. ‘It’s your turn to go on stage now; good luck!’ she breathed. Gosh, even her voice was perfect! ‘Thank you,’ I said, sheepishly, blowing her a kiss then turning away and making my way onto the stage.

I sashayed onto the stage, blowing the audience kisses. I strutted towards the microphone and grabbed hold of the sides of the podium. ‘Hello, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, old people and young people, fat people and thin people and tall people and short people. Why am I here today, you may be asking yourselves? That is a very good question,’ I started, looking around the audience for approval, although everyone looked confused. ‘Well, the question you should be asking yourselves is, why are you here today? Is it because you like going to elections or is it that you like hearing beautiful, amazing, talented people like me speak? Some of you may be sitting thinking, ‘wow, this man is a narcissist,’ but I cannot help being beautiful.’ I looked up and scanned the audience again, to see if they were intently listening to my speech. To see if they laughed at the joke I made. No-one was laughing, or even smiling for that matter. ‘Anyway, these are my policies…’ Then, I was rudely cut off.

‘You’re not the prime minister!’ someone at the back shouted. I raised my hand for silence and cleared my throat. ‘Here are my policies,’ I repeated. ‘Firstly, I want to build a wall.’ The hall went silent. ‘I want to build a wall, to separate us from Uddingston. For too long, they have brought their Uddingston-born dogs into out village! For too long, they have used our local Marks and Spencer’s! For too long, they have made boondoggles out of us! For too long, they have walked on our pavements, used our schools and have played in our play grounds. I say NO to Uddingston.’

Suddenly a couple of boos had turned into hundreds of boos, and soon the whole town hall was booing: even the beautiful blonde woman, even my wife, even Bobby! I nearly started crying there and then, but I didn’t. Instead, I raised my hand for silence again. ‘Secondly, I believe that people in this village should shower only once a week, to lower this villages water bills.’ Once again, the hall was silent. ‘Showering is not necessary. One time I went three weeks without showering and – ’ ‘Again I was cut off by the same person, shouting, ‘I vote No to Neil Black’ at the back of the hall. ‘Someone needs to take that idiosyncratic man away now,’ I demanded. Abruptly, the whole town hall erupted in booing, like a big, torrential wave crashing over me. I stood for a moment, not knowing what to do, then said, ‘Thank you for listening, and remember. My aim is to make Bothwell great again!’ I walked off the stage, and stood backstage, not saying a word.

Tom Humphrey strutted past me, onto the stage and gave this speech about charity and helping people less fortunate than ourselves… BORING! I was sure that I was going to win after that. Then people started voting. After around ten minutes, the votes were all in and counted and the winner was ready to be announced. I stood confidently, smiling out at the crowd.

‘The results are in,’ said the tall, skinny man at the podium. ‘And Bothwell’s new local councillor is… Tom Humphrey!’ I choked on the air. Spluttering, I ran up to the mean, tall announcer, pushed him and said, ‘I demand a recount!’ Security guards sprinted up and, taking me by the wrists, dragged me out of town hall.

Now, I don’t know what to do. I just feel… broken. But hang on. My story doesn’t end here! I can just move to Hamilton and be their local politician!

Your Sincerity,

Neil Black.

Lucy Gallacher: The Glove

The glove. He’d left it in the ticket office as he ran out. Maybe they wouldn’t notice; after all, to them it would be nothing more than two pieces of brown leather stitched together and at least every man in the city owned a pair just like them, there was no way it could be traced back to him. Or could it? Because then again, if stitching is picked it can loosen the leather letting everything fall, just as one slip could unravel all his secrets.

He was normally more careful in situations like this, even going as far as to wipe the fingerprints off a glass of wine before leaving a restaurant. In his profession you could never be too careful. He had been following Case 29 for many years; it had led him through the generations. It had all started just after the war in ‘46. Smith had joined the intelligence in 45 after two years fighting on the front; because of this, not only did he have intel on the soldiers, but after what he had experienced he figured he could handle anything.

The Berlin air was cold as Smith ran to catch up with the lady in the navy blue coat coat. She was the newest edition to Case 29: tall, thin, with jet black hair pulled tightly into a bun. She wore large tortoise-shell sunglasses that covered her face, and her coat was embellished with three white letters: NHS. Smith presumed they stood for Nazi Headquarters Saldenburg, which is where the lady was heading. Throughout the years Smith had been able to pick up on details such as the brief case she was carrying: Bottega Venetia. That’s how she could not be mistaken: ever since the brand was founded it had been a trusty transporter of the Germans’ plans and files, and another reason she could not be mistaken was the fact that the briefcase could cost about two and a half grand. The women he was following was pretty and in her early 30’s; possibly a new recruit to the Nazi organisation. In his younger days, Smith would have maybe gone for her but now he was on a mission.

Smith had been informed by his colleagues that the briefcase contained the blueprints for the next attack from the German Troop 87 on the British troops at the western front. If Smith could reach these in time, he could report back to the station and compromise the mission so the British soldiers would have more time to react. His role was vitally important to save the lives of thousands.

By this point he had followed the lady with the jet black hair outside a cafe where she was then greeted by another lady in the same navy coat, again embellished with NHS. This lady had dirty blonde hair that rested gently past her shoulders; she was about the same age, still thin but smaller. They began to talk as the lady with the blonde hair lit a cigarette. Some people think you should be seen and not heard, others heard and but not seen. Smith disagreed with both: in his job he had to be completely in the shadows, therefore he stood a couple of yards away from the two women. They kept mentioning “The Doctor”. Smith figured this was the nickname of the man the two ladies were working for. Smith glanced at his watch: it read 8:39. He looked back at the two women: the blonde one caught his eye, then the two women hurried away in the opposite direction.

Damn! thought Smith; they had seen him. He decided that the most likely way to complete Case 29 was to follow the two women to wherever they were going. He began to run after them. After several minutes he reached a large, modern, white, square building. It was multi-storey and had lots of windows. Many people gathered around it, probably discussing the organisation’s business. The two women had made it to the entrance, but before he could follow, each of the women pulled out some form of ticket and scanned it on some piece of technology he did not recognise. After all, this was a secret organisation. Trust the Germans to have the highest equipment, thought Smith.

Smith had grown up in a very poor area of Manchester, therefore he had had to learn ways to survive. One of the greatest skills he had gained was pick-pocketing and now there was another chance for it to come in handy. Smith looked around for the unsuspecting bait. He spotted him: an older gentleman in a camel coat. There was no way on earth he did not work for the organisation: he had a narrow, bleary eyed stare but other than that, blankness spread across his face like ice over a lake as he lit his cigar.

“Excuse me” Smith said in his best German, “your lace is undone”. As soon as the man reached down to check, Smith swooped in to his pocket, grabbed the ticket and swiftly walked away. Child’s play, he thought to himself.

Getting in to the Headquarters with the pass was surprisingly easily: it was navigating the women with the blueprints that was hard. Luckily the woman with the dirty blonde hair was a bit of a loudmouth, and led Smith directly to them. He had reached a corridor with five or six small rooms in it; the walls were white and the bright lighting hurt his head, but finally he spotted it: in one of the rooms, on the corner of a table, lay the Bottega Venetia brief case. Smith secured the pocket-knife hidden up the inside arm of his shirt, as he did not know what he would encounter in the room. He stepped inside.

The room was strange: it wasn’t really a room, more of a cell and the only light that entered was that from the corridor. The strangest thing of all was that the walls were padded and covered with a white leather. Boom. Before Smith could think any more, he turned around to face to men wearing white masks that covered their noses and mouths, probably to conceal their identity. “Dammit,” Smith thought. He’d been trapped by the Nazi organisation. He tried frantically to figure his way out, but there was nothing! No window, no door handle. All he could think to do was rattle the small double glaze window and scream “Help!” “Help!” “Help!”

* * * * *

A tall, thin women with jet black hair pulled tightly into a bun stands outside the cell door. She holds a file that reads: ‘Bert Smith, patient, Heartwood Mental Institution.’

“Poor thing,” the nurse turns to the doctor and says, “fought in WW2, diagnosed with dementia and PTSD from fighting, still thinks he’s in Germany sometimes.”

“Let’s keep him in solitary until he calms down” says the doctor. “They found him with a knife and he was very distressed, shouting for help and everything.”

The Apocalypse in Frigidaire – Orla Morrow

Chapter 1

It was a beautiful morning as the sun lit up the sky around the village of Frigidaire. The gentle hum of the wind passing by was quiet and calm. Raindrops of water were scattered along the village pavements and a few still trickled down the walls of the neighbourhood’s houses. ‘Must have been a cold one last night’, Graham thought to himself, scratching his head. He clambered out of his bed, reaching for his glasses by the bedside, his green tartan quilt still wrapped around his large frame, contrasting against his milk-white skin.

