Friday Flash Fiction – Synesthetic Trainers

Friday Flash Fiction

Synesthetic Trainers

It feels red. Angry. The colour of warning signs. The colour of blood. But the red turns orange as it flows upwards and around with every step, every lift of leg as the rhythm sets in, as feet pound the ground which is grey, hard metallic on and on, keeping time, maintaining pace with the roar from the crowds and their clapping and their shouts which are the colour of fire, the colour of warmth and the blood rushing through as feet continue to lift and go and go and run and go towards the distance, in the future, where a finish line blazes gold but that is more than hour away.

When she gets there, when the ache and the cold and red of the pain she has put herself through have subsided, the gold tingles through everyone, a glittering breeze. Something achieved. Another goal set. More to come.

Running on Empty, Writing on Full and Different Types of Rabbits

So.  I ran my first half marathon last Sunday.  I’d like to say it all went according to plan, but, well – it didn’t.

In January my intentions were good.  I started running three times a week, not long runs but always at least 5k, partly motivated by Jantastic (an online team where you log your number of runs per week and accumulate points).  February half term I was meant to reach 11 miles.

It was cold.

March brought the final three weeks before the half and the longest I’d done was 8 miles.  But there were more important things to panic about, like job interviews, some idiot putting my car window through while I was at the match, marking maths GCSE papers at the last minute and attempting to keep warm in the hideous weather. My preparation was then limited to an 11.7 mile run the Sunday before.

However, I was fit and confident and good at plodding and I had Mike Thirsk running with me to get me round.

The week before I ate sensibly, didn’t drink and did everything possible to avoid wheat and dairy, my IBS triggers, as my stomach had not been settled.  Unfortunately, the corned beef hash the night before and Greek yoghurt that morning I ended up in Wilmslow with nothing in my stomach.

I looked like something Dracula had brought back from the dead.

But, contrary to common sense and my gurgling innards and the desire to retreat from the zero degree outdoors into somewhere warm with clean facilities, I started the Wilmslow Half Marathon and it started okay.  Mike was excellent pacing us, walking for 45 seconds for every 10 minutes and aiming for ten minutes miles.  My bottle of coconut water was my life line and it wasn’t until the five mile mark where I started to see stars and begin to keep my eyes open for the nearest ambulance.

The fainting fit did not occur and the temperature became a little more pleasant, until the last mile and a half where the wind whipped in an effort of Boundary Park on a Tuesday night in February standard and somehow, somehow, I managed to cross the finish line in an unmighty 2 hours 21 and collected a very nice medal and an oversized pink t-shirt that will now serve as either a nightie or a tent.  I haven’t decided yet.

Somehow I have inherited a gene from one of my mill-working ancestors that makes me keep on going.  Either that or the Duracell bunny I swallowed aged ten is waving its magical wand – that could be the cause of my IBS I suppose – because I’m now planning to run the Chester Half Marathon in May and knock ten minutes off that time.

I think it’s that same bunny that keeps me writing.  I finished We Were Never Alone in its first draft format back in February and have edited around thirty pages so far.  It’s not unpleasant, possibly a nicer process than writing straight out, but time has not been plentiful at the moment.  Plus the plot bunnies keep biting and I keep looking at writing competitions, which doesn’t make for a focused marathon of novel improving!  So this weekend I’m working on a ghost story for one competition, a short story for the Bath Short Story Comp – whose deadline is midnight tomorrow – and parkrunning tomorrow morning.

So that hour we lose on Sunday, can we have it back with reinforcements?

ImageNot a very pretty picture of me running on a Saturday morning with no make up on.

Crime Writers and Other Strange Creatures – How writing doesn’t have to be a solitary profession

By the time I started writing stories my peers had already accepted that I was not of the norm.  I was ten.  I lived in a northern town full of mills and factories and when mentioning a desire to go to university my mother responded with ‘you have to be very clever to that.’ As it happened, I did end up at university, as did several of my peers.  As a ten year old I preferred to read books in the playground and spend my free time writing.  My (still) best friend and I would create radio stations and pop bands, writing annuals and magazine and song lyrics on our Saturdays, in between trips to the library to borrow Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams books.

 At secondary school, I would write stories for my friends and include them as characters.  By the age of fourteen, I’d planned out and handwritten the first 100 pages of a book, had been indulged by my rather wonderful English teacher and was determined to be published by the age of 21.

