Faith in Eternal Stars – by SARA CODAIR

 

Faith in Eternal Stars

 

We said, “Save the world or die trying.”

Most of us did the latter.

Things like extinction or total annihilation were never certain. We just knew the demonic alliance used their fire and magic with no regard for the destruction they caused.

We tried to preserve the earth. She was our mother. We couldn’t bear to harm her, even in her own defense.

They won. We lost.

For a long time, I thought I’d died and gone to Hell. I floated in cold darkness, never quite awake, but never fully asleep. I couldn’t get warm. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream.

The Christians had said Hell was hot, but I’d fought too many ice-demons to believe it was all fire and brimstone. Even as I floated in stasis, I wondered, if this was Hell, where were all the demons? Had they all abandoned their home realm for earth?

My answer came when the kids dragged me from the slushy surf. As they hauled me across icy sand, I realized I’d never died. The earth had swaddled my wounded body in her coldest waters and healed it before spitting me out whole and new.

#

The kids sat me down beside a blazing fire and covered me with a blanket. Their language had evolved too much for me to pick out more than a few words: hope, force, rebels, it, Mother, her and saved.

My throat hadn’t thawed enough to speak, so I observed. Their skin was smooth and their eyes were bright. Some had pointed ears; others looked fully human. Their clothes were rags, but it all had the same emblem sewn onto the right shoulder. I recognized it from Star Wars.

Confused, I opened my mind to the world around me. Raw, untamed energy and burning heat surged into my head. It overwhelmed me, ignited my sluggish brain and flowed downward. My limbs shook, my skin seared and my hair danced around my head until I opened my eyes.

The kids were staring at me with their hands raised in a Vulcan salute. Apparently, the rivalry between Star Trek and Star Wars had not survived the test of time.

Laughter poured out of me. At first, it was harsh and grating, but once my body warmed up, I felt as light as seaweed floating in a tide pool.

I mentally reached out to the kids. They were one with earth, each other and with me because they had no shields or walls around their minds. I let my spirit whirl through their memories.

#

The demons had done their best to eradicate religion and the human need to believe in a higher power. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Wicca were not words in the new generation’s vocabulary, but their faith never died.

When their ancestors found forgotten video files on an ancient hard drive, they believed they had found a sacred text. The language was too old for them to understand completely without linguistic training, but what they deciphered explained the power they felt when they let their minds be still. The files were lost, but the transcriptions known as The Book of War and The Book of Trek prevailed.

Along with those books were savior stories that were orally passed from one generation to the next. They told of a copper skinned warrior-prophet with fiery red hair and feline green eyes. Some believed she was a decedent of the Skywalker’s while others believed she was an android.

Of course, both theories were wrong. Star Wars was fiction, and human technology had never advanced far enough to create truly sentient artificial intelligence. The new generation had no words to explain what I was. The demons had eradicated any literature that mentioned angels, so it never crossed their mind that I was a descendant of one.

#

Contemplating what I gleaned from their memories, I stared at orange flames writhing across blackening driftwood. The kids had stopped talking, and in that silence, I heard the whoosh of angelic wings. My uncles seldom spoke in words. They sent visions. In this case, it was a psychedelic tunnel of violent failures, compelling me to relive every mistake I made in my attempt to repel the demon invasion.

When it was finally over, I laid on the cold sand, gasping for air. I knew exactly what went wrong, but I didn’t understand why they were mistakes, and how now, three centuries later, I was supposed to take the earth back.

“Helpez usses, u wilz? Waznt feezdom does weez,” said a girl with spiky white hair.

“I’ll try,” I said, reaching for their minds to see if they understood the two words.

I felt amusement and heard a riotous storm of laughter.

A boy with pointy ears and seaweed green hair put a clammy hand on my cheek. He wrinkled his forehead, squared his shoulders and quoted Star Wars like the sacred scripture he believed it was. “Do or do. There is no try.”

Then I understood why my friends and I failed. We said “save the word or die trying” when we should have just saved the world.

***

DSC_0875

Sara Codair writes because her brain is overcrowded with stories. If she doesn’t get them out, she fears her head will explode. When she isn’t making things up, she is either teaching college students how to write essays, digging in her garden or just enjoying the beauty of nature. Her short stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from Foliate Oak, Centum Press, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories. You can find her online at saracodair.com or @shatteredsmooth.

*Featured photography also courtesy of Sara Codair*

Advertisements

The Music of Our Youth – by GENE FARMER

The Music of Our Youth

by

Gene Farmer

 

Evan first encountered the man in the Panama hat nearly one month ago. Their last meeting may have been today; it’s hard to say for certain. On that first occasion he’d been standing out the back of the research centre taking a smoke break, one he knew there was barely time for. His batch of lab samples was in the spectrometer – on schedule for once – and he really ought to have been closely monitoring the automated electrospray process. But his need for a cigarette was absolute. Besides, how many times had he run this process without a single glitch? Fuck it, have a sneaky fag, he told himself.

Taking cover in the narrow passage between the two giant bin sheds – a universally acknowledged hidey hole for those in thrall to nicotine – Evan lit up and sucked down the smoke, his brain immediately basking in the dopey glow of his first few drags. He pulled a copy of Mojo from his back pocket, plugged in his earphones and hit play. But, immediately sensing another presence in the alleyway, he removed the earphones and turned to see a man sporting cream linens and a matching Panama hat. Without introduction, the man addressed him.

“I expect you want to tell that Solanas where to stick his fucking pen and clipboard, don’t you?” he said. “But I wouldn’t recommend it, even though it would be a good thing if you stood your ground once in a while. I don’t like to see people being pushed around.”

“Er . . . right,” said Evan. “You made me jump there. Anyway, thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I’m Evan” he said offering a cigarette. “And you’re . . ?”

“Warner” he replied, accepting the cigarette and a light.

“Warner. Okay. Do you have a first name?” asked Evan.

“Just think of me as Warner.”

“Right,” said Evan. And they fell silent for a while, concentrating on their smoking, Evan fidgeting a piece of loose brick with his trainer.

“Are you a decent sort, Evan?” said the man, grinning.

“Well, yeah, I guess so,” replied Evan.

“Good. So that’s my advice, anyway, stand your ground once in a while.”

