Crooked Cottage

This is just a little piece of flash I wrote.

 

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Crooked Cottage

 

I pause at the gate, taking in the slant of the thatched roof and pale patchwork stone. The sign says ‘Crooked Cottage,’ and I know I am at the right place. Smoke winds its way from the chimney, catching in my throat. 

I raise my hand to the door knocker, but there is a sign reading, “Do no knock. I will see you.” The temperature drops a good ten degrees, I’m sure. Suddenly, I’m aware of my nerves. My heart thumps behind my ribcage. Tanya had better be here already. The prospect of being alone with this house and its owner sends a shiver up my spine. 

When the door opens, I am greeted by an old woman with violet eyes and wild grey hair. “Come in, dear,” she says, in a voice so soft I can barely hear. I start to say thank you, but she puts her finger to her lips and instructs me to hush.

Instinct tells me to run away, but greed for the revered chocolate hangs over me like a spell. Tanya has not stopped talking about it all week. 

“Is Tanya here yet?” I asked the witchy-woman as she leads me through the house.

“Shh,” she replies, “Quiet.’

“Why are we whispering?” I ask.

As she motions for me to sit, she smiles and begins to explain. “This chocolate is the most perfectly silky, sweet, magical chocolate. Whatever you want from it, you will get.” She pauses briefly, then says, “The secret ingredient is fairy dust. But fairies are timid, they are easily frightened, so you must be quiet around them.”

With a sceptical hand, I reach for the chocolate and put some in my mouth. Instantly, I understand. My mouth bursts with sweetness, and all thoughts of apprehension dissipate as I groan my appreciation. A happiness I haven’t felt since childhood floods my veins. Licking my lips,  I turn to the old lady and whisper, “Thank you. Can I come again?”

You’re An Original

This story is based on the Sheryl Crow song, “You’re An Original.” I love to use songs as inspiration, and Sheryl Crow is one of my  favourite artists. “You’re An Original” is one her lesser-known songs. It’s take from her “C’mon C’mon” album.

 

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You’re An Original

 

“Hey, Lomi, come over here! You have to meet this person.”

“All right, all right. Let me finish my business over here, first.” The girl in scarlet hot pants and a glittering, green bikini top waves her hand to dismiss the man with thinning, sandy hair. I watch this girl as she takes the rolled up £10 note and inhales the magic powder. 

I knew this girl; once upon a time. She was different then. My best friend. We did normal teenage things, like going to the mall, shopping for shoes, and discovering boys. I recall Lomi chatting non stop about her first love; a wiry, acne laden boy called Will. But, life has changed. For Lomi, at least.

“Steph, come with me,” my friend says, holding out a heavily tattooed hand. “Stuart wants to talk to me, and I’ll only forget what he says if you’re not there.”

We approach Lomi’s manager and wait for him to speak. His eyes are fixed on me as he speaks to Lomi. “Tom Philips wants an interview, Lomi. He saw the show tonight, and he wants to meet you in the morning.”

“Yeah, sure, Stu. Whatever. Come on, Steph, let’s get back to the party.” 

Lomi is already dragging me away when Stuart says, “Wait. Lomi, you can’t screw this one up. He’s from ‘Celeb Weekly,’ and you need them behind you. You remember the heading last month, right?”

My friend stares at Stuart, and her blank eyes reflect a lack of understanding. She has forgotten. I haven’t. She was caught driving drunk after a two day bender. The headlines were brutal. True, nonetheless. ‘Celeb Weekly’ said, “In your cadillac, reaching for your Jack, there’s nothing we can say to stop you because you, Lomi Burnette, are a star.”

“Don’t worry, Stuart, Lomi will be just fine,” I say, not really believing my own words. With so many vicious stories hitting the celebrity magazines, it makes her behaviour worse. After the drink-drive story, rather than stopping or cutting back, she started to drink at ten in the morning, rather than waiting until mid-day.

A couple of weeks ago, some one-night-stand sold his story to a magazine. He said Lomi was, “deadly in the sack.” It earned her an army of new fans. 

“Thanks, Steph. Now, where did Josh go with the magic dust?” she says, glancing all around. 

I grab her arm as she starts to walk away. “Don’t get wasted, Lomi. You have to nail that interview tomorrow. You have to be sober.”

