Tag Archives: fiction

Dan’s Signed Book Giveaway!

Hey everyone,

 

I will be giving away two personally signed copies of my debut novel, ‘The Lighter That Shone Like A Star’ to celebrate its release onto paperback!

There will be one Facebook and one Twitter competition – you can enter both to double your chances of winning!

The rules are easy-peasy.

Twitter:

- Follow @TheDanCash

- Retweet the tweet that I will tweet soon. (You’ll see it, I’ll make it obvious. And I’ll do a couple over the next few days, too.)

- Wait ’til 4pm Sunday 22nd June where I will reveal the lucky winner!

 

Facebook:

- ‘Like’ my page.

- Like and share my post that tells you to like and share! (You’ll see it, I’ll make it obvious. I will only do the one, but I’ll make sure it’s at the top of my page!)

-Wait ’til 4pm Sunday 22nd June where I will reveal the lucky winner!

 

See, how simple.

Obviously, the winners must be willing for me to have an address to which I can mail the book. I will use this address for the competition purposes only and destroy all records once the parcel has been sent.

Entrants must be human.

 

Thank you everyone!

 

For more information about the novel up for grabs, its UK Amazon Kindle page is here, and US page here!

Obviously, paperback copies are also available from Amazon UK, Europe and US, or Createspace.

 

Thank you and good luck!

I hope you win.

 

Dan Cash

 


Why I Wrote My Novel

People have been asking me why I decided to write a novel, or where I found inspiration for that particular story. So, I thought I would do what I do best and write a blog post to answer these questions. In my usual manner, I’ll be as honest as I like.

Let me tell you about the last two-and-a-half years of my life.

October 2011. The sun beamed down on a school playground, the children laughing and shouting and generally being kids. I was in my bedroom, which had once been the school’s medical room but had since been hurriedly transformed in order to accommodate a 20 year-old, British student on his third year abroad (i.e. they put curtains up). I had been living and working in a small French village for nigh on a month, teaching teenagers my mother tongue.

I had had a particularly bad day. The pupils didn’t care about learning English (and why should they? Cast your memory back to your own language classes at school – no doubt they were spent smuggling sweets or throwing balls of paper at the back of some other kid’s head). Equally, I did not care about teaching English. I was there because I had to be. It was part of my university course – a course that, at that time, I regretted applying for.

And so, as I listened to the excited buzz of a school playground from my hollow bedroom, staring at the anti-bullying posters pinned to my walls, trapped within four walls with no internet, no television, nobody to talk to – no distraction from self-pity – I broke.

Long story short – I was on the verge of coming home, quitting France, and quitting my degree. I would have booked a flight home there and then… but I had no internet, which I now realise was a good thing. Because I slept on it and a few days later found a room to let in a nearby town. I picked myself up, pulled it together, and decided to stick it out. Of course I did, because that was my only logical option.

And then I remembered something that I had ashamedly allowed myself to forget. I wanted to be an author. I always did, ever since I was a child and used to turn sheets of A4 paper into mini-books. But the thing is, education got in my way. I went to school and sat my GCSEs, AS Levels, A Levels which all permitted me access to university and more learning, exams and essays. Sure, I could have done a course in Creative Writing or something, but my passion for French was fast-fading and I was relieved that my love for literature remained.

That’s when Max was re-born. Max was the character I always wanted to write about but whose story I had never decided. Spider-diagrams and mind-maps and pages and pages of notes later, I finally had a story to write. Well. half a story. I had the fantasy: a made-up world with invented politics, magic and mystery, relationships and history. But I wanted to write something modern, something truly up-to-date that teenagers right now would be able to relate to.

That’s when I invented Light on the Landing. The boyband that I plonked smack bang in the middle of a fantastical tale of good versus not-so-good. And the rest of my time in France I dedicated to these five fictional musicians, running a secret Twitter account that allowed me insight into popular culture, social media, fangirls, fanboys and fanfiction, shipping and otps, parodies and fakes… you name it.

The following year, I wrote dribs and drabs, planning out plot twists and character developments, while preparing to finish my degree for that piece of paper and an extra few lines on my CV (or at least that’s what it felt like, because all I wanted to do was finish my bloody book!). I was almost half-way through, although I didn’t know that at the time, when I graduated.

Since then, I have had two full-time jobs in shops. Which was kind of my plan. I wanted to get any job I could so that I would have time to write and complete my first book, not having to worry about moving away from Salisbury or training for a new career. And I did finish.

A month or two ago, I wrote the final word (Time). A few weeks ago, I edited and formatted and basically did all the stuff that I had been avoiding. Draft 2 became The Lighter That Shone Like A Star. One week and four days ago, whilst really hungover due to me pre-celebrating, I published my novel onto Kindle.

 

lighter cover

 

Best feeling ever. Best day ever. (Hangover aside).

And so, there it is. The inspiration for writing a fantasy novel? Escapism. It was my escape from France, from the pressure of university, from reality. It quickly became the centre of my universe – and it still is. I know my characters better than I know myself, and I could write about them forever. The five lands – Hurburt, Terexe, Salmont, Rysked and Naegis, are like five other homes. I have obsessed over every aspect of the story, because it is one that I have been waiting a long time to tell.

As for the sequel, I have started it and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

My degree felt like an obstacle, but if I had never studied French, I would never have lived in France and I would have never had the time or despair to begin my book.

So, check it out. My Facebook page, Twitter account, and the listing on Amazon.

Thank you,

Dan

 

Lighter Selfie


Christmas Lights

The moon gently illuminated the Earth below, accompanied by stars, streetlamps, car headlights, and fairy lights. Carols echoed from churches; the ancient meaning of Christmas filtering through the ears of passers-by. Every window of every house gleamed, each room filled with excitement and tension; children hoping for a visit from Santa while parents frantically finished wrapping stocking fillers in the adjacent bedroom.

