Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for September 2012

Skeletal Imbalance

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‘You have a skeletal imbalance.’

Marie looked at her doctor, certain she must have misheard her, but Dr Jennings merely looked back, legs crossed and hands clasped, waiting for a response.

‘…a what?’

‘A skeletal imbalance,’ Dr Jennings said. ‘It’s quite easy to determine with a simple examination of the bone structure, as I did there. To understand the extent of the displacement, you would need to undergo an x-ray, but that’s usually not necessary since the effects are quite mild.’

Marie had only made an appointment for her heartburn, but Dr Jennings had looked keenly at her and suggested an examination, which instantly worried her. And this was the result?

‘Wait, wait,’ she said, ‘how can a skeleton be unbalanced? What does that even mean? I can still walk and everything.’

‘Yes, yes, it’s not a debilitating injury, but more a slightly irregularity in the structure of your body. You see,’ Dr Jennings said, shifting forward and wearing her best “placid explaining” face, ‘sometimes in childhood, if the body receives a thorough knock it can be set slightly ajar in your body – nothing major enough to cause problems, but a noticeable shift nonetheless. While the rest of your physiology compensates for this new imbalance, your nervous system still notes that something is not quite right, and continues to send messages to your brain about this, feeding your subconscious a constant message of unease. This is why many people with a skeletal imbalance have a persistent feeling that something is wrong – and more specifically, that something is wrong, not with the world or their circumstances, but themselves. They often feel that, despite what they accomplish in life, there is still something wrong with them at their core, though they do not know what. Does this sound familiar?’

Marie looked at her hands, heart jumping as her psyche was brusquely laid bare.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’ve always had that feeling.’

‘As I said, it is incredibly common in those with skeletal imbalances, and skeletal imbalances themselves are far more common than many will admit. It’s an irrational feeling, caused purely by subconscious processes, but it can be quite stressful for those who have it.’

Dr Jennings pushed back her perfectly-cut, brown bobbed hair, and Marie wondered how she could merely call such a feeling “stressful.” But still, she straightened and played the role of an intelligent in-control woman who had not just heard that one of her most secret feelings was due to an imperfection in her body.

‘So,’ she said, ‘what do you prescribe for it then? Pills? Surgery?’ she added, not disguising the nervousness in her voice. The doctor looked at her as if she was slightly mad, as well as fundamentally off-kilter.

‘Prescribe? Well, nothing, I suppose.’

‘You mean there’s no cure?’ Marie said, heart jumping into her throat. Dr Jennings gave a wry smile.

‘Modern science is not yet able to reconfigure an entire adult skeleton, Miss Merridon, and it especially does not have the precision to move a whole skeleton what may be only a few millimetres in one direction. To attempt it would be foolish, dangerous even.’

‘But you can’t just tell me I’ve got this huge, basic problem and then not tell me what I can do about it!’ Marie cried. Dr Jennings glanced aside to her computer and keyboard and various pieces of paperwork.

‘Well, most people who have a skeletal imbalance never realise their problem and continue to live normal lives – in fact, many doctors do not see the point in telling patients of the problem, since it affects them so little. But I believe that a constant feeling of unease, and a belief that you are mysteriously tarnished and “wrong” at your core, is very unhealthy for a person’s mind, and often leads to unhealthy self-medicating behaviour, such as alcoholism, drug dependency, and other compulsions. Though you cannot cure your imbalance, at least you now know what is causing this feeling you have. As for what you can do about it, well – walk, meditate, go out with your friends, enjoy yourself. Learn to ignore your feeling of unease until you give it no thought in your actions of relationships. All anyone can do in such a situation is distract themselves, after all.’

‘But – but there is something wrong with me deep down! How can I live knowing that, and that there’s nothing I can do about it?’

Dr Jennings lowered her head, and looked at Marie over the top of her rimless spectacles.

‘My dear, just because something is wrong with you, doesn’t mean that something is wrong with you. Your imbalance is no-one’s fault, certainly not yours. No body is perfect, after all.’

Marie wasn’t sure she understood, but the doctor sat back and smiled, before turning and signing a sheet.

‘Here is the prescription for your heartburn – take as instructed, and it should clear up in a few weeks. Don’t let the skeletal imbalance affect you too much, Miss Merridon. You are exactly the same as you were before, only better prepared for what may come.’

Marie nodded as she looked at the prescription, not sure if she believed her, not sure if she could ever shake the feeling that she was Just Wrong. Yet the doctor smiled confidently at her as she stood up.

‘Take care,’ Dr Jennings said as she left.

Once the door was shut, the doctor paused, and shifted in her seat, her own skeletal imbalance telling her that she had done everything wrong in that appointment, and that everything she ever did was wrong. But she put that feeling aside, as she always did, and walked out into the waiting room, ready to see her next patient.


The best thing about writing is that if you ever feel that you are Bad and your writing is Bad and you’re just not cut out for it, you can channel that feeling into your writing and by the end you feel much better  🙂





Written by G.J.

26/09/2012 at 4:39 pm

Riverboat Part 9: It Never Rains but it Pours.

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‘Bad news in town,’ Mary said.

We all looked up. She had come from her morning trip to the grocers and we were all sitting, checking documents, sewing up the holes in our clothes, and talking. We were due to set off later that day, once one of our orders came in. Beneath the table I would occasionally brush Isabel’s hand – part of our play at trying to touch each other without the others noticing. I had a physical ache to be near her during the day, and it made her embrace even sweeter at night.

‘What is it?’ she said, dropping her hand from mine. Mary shook her head.

‘Awful stuff. You know Annie?’

I straightened, the sudden worry snapping my back into place.

‘Of course.’

Everyone was facing Mary now, needles falling onto laps. She looked between us all, settling on me for a longer time before facing Isabel again.

‘You remember her beau, Alfie Gibb – talk was that they were gonna get married.’

‘He works on the Queen Mab,’ Isabel said softly.

‘The very same. Well, one of the Cooper boys has had an argument with him a long time – started over stealing work a year or two back, and got worse.’

 ‘Don’t say…’

Mary nodded and sighed.

‘It got out of hand the other night, and pistols were used. Alfie got shot.’

She sat down heavily and shook her head again.

‘That’s not even the worst. Her brother-in-law, you know, Bobby Shaw, saw red at this – at his little sister being so very upset, as you’d understand, and he takes it upon himself to find this Cooper lad-‘

‘Oh no,’ Frances said.

