Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 129

This week's picture prompt appears to be by artist Marcos Garcia, a Spanish artist known for painting royal family. He shared this picture on a site called Foati, where he has a page. I believe it is a photo he took in Marbella, in Peurto Banus. (I don't think it is a painting as it doesn't seem to be in his style at all, but I can't be sure!)

Pirate stories aren't my forte but this one sparked off more easily than expected. 
The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.



Last Man Standing

It wasn’t his job to care about the prisoner, but he couldn’t help it. She’d been found in the water off the coast and they’d hauled her in, jeering about their luck and stowing her away for later use.

She shivered as Johns cleaned, and he considered bringing her a blanket, something to put round her narrow, frail shoulders. He heard whispering as he pushed the broom past her cell, and glanced up. She was rocking and muttering. He couldn’t make out what. It sounded like gibberish. He assumed it was some kind of prayer. I mean, who wouldn’t be praying in her situation, locked in the hold awaiting the return of a gang of pirates to wreak havoc on your body as many times as you could stand and then some. He knew he would be. As the youngest of the crew, he’d had to tolerate some of that attention himself. And even though he hated to admit it, he was grateful she was here.

In that moment he decided he’d provide her with a blanket, it was the least he could do, even if it did result in getting a swipe from McLaughlin. He was a bad-tempered Quartermaster even on good days, so Johns didn’t care.

When he took her the grey, scratchy rag that served as blankets on the Prentiss, she glanced up at him, her stark jade eyes catching him off guard as they regarded him with contempt rather than fear. He wondered if she would be as easy to break as they suspected.

‘Here lady, a bit of comfort, the least I can offer in this hell-hole of a scallywag’s ship.’ He grinned at her, but her expression didn’t change. She snatched the material and drew it round her, unspeaking. He withdrew, locking her in, a sick feeling settling into his stomach.

***

As dusk fell that evening, a keening sound was heard off starboard causing the crew to rush to the side of the ship to try and ascertain its origins, but nothing could be seen in the dimming light. Lasting only a few minutes, they lost interest, instead going to fill their bellies in the Captain’s cabin and prep for their night of debauchery.

Johns kept himself busy on deck, not wanting to be present. If he saw no evil and heard no evil, he couldn’t speak of any evil. But they were loud as they went below deck and the sounds carried on the still ocean air. The screams grew loud and he hummed to himself to block them out, until he was forced to sing to smother the shouts that followed. Then there was silence. He assumed they’d broken her. She might look feisty, but it wasn’t enough to ward off the likes of them.

He waited for them to return, moving with his bucket along to the bow of the ship, but there were no footfalls on the stairs, and the silence continued, growing eerie.

He stopped mopping and listened. Maybe they were worn out and had gone to sleep it off. But there was no shuffling, or mutterings, or general movement of bodies. The earlier foreboding increased.
Then he heard shuffling coming up the ladder in the middle of the main deck. In the nightlight, the white skin of the woman gleamed as she surfaced from below. But was it a woman?

The creature Johns witnessed arriving on deck might have the bedraggled blonde hair and striking green eyes of the woman below, but the similarity ended there. Blood dripped from its mouth and teeth – teeth that belonged to a shark they were so jagged and plentiful – and its eyes shone out like lights in the night, its skin all aglow. Its hands and feet were now webbed as it dragged itself to the side of the ship.

Johns shivered as it loosed a keening causing him to cover his ears and move behind a barrel to hide, while watching it lean over the side. A matching sound replied far out to seas, and he was relieved when the creature jumped overboard to return to its companions, rather than invite them here. He considered going below to see the destruction it had wrought, but decided to wait until morning, instead heading to the helm, where he would now need to navigate the ship alone.

But to where? The world was now his oyster. His mind raced at the possibilities once he’d dumped the bodies. 




Friday, 11 October 2019

Review: Violet by SJI Holliday

VioletViolet by S.J.I. Holliday
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never did the Trans Siberian Express although I thought about it after spending a year or so backpacking. I did do other long train journeys, like The Ghan from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and all the way up the east coast of Australia, and I used to talk to people all the time. That's part of the backpackers life. This book certainly grasped the feel of the backpackers life - even though you don't often come across people who are quite like Violet ... thankfully.

This book reminded me of the film, The Beach, which shows the highs of backpacking and going off grid and the people you meet, and then exposes the dirty underbelly and the true characters of some of them. Violet does this, but in a slightly different way: more psychological, and insipid. The slow drip effect of realising the deeper you get into it, the more off kilter it gets. And that is how Carrie gets to feel about Violet. And SJI Holliday also manages to do this to the reader too, and not just about Violet.

