Tide

via Tide

The waves lapped gently against the cold grey stone of the port, the water inching its way down as the tide began to roll out.

Ava watched them and imagined where each droplet of water had been before it arrived here.

Upon how many ports had these same droplets smashed and broken? Had they all arrived here together like some mighty school of fish? Or was each on its own journey, joining fleetingly with momentary brothers and sisters to make a wave, before it was off again in a whatever direction the current took it?

Did the droplets know what they were doing or were they simply caught up in the wash of commotion?

Ava thought she knew how the poor droplets felt.

Yesterday her life had been steady and certain as the river that flowed through the little town in which she had grown up. Sure there had been winters so miserably wet the river had bulged and once even burst its banks. Just as there had been times her family had struggled, when illness or injury or some other unforeseeable tragedy had rocked their steady little boat. But in both cases things had always righted themselves again, returning, eventually, to normal.

And just as the river knew it flowed from and led to the wilder waters of the sea, so the Halfbridge townsfolk knew of the terrors plaguing their wider island nation, like the thumping of a distant drumbeat on the periphery of their collective conscience. But the mores of the sea did not disturb the steady flow of the river and Halfbridge continued untouched by the chaos thrumming across the country.

But that was Ava’s life yesterday. Before. Now she was staring out at the vast, unknowable ocean.

It had happened so fast the memories blurred and coalesced like her father’s dyes as he swirled the colours together to make a new hue for his thread. Gone, monsters, danger, leaving. If Ava had had to pick a colour for that blur of memory it would have been red. For the fear, the passion, the urgency and the brutality – that most of all – with which she was ripped from her peaceful, content life.

The one memory that pierced the blur was her mother’s shrill, animalistic scream.

It had pierced the still, quiet dawn then and still it seemed to pierce Ava’s every thought. The rawness, the agony enveloped in that scream clawed into her brain and nested in her memory, refusing to let go.

The fierce, terrifying ocean had violated the river and the darkness engulfing the island had finally sniffed out the delicious, enticing scent of quiet, peaceful Halfbridge and descended upon it like a pack of hungry wolves.

Ava was still watching the waves, lost in memory when she felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder.

“We’re boarding,” was all she said.

Being fourteen, Ava would have never allowed her mother to hold her hand. At least she wouldn’t have yesterday… today she took it gladly, squeezed it gently – for her own comfort or her mother’s Ava couldn’t have said.

Possessed by habit, Ava’s mother held out her other hand and looked down to ensure another, littler hand took it.

She began to sob.

Ava found herself, as she had so many times in the last day, with one arm around her mother’s shoulders leading her up onto the waiting ship. Her father was already aboard and Ava swiftly passed her mother into his arms.

She knew then that whatever awaited them on the other side of this journey would always be tainted by the inescapable, unfillable, Alfie-shaped hole in their family.

His little ghost had followed them ever since the demons had taken him. He was there as they hastily packed what they could into makeshift bindles. He was there on the riverboat as they made their way to the island’s primary harbour, the town of Nysport.

And he was here now, trailing their sobbing mother as their father led her to their cabin. Ava could almost see him, one fist tugging at his mother’s skirts, the other planted firmly in his mouth.

Ava blinked away the image and rested her forearms on the rail.

She looked out across the ocean in the direction of the mainland wondering if they’d be swept up in the tide of people fleeing the country, and if they would end up crashing and breaking against the unchartered shores that awaited them.

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Daily Prompt: Betrayed

via Daily Prompt: Betrayed

It felt like I’d swallowed a stone. My hands trembled as I unfolded the scroll. The paper was old and musty, the ink faded but I knew instantly what it was. What else could it be?

I gently brushed the delicate silver bangle on my wrist. The same one I had worn since I was eleven. I used to touch it when I felt anxious, a sort of tick, it soothed me. It represented stability, safety… love.

Now it felt like a shackle.

I felt heat rise up my chest, my neck flush and tears well in my eyes. I brushed them away with the back of my hand and shoved the scroll into the front pocket of my hoodie.

“Sweetheart?” My father’s voice floated up from downstairs. I heard the ladder creak and his head popped up through the open attic door.

“Poppet, what are you doing up here? Your bridesmaids are here, they brought stuff for buck’s fizz.” His face dropped as he clocked the scattered boxes and their contents strewn around me. “Why are you looking through those?”

“I wanted to wear mum’s veil. I thought it might be up here.”

The familiar stone mask descended over his face, the same one I’d seen time and time again all my life – every time I mentioned my mother.