‘That’s right. Killed him stone dead. But he was careless and now the police have got to him. Mrs Long told me all this at the grocer’s, see, and she says how Annie’s been sitting at home crying her eyes out as if the world will end and she won’t leave the house for–’

I stood up suddenly and Mary stopped. Isabel didn’t look surprised when I turned to her and spoke.

‘Captain – I have to go see Annie.’

She nodded. ‘Be quick. We have to leave in a few hours.’

Mary reached out for me as I grabbed my coat and went to hurry by.

‘Wait, wait, child, there’s more–’

But I was too flustered, too haunted by the picture of Annie sitting crying alone, to hear her. I couldn’t stand still.

‘Annie’ll tell me,’ I said, pushing by. She called after me by I couldn’t make out what she said, as I ran out to the dock and to Annie’s home, walking as quickly as I could, ignoring the friendly greetings from the working men. I finally made it to her small lodgings next to her family’s warehouse, and knocked on the door. Nothing. I knocked again, and on second thoughts, called out.

‘Annie! Mrs Devon! It’s Edie! Please let me in!’

I waited.

‘Annie! It’s Edie, I just heard and I-‘

The door opened and it was Annie’s mother.

‘Hush your voice girl, do you want to attract every blasted policeman in the neighbourhood?’

‘I’m sorry, ma’am, but I only just heard and–’

‘Get in, get in,’ she said, ushering me inside. It was a dark, gloomy house, where the windows never let in enough light even in summer, and the silence and hushed atmosphere made the gloom more intense.

‘Annie’s in her room. I wouldn’t expect much from her, though, she’s inconsolable.’

I nodded and hurried away. I barely heard the response to my knock on the door; the voice was so faint I thought it might be a creak of floorboards. I opened it slowly, and there she was – sitting on a chair pulled away from her table, hands lying limp in her lap.

‘I thought I recognised your voice,’ she said hoarsely. I knelt beside her and held her cold little hands, gripping them in mine, willing warmth and love into them. She was white-pale, with dark purple circles under each eye, and multiple wisps of hair stuck to her damp face. Last time I had seen her, a few months ago, she had been beaming – and she had told me all about her new dresses that Alfie bought for her, and how good he was, and how happy she was. Now her eyes strained with the effort to look up at me, blotchy red. It broke my heart. I sat down on the bed next to her.

‘Oh Annie…I came here as soon as I heard. I am so truly, truly sorry.’

‘So now everyone knows,’ she said, without a trace of feeling. ‘I am an object of pity.’

‘Of course! Who that has heard of it can feel anything else?’

‘But it is nothing for me,’ she said. ‘Only Bobby…dear Bobby…’

The tears started to pour down her face, and she didn’t twitch or move to stop them, as if she was too accustomed to them to try.

‘It’s my fault,’ she said. ‘It is all my fault. Bobby was only trying to do his best…for me and Alfie…and now the police have him, and he is in jail, and they will put him on trial and he will b-be h-hanged…’

I squeezed her hand even harder.

‘It…it was his choice, Annie, to go after him, he knew the risks, surely…’

‘But he didn’t care, Cathy tried to stop him but he said he had to do it, it was his duty as the man of our family, since Alfie was like a brother to him. I…I cried too much.’

‘Oh Annie!’ I said, and went to hug her, but she jerked and pushed me away, suddenly animated.

‘Don’t! Don’t! It’s all my fault…all my fault…’ And the tears kept flowing and flowing, beads following beads down the wide path.

‘Don’t be ridiculous, you –‘

‘Edie! Please!’

She looked away and sobbed for a moment, before finally wiping her cheeks and gathering her breath. I felt painfully impotent.

‘I know you will understand,’ she said finally. ‘We have been friends for so long, and with Laneham you went through so much, I know you will understand. We used to serve both Coopers and Hunters here, and in truth we only stopped a few years ago. My parents said Hunters were the better option so I had to tell him that I’d chosen Alfie and he couldn’t see me any more…that’s why he hated him. That’s why he shot him.’

‘Who are you talking about?’

She wiped away more tears, not seeming to have heard me.

‘He said he loved me, Edie. When I told him I couldn’t see him again, he still kept coming at night until I told him to stop and told him that I loved Alfie. He was so angry with me, because I had loved him once, but I had to p-put it away and forget I did. He said he’d never forgive my family, and the Hunters and everyone around them for what they’d done. And Alfie kept saying that there was such bad blood there if his boat ever stopped where the Sunrise did –’

 ‘What?!’ I cried. She looked at me, surprised.

‘Didn’t you know? I thought you knew, because you were on Sunrise for so long. I knew him as a child, and he went onto Laneham’s ship.’

A cold wash took over me and I couldn’t speak. I knew every man on that ship, and I knew which ones were the sort to love Annie.

‘And after Robert Cooper was shot the other day, all those on the Cooper side were riled up, mama said, and Alfie said that it was their own fault for what happened to the May family–’

(Harriet’s surname was May.)

‘–and he was so sure about it…he would have said it to any Cooper’s face…they said he got in an argument with the crew of the Sunrise but we all knew who it was he argued with, because only one of them hated him enough to kill him…oh…’

And she sobbed again but I could barely register her pain.

‘It’s all my fault, Edie,’ she cried. ‘Alfie’s dead, and Petey’s dead, and Bobby will be too – and it’s all, all my fault!’

I shook my head, trying to muster my goodwill and love through the shock.

‘It’s not your fault, not your fault at all, Annie – they chose it – it’s – it’s not your fault that men kill each other.’

‘But maybe I could have said something, anything to Alfie to warn him, or even something to Petey and he wouldn’t have…oh God, I’m so miserable! I want to die! Why can’t it be me instead of Bobby? I want to die!’

I put my hand on her shoulder and shook her gently.

‘Don’t ever say that,’ I said. ‘Think of your sister, and Alfie’s family, and your parents – they love you.’

‘I don’t care! I’m so miserable! I want to be with them both!’

I sat back and could only sit and watch her cry for a few seconds, feeling utterly useless, until finally it burst out of me:

‘Please don’t die,’ I said. ‘Don’t even think it! It only makes everything worse. T-too many people have died already!’

And she looked down at me, stared at me, and I tried and failed to mask my upset, having to turn my head and sniff and gulp down the lump in my throat.

‘I won’t die,’ she said softly after a while. ‘As much as I want to. Bobby and Cathy and mama and papa wouldn’t want it.’

I nodded. Eventually I roused myself, after more silence, by remembering my own ship, and my own duties.

‘I have to go,’ I said. ‘We’re leaving today.’

‘Be safe,’ she said lifelessly, having sunk back into her stupor.