He stood up and started towards the grand oak mirror standing opposite his wardrobe. This was where Graham would decide what freshly ironed shirt to wear and what colour of tweed jacket to match, and of course, which Cap to finish the look. You see, Graham was a very important ingredient when it came to the mix of the village. He always had to look fresh and presentable when he was around the villagers.

“I’ll top it off with a green cap today,” he announced cheerily to the fat reflection looking back at him through the mirror.

Graham was very tall, bulky and always wanted to look his best. Sometimes, he wished he was more tanned than his natural pale skin, but he was proud of it nevertheless. With a final nod of approval towards the mirror, Graham grabbed his keys and headed out the front door.

He stepped out onto the cobblestone walkway in the garden. The  wind whooshed around him, harsh and chilling, the air like shards of glass against his face. Unlike me and you, these villagers always had to live in a cold environment and enjoyed the freezing weather.

A sudden blast of wind hit Graham, causing his cap to fly off and dance in the air, almost as if it were performing right before him. It took its final bow and  gracefully landed in the Pineapple Patch in Mrs. Muller’s front garden.

“Good Heavens!” A thick German voice from the rose bush squeaked.

“I am so terribly sorry, Mrs Muller,” Graham cried, “ But I seem to have  misplaced my cap.”

“That’s quite alright, Mr Mayor.”

Slowly, a small and slender figure emerged from behind the roses, holding the escaped cap. This was the famous garden of Anna Muller. She spent a lot of her time outdoors. She loved flowers. Anna was particularly well known as the villages’ Green Grocer. From the fattest peaches to the sweetest strawberries, her garden was the main source of fresh fruit that every villager was desperate to eat from. Anna would open shop in the morning with  fruit baskets all  lined up and every basket would be empty before noon, Graham was in a privileged position, not only with having the advantage of being the charming mayor whom everyone adored, but also with having the pleasure of being Anna’s next door neighbour.

“Any exciting news for us today?” She asked, polishing the deep red apples that hung above her head.

“Oh no no, nothing too important. I’m just going off for my daily walk around the village, making sure everything is intact,” he responded, eyeing up the plump blueberries that were beginning to be picked off their stem, ready to fill another fruit basket.

“Well, it would be a sin if I let you go hungry.” She scooped up a dozen fresh blueberries into a cloth and handed them over to Graham.

“That is ever so kind of you, Mrs Muller. Your fruit never disappoints.”

Anna, bashful from the compliment, waved him off as he began his journey in the village.

Chapter 2

Graham was the most respected and admired person in Frigidaire. Everyone idolised their Mayor. His daily walk around the village would consist of constant smiles, waves and “How are you today, Mr Mayor?” He would never admit to it, but Graham loved the attention and the feeling of power it brought .

‘Okay, lets get started,” he thought to himself, nibbling on a blueberry. As Mayor of Frigidaire, he felt it was his duty to make sure he had seen every house, street, road sign and crack on the pavement before he arrived at ‘Cartone Inc’ . This was where Graham worked,  in the centre of the village.

His first stop was Brie K. Racker’s house.

Brie was an old friend of Graham’s, a soft person on both the inside and out , but with a sharp tongue when required. The Mayor strolled over to the front gate and let himself in.

“I see you are hard at work over there” he declared, looking round to see Brie standing in a big Vat, stomping down on hundreds of grapes.

“Well hi, Graham!” She grinned up at him, while continuing her stomping.

Graham smiled. Brie was the only member of the village who ever called him by his first name. Although he liked the feeling of importance the title ‘Mr. Mayor’ gave him, he also liked the feeling of love and welcome when he was called by his real name.

Graham cocked his head to the side in interest, reaching  for another blueberry.

“So, how is the wine coming along”

“business is booming, I seem to be selling bottles every 5 minutes! It’s never been better!” Brie responded.

“That’s great! I am extremely happy for you,” he laughed.

“Well, I just came by to check that everything was running smoothly and it seems that it is!” Graham looked down at his watch, suddenly realising  he was running behind schedule.

“Oh! I’m so sorry but I must be off. It was lovely seeing you.” He began towards the front gate.

“Wait! Wait!” Brie jumped out of the Vat and ran over with a glass in her hand, “take this with you, I want to know if it tastes good enough to start selling.”

With a quick sip of the wine, Graham nodded in approval and tossed one of Anna’s famous blueberries to Brie.

“Those new grapes really seem to be doing the job.” He shouted over his shoulder as he continued his walk.

Brie smiled to herself, jumped back into the Vat, and started stomping again.

The rest of the journey went rather quickly. A short hello with Tom Ketch, An exchange of waves with Colonel Colman and  and a quick catch up at Betty Anchor’s bungalow.

Finally, Graham arrived at Cartone Inc. where he was ready to finally sit down and rest. He looked forward to  having a quick cup of tea and devouring the remaining blueberries in his pocket before tackling his paperwork.

However, unknown to him , in his office there waited the bearer of news which would alter his plans for a lazy day.

“Mr Mayor! Finally, you’re here!” A voice cried from behind the office chair.

There stood Evan Boil, the village’s investigative reporter who’s job was to travel around the area, bringing news back to the mayor of any local events. Evan Boil worked for Graham. He was the most reliable source of information about what was happening outside Frigidaire. His news was usually very boring, mainly just the weekend weather forecast. Graham was fond of Evan, he could always crack him up with a good joke.

“Evan, what seems to be the problem?”

It seemed he had something more important than ‘rough winds’ to inform the mayor about today.

“ It’s terrible. Terrible!” he announced, holding back tears, “It started in Freezaires in the village of Solero. I was going there to do a report and it all happened so fast, everyone screaming. I barely made it out in one piec-“

“ Okay, okay! Calm down Evan.”

Graham tried to reassure him by sitting him down on the couch. “Don’t get into such a scramble. Now, tell me what is going on.” He nibbled nervously on a blueberry, waiting for Evan to respond.

“The sky went black. It was as if the sun had melted into nothingness. It was so strange. Despite the sun being gone, it felt as though someone had set fire to that village. People were collapsing everywhere I looked because of the heat.”

Evan paused, a long silence filling the air. His head turning both ways to make sure no one else was around. His eyes slowly traveled to Grahams’, and prepared himself for what he was about to say.

“Frigidaire,” he whispered, “Is next.”

Graham stood still  for a moment, his mind racing. He jumped up and started rummaging through his file cabinet, desperately trying to figure out what exactly this meant.

He pulled out a pale grey folder, marked : ‘Natural Disasters’

“An.. Apocalypse” He read aloud. Evan cracked his knuckles loudly. It was a nervous habit of his. “What does this mean?” He asked.

“Call a village meeting in the Cartone Hall immediately.” Graham declared.

He picked up the final blueberry and popped it in his mouth before racing out the office door.

Chapter 3

As usual, in Frigidaire, news had spread like wildfire and everyone rushed to the hastily arranged village meeting in the Cartone Hall.

“Settle down please. Now please, settle.” Graham announced over the worried voices filling the Hall.

“Why is this happening now?” Karen K.ale shouted from the crowd.

“Is Frigidaire going to be destroyed?” Mary Hellman, another scared voice, called out.

“Are we going to melt like everyone in Freezaires?”

What about the children?”

“Why aren’t you fixing this, Mayor?”

Questions were being fired at him from every direction and the frantic voices grew increasingly loud.

“Alright!” Graham yelled, shocked silence descended as no one had ever heard him raise his voice before.

“I understand you are feeling confused and scared. However, due to the circumstances of this situation and the information I have been given about this particular..erm.. event.. There is nothing in our power that we can do at this moment in time.”

An angry outcry arose filling the air.

“What do you mean there’s ‘nothing in your power’?”

“You’re our Mayor- start acting like it!”

The crowd began to get angry and frustrated. This was not going well for Graham.

“Surely this won’t kill us all?”

“ Now now, we cannot confirm any outcome of This.. um.. event.. but-“

“What is this so called ‘event’

Graham froze. He knew if he divulged the news Evan had brought him, there would be whole scale panic.. He couldn’t have everyone in turmoil. He needed everything to be intact and running smoothly at all times. Telling them this would ruin everything he had ever worked for. All the admiration and respect he once had would be lost. But he knew he could not keep this from them.They had a right to know what was going to happen. He took a deep breath, and leaned into the microphone.

“An Apocalypse”

His head slumped in defeat. It was his job to protect his people, and he felt he was failing them. Everyone was screaming and yelling at him for walking away. There was nothing he could do, it was out of his control, but as mayor, he had no choice but to take the blame.

“Coward!”

“You’re No Mayor!”

“You’ve gone Sour!”

So much noise blaring behind him, but he couldn’t hear them. All he could hear, were his own thoughts,

The village is going to be destroyed. People will suffer in the sweltering heat and pitch darkness. And the worst thing is …

there’s nothing I can do.

Chapter 4

Graham hid in his house for the rest of the day, too embarrassed to come out. He knew he would have to at some point. But not yet. He decided he was going to keep an account of all the strange things happening around him.