Evan nodded vaguely while considering this advice. He leaned around the corner to stub his cigarette out against the low brick wall. “It’s just not that easy with Solanas . . .” he said, turning back to continue the conversation. But the man in the hat had gone. Not knowing what to make of the exchange Evan shrugged and went back to the lab. He returned to the unrewarding routine of batches and formulae, to the collation and evaluation of results and findings, to his quotas and quality targets.

How strange it seemed to Evan that a dozen or so years ago this very grindstone was the scene of his first, happy days in work. He found it hard to credit that he’d once had good times here, had made good friends. Jackman, Satch, Rosey, Quill, Dougie; an insuperable gang of inseparable friends. Life was a joyful blur of football and pubs, video games and banter, an incessant cycle of pow-wows, get-togethers, gatherings and sessions – each in the name of youthful abandon, a reaffirmation that they could, and always would, revel in their callow freedom.

Except that’s not how it turned out. This notion, which he returned to every day, consumed him because he couldn’t understand how it had crept up, casting him adrift from a never to be recovered heyday, his prime. Where were those fellow graduates nows? Evan felt these days as though he beheld the good times through the wrong end of an ever-lengthening telescope, each memory dwindling to a dust mote, and then to nothing. Everyone else had disappeared along the way. Apart from Solanas. Adam Solanas: workshop despot, lab bully, petty scourge of the research wing. The Spanish Inquisitor. Adam Sore-Anus. Now it was just Evan, Solanas, and an ever waning number of charisma-free itinerant worker bees.

Evan reflected on these random, pitiless inequities. He became gripped by a familiar, thick coil of regret, its coarse yarn chafing at his mood. And now he forgot about Warner, yielding to his workload and to a tired, lonely helplessness. He toiled wordlessly, grinding out the hours, the minutes until – long after everyone else had left – he was finished for the day. Only then could he welcome the long drive home, a brief purgatorial interlude before the next wave of demands.

Evan’s opinion of this slow, stop-start commute, skirting London’s congested, dirty rim was neither conventional nor fashionable. Not for him the stock conversational piece about too many cars on the road, a lack of investment in the traffic network or public transport infrastructure. No, here was solitude, a refuge from all his assailants, in a space of his own. For forty, maybe fifty, minutes he was alone with his thoughts and his music. He started the car, tuned into Nothing But 90s! FM and pulled out of the car park, relishing a blissful catatonia in the knowledge that, soon enough, he’d be home and the respite would be over.

One week later Warner reappeared. And he continued to turn-up most work days while Evan was taking a smoke. They would talk vaguely, in the way men gathered by chance always do, of work and life, skirting around any true nub of the matter, trading generalities. Evan would have liked to find out more about his new acquaintance. Which department did he work in? Where did he live? Did he have family? But Warner would always seem to steer the conversation along paths permitting no such intimacy, would step in to fill any pause with a decisive word or an intriguing thought. In this way any possibility they might become intimates was snuffed out.

In the third week after they’d first met he bumped into Warner in a café. Evan had needed to run some chores in town during his lunch hour, cramming in a visit to the post office, the bank and a couple of hardware stores to track down the right washer for a leaky tap at home. It was not an especially hot day, but he’d been in a rush – the last thing he wanted was to get back to work late, have Solanas on his back for something else – and now he was out of breath and hot, the wick of his garments heavy with a moisture that cleaved them to his skin.  He was, though, ahead of schedule and there was just enough time for some lunch in town. Evan decided that a toasted panini and a proper cup of coffee would make a welcome change from the usual soggy cheese and tomato sandwich and the scorchingly hot, caffeinated cups of bitterness served from the machine at the research centre.

The café was busy: professional looking people tapped away at laptops; younger adults in outsized headphones were locked-in and swaying to some irresistible groove; kids, opposing thumbs working in unison, drummed at devices, defeating deadly adversaries; there was one lady reading a book. The scene was overlaid with a musical backtrack which, through the shrill blasts of spouting steam, Evan vaguely recognised as something contemporary and, while it was not unpleasant, it left him feeling slightly disappointed.

Sitting in their midst, doing nothing more than drinking a cup of tea, was Warner. On seeing Evan, he tipped his Panama and, with a curt smile, indicated the empty seat at his table. Evan ordered and paid for his lunch and returned to the table with his drink.

“Coffee man, eh?” said Warner, removing his hat and arching an eyebrow. “I had you down – rather hopefully – as a tea man. Still, not really my business I suppose.”

“No . . . well . . . of course. It’s just that I don’t really get the chance to ever just sit down and have a coffee,” said Evan. “Could do with the kick, to be honest, keep me going. Bloody knackered.”

“Busy then?”

“Yeah, you could say that. Christ! When aren’t we these days? Wasn’t always like this though, was it?”

“Probably not, no,” said Warner. “Though I don’t have that problem, myself.”

“You don’t?” said Evan, blurting a shocked guffaw. “Lucky you! You’ll have to share your secret.”

“There’s no luck involved. And it’s no secret either.”

“Really? Wish I could bloody work it out, I really do,” said Evan. A waiter brought over his toasted sandwich. He had on him a look of inquisitive concern, but did not ask Evan any question, just said he hoped Evan enjoyed his meal and went back to the counter.

“And what makes you think you can’t? Work it out, that is,” continued Warner.

“Well,” said Evan, pausing to consider, “it’s all so bloody complex these days, isn’t it? So many things to do. Obligations. Things were just better in the past. More simple, straightforward.”

“Really? Or are you just being nostalgic?” said Warner. Before Evan had a chance to answer, he added: “I fucking hate nostalgia. It’s dangerous shit, is what it is.”

“Whoa! Dangerous shit? . . . What do you mean? Why?”

“Look, there may be a little truth in what you say, some things were better in the old days. And I can’t deny there’s more bullshit around today. But lots of things were worse too. You just need to be more selective these days, less acquiescent.”

“I still don’t follow.”

“Take control of the things that matter,” replied Warner. “But you’ll need to work that one out, fella. Look, if you ask me, it’s a big mistake to go about thinking you were born in a goldmine and that you’ve ended up at the coalface. Were you born in a goldmine? Probably not. Are you at the coalface? Who the fuck isn’t?”

Evan sat, thinking for a moment. “Yeah, you’re onto something there. So, my current situation . . . what did you call it? The coalface? Where I’m at right now, how did I get here?”

“But that’s not really what matters. Wouldn’t you be much better off looking where you’re going?”

“But don’t you need to look back at the mistakes you’ve made to know where you went wrong, to help you take the right turns going forward?”