‘And you,’ I said, and saying those words brought the lump back into my throat. I kissed her hands and said goodbye, and was grateful to leave and be away from her. I hurried back to the boat as quickly as I had left it, and Harriet was waiting for me on deck.

‘How is–’

And I ran past her and straight past the others inside, and to my room, and pulled out ink and paper, and wrote without thinking, feeling almost feverish with emotion. As soon as I was finished, I rushed back outside and handed them to a messenger with money, and back on board. Harriet didn’t attempt to speak to me this time. She merely looked sadly at me as I walked past, as if she recognised the pain, and knew I couldn’t share my burden with anyone else, but must carry it as best I could.

That night, Isabel came to bed as I lay there, face buried in the pillow. She didn’t touch me or say anything for a very long time, and when she finally did speak, her voice was soft and neutral – exactly the balm I needed.

‘John S. Cooper’s brother was killed the other day. Harriet’s not happy, because she doesn’t think it’s just, but she hopes it may be easier to find him now. Mary said that’s what started it this time.’

I didn’t reply.

‘So the man who killed Annie’s man was from the Sunrise.’

I nodded.

‘You knew him.’

I nodded.

‘And so you’ve sent Laneham a letter, asking him to explain what happened.’

I hesitated, then nodded again. She lay down, and hugged into my back. I turned and buried my face in her instead. I couldn’t speak. All I wanted to do was ask: why? And still, after so many months of asking that same question about this feud, I had no answer, and feared I never would.


My dearest Edie,

I had been worried about the lack of reply from you, but seeing the state of your mind as betrayed by your letter, and having to respond to its content, is something I would rather forego.

I knew what had happened between Petey and Annie. We all knew, but I didn’t think it would concern you at all so I never mentioned it – I thought Annie might have told you, if you were still close to her.

We were all out at the public house to commiserate with Clark and the other Bainbridges, since Robert was shot. I didn’t know him – I didn’t care for that side of the Cooper family, having once met John S. Cooper – but Clark was upset so we all went, Petey among us. We were leaving when we ran into the Queen Mab’s crew, including Alfie Gibb. I don’t think you understand how the name “Bainbridge” is regarded among many of the Hunter boats; one look at Clark and they all wanted to fight with us. I wasn’t willing to let things escalate after such an awful day, so I told everyone to go back to the boat, and we had nearly all boarded it when I realised that Petey wasn’t there. Before I could go back and find him, we heard a shot, and moments later Petey was on the ship, begging us to untie and leave so he wouldn’t be caught by the police or, worse, by one of Alfie’s friends. But I couldn’t do it, Edie. I thought of what you’d said about Annie’s happiness, and so I couldn’t agree when everyone said he was right to do it. You are the only one I can tell the truth: I thought he deserved punishment, and that if he was a real man, he would face the consequences bravely. Business meant we had to stay in port anyway, so that was my excuse, though I barely gained the cooperation of the crew.

 I hoped that the police would find us first. We all promised that we would protect him and I made him promise not to leave the boat as well. But I failed him. He went out to the deck while we were all inside, without our knowledge, and it seems that man Shaw had been waiting for him. We heard a shot, and ran outside, and Petey was lying there bleeding, and we saw a man run off into the distance. None of us ran after him, but Jack saw who it was. We tried to stop Petey bleeding, but nothing worked and he died minutes later. We didn’t think of going to the police, but we weren’t the only ones who saw Bobby Shaw (one of the workers saw him run past after hearing the shot) and so the next day they came and talked to all of us, though they needn’t have bothered since the man confessed at the first questioning, and none of us were useful to them – we were all in a state of shock. We still are.

You knew Petey. He was a good man, and he wanted Annie hurt less than anything else. But we all have guns and killing is so easy if you’re in a passion, as we all were that night. I didn’t expect them to come to our doorstep, though. I feel sick to my stomach when I think of Petey as he was dying, and I hate to think that I could have prevented it – but there would always be Hunter people out for him, and I’m not sure I could have prevented his death completely. It’s awful to think that – honestly, it makes me want to run away from boats entirely – but I have to face what I’ve chosen, and where I am. I feel as if my entire life has been leading me to this resolve: I have to obey my conscience, and do what is right more than what makes me happy.

To that end I will be strengthening the search for Archibald Hunter. Warn Miss Eynham not to cross my path. For Petey’s sake, for Robert and David Cooper and Tom Bainbridge and all the others, and for myself, I will not hesitate to extract his whereabouts from whichever Hunter I find – and my dear Edie, I will not take you as a substitute this time. As much as it may pain me, I will not be swayed by any pleadings from you. I will find Archibald Hunter.

          Let us hope we do not meet before then.

                   Yours eternally,


I hugged Isabel close to me and told her Laneham’s reply as we sat on the bed together after dinner. She nodded grimly.

‘For your sake, I hope we do not meet. But for my own sake, I pray that we do. I want this ended, Edie. I want justice. I don’t want any more senseless killings.’

‘How can you say you want to stop killings when you’re resolved to make one?’ I cried.

She glared at me.

‘You know my story. I thought you would understand. My conscience won’t let me leave him alive.’

‘So it’s a duty, is it?’ I spat.

‘Yes, it is a duty! What’s wrong with following it?’

She was the one who didn’t understand. I spoke slowly and carefully, loading each word with all the emotion I was feeling.

‘Bobby Shaw said it was his duty to kill Petey, for his family.’

‘So it was!’ she said. ‘Death has to be repaid by death.’

‘But that just means everyone dies! If you kill Alexander Strong then someone’ll come after you, and if Laneham kills Archibald Hunter someone’ll come after him, and then on and on until everyone’s dead!’

‘Well – well – ‘ She struggled to find an appropriate response. ‘That’s just life Edie!’

‘I hate life!’ I shouted. ‘I hate it all! I won’t have it – I can’t stand it!’

She looked at me, stunned for a few seconds, before looking down and smiling. I hated that smile; the smile of an adult smirking at a child’s naiveté, at their obvious mistakes.

‘You’re lucky,’ she said. ‘Because you don’t know what it’s like. I will happily kill him, and bear whatever comes after. Once I’ve completed it, I have no more debts, and I can die happy and face my family in heaven.’

‘You’d rather die for your family than live with me?’ I said. She looked away and struggled for a few moments.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes.’