Christmas Eve was drawing to a close and Artie was sitting alone in his bedroom, unable to sleep. He no longer believed in Santa Claus, not after last year when he had peeked out of his bedroom door only to see his mother struggling with a bulging stocking. That was the best Christmas he had ever had, because he spent the whole day with his parents and baby sister. They were a family in its most functional form, complete and content.

This Christmas would be different, but Artie had known that for a little while. His perfect family had been torn apart in mid-November. His household was now only three, but his father was doing his best to make sure his children still had a good Christmas. There were no decorations, no lights and no tree, but his father was trying, in his own way. Artie wanted to help, but at twelve years old there was not a great deal he could offer his grieving dad.

Artie had never told his parents that he did not believe in Father Christmas, because they always tried so hard to keep the magic alive. As he struggled to doze into a dreamland, his mind filled with memory and hurt, he heard the sound of Sellotape ripping from its roll and rustling paper. His dad must be wrapping their Christmas presents, playing the role of Santa for the first time. When Artie finally drifted into sleep, his pillow was damp with tears.

***

            Tina left the church hand-in-hand with her young daughter, absentmindedly humming O Holy Night. They turned the corner onto a road covered with Christmas lights. Waving snowmen on one house, flashing icicles on another, and ‘Santa Stop Here’ signs in several gardens. In fact, there was only one house that did not resemble a grotto and Tina did not like it.

‘You’d think he’d have at least put some lights in the window. Brings the whole street’s festive spirit down,’ said Tina. Megan, her daughter, remained silent. She felt sad when she walked past Artie’s house. It must be horrible for someone to not have their mum at Christmas, she thought. She did not blame Artie’s dad for not putting any decorations up. She did not blame him one little bit.

‘Those poor children, not having any Christmas decorations even on Christmas Eve!’ Tina continued to herself. Megan said nothing.

***

Netty was not looking forward to Christmas. She hated it, in fact. Her husband had left her when they were still young, and she had never loved again. For thirty-six years she had been alone, and Christmas was nothing more than a reminder of how little she had. This year was the first year that she had not felt sorry for herself. As she peered through her curtain to the house opposite, she was filled with pity. No decorations and it was the night before Christmas. That whole family were grief-stricken and Christmas would surely feel like just another day without their wife and mother.

The elderly woman had a small light-up Christmas tree on her front door, and twinkling lights around her window frames. She had been pressured into buying them four years ago, when Tina and her troupe of perfect parents expressed their disgust that her house stood alone in darkness through December. She bought a few lights to keep the peace with the ‘Anthea Turner Society’, as she liked to call them.

She saw Tina walk past her neighbour’s house, pausing to look at the unlit exterior through her flared nostrils. Netty knew that she was not thinking about the people inside, only the appearance of her wonderful neighbourhood. She shook her head in disbelief, but then stopped suddenly. Was she any better? She pitied the family inside the house, but had she offered to help them? Had she offered to watch the children so Harold could have some time alone? Had she even bothered to send a sympathy card? Or a Christmas card for that matter?

The answer was a resounding ‘no’, and Netty suddenly felt horrible. She had to do something.

***

‘Love, get the door will you!’ John shouted from his armchair, too engrossed in a repeat of Father Ted to answer the door.

‘Alright, you lazy sod!’ Betty, his wife, called back with a giggle. She opened the door and vaguely recognised the woman as a neighbour.

‘Hi,’ Netty began. ‘I’m doing a collection. Only, I’m not asking for your money.’

‘Then what do want?’

‘A gift,’ she replied.

***

Artie was awake long before he realised, drifting in and out of dreams. His sister finally brought him to a state of consciousness with her loud squeals. The boy rolled over in his duvet and slipped out of the bed, struck by the cold of his bedroom. His dad must still be in bed.

Reaching into the cot, Artie lifted his small sister in his arms and rocked her gently. He heard footsteps and his father had entered the room, smiling sleepily. He took Freya from his son and ushered the boy downstairs, where he was greeted by a small stocking full of presents.

‘Thanks, dad!’ Artie exclaimed, hugging his father’s waist.

‘That’s alright, Art. You might not even like them yet!’

‘I know I will!’

Artie was trying his best to keep up his excitement. Santa is definitely not real, he thought, because this is so different. Normally he has a massive sack of gifts and the floor around the tree is covered with presents. This year, his father forgot to buy a tree.

He began to unwrap his presents while his father gave Freya her breakfast, grateful for the gifts his father had got him. Although they may not be as plentiful or impressive as in previous years, they meant more this year. His father had tried so hard to make Christmas nice for his children, even though he was so busy and distracted, and Artie appreciated it very much.

So far, Artie had unwrapped two books, some Harry Potter slippers, and a set of juggling balls. He had just reached for his fourth present when the doorbell rang.

‘Who on earth could that be at 7 o’clock on Christmas morning?’ Harold wondered aloud, making his way to the door with Freya gripped to his side. He was stunned into complete silence when he opened the door. There was Netty with a Christmas card and a Santa hat and behind her stood several people that Harold had not seen for weeks. Steve and Janet were holding a Christmas tree while their kids each had armfuls of baubles and tinsel. Greg and his girlfriend Lorna had brought a chocolate cake and a tin of biscuits, Sarah was wearing an elf costume, and Katherine was slowly strumming her acoustic guitar.

Artie joined his father at the door and the neighbours standing outside in the cold began to sing Silent Night.

***

As Netty sang the classic carol alongside some of her friends and neighbours, she realised the true meaning of Christmas. Harold and Artie were both smiling, Freya bopped along making nonsensical gargles in her father’s arms. As they came to the end of the song, they all stepped aside. At the back of the carollers stood a big man with a long white beard, dressed all in red with bold black boots.

***

            Artie knew that it was not the real Santa Claus, but it mattered not. He ran up to the man in red and gave him a big hug. His father welcomed their guests inside for a coffee and a mince pie, or some of Greg and Lorna’s cake, while Artie talked to Santa about the Christmas he had received. He already knew what his favourite present was, though – seeing his dad smile as he listened to his neighbours sing Silent Night.