“Sure, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re saying there,” said Warner. He leaned forward with his elbow on the table, and fixed Evan with his eye. “But is that really what you’re doing?”

“God! If I had a time machine and, and I could just go back . . . well . . . I’d do things differently, I tell you.”

“Now there’s a dog-eared old Sci-Fi trope,” said Warner, frowning.

“Oh, come on! If you could just go back and do things differently, not make the mistakes you made, it’d have to be better, wouldn’t it?”

“Maybe. But let’s say you could do it; let’s say you could go back to a former self, knowing what you know today,” he said. “What makes you think you still wouldn’t fuck things up?”

Evan thought for a moment, and was about to reply when Warner cut him off: “Look, before you answer that, have a think about it. I need to go now.” He put on his panama hat and, making to leave, paused and said “Take heed, Evan, nostalgia’s a trap. Now I’ll have to say goodbye to you.”

Evan watched him leave, and then sat a while longer in the café and finished his lunch while pondering Warner’s parting lines. They all felt a bit cryptic, though Evan sensed a finality, a certain specificity, to Warner’s spiel that seemed odd, troubling. What, he wondered, did he mean? Evan checked his watch. Shit, he thought, I’m going to be late!

Evan scurried back to the lab and slipped in unnoticed. He knuckled down, intent on recovering the lost time. But he couldn’t do it. And he never would. Each attempt to hasten his progress brought errors, inefficiencies, breakages. Each mistake was a multiplier, adding orders of magnitude to his daily tenure, piling up the misery. He was snared and his struggling only made things worse. Deluged, Evan forgot all about Warner, and his message – if there ever was one – remained encrypted.

A week passed since the café encounter and Warner had not since been seen. It was Saturday and Evan was at work, doing overtime. He was, as usual, under the cosh, feeling the pressure, as he stared at the sample batches, then back to their exacting specifications, each one to be finished before he could leave for the day. Solanas appeared with his clip board.

“So . . . Evan. RO-TH_151015_00-92 to -99 . . . we’re on schedule with those, are we?”

“They’ll be done by close of play.”

“Midday?”

“Bit later, actually. I just had to rerun a synthesis cycle on -93 and -94, so I’m a bit behind. Maybe 12:30? One-ish?”

“Right. But you’re not leaving till you’ve finished them, are you?”

“No, Adam, I won’t be going till they’re done.”

“Good, good,” he said, pausing, then adding: “You know, Evan, if you ever applied yourself, gave your work its due diligence, you’d do a better job. And I can’t help but think you’d make things easier for yourself. Get on a bit at work. Who knows, in life, even?”

Being told what to do in the work place is one thing, but advice about how to live his life – from Solanas of all people – irked Evan, and he now stood tense, anger welling, set against anything else his supervisor had to say. I’ll show you and your shiity little job, he thought.

“Look, I know we’ve never seen eye to eye,” said Solanas, “but I take no pleasure in seeing you struggle. You’re in a redundancy pool, for God’s sake. You should remember that.” Solanas shook his head and, leaving, he added “If it’s not too late.”

What does he mean, thought Evan, if it’s not too late? Christ, he can’t be serious. He can’t mean I’m for the chop. Jesus! He felt his anger deflate and, in its place, a gnawing worry had taken over. He returned to his work, though his heart was no longer in it, even less so than usual. He could not think straight, was making mistakes.

It had gone past two o’clock by the time Evan finished for the day. As he removed his lab coat, slumping into the staff room sofa, massaging his temples, trying to expel the stress, to de-pressurize, he remembered that he was supposed to take his eldest boy to a party this afternoon. He knew he had no chance of making it home on time but, frantic, still he rushed from the building to his car. Leaving the car park Evan found the barrier down and he realised he’d left his security pass in the building, in his lab coat. He buzzed the intercom for Security. He waited for a minute, without response, so he buzzed again, maybe a dozen times or more. He was beginning to think that he’d need to park up again and go back to get his pass – even though he was sure that the guard had been sitting there all the while, just letting him buzz – when the intercom crackled into life.

“Ello?”

“Yeah, Hi! Can you lift the barrier, please?”

“You haven’t got your security card?”

“Of course I haven’t! Would I be buzzing if I had it?”

“Sure. Where is it, then?”

“I forgot it. You gave me a temp card this morning, remember?”

“Name?”

“Evan Critchley.”

“One minute, please.”

Evan waited. One minute became two, then three . . . four, then five. Evan understood that the security guard knew who he was, had no reason not to just raise the barrier. So why didn’t he? Was there red tape to be processed? Had Evan done something to upset this man? No, Evan thinks, the security guard is keeping me here because he can. A knot of anger rose in his chest, compelling him to give the guard a mouthful but, as he reached out to press the button, the intercom sputtered once more into life.

“Thank you Mr.Critchley,” said the guard as the barrier rose. “Have a nice weekend.”

Evan grunted and drove off, turning on the radio. But this time he barely registered the music, Nothing But 90s making little impression. He switched stations to Sensational 70s Radio, but could still take no solace from it. Maybe Solanas is right, he thought, maybe things could be better. But why do things keep fucking up for me? At work. Christ, at home even. If I lose this job I’m shafted, he thought. It’s not fair!

He raced home, scrambled to the front door, unlocked and opened it. He waited for the onslaught, the clamoring son, the irate wife, the mad dash to get everything together for the party – perhaps they’ll only be thirty minutes late, he thought. But there was no onslaught. Apart from the distant ticking of the kitchen clock there was only silence, and Evan wondered if – hoped – he’d avoided the barrage, at least until later. Perhaps, he imagined, Juliette knew he’d be late and had taken Thomas to the party with the baby in tow too. He felt a slight relief, relaxed a little, decided to make a cup of tea. He went into the kitchen where Juliette, sitting silently at the island unit, catches him by surprise, holding his gaze with an implacable, glacial hatred. She sighed theatrically.

“Where’s Thomas?” asked Evan.

“What do you care? If you were so concerned where he was, you’d have been home on time to take him to the party. Like you promised?” said Juliette.

“I’m so sorry,” started Evan, before he was cut short by Juliette’s raised hand.

“You’re sorry, Evan?” she said, her brow deeply trenched. “Are you? Well I’m sorry too. This is the last straw. Mum had to come round and take Thomas to the party. Lucy’s asleep at the moment, but I’m going to get her and take her round to Georgie’s. When we get back I expect you to be out of the house. I don’t want you back.”