Day 1

Temperature : Normal

Light : Normal

It’s the first day of the apocalypse. I have been in my house for the past 24 hours. Nothing too bad has happened. Yet.

 It still seems cool enough to go outside and begin my daily walk, but I don’t think anyone will want to see me. They say I’ve grown sour and mean for not doing anything, but this whole situation is completely out of my control. I really hope Brie isn’t angry with me- or Anna for that matter. It’s pretty Incredible, all this is happening and there she is, still out In her garden.  

The sun is still out, which I suppose Is a good thing. I wonder how long It will take for the heat to travel from Freezaires to Frigidaire.

It all seems so unreal. Nothing like this has ever happened before, why now?

Graham woke up during the middle of the night, sweating. He put his hand to his forehead and scrunched his face in confusion.

“What is this?” He asked, “Is this.. sweat?” The mayor leaped up out of bed, in  horror at the thought.

“No, no this doesn’t happen. This isn’t normal..” He shuffled over to his bedroom window and opened it cautiously, sticking one chubby arm out.

“ It’s.. humid?”

Graham reached for his diary and started scribbling.

Day 2

Temperature : Humid?

Light : darker

I just woke up in a sweat! this doesn’t make sense. It’s supposed to be cool in Frigidaire and now it’s getting warmer. I can’t tell whether it’s night or day. I really hope the sky lights up again.

I fear the Apocalypse will begin soon. I just pray it doesn’t get any hotter.

I wonder how the villagers are holding up. Anna is still out in her garden, she appears more tired than usual. Why on earth would she be gardening during the night? or at least I think it’s night. I’m not sure. Anyways,  I will continue logging in regularly to update on the current situation at hand. In the mean time, I need to get back to sleep.

Once again, Graham woke up, hungrier than last time.

“Still dark?” he thought. His stomach grumbled. He stood up and reached for his coat.

Crash! The next thing he knew, he was lying on the bedroom floor.

He whimpered in shock and fright as he tried to drag himself up.

“it must be getting warmer now.” He groaned.

He propped himself against the mirror, panting in the heat, and began writing once more.

Day 3? or 4?

Temperature : hot

Light : almost out

Dear diary, I fell this morning getting out of bed. I feel so faint from this heat. i sense a bitter, spoilt taste in my mouth. I feel like such a lump. I’m also really hungry. Maybe I can ask Anna for some fruit, maybe an orange could help freshen me up. However, I can’t see her in her garden anywhere. I’ll just sneak in and take one. Hopefully she doesn’t notice. I really must go now, if I don’t I’ll starve to death.

Graham chucked his diary back onto his bed and struggled his way to the door, knocking a blue cap off its hook.

As he stepped outside, the heat intensified.

“How can it possibly get warmer!” he exclaimed. He looked at the ground. No raindrops. He looked at his garden wall. Not a single drop trickling down.

‘This can’t be good’ he concluded.

And then, his attention drifted from the dry wall to a rather peculiar sound. he looked up from the wall to see a terrible sight.

Chapter 5

“Mrs Muller!” he clamoured, running over to her garden. Anna was kneeling on the grass holding her blueberries, sobbing.

“What’s happened? Are you hurt?” He inquired as he knelt next to her.

“It’s ruined, all of it” She motioned to her garden. “ The peaches, the oranges, the berries, the apples, everything!”

Graham lifted up one of the apples, its once deep red now a bland grey. He examined it in shock as he saw that the inside was black.

“They’re rotting from the inside out.” She stuttered through tears. “my beautiful garden is dead.”

She collapsed into his arms, crying uncontrollably. He wiped her eyes and gave her a hug, trying to reassure her. After sitting in silence for a while, he told her to stay inside, out of the heat. As she went to leave, The mayor stood up, becoming dizzy in doing so.

He waved her off and began to walk back to his house.

Just as Graham was reaching for his keys, he froze. At that moment, he thought to himself,

‘If something like this has happened to Anna Muller.. What has happened to everyone else?” Graham swerved back towards the street, and began to take his daily route through the village.

“This is a bad idea” Graham stammered as he swayed along the pavement. At this point, It was very, very warm outside and it was dangerous for him to be walking around the village.

He came to a sudden halt, as he saw Brie K.Rackers, pacing angrily in her garden.

“What’s the matter, Brie?” he asked with concern.

“My grapes, every bunch of them have gone sour! I don’t know how this could have happened they were growing so well!” she roared. Graham had never liked this intense bitter side of Brie, It made him forget about the soft, good part of her.

“I cannot believe this has happened” she snapped, swaying from the heat.

“I hate this stupid apocalypse. I hate the heat. I hate the darkness” She ranted,  “ And I hate you, for not doing anything about it!” She turned her back to him. This hit Graham hard. Brie would never say such a horrid thing. He could feel tears welling up. He blinked furiously, refusing to show her how hurt he was.

“Just get out of my garden, before you spoil anything else.”

He obeyed her orders and left.

Everything was falling apart.Graham was hopeless . What kind of a Mayor would let something as dreadful as this happen. As he stumbled along the pavement, he saw Betty Anchor collapse. He sprinted over and tried to revive her.

“ Please, Help me.” She whispered, drained of all energy . He looked at her, completely helpless, as she melted in his arms. He looked up to call for help, only to find more villagers begin to drop to the ground.

Graham was running. He rarely did that. He never enjoyed sports, but that would have to change. At least for now. His heart was pounding and his mind was racing as he turned the corner into Quality Street, trying to figure out what on earth to do. He was the Mayor. It was his duty to ensure all his villagers were safe.

He  was blind in the darkness. There was a horrible smell of rotting in the air. His villagers were dying. All of his friends were near death.

“There’s, Too, Many, People” he gasped between heavy breaths. His head had gone fuzzy and his vision blurry.

“W-what’s happening?” He yelled in terror.

He looked down at his fingers, they appeared to be morphing into something different.

‘I’m- Hallucinating’ a voice in his head whispered. Everything in his vision started to spin, every shape morphing. He couldn’t hear anyone’s cries or see anyone’s burning faces anymore. Just as he thought this couldn’t get any worse, He was blinded by a bright , white light..

And then everything went black.

Chapter 6

Graham slowly opened his eyes, trying to adjust them to the new environment.  His body felt stiff and uncomfortable, he couldn’t move.

‘Am I dead?’ he wondered. He looked around to find 4 white walls surrounding him. He looked down and saw his arms and legs were gone. There was a green label wrapped around him that read In big white letters

‘ Graham’s’

Before he could figure out what to do next, a thunderous voice boomed from behind him.

Suddenly, one of the 4 walls opened up, revealing a petrifying sight. A colossal creature stood there, its face the size of Graham’s body.

‘What is that.. thing?’ he thought in alarm.

The creature frowned and scrunched up their nose.

“Mum!” The creature roared , “The Power went out!” Graham was paralysed by both fear and shock as he looked closer at what was around him. His house was no where to be found. The village had vanished.

The ground shook as another larger creature arrived. It reached into the box next to him.

“ Oh no, all the Soleros  have melted!”

‘Soleros ?’ he thought, ‘that’s the name of the village in Freezaires’

Graham looked closer at his surroundings and recognised several items around him.

“There’s Anna Muller!” he exclaimed as he saw a tall slender figure. “she looks very different.”

The wild hand reached for Anna and yanked her out of the box.

“Hey!” Graham screamed, “Stop!” But the creatures couldn’t hear him. “Let her go!”

“Ugh, my Yogurt is all lumpy!” The taller creature bellowed, “ I was excited to eat that. It came with blueberries !” And with that, the creature threw Anna into a black hole.

“No!” Graham cried.

One by one, all of the villagers were being plucked from the box.

Graham watched in horror ;

“This butter is completely melted!” – Betty Anchor Disappeared .

“Mum, This cheese is mouldy !” – Brie K.Rackers Vanished.

“ Yuck! This kale is all wilted!” – Karen K.ale was snatched.

“ Those eggs have gone rotten!” – Evan Boil floated away.

“Oh no, the condiments are nearly empty. Let’s replace them.” – Mary Hellman, Colonel Colman and Tom Ketch, all lifted away.

Graham was left in the box, all alone.

Then the massive hand reached for Graham and he squeezed his eyes shut, afraid of what was going to happen next. The pink, squishy flesh wrapped around his large frame and twisted his green cap off.

“Ew!” The smaller creature squealed looking into the Carton , “The milk has gone off. It’s all sour and lumpy!” And with that, Graham was tossed away to join his friends in the deep dark hole as he fell he heard the creatures speak…..

“I can’t believe the power cut. All the food is spoilt.” The smaller creature squeaked.

The taller creature shook its head and rolled its eyes, “That’s the last time we buy a fridge from ‘Frigidaire’.”

“Let’s try Samsung next time.”

Up in Flames – Hannah Martin

What bothered Detective Inspector Henderson about the Morris house fire was the straighteners.