“Chill out, Stephanie. I’m Lomi Burnette. I can do anything I want.” As she shakes off my hand, she walks away, throwing over her shoulder, “Why are you here, anyway? You follow me around like a ridiculous, little puppy; stifling my fun.” She shakes her head as she says, “You’re pathetic. Just get out of here.”

Latching onto the first body who passes by, she heads toward the restroom with him. I’m caught between saving her and letting her set fire to her career. I decide to let her burn.

Stuart yells at me as I leave the party. I ignore him. I’ve had enough. Lomi was right, it is pathetic how I do everything for her and get nothing in return. I thought I was being a good friend. But sometimes friends have to do the right thing, even when it’s not the easy thing.

I hear nothing from Lomi for eleven days. Then, ‘Celeb Weekly’ publishes her exclusive interview. It seems she was not sober for Tom Philips. He found her to be, “A little, wannabe queen; dirty mouth and mean.” 

From what I can make out, my ex best friend was barely coherent. Tom’s final conclusion was aimed directly at Lomi; “Yeah, you’re an original, baby, like we’ve never seen before. You’re an original, baby. Turn around and you’re looking at a hundred more!”

Remorse tugs at my heels as I throw the magazine in the trash can. Right about now, Lomi  will be screaming and throwing things around her penthouse suite. Despite the fact that her rise to stardom came through reality TV, she is genuinely talented. It’s such a shame that couldn’t be enough for her. That’s the thing about Lomi: she could never be satisfied. Sure, her strong will ensured success. But the flip side of that came too easily.

********************************

Tom Philips’s article started the decline in my friend’s career. A photograph appeared of her falling out of a cab at an exclusive London club. The headline ran, “Caught you in a pose that everybody knows. You’ve done that a million times already. We thought you had something special. Seems we were wrong.” It was hard to return from that one. 

When my doorbell rang this morning, I didn’t expect to see Lomi standing in my porch. A spiral of sadness wound its way through my core as I took in her skeletal frame. Her skin—covered in acne—stretched over her bones, and she couldn’t meet my eyes.

“I’m so sorry, Steph. Please don’t hate me.” Her voice was a whisper, and my heart constricted. Pulling her close, I ushered her inside before anyone could see her. I knew, deep down, this day would come. Now it has, the vindication I imagined hasn’t appeared. The only feeling I have is sadness. My best friend is broken, and all those people who rode on the back of her fame have dumped her now things are tough. Well, not me. She is my best friend. That means something.

 

Book Review ~ All The Light We Cannot See (SPOILERS)

All The Light

 

This is a review I wrote for ‘All The Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr. I have a feeling my thoughts may not concur with those of the majority. Now, don’t misunderstand me, it’s a beautiful book. I appreciate that. There are (large) parts of it that will stay with me for a long time. As literary fiction goes, it really is fantastic. Okay. That’s my disclaimer. (Also, there are SPOILERS.)

 

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I want to start this review with my positive thoughts about this book. There are many. Most importantly, though, is the writing itself. Doerr writes beautiful, intrinsic words that draw the reader into the world of World War II Germany and France. The language is rich, sumptuous, and his use of all five senses creates an immersive reading experience that left me, in turns, sighing, laughing, and despairing. It’s beautifully written. I can imagine Doerr would write incredible poetry.

In terms of plot, it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many mini stories taking place inside the parallel stories of Marie-Laure and Werner. Maybe it’s easier to start with the themes, as I saw them. There is a lot of good versus evil, and how the lines between the two, and reasons for the two, can become blurred in extreme circumstances. It’s clever how Marie-Laure and Werner are the “good” characters, and also they are the people who see the world for what it really is. Maybe that is because they listen.

This is another theme: people are capable of ignoring the most heinous acts in order to survive. They look away (like the boys at Schulpforta when Frederick is beaten almost to death). In this instance, it also shows how the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Party became so strong. I felt sick at how easily, and quickly, these ordinary boys turned into monsters who revelled in causing pain. It seemed similar to brainwashing them. I found it frightening. I had never thought about it before. The things I learned about World War II at school didn’t include the question: why did young men become Nazis? Etienne says at one point, “We all do what we must to survive,” and I think that’s an important aspect of this book. During unimaginable circumstances such as war, we, none of us, know what we would do.

