Thursday, 22 September 2022

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 268

This weeks picture prompt is by Igor Zenin a Moldovian photographer. This one is simply called Winter Landscape. This is actually the fourth time I have used one of his pictures for Mid-Week Flash, the other were on Week 175  Week 10 & Week 97 He has some great art pieces.

I had to do a rewrite to get this to come out as planned. It's a dark one, but I think it works. I've gone over the word count, but I'm not sure anyone cares.  

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.

A picture of a snow covered boat and valley with a town in the distance, with tracks in the snow leading over a small bridge toward the town. The sky a pink/orange sunset colour. Created by Igor Zenin.


Fagan crept up to a tree and peered round it. All was quiet in the valley, the snow making it soundless. He saw tracks leading from the boat into the town.

He stepped out from the cover of the trees, risking exposure as he scurried up to inspect them. There were four sets of boot prints. He followed the trail over the bridge into town.

He kept close to the wall at house on the corner so as not to be spotted. What were they doing here? The town had been evacuated weeks ago. Maybe they didn’t know.

Fagan skulked further in, following their tracks. They’d gone straight to the town hall. They hadn’t bothered checking any of the other buildings. They knew the people were gone, so why were they here?

He ran down the side of the building rather than follow them in. It had been left unlocked as had all the buildings. He reached the side entrance and carefully opened it, sliding in as soon as the opening was wide enough.

He took the back stairs up to the main floor as silently as he could, listening out for them. When he reached the door into the main foyer, he stood with his back against the wall next to it, listening.

‘They’re not here; they’ve taken them with them.’

‘He said they didn’t. He said they’d be here waiting for us.’

‘Well there’s nothing here. So what do we do?’

‘We can’t go back without them, he’ll kill us.’

‘If we stay we’ll be killed too!’

‘Don’t be silly, they were just being hysterical. There’s no one here. It’s completely quiet.’

‘Too quiet if you ask me. It doesn’t feel right.’

‘Come on, there’s another level to this place.’

Fagan heard them stomp up the stairs to the attic where the town memorabilia was kept. He couldn’t work out what they wanted; there was nothing of value here. After a few minutes of scuffling sounds overhead, he heard them coming back down.

‘They could be in the church. He said the centre of the community; maybe we’ve got the wrong place.’

‘Bit sacrilegious to ransack a church, isn’t it?’

‘What you getting all religious on us now?’

‘No, it’s just it wouldn’t be right.’

‘And you think stealing from here would be?’

‘Well no, but at least HIS eyes won’t be on us.’

Fagan heard laughter.

‘You’re a funny sod, no one’s eyes are on us, the town’s dead. Can’t you see that? They’ve been evacuated.’

 ‘Yeah, and why exactly is that, Clancy?’

‘It’s all a load of guff, there’s no psychopath on the loose. I think it’s something he arranged to get them out so we could come in and retrieve the stones.’

 Fagan grinned. Their naivety would benefit him.

‘Why couldn’t he have come himself? He knows where they are and what they look like.’

‘How do we know he’s not sending us to our death?’

There was silence for a moment.

‘Don’t be so bloody stupid, why would he do that?’

‘Maybe because he’s the psychopath!’

There was a smack, and an ‘Ow!’

‘Don’t talk about him like that. He’s served us well. Come on, let’s go to the church.’

Fagan silently backtracked out of the building, while they went out the front, heading to the church. Fagan took another route round the back, using the side vestibule entrance. The pastor hadn’t wanted to leave but there hadn’t been much choice in the matter. Too many had died.

Fagan climbed up the stairs to the bell tower. He reached up inside the bell and found the little sack hanging from the bell clapper. This was what they had been sent to fetch. They were pretty gemstones and would fetch a good price, but Fagan had no interest in riches.

He quietly made his way down to the gallery. He could hear them below, their inane chatter bouncing off the walls as they looked around for the stones. Fagan moved down to ground level and past the door, carefully locking it as he went by. He crept up the aisle on the left, towards the altar, keeping out of sight.

‘What was that?’

‘What was what?’

‘Thought I heard something?’

‘You’re paranoid.’

Fagan found himself grinning again. He loved how people dismissed their instincts when they were in danger. This time when he moved he deliberately scuffed his feet. All four of the men froze, eyeing each other in terror. He wanted to laugh but would hold off a bit longer. Instead he chucked the little bag of gemstones onto the alter table.

They all drew their weapons as they scanned the church, still unable to spot him. While their backs were turned, he rushed across to the altar and crouched behind it.

