A spot of poetry

Going Home was written last year, which won the One Word Challenge on Writer's Talkback back in August 2009.  It was inspired by a trip overseas, and leaving someone special behind.  It's an example of my favourite style of poetry - free verse and without punctuation.

Going Home

I left early. You were still asleep.
Sunlight was poking through the remains of night
When I boarded the plane and took my seat. I left you a note. You’ll read it and weep
Glass tears on pearly pillows, gems of endearment
Or shards of hate that sink deep
I didn’t say goodbye. You would only crack
Or shatter without your protective glaze
When you learn of my flight, that I won’t be back.
I’ve set your watch. You will always know my time
Understand that distance is just a word
You’re ten hours ahead, I’m ten hours behind
I’ll think of you, when I see cotton candy clouds
Or miles of ocean, shimmering like turquoise chiffon
While seconds turn into minutes, and minutes turn into hours
And when I land, your day will be gone
Mine will have begun once again, caught in time
A day I live twice, to think about what I’ve done
I didn’t say just how much I will miss you.
I couldn’t find the words, not then, when it mattered
Or cradle your heart when you needed me to.
You’re like a galvanised jewel, set in mind
But even though I am finally home, I’m here,
You will always remind me what I left behind.

A bit of Flash...

This flash fiction piece was written for an entry into the Writer's Talkback one word challenge, which I am proud to have won many times, and this one is one of my favourites.  The word 'Alone' provoked the story, and I came up with something suitably dark.  I can't say my writing is ever happy-clappy - I love to delve into dark matter too much! 

Your Mother Loves You

Rain glistened like pools of quicksilver along the pavements.

Low cloud pressed against the surroundings, made the sky seem darker than it was.

A droplet splashed against his face and he blinked as though it was acid. He didn’t understand this darkness. He didn’t understand the chill coiling around him, couldn’t fathom the strange glare that made his eyes hurt.

The cool moisture on his lips and tongue tasted strange. It didn’t nourish or satisfy, and his stomach winced with hunger, the feeling growing, making his insides ache.

He was unable to move, cocooned in a thin blanket, and his back felt numb. A thin, bloody film covered his wrinkled skin. He shivered, fingers bunching.

He tried to make a noise, tried to cry, but his clogged lungs sagged, and instead he wept silently into the night, tears lost as the rain washed over him.

A minute turned into an hour, then two, then three. After a while, he stopped moving. Eventually he stopped crying.

‘Found him this morning,’ the police officer said to his sergeant, forlorn. He handed him the tiny body, wrapped in a cotton blanket. ‘Just a few hours old. His mother left him to die.’

Chilhdood fears...

There is only one thing in life that I'm afraid of, and that's the dark.  Even as an adult it still has that ability to scare me, and those childhood fears have stayed with me, like the shadows in the corner, something lurking in the wardrobe, the thing under the bed...

Now as a storyteller, I can take those fears and turn them into stories to scare others.  I'm a big fan of psychological horror, or 'implied' horror, the kind of dark stuff that makes the reader think, rather than serve up blood and guts on a plate.  Less is sometimes more with scary stories, and even more effective with a twist in the tale.  With the Thing Under the Bed, which I originally wrote for Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, I brought the childhood fear of 'things in the mind' and gave it a sense of reality. 

The Thing Under the Bed

Michael always believed something lurked in the dark beneath his bed.

The large wardrobe frightened him. The deep alcove in the corner scared him, because that’s where it was darkest. Even the windows overlooking the trees in the field at the bottom of the garden terrified him, especially when the pewter glare of a full moon fleeced the walls and invited the shadows.

Most of all, Michael feared the thing under his bed; the strange movements, scratching noises, the creeping black clouds swarming around the furniture ready to devour him should he look upon the entity.

Each night he would pull the covers right over his head, afraid to peep into the darkness settling across his body. He would dream of his father’s return, dream of the things they could do together, dream of the light of another day, and eventually he would drift off to sleep, safe in slumber.

After breakfast, Michael put on his scruffy jeans and trainers.