Evan stood, speechless. He was overcome by a gelid weakness that left him shaky and immobilized. He watched Juliette leave, his heart pumping furiously, blood rampaging through his temples, stomach tightening uncontrollably, his bowels twitching, loosening. After a while, he went to the fridge, took out a can of beer, opened it and gulped it down in one long draught. He took two more beers, downing another on the spot then, propelling a defiant belch into the silence of the kitchen, he slumped to the floor. Hollow, he tried to make sense of what had happened, to figure out whether the punishment matched the indiscretion. He poured over the events and Juliette’s reaction, and could make no conclusive sense of it. He drank the third beer and fell asleep.

He awoke, briefly unsure where he was, and checked the time. It was past six o’clock. He gathered his thoughts and remembered what had happened, feeling hope capsize and descend to the well of his stomach. Juliette would be back soon with the kids and he didn’t want to be here for that. He needed to think. He took another beer from the fridge and sat, considering his predicament. But far from feeling resentful, or confused, Evan felt a dawning sense of relief, a giddy contentment, even. The worst was over. He finished the beer, took the last can from the fridge, fetched his keys and cigarettes from the sideboard in the hall, pocketed a pack of sweets that Juliette must have dropped on the floor (Fruit Pastilles, which had been a favorite as a child) and left the house.

Evan strode along the tree lined avenue where he lived and into the park. He used to come here with his parents as a boy. How old was he then? Five? Six or seven? He remembered feeding the swans and the ducks, kicking a plastic ball around. He recalled picnics of liver sausage sandwich and sweaty processed cheese slices. The park seemed so much bigger back then, a whole county with its own rolling hills, towering banks and vast lakes circumnavigated by wandering tribes.

Now, like everything else, he regarded this world without wonder, an absence of awe, knowing every nook and cranny to the point of contempt. He understood the science behind the flora and fauna, the discipline of landscaping, the placement of structures, monuments and horticultural features for their desired aesthetic, behavioral and ecological outcomes. But Evan found that today, in spite of this familiarity, he was connected with the magical place of his childhood, as though he were feeling the same sun on his skin, smelling the flowers, feeling the gentle warmth of the breeze for the first time since he was a child. He tuned in to details he’d long since ignored: to the harmonious drone of insects, the inquisitive quacking of ducks, to murmuring radios and the susurrant rumour of scattered conversations. Each sound was woven intricately into what it meant to be in this place, at this time, to belong.

He strolled around the pond’s perimeter then cut through clusters of picnickers, past parents with toddlers, secretive youths, across an expanse of grass towards the Italian Garden. Here he found a bench backing onto a red brick wall, sat down and cracked open the beer. A low evening sunlight soaked Evan and his surroundings with an amber warmth. He swigged the drink, bathing in the moment, taking in the kaleidoscope of flowers, the fleshy, spiky plants, the swishing, rustling grasses, the aroma of lavender, rose and cut lawn.

But most of all, he wallowed in the sun, gave himself over to the experience of doing nothing. He thought that this might be a Zen moment, but wasn’t sure what one was. As each nerve relaxed, as his knotted muscles unwound, Evan lay poaching in the day’s last warmth and the alcohol’s effects. A bliss closed in around him, took control, relaying a soft focus cine loop of childhood scenes played out in these very grounds.

Evan was pulled deeper into himself by this reverie, towards the warm memory of a former self and, just before he was finally lulled to sleep, he thought he saw what looked like a man in a cream Panama hat crossing the park in his direction. But Warner – if it was him – faded from view as Evan dozed off.

In Evan’s version of events, his next recollection is that he had just finished feeding the ducks and was walking back home. He was so absorbed in the act of kicking a knot of soft wood as he went, reenacting a move from The Big Match, a fancy bit of trickery by Stan Bowles or some such long haired footballing maverick, that he did not at first notice the girl walking beside him, nor that she was talking to him.

“Evan? Hello? Earth calling Evan?” she said. And Evan felt happy to be interrupted because this was Michelle Revilla, emanating a force which attracted Evan in a way that he did not understand. Although he does not like girls, he is often consumed by thoughts of Michelle, thoughts that he does not understand, that swell in his breast like the radiating heat of a hot coal. He’d often pictured them running away, living together, doing simple grown up things like shopping and cooking. Kissing. Secret thoughts that he dared not share with anyone, that he felt a small shame for having.

“Michelle, hello,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s a park,” she replied, not unfriendly, dipping her shoulder into his arm. “It’s for walking in. I’m just taking a walk. Actually, I’m on my way over to my Grandma’s. Wanna stroll with me?”

“Yeah, sure.” This is the best thing ever, thought Evan. At the same time, though, he felt under pressure: he didn’t want to blow this chance with Michelle, but he had no idea what to say, no real experience of talking to girls. What should you say to them? What did they like? He remembered the sweets in his pocket. “Fruit Pastille?” he said, offering the opened pack. Michelle smiled – a smile that, in itself, marks the greatest possible reward for Evan – and took one.

“Ooh, blackcurrant! My favourite.”

They walked on, Evan in rapt silence while Michelle talked about her Grandma, her house, and how she’s going there today because her mum and dad are both working this afternoon. Evan was not really listening. He was consumed by the thought that this could be his lucky day. They arrived at a bench, the same bench that Evan would be sitting on so many years later, but now it’s a glossy green, the paint so fresh and thickly laid that it’s soft to the touch.

“I don’t have to be at Gran’s for another ten minutes,” said Michelle. “Do you want to sit here for a bit?” Evan wondered what they could do, just sitting here on the park bench, what he could possibly have to say to Michelle Revilla. It filled him with dread, a panic, but still he couldn’t understand why there was nothing in the world he would rather be doing.

“Yes. Let’s,” he says.

They sat, swinging their legs, looking across the park, and every time Evan, speechless, turned to look at Michelle, she was looking straight back at him, smiling. He wanted this to last forever, was dreading the moment when it would end, and he felt powerless to prevent it. He realized that he loved her, and knew that if he didn’t take his chance now, he would never have it again. And somehow he knew he would regret it for the rest of his life, that there would be no turning back, no return to this blissful state, this Eden.