 Unfortunately, university and a degree in analyzing other people’s writing put me off my own.  In fact, after graduating, I managed a good three years of reading nothing but crime fiction, as it was one genre I avoided pulling to pieces in an essay.  Fanfiction found me and I discovered not only writing again, but other people who also had voices in their heads but didn’t necessarily need medicating.

 This was somewhat of a revelation.

 An online writers’ circle encouraged me to finish my first original novel, may it Rest in Peace, and several 100,000 word fanfiction stories, each becoming – in my opinion anyway – better.  Then of course, real life interfered again and I wasn’t settled enough to use my imagination, especially as my own life was a little like a soap opera at that point anyway.

 Twitter became my outlet of choice and I found other crime writers all of whom were snatching moments of time to compose stories, kill off characters and figure out the finer, scientific details without becoming a medical textbook.  At last!  I had found a group of peers where I didn’t stick out like an arm on a beach from a washed away corpse.  I wasn’t a freak!  Well, that’s still up for debate…

 Just before New Year I met with Mel Sherratt, best selling author of Taunting the Dead and the Estate series.  Mel lives not far from the Emma Bridgewater factory in Stoke, one of my places of pilgrimage, and we had a lovely lunch, talking about our characters as if they were real; how we develop plot and character; where ideas come from… The sorts of snippets of conversation 140 words on Twitter can tease you with were developed into agood old chat that ended up reigniting my flame for writing after a very consuming NaNoWriMo. Mel also gave me a couple of pointers on self-publishing, things I wouldn’t necessarily have thought of.  Hopefully I was of some use to her, even if it was as a future victim in a novel!

 All writers have people inside their minds and stories that come from nowhere.  Crime writers may have what could be considered slightly more gruesome imaginations.  After all, we don’t just give birth to our characters, we kill them too.  Friends, upon informing them of what sort of tales I write, generally respond with ‘I’d better stay on your good side then’, which is sometimes almost upsetting.  I struggle to kill a fly in real life; I save mice from my cats and I’ve even learnt to let woodlice live!  If I didn’t like bacon so much I’d be vegetarian, but I can cope up with some strange and, let’s face it, ghastly, ways to die.

 So meeting up with Mel was somewhat of a revelation.  Here was someone who understood that just because I could come up with these, let’s call them ‘events’, it doesn’t mean that I am any ‘odder’ than your average person.  And I went home feeling invigorated.  Talking to someone else who loves their craft made me remember my own passion for telling stories, because occasionally, we do need reminding of it.

 I’m not yet published; I’m planning to self publish ‘We Were Never Alone’ at the end of May this year, so I’m not entirely sure what right I have in doing this, but I’d like to set up a few dates where writers – not just crime, whether published or not, can get together and have our Twitter conversations in real life, over a nice bite to eat.  I know there are many writers’ groups, but this isn’t one where we read each others stuff, just to have a chat, whinge, moan, wax lyrical about a new character or talk about shoes or football.  A get together where if you get your notebook or tablet out in the playground that is the pub/restaurant, you won’t be that weird kid with the strange imagination!

 If you’re interested, let me know either via this blog or @writerannie on Twitter  

The Highs and Highs of 2012

It seems that the first rule of blogging is to have some form of review of the year, whether that be a summary of a top five, ten or twelve books; Mr Cameron’s three least finest moments or the ten greatest refereeing moments of the past 365 days.  While I could certainly manage the five least interesting games of football (Oldham Athletic played in all of them) or the ten top clangers dropped by Michael Gove regarding the education of our youth, I’d making a conscious decision to give ME some time here, because all in all, 2012 has been a pretty great year. Especially seeing what a complete Titanic 2011 was.  The following are in no particular order except of that in which I think of them:

