Thorn Amidst Joy

Written by Miss Smiley


“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

I zone out, feeling Heath’s eyes on the back of my neck. Why is he here? I sigh inwardly and wish I was anywhere but standing where I am.

I told him not to come. I begged him not to come. He begged me not to come. But by God, I promised. I took David’s ring and I gave him my hand and my word. I love him. I know I love him, just as I know I could never love anyone else more. He is my whole world and I adore him.

But for that one week…

I block out the little voice in my head that keeps telling me it’s not too late. Because it is. It was too late the moment David proposed and I said yes. It was too late the moment I fell into bed with him and gave him everything. And it is far, far too late for Heath to come swaggering in and sweep me away, no matter how much I ache for his touch. For God’s sake, is my word worth nothing? I promised. I swore.

And I ache.

“If any man should have just cause against this union, let him speak now.”

My stomach latches onto my ribs and I hope against hope that Heath will and won’t say anything. I am torn. I am a mess. If he speaks, I know I will fall. If I crumble, I know he will speak. If I turn, we will both fall.

I will be strong. I promised. My word is my troth.

I glance over at David. He glances at me. We both smile, hanging in the balance. My gaze falls on the little twist that his lip forms when he’s just about to laugh and it makes my heart ache. I want to be married to him already. These moments are too long and too short all at once.

Someone clears their throat behind me, breaking in on our peace and I pray, for the first time in years, that it isn’t Heath. Let it pass. Let it be.

The moment passes. All is well. And all is ruined. The ring slips onto my finger easily and I smile at David. Something swells in my chest, grabbing at my heart. Is it joy? Is it grief?

No matter. I will be faithful. I will be true.

We sign the paper. I am married. We are married.

All is joy.

All is loss.


This Half Hour Challenge piece was written on behalf of February’s theme, Fanning the Flames. And we believe Miss Smiley has pitched it just right. As a sore reminder of a past lover at a wedding ceremony, those fleeting moments where all appears to be lost, and then the wild blow never hits. It was no movie moment here, perhaps the narrator of the story is Cathy from Wuthering Heights, torn between the feisty, wayward Heathcliff and the English gentleman, Edgar. Either way, we love it. If you enjoyed reading Miss Smiley’s HHC, you can view some of her other works such as, “There will be Tea” and “The Bells of Campden”.  

Featured Image CC // Cristi Sebastien Photography

 

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Lift Girl – Part 2

Written by Fantasy Girl

She must have left work slightly earlier than usual as I didn’t see her in the lift. But our cars were the only two left in the car park as I stepped from the double glass doors of reception – her red MR2 parked next to my silver Nissan just like every day. She was struggling to start the car as I approached, so I stuck my head through the open passenger window.

“Need a hand?” I asked with a slight smile on my face.

“My stupid bloody car won’t start!” she growled back through gritted teeth as she tried again.

“Which way are you heading? I could give you a lift home, get a mechanic to look over it tomorrow morning?”

“I’m heading back to Colchester, if you know the area, just off Tufnell way?” she seemed hopeful.

I lived about a ten minute walk away from the street she mentioned. “Jump in,” I said. “Let’s get you home.”

The journey home was quiet, pleasurable rather than awkward. We both enjoyed the peaceful silence after a stressful day at work.

“Which road is it?” I asked as we turned on to Tufnell way.

“This one just here,” she pointed to the road sign that said ‘Axel Way’. “But I’ll get out here. Thanks for the lift, I really appreciate it!” And before I could protest, she was out of the car and jogging down the road.

I had to go down the road to turn around anyway, so I drove down, and sped back up the street to the house she was approaching.

“Who the hell is he?” shouted the man who was waiting at the door for her – a partner, I presume. She didn’t answer. Was he on about me? “Who is he? You stupid slut!” He back-handed her across the face, and dragged her into the house by a handful of her hair. He slammed the door behind him, but it bounced back open.

I scrambled out of the car, not knowing quite what I was planning on doing, but knowing I should be doing something. I heard screaming as I approached the door, she was begging him to stop. He didn’t. I crouched down by the door for what seemed like a lifetime, listening to his rhythmic grunts, and her constant pleas for him to stop.

I was in hysterics by the time it finally ended. I had let him do that to her, and I could do nothing about it… I let him rape her, this girl that I barely knew, and it was because of… it was because of me!

I heard her sobs as he moved around the room. Then a gunshot, footsteps. The door swung open and he spat in my direction.