‘Where are you off to?’ Dee asked her 10-year-old son.

‘I’m building my den,’ Michael replied, pointing to the field. ‘I want to finish it before Dad comes home.’

Dee lit a cigarette. ‘Your father won’t be back for weeks. You have all that time to finish it.’

Michael stared at his mother. He needed to finish the den. He would rather spend time in there than his bedroom, because he knew The Thing lived under the bed and he didn’t feel comfortable in there, even though it only came out at night. But then he dreaded each night and the darkness it would bring. It hadn’t always been like this. Ever since his father left to work on the rigs, his school friends had told him about the creature that lurked beneath people’s beds. If you looked at it long enough, it would kill you.

He had to finish the den.

‘Just be careful,’ Dee said. ‘Don’t wander too far. Six o’clock is teatime. It gets dark after six, so I want you back in the house. ’

* * *

Dee rolled across the bed, poured another glass of wine. She giggled as her lover, Jason, swept his hand down the curve of her back.

‘That was pretty intense,’ he said, planting a kiss on her shoulder. ‘The fear of being caught. Always makes it so exciting.’

She handed the glass of wine to him. ‘Maybe so, but Michael could walk in any minute. He’s only in the field just beyond our garden.’ She noted the time. ‘It’s nearly five o’clock. I said tea would be ready at six.’

Jason gulped the wine. ‘Stop fretting.’ He could easily shut the kid up if did happen. Nasty threats always worked. He hated kids. They were like vermin. He smiled at the thought. ‘He’d never tell anyone, trust me. Besides, we’ve got time to squeeze another in.’

Dee lay back. ‘Perhaps we should keep the noise down. I would--’

The sound of the front door closing filtered through the hallway. A voice.

Jason frowned at Dee’s stony expression. ‘Who the hell is that?’

Dee shot up. ‘Oh Christ, it’s Jimmy.’

Jason let go of Dee. ‘Shit. I thought you said he wasn’t gonna be back for weeks.’

Dee stared at the open bedroom door, shook her head. She lowered her voice. ‘That’s what I thought. Oh God, you need to hide. If Jimmy finds you he’ll kill you.’

‘Hide?’ Jason quickly slipped out of bed and grabbed his clothes from the floor. ‘And where the fuck am I supposed to hide in this poke hole?’

Dee flung the covers back. ‘Michael’s room. Quick. There’s a huge wardrobe in there. Don’t move until I give the all clear.’

Jason slunk bare bottomed towards the hallway as Dee hurriedly dressed herself. ‘The kid’s room? You got to be kidding.’ He looked back at her, his eyes coloured with fear.

‘You don’t have a choice. Don’t try to leave without the all clear.’

‘How long for?’

‘For as long as it takes. Jimmy’s a big man, you’ll have no chance if you try and sneak out of here.’ She pushed Jason towards Michael’s bedroom. ‘Stay in there. Don’t make a sound. I’ll get you when it’s clear.’

* * *

Michael wandered through the trees towards the garden. He looked up at the house. There was something different; he didn’t quite know what. It was only when he approached the back door, and he saw the large shadow standing in the kitchen next to his mother that he realised.

‘Dad!’ He ran into the kitchen. ‘Dad, I’m so happy you’re home.’

‘Hey spud.’ Jimmy glared at Dee. ‘At least someone’s happy to see me.’

Michael clung to his father. ‘I’m dead happy now. I’ve been waiting for you. I don’t have to be scared of the dark anymore.’

Dee brushed unruly hairs from her face. ‘I don’t know what on earth those kids tell him at school. He thinks there’s a monster under his bed. I showed him the other day. There’s nothing to be afraid of.’

Jimmy embraced his son. ‘Mum’s right. You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here now.’

During tea, Michael told his father all about his den, even though it wasn’t finished, and that night he went to bed on the promise that tomorrow they would finish it together.

Michael stood by the bedroom doorway. The light from the landing silhouetted his small frame. He stared at the bed. The covers hung right down to the floor, shielding him from the creature that stalked his waking moments.