“You know I threw out all of your mother’s things.” The effort to keep his voice level was clear.

“I just thought, it was from your wedding, so maybe -”

“It’s all gone,” he cut me off, “it was for the best. Now come down. Apparently there’s some make-up lady arriving soon.” He started to step back down the ladder.

“And my bracelet? Was that for the best?” my voice quavered but he heard me. His head appeared again and this time he climbed all the way into the attic and knelt opposite me.

“I don’t know what you mean.” But he did know. I knew he did.

“You lied to me,” I said, “all these years you let me think… let me think…” Tears choked my throat. He still wouldn’t look up at me. Coward. My heart pounded faster, the tears turned to anger.

“Look at me. Look at me!” I yelled. Still he wouldn’t. I reached into my pocket for the scroll but my fingers found my lighter. And I thought pre-wedding jitters would be my biggest problem today. Shame being betrayed by my father wouldn’t be solved by a sneaky cigarette…

I pulled out the scroll and the lighter, which I flicked open. My dad looked up at the click and in his eyes.. was that fear?

“Don’t,” he said.

“What? Burn this scroll? Why not? It’s clearly nothing. It couldn’t be, huh, I don’t know, magic or anything could it?” I let the lighter close and put it on my lap so I could slip the bangle off my wrist.

“Poppet… Poppy, please. I was doing what I thought was best.” He started to edge closer to me.

“By lying to me? By letting me think I was crazy, that all those memories were imagined? Do not come closer to me!”

He stopped. “S-stop shouting, Poppy, your friends will hear.”

I snatched up the lighter and held it up to the scroll, letting the dry old paper catch. I’d never seen my dad look so scared. I didn’t take my eyes off him as I slammed the attic door shut. His face paled.

“She was like me, wasn’t she?”

“And it killed her. Your mother’s affliction -”

Affliction? It was a gift! A gift you ripped from me.”

“I wanted to protect you!”

“You betrayed me!” I picked up the bangle and rolled it in my hands. “When you gave this to me, I thought it was because you loved me.”

“I do love you Pop,” he pleaded.

“But no. You gave it to me to trap me. To take away part of who I am.”

“To protect you!”

“No.” I closed my fist around the jewellery and turned it to ash. When I opened my hand the dust fell through my fingers.

“I have a wedding to get to,” I said calmly, “you should leave.”

He didn’t even have time to say anything before I vanished him.

I crouched across the attic and opened the hatch. As my hand closed on the light switch I whispered, “thanks for the wedding gift, mum.”

My sister the Siren – Part V (finale!)

There was light fluttering in my gut which told me we were nearing the sea long before the grassy river banks turned to mud and the air became saturated with the salty smell of the ocean.

The estuary was wide and flat; shallow, marshy waters clogged with reeds and moss, mud banks with shanty-like fishing huts and scrawny birds using long, thin beaks to peck between the shrubs, looking for slimy prey.

We walked around the waters past the huts, some clearly abandoned years earlier, some deadbolted, others now occupied by druggies and bored youths looking for trouble.

Mud turned to sand as we got nearer the sea and we followed the curve of the land to the coastline proper: a pebble-and-sand beach backed by sandy dunes. It must have been late afternoon: the sun was low in the sky and we cast long shadows as we strolled onto the beach.

The tide was on its way out and Faith, still barefoot, almost skipped into the gently lapping waves. She didn’t bother rolling up her trousers as she waded deeper and rubbed the caked-on mud and sand from her feet.

“Get in!” she called, beckoning me with a wave and a child-like grin.

I hastily pulled off my shoes and jacket and rolled up my skinny jeans as much as I could, which wasn’t far. I didn’t care, though.

My inhibitions had floated away, like paper ships on the low, rolling waves. Cast away by the crazy, joyful girl now paddling in them.

If this was all a dream, or a crazy adventure with a total stranger – well, I was here now. What did I have to lose except an incredible story?

The water was cold and small pebbles dug into the soles of my feet. I hopped and hissed through my teeth when a particularly pointy one stabbed me. Faith laughed and grabbed my arms to steady me.

“Are you ready?” she breathed. I smiled and nodded.

It felt like being pulled through a tub of Vaseline: greasy and slippery, sliding over my skin. The sky behind Faith blurred so much it looked like a watercolour painting but her face remained crystal clear. Her eyes were closed, brow furrowed in concentration.