There is an expectation from the start that something will be revealed about Violet, and you are waiting for it, but then things go a bit strange in the middle, at a particular event, and you become unsure. I was no longer certain which way things were going to fall and who actually was the twisted one. That is down to the talent of the writer.

Holliday manages to weave a tale that twists and turns, not just writing about unsettling characters but able to unsettle the reader about the characters and what the truth is behind the story, making them unsure which way is up - explaining the brilliant design of the cover. And at the same time I felt a certain sympathy for Violet, more so than for Carrie in the end.

The characters were depicted perfectly to me; I could envisage them both. I felt I almost knew them, being British and having been a backpacker. They drew you in and captured you as you waited to see how it was going to turn out. And you get to know it all, with a tiny little kicker at the end too, just to bring it full cycle.

If you want a glimpse into a broken mind and a broken person, and how this can play out, and how dark and sinister it can get, then this is the book for you. Psychological thriller at its best.



View all my reviews

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 128

This week's prompt photo was taken by Richard Shilling, an Environmental Artist - you can find his own art on his website. He also has a large collection of photography of environmental art on his Flickr page (worth a look)

The piece of art photographed is a sculpture by Andy Goldworthy, who also does incredible creations. If you want to visit this one, there are direction on this website. 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.



Home


He stood in front of the hand-built stonewall with its intriguing design that looked like a door. Others claimed it was just a piece of art by some long ago ancient artist, but he knew differently – he ‘saw’ differently. He knew there was a trick to opening it. It was in the pattern and the numbering.

People didn’t believe in numerology and geometric patterns anymore; they thought it was all mumbo-jumbo, some sort of religious idea. They only saw the world in their stark, flat, two dimensions – well, they liked to tinker with the idea they saw in three dimensions, but there were infinite dimensions and they didn’t fully understand the concept.

But Randolf did. His mind had always seen more than the average person – and that was the thing: he saw with his mind, not his eyes.

And as he stood in front of the stones, he used his mind to reach out to the configuration. His eyes only read the information.

The pattern of a door wasn’t coincidental, it was deliberate, and he knew that deciphering the numbers and the layout would mean opening something. But to what?

He stared at it and slowly the configuration became visible to him. It was like staring at one of those three dimensional patterned pictures until the image appears and you can’t unsee it. He ran through it with his eyes a few times to be sure, before touching the stones.

Once his fingers touched the last stone, the entire centrepiece shifted. The stones seemed to vapourise into a darkness that was foreboding.

Randolf didn’t know if it would be a good idea to step through. Would the place beyond be a different dimension? The entrance system would certainly indicate one of a geometric kind. And would he be able to perceive it correctly if that was the case? So much to ponder, but without stepping forward he would never hold the answers.

He lifted his foot and stepped in, leaving most of his body outside. He wasn’t sure what to expect: maybe his left leg would disappear, get bitten off, or just cease to be. But none of those things happened, so he shifted his entire body through the opening.

Randolf anticipated darkness, but it wasn’t dark as he knew it, it was more vacuous. And within it there was visual movement his eyes tried to catch. It seemed to circle him. His conscious mind interpreted something outside of himself, but his body had changed. It had become light and ethereal, like it was no longer solid, like his physical state was no longer solid. And the lighter he felt the more visible the movements became in his mind.

They were flashes of colour, like those that appear behind closed eyelids, but they were appearing in some kind of pattern, and shapes appeared within them. Randolf realised he could ‘read’ them; they made sense to his brain and to his intellect. They were another existence, another people, but one way beyond anything the human mind could conceive. And he understood that they were not new, they were always there, existing alongside humans, in some ways a part of themselves they didn’t know existed.

And as he grasped this and his conscious processed it, his own energy level raised. He felt a sense of calm and belonging, like he’d finally found his place. A place where he was a part of something significant, something worthwhile; a  much needed cog in a machine that couldn’t work without him. He was home. Nothing else existed, only being in this state.



Friday, 4 October 2019

Free short story, exclusive to my newsletter subscribers

I recently came across a story I wrote several years ago - in fact a serial short story I wrote in eleven flash pieces for a blog called Daily Picspiration which is now defunct. 

I really enjoyed reading it again, and I thought others would too, so I've prepared it as a little ebook and am giving it away to my newsletter subscribers only! 😃

Here's a glimpse:



It had been called an ‘evacuation’ by the military, but no one had left the town alive. Now that Daniels and the remaining survivors were faced with frozen water pipes, their only hope was to move to a mountain cabin in mid-winter.  