He stared ahead, frozen, noticing with some relief that Warner was still walking in his direction, now closer. Except there was something different, it was no longer a Panama hat that he wore, but a flat white cloth cap. And, closer still, he saw that the drooping moustache was gone, that Warner was younger, the cut of his suit different, and the shiny black loafers were now two-tone spats. But Warner would help, Evan was sure of that. He’d give him the advice he needed. With his approach came a swell of music, a saccharine falsetto building to a crescendo over a mantra of repeating bop-shoo-wadi-wadi vocal harmonies. The man in the white cloth cap stopped in front of them, swaying his arms and hips, dipping his knees in time to the four-four signature. Evan turned to Michelle, wondering if she can see what he sees, but she was still just smiling at him.

Turning back to this new, younger Warner, Evan asked “What do I do now?”

The music played on in the background but Warner brought the microphone down to his side, stopped singing. He planted his feet at shoulder width, pointed to Evan, and said “Sonny, take my advice: if you love Michelle, don’t think twice.” He winked, then took up the microphone and began to wail his ode to lovers, before retreating back across the park to where he came from.

Evan now felt fortified, certain. He was surer than ever that he and Michelle were destined for one another. He knew that this was the time to make the right choice, to reset his life, a chance to redeem himself, to be happy.

He turned back to Michelle, who still smiles beatifically, and declared: “Michelle, I should have told you this before. I love you!”

“Well I love you too Evan Critchly,” she replied.

“And I want to be with you forever,” said Evan.

“I . . . wow!”

They sat for a moment, eyes locked, and Evan felt an exhilaration driving him on. He leant in and started to kiss Michelle. She stiffened. But Evan was sure, and pressed on. It must be that she’d never kissed anyone before, he thought. Well, nor had Evan, and that wasn’t going to stop him. This was the path to happiness. He pressed on, wrapping her in his arms, holding her. He’d never let her go. But now she was crying. Tears of joy, thinks Evan, and he started to cry too.

He was holding her tightly, rocking back and forth to the rhythm of their sobbing, when his reverie was broken by angry shouting. His shoulder was jerked, and he was wrenched back to the here and now by a shower of painful blows. There was a young girl, whom he had never seen before, being led to the safety and comfort of a relieved looking mother, while the men who had apprehended him kept him restrained, calling him the vilest names, until the police arrived.

Evan found himself handcuffed and led to the awaiting police car, unable to make sense of what had just happened. He turned to take one last look back to the bench and saw only an abandoned cream panama hat.

***

face13092001

Gene Farmer lives in East Anglia, in the UK, with his wife and children. He is an IT Consultant and puts aside a microscopic amount of his spare time for short story writing. His stories have previously appeared here in SickLit Magazine, and in flashfictionmagazine.com and are said to be ideal for insomniacs.

GENE FARMER’S NOSTALGIA THEME – MAY

Another theme that hits close to home for me!

At times, I feel as if I live my life looking through the rear-view mirror, wrapped up in the past, mentally stuck somewhere in between nostalgia and reliving an unfinished moment. 

That being said, it’s sort of implied that nostalgia is unique within each person.

Remember when I wrote another letter about us, as human beings, as a whole becoming a sum of our experiences? We are. Plus, what about perception? My God! That makes a world of difference. My dad saw Germany and France through vastly different lenses than I did when I was just a grumpy mop of red ringlets, wearing white tights and plaid dresses to school.

58782_10100316842586790_6344944_n

You can grow up in the same household as someone for your entire child-teenager life, yet recall different fond memories.You’ll also inevitably remember the same events in a different light than one another.

When I came down with food poisoning in Paris, my dad remembers taking me to a French doctor’s office, where he spoke fluent French for the first time in years with the staff, accessing a dormant part of his brain. I just remember the stomach pains and being a crying lump on my dad’s shoulder at The Louvre.

And that, SLM readers, is why I love this theme so very much.

Laughter, adversity, friendships (both good and bad) all have a purpose somewhere in our lives.

We’re each walking pieces of art, being sculpted and molded by these things every day.

I hope you enjoy our pieces.

Cheers,

Kelly Coody

Kelly Fitzharris Coody

 

 

A Ten Question Interview With The Artist… Kelly Coody (nee Fitzharris)

Your One Phone Call

Why do you write?

I write because if I don’t, I will explode–I have to write. It’s just what I do.

What books do you read?

I read mostly suspense/thriller genre books; page-turners, and books that figuratively make my head explode (like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22.)

What inspires you?

What inspires me? This is a great question for a writer, as it can elicit such a variety of responses. My own idiosyncrasies and shortcomings, my past, my unresolved emotional baggage. This is an honest, from-the-heart answer! It’s unusual, of course, but writing fuelled by my unresolved past is not only truthful and powerful, but cathartic. Writing about something I never quite finished gives me closure in a way. It’s like I’m constantly trying to fill the hole that spurs my recurring dream that I’m having to do my senior year of high school over again as an adult back in Niceville…

View original post 838 more words

Mum, I’m Sorry – by KATIE LEWINGTON

Physical and verbal abuse against parents by their own children is increasing. This is becoming a more recognised form of domestic abuse and has been the subject of TV documentaries and newspaper articles.  

It was one of those TV documentaries that inspired me to write this story.  I hadn’t realised how common this is and one that parents must feel much shame and guilt about. Many incidents go unreported and families become isolated as their children’s behaviour becomes more damaging,  which is why it is important to talk about it.


Mum, I’m Sorry

by

Katie Lewington

 

I had grown up with it being just my mum and me.

On the same day she met my stepdad, I met Saul. After a month of dating Saul, I knew I was in love. Telling him was nerve wracking; but thankfully he felt the same way and for five years our relationship continued to develop.

Then I discovered I was expecting.

Our first born was a boy and we named him Luke. Two years later we had a second son and we named him Jeremy. Our family felt complete. Jeremy and Luke were aged 6 and 7 when it began.

I was stooped, scooping the top of the bin bag in my fist and tugging it from the bin, hauling its full weight. My back twinged. I remained stooped as I turned to see who had entered the toilets to join me.

It was my colleague, Lisa, and she gasped, touching the bruise that had blackened my eye. ‘How did you get that this time?’ she asked, her brow bent.

‘I walked into a cupboard-‘ I stopped. She has heard this excuse; it was last week.

‘You have so many bruises lately. Has Saul started to hit you?’