Then we were out: it felt like being pulled out of a giant rubber glove. The world refocused. It looked the same yet… different. The colours were brighter, the sounds were clearer, the smells were sharper. It was like the world had been thrown into HD.

And Faith… she looked like a warrior queen. Her odd, nineties-disco attire had gone, replaced by light, scale-like armour adorned with copper discs that jangled quietly when she moved. Seaweed was banded around her wrists and ankles and an orange-pink coral crown nestled in her golden-copper hair.

I looked down, expecting to see myself in similar attire but I was still in my jeans and an old t-shirt.

“We’ll get you a proper outfit, don’t worry,” Faith winked.

I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing.

She took my hand and led me further out into the ocean until we were both up to our necks.

“I’m going to try the shell one last time,” she said.

But before she could pull it out her head was whipped violently under the water.

“Faith!” I screamed, suddenly alone. My heart pounded, my breaths short. Was she grabbed by something? Caught in a riptide? How had I been so stupid. I was vulnerable out here… Should I swim back to shore? Go after her?

I bit back my instinct to flee and ducked my head under the water. I opened my eyes and found that the salt didn’t sting. In fact, my vision was razor sharp, as if my eyes were made to see underwater. And there –

“Faith!” I screamed again, surprised to hear a clear voice erupt and not a horrible gargling sound.

She was suspended under the water gripped by thick, blue-black tentacles. They coiled around her body, keeping her legs locked together and her arms firmly planted by her sides. One clamped her mouth shut.

She widened her eyes, pleading at me to help.

I don’t know what came over me but I started to swim towards her and whatever Hell-squid had her in its clutches.

She made a muffled scream, thrashing against the binding tentacles and shaking her head.

Don’t come near.

I was panicking, blood pounding in my ears. We’d both drown! And what would my parents get? A runaway daughter who disappeared in the dead of night just to go to the beach with her friend and get herself killed.

They might not even find my body, I thought morbidly.

A muffled screech escaped Faith. The tentacles were squeezing her harder. She clawed at them where they bound her hands to her hips, blue light flickering at her fingertips.

She couldn’t summon anything, she was going to die. And I’d have to stand and watch, unable to do anything to help.

The tentacle over her mouth flinched back and Faith spat out a hunk of bitten-off flesh. Before the creature could slap its limb back over her mouth she managed to yell: “Use your voice!”

An image flashed through my head. Me, sat by the river with Faith, watching the sunrise.

The most powerful weapon we have.

I hesitated. How do you use your voice as a weapon? Faith made an agonised choking sound that felt like a knife in my gut.

“Stop it,” I said to the creature, “stop it, put her down.”

It did no such thing. My chest tightened. More images flashed before my eyes.

‘Why are you so quiet?’ the school bullies taunted.

“Stop it!” I pleaded with the tentacles. I couldn’t even see the creature they belonged to.

Speak up! My teachers frustrated with me as I made a presentation in my little mouse voice.

“Please,” I whimpered. Faith’s movements were growing weaker, her struggling less violent.

You’re nothing, my own voice told me. Useless. Worthless.

My eyes met Faith’s. I couldn’t even bring myself to say sorry. She stared at me, her eyes gleaming with fury, sadness and… fury and sadness, just like…

You will never say those things about yourself ever again.

I remembered her words and that connection – that tether – I’d felt to her. I conjured up strength from deeper within me than I thought possible and I forced myself to believe it all.

Believe that I had seen a woman conjure water and light from thin air.

Believe that we had passed through to an alternate dimension.

Believe that somehow we were breathing underwater.

Believe that I was a Siren.

“Put. Her. Down.”

The voice that came from me was not human. The words were not any language I’d ever heard. They were ancient and powerful, crackling with electricity, and the tentacled creature flinched away from them, dropping Faith to the seafloor.

She slumped to her knees, panting. The creature retreated and slithered away as fast as it had appeared. I rushed to Faith’s side and put my arms around her shoulders. We were both shaking.

She pulled away and looked up at me.

“You did it,” her smile was warm, her eyes filled with pride.

“What was that thing?” I asked.

“Something that shouldn’t be here… and that has obviously been waiting for us,” she answered darkly. “I think I might know why my shell wasn’t working.”

“It was a trap?”

She nodded gravely. “We’re at war, Serenity. It’s why we needed you so urgently. It’s why I had to rip you from your family in the dead of night. I’m truly sorry for that.”

I squeezed her fingers and offered my hand to help her stand. She didn’t let go.

“If you’re ready, let’s go introduce you to your new family.”