He glanced to his left. The wardrobe door was slightly open. Some of his clothes had spilled onto the floor. The Thing had been in there, he was sure. Perhaps it was still in there, watching him, waiting.

Tonight he would face The Thing.

‘Come on, son. Bedtime.’ Jimmy ushered the boy into the bedroom, tucked him beneath the covers. He kissed him on the forehead. ‘Sleep tight, and--’

‘Don’t let the bed bugs bite,’ Michael whispered.

Jimmy smiled. ‘Sweet dreams.’

The light went out. The door closed. The darkness was swift - a cold, consuming, hungry darkness that crawled from the corners and slithered across the walls.

Michael was very still. His mind bubbled. Adrenaline began frosting his veins. His eyes switched from one point to another, seeing shadows. He could make out the outline of the wardrobe in the murk. He stared hard, thought he saw the door move. He slowly reached back and slipped his hand beneath the pillow.

His fingers curled around his father’s hammer. The one he’d carefully sneaked from the shed while mummy and daddy were arguing in the front room.

Something juddered beneath him, then a murmur.

Michael gripped the hammer tight. It was so heavy, but he managed to hold it in both hands.

The bed rattled. Michael wanted to scream, but didn’t. He eased forward slowly; his breath coming in short bursts as he peered over the edge of the bed.

Something white flashed through the black maw. The Thing blinked.

Michael lifted the hammer and forced it down onto The Thing’s head. Something cracked.

‘Christ! No!’

Michael did it again, listening to it gurgle and splutter. The bed jerked beneath him and Michael knew The Thing was strong. He jumped off the bed and this time used all his strength to smash the hammer repeatedly into the shadow poking from beneath the bed. He forced one last blow. A dull squelch echoed around the bedroom.

Silence returned. The Thing had stopped moving.

The bedroom door shot open. Light flooded the room.

‘What the hell...Michael?’

Michael looked up at his father in the doorway. He blinked through the blood smearing his face. ‘Look, Dad. The Thing. It was under my bed all this time, just like I told you. But it’s okay now, I’ve killed it.’

© April 2009

A dark tale...

I wrote Red Snow in 2009, which was originally published on Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, and remains one of my favourite short stories.  It follows the beleaguered Xavier and his teenage son Dmitry who have become victims of the German panzers destroying their small Russian town of Vledovka.  They resolve to kill the lone German sniper who has picked off the remaining townsfolk in a cruel game of survival.

Incidentally, the name of Vledlovka, whilst a real town, was used for creative purposes only and is not a true representation of a factual place.

The seeds of this story are now being turned into a full length novel. 

Red Snow of Vledovka

Snowflakes descended onto a silent, white landscape.

Beams of light filtered through the broken church windows, highlighting whirling particles dancing across the wooden pews, intermittently spliced by shadows. The church looked so different now, all that was left of the small town of Vledovka. The Germans had destroyed every building and killed all but a handful of people.

Xavier looked down at his teenage son squatting next to him. The boy tightly clutched a rifle to his chest. Silver-blue eyes peered out from a grimy, expressionless face; unwilling to share the horrors he had witnessed in the last few weeks.

Misted breath fogged the air around them, reluctant to fade.

One lone German soldier stood between them and a muted sense of freedom; an entity lurking in the ruins of the town, picking off the survivors with a gleeful snipe of a bullet. Broken bodies littered the landscape, frozen between lumps of concrete and twisted metal - mothers and fathers and children.

Xavier knew he had to kill the German. Whatever happened, he had to try.

He swept a hand over his dark beard, looked to the boy. ‘Stay here; keep your back against this wall. You watch these windows. If you see that soldier, you kill him, but don’t waste your shots.’

Dmitry lifted a Nagant revolver from his jacket pocket, although the 7 bullets in the cylinder would not last much longer. They were both running out of ammo.

‘Father, let me come with you. I can do it. You know I’m a better shot.’ Not only was Dmitry a better shot, but he was quicker on his feet, too. He wanted to show his father he was no longer a child. He could kill the enemy. ‘Please?’