“Enjoy the show did you? She’s a screamer!”, he said, with a sadistic smile on his face. “Well,” he continued after a minute of silence, “you’re welcome to the slut now. A right lot of good she’s going to do you though.” And he walked off, without looking back.

I couldn’t bring myself to move until he was out of sight – I was frozen to the spot like a statue, but then I rushed in, and followed where I thought the commotion had come from. All I could see was blood, a lot of it, akin to a horror film I’d watched the other week.

Lamps, paper, and other household items were scattered all over the floor. There was smashed glass on the kitchen floor tiles and the curtains had been pulled down. And her naked body laid there, in a pool of blood on her cream carpet. The body of the girl I had seen every morning for the last three years, so helpless, so vulnerable. Until today, we had never truly spoken, just a polite ‘hello’ in the lift or a meek wave, on my part.

It was a gunshot to the heart that killed her. Her body was covered in bruises, some old, greening as they faded; some new, purples and blues blossoming like flowers on her ivory skin.

She didn’t even know my name, I thought as I fell to my knees and cradled her head in my lap. I’m the only person here, and it’s because of me that this happened. I should have invited her for coffee, I should have taken her to my place to look over finance plans for the company. She wouldn’t be here – she wouldn’t be like this if I had… – this would never have happened, and it’s all my fault.

“I’m sorry!” I cried, stroking her dark hair away from her beautiful face. “Shiv, I’m so sorry!” And then was when I felt a very faint pulse through her neck.

“Dan,” she whispered as her eyes fluttered open. “Thank you.” And she went limp – her breathing stopped.

I checked for her neck pulse again and confirmed what I already knew.

She was dead.

Fantasy Girl’s second and final part concludes Siobhan and Dan’s tragic story. It’s heartbreaking, and we can’t help but feel a little stab of pain when she mentions his name at the end. Oh dear, better pass us some tissues! If you enjoyed the finale of Lift Girl, make sure you check out the first part which we published last month for the complete package. 

Featured Image CC // Peter Almay

The Game – Part 2

Written by Dice

The Game is never really won. The man may think he has succeeded if he and the woman are currently ‘dating’, or ‘going out.’ This is when the opponents are together in such a way that, traditionally, the battle is now concentrated to the two players. Opponents may also be ‘going steady’, ‘engaged’, or even ‘married’, these occur later in the battle; it is a time when the quiet moments are the most numbing, but the battles are fought even harder.

When opponents are together, other opposition is generally silenced when they are informed of the player’s situation with another. There are, however, times when an outside opponent does enter the ring. This is considered as bad form and bad gamesmanship but – in actuality – gives the Game a whole new level. And it’s also becoming an increasing trend in the modern Game.

Battles become more complex during the ‘together’ period, usually more so for the man. The man must now be on guard for a ‘question move.’ As such, this can be a cruel move but is very common. It’s the woman’s way of twisting words so that the man must think on his feet to avoid defeat. Delaying tactics are available but they do not buy a lot of time.

An example of when a question move can occur is when the woman is trying on clothes and inquiring the man’s opinion. Generally the questions can be innocent and calm, such as ‘What do you think of this dress?’ This example is a relatively easy answer, where the man must, in all cases, give positive yet constructive feedback. These are also opportunities for the man to gain bonus points, with comments such as: ‘This one [ie: the dress] goes with your beautiful eyes.’ A comment that would sound ‘cheesy’ to the man, of course, but one that women will love and may concede points in the Game further down the line. This move can also end the question move before it becomes too dangerous.

A question move that turns dangerous can have serious consequences on the man, particularly if he is not alert. If the couple have spent a long day shopping together, for example, the man may become mentally tired which could cause him to be caught off guard. Variations of the question: ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ must always be answered with a firm ‘No.’ A reply that can in any way be linked to: ‘Yes’ is a textbook error on the man’s behalf.

The move and counter sounds trivial to avoid, but a woman can be craftier in applying this move. Continuing on the same theme, a man must be at the top of his form if faced with the ‘Does my bum look bigger in this dress, or the last dress?’ Note the negative state this question takes. The obvious reply would be ‘the last dress’ but this move is a mistake. In fact, it implies that her bum looks big in the current dress and even bigger in the previous dress. No, a man has to be smart and chose his words wisely; his reply must ensure the woman that her bum looks big in neither dress and that he has given an opinion on the current dress. A very well constructed move will result in both the woman being satisfied in the answer, and the woman choosing the dress that the man preferred.