No. I knew her better than she knew herself. I knew it was a tale, a tale of righteous revenge that she wanted to make into her life, but that I knew she would find empty. She would hate killing. She was too kind to kill, I knew she was, and I knew her conscience would not let her live afterwards – the same conscience that would not let her live now. She would be horrified that her hands could end a life, and never trust her soul; she would welcome vengeance on her with open arms, hoping to absolve herself of all guilt in death. And when she got to heaven, her family would turn to her and shake their heads and cry for her and she would regret it then.

I could not let that happen.

Laneham was more realistic. His letter had spelled out everything for me. He knew he would hate it – he knew he would feel no happiness from it – but still, his own conscience would not allow him to let Archibald Hunter live. He would kill him, and take the burden of that murder upon his shoulders with a heave, for the honour of his fallen friends, and – I knew – for first separating him from me and changing his life completely. Laneham would look down at his feet calmly when the killing blow came, accepting his cursed lot in life.

I could not let that happen.

Stupid, stupid people! Why couldn’t they see? Why didn’t they understand that the dead didn’t care who fought for them? Why did they feel that they owed them companions in death? Their consciences lied to them. It was not “just”. It was not “duty”. It was murder.

A hideous fantasy that had been floating in my mind was given form. A fantasy where no-one else had to die. Where everyone could accept that they were different and had rivalries and loved the same person without any blood needing to be spilt. That was all I asked for. I let it sit in the back of my mind, and brooded over it at night, as if wishing it to be true would cause it to become reality. It didn’t work. The next thing we knew, Isabel and Laneham swore to kill each other, and I had to act.


The news came suddenly. Mary ran in, and asked to speak privately with the captain. I was with Frances, and she went pale.

‘What is it?’ I asked, and she bit her nails.

‘I’ve been bad to you, and captain, Edie.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You’ll find out soon enough,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t bring myself to bear the news. I hoped we wouldn’t hear it.’

I became quite angry at her evasions and was about to demand the truth when Isabel stormed past the room and into the dining room. We ran after her.

‘Everyone in here!’ she called. We all looked at her, uneasy, while Mary wrung her apron in her hands.

‘We’re going to put our goods down in London then turn north,’ Isabel said.

‘Why?’ Helena said. ‘We have people waiting and–’

‘I’ve found Alexander Strong.’

No-one spoke and all I could hear was Frances biting her nails.

‘Mary just heard the news. It seems that someone at the dock saw him get on a boat – a boat like ours. Frances! Would you know anything about this? Mary said she heard it from Miss Cunningham, who I generally thought was your friend.’

Frances hid behind me and Isabel narrowed her eyes.

‘I thought so. Edie! Do you have any idea where he is?’

‘Wh-why are you asking me?’ I spluttered, scared by her intensity, by the narrow beam of anger shooting out her eyes and onto me.

‘You received a letter from Laneham.’

‘I told you everything in it!’ I cried, growing even more flustered by all the eyes turned to me.

‘Did you really?’

‘Yes! Why…’

And I realised why. She nodded grimly.

‘Of course you realise. Of course. Anyone else hazard a guess, from what I’m saying? Dear Edie’s beau Laneham has taken Alexander Strong onto his ship, specifically to protect him from me.’

No-one said a word. They all kept looking at me, except Frances who was still hidden at my back.

‘That’s the real reason he told us to stay away,’ Isabel said. ‘Not because he doesn’t want to upset you by hurting me, but purely to keep me from that man! That man that I’ve been living to kill!’

She swung her eyes round us all and we glanced down. I was shaking. We’d never seen her so angry.

‘So the reason we’re turning, Helena, is so we can go after him and his damned crew and take out that bastard man and anyone who goes with him. I don’t care if I die trying, I don’t care if I kill fifty men – I am going to get him. And so you all have to decide – are you coming with me?’

‘Of course we are, hun!’ Mary cried. ‘Of course, after everything! We’re your crew!’

‘Yes,’ Harriet said, eyes sparkling with their usual quiet force. ‘We are your crew and we will back you up.’

Helena nodded though her usually pink cheeks had turned white.

‘Fanny…’ Isabel said. ‘I can forgive you. I know you just wanted to keep everyone happy. But I saved you, and you owe me. Please, come with me.’

Frances stepped out from behind me, ran up to her and grabbed her hand.

‘I’m scared, Miss Eynham.’

‘Don’t be,’ Isabel said. ‘We will succeed.’ And she looked up at me.


I couldn’t speak. I hoped I was dreaming.

‘Edie, you have to choose. I know you have high regards for that man. I have endured how you went away with them, and how highly you spoke of them all, and how shamefully upset you were at one of them getting rightfully killed–’

‘You’re putting words in my mouth! And you–’

‘EDIE!’ she shouted. Everyone jumped.

‘You have to choose.’

I couldn’t. I shook my head, my mouth gaping, and I couldn’t even think. All I could feel was the panic rising in my heart.

‘Look at me,’ she insisted.

I looked but had to turn away from her eyes. She was willing me, pushing me, daring me to answer, but I only shook my head, refusing to respond.

‘Edie, you have to choose! You’re a Hunter, aren’t you? Come with me! You know how much this means to me!’

‘I – I can’t! I…I..!’

And I looked around at everyone, stony and unhelpful, and my look ended on her her eyes, her eyes boring into me. I screwed my eyelids shut to get away from them.

‘I can’t! I can’t let you kill each other!’

She did not answer. When I hazarded to look at her again, I saw that her face was as pale and resolute as death, with an ugly wildness I had never seen before. I loved her. I loved her – and I loved Laneham. How could this happen? How could I let this happen?

‘No,’ I said, gaining determination, the panic morphing into reckless courage, ‘no, I can’t come with you. I – I can’t let you kill each other.’

‘You’re going to him, then?’ she said, her voice like nothing I had ever heard – so stern, so deadly.


‘It’s him or me, Edie.’

‘You can’t force me to make that choice,’ I said. I noticed my heart thumping, and realised it must be in fear, but I couldn’t feel anything in my swirl of emotions. ‘No, I won’t choose. I want both of you or neither of you.’

‘You can’t do that,’ she said, anger infusing every word, her nostrils flaring. ‘You’re too stuck in this to just walk away!’

‘I don’t care!’ I said. ‘I refuse. You will not make me decide between you. I will not let you two kill each other!’

I looked her in the eye and met her gaze directly, and I felt sure in my decision – my decision not to choose. It was my only option, and I made sure that she knew I would not reconsider. She looked at me for a long moment, her eyes pits of silent fury, before she turned her head to Mary.

‘Mary, recalculate the provisions we’ll need to buy next port and get me the accounts.’

