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.


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.

Matilde Radice: Untitled


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”.

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

Charlie McCallum: Santorini


In Santorini,

Across the graceful Aegean

Flawless white stone lays submerged

Beneath Royal blue domes,

Branded by the Holy Trinity

One of Nature’s jokes:

A white celestial heaven

Born out of destruction and desolation.

Through a millennium of torture and Ash

Shines sheer perfection in the face of God


Through every narrow winding street

Rugged merchants cry loud

‘Tomatoes, Capers, Chloro, Wine.’

And on every face that wanders by

Marks of desire, Marks of seduction.

As each day passes by

Cruise ships dock and disgorge

An Exodus of hungry consumers

Charging through, like legionnaires,

Stabbing her, tearing out her heart.

While the sinister drone of mopeds run by.

Poisoning her air,

Stealing her virtue.

From all corners of the world,

North to South

East to West

Her superficial purity and innocence

Attracts the fragile minded to her shores.

Shores of a tortured beauty:

Each grain of sand

Black as the ash which gave birth to them.

Her elegance though, compromised,

By those who seek to enslave her.

As Greek masters grow fat

They tighten their grip round the noose of their slaves.

Who function

As bolts on the wheel of capitalism.

They sit on their throne of corruption

In a ‘benevolent’ kingdom

Transcendent to the screams of poverty-stricken Athens.



Atlantis risen from the sea.

She stands today,

A shinning beacon of light.

A glimmer of hope.

In this once noble house,

Known as Greece.

She’s reminiscent,

of the civilisation they once were:

Democracy, Philosophy.

Fallen, decayed into corruption and anarchy.

But no matter how lost,

Or hopeless it may seem.

Her sunset over the Aegean brings forth:

A supreme serenity,

A new dawn of change to come.

Charlie McCallum

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.

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.


The Apple of My Eye – Alison McIntosh

It is the shadow that lingers, hangs thick around me in the air. It is the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It is tide rising, as though the moon is drawing closer. Her face appears before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I am suffocating, sinking. I think I know what I want to do.

She had lived only a short walk from my house when we were children. I would run to her house, or she would run to mine, and we would leave together to play in the orchard – weaving between the trees, ducking to avoid low branches. As we grew up, we would talk for hours about our hates, our fears, our dreams, whilst taking refuge under the trees from the heat of the afternoon sun or the wildness of the rain and wind. We would eat the apples, sharing our anecdotes and laughing loudly with each other.  Over the years we grew inseparable. The look on her face when I asked and she said ‘yes’, eyes wide and her face beaming, was to be forever woven into my memories.

I remember that she was the centre of attention that day – she always had been, to me at least. It was difficult to take your eyes off her. Her slender figure draped in a long dress, pearls hung around her neck with the diamond displayed proudly on her index finger. Her dark hair had always fallen in loose curls around her shoulders, and this time was no exception.  I remember her pale complexion, her high cheekbones and full lips. People gathered around her, wishing her well before turning to me and doing the same- tears often filling their eyes. I remember how eerily still she was. I remember when they closed the lid – sealing her away forever – and I remember when they lowered her coffin into the ground.  With my jaw wavering and tears dominating my face, I knelt over her grave. In the loudest of all silences I cried my goodbyes – but it was too late for goodbyes. She was gone.

We had waved goodbye to friends and family and stepped tentatively over the frosty ground to the car, piling our engagement presents into the back seat. She sat in the passenger seat and I drove – on our way home from our celebratory night out with those we held dearest. Grey skies turned to black and soon darkness engulfed the car. Wind howled through the lattice of braches of the trees that lined the single-track road and snow began to swirl, adorning their limbs. Flakes danced in front of the windscreen in a hypnotising display as they fell to coat the road. The road took a sharp left but I noticed only a moment too late. I fought to control the wheel as we skidded around the bend, left side of the vehicle slamming into the tree.

The rooms are frozen and empty, stripped of colour and devoid of comfort. Her perfume still seems to linger in the air, intoxicating my mind and haunting me wherever I go. Her makeup remains on the dressing table; the teddy bear we’d won together at the fair sits on the shelf, its eyes stalking me. The numbness has spread, stretching out through every fibre of my being. Eternal emptiness buries itself in my gut, my chest is hollow and loneliness boasts me as its best friend. Sleek black feathers blanket my brain, becoming thicker and thicker, their colour diffusing into my thoughts.

It had been months since I’d met another person. I tried to force myself to leave behind any memories, but this is impossible to do. And it’s not fair to her. I could never forget. I have only myself to blame. I’d lost my job, cut off my friends and family. I spent my days fuelling my own dejection and being ashamed of my hopes that I might one day live without it. She occupies my mind – the frame of the car crushing her. Her face sometimes shines in red, the liquid dripping down to her clothes. Then she is clean, lying in her coffin. Disturbing images outweigh those of comfort.

The embers of days gone by seem to always fall around me like snow on a mid-winter’s day, accumulating at my feet and serving to only make each of my attempted steps forward increasingly laborious. Encased in my own thoughts, stuck within the same four walls, everything staring back at me seems to declare me insane. My existence was once mapped out with coloured ink, but is now sketched out with charcoal. The desert of my mind holds no oasis and my suffering binds me to the conscious world. Pictures accompany me on my walk down the hall, a timeline of our lives displayed in snapshots – but any photos now would be bare without her.

A week after her death I had left with a handful of seeds and a shovel, making my way to her field outside the orchard.  I dug a small hole in the ground, planting the seeds above her grave.  She had once mentioned that that was how she wanted it; nothing more than a passing comment but I, of course, held on to her every word. From her loss of being, there grew a symbol of life.  I continued to meet with her in her field every day. I spoke with her, ate apples with her and cried for her. I watched the tree flourish over the years. It watched me crumble.

It was the shadow that lingered, hung thick around me in the air. It was the weight on my back, pressing down and weakening me. It was tide rising, as though the moon had drawn closer. Her face is fixed before my eyes, like mist on a cold winter’s day. I have suffocated, I have sunk. The shadow is not around me, it’s within me. I know now what I want to do – cut the apples open and extract the seeds. Weigh the seeds, blend them and drink them. Quickly. Quickly or it won’t work. I have to ensure there is enough – there are no second chances. There is no time for sub-lethal doses.