  • I did NaNoWriMo.                                                                                                                ImageAfter several years of procrastinating upon the idea, I sat down and wrote a novel in 30 days.  Or rather, 60,000 words of a novel.  A novel which is almost completed. I’ve been writing since I was 10, back in the days of Mr Clegg’s Junior 4 class.  School stories were written in journals, detailing the doings of characters called names like Carlotta and Jo, blatantly nicked from the books of Enid Blyton and Elinor M Brent-Dyer.  I disliked the said Mr Clegg, and he didn’t like me much either, to the extent where he refused to give me the journals back.  I moved on and carried on writing.  2013 will see the self-publication of a novel – not the first I’ve completed by any stretch – but the first I’ve wanted the world at large (or maybe a few more people than those I know) to see.  Authors such as Mel Sherratt have made me realised that there’s a lot to be said for self-belief, and will-be authors Keith B Walters and David Bastinani kept me sane during NaNo and proved that writing isn’t a lonely occupation.
  • I ran. A lot.                                                                                                                                Image Woodbank parkrun was somewhat of a saviour last year.  It made me focus on Saturday mornings as a get up and do something time, rather than a lie in bed and wallow in self-pity. I hadn’t managed more than a quick hoof to get into the Radley shop on the first day of the sale until my first parkrun, now it’s part of my staple diet.  I also managed to run 5k under 30 minutes several times, and completed four 10k ‘races’.  I love parkrun, it’s ‘all in’ motto and the people I’ve met through it, because they’ve all been amazing. Runners have a sense of humour – they have to.  Running down a grim street at seven o’clock in the morning when it’s peeing it down, trust me, you have to laugh.  So next time you drive passed some neon coloured, red faced, slightly sweaty runner, don’t pity them, or think they’re mad, they’re actually enjoying it and they’ll be a damn sight fitter than most!
  • I bought a house.                                                                                                                       Image                This should probably be the top thing, and when I look back at 2012 in several years time, it probably will be.  How momentous a thing it is grows each time I think about it, but at the time it was a means to a very long end.  It doesn’t just mean that I have several rooms to decorate however I please, but that I can call my own shots.  It’s changed a lot of dynamics for the better, and I’m not just referring to the dynamics of the Next Home department which has certainly benefitted.  Big thanks to my grandparents who stumped up the deposit – at least you know where your money has gone and that I didn’t buy that flash car and go on those expensively wasteful holidays like I threatened.
  • I discovered Reginald Hill.                                                                                                         ImageCrime fiction has been my genre of choice since I read Cruel and Unusual at the tender age of 14.  Thankfully, I didn’t have nightmares about decomposing, mutilated bodies – school was a hell of a lot scarier – and I became a fan of Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, Karin Slaughter and many more, but I never read Reginald Hill.  In all honesty, the TV series put me off and I decided it was too mainstream.  However, I came across On Beulah Height and fell in love.  Love became slightly obsessional and I devoured the rest of the Dalziel and Pascoe series.  The plotting, structure, characterisation and humour were masterful and playful at the same time.  Hill never seemed to become consumed by his own writing.  I enjoyed it, as he appeared to enjoy writing.  The series has opened my eyes on how not to become formulaic and that as a writer, there’s always room for imagination in how you present not just how you plot.
  • I met more people than ever and made so many friends as well as renewingold acquaintances, through running, Kettlercise, work, football, yoga and Twitter.  I like my own company, but I have spent time with people this year whose company I have also enjoyed.

There’s been a lot more: a holiday in Parga, Greece; going to Harrogate for the Theakstons’ Crime Writing Festival; getting a promotion at work; acquiring a new kitten and Oldham Athletic managing to avoid relegation.  I’d just like to say a big thank you to everyone who’s been involved in my year, one way or another.

Unless you’re that bloody interfering bloke from the 10k race yesterday who told me some runners had gone a different way and completely put me off finishing as quick as I could because I was worried about getting lost.  Grrrr.

Happy New Year, one and all.

How Far Away the Stars – Part 3

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Part 3

…That Friday night I went to the dance with a boy named Ben.  We danced and laughed.  He drank some of his dad’s whisky that he’d smuggled out, but I refused.  At first it made him worry, that I was prudish, but I showed him that I was not.  All the time I was thinking of what I was going to do once the sun had set properly, and it made me feel alive.  I was the most powerful person in the universe at that moment, and nothing could change that.

 I left Ben and the music, and started to walk to Angela’s house.  Her father was a regular at one of the bars in town, but I knew what time he would be home; it was the same every Friday night; she would leave whatever she was doing with me to run back home and be there for his arrival.  I knocked on his door, noticing that the light was on, and he opened up looking dishevelled and drunk.

 “Why are you here?”  he said, and I felt his eyes travel across my skin, appraising what Ben had been feeling only an hour earlier.  It didn’t disgust me, although it probably should, because I knew I knew what I was feeling was wrong.  Girls my age didn’t do this.  Not nice ones.