He understood that all the boys at the office had written off the tragedy as an electric fault caused by the overheating of a pair of straighteners but still, he knew better. Veronica – ‘Mrs Morris, Steven,’ he frustratedly corrected himself – had never straightened her hair once in all the time he had known her, and to his knowledge did not even own a pair.

And yet the indigo hair tool was one of the only artefacts recovered from the blaze.

DI Henderson wasn’t officially assigned to the case due to the obvious yet unspoken personal conflict, but he could not resist investigating the death of a mother, father and teenage daughter for himself. After all, he did have the highest conviction rate of anyone in the North East Division.

And that is how he found himself at the station on a fog filled Friday night, staring with bleak, strained eyes at a computer screen whose words had converged into one riddled mess. He was deflated after another chaotic day of solving everyone else’s problems instead of being allowed to get on with his own assignments, and now he had stayed in the office for God knows how long in an attempt to find some closure through cracking this ‘incident’.

Henderson groped blindly for his mug of coffee, and grimaced at the bitter, cold taste. ‘Christ’ he wondered, ‘what time is it?’ He stretched over the laptop to grab his phone from the large pile of memos on his desk. The cheeriness of the lock screen staring up at him almost intensified the guilt that he was constantly attempting to repress. There was Sharon, beaming at the camera whilst fixing Jamie’s tie on his first day of school. Henderson remembered practically brimming with pride as he watched his son walk through those gothic iron gates for the first time. He was so happy back then, comfortable and pleased with life and everything it had to offer – it was not until much later that he had noticed the great feeling of unease in his stomach, causing him to doubt the content he held for life.

Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, DI Henderson attempted to clear both his mind and his conscience. Three people had died. Given that everyone else had shoved this case to the bottom of their piles, he had no other option but to try his hardest to ensure that if someone was to blame, they would get the punishment they deserved.

He reviewed all the evidence that had been gathered by the investigation department once more in the hope of connecting something that he hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t much to work with, only a few witness statements from neighbours claiming not to have seen anything out of the ordinary during the early hours of the 20th, and DNA results from the forensics lab from recovered items which came back inconclusive.

Henderson was getting more and more frustrated, and he couldn’t tell whether it was with the case or himself. There was nothing mysterious or even alarming about the house fire, just the deep sense of tragedy and loss that had instantly become deep rooted into the local community. But despite the fact there were no official suspects, he felt that the damning evidence needed to unravel the never ending thread of this case was close to being discovered, but he couldn’t seem to be able to grasp it.

With a deflated and defeated sigh, Henderson shut down his laptop, shrugged on his grey raincoat and switched off the IKEA desk lamp. He realised that he was one of only a few left in the dull office, before the unlucky members of the night shift claimed the space as their own.

He stood at the main door for a moment, his mind continuing to race as it searched for possible suspects, motives, methods, theories, anything. He became frustrated as he faced the prospect of having to leave this case alone with nothing to show for it but a gut feeling that it wasn’t an accident, as he opened his umbrella and stepped out into the car park.

The night immediately enveloped him, and he struggled with the harsh wind and pouring rain. He regretted not having driven his car to work that morning because despite the walk only being a mile or so, in this weather time would stretch itself out as far as it could possibly manage. He begrudgingly started the walk, while scanning the mental documents of his mind in the hope of exposing a clue to the fire that he hadn’t noticed before.

Henderson was so engaged in his review, he physically tensed up when the sound of a car horn entered his head. When he finally reconnected to reality, he located the source of the noise, a red Ford Fiesta which was being driven by a man who appeared to be beckoning him over. He strode over to the car with faltering confidence – why was a stranger intent on getting his attention?

“That umbrella’s not doing you much good is it pal?” The man had a cheery voice, held within a ruddy, weather beaten face that could’ve belonged to a 30 year old or a pensioner. Henderson began to recognise him, almost sure he was a constable.

“Ah yes, it’s my own fault for thinking that I could get fit,” Henderson replied politely – he didn’t know this man very well, and at that moment was reaching desperately into the crooks of his brain for his name.

The guard didn’t seem to notice his struggle as he carried on, “Here, aren’t you out near that new Sainsbury’s?”

“Eh, yes that’s right.” Was it Bob? No, definitely Bradley. Bill?

“Well what’re you still standing out there getting soaked for then? Jump in, I’m going that way anyhow.”

Henderson became immediately aware of the sense of suspicion that seemed to vibrate through him as he analysed the strange situation. “Are you sure? I don’t want to bother you.”

“Absolutely pal! It’s not a bit of trouble.”

Henderson walked slowly around the car, grappled with his umbrella, and settled into the passenger seat. He glimpsed at the dashboard, where he caught a glimpse of the police constable’s ID card. So he’s a Bill then.

After Henderson mumbled his gratitude, the first few minutes of the ride were tense and awkward, with the only sound being the windshield wipers as they struggled to clear the storm that lay ahead.

“So, Steve,” Bill asked casually, “where is it you live exactly?”

He gave Bill the address of his quaint, modest bungalow and watched as he took the next exit off the roundabout. They were getting close when Henderson felt a pang of guilt as he realised that he must be keeping Bill from getting home to his family. Henderson began to voice an apology when Bill abruptly cut him off. “Ah nonsense! It’s nothing to me, I’ve got no family, you see. Never married. No kids. Nothing. So pal, it’s the least I could do for a family man in need.” Henderson became quiet at that, feeling as though he had somehow brought up a sensitive subject for Bill.

“Ah look at that Stevey, we made it here in record time for this kind of weather, don’t you think?” He nodded in reply, and thanked Bill again for the lift home.

“Anytime pal,” Bill said earnestly. “I’ll see you soon enough.”

“Eh, yes I’ll definitely see you around. Thanks again Bill.” Henderson replied, getting out of the car in a brisk manner and attempting to dodge the huge swell of rain on his way up the path of his home.

Bill watched as DI Steve Henderson approached his front steps, readying himself to be greeted by his picture perfect wife and young son. Bill’s pebble eyes hardened, as he toyed with the lighter in his pocket. As he waited in the twilight for the family’s lights to extinguish, the arsonist could practically see how beautiful the bungalow would look as it became wrapped in the dancing embers of sunset flames. The arsonist waited, and as he waited he laughed to himself because after all – all good things must, eventually, go up in flames.

Arran – Charlie McCallum

Sun glitters across blue waves.

A flamboyant tail of clouds follows

An aeroplane across the blue summer sky;

A soft balmy breeze of cool air brushes

Against your cheeks.

The potent heat of the sun vibrates on your shoulders.

 

As you sit on the moist hill which lays host

To millions of summer’s green grasses,

Clouds of white merriment drift past.

The opera sounds of the sea

Enchant the mind into a solitude of euphoria.

 

In the sea, seals dance around in a glorious blaze

Beneath the sun, who casts her summer warmth

Across the isle of Arran,

And into the cool waters of the Firth of Clyde.

 

How is it that a landscape next to a village in Scotland

Can dispense such bewitching sensation,

Like falling asleep on a bed of satin?

 

Another hour goes by.

The once radiant heat on your shoulders develops

Into a breeze, a flurry of ocean air.

Like a dragon scorching an army of ten thousand,

The once blue sapphire summer sky has evolved

Into a dark red crimson.

 

The omnipotent sun falls over the Irish Sea,

And is slowly pulled under the awful waters

Of the Universe.

 

The day draws closer to a finish;

The sun is submerged under the world

As she explodes into

A halo of wonder and alleviation.

 

What a day of bliss

To make your eyes drunk with beauty and magic

That your mind could never have dreamed of.

 

Letters of the Sea – Yves Laird

My grief is like the ocean, dark and overwhelming. Its crashing waves engulf me, the darkness unfolds me. Strangling my veins. My thoughts are cobwebbed and suffocating my brain, drowning out my memories of you. But now those same waves have returned, their powerful white horses dragging her with them. If I hadn’t been a victim of the sea, I would have believed the facade. The ocean is powerful, with enough force to destroy and rival the land, as well as a loved one and their family. But then again, the most innocent of faces are always the wildest. You know that.

Death is never ending and ever present in my line of work as well as in my life, somehow painfully ironic. After being a detective for over sixteen years, just before you were born, and seeing everything there is to see, I never realised how much this present case would affect me.  The pain I’d buried with you, is now being exhumed.

Every day, month and year I strive to find missing children, or their killers. To ensure I can secure justice for those families, as I supposedly received. One thing I can never fix is the heartbreak and destruction left behind. How can I ever fill the hole in the parents’ hearts that is the shape of the child they have lost? No matter how much evidence, support and guidance I can offer, the puzzle of their heart will forever be incomplete. This is what I struggle with the most. No one thinks it’ll happen to them, every parent protects their child from this but sometimes, it’s not enough. Everyone sees the endless news reports, the appeals, the missing posters, the devastated parents, as they hold on to every hope of finding them. But no one thinks that that could have been their child. No one wants to accept this happens, but I have to. I’m one of them.