As Valentine’s Day is now well and truly over, Dice’s second part of The Game might just make men question what women really want. No, not the Mel Gibson film, or the one with Colin Firth and Amanda Bynes, either, but one of the man’s own choosing. That niggle of a question, “Does my bum look big in this?” is probably one that only women can answer themselves. Besides, us women prefer to go shopping either alone or with our girl friends, we only drag men along when we don’t want to pay! If you enjoyed Dice’s piece, why not check out the first part of The Game, which we published last month. 

Featured Image CC // Charles Rodstrom

Coach

Written by Rob

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Happy Hallowe'en! 🙂

A post shared by Colette Stirling (@colette_stirling) on

“FGM to Mission Control, FGM to Mission Control, can you hear me Eric?”
“Loud and clear, Fairy God Mother. How are things Mabel?”
“We have a problem, I’m afraid. I’ve done white mice into horses OK. Glass slippers were a doddle. The frock took a while ‘cos Cinders has not been eating well and I made it a size too big (those ugly sisters are such nasty bitches) but that’s all sorted.”
“OK, so what’s the snag?”
“I can make just about anything out of anything, but you’ve got to give me some sort of a chance.”
“What are you struggling with Mabel?”
“Eric, I’m hanging up my wand if things don’t improve. Time is pressing. The ball will be over before I’ve got this sorted. The National Union of White Witches don’t like me chasing this kind of mission creep. I should not be deviating from the plan.”
“Mabel! Stop wittering and tell me what the problem is.”
“It’s this pumpkin. It won’t transmogrify into a coach.”
“Why ever not? You did it in practice last Thursday.”
“Because some cretin has carved it into a Jack O’Lantern!”

Rob’s HHC was written on behalf of last month’s theme, Pumpkin. It’s such a humorous piece, we couldn’t help but add this into November’s content. While it delivers on the HHC theme, it also gives a good spark in light too. And hey, since it’s in the spirit of Halloween, we’ve added in our very own Inkblots Pumpkin carving as the top image. The good news is we can add this to the Bonfire later, as it’s just started turning mouldy… er, lovely. If you enjoyed Rob’s piece, make sure to check out his other short stories such as, ‘Last Breath‘ and ‘Shot Blast‘. 

Inkblots Special Hallowe’en Post – A Hedgehog Named Barry

Written by Lilith

hedgehog_foliage

Scavenge hunt. Image // Tomi Tapio

The hedgehog looked up at May with wide black eyes and twitched its nose. It was a tiny ball of brown spines, sitting at the edge of the pavement and staring up at her with something akin to adoration, though the little girl didn’t know why. She bent down to him, expecting him to shuffle away, but instead he sniffed her hand curiously.

“Hello,” she said nervously. The streetlights were starting to come on now, and she was late coming back from the shops. She would get into trouble for it, she knew, but she’d spent so long deciding what pick and mix to get – choosing and weighing and taking some out and weighing again until it was worth a pound. Now she knew she should hurry back so he wouldn’t be so angry, but at the same time couldn’t bring herself to face her father’s rage.

The hedgehog sniffled at her fingers and licked them.

“Can I call you Barry?” she asked, and although he didn’t say yes or no, she decided that he was OK with it.

“I have to go now… Sorry.” Another street lamp flickered from pink to orange to yellow above her. Home was only two streets away, so she picked up her satchel back and carried on walking.

She was only a few doors away from home when she heard a scuffling sound in the gutter beside her; she looked down and saw Barry waddling through the autumn leaves.

“What are you doing?” May hissed down at him. “Don’t follow me! My dad’ll be angry.”

Perhaps he understood her words or maybe her tone of voice, but Barry stopped still in the leaves and turned around a few times. He watched her go with mournful black eyes, his nose beneath a crisp golden leaf.

May’s father was angry, but her mother was less of a wreck than usual. She took one look at her daughter traipsing in with windswept hair and muddy boots and sent her to her room at once, in a tone that was forceful, but not wholly unkind. She stood between the little girl and her husband, who had been drinking for hours and was already shouting at the slightest thing. As May’s door closed, he began to shout at her up the stairs, and although May could work out some of the words, she did as her mother had said and kept the door tightly shut, then played pop music to drown out the worst of it. He fell silent after half an hour, but when May was called to dinner there was a dark mark on her mum’s face that hadn’t been there before.

That night, as May lay in bed, it started again. First her dad yelling, then the crashes and bangs as he threw things – anything that came near to his hand – at his wife. May was too scared to put on the music, so she pulled the duvet from her bed and sat by the window, staring at the sky.