 “Why do you think?”  I said, widening my eyes, and pushing my chest forward.

 He licked his lips.  “You’d better come in then.”

 I put my purse down on the kitchen counter before he began to paw me.  “You gonna tell anyone?”  he said.  “Tell Angela?”

 “No,” I said, once his mouth started to travel down my neck.  He could barely stand, and I knew other parts of him weren’t working either.  I knew too much for my age, but then I guess I’d been born old.  I had my first proper boyfriend at fourteen, a summer romance.  He’d been a ranch hand two miles away, and good with his hands.  “What would people think if I told?”

 “That you’re easy?” he said.  Even if he wasn’t so drunk, I doubt he would have said anything else.  

 I let him continue, before breaking off, allowing my breath to have become slightly quickened.

 “What is it?” he said, his hands at the top of my legs.

 “You’re too drunk,” I said, stating the obvious.  “Why don’t I cook you something to sober up?  I don’t need to be home till morning.  We have all night.”

 He gaped at me, as if he couldn’t believe his luck.  I smiled, running a hand through my hair, and pulling my dress back down to a decent level.  My hair was mussed and I could feel that I was flushed.  It wasn’t him, it was the power, the control, the knowing.

 “Okay,” he said. “Can I ask, Marguerite, why d’you come here?”

 Flattering a drunken male is never difficult.  “Because I wanted a man.  You go sit down – I’ll cook you some eggs and mushrooms.”

 He was half asleep when I brought him his supper.  He ate greedily, gazing all the time at the patches of uncovered flesh I had left on show.  I gave him a mug of coffee, heavily laced with my grandmother’s sleeping tablets, and watched as he finished.

 “I think I should marry you,” he said.  It wasn’t a strange thing to say.  It was the 1950’s and there was no reason why in a few months I shouldn’t marry.  Although spending anything more than a little killing time with a monster like him was unthinkable.

 I smiled, watching as he started to drift off to sleep, everything eaten.  I left the plate and mug where they were and slipped out of the house through an open window, having made sure the door was locked from the inside.

 The woodland was never as welcoming as that evening.  The waning moon was clear in the sky, and everything was lit as if with magic.  I felt no shame or guilt, just happiness and a sense of achievement that no perfect score at school had ever given me.

 Angela was asleep on the sofa when I got home, my younger siblings tucked away in bed and my parents still out at another neighbour’s where my dad was playing poker and my mom drinking gin.  I woke her up and told her to stay the night, go home in the morning to give her dad her babysitting money my folks had paid, and then we’d go to the lake for the day.

 It never bothered me that I knew what she would find when she got home.  Symptoms from ingesting amanitas took about five hours to show, but by that time his liver and kidney tissue would be destroyed, and he wouldn’t have even been conscious.  If he did awake, he would find himself in a pool of vomit and diarrhoea, shaking like he had never done from whisky, and excruciating stomach pain.  And there would be no one there to help…

“That night,” I continue.  They hadn’t interrupted yet and I wondered what they thought.  “That night I slept like a baby.  When I went with Angela later the next morning, he was already dead.  The doctor said he must have made himself a late night snack, having picked up the wrong sort of mushrooms that were growing wild.  I’d made sure to leave a couple of amanitas uncooked so they would know why he had died, save them looking too closely.  He’d been drunk, and made a simple mistake.  Angela’s mom heard and came back for her, and I lost my friend.  But that didn’t matter.  I didn’t kill him to keep her my friend forever.”

Toner sits back, stretching slightly, and I realise how much time has passed in the telling of my first time.  There isn’t time enough left for me to explain each death like this, not before it is time for my own.  “Did Angela know it was you?”  Toner says.

I shrug.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  Does it matter if she did?  She was never any different towards me before she left, except sometimes I caught her starting at me, so maybe she did have an idea.”

Their hands are close to each other, both lying palm down on the table, the others around their coffee.  I smile knowingly, making it obvious enough for them to notice and Toner looks at me with questions.

“You’re together, happily so.  You should let those scars heal now, you know, maybe smile some,” I say, not caring if I speak out of turn.

Louisa laughs now and looks at Toner.  He remains as straight faced as when I first saw him, and Louisa tries to curb her laughter.

“You killed seventeen men altogether?”  He has taken his notebook out now.  I’m relieved to see it as I want this recording, but not on one of those dictating machines.