Pictures are all I have of you now, as well as the memories that will live on in my heart. But some pictures are too heart-breaking to look at: your ‘Missing’ pictures, the photograph that was meant to be proud and centre on the mantelpiece, of you in your ‘big girl’ school uniform with your blonde locks in pigtails that I had perfected for you that morning. Your innocence shines out of you as you grin cheekily. It’s a painful reminder that I’ll never see a graduation photo, or even your children. The other photograph of you with your floppy summer beach hat falling off your head as you giggled hysterically as we played on the beach – the beach you were found on only months later. Or even the first photograph we ever received of you, your tiny fragile body represented through a grainy image. I love that your beauty and our memories can live on forever with me, but the photos also hurt the most. They battle as comforters and tormentors both, as I think of all the memories that we could have made, that have been taken away from us forever left by the ocean. I’ll never see you grow up and leave school, or be able to walk you down the aisle, or even as much as speak to you again. You’ll forever be that missing shell from the shore that was taken and crushed by the dark cruel waves.

You will never know how much you were wanted, your mother and I were desperate to have a child, but couldn’t. The desperation nearly led us to breaking point, until we adopted you. You filled the missing piece in our hearts and completed our beautiful family. We vowed to protect you and we adored our gorgeous blue-eyed baby, but all too soon you were cruelly snatched out of our hands.

No one understands this pain until they have experienced it. The ‘Missing’ photographs just spark a brief flash of sympathy and act as a reminder of keeping your loved ones close to the public, but never truly come close to representing the emotional turmoil and life-destroying feelings behind it. Life beamed in all its energy from those photographs of you on the beach and death has removed all that vitality and potential, never to be seen again. After all of my experience both professionally and emotionally, I always keep in mind that a body isn’t just another case, it’s another life taken, another family broken apart another life I get to know, even after death. In some ways, this person does live on, at least for me. The crime scene is a parting message.

Now as I am tasked with unravelling the last few days of this girl, I keep in mind the justice I was served. But some days I am less at peace, like her family. Will what I do for her and my daughter ever be enough? Some days I have faith in the law and that the person that took you away had things taken away too. Some days I believe I can restore and heal fractured wounds, but I can never fill that missing piece.

The way she smiles up, with gleaming bright eyes and an honest wide grin through the picture, reminds me of an older version of you. She pulls you in and I can feel her gaze penetrate my mind and my thoughts, her energy seeps through the photos as I feel my blood surge through my veins. The photograph has captured her in a carefree happy moment, very similar to the one of you on the beach, and has frozen her memory there forever.

Her bloodied corpse now, bears no resemblance to this once beautiful girl. One very similar to how you would have appeared now. Her long silky golden hair no longer cascades down her slender back to her waist but now looks like broken straw cropped to just above her bruised cold neck. Her family say her hair was part of her personality and had always set her apart from everyone else. Her flowing mane added a halo- like glow around her striking features and fair freckled skin. Now her smile has vanished, her fair skin ice cold and stiff to touch and pale blue in colour. Her long athletic limbs are no longer fuelled with life and her red lips that once framed her sparkling smile are burst and frozen closed forever, harbouring the secrets of her mysterious death and final days.

As I scramble to piece this case together, I look at our last piece of evidence, the letters. As I slice the crimson red envelope open, the deathly white paper slides out and the words spill out onto my hands.

Dearest Ava,

I don’t know why it had to end like this. I never wanted to lose you or give you up. Today will be your sixteenth Birthday, and I still can’t believe my beautiful blue- eyed baby is now turning into a woman. I never intended to let you go, but I was only sixteen. I am desperate to see you, or even just receive a letter to see how you are doing? I have tried for many years to get in contact with you, but my letters were just returned. Please find in this envelope a birthday card for every year I wrote to you. I know I may be too late, but please know I will love you unconditionally and I truly believe we have the strongest bond any two human beings can have. After all you are the only person that knows my heartbeat from the inside.

I wish you all the happiness and joy in the world and hope you to hear from you soon,

Your loving mother, Anne xx

As I read, another piece of the jigsaw appears – an image of your tiny monochrome body in your first ever picture. It flutters slowly to the sand and blows on the calm breeze to the sea.

 

Saying What I Want to Say – Ryan Duffy

My life is like a heartbeat: vitally important, but far too short.  The path to our demise is a gradual but certain one.  It has many twists and turns but the destination is always the same.  Looking at you I see that you have a longer route to travel while mine is brief.

Did my creator initially intend for such a brief existence?  I remember my beginnings, my creator starting with a blank page.  I had stealthily crept into my creator’s mind in the middle of the night, I was in his head sprouting and growing, I was as real as if I was sitting in a chair beside him.  I remember his enthusiasm and excitement when he woke, throwing his ideas onto the page like an artist creating a masterpiece, breathing life into me, putting me together, part by part, each piece representing an aspect of my very being.  My eyes dark and stormy, much like the turbulent relationship I have with my family.  My smile slow to emerge but vibrant when it does.  These features were not random; I remember what my creator looked like.  I have his eyes, his daughter’s smile, his wife’s hands and the tresses of her silky blonde hair.  I know that I existed in other people before the point I was conceived and brought to life.  As I look at you I realise we are very different. I can tell that you do not remember the point of your conception.  As I feel death closing in I see that you have such a long life ahead of you, but I see that my brief life may be better spent.  For you may have a job, a family and a house but I have done something more important.  I am saying what needs to be said in my short amount of time.

Characters are words made tangible.  We do not exist until a writer describes us on the page.  We drift, bodiless and ethereal, weighing nothing; we have no voice until we are anchored with words.  You may read about the heroic escapades of vibrant characters but I will tell you the truth about how we characters feel.  We know that when we have completed our quest, slain our dragon, our brief light will flicker and die.  We will disappear like a cool wind which you will feel but may so quickly forget.  But, I want you to remember characters such as I that are vivid, real, alive. Those characters that are so wonderfully three dimensional.  Do not think of us as just characters in books because we are anything but.  We are people whose lives you deeply impact.  But some of us do not realise what we are, rushing to accomplish their goal not knowing that the outcome will be their untimely demise. Some of them think that they are just little specks in a huge universe, but they are the opposite.  They take up huge amounts of the universe as the universe of the book is only what is described.

I ask of you: what type of reader are you?  Are you my favourite type of reader? The one who takes their time and savours every word.  Holding onto every letter that is written.  Or are you the type who reads because you are made to?  Forced to read by your parents, employer or teacher?  You feel the fire rising up in your belly every time you see the words, but you know you must read on.  Or are you the type who ends lives quickly?  Someone who reads book after book not realising the consequences of your heartless actions.  Are you the type of person who starts a book and never finishes?  You are the worst type of person.  You deny us of our happiness.  You stop us from ever completing our goal.

I feel that my end may be near.  I have said what I wanted to say.  That was my goal.  I have represented my side.  I want you to know that I am a martyr for the cause.  I am sad that my life may be over soon, but I am happy to know that my goal is complete.  In a strange way I am just like all the others, just striving towards a goal which signals my end.  I wonder what happens after this story ends.  Do I simply stop existing?  I may not change much in your world but at least I reached one person.  Now go spread the insights I have shared with you to all and maybe one day your people will savour every word that they are given.  Goodbye.  I hope it doesn’t hurt.

 

Late Night Wanderer – Erin Campbell

I couldn’t remember the last time I had spoken to someone else. Someone real. The days draw out in the cold metropolis, unforgiving and unkind to me. The constant murmur of traffic and people does nothing to pierce the thick and heavy silence that hangs around me each day, pressing down and suffocating.

I wrapped my coat tighter around my body and hiked my bag higher over my shoulders, aware of the bitter wind, weaving its way around my bones. Rays of burnt orange and gold offered little warmth as the sun sank behind the tallest buildings in the city, their silver spires reaching up to touch the sky. The endless avenue of mirrored glass bounced the light off every surface, illuminating the busy street below. I pocketed the little change I had acquired today. A few pennies amounting to the little charity of a nation. A group of women herded giggling children into the backs of their cars, heading home from after-school football practice or theatre rehearsals, maybe even parents’ evenings. Siblings battled for the right to claim the front passenger seat; the bigger of them usually overpowering the younger and smaller ones. Their laughter carried over to me, reminding me of arguments with my own brother. But that was a long time ago.