Bravery is another theme. Marie-Laure is a wonderful character. Astute, intelligent, brave. Anthony Doerr did a fantastic job with putting me in Marie-Laure’s shoes. I got lost in the fear of being unable to see. Her trips to collect the bread, her encounters with Von Rumpel, her father leaving her. My heart went out to her when he left. I wanted so badly for him to stay. I never really understood why he did go. My heart was in my mouth when she and her father were fleeing Paris. It felt so frightening: to not know what was going on around her. Only that it was dangerous. To not be able to see where you are running; knowing only that you are running away from everything that is familiar to you.

Madame Manec is also a brave character. When we first meet her, she appears to be a little, old housekeeper. Nothing more. When she forms a division of the French Resistance with other housewives, I wanted to cheer. If it wasn’t for courageous women like her, maybe the war wouldn’t have ended when it did. I love Madame Manec’s boiling frog analogy as well. She says that a frog that is dropped into a pot of boiling water will jump straight back out again. But if you place the frog in cold water and slowly bring it to the boil, the frog will not realise what is happening, and will boil with it. Etienne, later, asks Marie-Laure whether she thinks Madame was speaking about herself of the Germans. Which is interesting because I thought she was speaking about Etienne. But all three explanations make sense. It’s this idea that people are brainwashed without realising it’s happening to them, and that they all follow the herd.

At the heart of the story is the myth of the Sea of Flames diamond. This is a stone that, reportedly, keeps whoever owns it from dying; whilst wreaking havoc and pain on that person’s loved ones. We learn about the stone and the myth (or curse) early in the novel, and the tale that builds surrounding it tells the reader it will have great significance. Which it does, as it links everything together. It is Daniel Le Blanc’s job to protect this, and he and Marie-Laure flee with it in their possession. It’s the reason Von Rumpel comes to Saint Malo, and Marie-Laure hides in the attic. She, in turn, transmits the radio programme because she is hiding there, and Werner and Volkheimer hear her, and break free from where they are trapped. She gives them hope, and it’s all because Von Rumpel is searching for the diamond in the rooms below her.

All the time, Marie-Laure believes the stone to be cursed, and in the end, before being rescued, she throws it away. She doesn’t want it, and neither does Werner. They are good people, they aren’t filled with greed and material desire, so they don’t want this stone. At the end of the book, I thought Werner had gone back for the stone, so I thought he would be all right (yes, I believed in the curse). So when he died, because of the manner in which he died, it actually winded me. I had to put the book down, and recover. I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such a strong physical reaction before when reading.

The characters are what makes this book so memorable for me. Along with Marie-Laure and Werner, there is Etienne, Madame Manec, Volkheimer, Jutta, Frau Elena, Frederick, Von Rumpel, Daniel. Each person has a unique story, and every one is interwoven with the others. It’s so clever. Meticulous planning must have gone into this book. I love that it is Marie-Laure’s grandfather’s voice whom Werner and Jutta listen to on their first wireless as children. For Werner to rescue this man’s granddaughter, and see where he made the recordings is a stroke of brilliance. Marie-Laure and Werner spend a day together, but it changes both of their lives forever. In the grand scheme of things, their meeting is tiny. But it symbolises something much bigger: people who aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in, and who do the right thing.

Werner is such an endearing character. He is like the conscience of the Nazi Party. He is uneasy with the game, where the weakest class member is hunted by the others, then beaten when caught. This part particularly sickened me. The teachers treated the children as a pack of hunting animals. Which is what they were training to be, I guess. Frederick touched my heart as well. He refused to throw the water at the prisoner. He refused to behave as an animal. But he paid a high price for his morals. The brutality of war hits the reader in the face. It sticks with you once you’ve finished reading, as well. I think it will stick with me for a long time.

The relationship between Marie-Laure and Etienne is beautifully written. They help each other, and, in turn, the rest of the world. Etienne overcomes his agoraphobia thanks to Marie-Laure, and she survives her father’s imprisonment thanks to him. I was so happy when, at the end of the novel, they were reunited.

Volkheimer: I love how he is feared by the younger students because of his giant size. But he has the softest heart. His relationship with Werner is lovely to read. They really look out for each other, and Volkheimer is really fond of Werner. I love how he delivers Werner’s belongings to Jutta years later.

So those are the things I love about the book. The things I struggled with a little . . . all the descriptions of radios and how they work. All the science speak. It’s not a language I will ever understand, no matter how simply it is explained. I get that it’s a crucial part of the book. But I did switch off in these sections. And there were a lot.