‘Captain?’ she whispered. Isabel turned back to me and I realised what she meant by that. All my courage drained away. I tried to beg her, plead with her with my eyes, but she didn’t back down. Her fury left her face, replaced with an unspeakable sadness. Resignation. Betrayal.

‘We leave Miss Heinlein at London.’

Written by G.J.

23/09/2012 at 1:14 pm

Savage Writing: Whistle and Pea

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Theme for this week was “Whodunnit?” 

My name is Desiree Long – a name which was given to me by my mother in the hopes that I would be beautiful, and charming, and like herself. But I turned out like my father, and so disappointed her in all respects: dumpy, dull and silent.

She’s dead now. I came back from school on Tuesday last week and found her hanging from the ceiling hook in the living room, like she was an extension of the light. It took me ten minutes to stop staring and phone the police, since it was the last thing I had expected. I can’t remember it very well – the shock hit me worse than anything – but I remember dad hugging me and saying it would be okay, and the police muttering to each other before finally telling us that, though it looked like suicide, the marks on the living room floor showed that she was dragged up there. It was murder.

I wish I could say I was upset. Well, I was – but not too upset. She’d never liked me, my mum; she was a whistle and I was the pea trapped inside her, both rattling against each other but unable to part. I remember when dad went to the police station to talk about possible suspects, and I was left alone in the house. I made myself a jam sandwich with mum’s favourite strawberry compote and I sprinkled loads of sugar on top like she would never let me, and it tasted like the best thing in the world until I was halfway through and then I felt really sick, and that was when I started crying.

When dad came back from the station he said that they were taking my uncle – my mum’s brother – in for questioning. It was likely a strong man who fought her and strung her up like that, he said, and my Uncle Phil is built like a bear. Phil’s loud and obnoxious for a security guard, and he’s always made crude comments about me. My mum never told him off for it because she loved him, she loved hanging out and drinking with her brother. That’s why I was so confused when dad said that he was a suspect, because he would never hurt her, I thought. And she trusted him enough to give him a key to the house…

I remembered our last house party. Mum was angry that night, but she had been constantly angry for weeks so I didn’t notice. Phil got drunk and kept calling her Ann, which really annoys her because she had it legally changed to Anastasia when she was younger because she hated being called just “Ann”, and the more she told him to shut up the more she got genuinely angry until she shouted at him and stormed off. He went after her and had a chat with her, and everyone was whispering and awkward – people kept asking me what was up so I just stood by the snacks and pretended to tidy up so they’d leave me alone again. After that she didn’t talk to him for the rest of the night, wouldn’t even look at him.

And then I remembered that after that she got loads of phone calls from him, and she kept hanging up and refusing to answer, until the other day – the day before she died – she went up to her room and ended up shouting down the line, saying he should leave her alone and stop trying to control her life and let her make her own decisions.

‘You know, chick,’ dad said at dinner, ‘our solicitor said that your mother had arranged to see him. You know your uncle’s a beneficiary on her will. The police think that, since she’d had an argument with him, maybe she was going to write him out of it.’

He looked really upset. He looked like he’d been crushed by a train ever since she died, and that made me feel so bad.

‘She wouldn’t do that,’ I said. It was too twee, too like Agatha Christie for anything that happened around my mother. ‘She loved him. I bet you anything he didn’t kill her.’

He gave me a big speech about facing reality and being a big girl and how sometimes the world is cruel and things we don’t think would ever happen come about, but I didn’t listen.

Maybe I should have, because Uncle Phil phoned me up earlier today, and told me I should come round to his house, and I refused because I’m glad that I have no reason to go near him ever again. He sounded worried, upset, said that I should because some tests had come through, and they’d found sleeping pills in my mum’s body, so there would have been no struggle to hang her – and I hung up because I didn’t want to hear it.

I didn’t want to hear it. But I heard it, and I went through to the kitchen and I took out the packet of sleeping pills in the box where we keep medicines. It had four missing. When I turned, dad was in the doorway, and when he saw that I was crying he started shaking his head.

‘Oh, chick,’ he said, sounding so tired, looking horribly sad. ‘What have you done?’

Nothing. I’ve done nothing. I would never have killed my mother in a hundred years – so surely my father, who’s dull, and dumpy, and scorned by her like me, would never have killed her either. But he kept shaking his head and sighing, and he started walking towards me and I pressed myself against the counter away from him, unable to run.

‘You don’t understand, chick,’ he said, and his quietness had never seemed so creepy. ‘She was going to rob me, rob us. Your uncle knew – he thought she should try to stick it out – but I had no idea until she said she was going for divorce papers. I gave everything for her, yet she was going to bleed me for all I had, and leave nothing for you. Don’t you see, chick? I did it for us!’

He didn’t do it for me. I knew how little I meant to her; I never expected anything. He did it for his own anger, not me. And his anger didn’t die with her; I can see it in his eyes, he couldn’t kill it so now he’s looking at me, he’s still angry and he’s just looking at me…

He’s waiting for me to respond, but I can’t do anything but cry. And he’s twisting up a tea towel with his hand and I know I should try to run, but all I can do is think back on everything that’s happened, me and him and her. And he’s coming towards me, and I can’t move, and I know I should stop thinking now because all thoughts have to stop–


I think everyone was a little shocked with this one. Got some very nice responses though 🙂

P.S. Riverboats will be back on Sunday. 

Written by G.J.

19/09/2012 at 10:44 pm

Excerpt: The School Showcase

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The concert hall was built like an amphitheatre, with raised seating running in a circle from the stage, leaving empty a large space in the centre of the room. The programme said that the walls were cream to give the optimum amount of colour reverberation without the sparseness of white, while the seats were black so each person could better absorb the sound. The programme also told her that Annie’s class had two sets: the opening piece, and another song three-quarters of the way through the three-hour concert, as well as being part of the finale. Bernadette would have no choice but to sit through the entire thing.

‘Ugh,’ came a voice behind her, ‘what awful colour scheme. You’d think a school with this much money could furnish itself better.’

Bernadette agreed, in her heart, but coming from Cherie – and in her best snobbish tone – the complaint irked her. She felt compelled to point out what the programme said, but, as usually happened when she considered making a response, she quickly decided that there was no point and remained silent.