“I wish…” she began to say, but the world was too big and too scary and too bloated with unfulfilled wishes that she suddenly didn’t know what to wish for. Should she wish for her dad to stop drinking? Would that make it better, or worse? How would she know? Or maybe she should wish for him to go away again… But when he did that before her mum had sat hunched over the kitchen table for days on end, crying into her wine, pulling May onto her lap and phoning him over and over again to tell him how much she missed him and they needed him back. Did she really want that?

“I wish Barry would come back,” she said, and looked down into the garden. The kitchen light was on, flooding the yard with light, and there besides a flower-pot was… No, it couldn’t be.

She squinted down at the flower-pot, trying to make out the dark shape beneath it. The noises from downstairs faded to nothingness as she struggled to identify whether that shadow was really her friend, or just a trick of the light.

There was only one way to be sure. She threw on a dressing gown over her nightie and stepped carefully out onto the landing. She could hear them arguing again – were they in the living room? She tiptoed down the stairs, placing her feet near to the sides of each step to stop them from creaking. Yes, they were in the living room, she decided, so she kept away from that door, instead stepping into the kitchen where piles of washing up had been discarded only ten minutes ago. As she reached the back door, she heard a crash followed by a sickening “thunk” sound, and then her mother screaming.

She peered out into the night. There was the flower-pot – the big one with the poppies – and there he was, smiling his sweet half-smile at her from the shadows.

“Barry,” she whispered. The door clicked open quietly and as quick as a flash she was outside in the yard, dropping to her knees to greet the hedgehog.

“Come with me,” the hedgehog seemed to be saying to her. “Just for a little while, until your mother is feeling better. It will be an adventure.”

May glanced nervously back at the house.

“Won’t dad be angry if he finds out, Barry?”

“He would, little girl, but he won’t find out. I promise.”

She put down both her hands to the ground and Barry climbed into them, carefully keeping his sharp spines from stabbing at her soft skin.

“You tell me where to go, OK?”

He nodded.

“Do you promise I’ll be safe, Barry?”

He turned around to face her, his black eyes meeting her blue.

“Yes, little May. Right now, this is the safest place you could be.”

Lilith’s ‘A Hedgehog named Barry’ was written as part of a HHC challenge in 2013, however it was such a wonderful short that we raided through the archives in order to bring it to you, our readers and followers, as an Inkblots special Hallowe’en post. Those feelings of uneasiness through the sinister shadow of May’s father really come to light within the final few sentences. Is Barry really a lovely hedgehog? Or is something more horrible happening? Either way, we can’t help breathe a sigh of relief when our fear for May’s safety is finally over. We hope you enjoyed reading Lilith’s story, and have a Happy Hallowe’en! 

Black Mirror

Written by Fantasy Girl

Mirror, mirror: In a silver landscape of ice-covered trees, a mirror stands on its own, out-of-place, lonely.
Image Courtesy of lets-not-be-perfect.blogspot.co.uk

‘A dream is a wish the heart makes!’ that’s what she always told me – my mother that is. She said, ‘we dream of the things we wish for but know will never come true.’ But my dreams do, and they always have done… she just never listened.

A mirror. That’s how it always starts. In a silver landscape of ice-covered trees, a mirror stands on its own, out-of-place, lonely. I walk up to it. It’s just a mirror, right, how much harm can it do?

It changes.

Ripples come from the centre, like when you drop a pebble into a still lake. The reflection, it’s still me, but it’s moving. She smiles at me, her eyes, my eyes, silver like the forest around me; around us. She curls her index finger, slowly and deliberately with a wry smile on her face, beckoning me to follow her, and turns her back and walks away from me, her hand-held out behind her, albeit when your lover is walking behind you. I follow. Just like I always do, but I don’t know why, yet I know how this will end – A terrorist attack, a tsunami, they’ve all come true. So, I follow. But this time it’s different.  Continue reading →

Careful Driving

Written by Ricardo

Drive safely, and always wear a seatbelt.
Image courtesy of lovetoknow.com.

The moon nestled high in the clear black sky as Alexander’s watch hit eleven o’clock. The especially bright light from the full moon illuminated the deserted car park as he made his way across to his car, barely holding five loaded bags and a bunch of assorted flowers wrapped in plastic in his left hand while he fumbled for his keys with his right hand. He got to the scrap heap he called a car; faded blue paint, rust along the skirt and windows, the usual mess, as he retrieved his keys from his pocket. The old thing could at least lock and unlock with one of those wireless key things. Probably the first one they ever made. He opened the door and threw everything into the back, only taking care with the flowers.
Continue reading →