“No,” I say.  I know where he has the mistake from.  “I killed seventeen people, but two of them were female.”   I list the names now, giving him time to write each one down, and telling him the place where they had lived.  Few of these deaths would be unsolved murders.  Most were registered as accidents.

He puts down the notebook at looks at me with honest eyes.  “Why have you decided to discuss what you’ve done twenty five years since you were incarcerated?” he says.  “There may be a stay of execution while further investigations are carried out, but without much evidence, it’s unlikely to take long.”

I smile again, this time wistfully.  “I don’t want a stay of execution – I have no need to live any longer, and I don’t want it to seem like I’m trying to hurt the relatives of these people I killed,” I tell him, taking a sandwich.  It’s ham and I wonder if either of them are Jewish.  “People have always asked, and I’ve never wanted to tell.  I didn’t kill these people to become famous, or to get my name in the papers.”

“Then why did you kill them, Marguerite?” Louisa says.  I see her looking at the sandwiches and I push the plate towards her.

“Because they were causing so much harm,” I say, and I feel a shake in my voice.  “And I enjoy killing people.”  I feel cold saying it, but it’s the truth, the lovely warm truth about the little old lady sat at the table, eating a ham sandwich.  I’ve answered her next question already, too.  She would have wanted to ask why I never simply went to the police – that would have taken the fun away, and besides, the police may not always have the evidence, in which case a whistle blower causes more harm than good.

“Let me tell you about Clara Jones,” I say.  “I don’t have time to tell you about them all, and I’m sure you have other places to go anyway, but let me tell you about Clara.”

Toner nods, his shoulder brushing Louisa’s and I remind myself to ask them about their relationship before they go.

“Clara was my sister-in-law,” I say as Louisa picks up a sandwich.  She must be hungry, as there’s few people who can eat at the same time that murder’s being discussed.  “My second husband’s elder sister.  I was twenty-three and by this age I had killed three people, none of which had been murder enquiries, although the second – David Holland – had been touch and go for a while.  Clara was older than my husband by eleven years, making her forty seven.  Their parents had been plantation owners in the south and in North Carolina, and had ended up with enough money to make them comfortable for the rest of their lives and a few years beyond that.

“Their father died too early, and Mama Jones suffered greatly after his death.  She had a mild stroke which left her confused and needing looking after all day and during the night…

 …“She’s eating away at our inheritance.  We should fine a care home that’s cheaper than this live-in nursing thing – or even better, have Marguerite take care of her!”

 It was Clara again, the same thing being said again on yet another Sunday evening.  Her voice was as brittle as dried wood and it echoed around the room that had been furnished beyond my imagination with expensive furniture and ornate decorations from fifty years ago.

  I loved this room, the drawing room, and I would sit here for hours on a hot day, soaking in the shade as I sketched.  Mama Jones would sit with me, enjoying the silence, and gazing out of the window at nothing in particular.

 Now though, it was filled with Clara’s cries for Mama Jones to be taken away from her refuge, her prime concern money, as it always was.  I glanced at my husband, husband number two as I had been widowed at twenty, and hoped he would gain the backbone to say something against Clara’s proposal.

 “Clara,” Victor said, the middle of Mama Jones’ three beneficiaries, and perhaps the one with the most sense.  “There will be enough money for everyone, even if we make sure that Mama has the best level of care.  She could live for years yet.  Could you really live with going to visit her in a home once a week, knowing you’d taken her away from the place she loved best?”

 My sister-in-law’s face contorted with something that should have been shame, but I read correct as her reaction to being caught out.  Clara had no love for her mother; she had been a daddy’s girl, and had resented the attention her father had given his wife.  She was also Mama Jones’ stepdaughter, her own mother having died shortly after childbirth, and even though there had never been any difference in Mama’s eyes, Clara had always borne umbrage towards her.

 I turned my eyes away from the book I was reading and looked towards Victor.  He was playing chess with my husband, Edward, only he was half concentrating while Edward was fully immersed in trying to beat his elder brother.  “I don’t think Clara would have an issue with visiting Mama in a care home because she’d be too busy spending the money to visit,” I said, making sure my voice was clear.

 Edward looked up at me, cigarette in hand.  He coughed a little, smoke spilling out into the blue of the room.  “Now, Reet,” he said.  “I’m sure that’s not entirely true.”  He looked towards his sister who sat surly on the large sofa, her legs curled behind her in a manner that looked most uncomfortable.  Clara hadn’t liked me from the start; I had always been too much of a threat to her.  That, and she suspected that my marriage to her brother was a sham.