Realising the time, I pushed on down the street; it was getting later and it was a long walk back. I glanced back at the cars motoring on down the street, filled with the little-league team, and suddenly saw myself sitting in the back seat of my mum’s old car. The vehicle had seen better days; a tired-looking people carrier, the blue paint quite worn and the inside littered with toys and crumbs from biscuits and other snacks. My brother and I lounged in the back of the car, hysterically cackling at each other’s painted faces. I stared into the eyes of a fierce dragon with fire escaping from its mouth whilst my brother gazed at my own superhero mask, the insignia inked across my forehead proudly. We battled in the backseat of the car as mum drove us home; my super speed dodged the burning inferno of the dragon’s breath, and as I went to fly over his head, his wicked green tail whipped around and struck me down…

My thoughts were interrupted by the screech of a nearby car horn. Oblivious to the oncoming traffic, a group of well-dressed diners meandered across the road, en-route to the Michelin-starred restaurant on the street. The buildings here were smaller than the corporate skyscrapers from further up the road, but far more attractive. Old sandstone townhouses with gleaming statues on the facades dominated this section of the avenue, their cold eyes looking disdainfully on the street, following the movements of those out for a meal. As I walked past the entrances of restaurants, mouth-watering aromas of slow-roasted meat and warming spices overwhelmed my senses. I noticed then just how hungry I was: I couldn’t remember when I last ate, but knew that it may as well have been oxygen. As if on cue, my stomach gurgled, complaining of today’s lack of food.

The wind picked up, growing colder by the minute. The sun was completely gone by now and darkness enveloped the entire city, interrupted only by the headlights of thinning traffic or the orange glow from the overhead street lights. I noticed how quiet it was. The street was fairly empty, littered with groups of smokers leaning against the wall of the bar. Wisps of nicotine swirled through the night air, a ghostly fog rising eerily from the ground. I increased my pace further, realising how dark and late it was. I didn’t want to be out at this time, I had to get back as soon as possible, before I got into any trouble; my shoulder still ached from last week’s incident in the park.

My thoughts were interrupted by the clamour of men brawling outside a bar on the edge of the block, which had a reputation for the odd disturbance. Two men; both intoxicated, raised heavy arms to meet the each other’s faces, slurring incoherent abuse. They threatened to stumble from the pavement as another clenched fist swung through the night air. I hugged the wall on the far side of the road and kept my hood up; not that they would have noticed me anyway. A shadow blending into the night, I watched as one of the men landed a lucky punch; bursting the other’s nose. Blood streamed from his nostrils as he clutched at his face. I tried not to look as the crimson fluid painted its host’s face before spilling out onto the street…

…The pool of blood at my feet grew and grew, each drop from the endless cuts and bruises that littered my face, arms and neck. The gash on my left shoulder from where my seatbelt had sliced through my shirt leaked blood onto my lap. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the contorted shape of my brother, his limbs at unnatural angles with glass shards protruding from his tiny frame each drawing more blood than the next. My mum, now a statue behind the wheel, sat unmoving with her head hanging forwards. I remember trying to reach for her, but the searing pain stabbed through my body; ten thousand volts of electricity through every muscle and nerve. I slumped back against the remains of the crumpled metal cage and eventually drifted out of consciousness to the sound of wailing sirens approaching, yet growing fainter in my head every second…

I jolted awake from the memory, shuddering in the cold, the only sound the rustle of discarded newspapers being swept up through the wind, last week’s news now confetti raining down on the street. I reached the entrance to the old hospital building, the old steps climbing up in front of me to the main entrance. The uniform, rectangular windows were boarded up and many tiles from the tired roof littered the porch having slid form their places. Heaving my rucksack from my aching back, I knelt in the back of the porch and pulled out my thin sleeping mat and cover. The thick walls of the hospital offered shelter from the wind and cold whilst the porch ceiling prevented the rain from bombarding me during the night and leaving me soaked and cold. It was a long time since I had properly slept through the night: the constant threat of the streets kept me weary and awake.

I remember sitting huddled on the front steps of the hospital, nurses and patients bustling in and out of the building. Both nights, I hadn’t slept at all. The bandage round my forehead had grown grey since being dressed here three days previously. My face had greyed too; I hadn’t eaten since the doctor had told me what had happened. I had emptied my stomach after being told I was alone.

I never spoke to the lady who smiled too much and told me everything would be okay. I never told her my name, didn’t give her my family’s number. There was no one. I had no one.

I remember sitting on my own in the front pew of the hospital’s chapel. The two coffins stretched out before me, adorned with the cheap flowers from the gift shop. The service was brief, and afterwards, I was led out of the building by the same lady who had enquired about my family and who had given me empty words of hope, behind the pretence of her fake smile…

No one in my family had really left the hospital that day; not even me. The inexplicable pull of the place often unnerved me, how this place of personal tragedy had also become my small sanctuary. I would never leave the city. Morning could not be far away and tomorrow I would rise again and find something to eat with what little change I had left from last month’s cheque. However for now, nestling into the far corner of the porch and closing my eyes, I let the heaviness of sleep pull me under, drifting off to dreams of superheroes and dragons, and the distinct laugh of two young and unsuspecting brothers.

 

Into the Valley – Mbikwa Sitembo

I sat on the cliff, my legs dangling off the edge. I looked down at the valley surrounded by tall rock walls built by Mother Nature herself; in a day my dream would become a reality.

I lay back on the soft, green grass. The wind blew gently, making all the plants shift, and the clouds; all sorts of shapes sailed across the blue sky. I reached in my jacket pocket and took out the neatly handwritten letter.

Into the valley where I shall go,

Where no one else does do know,

No turning back,

On the track,

Goodbye, goodbye,

In case I do…”

With a heavy sigh at the torn part of the letter, I folded the paper and put it back in my pocket.

In case of what, dad?

I got up and looked once again at the valley; its colourful flowers stood merrily, its trees tall and sturdy and the grass wilder than the grass where I stood.

 I’ll come and find you in the valley..

Reluctantly, I turned my back to the valley and headed into the woodland. Before going home I stopped at a willow tree and checked its hollow to make sure the rope was still there. After patting my compadre – the willow tree – I headed home.

The sun was setting as I hastily climbed the fence that separated the town from the woodlands. My feet touched the ground, I breathed in relief as I hadn’t been caught then “Willow!” A voice yelled from behind me. I felt the blood drain from my face as I slowly turned. The sheriff stood there and my mother next to him – looking even more furious and worried than the last time that I had been caught. “Willow! What did I tell you about the woodlands?!” She sobbed more than shouted. It hurt to see my mother crying because of me, but this was an exception, it was something I couldn’t avoid.

“Willow!” She yelled, she realised I was blocking out her voice. “You’re grounded and banned from going to the woodlands!” This time I listened, I clenched my fists.

“What!” I said

“You’re never going to the woodlands again!” She exclaimed. Anger boiled within me, my nails dug into my palms, tears threatening to surface. “You — You don’t know anything!” I yelled then ran.

“Willow!” My mother called but I ignored and kept running, wiping the tears from my face.

She doesn’t get it, I need to find Dad

I found myself in front of my house. The little cottage-like house at the far end of the street. No smoke puffed from the chimney, meaning my mother was not home yet. With a sigh, I unlocked the front door using my keys. After I had entered the house, I locked the door behind me. The house was dark and empty. I made my way upstairs to my room then slammed the door shut and switched the light on. There was silence as I stood still, then I got my school bag and flung my school books out. I packed a sweater, jeans, a hair brush, spare shoes, gloves, socks and a woolly hat and scarf. I breathed heavily then got up and collapsed into my bed. I stared at the ceiling of my room, the spiral patterns swirled like mini tornadoes. With a reach into my pocket I took out the ripped letter, and read it again.

“Into the valley…” I murmured then I turned onto my side and closed my eyes, setting the letter down on the bed near me “…Where I shall go” I said, with a tune this time “Where no one does do know…” The sound of the front door creaking open rattled through the house. “No turning back, on the track”

“Willow?” My mother called

“Goodbye, goodbye” I ignored my mother’s voice “In case I do…”

The sun started to rise; light spilled into my room. I quickly got the school bag and went out into the hallway. Quietly, I made my way down the stairs and to the kitchen. I opened the cupboard for tinned food, took a three tins and stuffed them into my bag. Then I made my way to the bathroom and took a tube of toothpaste and one of the spare toothbrushes. “Willow?” I heard my mother call. I panickedly ran into the living room and looked around for a spot to hide my bag. “Willow!” Footsteps sounded from the stairs.

 The couch!!!

I put my bag behind the couch and sat on the couch to look as normal as possible. “Willow?” My mother said as she came into the living room. “Why weren’t you answering?”

“I – I…was asleep in the living room” I lied.

“But you were in your room last night.”

“I woke up to have breakfast, but I fell asleep on the couch.”

“Oh, alright… I’ll make pancakes then” she said, then left the living room.

After making sure my mother had gone into the kitchen, I got my bag and hurriedly run up the flight of stairs to my room, then pushed the bag under my bed.

 I woke up too late far too late

I sighed from disappointment then got up and headed down stairs.

After breakfast I made my way to my room – luckily avoiding my mum – and got my bag, then went downstairs.

“Willow?” My mother said looking at me. I nearly jumped when I saw her. She was standing between me and the front door.

“Darcy invited me to go shopping” I replied, I lied.

“Darcy?” My mother said. I walked past her and opened the front door.

“A friend from school” I said then I closed the door and walked calmly to the pavement then burst into a sprint down the street.