All their friends helped to decorate their Christmas tree as they sang Christmas songs, only knowing the lyrics to every other verse and half the choruses, but it did not matter. Artie was laughing and singing along, and Harold was watching him with a tear in his eye.

As the neighbours bid the family of three goodbye and merry Christmas, Netty said there was just one more surprise. She led them out of the house and when they turned around, their house illuminated in every colour, flashing reds and twinkling yellows, glowing greens and bright blues.

Artie was stunned by the generosity of all those who were around him. He wrapped his arms around Netty and said ‘thank you’ countless times. She smiled down at him, full of joy and Christmas spirit.

The thing is, Artie supposed, nothing really matters. Whether Santa is real or not, whether it really is Jesus’ birthday, it doesn’t matter. Because he had his dad and his sister, and his mother was still with them, in their thoughts and in their hearts, and in the wonderful gestures that some people make at times like Christmas.

 

 


A Tidy Mess (Part Four)

Part one

Part two

Part three

***

 

Katherine felt sick as she looked upon her aunty and uncle’s house. Her dad had died inside those walls. Her father’s death was a memory that she did not hold and yet, in that moment, she was reliving it.

 

Harriett was shocked when she answered the door to her niece whom she had not seen for over a year. Wordlessly, she welcomed the surprise visitor into her home and offered her a comforting embrace.

 

‘Darling, I am so sorry,’ said Harriett.

Katherine looked up into her aunt’s dark green eyes. They were almost identical to her father’s.

‘Wh-where?’ Katherine stuttered.

‘Where what, darling?’

‘Where did you… where was he?’

Harriett sighed, gazing at the broken girl standing before her. She looked over her shoulder towards the bottom of the stairs. Katherine walked slowly over to the spot where her father had taken his last breaths just one week ago. She fell to her knees and began to cry.

 

It had been the slowest week of Katherine’s life. The police were no closer to finding out who had murdered her father and she was growing more frustrated each day. It did not help that nobody else seemed to care. Her mother tried to comfort her with effortless hugs and meaningless ‘I understand’s while Rob seemed to be avoiding her completely.

 

The police had questioned Rob, Katherine knew that, but she did not know what he had told them. He must have had an alibi to keep them from suspecting him and yet Katherine still could not trust her brother. The murder investigation had consumed Katherine to the point where she could not distinguish between her grief for her dead father and her anger towards the mystery murderer.

 

That was why she had decided to visit the place where Tim had died.

 

Harriett did not want to see Katherine and so when she had turned up uninvited on her doorstep, she was annoyed. She knew that her niece would ask questions, and Harriett was fed up of giving the same answers.

 

She had been the one to find her brother’s  lifeless, bloody corpse early on Monday morning. Her husband, Martin, was paying the taxi driver when he heard her scream. The pair stood in the doorway, unable to fully open the door blocked by Tim’s body, struck by devastation as they realised instantly that Tim was dead. Martin phoned the police immediately and their nightmare began.

 

They had been due home from holiday late Sunday night but due to a ‘technical fault’ their flight had been delayed. When the police first confirmed Tim’s approximate time of death Harriett and Martin could only wonder whether, if their flight had been on time, they would have been home before the incident. Would Tim still be alive or would they have still been too late?

 

When they were finally allowed back in their house, nothing was out of place. It was exactly how they knew Tim would have left it: immaculately clean and tidy with everything in it’s place. The rug had been straightened, all doors had been shut, and the cream carpet was clear from any traces of dirt. Nobody knew exactly what had been used to kill Tim, either: the ornament of the violinist was on the window sill, cleaned from Tim’s blood.

 

Harriett and Martin were the only people, aside from Katherine, who felt truly saddened by Tim’s passing. Living in the house had become almost unbearable; they expected him to arrive home from work every evening, Harriett still laid three places at the table, and they felt uneasy all the time. Somebody had broken into their house without leaving a single trace, and that worried them more than anything. They changed their alarm and their locks, they triple-checked that everything was locked even when they were inside their house. And yet, none of their extra security measures helped.

 

Katherine left a few hours after arriving, emotionally drained yet feeling somehow less anguished. Harriett began to prepare the dinner, ready for when her husband arrived home from work. She turned on the radio to distract her from her thoughts, and hummed along as she peeled, chopped and sautéed. Her mood lifted slightly after an emotional afternoon.

 

As Harriett plated up two hearty meals, she accidentally splashed her  chest with the boiling hot sauce. She tore off her top and splashed cool water on her burning skin. Annoyed, she made her way upstairs to change into something else. She looked into the mirror on her wardrobe door and realised how tired she looked. Sighing, she opened the door and pulled out a dress and her make-up bag. She wriggled out of her skinny jeans and donned the flowery purple dress.

 

Harriett closed the door and glanced back into the mirror. Two reflections stared back. She went to scream, but a hand clasped over her mouth to prevent any noise from escaping. She struggled and kicked her legs back, but her attacker was too strong. A hand slipped down from her mouth to around her neck, the thumb pressing forcefully against her windpipe. She looked in the mirror to see her attacker grinning maniacally, both of them watching as she lost her grip on the world.

 

Harriett’s limp body fell to the floor. Her murderer looked down upon their victim and admired their work.

 

‘Two down, one to go.’ 


A Tidy Mess (Part Three)

Part one

Part two

***

Katherine had made a list. She did not use pen and paper, nor had she made any conscious effort, but she had compiled a short list of people’s names. Suspects. Over and over again she silently repeated the list of names: Carly, Greg, Trudy, Granddad Keith, Shane and Rob.

Katherine knew what her father had done to Carly and Greg, breaking apart their relationship and then destroying Carly after their affair ended. She had never met Trudy, Tim’s boss, but he was always talking about how much she hated him. Her grandfather, her mum’s dad, had sworn to hunt Tim down and kill him after he left his family in pieces. Katherine would never have seriously considered her granddad as a suspect, but her thoughts were fast becoming irrational.