Snippet:

“The snow fell away from the frost encrusted windows, revealing a dark shape inside the car. It started to strike the windows at the movement outside, eventually pushing its face up against the glass. The bright iridescent blue of the infected eyes shone through, confirming that there was no one to be saved inside.”

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 127

This week's photo is from American photographer Jerry N Uelsmann. He has some interesting pieces, definitely work checking out. This particular image is not on is site, but is on other art sites attributed to him. 

I had this story in my head from the second I saw the picture. It helped me return to my darker writing roots. 

The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.






Lies

As she stuffed the last bag into the ground, Gwenda thought about how it had all started: the chairs.

It had been a simple enough thing on a weekend away with her husband’s friends, all sitting outside enjoying the sunshine in the dreaded ring of chairs they all insisted on sitting in. It always had to be a circle; they’d been raised to sit that way since nursery school and did it at every gathering.

Then she’d got up to go to the toilet and by the time she’d come back the sun had moved, and so had they. They’d moved all the chairs back into the sun resetting them in the same ring, except for hers. Hers was still sitting there on its own in the shadow on the other side of the lawn.

She’d paused for a second, deciding it was nothing, until they did the same again the following day. And then they’d done it with the games too; all getting up to go and play cards leaving her there sitting alone, uninvited as though she was invisible.

From that time on she had noticed every time they had deliberately excluded her during an event or gathering – and even from one entirely. Her husband was good at ‘forgetting’ to tell her until the last minute, making it impossible for her to join. They also ‘forgot’ to include her in emails or messages. Each time it had twisted inside her, like a poisonous snake that kept on biting. It had filled her with venom and bitterness, until she could stand it no more. She decided something had to be done.

And she’d done it.

She’d waited until it was her and her husband’s turn to organise a weekend away, and then picked a place that was remote and off the grid, citing a desire to reconnect by playing some paintball.  She knew she couldn’t exclude her husband from her plans, but as he had always dismissed her feelings and not supported her anyway, it hadn’t been hard. She’d spent ten years devoting her life to him; given up everything for what he wanted, believing that being by his side would make her valuable to him, but it had been a lie. And now it was time to correct that lie; now it was time to put herself first for a change.

They’d loved the idea of paintball, and obtaining the equipment hadn’t been difficult. However, obtaining a gun had been. She’d worried at one point that she wouldn’t be successful, but at the last moment it had all come together, indicating to her that it was meant to be.

And then the games had begun.

She’d deliberately chosen to start the game late in the day, so she could use the darkness to her advantage and it had worked. The forest surrounding the property was deep enough to cover the sounds of shots and screams, and didn’t edge on to any main roads. In fact, the road to the house had been nothing but track for a good twenty miles, it had been perfect. And should questions be asked, evidence of paintball was everywhere. She’d been the only one with a real gun.

The only problem was making sure she killed each one quickly. It was only a small handgun and she’d done target practice for weeks beforehand to make sure she wouldn’t run out of bullets on the day. She knew the last one would be the hardest, as by then they would have cottoned on, but they had frozen in fear rather than run for their life.

And now, the depth of the forest had served her in the options for disposing of bodies. She’d picked a variety of locations, and scattered them about to lower the risk of anything being discovered. The biodegradable bags she’d found had been a God send; a few months down the line there wouldn’t be much to discover. And the big bonfire she’d gained permission to have would see the end of all their belongings.

Then she’d drop the rental bus they used to come here off at a local handler and disappear herself. She was looking forward to the freedom of finally being able to live the life she wanted, and no longer living a lie. Although being invisible this time would be an advantage.  


Monday, 30 September 2019

Review: One of Us Has To Go, by Katja Schulz

One Of Us Has To GoOne Of Us Has To Go by Katja Schulz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was curious about this book, as I know a few people with both mild and severe OCD. As it is the true story of the author's life, with a few alterations to respect privacy, I wondered how it would be written: what point of view it would take, where it would begin, how the information would be imparted. It read as an intriguing real-life drama, with elements of suspense.

The author starts at a breaking point for the main character - one of us has to go - and then returns to the past, starting from the beginning to tell the story of Finja and her friend Sonja, who is the one with OCD, moving backwards and forwards between the past and present day until the past catches up.

I found the writing compelling and the story peaked my curiosity, especially with cliff hangers at the end of some of the chapters. I became emotionally invested in Finja's story, and needed to see how it was going to turn out: how she reached that breaking point and what the outcome would be. I wasn't disappointed - in fact it has quite a revelation at the end, with an ending I hadn't anticipated at all and landed the 'wow' factor.