‘There’s someone here. Oi, mate! There’s no point hiding. Show yourself & we can talk.’

Fagan had no plans to talk, only plans to sacrifice.

He rushed them, killing two before they turned; stabbing one through the back into his heart, and another with a swift swipe across the neck. His blade had never been sharper. The other two tried to swing at him, but they were clumsy and he dispatched them without even breaking a sweat.

All four lay on the church altar. Perfect. He’d say his prayers then prepare them for the spit. He’d have a feast and pay thanks tonight.

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Review: Substitute, by Susi Holliday

SubstituteSubstitute by Susi Holliday
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's difficult to rate this one, as I feel it is more in the 3½ realm, but as there is nothing specifically wrong with the writing it is also not a 3 star.

I have read all of Susi Holliday's books, and I can't decide if it is because she is writing to market now but the quality in the last couple of books is lacking. The premise starts out well and there is enough to lead the reader in, but then it gets bland. The characters aren't particularly likeable - Chrissie is an agitated character who isn't really happy and you don't ever fully understand why, or what the history has been with her husband. A lot is eluded to but never explained. Then Holliday weaves all the threads of the tale together through different perspectives and in this case different time lines.

I noticed more in this book that it is written in present tense, rather than third, and found it more jarring than usual. I think skipping back and forth between time periods rather than finding another way to write the backstory, is not beneficial for the reader because they have to keep checking the chapter titles, which do become irritating. I also felt this style of writing was repetitive and a little tired. I felt the story could have been told in a whole other way with much more tension and suspense.

The storyline in Substitute might have a unique premise, but it became predictable as it wasn't fully fleshed out and wasn't given a chance to run fully before it was all wrapped up neatly. No cliffhangers, all without question, and basic characters who all end up happily ever after. It's a shame a developmental editor didn't help Susi find a better way to draw out the darker side to this story, and it would be great to have a fully fleshed character the reader actually cared about rather than indifferent to. But then this could just be standard for crime thrillers, which are not my preferred genre.

I get the feeling Susi Holliday would do better to write what she really wants, which is dark, scary stories, that aren't necessarily tied to crime or to a market. I still feel that Blackwood and Violet are her best books to date.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 267

This week's picture, according to all the sources I can find, say this was created by Adam Gaia, who I have found on an art website, but this image doesn't appear. The Instagram account the art website gives also doesn't exist anymore. Shame. Hope it is theirs - but can't find it associated with anyone else. 

Went a bit esoterical this week. 

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.

An image of a path winding through grasslands on either side and up round overhead too, in a kind of tunnel with a bright light at the end, which glows over the landscape. The silhouette of a person standing at the end of the path in front of the light. Image created by Adam Gaia

The Light

Tim was terrified. He had no way of knowing if he was going the right way. The path might be clear, but should he be on it? It wound through the grasslands which surrounded him in all directions. There was no other path or direction. This was it – which in fact it was … or at least he thought it had been. He’d died, he was sure he had, yet this felt real, tangible. He could feel a breeze, hear wind through the grass, smell the grass. He bent down; touch the grass. So if he wasn’t dead, where was he?

He refused to entertain the idea of heaven. He’d never believed in that concept, spurned it all his life. He had pondered the afterlife, but this wasn’t life, this was a path. But to where? Would St Peter and some gates come into view shortly? He chuckled to himself. But yet he wondered if he should. What if that was where he was headed? At this point he couldn’t rule out anything.

The way ahead seemed to narrow, or at least it felt like it did. Tim couldn’t trust his eyes anymore – or any part of his body, because it wasn’t really there. It was residual; in his mind’s eye only.

He began to feel like the path was leading him through a tunnel, the grasslands wrapping round him to the left and right and overhead. There was a light ahead. Oh good grief, was this THE light? The one you were meant to go through to ‘go over to the other side’? Surely that was just humans and their hopeful bullshit. There was no other side, or light. But that was exactly what was ahead of him.

The light glowed, and basked the grasslands in a golden light. It was magical. Tim mentally scoffed at the word, but it was the only way to describe it. It shone like light he’d never seen before, and it enveloped him. He looked down at what was once his body. It hadn’t been his body before his death, it was his body from his youth; how he always remembered himself. Even though the clothing was dark, it glowed and sparkled. He could only smile.

He felt elated. He had no reason to be elated – he’d just died, but there was an excitement in the light that was infectious. He felt his stride quicken and he rushed forward. The light seemed like a destination. The path seemed to disappear out of sight. Tim wondered if there was an edge, and if he might fall or jump or step through into something. He wanted to know what. He felt eager, like a child before an exciting event, restless: curious and a little nervous.