Xavier placed a heavy hand on Dmitry’s shoulder. Two weeks earlier, the German had shot and killed his eldest son, Anatoly, whose body was still out there, resting beneath several feet of snow. He couldn’t risk the same happening to Dmitry.

‘Who do you think will protect your mother if we’re both dead, huh?’ He pulled his cap down tight across his brow and got to his feet. ‘Time to finish this.’ He hunched down and hurried to the gaping hole in the church wall where the first reign of bombs had blown most of the transept away.

He stepped out into the brightness of snowfall, looked up at a grey sky full and swollen with flakes. He shivered against the chill and ducked between the gravestones; heading east towards what would have been the main square of his decimated town. Fresh snow covered the dirty tracks left by the panzers, which had swept through three weeks ago, but it also covered the remains of those who were trying to flee Vledovka. Whole families lay together where they’d been rounded up and shot.

Xavier knew the sniper could be anywhere among the ruins, constantly moving around, hunting. He gazed across the lifeless ruins, searching the broken windows, watching colourless curtains billowing in the cold breeze. He eyed the open doorways, and the angular pinnacles of brick and concrete hewn from violent explosions. Finally, his attention stopped at the skeletal remains of his home.

Everything was gone.

Something glinted through the flurry in the distance, distracted him. Just a momentary flash, then it was gone. He crawled forward on his elbows towards a line of branchless, scorched trees.

* * *

Dmitry rose to his feet and wandered over to the wrecked window on the left. He hoisted himself up and clambered through it. Snow flocked around his face, stung his skin, and he pulled his thick green scarf – knitted by his mother - up over his nose and mouth. He plodded forward trough the knee-deep snowdrift. He knew his father was heading through the main square; but Dmitry knew that if the German was in the ruins, then perhaps they could corner him. Two guns were better than one.

The sound of the wind through empty buildings made him shudder; the primeval hum resonated through every cell in his body, flooding every pore, and it made him hurry to the corner of what used to be a bakery. He stood in the doorway, away from the icy torrent.

He looked down.

A woman’s face stared back at him from the floor where she had fallen; eyes clouded like a dead fish. Her mouth was slightly open, skin tight around a miserable scream of terror. The sniper had taken the left side of her head, and the floor was stained red where her blood had frozen in a wide spatter. He looked further down her body, saw exposed strings of darkened meat on her legs and forearms. The rats had been eating her.

He ignored the sight and moved from the doorway. He paused, cocked his ear. Footsteps over rubble; purposeful and fast. The squeak of a door drifted through the slate coloured mist. The unseen footsteps moved across a tiled floor, then stopped.

The German was close by.

A heartbeat echoed loudly in Dmitry’s head as he stepped out and slunk towards the next building. Muscles tensed and gnawed inwardly against the cold as he peered around a broken doorframe. His eyes shuttered against the chill as he focused on a figure hunched over something on the floor.

The German sniper was rifling through the pockets of the dead.

The breath in Dmitry’s throat froze; he almost dropped the rifle and it clunked against the doorframe.

The German snapped his head up; saw Dmitry in the doorway, silhouetted by the haze, and he reached for his Luger.

Dmitry lifted the rifle.

* * *

The gunshot startled Xavier, quickly followed by another two shots. He let out a short breath. Spliced nerves twitched as the hush slowly returned. He looked back at the church, but saw no movement. He wanted to call out to Dmitry, knew that he couldn’t; it would give Dmitry’s position away to the German. He had to follow the gunshots.

Breathing hard against the icy tendrils licking against his exposed skin, Xavier clambered to his feet and ran the short distance to the side of a nearby building, slipping into a short passageway for respite.

The gunshots had come from the other side of the main square so Xavier moved cautiously through the passageway and momentarily peered out. A desolate silence greeted him. The street was full with rubble, strewn with shoes and torn clothes. And scattered bodies.

He concentrated on the building opposite, thought he saw a passing shadow. He blinked against the brightness; couldn’t be sure it was movement. But then he heard a short burst of laughter, and he knew it was the German.