 There was a note of sarcasm in Edward’s voice that was unmistakable, and Clara look at him with wasps of fury in her eyes.  “I only want what’s best for mother, and ourselves,” she said, shooting out her words like bullets.  The first part of her sentence sounded hollow, and even Victor looked upset.  Clara was like a dog with a bone when she got an idea into her head, and she would pester both her brothers until they gave in, just for a peaceful life.

 She didn’t work; never had to.  Cosseted by her father, and then married to a wealthy business man, she had far too much time on her hands having never had children.  Instead she organised various women’s events and took classes in music and painting, in neither of which she excelled.  After I returned from my marriage to Edward, I tried to get to know her, to form some sort of relationship with her, despite the difference in age.  But she had found me repugnant; my youth, and probably the teenage-like slenderness of my limbs and body showed up what she had become.  She detested my sketching, and disliked the fact that I could hold a decent conversation with almost anyone, in spite of the fact that I hadn’t had a good education.

 “Look,” Clara said.  “No one wants to look after Mama…”

 “Neither Edward nor I have the time,” Victor said.  “Which is why we employ someone Mama is happy with.  I see no reason to change the status quo here, Clara.  Unless Mama gets in a way where she is unable to function here even with help, she stays in the house that she loves, with her belongings and her family nearby.  And it’s out of the question to ask Reet to look after her.  Mama is not Reet’s responsibility.”

 I wouldn’t have minded.  As Edward’s wife, I was not expected to work.  Instead, the hopes were that I would conceive quickly, and carry on the family name.  Both Edward and I knew that it was unlikely to happen.  Clara was correct in her assumption; the marriage was a sham, an agreement between two people who did love each other very much, but it was a love that friends shared, not lovers.  I needed a shield, having inherited a rather large sum of money from my first husband who died in circumstance that weren’t apparently suspicious, and Edward needed cover.  He had a lover, one in New Orleans, named Henrique.  Henrique was a sweet boy, gentle and kind, the same age as myself, and we had spent a joyous fortnight with him on our honeymoon, enjoying the music, the food and the drink. 

 And the nights.  While my ‘husband’ and his lover had disappeared to bed, I had discovered my own religion; the soft sounds of the saxophone and the way it made me move, the easy acquaintances and those long hours of darkness, more colourful that the days .  Those two weeks have always stayed with me, never fading memories, a picture that has never lost its hue.

 Clara stood up uncomfortably, straightening the dress she had worn that was a little too tight.  “We have to think of ourselves, you know,” she said.  “We can’t always think of Mama.”

 Edward looked up from the chess board, his forehead creased with a frown, as if he had just realised something.  “Clara,” he said.  “Is there a problem at home?  Do you need money?  If that’s the case, we can always sort something out for you.” 

 I looked back down at my sketch book, bracing myself for the thunderstorm that was about to break.  I had speculated to Edward before that Clara’s husband wasn’t doing as well as he had been at work, and she was struggling to maintain the lifestyle to which she had become dependent.

 She didn’t respond, which surprised me.  Instead she left the room, focusing on only the door and slammed it behind her, creating a thud which was enough to knock over one of Edward’s pawns.

 I followed her out, not rushing, but my instincts told me that her exit had been too calm for Clara, and something else was weighing on her mind.  My feet were bare, as usual, something no rich husband had managed to cure me of, and made no sound on the heavy wooden flooring that was so intricately designed.

 Clara didn’t see me as I stood at the kitchen threshold while she looked through Mama’s medication.  She was reading the doctor’s notes, looking at the dosage, and I knew then exactly what she was planning to do.  It would be easier for Mama to die now and then we could all get our inheritance.  Clara’s money problems would never have to be aired and there would be no conflict between her and her brothers to try to win.

 I coughed, making her aware of my presence and she stared at me, her hands still grasping the pill bottles.  “I was just checking…”

 “Her medication is still the same.  Nothing’s changed since the last prescription the doctor gave her,” I knew full well that Clara had no idea of what that was anyway, having been around as little as dutifully possible.

 She lifted up her chin.  “Oh.  That’s good then.”  She put the bottles back and shut the door.  “I need to get home.”