Was he going to see family? People he’d known who had passed? His mind raced at the thought of who he might see, and he considered the past relationships he’d had, some of whom had already passed. Would any of them show up? Would he want them to? Or was it all a fallacy that you met your loved ones? Maybe there were no people.

The light filled his entire vision as he approached it and he knew that at any moment he would cross over into it, but the path kept on going and he kept on walking, and it remained there in front of him. His excitement didn’t fade, it matured into a keen knowing that he was about to witness something that would explain it all, the very existence of life; that he was on the verge of knowing everything.

There was a flash, and the light was all around him and in him and he was a part of it, and it was a part of him.

Thought was gone.

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 266

This week's picture prompt is by Sarolta Bàn, a hungarian artist. She creates the most incredible images, which offer a world of meaning.  I actually used another piece of hers back in 2017, on Week 28 and this won't be the last one. 

This week a poem came out. It's rare when it happens, but it's what came. 

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.

A black and white image of a man walking in a barren empty, desert-like land, his back to the camera dressed in suit and flat cap, holding onto a rope over his shoulder, dragging an giant metal old key, with a round looped top. Created by Sarolta Ban.

Life choices

It was there but he didn’t see it

He carried it with him, but he didn’t use it

It was with him all along but he chose to ignore it

He believed himself unlucky

He believed himself unworthy

He believed he never had a chance

But there it was right there

The key to his life

The key to his success

The key to open up all the doors of opportunity

It started with him

It grew with him

It was part of him

But he wasn’t aware of it

He just kept trudging on

One foot in front of another

Taking the hard route

Travelling the monotonous route

Being frustrated by the emptiness of life

The lack of abundance

When all along, the key there

And it grew heavier with every passing decade

Weighing him down

Waiting to be seen

Waiting to be felt

Waiting to be sparked into life

But it wasn’t to be.

Wednesday, 31 August 2022

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 265

This week's picture prompt was taken by Walter Arnold an American photographer. He calls this one The Pull. It was taken in Salpelo Island, off the coast of the state of Georgia, in the US. This is not the first time his work has been a prompt on Mid-Week Flash, the last time was Week 177, back in December 2020. He takes some wonderful pictures, worth checking out.  

A short piece of what I saw when I first looked at this image. 

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.

An image of a dead tree trunk lying on the sand in the shallow waters of a beach, with waves receding from it, along with other branches and beach debris in the shallows. Taken from low down looking out to sea at sunset. Taken by Walter Arnold on Salpelo Island, Georgia, USA


He gripped the log, having managed to straddle the main limb, and held on for dear life as it was pulled away with the hard tidal water. He knew that it would be pushed back just as strong but he had no choice but to hang on if he wanted to stay alive.

Not one inch of this tiny little island stayed dry during the ocean tide anymore. As the sand had been dragged away so had most of the vegetation, in particular the large trees that had once kept it shaded and allowed other plants to grow.

Perry didn’t know what had brought about the change in the seasonal rotation of the sea. In the three years since he had been stranded on it, he’d mapped the weather and the tides, trying to work out the possibilities of getting off. But four months ago the first of the exceptionally high tides had started, bringing daily floods and washing away his rustic attempt at shelter. The persistent water had started to corrode the bases of the trees, the salt permeating the bark, poisoning them, making them easier to breakdown and drag away.

He scanned the sea, hoping to see any kind of boat or ship on the horizon but there was nothing, as it had been all the years he’d been stuck here; dropped by a malfunctioning plane which had sunk to a watery grave along with its pilot.

Perry considered this could be likened to a rollercoaster ride, like he used to enjoy back home – being thrown back and forth, the water rushing along with the dead tree trunk. But the chances of him losing his life back then were minimal, today they were very real. And even if he did survive this ride, then what? How much longer before he’d died from thirst or hunger? Rains weren’t due for another week or so, if they came, and if they did he had no way to catch the water or keep it. Maybe he’d be better off letting the ocean take him.

But instinct and the innate desire to live held him on the trunk as the movement started to slow and the waters began to recede, the trunk being shoved back into the sand. A respite of a couple of hours before it started again. He wondered if next time the sea might take the trunk once and for all, and him along with it. Part of him could only hope.

Wednesday, 24 August 2022

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 264

This week's picture prompted was created by Edli Akolli, and Albanian artist over on deviant art. He calls it Valkyrie and it's stunning. He's created quite a few stunning warriors like this one. Take a look using the link above. 