‘Lisa…’ I drag the bag from inside the bin, holding them both between us. ‘He hasn’t, he wouldn’t-‘

Saul sat in his striped wee Willie shorts, his football scarf wound around his neck, when I arrive home at 9 o’clock. I watch him in the hall mirror, absorbing him, and as I prod myself to move I notice the lighting is dim. Glancing up I see Luke’s Fireman Sam pyjama’s in the lamp shade, my stomach drops and I quietly close the door. I shut the curtains in the living room. Luke is on the carpet. His legs, arms and body are bare. Saul is observing him closely and Luke had his back to him.

‘Luke…’ I say, hesitantly.

‘Fuck off, you bitch!’ He spits.

Oh, another night of this.

How to go on?

‘Luke, you need to put on your pyjamas and go to bed.’

‘He hasn’t cleaned his teeth yet,’ Saul said.

I look at him, tears already choking my voice. His eyes are bloodshot and I know immediately; Luke has threatened Saul and attempted to poke out his eyes with the toothbrush.

‘I don’t fucking want to, do I?’

‘I’m going to bed,’ Saul responds.

‘Don’t leave me!’ I shout, trying to catch his arm as he passes. He shrugs me off and I slump.

When I turn, Luke is standing and his face seems to be his entire strength. The hate in his eyes and the scowl of his mouth. He is so tiny in stature.

‘Want a burger.’ He kicks me in the ankle. Then head-butts me in the groin. I steady myself, gripping the sofa and holding my arm out, keeping him at a distance and his fingers take mine, bending them. They feel they will break.

Oh how I wish this was Saul, not Luke, hurting me. It would be so normal.

When Luke is 12, Saul has left by the time I arrive home from work and Luke is pounding holes in the wall. Blood is drying in their dent. I need to hug him, to hold him. That is what the therapist lady told me to do but I cannot get near enough. He will thump me.

I lock the doors, aware that someday he will leave and cause trouble outside of the house. I wish my mum was still alive to give me advice.

I keep my eyes on the ground as I pass Luke. I take with me a takeaway meal to my bedroom, which I heat over the stove. I lock my door as I wait for it to cool. As I eat I try to find some peace.

When Luke is 16, he is expelled from school for telling his therapist to fuck off, that he will rape her. He set alight a girl’s hair in the playground and continually disrupted lessons and influenced the other students.

He has scared off Saul and Jeremy;  went to live with him not long after.

Luke bit his brother repeatedly.

I break, sobbing. Luke is towering over me, with a knife in his hand. The block of knives is in his other hand. He is kicking me and bringing down the block on my head. Eventually I lose consciousness.

I wake, my own mum by my bedside and she is explaining that Luke has been arrested and will receive the help he needs. And I am glad.

***

unnamed (7)

Katie Lewington likes to review the books she reads, listen to music, daydream, watch Cary Grant films, help The Pithead Chapel journal and Transcending Shadows review and Punks Write Poems Press sift through their submissions, sniff 50 year old poetry tomes and enjoy the atheistic display of many literary magazines (She has been published in some of these) Contact her through Twitter @idontwearahat and her blog https://katiecreativewriterblog.wordpress.com

*Photo courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*

Before the Dust Can Settle – by DAN DIEHN

Before the Dust Can Settle

Dan Diehn

 

I open my eyes and the world is golden brown, waving slowly back and forth, kissing my neck with its warmth. High above–blue, all blue save for the shining orb at my back. My eyes lose their focus at the sight of the undulating grain. I shift my feet, kicking up dirt and rocks and worms. I breathe. And then I kneel, put my hands in the soil, and strain to feel the vibrations, hoping, maybe, the field will understand my plea and show me the way home.

 

I close my eyes and concentrate.  The tremors are too light to read, too faint to impart meaning.

 

Everything is in motion; everything has a pattern. Meaning in chaos.

 

I sense something in the sky–a cold, a darkening–something between the sun and the earth. Slowly I open my eyes, stand, and turn to face it.

 

Squinting, I can barely make it out, but there it is, lingering, meandering, no, traversing the open space between there and here–a black, sprawling cloud of dust.

 

We won’t have too much time now. Maybe the rest of the week, maybe more–too distant to say for sure–the only certainty is that it is arriving soon.

 

A noise and I turn my head to see the beast arc across the sky, wings slicing the air, a toxic plume flowing from it, outward and down. I close my eyes and run to its origin, arms out front, waving, guiding me through the stalks. Arm, arm, leg, face, arm, foot, the last impact sends me to the ground. Scrapes and bruises, scrapes and bruises. This is nothing. This is nothing.

 

Quick, while the point of direction is still clearly within your mind, quick.  I get to my feet and continue running until I no longer sense the presence of the field and I open my eyes and see the barn, the house, and my father.

 

Zeus. Odin. Jesus.

 

Equally kind as he is cruel and vengeful, depending on the whim of the weather and his choice of drink.

 

Bearded one-eyed son of a bitch.

 

The sun is setting–orange, red, golden–and the shadows cast across his face, obscuring both his eye and the patch. Faceless.

 

“Paul!”

 

I try not to wince.

 

“Hey Dad…Tim up dusting?”

 

“Told you a hundred times not to wander in that goddamn field.”

 

My face compresses further.

 

“I know. Sorry.”

 

“Look like shit.”

 

The pain suddenly sears through my limbs to my brain.

 

“I fell.”

 

“Well go clean up. There’s a guy here to see you. From the university.”

 

“But I–”

 

“Don’t you think I didn’t tell him! He’s in the living room. Your sister’s keeping an eye on him. Just go. Got to watch Tim in case he goes and kills himself.”

 

“Okay.”

 

I use the side door so I can slink into the bathroom undetected, doing my best to avoid the creaks in the floorboards and eavesdrop as I traverse the hallway. Muffled echoes. Static. Rising and falling without clarity.

 

I shut the door behind me and flick on the light. And then, standing before the sink, my hands clenched around its porcelain edges, I stare into the mirror and see myself as I am seen. My eyes are blue and I see them as pieces of a complex puzzle.  External. Round. Sparking.

 

The running water is cold and will take too long to warm up so I take the wet coldness and slap it across my face and wash the field from my skin. The water clings to it and the dirt then crawls downward until it reaches the precipice and plummets, free fall, to its end. My eyes are closed. The scent of earth fades. The world fades. I fade. I can hear my heart beat.

 

In this moment I can see the lights flicker in the back of my eyelids. The stars and the moon. My lips vibrate.