The prose. Now, I think I will be on my own in feeling this. Yes, the prose is beautiful. Doerr has an incredible talent. But sometimes, it felt like too much. There is so much description on every page. I really had to concentrate. I felt I was picking my way the words at times; they seemed a little dense. I felt the book could have been shorter, had he cut some of the description (and some of the radio speak). I didn’t think it was always necessary. But that’s my personal taste. I usually read books that are fast paced and have a lot of action.

That’s it for my negatives. So the last thing I want to cover is the title: “All The Light We Cannot See.” At first, I thought it referred to the use of sound as a medium for navigating the world for Marie-Laure and Werner. I thought of millions of of radio waves rushing around the world, some of them crossing paths; albeit briefly. That’s what this book is about.

I read a quote from Anthony Doerr, where he is discussing the title, and he says, “Ultimately, the title is intended as a suggestion that we spend too much time focussed on only a small slice of the spectrum of possibility.” Perhaps, this is a reference to the visible spectrum, and the fact that humans can only see a small percentage of it. But what is really interesting is what goes on underneath this spectrum (the light we cannot see). The millions of paths that cross, and stories that occur whilst under the radar. Just as Madame Manec formed a group of Resistance Women, and Etienne broadcast illegally. It’s an interesting thought, and it ties together my understanding of the novel nicely.

One final thing: for many, many years I have graded every book I read with marks out of ten (including half marks; quarter marks in exceptional circumstances), so I thought I’d do that for this one. I give it eight out of ten.

 

Meringue Dress

 

I Wish I Could Take It Back

I wish I could take it back: first time

I gushed and said, “I do.” 

But he was oh-so cute, you see,

we danced to the Cutting Crew, 

the decade was the eighties, so 

my dress was a meringue,

with puffy sleeves and hula hoop,

we drove off in a Mustang.

It wasn’t long before I knew

it wasn’t going to work, 

we were both too young to settle down,

and, besides, he was a jerk.

My second husband came at me

with oodles of sex appeal,

his olive skin and sea-green eyes, 

made me want to squeal,

the day he got onto one knee

and took my hand in his,

without a second thought, I swooned

and said, “Let’s order fizz!”

The wedding—paid for by his folks!—

was a dazzling, winter affair,

now in the nineties, at least there was no

Flock of Seagulls hair.

Instead, the gel he wore was thick,

his aftershave divine,

I could hardly wait for the honeymoon,

when he would be all mine.

This marriage soon fulfilled its course,

on account of how he strayed,

since quarter past committing to me,

he had played with my bridesmaid. 

Number three, I guess I should have known was wrong,

his eyes were close together,

he looked like he’d been caught in the wind,

his face frozen by the weather.

But he called me sugar, stroked my cheek,

his touch, it was electric

within six months, I walked the aisle, 

who cared about aesthetics? 

Our love affair was hot and fun,

it makes me blush to think,

but all too soon we fizzled out,

and our marriage started to sink. 

It’s been said I fall in love too quick,

I need to wait and see

if I really want to go the distance,

if our love is meant to be.

And so I waited for my current beau;

numbers four is the one, I know!

 

  • This is something I wrote a couple of years ago. I came across it yesterday, and thought I’d share it with you. I have to stress, this is not written from personal experience!

Percolation

This is another of my zodiac pieces. This time, I’m writing about a few of the stereotypical Taurus traits.

 

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TAURUS
21st April ~ 21st May

Taurus traits ~ Practical, dependable, frugal, materialistic, reliable, stubborn

 

Marcia clutched the box containing the shiny new coffee machine as she opened her front door. She could hear the sound of Nirvana on the stereo, telling her Phil had got home before her. Swallowing hard, she marched straight through to the kitchen.

She stopped dead when she saw the space where their old coffee machine used to sit. A chill spiralled through her core. Placing the shiny, new gadget on the pine table, she braced herself for more arguments with her husband.

When Phil said hello, she jumped and spun round to face him.

“Hey, honey. You’re home early.” The words stuck to the sides of her mouth.

“Yeah. I said I’d work from home this afternoon. I thought it would give me chance to fix the coffee machine that you love so much.”

With her heart in her mouth, Marcia prayed he had failed in his quest. “Oh. So, how did that go?”

“Piece of cake. Once I took it apart and figured out what was wrong with it, I—what’s that?”

Crap. Here we go. “Well. I thought the old machine was beyond help. So I stopped at Curry’s on the way home and picked up a new one.” She watched him fold his arms across his chest and take a step back.