The author puts across the chaos of the OCD sufferer, and also how it affects those caring for them, in a way that is coherent for anyone to understand, even those of us who do not suffer it or come into contact daily with those that do. I was able to understand on a level I hadn't before, and in fact I was amazed at how much the author had been able to achieve in their life - especially living in multiple countries and different cultures. It shows that the illness doesn't deprive the victim of their ability to live, just whether they are able to enjoy the life they were living.

It also highlighted the trauma that is often a root cause for this illness, and how the people that inflicted the trauma are never held accountable. I was horrified by both sets of parents and their lack of responsibility and caring.

The other exceptional part about this book is that the author is not a native English speaker, and this is not a translated book (even though it is edited), and yet it reads as well as any written by an native English person.

I am keen to read this authors second book, and would urge anyone with an interest in understanding OCD better to give this book a read.



View all my reviews

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 126

This week's incredible prompt picture is by artist Miss Aniela (real name Natalie), a British Fine Arts Photographer. She has some amazing pictures in her Surreal Fashion gallery, take a look. 

It seems that through my entries at the moment, I am channelling a character that insists on being heard, this might well be her beginning.  
The General Guidelines can be found here.

How to create a clickable link in Blogger comments can be found on lasts week's post here.

There is also a Facebook group for Mid-Week Flash, if you fancy getting the prompt there.



Snubbed

It was not on that they had ignored her. She didn’t care that it was their day or their wedding, she was the important one; she should be there. People might not want to recognise that she was the controlling power, they might want to pretend that it was that stupid muppet they’d put a crown on, but she was the force behind him. She was the Crimson Queen and he was a pathetic imitation.

But no invitation had turned up; she had been snubbed. That wouldn’t do. She’d have to show them she wasn’t someone to be trifled with. She’d show them what real power was in this pathetic place they called a kingdom. They might have scraped it together from the rubble of the destroyed world and taken pride in that, but it could have been so much more. They’d settled for following the old traditions, some of which had even been the cause of the downfall in the first place. They didn’t learn. It’s like they didn’t want to.  

If their half-arsed King would only let her take control and let her lead, but although he spouted about it no longer being a patriarch and women being equal, it was crap! He held her down and held her back wanting to be the figure head, claiming he was making it easy on her. Ha! She’d show him. She’d show all of them!

Brianna stalked out of her bedchamber. She knew where they were getting married; the old stately home had the only rooms still worthy of such a special occasion.

She stomped into the room she used as her wardrobe and started sifting through her dresses. Where was it? She knew it was here somewhere. She looked up at a shelf and saw a gold brocaded piece of material sticking out of a box. Ah, there it was!

She got it down and shook the voluminous dress out. It had been a rich discovery when they had taken this mansion over, as had several of her dresses. It was perfect for crashing the party. They would rue the day they had acted so wilfully.

She let out a laugh that came close to a cackle and went about readying herself.

***

Brianna had turned her hand at many tricks in her time; it’s how she’d won her place. And she wasn’t going to scrimp tonight, not when she was looking so fabulous.  

So when a flash preceded her arrival in the main ballroom among the billowing smoke, the satisfying gasps and screams helped her continue the illusion she held powers no one else had.

When the smoke cleared, she stood majestic, giving them all a chance to be clear who had arrived. She spotted the bride and groom near the front of the cowering crowd.

“Ah, my dears, I believe congratulations are in order, even though you failed to seek them from me personally.” She eyed them harshly.

The groom stepped forward and bowed. “I’m sorry ma’am, we didn’t think our little wedding would be of interest to you.”

“Nonsense, all weddings are of interest. We need to see who will be producing our future, if in fact you can produce.”

The bride joined her new husband. “Oh yes, ma’am, we have been tested, we are fertile and should be able to produce quite quickly.”

“Good, because for your penance I will require your first-born daughter.”

There were gasps among the crowd and the bride burst into tears.

“Now, now, not so hysterical, it is only one of multiple you will be having. I’m sure you can spare me just one. And you can have possession of her until her fifth birthday, so you can prepare her. Be thankful, she will have a very special life with me. I will teach her all I know and raise her in my image.”

The bride attempted to stifle her tears with the consoling arms of the groom around her, but she still looked at their queen with contempt in her eyes when she said, “Thank you ma’am.”

“Good. Then the matter is cleared up and I won’t sully your day further.” There was another flash and plume of smoke and she was gone, only her laughter echoing round the room.

She did love putting on a show and the plan was coming together. She had five years to prepare – give or take. It was going to be glorious.