 

And then it all slips away as I open my eyes and see myself as myself. I dry my face and hands and walk out the door and into the living room where a man in a suit sits, briefcase on the coffee table, my sister standing and making a face.

 

“Hey Lisa can you give us a moment.”

 

She says nothing but a noise and leaves.

 

The man stands and extends his hand. I reciprocate and sit.

 

“So my father says–”

 

“Paul, I’m Lucius. Lucius Stern.”

 

“Why are you here? My dad said you were from the university, but you should know that I withdrew my application.”

 

“Yes. I am aware. If you would let me ask you a few questions, however, just a moment of your time, it would be greatly appreciated.”

 

Silence.

 

“Excellent. So, Paul, first things first. Why did you withdraw your application? Why did you withdraw your application and remain here?”

 

He gestures widely and the sunset engulfs his frame.

 

“As I stated in my letter of withdrawal…”

 

She opens her eyes and feels the weight of everything press in and overwhelm her system and she allows it to sit there until she thinks she will burst and exhales. He looks at her. She closes her eyes and forgets how to breathe. Rhythms failing. Patterns are now chaos. Everything breaks apart at the epicenter. Here, in this darkness, everything is nothing. Slowly the external world begins to form through symbols and abstractions. The idea of scent manifests first. Then sound. Then touch. Then taste. All of it out of reach, sense things of indeterminable origin. She opens her eyes to reach them, to make them whole, but this, too, is nothing but darkness and fear.

 

“…I, um…I’m having a difficult time forming the words.”

 

“Try.”

 

“Well, it’s because I’m not ready, don’t feel like I’d perform my best at this juncture.”

 

“Yes that’s essentially what you wrote.”

 

“But, yeah, no, it was because of my family. It was because of her.”

 

Particles break apart and reform. The wind carries her on its wings.

 

“Her…”

 

“Yes her.”

 

“But she’s gone now isn’t she?”

 

“Who are you again?”

 

“She coming back you know.”

 

“What?”

 

“You’ve seen her and she’s on her way here from there.”

 

“What?”

 

When she sees the world it is all a blur of colors and memories–mostly red and yellow and pain. Immobile. Unable to move of her own volition. Pushed or pulled, it does not matter. This is that and she feels more that the earth is moving beneath her than she feels she is hovering across its surface. Red. Dried rivers of red. Tributaries of I am run deep through the surface of her legs. The water is tepid at best. Weightless. Subtle revolution.

 

The man stands to leave and I am unsure what to do so I shake his hand and he thanks me for my time saying that he’d wish I would reconsider and I’d be a great fit for the university so I nod.

 

Later that night I lay on my back in bed staring at the stars out of my window as they blink on and off with every passing cloud. My legs spasm.  I cringe but do not move.

 

Earlier my father asked me about the man from the university and my sister shifted in her seat.

 

It’s never truly dark here. Pinholes in the sky. Even in cloud cover, the brightness of the moon is indefatigable, striking the moisture and spreading its great arms across the land in hazy glory.

 

Lisa hasn’t spoken for months now. The last word anyone heard her say was, “No.” Not loud, not shouting, barely a whisper…“no.”

 

Tim hasn’t been around much, flying whenever he can. Thinks he can make a real thing out of dusting.

 

Slowly I find myself here, half-awake, half-asleep and all I see are dark shapes in the corner of a dark canvas. Memories intermingle with dreamscapes, creating a reality that should be wholly separate but somehow nudges into the peripheral space at the back of my head. I hear voices, calling my name. I hear thoughts. I hear nothing. I hear the sound of rain and dust. It smells like metal.

 

I open my eyes and know it’s still night. I close them and see red orange and this overwhelming sense of fear starts at my forehead and quickly shivers its way down the rest of my body until my toes are twitching. My skin is drowning…on fire. I try to sit up but can’t. I try to move my arms but can’t. I try to roll off my back but can’t. I try to scream help but only my mouth opens–no noise leaving my throat. I open my eyes and see a shadow on my chest, crimson edges. I close my eyes and fall.

 

The moonlight illuminates the earth smoothing the edges of the shapes until they become more than formless things, lost on the constant curvature. She is reminded of long roads. A round surface viewed at a close enough proximity becomes a straight line. A to B. Origin to destination. Start to finish. No one really told her that she had a choice where her destination could lie. Not in the x, y scheme, be what you want to be…more peripheral, abstract. Time, but not time. A river flows to become a lake, a sea, an ocean. The water moves, swirls, evaporates, falls. Her river originated from a glacier, became a stream, and plummeted off the crag of a mountain into oblivion.

 

The morning is hazy. It rained overnight and the air smells of dirt.

 

Downstairs, in the kitchen, sits Tim.

 

“Hey.”

 

He glares up from his bowl of cereal and groans.

 

“I had a dream last night that the rain died. It rained and then we all understood that it wouldn’t rain anymore. We weren’t scared that the crops would dry up or that the trees would wither, we were concerned that the rivers would stop flowing, that eventually the ocean would recede and that all the evaporating water would ascend into the sky, off the planet and outward, forever traveling the expanse of space, so lonely.”

 

He drops his spoon, pushes his chair back, stands up, and walks out of the room without a look or a noise.

 

“Well I thought it was interesting.”

 

I grimace. I hate it when I talk to myself.

 

And then I turn and see Lisa sitting there, head down, staring at the table, feet crossed beneath the chair, hands folded in front of her.

 

“Lisa.”

 

She doesn’t move.

 

“Hey Lisa.”

 

She raises her head and meets my gaze.

 

“Have you seen the cloud?”  She cocks her head and I continue, “Of dust–the cloud of dust. Is it coming here?”  Tears well up in her eyes.  “I saw it. I think it’ll be here soon.”

 

She nods and lowers her head again.

 

There is a blanket of silence so strong even atoms seem to cease their vibrations.

 

“It’s her, isn’t it?”

 

For a moment I forget that she hasn’t spoken in six months; there is a moment when everything is back to normal, and then I realize the weight of both the act of her speaking and the words that have fallen from her mouth.

 

“Yeah…I think it is.”

 

“Why? Why won’t she just leave?”

 

“I don’t know. She can’t maybe.”

 

“But she wanted to so badly. I mean, she did, didn’t she? Otherwise–”

 

“Yeah, I don’t get it. I don’t understand. I tried. At least I think I tried. I just can’t.”

 

“I guess…I guess, we’ll see soon enough.”

 

“Yeah…let’s hope so.”