“I told you I’d fix it.”

“I know, but—“

“But, what? Since when have I let you down in the past?”

Pulling out one of the pine kitchen chairs that her husband lovingly crafted in his garden workshop, she slumped into it and pinched the bridge of her nose.

“I’m not saying you ever let me down. It’s just that old coffee machine keeps breaking down. You’ve fixed it, like, three times already. It was a wedding present, Phil. We’ve had it for five years.”

“And? What’s to say it won’t last another five? It’s fine now, Marce. You need to take the new one back. It’s not necessary, and we can’t afford to spend money like it’s going out of fashion.” He shook his head and turned to walk away.

The sound of him tutting flipped a switch in Marcia. She always acquiesced to whatever argument they were having. Not so much because she wanted to keep the peace, but because she just didn’t have the energy to fight Phil’s stubbornness. He would argue the grass was purple with blue spots if he felt like it . . . and probably win!

“No.” One word. Her voice faltered only slightly. She breathed quickly as she waited for her husband to turn to face her. When he did, she couldn’t read his face. Why does he have to be so bloody steady?

“We went through all of this this morning. We don’t need a new coffee machine. Especially, when it’s . . . “ He stopped speaking as his eyes fell on the machine for the first time. “When it’s, ugh. Is it one of those Italian jobs; the ones that grind the beans?”

A smile crept over her face. “Yes. It’s an espresso machine, as well as latte, cappuccino, Americano; everything you could want in one.”

As he moved closer to the kitchen table, he reached out a hand, and the tremor in it told Marcia she was onto a winner. “It looks very . . . professional.” He touched the box and breathed deeply. “But, professional means expensive. How much did this set us back?” His eyes narrowed and he withdrew his hand.

“I’m glad you asked, honey. It was on sale; the last one in the shop. They’re getting all the new stock in for Christmas next week, so this one had to go.” She paused, watching her husband’s eyes widen.

“On sale? I love a good sale. But I bet it was still too expensive for us to be wasting our money on.” He licked his lips, and the air between the two of them thrummed with tension.

“£125. Down from an original price of £400.” She sat, crossing her legs and tucking her chin into her chest. “What do you think of that, then?”

In an instant, his hand returned to the box. “Oh, that’s good. Did you take it from our first savings account? We had £25,000 in there, so £125 would have only made a small dent in that.”

“Yes. I used that account. Now, can we please get this thing unpacked and try it out?”

A grin took over his face, animating his features. “Yes! I’m gonna have an espresso. I want to hear the beans percolating.” He ripped open the box and set up the new machine. While the beans were doing their thing, he draped his arms around Marcia and nuzzled her neck. “You’re the best. You know that?” As he moved to stand in front of her, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her mouth. “I love you.”

She giggled and kissed him back. When he pulled away, she knew where he was going. He returned to the kitchen with the old coffee machine in hand. “I’ll put this in the new box, and we can keep it for emergencies. You never know when these new-fangled gadgets might break down.”

She watched him walk out to his workshop, where all other useless, no-longer-working items were stored. “I love you too,” she whispered.

A Sense of Entitlement

My prompt for this was to write about greed. This story is fictional, although it is based on people I have known.

Greed2

 

A Sense of Entitlement

Wilma pulled her car onto Edna’s driveway and sighed. There was nothing worse than the obligatory days spent with Edna.

Jumping from the car, she straightened up, and lifted her chin high. Her nostrils flared, detecting an imaginary, unsavoury smell. She knocked on the frail old lady’s door and let herself in.

“Oh, Wilma. Lovely to see you. Come in.” The old lady’s pale blue eyes sparkled as she pulled her ex daughter-in-law close.

“Hiya.” Her eyes scanned the room, resting on the money pot on the mantelpiece. “I see you’re still keeping that in here.” She forced her eyes back to Edna, who was heading into the kitchen to make tea.

How easy it would have been to plunge her hand into the jar and take everything, but no; she was holding out for the big one. Her heart quickened as she thought about the prospect of inheriting the house. She licked her lips, feeling she was ready to run a race.

With tea and biscuits in her chubby fingers, Wilma sat in the living room, sweeping her eyes from side to side. The photograph of her with Edna’s son, taken a couple of months before he died, sickened her. She had given him the choice: “Buy me the house and move in, or I’ll move in with the guy I’ve been seeing behind your back.” It wasn’t her fault he was weak.