I ran and ran until I reached the fence. I scoped around before I flung my bag over and began to climb up the fence then I jumped over. With one last look at the town through the fence, I headed to the willow tree. Once I had arrived, I reached into the hollow and took out the rope “Thanks, compadre” I said as I put the rope on my shoulder. I continued in the direction of the valley. I stopped and looked down the cliff edge at the valley. Clouds started to form above. I went to the nearest tree and tied one end around the trunk of it. Droplets of rain started to shower down. I looped the middle of the rope around my waist twice then put the rest down the cliff.

The clouds roared with thunder.

“What’s with the weather?? Of all days, it had to be this one?” I said to the angry sky. The sound of rain and thunder continued on. I sighed heavily and looked at the sky once again then at the valley, I shook my head then began to go backwards towards the cliff.

 No, nothing is stopping me No turning back

I leaned backwards over the edge making sure the rope around the tree wouldn’t go loose. After a few seconds, I stepped on the side of the cliff, then another step.

 Don’t look down

I breathed to calm myself then took another step making me parallel to the ground on the cliff. My hands tightly held the rope, I moved back a few more steps. I stopped for a second, shivering from the rain. Each breath I took turned into a cloud of mist. I could feel my bag weighing me backwards towards the floor below. Cautiously, I looked down. A thick mist had formed below. With a sigh I took another step. Then came the dreaded sound of something tearing.

The rope suddenly jolted downward. Panic-stricken, I froze. Then I saw the tear on the rope at the cliff edge.

 No, no no no!

I pulled myself up and took a step towards the top, but this only caused it to tear more. My eyes widened as I realised how little of the rope was left. How little of what was keeping me from falling to my death was there. I should have stayed home, eating pancakes with my mother.

 My mother

She already had to bear losing dad, and now me. I had been so selfish that I didn’t think to ask how she felt after dad left. Again the sound that made me aware of what was awaiting me in the future came, the quiet yet frightening tearing.

Only three thin strings of the material were left. Tears formed in my eyes as I knew what would happen after those three strings tore. I took a breath shakily and closed my eyes then recited what would be my last words.

“Into the valley where I shall go,

Where no one else does do know,

No turning back,

On the track,

Goodbye, goodbye,

In case I do…”

The sound of the three strings tearing echoed through the empty valley, I felt my weight shift as I began to fall. “In case I do die” I finished.

 

The little girl was sitting on her chair “What do you mean you have to go??” she questioned. Her father’s face fell. “I have to go somewhere you can’t follow” he said with a weary smile. “But mummy said you’re not feeling well!” the girl said with a frown. “Yes, that’s why I must go to the valley. I won’t feel unwell there”

“You won’t?” The girl tilted her head in confusion.

“It’s a happy place, some people call it paradise. No one is sad or sick there. I call it the valley, because a valley is very peaceful.”

“Why can’t I come too?” The girl asked. A pained expression crossed her father’s face

“Only when it’s your time to go to the valley.”

 

“Willow!” A distant voice shouted.

“Willow!!” It drew nearer.

“Willow wake up!” This time it was next to me. Suddenly I opened my eyes. A spotlight of some sort was shining into my face.

Beep…Beep…Beep…

Jude – Frances Wilson

Hello, little spaceman.

I’m right outside waiting for you with Nana and Papa. I’ve been waiting for ages and ages and ages and now you’re finally on your way. When Mummy and Daddy told me that I was going to be a big sister, I screamed and danced and cried and twirled and Daddy put me up on his shoulders and we went for dinner and I ate loads and loads of ice cream. It was the best day ever. Until now!

I promise you that I’ll be the best big sister in the whole world. I promise that I’ll share all my toys with you and I’ll play nicely and I’ll never ever let any mean kids hurt you. I’ll always look after you.

Is it nice in there? I hope it’s cosy, a little nest for you all tucked in safe, before you come into the world. I don’t remember it at all but maybe you can tell me what it’s like when you can talk. When can you talk? We can talk all day about pirates and princess and Disney films. I wonder what your favourite film will be? Maybe it will be Toy Story. That’s why we call you “spaceman”, like Buzz Lightyear, because of how you fly all around Mummy’s tummy. My favourite is Beauty and the Beast because Belle loves books and she reads lots like me. I’ll read to you, too. I have lots and lots of books in my room and when you’re big enough to read by yourself you can read them anytime you like.

We’ve painted your room already, I hope you don’t mind. It’s blue with stars and rockets, you know, because of the Buzz thing. It was Daddy’s idea. I thought it was really clever. Daddy’s the smartest man in the whole world and he knows all the best games to play. We can put lots of toys in your room when you’re big enough to know how to play. For now though, you just have teddies. I have loads of them, too. My favourite is Snowy the Polar Bear but you can have her, if you like. I think you’ll like it, little spaceman.

*

The whole world stops for a second.

*

The nurse is speaking really quietly to Nana and Papa now. I can’t quite hear what she’s saying. Nana is crying, but I think they must be happy tears. You must be here now.

Papa takes my hand and tells me you’re just visiting. He says you’re not coming home with us. I don’t understand. We have a big room and lots of toys for you. Don’t you want them? I don’t know if we’ve done something wrong or if you want a new family but I just don’t understand. Me and Mummy and Daddy would look after you better than anyone else in the world. I would be the best big sister in the whole universe.

Now I understand why Nana is crying. She was so excited to look after you. Papa says that you have a better place to go to now and that you maybe just weren’t meant to stay with us in the first place. I don’t understand.

Daddy comes out of the room. His eyes are red and his face is puffy. He looks like I do when I cry and I know something is wrong because daddies don’t cry. “Do you want to meet your little brother?”

I nod and I’m scared and it doesn’t feel like I thought it would because I thought everyone would be happy, not sad and I didn’t think I would feel like I had millions of worms squirming around my tummy and I’m so confused when Daddy holds my hand and leads me into the room.

There’s a little blue bundle cuddled up in Mummy’s arms and I know it must be you. You’re so tiny. The world must seem so big to you. Mummy’s face is grey and her eyes are blank and as I make my way over to you, she looks up at me and smiles but it doesn’t look like a real smile.

“Jude,” she says. “His name is Jude.” And she passes the tiny bundle to me.

Little Jude, you’re so small and soft. You aren’t very wiggly for a baby. In fact, you don’t wiggle at all. You’re so still. I think you must be asleep. Your little eyes are closed and your lips look like a little smiling violet. You have lots of little grey eyelashes, more than I can count to. And under your blue hat, you have little wisps of fuzzy blonde curls peeking out, just like me. Ten little fingers and toes, chubby little arms and legs and a tummy waiting to be tickled all wrapped up in a blanket, warm and safe. You look happy. You must be having a nice dream, about clouds and fairy wings and maybe I’m in it too, with Mummy and Daddy and Nana and Papa. I hold you close to my chest and I wonder if you can hear my heart beating.

*

I watch her. I wonder if he would have known how much love for him is inside that tiny little girl.

*

The room is so quiet. Our little house is quiet, too. We live in a quiet house in a quiet street in the quiet part of town. You would like it, Jude. I don’t want to leave you here. I don’t want to leave you behind. I don’t know what will happen next. I’m scared.

*

She holds him in her arms so gently. Our little bundle of dreams and possibilities and so much love and everything in between. Everything that could have been. I don’t know what will happen next. None of us do. But for now, I watch my babies together. My golden girl, holding a little universe in her arms.

*

Time passes so quickly. The years fall away like shooting stars. I grow tall. Dad goes bald. Wrinkles introduce themselves to Mum’s face. The boys are all in primary school now. The year after you was awful, a constant sadness looming over us all. And then we learned that Gabriel was coming. We were so scared, nine months of fear and not getting our hopes up. And then he came. Then came Mark. Then Finn, then Louis. When there’s a tragedy, people speak funny around you. Delicately. Sometimes people just pretend it never happened, ignore the blip in the timeline. But you were never a blip, Jude. You were real and ours and you’re on my mind every single day. I love space and the stars and the millions of universes and sometimes I imagine that maybe in a different universe things would be different and you would still be here. I don’t really like to think of it like that though. I think everything happens for a reason, and that somewhere, out in space, you are flying around in orbit – one of the stars we see at the night. A little spaceman in disguise as the brightest star.

The Cadaverous Carnival – Sophie Paterson

It was on a Thursday that the circus came. Preceded by nothing more than the quiet murmur of a restless town, it arrived shrouded in mystery. The canopies flew into the azure sky where clouds twisted peacefully overhead and ropes clawed the ground of the swampy fields just beyond the furthest houses. Brightly coloured stalls littered like exotic flowers, draping the area with a suffocating promise of euphoria. The murmur grew into a buzz and for a few precious moments, the town forgot its problems.