James was not a person Katherine had met, nor had she really heard about him, but he had heard Rob casually discussing possible killers with their mother. Ellen had no idea who it could have been and she immediately discarded Rob’s suggestion of Carly or Greg. From what Katherine could pick out, her ear pressed to the living room door, Shane used to be friends with Tim. Apparently her father did something to piss him off. She did not hear exactly what her father did, however, because her neighbour had chosen that moment to begin mowing his lawn.

The reason Rob was on the list was because Katherine had no idea where he was on the evening of Tim’s death. Neither did Ellen. He refused to answer questions about his whereabouts, although Katherine knew that the police would want to know more. If it was Rob, he would have no alibi. But she didn’t seriously believe that her brother would kill their father, no matter how much he detested the man.

In reality, Katherine’s list was extremely short. While it should be more difficult than it was to compile a list of a man’s suspected murderers, for anyone who properly knew Tim it would have been easy to find over ten names. But nobody did know Tim, not really. He was not a complicated man, but he led a complicated and messy life.

After he left his family in Devon and moved in with his sister and brother-in-law in Salisbury, Tim had become even more of an enigma than before.

Tim’s parents refused to speak to him after Ellen had told them of the atrocities their son had committed. Harriett and Martin were the only people Tim had left, and they gave him somewhere to stay. Katherine knew it was out of pity that they reached out to her father, but she appreciated it nonetheless – they had saved him.

But Tim did not change. While Katherine was fed lies from her father’s mouth about the tidy life he had created for himself, he had continued to cause people pain and upset.

The last of his crimes against innocent people began when he got a job at a supermarket in the city centre. After working for a week on the checkouts, it had come to Tim’s attention that customers were often unwise. Elderly men and women would come to his till, slowly withdraw their wallets, retrieve their debit cards, and stare intently for a couple of seconds at the interior of their card holders before entering their PINs.

It did not take Tim long to work out that these customers had their security codes scribbled on a piece of paper, stuck just above the pockets in which their bank cards were stored. A quick glance over the counter and Tim could see the four digit numbers.

After hatching his simple plan, Tim waited for his next customer that had made this error. A man of around seventy years shuffled to his till, offering a basket of groceries to the sales assistant. Tim scanned and bagged the items, including a gardening magazine. Taking this as a helpful cue, Tim then engaged his customer in a thrilling conversation about gardening, pretending that he was a keen gardener himself. When the man extracted his debit card from his brown, leather wallet, Tim quickly scanned and remembered the PIN, scrawled in black biro in the spot he had been expecting. Continuing the conversation, Tim managed to distract the customer by handing over his bags of shopping. He quickly grabbed the card from the machine and bid the customer goodbye. Wallet in his pocket and hands busied with heavy bags, the customer exited the shop unaware that his card had been stolen.

A few weeks and several scammed shoppers later, Tim’s manager, Trudy, called a staff meeting. It had come to her attention that an unusually high number of customers were calling into the store to check if they had lost their wallets. All of them claimed to have been served by a man fitting two of the workers’ descriptions: Tim and his colleague, James.

Furthermore, a few of these customers had called the shop to warn them that money had been taken from their accounts after having lost their cards there. James had immediately denied all claims and shunted all of the blame onto Tim, who feigned innocence and ignorance. After an hour of failed reasoning and blame-shifting Trudy warned the two men that he would have to alert the police.

Nothing was proved and while the CCTV footage showed Tim hurrying customers from the till, it was not substantial enough for Tim to be labelled the guilty party. Over that few days, Tim had managed to convince most of his colleagues that it was James who had stolen the bank cards. Tim soon became the victim. James left the job just days before Tim did. He had worked there for fifteen years and had a pending application for supervisor, and yet Tim had driven him away after just four short weeks.

Tim did not care that he had ruined James’ career. He did not worry that he had swindled tens of elderly people out of hundreds of pounds. He did not spare a thought for anyone but himself.

The evening after he left that job for the final time, Tim drove back to Harriett’s house in the Porsche he had borrowed from Martin. They had gone away on holiday for the week, and so Tim permitted himself access to the gleaming car.

He did not know that someone was waiting for him inside the house, but he would have had a good idea of who to expect.


A Tidy Mess (Part One)

Tim yawned. He did not care that a customer had approached his till with the Sunday newspaper, the correct change clutched tightly in the elderly woman’s wrinkled fist, nor did he care that his manager’s beady eye was fixed on him. He absentmindedly scanned the barcode, flipped the paper in half and exchanged it for a few silver coins. The old lady ambled away from the counter and Tim’s manager marched towards him.

‘I’ve told you before about not ironing your shirt before work, Tim,’ Trudy said in her sharp, shrill voice. ‘And don’t yawn in front of the customers, it makes you look like you don’t want to be here.’

‘It’s 7am on a Sunday morning, I don’t want to be here.’ Replied Tim simply.

Trudy sighed, unable to find the energy to argue with her most stubborn employee, and sped off towards the bread aisle.

Probably going to find someone else to moan at, thought Tim. Warm saliva circulated the taste of last night’s beer around his mouth. He grimaced and greeted his next customer, responding with only a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as the middle-aged suit struggled to make jovial conversation. The day was going to be slow and painful, Tim was certain.

 

The top of Tim’s thigh began to vibrate. He glanced around and, no manager or customers in sight, lifted his vintage Nokia half-way out of his pocket. It was his daughter, Katherine. He made a mental note to call her on his break and released his phone.

Only eight more hours, Tim told himself. He detested the inconsiderately visible clock that faced the counters: keeping track of the time made it go even slower, it seemed. His third yawn caused tears to gather in the corners of his eyes. He shut his eyes and slowly dragged the palm of his hand down his face. When he opened his eyes, a young woman was standing in front of him, talking rapidly and loudly into her phone and thrusting a two pint bottle of milk and a scrunched up five pound note at him. He carried out the transaction silently aside from a forced ‘thank you’ as the chatty brunette shot him a smile and darted out of the automatic doors.

 

Eight hours trundled by until Tim was finally free to go home. He was sitting in the car, fumbling with a pouch of tobacco, when his phone rang. It was his Katherine again.