I nodded. The shell dangled from a cord at her waist. She held it to her ear. That now-familiar mischievous smirk lit up her face.

“Look what’s working again. Dad wants to know if we need a ride home?”

I bit my lip. My last chance to reject it all, my last chance to hold myself back…

“Tell him we do,” I smiled.

 


I’m so glad this is finally out in the world! It definitely feels like my baby, I’ve tried to write more, turn it into something longer but it doesn’t feel right and I think I should let it be.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me and with Faith and Serenity. I hope you enjoyed the ride.

If you liked this, why not check out my other serial The Captain’s Daughter or browse my stand-alone shorts here: Stories

But I don’t FEEL like a writer

Writing inspiration can come from the strangest of places. Or perhaps I’m just now getting used to the writer’s eye.

I often feel like an impostor and wonder if I’m kidding myself by thinking I’m a writer. Am I good enough? Am I delusional? Is this all some childish dream?

Earlier this month though, something happened that made me truly feel like a writer.

A couple of weeks ago I was on holiday in Italy, staying in the small, coastal town of Trieste, nestled in the north-eastern sliver of land that curves around the Adriatic and brushes up against Slovenia and Croatia.

It was a relaxing get-away for my boyfriend and I, and a chance to escape the stresses of work and everyday life. We were flying from a London airport so we had a long train journey on top of our actual flight and time to waste in airport lounges.

Naturally, I took a notebook and pen (and a spare, and then about 10 spare spares in case somehow they all ran out), thinking to use those hours to work on a project I’ve been thinking about for a while, but haven’t found much time to focus on.

I got some work done though, as usual, not as much as I wanted. That much I expected.

What I didn’t expect was to find myself looking at places as settings. Almost subconsciously I found myself trying to record every detail of a place – how it looked, smelled and felt and how it made me feel – then filing away little snippets of sentences as I tried to put those details into words in my head.

It made me feel like a writer.

More so than pulling out my notebook and scribbling away on the train, more so than posting short stories on my blog and even more so than outlining story boards for Real Actual Novels™.

It was the mindset that did it. Seeing the world from a certain perspective. And it felt very special.

One place it was particularly strong was when we visited Grotta Gigante. The name literally translates to Giant Cave and it really was… a giant cave. But really going down there was something entirely different to seeing photos or imagining being in a cave.

You could feel the cold and the humidity on your skin as you descended and the world transformed. I was awed as the cavernous space opened up in front of me.

Shadows danced around the thousands of stalactites and stalagmites and I could imagine eyes hiding in those shadows, watching as a lone figure descended into chamber.

As I looked around shapes seemed to form in the rocks; gaping jaws of long, sharp teeth, animals crouched, ready to pounce and monsters prowling, long-forgotten in the depths.

I suddenly knew one of my characters would come here and then I was not descending a touristy cave, but into the lair of my story’s villains: a mysterious and deadly race of supernatural creatures.

I tried to soak up every detail, every feeling I had walking down into that cave and couldn’t wait to describe it from the eyes of that character.

It was an intense and wonderful feeling, and I can’t wait to find my next unexpected inspiration.

(These pictures really don’t do this place justice but believe me, in person it was breathtaking!)

My Sister the Siren – Part IV

I still wasn’t ready to believe Faith when she said this wasn’t all a dream but, real or not, I wasn’t ready to go home.

We napped for a couple of hours by the stream. When I woke up, Faith was already swishing her fingers in the water, seashell abandoned in the dirt beside her. She looked pensive and worried, but quickly painted a smile on her face when she saw me sit down next to her.

“I still can’t make contact but it’s okay, we can follow the river.”

“Are you sure it’ll lead us to the ocean?” I asked.

“I can feel it,” she smiled at her fingers, dancing under the water.

My stomach twisted, still unconvinced that I could trust this strange woman. I put my fingers in the water next to hers and I felt something. It was a slight tingling, as if tiny particles were bumping against my hand, nudging it, trying to tell me something. I knew with sudden certainty that the river flowed towards the sea, and that it was less than a day’s walk to reach it.

We stood and brushed the dirt from our trousers, then walked side by side along the river bank. Faith left her high heels behind, insisting that she wouldn’t need them. She seemed happier barefoot so I didn’t argue. And besides, it was hardly the strangest thing she’d done since I met her.

Most of the way was grassy banks and fallow fields, though occasionally we passed a dirt track or a road bridge. I guessed it was about midday when we came across a small town, nestled either side of an ancient stone bridge.