“Oh, I have news. Molly took me to see the solicitor. I needed to sort out my will.” Edna placed her cup on the coffee table.

Wilma’s skin tingled. Her moment had finally arrived. Edging forward in her seat, she slowed her breathing as she waited to hear the news.

“I’m leaving everything to Rose. I want it to go to family.”

Leaping from her chair, Wilma erupted; eyes bulging, face scarlet. Heavy-booted feet stomped the ground as a chain of expletives flew through the air. “I’ve come here once every month to sit with you. How dare you leave me nothing. I’m family!”

With a voice that sounded steadier than it felt, Edna asked her to leave. This response wasn’t entirely surprising. Everyone told her Wilma was only after her money. That’s why she made up the lie about her will.

As she leaned in close, their heads almost collided. Spittle landed on Edna’s cheek as Wilma
hissed, “This is it. You will never see me again.”

The bulky figure of her ex daughter-in-law slammed the front door behind her. A veil of sadness settled over Edna. She had just lost the last link to her only son. A single tear fell over her cheek. Logically, she had done the right thing. Wilma didn’t deserve anything. But loneliness seemed such a heavy price to pay.

Busted!

chocolate fudge cake2

Busted!

Ed’s car is in the garage already. That means I’ll have to be quiet. I prise open our front door and hold my breath, listening for an indication of his whereabouts. I take off my shoes and creep along the hardwood floor. No sign of him downstairs, so I take the risk. I have no choice. It’s calling me. I open the pink cardboard box, and the intoxicating, sweet scent fills my world. The first bite of crumbly, chocolatey heaven-sent cake explodes in my mouth. “Nicki,” I suddenly hear, “What happened to the diet?”

 

  • This is my attempt to write micro fiction. It’s 95 words long. So much harder to write than you would think.

The Curse of King Khaba

pharoah

 

The Curse of King Khaba

Nighttime cast long shadows over the Pyramids of Giza. Panya and Ramla stood in the shelter of the smallest structure. Pressing her hands to the cool stone, Ramla shook her head. “No. This is the wrong place.”

Panya kicked the ground and a puff of red sand sprayed his sister. “It was a long shot,” he said. “Professor Naguib told us not to waste our time.”

“Hey,” said Ramla, nudging her brother’s shoulder, “Khaba may not be buried here, but he isn’t far. I saw it in my dreams, remember? And my dreams are always right.”

When Panya smiled, his teeth shone white in the moonlight. He brushed his dark hair from his eyes and made eye contact. “I know, Ramla. I just really need this, you know? I’m tired of being the mouse of the family. I’m an archeologist. I have to discover something.”

“And you will, brother. I predict it.” Taking his hand, she said, “Come. The Layer Pyramid is about eight miles southwest of here. The sun has only just set, so we can get there in time to investigate.”

The heater in Panya’s car had stopped working a few months ago, and his lack of significant discoveries meant he didn’t have the money to repair it. Shivering, Ramla grabbed her jumper from the back seat.

The eight mile journey didn’t take long. They had to park the car about a five minute walk from the pyramid. As soon as it came into sight, Ramla shouted, “This is it!” Turning to her brother, she continued, “He’s here, Panya. It’s exactly like it was in my dream.”

Panya’s dark eyes widened. “Really? Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. We need to get to the east side. There will be a hidden entrance there.”

Running ahead, leaving a trail of footprints in the compacted sand, Panya made it to the east side of the pyramid. “Okay, so where do I need to look?”

Standing with her hand on her chin, she surveyed the mound of rubble that she was told used to be a pyramid. She walked around, trailing her hand on the stone. Panya tutted and muttered under his breath.

“Here!” she exclaimed. “We need to moved these rocks away. There will be a small hole, just large enough for you to climb into. But you must be careful. No one has entered this part of the pyramid. The structure could be unsafe.”

“Yeah yeah. I hear you. Now, come on, let’s clear the way.”

Quickly, they tore the stones away from the groundwork. When a small hole revealed itself, they both took a step back, lost for words.

After a minute, Panya said, “Okay. Well, I guess this is it. Wish me luck.” As he knelt and prepared to climb into the tomb, he turned to his sister and said, “Ramla, if I’m not out in an hour, maybe you should get help.”

Nodding, she said, “Oh, you’ll be out. Don’t fear. I will see your face again.”