Shit, I forgot to call her back!

He answered the phone, letting the filter tip drop from between his dry lips.

‘Alright, love?” He asked gruffly.

‘Dad, listen to me. You can’t go home.’ His daughter sounded panicked.

‘What? Are you alright, Kat?’

‘Dad, just promise me you won’t go to your house. Something bad’s going to happen,’ She pleaded.

‘What do you mean, something bad? Don’t be silly Katherine, I’m fine.’ He was met with silence, and then a deep exhale.

‘Okay then, dad, just call me when you’re home okay?’

‘Will do, bye love.’

‘Bye dad.’

 

Tim would have been disturbed by his daughter’s phone call, once upon a time. But not anymore. Katherine phoned him at least once a month with a warning (or ‘vision’ as she liked to call them). Since she was fifteen, Katherine was convinced that she had some sort of psychic ability to see into the future, but her prophecies hardly ever came true and those that did were never more than coincidence. Tim shook it off, rolled and lit his cigarette, wound down the car window and drove out of his parking space, the thought of a cold, refreshing beer and  comfortable sofa propelling him home.

 

He pulled up on the large, gravelled driveway fifteen minutes later and stepped out of the silver Porsche 911 Carrera. Upon entering the boastful house, Tim deactivated the alarm system and locked the door behind him. Stepping into the front room, the middle-aged shop worker knew something was different.

 

Tim was a very particular man and everything had to be perfectly in its place. But it wasn’t. The rug was not straight, the door leading to the kitchen was ajar, and a letter was on the floor. There was no way that Tim would have left the house in this state; just looking around made him feel uneasy. Then again, he had had several beers last night. Maybe he had woken up still slightly drunk and failed to realise the mess he had caused. He doubted it, but it was possible.

 

Unworried, Tim walked into the kitchen. Everything was perfectly in order, it seemed: The floor was immaculate, one clean tea towel hung from the cutlery drawer handle, the blinds were all three-quarters open and the breakfast bar was gleaming. He opened the dishwasher to find a clean mug and began making himself a cup of tea. As he poured water into the kettle, he realised that he had not been to the toilet since before he started work. Suddenly, his bladder felt ready to burst. He put the kettle on and rushed towards the stairs.

 

If Tim had not been in a rush, he would have noticed the faint footprints on the cream carpet. He would have heard shuffling. He would have noticed that the ornament of a woman playing violin was no longer on the window sill at the top of the staircase. Unzipping his fly as he dashed into the bathroom, he did not bother to lock the door before emptying is bladder with a satisfying release.

 

He could hear the kettle bubbling from the kitchen, and so he did not hear the shuffling from the bedroom next door. After he washed his hands, Tim gazed up into the mirror. He realised how tired and old he appeared. He was only forty-two and yet he looked at least fifty. His daughter joked that he should dye his hair because the grey was becoming more dominant that the light brown it once was. He wondered what his daughter would say if he turned up on her doorstep with all the grey entirely eclipsed. Maybe he would dye it blue to shock her. He smiled at the thought and turned off the bathroom light.

 

The kettle was roaring through the house, coming to a boil. Tim walked across the landing but stopped suddenly. He could faintly hear something else. Creaking. Shuffling. He turned quickly, but nothing was there. Mentally shaking himself, he arrived at the top step. The kettle clicked and stopped  boiling. A floorboard creaked. Tim span around and froze. Someone was there. He squinted through the darkness, trying to make out the shadowed face.

 

‘You?!” Tim exclaimed in shock.

 

A heavy object struck Tim around the cheek. He whelped in surprise as he was knocked backwards by the force of the blow, toppling on the step before losing his balance completely, tumbling down the staircase.

 

As he lay at the bottom of the stairs, heavy footsteps descended upon him. His attacker stopped, took a deep breath, and brought the ornament down with great force onto Tim’s skull.

 

Tim’s phone vibrated in his pocket. It was Katherine, calling to see if her father had arrived home safely.

 

To be continued…


A boy and a girl

Friends since they were six years old, Jamie had never planned to tell Collette that he loved her. He never even realised it himself until ten years later, when Collette went on a date with an arrogant, underachieving arsehole. For the next year, two months and twelve days, Collette was in a happy, if not turbulent, relationship until eventually she decided that they had had one argument too many. After storming out of her now ex-boyfriend’s front door, she wondered mindlessly to Jamie’s house. Collette knew that she could rely on Jamie. He was her best friend, he had helped her through her entire relationship, he had never judged her for making the wrong decisions and most of all, he had always been there.

Jamie had spent one year, two months and twelve days of his life in complete turmoil. He had always loved Collette but it wasn’t until she became unavailable that he truly realised just how much. The jealousy that filled him from head to toe was unbearable and seemed to grow with each passing day. Her beauty overwhelmed him. Her smile sent waves of joy through his soul. When Collette was happy with her boyfriend, Jamie put his own feelings aside and was instead grateful that she was content. When Collette’s boyfriend caused her hurt or upset, Jamie’s blood boiled with a venomous anger.
Now, with Collette standing on his doorstep in the pouring rain, Jamie’s heart ached.

They talked and hugged and eventually laughed. Jamie comforted his friend in exactly the way he knew how, and Collette appreciated every second. He listened and he understood. He said only what she wanted to hear and what she needed to comprehend. He made her laugh and he made her smile. And that made him smile. Jamie offered Collette his bed for the night so she would not have to discuss her break-up with her parents, and she immediately accepted. Jamie would sleep on the sofa.

The next few weeks were some of the best; Jamie had his best friend back all to himself. Summer rolled around which meant Sixth Form had ended. Exams had seemed a lot better than they would have before, because Collette revised with Jamie. He admired Collette because she worked so hard every day, starting from early in the morning and carrying on until everyone else had gone to bed. They were studying two of the same A Levels, but Jamie was revising French while Collette trundled through History notes.