 Clara moved the quickest I’d ever seen her, scuttling out of the room like a spider.  I didn’t follow her, toying with the notion of telling Edward and Victor what I had just seen, but that wouldn’t stop what Clara had planned, they’d be too static, unbelieving that a person could do such a thing.  But I knew they could.

 The kitchen table was generally used by the maid and the man-servant employed by Mama.  No one from the family sat there generally, accept me.  I would walk to the house some mornings and have coffee with Aliyah and Wendell, help make some brownies to take to a poor family who lived nearby, and learn to make Jambalaya.  Mama would sometimes join us, when she was clear in her mind, and she would recount stories of the south, of her days in Mexico as a girl, and she would ask about Henrique, Edward’s friend in New Orleans, and if we’d heard from him recently.

 She knew.  She always knew.

 I looked out of the big glass doors out over the gardens, manicured like a queen’s nails, and contemplated what to do.  Clara was my sister-in-law, Edward’s sister, and she was loved in a way.  Yet I couldn’t let her do what she had planned, what I thought she had planned.

 My thoughts were interrupted by the tapping of a stick against the floor, and I looked up to see Mama standing there, her thick greying hair styled in the manner of the 1900’s, looking as gentrified and as beautiful as she had in her wedding photograph, albeit in a different way.  Her face was worn but her eyes still shone as blue as the Louisiana sky.

 “You’re not smiling, Reet,” she said, coming to the table and sitting down, her hips visibly creaking.  “Has my daughter been upsetting you again?”

 “It takes a lot more than Clara to upset me, Mama,” I said.  “You want coffee?”

 She shook her head.  “Bourbon.  It’ll not do me any harm.”

 She had a bottle – or rather several bottles – that her sons were unaware of.  Mama liked a bourbon, more than what they knew, and I saw no harm in her indulging in a small comfort.  Clara disapproved, like she did of most things, saying it was ungodly, and wrong.  She’d tried to take me to task when she found me drinking whisky one evening with her husband, discussing Eisenhower and the recession, her anger focused on the glass in my hand rather than the looks her husband was giving me.

 I found the tumblers next to the bourbon and went to the ice house.  She didn’t like it too cold, it took away the burn, and eventually watered the drink down.  When I returned, she was looking in the medicine cupboard, her cane fallen on the floor.

 I put the tumblers down and picked it up for her, offering my arm to escort her back to the table.  “She’s been looking, hasn’t she?”

 “Clara?” I said, a rhetorical question.  “You saw her too?”

 Mama nodded.  “I heard as well.  Some days I hear everything, cher.  Some days I hear nothing, and that’s the way the world goes, but today I heard everything.”

 She knew.  She knew like I did.  I studied her, not as an elderly lady, but as a woman.  She was dying, slowly.  She knew she only had a certain amount of time left before another stroke took her, or some other ailment cut those last strings of life.  An ailment possibly called Clara.

 “Clara’s not going to do anything stupid, Mama,” I said, looking into those eyes that today saw so clearly.  “I’ll make sure of that.”

 “You’ll be the first,” she said, taking the tumbler to her lips and sipping at the amber liquid. 

 And the last, I thought…

How Far Away the Stars – Part 1

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This was written some time ago.  I loved writing it and the storyteller is one character I hope to keep inside my head.  It’s long, around 15,000 words in total, so I’ll post it in parts.  Comments are most welcome.

How Far Away the Stars

“How far away the stars seem, and how far is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart.”

–        William Butler Yeats

 It is easy to count the stars when you have so little time left.  At least it is now, now that I can see them.  When they first asked what I wanted on my last night, they laughed at my response.  You can’t count the stars they said.  Don’t try to be funny, Marguerite; one night isn’t enough to count the stars.  What is it you really want?

It was then I told them what they’d wanted to hear for the past twenty-five years.  “Let me talk,” I said, “let me tell you what I did.”  Their eyes lit up, and I heard mutterings of words and acronyms I hadn’t heard since a lifetime ago: profilers, officers, police…

They’ve always wanted to know exactly what it was.  It fascinates them; the idea that this little old woman took so many lives, unbeknownst to them, before handing herself in to the police.   I’m not your typical murderer, you see.  It wasn’t about getting away with it; it was about getting rid of them.  Even the planning of the first killing was magical, and by the third it was second nature; something I seemed to have been born for.  A natural born killer maybe, if such a thing exists alongside humanity.