Most of the families there for the concert consisted of mothers and fathers dressed in underwhelmingly smart clothes: shirts and no suits; blazers with t-shirts underneath; simple dresses and skirts. Among them, the older sisters of Annette Croshaw and Belle Montague stood out like black seats in a cream theatre. Bern hadn’t even considered changing from work, so she was still in her basic war-mage uniform: black shirt, black trousers and combat boots, blonde hair in a low bun and combat knife hidden on the back of her belt. Cherie, on the other hand, looked as if she was going to the opera instead of a school show: she wore a light blue dress with a ruffled asymmetrical hem that swept from above one knee to the opposite ankle, covered in multicoloured sequins in the image of a blue bird of paradise. Her black curls were perfectly styled and she had a light dusting of makeup – enough to make her look fresh and beautiful. Many of the people around her stared, with a large number of fathers stopping in their tracks to goggle at her.

Bernadette wished Annie had picked a different best friend, so she wouldn’t have ever had to associate with Cherie. This was the second time they had met, and Cherie had done nothing so far to assuage the negative first impression she had given a few nights ago. She had come to pick up Belle and take her home – ‘I can’t have her walking alone at night in this area,’ she had said – but then chose to ignore her sister and everyone else in favour of talking to Mac. Stupid Mac, Bernadette thought. She had hoped that any rich twit associated with this school would be too arrogant to pay attention to her brother, but his humble handsomeness had caught Cherie immediately, and he – fool that he was – responded to her attention and charm with the grinning shyness that always signalled the beginning of a crush. It was one of the few times when Bernadette was happy that Grenny scolded him as soon as the guests left.

And now she would have to sit with Cherie for three entire hours. She would have preferred field training in the rain to this.

They filed into their seats – near the middle, on the left side – and said nothing to each other for a long time. Bernadette guessed that Cherie was too busy judging her, or the other people around them, to speak.

‘Belle’s been so looking forward to this,’ she finally said, strange wording in her strange accent (not that Bern or any of her family could talk). ‘I hope it all goes well.’

The lights went down and the headmistress of the school, Ms Angeline Roue, came out from behind the curtains to open proceedings. She was middle-aged and not at all good-looking, but her waist-length, pin-straight hair was bright silver and shone like the moon, and even her speaking voice had a clear, lyrical quality to it. Annie had told her family that Ms Angeline was descended from the Queen; Bern was glad that before she opened her mouth, Grenny and Mac had both jumped in and said that that meant little in such a high-born place. The headmistress gave a few brief words about how grateful she was for everyone to be there, and how thankful she was that they had come to see their children’s progress. Of course we would, Bern thought. We’re the ones paying for this, after all.

With that, Ms Angeline disappeared, the curtains flew open, and Bernadette and Cherie sat forward and looked for their sisters. There Annie was, in the second row, near to their side of the hall. They must have adjusted the dye in her hair today at school again – where she had been tangerine this morning, she was now a burnt orange. The boys wore pale yellow shirts and trousers while the girls had pale yellow dresses, with white flowers in their hair. They were all slathered in makeup (what would Grenny say?). More noticeable than any other feature, they wore huge, painful-looking smiles across their cheeks. One girl sang the first tuning note, and then the opening song began.

It began as a quiet, half-sung chant in unison, which vibrated the air across the hall and became more intense as the volume grew. Finally, at the bridge, the class split into four harmonies and blasted out a forceful tune – and the air in front of the stage erupted into overlapping spheres yellow and orange and red, fireworks of colour. The choir quickly sank into the second verse, upbeat and marching, and the colours split into gaseous strips, flitting and melding and dancing with each other, before exploding again at the return of the chorus. The tone suddenly shifted in the middle-eight, into a chilling minor key with a piercing descant – that was Belle on top, it was clearly her – and the colours changed into blues and greens and shrank, before the bridge built, and built, and burst into the final chorus. The colours exploded not just in front of the stage, but in front of the audience: the air before Bernadette’s eyes was now swimming in translucent yellow, orange, scarlet (she half-thought she was going mad). The choir gave a final crescendo up to the final note, held it – the colours in the air grew and shook with the strength of it – and with a final push, the colours burst into nothingness and the singing stopped.

Bernadette felt curiously like she wanted to sneeze – subconsciously thinking that the colours in front of her eyes were made by coloured dust – but everyone else around her, especially Cherie, was clapping madly. She hadn’t heard Annie at all among the meld of voices, but her sister was there, beaming on stage. The curtains closed – Cherie turned to her and said ‘Wasn’t that a good start?’ – and the wonders continued.

Bernadette had heard some Singing, of course – it was one of the foremost treatments of battle fatigue – but she had never heard or seen it as she did that night. Explosions of colour were shown to be elementary, which was why Annie’s class had been able to do it so easily and as a first treat. The singers of the senior years painted entire tableaux with their voices, depicting the tales they sang, and the orchestra which accompanied them added a layer of depth and emotion that Bernadette had never known from the few country and folk songs she had sung with her family. She had never known it could be used as a form of magical kinetics either: two girls brought various objects – balls, streamers, hoops – out with them and moved them only with the power of their voices, bouncing them backwards and forwards and wrapping each other and acting so comically that everyone in the audience was laughing. But the true power of Singing – the manipulation of emotions – was the dominant display that night. The national songs – the only ones that weren’t sung in Anciene and thus the only ones with understandable lyrics – made her swell with pride and fervour; the ballads – of which Annie’s class sung one – filled her with a torque of longing and happiness and sadness. Finally, just before the finale, the hall went black, one circle of light beamed down on the stage, and one girl – from the oldest class, by the look of her – stepped into it. She had long, stylishly cut electric blue hair, and wore a simple white dress with a black border. And when she sang…

Bernadette had never heard any voice so clear, so inspiring, so angelic. It seemed to spin through the air and burrow directly into her heart. The song was simple, a capella, haunting and yet uplifting at the same time. She was technically perfect, hitting every leap and arpeggio with ease, yet her tone was warm and inviting, and even at the very highest notes she was never piercing or strained. Everyone was transfixed as they listened, carried away to another plane of existence as this one woman sang, and so wrapped them in warmth, in love, in pure beauty.

An unexpected motion is what tore Bernadette out of that place. She looked to her side, and saw Cherie moving her hand to her face. She was dabbing away the tears as she looked at this girl, an expression of intense longing on her face. She cried as if she understood something in the song that no-one else – who only heard loveliness – could ever know.

After her final, thrilling note died away, the applause was sudden and rapturous. Nearly everyone was standing and shouting. Bernadette heard someone say that she was the best Singer who had ever lived. Cherie sniffed and stood as well, clapping with a pained smile. Bern’s hands felt like lead as she applauded, not sure what to feel anymore, not sure who she, or Cherie, or anyone was anymore.