Jamie and Collette had become completely inseparable. Their other friends enquired frequently into their friendship, wondering if it was possibly more than ‘just friends’. Collette was always first to respond with a final ‘no’. Even though that was the truth, a hot blade pierced Jamie’s lungs each time the word passed her lips. The boy was infatuated and besotted. Collette was all he could think about and not being able to kiss her was impossibly frustrating. But then they got drunk.

Collette had just turned eighteen and so the pair could finally go clubbing together for the first time. They were bad influences on each other and soon lost not only their other friends, but all sense of what they were doing. As Collette slipped on a spilt drink on the dance floor, Jamie miraculously managed to catch her mid-fall and they walked off laughing hysterically to a booth. Neither of them could remember the conversation that followed when they awoke the next day, but they did have a vivid image of Jamie leaning over and planting a sloppy kiss on Collette’s mouth.

Collette had pulled away in shock and asked Jamie what he thought he was doing. With the elegancy of an elephant on roller-skates, Jamie then mumbled and slurred his way through a declaration of his undying love for the beautiful girl sitting beside him. Inadvertently he offended Collette when he began to discuss her ex, stating that she was naïve to have stayed with him for so long. In his clouded mind, Jamie thought he was being romantic and saying that she had true love right in front of her eyes. He was confused, then, when Collette stormed away from the boy and out of the club.

The next morning, the pair did not speak. Nor did they talk during the following week. Jamie made attempts to contact Collette, but she had ignored every text message. They did not see or talk to each other for a few weeks, when results day finally arrived. Both Jamie and Collette arrived at their Sixth Form as soon as it opened to collect their results. Collette opened her envelope first and Jamie smiled when she squealed in delight, obviously getting the results she needed for her first choice university.

It was with mixed feelings that Jamie celebrated his results. He had also managed to secure the results he needed for his first choice university, but he was not sure if wanted to go. In fact, nobody except Jamie and his parents knew what his first choice university was. Now it was becoming real, he had to tell Collette even if she did not want to see him. He walked over to her and she turned her back on him.

“Hi.” He said, timidly. There was no response. “Look, I’m not going to apologise again because I know it’s pointless. I just wanted to say congratulations on your results, I see you got in to university. I’m proud of you.”
He expected a reply, perhaps she would congratulate him, too. But still she was silent.
“Well, anyway. I thought you should know I got in as well. But I lied before. My first choice university wasn’t Southampton. I guess I was just scared because I kind of regretted making my decision straight away but now I’m in and…”
“Where is it?” She asked, surprising Jamie with a reply.
“Paris.”
It was in complete silence that Collette walked away from her old best friend.

Jamie was at the airport. Collette was at home, packing. The pair had not spoken since they collected their results. Jamie never understood what he could have said to hurt her so badly and he did not remember much of their conversation. But he had told his friend that she was naïve, that she was stupid, and that she had caused Jamie unbelievable heartbreak during her relationship. And that was why Collette knew she had to stop talking to Jamie; because she did not love him back. She had caused her best friend the most hurt he had known. She had been the reason for his unhappiness for over a year. She loved Jamie, but as a friend and nothing more, never anything more.

Collette was sitting on her bed, tears rolling down her soft cheeks. The clock in front of her ticked, each second passing by with a soft thud. She never moved an inch, remaining still and silent for over two hours. Finally, she watched as the minute hand and the hour hand formed a horizontal line. Jamie was on his plane and it was time for take-off.
Collette began to cry. She crawled over her bed and peered out of her window, where she could see Jamie’s rooftop.

Tears streamed down her face, her eyes were sore and red and her throat began to ache. Her phone vibrated. It was a text message from Jamie.
‘This isn’t goodbye.’
The girl began to cry even harder, regretting the last few months and the sheer stupidity that both of them had shown. Jamie would always love Collette, but Collette could never stop being Jamie’s friend.

Collette smiled. Then she looked at the sky and sighed…


A Thin Line

Freckles on your nose,
Uncontrollable laughter,
Crying at movies,
Kissing you after.
Yesterday ended
Our time together,
Unfortunately it wasn’t happy ever after.


Going home…

The train was surprisingly empty. I had just finished my first year at university and so I was on my way home for the summer. It was a brilliant year. The best of year of my life. I was sad to be going home, if I’m honest. Don’t get me wrong, I was looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I would miss university. The people, the parties, and even the lectures. But I had next year to look forward to, so I was happy.

The only other people on my carriage were a woman and her son, an old couple, and a girl. The little boy was listening to his mother read him a story, resting his head on her arm and pointing out what he could see in the illustrations. The old couple were eating sandwiches. Egg, guessing from the smell wafting through the carriage. I sat on the seats in front of the girl. She was crying.

I put my earphones in and sat back, wishing train seats were more comfortable. We pulled away from the platform and began the three hour journey home.

After about ten minutes, I realised that I’d been listening to the same song on repeat. I tried to change track, but I couldn’t. Regretting spending the last of my student loan on alcohol and McDonald’s, I turned off my iPod and took out my earphones. The girl was still crying. I turned back and saw her through the gap in the seats. She was staring out the window, her face covered with tears.

“Hi,” I said. “Would you like a tissue?”

She looked at me, slightly startled, before nodding. I reached into my backpack and handed her a packet of tissues.

“Are you okay?” I asked, feeling instantly stupid. Of course she wasn’t okay, you didn’t have to be a genius to work that out. She nodded again.

“Thanks,” she said, attempting a smile.

“What’s the matter?” She looked at me. I couldn’t make out if she was confused or annoyed. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.” I began to turn back around.

“No,” the girl responded. “No, it’s nothing really.”

“Okay. My name’s Tom by the way, if you do want to chat just nudge me or something, yeah?” I offered.

“Thanks Tom.” She managed another half-smile, “I’m Charlotte.”

I returned the smile and shuffled back around, not sure how to fill the time now my iPod had decided to stop working.

I must have fallen asleep soon after. When I woke up, the old lady was sleeping too. Her husband was reading a newspaper, trying not to rustle the pages too loudly. The mother was reading a different book to her son. I caught a snippet and thought it sounded like The Little Match Girl, a book my mother used to read to me when I was little. Charlotte must have seen me wake up from my nap and tapped me on the shoulder. I moved to sit next to her.