As Panya disappeared inside the Layer Pyramid, Ramla sat on the desert floor and leaned against the rough stonework. Closing her eyes, pictures from her dream danced in front of her. She hadn’t lied to Panya. He would resurface from this pyramid, and his discovery would be hailed the greatest of the new millennium. It was only the tiniest detail she had left out: the price her brother would pay.

Inside the tomb, sounds of screaming, then two voices, fading to one. A shuffling from the entrance forced Ramla to her feet. When Panya’s head emerged first, she smiled and breathed out her relief. There were no signs of a struggle about his person. His dark eyes were still the ones she knew and loved. “Panya,” she said and rushed to help him stand.

“He’s there, Ramla. I found him. Look, I took photos on my phone. I shall be world-famous.”

As he spoke, his eyes shone with excitement. Slowly, their dark chocolate melted into yellow, then green. A sharp intake of breath, and Ramla stumbled backwards. “No.” Taking the phone from her brother, her mouth fell open as she studied the photos of the great Pharaoh.

The first showed the sarcophagus, still in tact. But the following photos terrified her. At first, it looked like a blur; like her brother had moved as he took the photo. But the blur quickly morphed into the face of a man she didn’t recognise. Finally, the selfie. Panya had turned the phone on himself. Only, it wasn’t his face. It belonged to another, older man with long, raven hair.

“Panya,” she said, looking up at her brother. Her mouth fell open, and she shook her head. “The curse,” she whispered.

When he spoke, his voice was too low. “Ramla, you have been most helpful in achieving my goal. I knew all I had to do was wait for you to unlock my body from this dark tomb. You were always my destiny.”

He moved toward her, with outstretched arms. The red dust pounded under her feet as she ran back to the car. Once inside, she locked the doors and turned the ignition key. She knew how the curse ended, and it wasn’t well for her beloved Egypt. I should never have led my brother to this place, she thought as she revved the engine. When the figure who was no longer her brother came into sight, she reversed, then accelerated forwards as fast as she could.

The thud when she hit him jolted her backward, and pain shot through her neck. Peering over the bonnet, she saw the lifeless body of her brother. There was no sign of King Khaba. Her brother’s olive skin, tainted with red, forced her to let out a cry.

The curse had been broken. King Khaba remained dead. Egypt is safe. Cradling her brother’s limp body, she wept. But my heart is broken.

The Elevator

Elevator

 

The Elevator

Driving home from work, I looked forward to stepping into an empty flat. With Hugh away on business, I didn’t have to worry about cooking. I poured myself a large glass of red and slipped into something more comfortable.

The clock on the sideboard ticked as I waited for my signal from James that the coast was clear. One ring of my doorbell for yes, two for no. I never understood why waiting for the call set my body tingling almost as much as the affair itself.

I sat down, anticipation fluttering in my stomach. When I heard the first ring, I stood and made my way to the door. But then there was another. I paused, consumed with disappointment. When the third ring came, my head went into a spin. Three rings. What does that mean?

Unsure whether to stay in my flat or go to James, I hovered with my hand over the door catch. Instinct told me to sit back down, drink more wine and make him wait. But lust is a powerful emotion, and I wanted him desperately. He was the reason I made it through a stressful workday in one piece.

Loosening a button on the top of my figure-hugging, black dress, I made my way to the elevators. I could have climbed the stairs, but thirteen floors was a lot of steps in killer heels. I waited for the elevator to reach me and stepped inside. It wasn’t until I pressed the button that I realised I had company.

A man and woman stood between me and the door. Both had marbled, sickly skin. The man smiled at me; his amber eyes full of fire. They smelled of hospitals. They smelled dangerous. The man had James’ work ID tag around his neck. Oh God.

Communicating with each other through adoring silence, the man pinned me to the wall and the woman cut my throat. As they revelled in the crimson liquid that spilled from my wound, a mixture of pain and ecstasy flooded my soul. Slowly, deliciously, I became one of them.

 

The Legend of the Accursed Mountains

The Legend of the Accursed Mountains

 

Accursed Mountains

Daybreak crept through the small window in the room Sihana shared with her sister, Ajola. Dust motes floated in the beam of light, and Sihana stretched and yawned.

Dressing without making a sound on the cold, dirt floor proved difficult. Even harder, was creeping past the room where her mother would just about be waking for the day. Somehow, though, she managed to exit the small, wooden shack she called home without detection.