“Are you hungry?” Faith asked.

I hadn’t even thought about food, I was so consumed with wondering how any of this could be happening to me. But at the mere mention of something to eat my stomach growled like a sleeping lion catching the scent of fresh meat.

“I’m starving,” I replied.

Neither of us felt like venturing far into the town so we stopped at a tiny café on the riverbank. It was quiet, as I imagined the rest of the rural village was too, and we sat outside to enjoy the sunshine. Faith received a quirked eyebrow from the waitress when she saw her bare feet. I could tell she was contemplating requesting we leave but then Faith ordered what seemed to be half the menu.

“What do you want?” she asked me, when she was done.

I stammered, “just a Coke and a cheese and ham toastie. Please.”

The waitress nodded, “want any chips with it?”

“Yes,” Faith answered for me, handing back the menus. “She’ll have a Cornish pasty too, thanks.” The waitress scowled at her but didn’t dare turn away such a large order. She disappeared into the café to fetch our drinks.

“Are you really going to eat all that?” I asked her. “Soup, sandwiches, pasties, chips, crisps – is there anything you didn’t order?”

“Yes,” she said, “dessert. I’ll order that when I’ve finished the boring stuff.”

“You’re not serious?”

“I have an appetite,” she shrugged, smirking. “You’re eating all of yours too, we’ve got a long journey ahead of us.”

A mountain of carbs and two milkshakes later, I practically had to waddle out of the café as we resumed our walk along the river. Faith was unfazed by the ungodly amount of food she’d scoffed and strolled along beside me, slurping an ice-cream cone that she’d taken to go.

“I think vanilla is underrated,” she said between licks, “it has this terrible reputation as boring but it’s a classic really. Hard to beat when you get it right.”

“I like strawberry,” I shrugged.

“Mm, also an excellent choice,” she nodded, wagging a finger at me. “Cookie dough and whatever maple-bacon-kale crap they’ve come up with recently, it’s all a fad. It always comes back to the classics. They’re universal.”

“How do you know so much about human culture?” I squinted at her in the bright, early afternoon sun.

“I live in the sea, not under a rock,” she rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, I think for the purposes of my question, those are the same.”

Faith sighed again. She seemed troubled whenever I asked her to explain something. It made me uncomfortable, like she was trying to keep things from me.

“We have to keep in touch with this world, as well as our own,” she explained. “The land affects the sea, and vice-versa. The sky too. As much as the Guardians would like it if they weren’t, humans are a part of that. We need to understand them if we hope to protect the sea from them.”

“Who are the Guardians?” I asked.

“We are. Sirens are the Guardians of the sea and we have counterparts – dryads and sprites – who watch over the land and the skies.”

“How do we not know about you?”

She tutted at me. “You need to stop saying we meaning humans, Serenity. You’re not one of them.”

I lowered my eyes and bit my lip.

“I’m sorry,” Faith said, realising she’d snapped at me. “I know it’s hard. I was a changeling too.”

My eyes widened in surprise, “really?”

She nodded, “my transition was gentler. With you, we’re in a bit of a rush. I’m sorry we had to do it this way.”

“It’s okay,” I swallowed.

“To answer your question, we technically reside on another plane of being. That’s why humans don’t know about us.”

I stopped. Faith turned as she realised I wasn’t in step beside her anymore.

“You almost had me. Another plane of being?” I laughed and threw my hands in the air. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”

“It’s not that big a deal,” she waved an arm in dismissal, “come on, keep walking.” Reluctantly, I obeyed. “It’s more like we slip into a dimension just beyond human perception.”

“You know that’s even crazier?”

“Look, you just have to believe me until I can show you. Normally the shell is how I let our father know I need to come back. He can reach further than the rest of us and he pulls us back to wherever he is.”

“Oh so pretty much your bog-standard teleportation then?”

“Yes,” she said, enthusiastically, not catching the sarcastic edge to my voice. “The problem is the shell isn’t working and I don’t know why. It hasn’t ever happened before and I’m worried.”

She trailed off, an un-Faithlike seriousness settling over her delicate features like a veil. I squeezed her hand, “I’m sure it’s okay.”

She smiled sadly, “I hope so.” The veil of sadness seemed to dissipate, replaced by a determined glint in her turquoise eyes. “For now, let’s get to the ocean. From there I can shift us into the Otherworld. We’ll have farther to swim but at least we’ll be on our way. I just hope this thing starts working again on the way.”