Night fell. A sheet of stars accompanied by a deafening silence cocooned the deserted streets, only broken by the crisp crackle of her boots on the frosted grass. It was a short walk to the fields, through the maze of houses and past the sleeping occupants but the journey felt like an eternity. Soon enough, the oily glow of the golden lamps shone out in front of her but there was something amiss. This was not the circus she had spied being constructed only hours previously.

Bunting lay trodden in the mud-soaked field and the tents bore gashes bleeding out the flickering, dying light from within. Broken stalls lay haphazardly around, surrounded by gaudily wrapped prizes, mutilated and mangled. Popcorn was trodden into the ground at her feet and above her the entrance sign hung from a single cable from which occasionally erupted a shower of sparks like frantic fireflies.

Enslaved, she felt her feet drag her towards the torn opening of the tent. Hesitantly, she pulled aside the curtain and peered through. Her eyes tracked the path of drying blood painting the floor. Laughter, drowned by the broken sound of circus music, hung chillingly in the arid air. The eerie tune writhed its way into her mind as she craned her neck up to look at the disjointed trapeze artists who performed to the music as if they were rag dolls being thrown into the air. The large stage spanned the majority of the room and there were but a few upturned and empty chairs scattered around. The paint on the side of the wooden ladders and platforms was peeling and faded, like a memory long forgotten. Her breath lurched as she watched as one of the artists plummeted through the air like a ribbon. Her body slammed into the ground with a sickening crack; legs bent at unnatural angles and eyes glassy and unfocussed. Mere moments later, the body twisted and convulsed and the doll-like creature stood up again and walked back to the ladder humming the demented tune, whilst the others sat perched on the platforms like vultures.

Leaving the nightmare of the stage behind her, she slithered around the edge of the arena and made her way through the corridors, the music continuing to play in her head; a compulsive, conniving echo.

Time seemed irrelevant as she made her way through the labyrinth; her route random and careless, occasionally glimpsing disturbing scenes such as the ballerina who pirouetted mindlessly on a miniscule box, eyes hauntingly blank. She stumbled on, her hand finding purchase on an obsolete light switch, which illuminated the wall ahead.

The wall seemed to span a thousand feet in the seemingly impossible nothingness of the tent, a collage of monochromatic faces and a flurry of words. She ran her hand along the wall of youthful expressions until she stopped at a random poster pasted over several others. Missing. A boy. He was called Jonathan. His picture embodied the innocence of his youth; she imagined his mother’s desperation at the loss of her son.

She emerged into an unfathomably large room full of cracked and broken mirrors, their jagged blooded shards like predatory teeth. Coaxed into the dark by the sound of muffled screams, choked sobs and high pitched giggles, she stepped through the mirrors’ frames, oblivious to the myriad of small cuts which the remnants inflicted.

An imposing spotlight shone onto the act that stood in the middle of a desolate stage therein. She peered from behind the wooden, supporting beam, swinging her body to gain a better view. The light bounced off the bars of a cage, illuminating the faces of petrified children within who cowered into the corners and shrank in on themselves. Clowns in dirtied silk costumes crawled over the entirety of the enclosure, their bloodied, crimson claws tearing at the children’s skin as they cried out in terror. As the face paint melted off the clowns’ faces revealing mouths of needles and sinister grins, one child grabbed at the bars and tried to squeeze his skeletal frame out of the cage but to no avail. His clothes were dirtied and there was a deep cut over one cheek but his face was the embodiment of innocence. Jonathan.

All those faces, all those posters; it was as if the final piece of the jigsaw was in place.

Marching on, she found herself to be in a dressing room. The make up splayed over the rusty table was bright and bold; behind her lay rails upon rails of silk clothing. Stepping closer to the table, her eyes fell upon the worn leather whip, its tail curling like a snake onto the floor. She tentatively grasped the handle raising it to eye level before gazing in the dirtied mirror, gazing detachedly towards her reflection.

Her dark figure was clothed in a bloody, torn crimson tailcoat, which brushed past her long, worn black boots. A dirtied white cotton shirt flared from beneath the jacket and blood seeped through a rip in her black fitted trousers. She observed the ruby liquid with idle curiosity before drawing her eyes up to her face.  Her breath was even and her expression blank as paper.  The harlequin diamonds and white face paint was flaking off, revealing the rotting flesh and snake like eyes hidden beneath. She tilted her head to the side as she regarded her reflection. With a sharp grin and crack of her whip she twisted brokenly towards the door, the tears in her clothes sewing themselves seamlessly together as she sauntered towards the arena.

The air grew heavy with the electric hum of jewelled tents snapping to attention, hypnotic with colours of crimson red and emerald green.

As she moved forward, the glowing lights grew impossibly golden and all around there was music, warm and irresistible.

Now she is centre stage in a circus alive and intoxicating in its seduction.

She has a show to give. And it will be perfect.

The Pill That Opens the Gates to Heaven – Joshua Edwardson

Recreational drugs and their effects are usually split into three categories: depressants, which relax and calm the user, stimulants, which provide alertness and energy to the user, and psychedelic drugs, which cause hallucinations and distort the user’s perspective of reality. The most popular and commonly used recreational drugs are alcohol, marijuana and hashish, but there is a new kid in town, taking it by storm.

Polyphasidine is the latest recreational substance to seize the imaginations of the Americas’ drug-using populations. It kills the user, eliminating all of their vital signs, but only for a short while. Why people would ever want to achieve this is a commonly-asked question, and those who have experienced this strange high have answered by trying to convince the public that there is an afterlife that anyone can witness. Some of the users have admitted to meeting deceased relatives and friends. Some have even said they were in the presence of great historical figures. The majority of scientific minds are still questioning the legitimacy of these sources and the University of Michigan has begun to investigate the substance.

Researchers offered volunteers $200 to take the drug in pill form, so that their experiences could be documented. The experiment started as they knew it would; with 10 dead twentysomethings sitting in reclining chairs. However, within 15 minutes, the first subject had awoken from beyond reality and was immediately taken to another room for questioning. The time taken to wake up ranged from about 15 minutes to about 35 minutes, with each volunteer being questioned after their resurrection from the dead. Each of them witnessed some sort of heaven, telling the professors that they had re-lived a forgotten memory or that they had had conversations with dead family members. It was clearly a very moving and emotional experience for everyone who had taken the drug; however this encapsulates the greatest risk of polyphasidine.

For some, the drug helps them to truly appreciate life on Earth, while others find it difficult to transition from death to reality, with some becoming addicted to the drug or, if they can’t reunite themselves with it, committing suicide so they can go back. The rise in popularity of polyphasidine has been directly proportional to an increase of suicide rates in the United States, Australia and Denmark. This, however is not the only risk of ingestion. In some cases, people have gone into a coma-like state after use, taking as long as two days to wake up. Whenever this has happened, the patient requires constant monitoring because of the nature to the drug. This has led to a grave concern over the widening use of the substance in the medical community as hospital beds are often occupied by users of the drug for days at a time. Ironically, the drug itself was initially created for medical use.

Polyphasidine was originally created in Columbia for use in euthanasia. For about 15 minutes, it was thought to be functional, until the subject woke up again. The hospital workers tried to dispose of the drug but, it was picked up by a drug cartel who, after realising its effect and apparently managing to source and co-opt chemists involved in its production, began selling and distributing it. The drug spread though South America and Central America before inevitably breaking out in the USA. It gained media attention when pictures and news emerged that Keith Richards had overdosed and died while using polyphasidine, but was seen wandering the streets of London just days later. He then began to describe the high as “literally heaven”, a phrase only other users of the drug could truly appreciate.

In a recent interview, Keith Richards explained he had been introduced to the drug when the Rolling Stones had been touring South America for the first time. He recalled he was the only member of the band willing to experiment with it, but cannot remember actually having taken it, only his own afterlife experience and the commotion after he woke up. “They had phoned an ambulance and when I awoke I was lying in hospital. I have to compliment the ambulance service and everyone present, as there was only about 20 minutes between me taking the drug and then waking up in hospital,” said Keith. “But that was the first and last time for me. You just can’t put the people around you in that sort of situation.”

Despite the many risks, there are substantial communities based in South, Central and North America who are all campaigning to have this drug legalised. They are trying to win over the population with a strongly theological argument. They are telling people that by taking the drug, they can spend time with those they neglected when they were alive. In an attempt to convert those from different faith communities who are the most prominent.  The leader of the Arkansas community, Timothy Whitmann, appealed to religious listeners in a radio interview saying, “There is finally a way to speak to your God face-to-face. There is finally a way to thank your parents for everything. And there is finally a way to relive your favourite memories.” In many of his speeches and protests he has quoted the Bible, Torah and Koran, desperately looking for acceptance from those who disagree with him. He urges all to disregard the risks, throw caution to the wind and try it, so that they can make their minds up for themselves.

As the cult of polyphasidine grows, we may stand at the cusp of a crisis in human history. Could the usage of this type of substance lead to an epidemic of suicides? Is there anything the world’s governments can do to prevent or at least control the polyphasidine intake in their respective countries?