Crisp morning air washed over her face, waking her senses. Her nostrils twitched at the acrid scent of rain that lingered in the air from the night before.

As she found the loose stone path that zigzagged into the Accursed Mountains, doubt began to set in. What if the legend is true? What if I really do become cursed?

Shaking her head until all doubt fell out, she marched along the loose stone path. Before long, she came to a dense thicket of spruce trees, with a dark blue lake swelling around the rocky banks. As she stood next to the water’s edge, the lapping sound soothed her anxieties, giving her the strength to keep walking.

Sihana didn’t know why it was so important for her to enter the mountains. Prokletije, as her mother always referred to them, held some kind of magical power over her from the first time she heard the legend.

*******************

Two men—brothers—were hunting in the mountains, one beautiful summer’s day. These brothers were always in competition with each other, and often squabbled over who was the best hunter, fighter, lover. Until one day. One fateful day. Whilst out hunting, they came across a beautiful fairy. With long, golden hair and blue eyes the size of tea plates, the two men stopped, transfixed.

The first brother, Leotrim, took it on himself to demonstrate his physical prowess, while the other, Rezar, simply talked. He asked the fairy questions, told her she was beautiful. When it came to the end of the day, the brothers’ sense of competition reared its ugly head. They asked the fairy whom she liked best. They forced her to choose. But she couldn’t. Instead, she replied, “Leotrim, I love you for your strength and bravery.”

“Ha! Bad luck, bro!” Leitrim said, slapping his brother on the back.

“Oh, no. I haven’t finished,” said the fairy. “I love you for your strength and bravery, Leo. But, I love you, Rezar, for your good looks and gentle disposition.” She smiled at Rezar, and he touched his fingers to her cheeks.

In an explosion of rage, Leotrim took his dagger from its sheath and plunged it into his brother’s chest. “Now, you can only love me, fairy,” he said, grabbing her wrist and striding back towards his home.

By the time they got back, his mother was waiting for their return. “Mother, I have battled with my brother for the love of this beautiful fairy. Her name is . . . “

“Elira,” she hissed.

“Elira. We are to marry, mother, isn’t that wonderful?”

It took a moment for his words to register. When it did, his mother’s face flushed as she said, “No! How dare you?! Rezar was your brother, and you slay him like a goat on the hill. I curse you and your new wife, and I curse those wretched mountains that caused the evil in your mind. May every child you ever bear, and the children of your children have nothing but bad luck and unhappiness as long as they live! And those mountains . . . may all who enter looking for love, come away with hearts filled with hate.”

********************

Sihana shuddered. Every time she thought of the story, her skin tingled. As she reached a steep incline in the path, she heard the oddest, most out of place, thing: singing. A male voice, deep and rich. There were no homes in this part of the mountains; nobody lived here. Yet, his voice travelled towards her, filling her with warmth.

As she reached the apex of the hill, she saw him. A small pool, with water of the deepest blue, sat in a level grass clearing. Inside the pool, a young man with dark hair and eyes, swam. As she moved closer, she could see his clothes, discarded by the edge of the pool.

Even though she knew she should walk away, she couldn’t. Invisible strings pulled at her clothes, forcing her closer. She cleared her throat, and the man looked up.

“Oh, hi. You made me jump. I was just having a little swim before the start of day.” He swam over to Sihana and climbed out of the water. She was relieved to see he hadn’t removed his breeches. He held out a dripping hand and said, “I’m Dashurie. It’s nice to meet you.”

As their skin connected, a spark of electricity fizzled through her arm and into her chest. “Sihana,” she replied.

Hours passed, as they sat on the edge of the pool, talking and laughing. When dusk settled around them, Sihana rose to her feet.”I have to go home. My mother will be worried.” When he took her face in his hands, she melted inside. Their kiss felt warm and natural, like their lips were made for each other.

As she ran back down the path, Dashurie called after her, “Come again tomorrow, my love. I will be here, waiting.”

Pausing to look back at him, she said, “Okay. I promise I will.”

She ran all the way home, not caring how angry her mother would be, or how skeptical. The legend of the mountains was rubbish, and she knew that as a fact. She had nothing but love in her heart. Love: not hate. The mountains were magical. She had always known that. And where magic resided, anything could happen.

 

*This story is loosely based on a legend surrounding the Accursed mountains in Albania.*