Xavier stepped out of the passageway. Fresh layers of snow crunched softly underfoot as he slowly made his way across the street, but then he stopped suddenly, his mind wrested by something that made his stomach plunge to his feet.

The chill gripped Xavier’s throat as he gazed down at the tiny, grey body of a newborn baby boy still attached to the umbilical, slowly disappearing beneath the snowfall.

He choked back his anger, gripped his rifle and entered the building. He searched the dark corners, expecting the German to jump out at him, but there was no enemy lurking, just his frightened imagination.

A noise to the right made him flinch. He lifted his rifle, aimed it at the shadows. Nothing. He moved further inside. An odd smell leavened the air, despite the chill. The stench of rotting corpses – though frozen with the onset of winter – still clung to the building, unwilling to fade. He closed his eyes, concentrated hard to stop the swill in his stomach moving up his throat.

Another sound brought him to; his muscles tightened in response. He stepped forward slowly, his eyes never leaving the doorway ahead of him. Indistinguishable sounds drifted through the blizzard; guarded, muffled.

He thought then about Dmitry, alone in the church, what would happen to him. The idea of certain death didn’t frighten Xavier, but the fear of leaving Dmitry to look after the family, to be the one to try to stop the sniper, did frightened him. If he didn’t kill the German, now, they were all doomed.

The sound of someone coughing almost made the liquid in Xavier’s bladder spill out into his trousers, and he ducked instinctively, unsure which direction the sound came from. His heart fluttered, drowning in adrenaline. He crawled sideways, crab-like, and leaned against the door.

He composed himself before edging around the doorframe.

A dark grey trench coat was visible through the rash of thick snowflakes. The German stood with his back towards Xavier. Cerulean ribbons of smoke from a cigarette coiled into the air. A satchel lay at the soldier’s feet.

Xavier sat against the doorway, carefully set his foot against the frame to keep his body from shaking. He tucked the rifle butt tightly beneath his right arm, peered through the gun sight and lined it up with the German’s head.

He licked his badly chapped lips, took in a breath and placed his forefinger against the trigger.

* * *

The nicotine from the cigarette flooded his lungs, calmed the torrent racing through his veins. The long trench coat kept out the chill, felt good. The French brandy in the hip flask helped to melt his frosted body, and despite it stinging his lips, he gulped it down. Christ, he couldn’t remember anything tasting this good. He’d found chocolate in the satchel, too.

He stared at the body lying in the doorway, peppered with bullet holes. Large crimson patches soiled the clothes. Blood slowly spilled out onto the virgin snow. His skin still tingled; the thrill of the kill.

He smiled; but it was almost a reflexive jerk, and at first he couldn’t understand why the body lying nearby became so vividly red, nor could he understand the sound of the implosion whistling through his head. He remembered glancing down, seeing the cigarette fall from his fingers; he remembered watching it fall as though in slow motion before it finally came to rest against the snow.

And then everything he knew, every moment, every memory, was catapulted out through the front of his skull in a kaleidoscopic burst, far out into the brightness, until everything quickly faded to darkness.

* * *

Xavier whooped as he watched the German’s head explode with startling force, easily ripped apart by the close range shot. The man dropped to the ground.

Xavier got to his feet and ran over to the body.

Small fragments skull and brain, and lumps of dark hair, littered the snow around the dead German.

He wiped snowflakes from his eyes, stared. His brows dropped. Two German soldiers?

He gazed at the other body sprawled in the doorway, three bullet holes in the chest. The corpse was wearing a German uniform and clutching a Luger pistol.

Xavier cupped a foot underneath the shoulder of the body at his feet and flipped it over.

He recognised the green scarf around the sinewy remains of the boy’s neck. A slivery-blue eye peered from the remains of the eye socket.

The rifle slipped from Xavier’s cold fingers.

A deep scarlet halo surrounded Dmitry’s shattered skull.

A silver hipflask glinted from the boy’s tightened fingers, and slowly it leaked golden liquid into the bloodied snow of Vledovka.

© June 2009