This week just a short piece on how this inspired. 

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.

A female winged warrior standing on the top of mountain range amongst the clouds, with wings open and on display, dressed in a gold fitted tunic on the top and a long, to the floor, red skirt holding a waist-high gold sword in front of her, with the tip on the ground. It's called Valkyrie and created by Edli on DeviantArt


I fell to my knees the second I saw her. Her height, her strength, her power as she stood proud at the gates of the slain, overwhelmed me. I was already in love with her. I wondered if she would dane to let me touch her or kiss her feet, but she was too majestic. I dared not try. I was in awe. I was humbled. I was grateful to be here.

I wondered what her judgment would be; would I be going to Valhalla to join my battle mates, or would I be going to Fólkvangr where I could rest my weary head in the meadows? I didn’t mind as long as it was Valkyrie’s wish. Her wish was my every desire, and I would do anything to please her.

‘Soldier, are you tired with life?’

Her voice filled me. It was gentle, loving and sympathetic. I could listen to it for eternity.

‘Oh great Valkyrie, I only tire of spilling blood and avenging those who I have never met; of the drive to end life for the means of gaining land – land taken from another by force. I only tire of seeing children and families torn apart by war, or the poverty they are driven into. I tire of seeing human battle human for no other reason than greed.’

‘I feel your pain, warrior. I hoped that humans would do better. But they have not. But it is not for us to judge, it is only for us to serve.’

‘Oh but great Valkyrie, I am the one who should be serving you. You are magnificent and loyal to our cause. I would do anything that you wish of me.’

‘I wish for you to find peace with Freya and free your heart and soul of your sadness. You’re mortal work is done and you are here now in the after realm where you must take time to rest before your next task is set.’

‘I will do as you bid. I only hope that you will someday join me and together we might serve side by side.’

She laughed; a deep joyful sound that made her eyes light up and my heart melt.

‘Oh warrior, you do a valkyrie a great service with your words. It is long days since anyone has requested my presence anywhere other than here. I hope too that someday your hopes will be fulfilled.’

I was uplifted by such an answer and as the clouds on the mountain tops cleared to make way for the meadows below, I was hopeful that I would see her again. As I took my place in the sleepy grasses that Freya offered spent soldiers, I set to dream of such an event.

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Mid-Week Flash Challenge - Week 263

Today's picture prompt was taken by Montblanc Pen Lover over on Flicker. These are special edition Montblanc Skeleton ink pens. To give you an idea of cost, the one on the far right is going for USD 9,300 on a luxury website! Just the nibs alone run at around USD 300 dollars. But it's their steampunk qualities that attracted me, so let's see what they inspire. 

Took me a while to find this story and maybe one day there might be more. 

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.

A picture of five MontBlanc Skeleton special edition ink pens, all with ornate designs on them in different types of gold.

A Reasonable Man

He opened the ornate wooden box on his desk. It had been delicately carved out of mahogany and had his initials stamped on it: HEA. His parents had given it to him when he had left for university. It had contained the first of his collection of special Montblanc skeleton pens. The pen was exquisite in its depiction of the world map which had been etched in gold. Henry found himself admiring the detail whenever he pondered a missive.

And that’s what he had in front of him today, some thirty years on, a missive he was reluctant to sign, but one that warranted the weight of such a pen, both in its value as well as its physical presence.

Henry watched the gold nib glide across the paper while transferring his consent on what had become a contentious issue.

‘I hereby grant permission for Mrs Isabella Aston to be transferred to the psychiatric wing of St James’ hospital without delay. It is with regret that I will be unable to attend the transfer as our son will be in my custody and I will need to reassure him that all is well.

At no point prior to the agreed time and date should Mrs Isabella Aston be made aware of this transfer to avoid undue stress and anxiety.

All the required paperwork will be present, along with the injunction and the judge’s decree.

I expect a swift and smooth operation. There will be extra bonuses made available to those who diligently adhere to the required gentle handling of this sensitive matter.’

Henry signed and dated the letter and put it on the top of the other legal papers required to complete this transaction.

He carefully replaced the lid on the pen and sat back in his office chair, pondering his choices.

Isabella had proven difficult and defiant the longer their marriage had gone on, and in recent months even combative. Henry wasn’t an unreasonable man, but he had built a large business empire and wanted his son to take it over. He couldn’t risk her snatching him away and an acrimonious divorce to take place. He hoped that once she had been in the psychiatric wing for a few days she might be more compliant and open to finding a compromise. He hoped they could find a way forward, if not together at least in a way that would suit them both.