A pause as the orchestra reassembled, and then everyone was ready for the finale. The entire school came together; they took up every inch of the stage, a rainbow of hair colours above sea of white (they had all changed during the previous song, it seemed). A girl from Annie’s class began the piece with a solo, and then gradually more and more voices entered, until everyone was singing in a frenetic eight-part harmony. No explosions, no colours, no movement: pure emotion, pure energy, pure joy. Many of the parents stood up and began dancing and clapping and attempting to sing along, and though Bernadette did not stand, she could not prevent herself from smiling, then tapping her foot, then clapping along as the piece grew, expanded, and ended with one final near-cacophonous flourish. There was a beat of dead silence, and then the parents erupted. The ones who had children in the first year – for whom this was their first concert – were near delirious, whereas the other ones – particularly the parents of the seniors – smiled serenely as they clapped and said to each other ‘It was good again this year.’ Bernadette, after the range and rush of feelings, felt dead tired. Ms Angeline gave her thanks and everyone bowed again – the blue-haired girl got a second thunder of applause – and then it was over. She and Cherie filed out and waited outside as the students began spilling from the backstage door.

‘My,’ was all Cherie said at first. After a moment, she turned to Bernadette with a wan smile and added: ‘Listening to Singing does take something from you, doesn’t it?’

Bern nodded but wasn’t able to look her in the eye for more than a second. She felt raw, as if facing anyone right now would make her break to pieces. Luckily, it took a few minutes for the girls to come running out, and when they did Belle ran straight to Cherie and began talking.

‘What did you think? How did we do?’

‘Oh, it was so wonderful!’ Cherie said, giving her a swift hug, considerably cheerier at the sight of her. ‘You were all fantastic! Though,’ she added, licking her finger and rubbing out some of the heavy red eyeshadow off of Belle’s lids, ‘whoever did your makeup should be shot. Did she use a shovel to put this on?’

‘It’s stage-makeup–’

‘Anyway, I loved it,’ Cherie said, straightening. ‘I’m sure I could hear you the whole time as well, Belle.’

‘Did you hear Annie?’

‘No,’ Cherie said with complete ease.

‘See?’ Belle said with an elbow to her friend, who was standing grinning at them all as if she was still in space. ‘I told you no-one would notice your mistake.’

‘What did’ja think?’ Annie said, turning her wide eyes to Bernadette. Bern smiled and ruffled her hair, nearly knocking the flower off with her clumsy hands.

‘It wuz good, girly,’ she said quietly. Annie beamed, knowing how much praise it was to get even one word out of her big sister in such a place.

‘How come you didn’t have that solo in the last piece, Belly?’ Cherie asked. Belle rolled her eyes.

‘Ugh, I wanted to have it – I was going to have it – but Ms Caroline said I was singing flat, so I couldn’t do it. But it’s not my fault, I never sing flat! It must be this hair, it’s resonating me all wrong – I told Ma’m Dru I should have purple instead…’

She scowled the handful of pale pink hair she held.

‘Or, you’re just singing flat,’ Cherie said.

‘Well I wanted Annie to have it anyway,’ Belle said, tugging on her friend’s arm. ‘You’re far better than stupid Clara.’

‘I’m too quiet,’ Annie said, shaking her head.

‘Well, nevertheless it was excellent,’ Cherie said.

‘What did’ja think of Vicoletta?’ Annie said to Bernadette, who didn’t know who she was talking about until Belle laughed and said ‘Annie cried at her!’

‘Anyone with a heart would cry at that,’ Cherie said sharply. ‘She’s amazing.’

‘She came back from Harimville just for the concert,’ Belle said. ‘She’s been doing loads of concerts by herself – she’s going South to Eritramme to work there for a while. Can you imagine working at the halls there?’

‘She’ll probally go all over the world!’ Annie added.

‘Maybe you should get blue hair, Belly,’ Cherie said, taking her sister and turning them away from the hall, starting the walk home. The girls snorted and disputed this, and the talk of the concert continued as they walked.

‘I like your dress,’ Annie said shyly after a while. Cherie gave her a most gracious smile.

‘Why thank you! I wasn’t sure I would still fit into it – I made it a few years ago as one of my first big projects. Tell you what, if you come to the boutique and sing a nice song for me – one of those uplifting ones that’ll stop me from falling asleep – then I’ll make you your own dress.’

Annie gasped, Belle protested – ‘But you’ve got me to Sing to you!’ – and Cherie ignored them both as she looked keenly at Annie’s hair and complexion.

‘I’m thinking…gold. Something shiny – expensive looking, but innocent in style. Would you like that?’

‘Th-that would be amazing!’ Annie gushed. Bern eyed Cherie’s dress – it was easily worth two hundred, maybe four hundred shards. Surely she couldn’t just give that away! But Cherie kept talking about what Annie’s dress would be like, materials and cut and style, and Annie blushed and Belle complained that her sister never made her dresses, and they all carried on as giving away that much skill and money was easily done without a thought. Bernadette was too stunned to take in nearly anything else, until Cherie and Belle had to split off to their home.

‘Say hello to your family for me,’ Cherie said to Annie.

‘You mean Mac,’ Belle said.

‘I mean the family,’ Cherie said firmly, turning her eyes to Bernadette. ‘Thank you for sitting with me, Ms Croshaw. And Annie, I’m sure I’ll see you soon.’

They waved goodbye and turned towards their street, while Bern and Annie had a long way to walk to their part of town. They said nothing for a while.

‘What did you really think of the show?’ Annie said at last, turning her innocent eleven-year-old face towards her big sister. Poor Annie. Always worried over what she was thinking, when really Bern’s opinion wasn’t worth much.

‘I rilly liked it,’ she said, taking her sister’s hand. ‘But I ain’t used to it, and it’s tirin’. Mac can go with ya next time, and see.’

Annie nodded, slightly cheered. She burst into excitement again when they got home, telling Mac and Grenny about everything that was sung and went wrong and how Cherie was going to make her a beautiful dress in gold, just for her. Bern, without a word to interrupt her sister, kissed her granny on the cheek, nodded at her brother, and went straight to bed, where she tossed and turned for some time, trying to get Vicoletta’s beautiful song – and the image of Cherie crying – out of her head.

Written by G.J.

12/09/2012 at 1:36 pm

Savage Writing: Burning Tapers

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Theme for this week was castle and/or flame, so I did both. Also, had to check that everyone at the club called them “tapers” because Google refused to acknowledge that wooden tapers – like the ones we used to use in science class all the time – exist.