By the afternoon of my request, two agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were there.  It must have been a slow day in the world of serial killers to warrant such speed for a woman who had been on death row for a quarter of a century already, but no doubt the authorities didn’t want me to change my mind and take my secrets with that last kiss of an injection.  One of the guards, Susie, took me to a place in the prison I hadn’t been before, which was strange considering I’ve been in this place since before she was born.

Susie was one of my favourites; she was too big for her bones, and her skin wrinkled like a too-ripe nectarine, but she always smiled, was always polite and never judged.  We like that here; someone who lets what we’ve done wash over their heads as if it never happened.  For here is a different life to the one we had previously, a life spent in a constant state of waiting for death.  Some of us have had to deal with the ghosts that torment us, while other lament on their lost freedom.  I did neither of these.  I’d chosen to be in this place, and in the time I’d been here, I’d learnt many things I would have done so elsewhere.

Once Susie asked me why I’d done it, then clarified her question by saying she meant why I’d handed myself in.  I didn’t answer, for that was nobody’s business but my own, and instead Susie kept talking, her motive for asking not noisiness, but personal.  Since she was six, her papa had crept into her bedroom each night, and I needn’t say more than that because you can guess why.  His bedtime stories gave her nightmares, and now Susie had moved out and he had remarried.  But he had another daughter, Amie, who was five.

And that’d made Susie’s nightmares start again.

It’s not a competition, is it?

Not winning was never on the agenda, which is why I avoided all competitive sports like you would a rabid dog.

Actually, I’d be more likely to approach a rabid dog to help it than take part in anything that involved the possibility of not winning. (The one exception to this was joining my school’s mixed hockey team. This was nothing to do with the opportunities of slamming my hockey stick against the rather burly forward’s shins, but our rather handsome goalkeeper. That, however, is another epic story.)

I have a competitive streak which can be as wide as the Mersey basin. But only, only if there is the chance of winning. A strong chance. Almost a certainty.

So National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo or #nanowrimo on Twitter gave me the opportunity to exercise my typing skills and crack on with this novel I’ve not stuck myself into yet. It’s been there for six years, or rather the characters have. Six years ago I finished a rather overwritten 120,000 words in a mere three and a half months, but could never bring myself to edit it. It was a fairly painful, if short labour, but it gave me my main man, my Daniel. Since then he has been my brain child, a parasite that drains a little piece of my real life every time he chooses to raise his pretty little head and say hi. But I’ve never stuck myself back into his world until now. I’ve written fanfiction, case fics, most of which have been baby epics and have allowed me to release the demons of my imagination but I studiously avoided The Novel. Why? It might not win. There’s no stats page while writing an original novel; there are no reviewers begging for the next instalment, so how would I stroke my competitive streak? Where was the chocolate coated carrot on the end of the silver plated stick?
The answer lay in a tweet around the end of October, with the sparkling hashtag ‘nanowrimo’. I’d started NaNoWriMo last year, but due to circumstances beyond my control – i.e., family slash relationship issues – my head was not in the correct gear. This year I found it was. I had no plan, but I knew how it started, I had an idea who would die and I’ve known the ending for about four years. The middle would have to write itself.

So, the story began. I bored my Twitter followers with my word count; conversed with other Twitterati about theirs and met some rather interested folk along the way. There were a few races and the page on my NaNoWriMo account which listed my ‘writing buddies’ leant me that competitively sharp edge. I would finish the 50,000 words before most others. I would complete.

And I did. I am now 60,000 words through the labour of We Were Never Alone. By the end of November I’m hoping to have reached 72,000. And if there’s still someone to compete against in the friendliest of ways, I’ll have finished mid December. In fact, we have a new hashtag – NaNoFiMo; National Novel Finishing Month, just to make sure that the job really does get done.

Then I can do what I’m strangely most looking forward to: the second draft. All of those vomited words can be polished into something that resembles a good story. I can tidy up the inconsistencies, give Daniel a little more oomph and make sure that the scene at the back of the pub does not find its way into the list of the Worst Ever Sex Scenes. (Of course, that last bit is dependent on the book ever finding its way into the public domain.)

NaNoWriMo gave me motivation. It got me going – fast enough so I couldn’t get bored. I’m even planning for the second and third instalments and this is from a lass who only plans shopping trips!

Anyone up for NaNoWriMo in April?