“Are you okay?” I asked again, feeling slightly less silly than before.

“I will be, I’m sure,” she replied sadly. “Did your iPod run out of battery?”

“No, it just stopped working. It would only play one song.”

“Oh, which song?”

I didn’t want to answer. I tried to think of a song that might not make it seem like I had a questionable taste in music. I had paused for too long. She laughed softly. I shook my head.

“Okay, don’t judge. I was listening to Time to Say Goodbye.”

“Ooh, a classical boy.” She mocked.

“No, it came on shuffle and then when I got on the train it just stuck on that song!” I protested. She didn’t believe me and laughed again.

The train came to halt. A short, middle-aged man stepped on with a golden Labrador. He sat near the doors, his dog laying down in the aisle.

“I expected it to be busier today.” I said to Charlotte. She looked at me sadly, I didn’t understand why. “What?”

“Nothing.” Charlotte quickly replied. I looked at her inquisitively, but decided to drop it.

“So, where are you heading?” I enquired.

“I was going home.”

Was?

“Yeah… well, I’m not any more.” Tears began to fill her eyes once more. I fell silent. “You have no idea do you?”

Her question confused me.  “No idea of what?”

She sighed and turned away from me, looking out of the window at the countryside that passed us by. It had started to rain.

Just I started to try and work out what I had said to make her cry again, the train slowed down. It stopped. The little boy began walking towards the doors. His mother cried out, waking up the elderly lady. She reached out for her son, but he escaped her grasp. The boy continued walking forwards, edging past the Labrador and out onto the platform. The woman ran to the doors. She began to thrash her hands against the windows, screaming hysterically for her son. As the train pulled away, she sank to the ground. Her body shook as she sobbed uncontrollably.

I made to stand up and comfort the woman, but Charlotte grabbed my wrist.

“There’s nothing you can do.” She told me.

“I can at least try to comfort her.” I retorted.

“No, you can’t. Listen, Tom.” Charlotte pulled me back into my seat. “Just… think a minute.”

“About what?” I asked, frustrated and confused.

“How did you get here?”

“What?”

“How did you get on the train. Think.” Her voice was soft, almost pitiful.

I thought back. I remembered waking up late in the morning, my head hurting from the night before. I threw all my clothes and books into my suitcase and packed away my laptop. My housemates helped me down the stairs and the taxi driver lifted my heavy case into the boot of his car. I hugged everyone and said goodbye. Then I arrived at the train station, got on the train and met Charlotte.

Charlotte listened to my account of the day and shook her head.

“No, think!” She urged. “Really think. Something happened. You never got to the train station.”

“Of course I did! How would I be on this train if I didn’t go to the station?” My frustration had taken over and my voice was too loud. All the passengers, the old couple, the man with the dog, and the distraught mother, were all looking at me. Sadly. But I didn’t know why.

I closed my eyes. I was in the taxi. The driver and I were talking about the summer and our plans. He was going on holiday with his family. I was telling him about my summer job in a bar. But I never finished. He pulled out onto a main road. I heard a car screeching towards us and slam into the side of the taxi and… And then I boarded the train.

I wasn’t going home.

I cried. Charlotte placed her warm hand on mine. The train stopped.


A Reason to Live

Henrietta and James were watching their favourite film which happened to be on TV, balancing their laptops on their laps. James was unhappy, Henrietta did not need to ask him to know. He was usually so upbeat and positive, even when things were not going his way. Not tonight, though. Tonight he was quiet, sombre and troubled.

It was Friday evening – exactly four days, three hours and twenty-seven minutes after James’ parents had announced that they were getting a divorce. As soon as the ‘D’ word had passed his father’s lips, James had run upstairs and into his room, pushing his bed against the door. He ignored his parents’ pleas and remained silent, cradling his head in his arms whilst tears streamed down his face. That evening he had not spoken to anyone, not even his best friend, Henrietta.

The next day after school, James was sitting at the desk while Henrietta adopted her usual position, propped up comfortably against her bed. They had been chatting for a few minutes before Henrietta realised that something was not quite right.

“James, what’s up?” She asked her friend.

“Nothing, I’m fine!” Replied James, not at all convincingly.

“Just tell me, you know I won’t leave you alone until you do.” There was a long pause, before James hesitantly responded.

“My mum and dad are getting a divorce.”

Henrietta did not know what to say. She knew that his parents had been arguing for a few months, but then her parents often argued too. There was a long silence while Henrietta attempted to find the right words; the words that would comfort James and make him feel better. But there were none.

“I’m sorry.” She finally managed. “That sucks.”

“Yeah, it does. Henrietta, I’ve got to go. I’ve got loads of homework to do.”

“Okay, bye James. Just let me know if you want a chat, yeah?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

James had not spoken to her again until Friday evening. The two sixteen year-olds were sitting in their usual positions, getting ready for the movie. Henrietta reached into her bowl of microwave popcorn, listening to James tell her about his week. It sounded horrible. His parents had stopped speaking to each other, or even near each other, meaning that James had not talked to them much either. They had both come to his room on several occasions, but whatever they said made him feel worse. His mum was going to move out and James would have to stay with living in the house with his father. They thought it was the best option but they had not asked James. They did not ask him what he wanted. All he really wanted was to escape; to run away without looking back.

James talked and Henrietta listened, crunching un-popped kernels between her teeth . That was all he needed: someone to listen. Henrietta just wanted to reach out and hug him. But she couldn’t. She wanted to tell her best friend that everything would be alright. But she couldn’t. The film began and James got comfortable, opening his bag of Maltesers.

“I’m so jealous.” Whined Henrietta, “Maltesers are my favourite things ever!”

“Well, they’re all mine!” James replied, wearing a mischievous smirk.