She had been playing with the fire tapers for five minutes now without speaking to him. He watched her the entire time, waiting for her to break the silence, but she had only repeated the same actions over and over: she dipped the long strip of wood into the fireplace, waited until it caught, then watched the flame burn down until it nearly touched her fingers, before blowing it out. The room stank of smoke; charred wooden remnants lay in a pile next to her chair leg, carelessly close to the fireplace sparks.

 Finally, his patience grew thin.

‘Aren’t you going to say anything?’

She blew on the weak flame of the one she currently held.

‘I’ve made my choice,’ she said. ‘No-one can convince me otherwise.’

‘He’ll keep you in here for weeks, Madeleine. Maybe more. You can’t spend your life staring at these walls.’

He said “walls”, but in that small tower room, there was only one curving, encompassing wall. One dingy four-poster-bed, one half-ruined expensive rug, a tarnished, ornate table, and her magnificent fireside chair whose carved wings were splintered and broken; it was as sparsely furnished as such an opulent castle, and such an opulent king, could bear.

‘I’ll stay here as long as I like,’ she said, keeping her eyes on the flame. She had not looked at him once since he entered. ‘I’ll leave here dead before I leave on his terms.’

Her behaviour already had him unnerved; this casual mention of death finally broke his composure.

‘Father made a promise!’ he burst out. ‘You can’t just make a promise to a king and then not keep it – you can’t turn on your deal! Think of what this makes us all look like, sister!’

She said nothing. Was he mistaken, or was she smiling faintly at the flame?

‘You don’t know what pressure we’ve been under. Father hasn’t slept in weeks. Mother’s kept to her room for the shame of it. I’ve been running from person to person trying to make them understand, but they’re all leaving us, Maddy, everyone’s abandoning us – and you know it’s your fault. If you would just say yes–’

‘No,’ she said immediately. ‘I’ll never say yes.’

He stared at her, confounded by her determination. Any woman would want to be queen, he had always thought – it was the highest honour a woman could have. Their father had worked so hard to make their family indispensable to the monarch, and given up so much for him – butchering friends, forgiving enemies, even disowning his first-born son – that, now he was a breath away from securing royalty for his descendents, Madeleine’s final betrayal was killing him. Edwin hated to see his father shrivelled like this; he hated to watch his own fortunes crumble in front of him; and he hated that the girl he had loved and protected while growing up could sit here, and play with her tapers, without a single concern for them all.

She blew out the flame and the remainder of the taper dropped from her fingers to the floor, beside all the others.

‘The longer he waits for you,’ Edwin said feebly, ‘the more he doubts whether he wants you at all. If you had another man who wanted you, another man who had your heart, then I could perhaps understand your objections – but you’ve no-one. You’re going to ruin us, purely from stubbornness.’

She turned to grab another strip of wood, and finally her eyes met his. The most beautiful lady in all the court, they called her, for her blonde curls and button lips and huge blue eyes. She had a smile full of light and could sing like a lark, but she had done neither for a long time. Her curls were in disarray, her mouth was set at the corners, and her eyes held no fear, no worry, no pity for her plight or her family’s. All she had now, as she looked at her brother, was scorn.

‘You ruined yourselves,’ she said, slowly and calmly, ‘when father tried to make a promise on behalf of another person. You cannot make me promise anything – and you will never make me promise to spend my life with that beast.’

She took the piece of wood, lightly, deliberately nonchalant, and turned back to the fire, ready to destroy another one. He knew he should be furious, knew he should feel willing to slap her – that was how he had felt all week, when defending her actions – but in the face of her resolution, he could only feel admiration; aggravated, fear-filled admiration. It’s over, he thought. It’s over for us all.

He watched her burn another three tapers before he felt able to speak again.

‘I understand,’ he said, surprised at the melancholy he heard in his own voice. ‘God help you, sister. You’ve made your decision.’

She spun round, shocked, and as they looked at each other, a glorious smile broke out on her face, returning her for a moment to the shining maiden she had once been.

‘Thank you, Edwin,’ she said. ‘You don’t know how happy that makes me.’

He bowed and left her before he could humiliate himself further. His parents pressed him and scolded him, and he bore the brunt of everyone’s anger for failing to turn her when he was one of their last hopes. He took it all without any defence or explanation. And that night, when the shouts rang out that the tower was burning, and when he saw the flames roaring from the window where she had sat that very afternoon, he knew he had done what was right.



I’m off to Newcastle this weekend so there’ll be no Sunday post. Have been redrafting That Thing I Wrote and am at the climactic chapters, so Riverboats may be put on hold until that’s done. I’m a jobless bum at the moment anyway, so in theory I have enough time for both, but you know how it goes.

Written by G.J.

05/09/2012 at 10:59 pm

Excerpt: Prologue

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Ten years earlier.


They climbed over the walls of the compound and left the smoking ruin behind. Over field and wasteland, scratched by bushes and barbed wire and with mud over their ankles, they walked all night to the nearest village. When the grey dawn rose and people began to appear on the streets around them, they knew they both looked a state. Jac covered his face with his collar to hide the dried blood around his mouth.

An old, brown hotel pub, smelling of beer and must and old men, welcomed them; it was the only place of refuge open at that time. Eitan collapsed on a seat while Jac gladly washed his face and hands. They wouldn’t notice splatters on your clothes, after all – not with all the mud and dirt and soot – but your skin was a different story. When Jac came back from the toilets, the two couldn’t look each other in the eye. They sat, silent, staring.

‘No use putting it off,’ Jac finally said, before he went to the bar and asked to use the phone, so he could call his family and ask to be picked up. His face was grim when he returned to his seat; Eitan didn’t need to know how they had taken the news that they were out.

His hands were shaking. The long walk in the cold had dulled him, but now he was sitting in the heat the euphoria, the horrific elation, returned as if it was new,; it buzzed throughout his veins, sparked in his muscles, and kept his breath shallow. As the memories of fire and gunshots flashed through his mind, he was unsure whether he felt more pleasure than pain. When he finally looked at Jac – brown curls plastered on his sweaty brow, cheeks flushed scarlet, his tiger eyes bloodshot – he knew that he must be feeling something similar.

The staff walked around setting up for the day; the two early regulars said little to each other; there was no rain or wind outside, only grey and cold. It was far too quiet after the noise they had left behind.

‘So,’ Jac said.

They looked at each other, at the mess they were, and they laughed at the absurdity of it: they were free. After an entire lifetime – free. Eitan could have laughed forever at the thought.

‘What do we do now?’



Written by G.J.

02/09/2012 at 5:07 pm

Posted in Excerpt, From the Vault

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