 

The light of the sun sharpens the edge of everything. With each push forward, I feel less formed. Pieces of me not keeping pace, falling from the whole and descending to meet the earth below. I wonder if these particles removed from myself are still myself, imparting my story to every encounter they have. Then I wonder if I am myself, here, above the planet, tracing my path back to its start.

 

I dream of metal and water and red that flows from my arms and legs. It smells like iron and soap. A breeze blows through, calling me. I see myself as myself, weightless, without hope. I don’t close my eyes. I want to see the devastation this hand will create. I want to see flesh open and separate, blood vessels exposed, crying for life as they are extinguished, left dried and wanting. Does skin tighten around a bloodless corpse? Does everything deflate once emptied? Blood, keeping us afloat amongst the barrage of matter and light and the overwhelming sense of absolute pointlessness.

 

I make a point. One drop. Then I trace a line and watch the shape unfold. I switch hands and do the same on the other, swirls of red clouds permeate the substance until equilibrium is reached. I don’t close my eyes. I don’t close my eyes. I don’t close my eyes but everything fades.

 

Outside the day breezes by with chores and wandering thoughts. The sun is half gone, disappearing over the horizon quicker than I expected. Great rays of red and orange shoot out from its center and radiate the nearby clouds. The bleeding sky.

 

Without school and without her, I’ve been left mostly to do what I wish. I help because they need me. He needs me. Despite the words, the looks, the silence, despite all of it, I have made my best attempt to not do as she did, to not take it all so damn personally, deeply. He is not my life. My surroundings are not my life. This is not my life. This air is air, this skin is skin, and this blood is blood. I see my self as I am seen. A vacuum at the center of space and light that bends and curves. It all shifts and recedes for me, from me, around me, because of me.

 

This dying blade of grass is like a knife and I hold it in my hands.

 

It wasn’t a lack of anything substantial, it wasn’t an expectation, it was a lack of origin. No 0, 0 to guide me whichever way my slope dictated. No reference point from the negative or the positive. Pain was just a feeling, words were just sounds, vibrations oscillating through the expanse.  And now everything is in motion and turned to dust and the smell of iron. Pennies on the beach caught in the tide of the ocean.

 

Looking up, I see it…her, and I just can’t.

 

The sun strikes the face of it all and I see my beginnings.

 

This is sooner than I had expected.

 

I see the barn and the field and I see the wind push it all.

 

I shout for Lisa over and over and over until she manifests from within the house.

 

I catch a glint of sunlight and watch the metal bird soar through the air.

 

She joins me by my side and her eyes trace mine until she sees what I see as it is.

 

Tim, searching the sky by killing the earth. Through destruction, yearning for life. My child of spite.

 

Lisa speaks, “Is she coming here? To us?”

 

I see him and half of my form falls away. Bearded, one-eyed son of a bitch, my husband, eternal spewer of blind emotion.

 

“Don’t look away.”

 

And then the earth turns and puts them in my view. My children born of care and love.

 

“Don’t close your eyes.”

 

I look at them and see them as they are.

 

“Don’t close your eyes.”

 

I see their faces. I see their eyes.

 

“Don’t close your eyes.”

 

I see them.

 

I look upward and watch as the dust hovers over us. For a moment I am weightless. Everything smells of dirt and rain and iron. I know that she is descending here to die. To finally fucking die and it takes all that I am to not do anything at all. I stand, my hand gripping my sister’s and I look up and I see it above us, heave, break apart, and then fall, but before the dust can settle, I close my eyes and dream of the wavering grain, the blue sky, the rivers, everything flowing, swirling, rising, falling.

***

 Dan Diehn Bio Photo

Dan Diehn lives in St. Paul, MN with his wife and two cats. He likes taking long walks on the beach, drinking mojitos, and having fun. Select short stories and his serial novella, Hashtag Barry: The Ugliest Kid Who Ever Lived, can be read at Culture Currency (http://www.cultcurrency.com/). Follow him @diedan (https://twitter.com/diedan).

*Featured photo courtesy of Brian Michael Barbeito*

Being Caught and Letting Go – by PENNY BARRATT

Being caught and letting go

 

by Penny Barratt

 

 

At the age of 10 you played kiss chase through the Dublin back streets with Diarmaid Carey. He snagged your best coat running at full tilt, ripped the pocket and you skipped home to confess and get a taste of your Da’s belt.

 

At 12 you were still the better runner but you let the lad catch you anyway. It was safer for your clothes that way.

 

At 15 he followed you home from the youth club and you slid the latch and led him all quietly up to your room while Da, who had never liked Diarmaid or any of his kin, was next door in the bathroom, singing full tilt in the shower and not once suspecting what was going on.

 

When you had just turned 16 Diarmaid said he’d stick with you when the baby came and Da gave him a bloody nose right there in the street and told him how he’d kill the feckless can of piss if he ever clapped eyes on him again.

 

At five weeks your Mammy was freaking at the thought of what the neighbours were saying and that there was no place under her roof for harlots. You had to look the word up. Your Da said abortions were meant for mental health situations and you must have been mental to get yourself in that state in the first place. Sure any doctor alive would certify to that?

 

So at six weeks you found yourself in the clinic and you sat quiet and still while Mam shrieked and carried on so loud that the doctor thought that she was the suicide risk and that the abortion was for her. The receptionist shooed Mammy out of the surgery while the doctor looked at your pale milk face, asked all the wrong questions and filled in a form in triplicate.

 

At seven weeks you had to go back to the clinic twice. Twice you sat on a bed in a white room with a high window and a framed print of the Alps. You snapped the blister packs and took the pills, tiny, shaped liked hexagons, and stored them between your cheek and your lower jaw, two on each side, and let them dissolve, slowly, melting, disappearing over the course of one hour. You imagined they were sweets. Smarties. The nurse gave you a glass of water and a filthy look.

 

At 11.28am on the Tuesday you were back home and alone in the bathroom with the door bolted. A pain low down in your belly and a streak of blood and you could finally let go.

***

Penny Barratt (1)

 ***This is the second piece of writing that Penny Barratt has had published that isn’t a feature or a news story, making her a regular contributor to Sick Lit Magazine. At the start of this year she took a vow to attend fewer creative writing classes, write more, get as many rejections as possible and finish at least one of the three novels she’s started.Three out of four achieved so far, with particular success at number three.***

*Featured photography by C.C. O’Hanlon*