Henrietta loved it when James smiled, even sarcastically. It had been a while since she had seen his face had broken out in a grin and he was so handsome when it did. When he smiled, she smiled. That was one of the many reasons she loved James. She loved him as a younger brother, even though he was seven months and sixteen days older than her. James loved Henrietta, too, but in a very different way. She was beautiful and she was funny, she made him happy even when he felt trapped in the darkest of corners. But she could not make him happy now. Nobody could.

His parents’ divorce did not come as a shock to James, but it was the final straw. They used to be so happy together. His home was once a haven of happiness and laughter. But that all changed seven months ago, when James’ sister Rachel passed away. That was a shock. Nobody could have expected it to happen. She was older than James by more than three years but the siblings were closer than a lot of other brothers and sisters he knew. They would spend lots of time together, playing on computer games, watching films, going for bike rides along country lanes. On this particular Saturday, James and Rachel had gone for a stroll in the summer sun. On their way home, they reached a zebra crossing. James stopped and bent down to tie up his shoelaces for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. He did not realise that Rachel had already stepped out onto the crossing until he heard it. The screech of the tyres. The blunt thud of body hitting bonnet. The screams of passers-by. James lifted his head and his eyes confirmed what had happened. His sister’s body lay broken in the road. He ran to her side, crying her name and plummeting to his knees. He knew before the ambulance had even arrived that his sister was gone.

After the funeral was when things really began to fall apart. His parents’ arguments became more frequent and more aggressive. They could not cope with what had happened; they could not deal with the pain. Their daughter’s death tore them apart.  James kept to himself. He stopped going to school, stopped talking to his friends, and stopped being happy. He was devastated by the loss of his sister. He was angry with her killer. He was angry with Rachel for walking into the road without looking. But he blamed only one person: himself. He blamed himself for his sister’s death because he should have been paying attention. He should have stopped her. It should have been him. And he blamed himself for his parents’ divorce. Henrietta did not know this. She did not even know that James had had a sister because he had never told her. He had only started speaking to Henrietta a month after the tragic incident. He did not want to tell her, just in case she blamed him, too.

The film came to an end. Henrietta and James said goodnight, both feeling exhausted after a long week. When Henrietta woke up the following morning, she checked her phone to find a text message. It was from James and had been sent at 4:39am. All it said was, “I’m sorry. Goodbye. X”

`               Henrietta found James in her contact list and called. No answer. She sent him a text demanding that he reply. She left identical messages on Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and even sent him an email just in case. She rang his phone again and again. Still no response. There was only one option left. The ginger haired teenager threw on the first clothes she could find, grabbed her purse, sprinted down the stairs and out of her front door. If she wanted to know that James was okay, she would have to try and find him.

James was alone in his bedroom. He was alone and he was lonely. He missed his sister. He missed the life he used to have. It was past midnight, so James knew his parents would be asleep – his mother in her bed and his father in Rachel’s old room. He tiptoed down the stairs, not wanting to wake his parents, and into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of milk. He remembered when he was younger and his sister would hear his bedroom door creak open. She would follow him downstairs and pour them both a glass of cold milk. She’d make sure he was okay and if he could not sleep, read him a story until his eyes closed and his breathing grew deep and steady. Then the next morning, she would wake him up by jumping on his bed and they would go downstairs to his parents making breakfast before his father left for work. Not now. Now, James poured his own glass of milk. The stories that James read in bed were Facebook statuses and Tweets. Breakfast was no longer quality time lovingly spent with his family.

Sleep escaped James for hours. He tossed and turned. He thought about what life used to be like. He thought about how much he missed his big sister. He cried for a while, then shook himself until he stopped. After a few deep breaths, he turned onto his other side and closed his eyes. All he could see was his sister’s face. She was sad. He could not remember what she had looked like when she smiled, even though he had never seen her cry. His imagination had replaced his memory. He felt the tears building behind his eyes once more. He let them fall. He sobbed until his body convulsed. He felt sick but still the salty tears streamed down his cheeks, soaking his pillow. He did not remember using his duvet to wipe his face. He did not remember leaving his room and going into his bathroom. He did not remember taking a selection of pills from the medicine cabinet. He did not recall slipping on the wet floor, crashing to the ground and knocking himself unconscious. He only remembered saying goodbye to the only person in the world he still loved, but who did not love him in return.

James blinked. His eyes struggled to adapt to the bright lights in the ward. He saw his parents’ faces staring down at him, their eyes red from crying or tiredness, or both. He could see the silhouette of a third person but he could not make out who it was. He heard the beeping of machines. He heard his mother cry out for a doctor. He heard his father’s deep sigh of relief. He heard a choked sob from the blurred outline of a person. James tried to focus, blinking a few times and trying to sit up. His father pressed a firm hand against his son’s chest, laying him back down. The silhouette edged nearer. James could see red, the bright lights reflecting off the girl’s hair. He knew who it was, but he could not believe it.

“Henrietta?” He croaked.

“Yes, James. It’s me.” She whispered, her voice shaking.

The two best friends looked at each other’s faces for the first time. They had known each other for six months, but they had only ever spoken through their computers. The few times they had spoken face-to-face was through Skype. Six months ago, James found a girl on Twitter who had been to see his favourite band live. She had the brightest red hair, the most radiant smile, and a quirky fashion sense. The teenager had never expected her to reply when he tweeted to tell her that she was so lucky to have seen the band. But she did reply and the strangers spoke briefly. And then they realised they shared more interests. They listened to the same music, enjoyed the same films, read the same books and they were both lonely. As they spoke more often, talking on the phone and eventually on Skype, they became close friends. James was the brother Henrietta had always wanted. Henrietta was the girlfriend that James had never had.

The friends met for the first time in a hospital ward, after Henrietta had travelled over three hours on a train to make sure he was okay. James was far from okay, but he would get better in time. He was lucky. If he had not fallen, if he had not woken his parents after crashing to the tiled floor, it would have been too late. James was not happy, but he was grateful. He had wanted to see his sister again. He had wanted to escape. But now, as he looked into Henrietta’s emerald green eyes, felt her warm breath on his face, felt her lips press against his forehead, James realised he had a reason to live.


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