The Ghost


(Talia)
I dreamt of you last night. It must be because your birthday’s coming up, I must’ve seen your name on the calendar by the fridge.
In my dream it was so cold. I turned on the electric blanket and pulled the covers around me tightly, but I was still shivering. So I got up and went to the window, and saw the curtains were moving. I pulled them aside and, in the moonlight, realised the pane was smashed. But I wasn’t scared of intruders – in the dream I felt quite safe. I stuck my head out to see, but there was no one there. Then, I don’t know why, I pulled my head back in and thrust my arm into the night air instead, and you grabbed my wrist.
Your skin was ice-cold and I jerked back, but you didn’t let go. Your arm got sliced by the broken pane and there was blood everywhere.
That’s when I woke up with a jolt, my eyes and nose running. Because it’s not your birthday coming up – it would have been your birthday. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, three years ago. If I hadn’t … If you hadn’t …
I reach for a tissue, wipe my face, and try to go back to sleep.

(Therese)
But sleep comes hard. When it does it is filled with the black hole of my memories and sometimes I feel as if I will be drawn so far into that horror I will be crushed to a point of nonexistence and never be seen again. When I do sleep it’s from exhaustion or because of the whiskey I douse myself with.
I have sought help with the dreams and waking flashbacks and everyone is so understanding. If I could feel guilt I would, but since I’ve never felt emotions much, unless they’re ego-driven, I don’t have to deal with that.
The doctors and friends think I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of what they believe I saw happen to you. I’m not about to explain that it comes from what I did to you in a fit of rage, when you questioned my authority and my background. Why you had to start digging is beyond me, first verbally and then with a pick and shovel. Everyone else thinks the sun shines out of my backside and so did you. I let you get too close to me and I actually began to like you in a strange way. That was my mistake.

(Ian)
On Everest there is no room for negotiation and the further you climb the more dangerous it becomes, for everyone. I let you get too close to me and it swayed my judgment. I abandoned all my hard-won, frost-born sense and experience, all because I needed you. This experience would weld our lives together. Well I am welded to you know for as long as I live and my heart dangles, withered and cold, at the end of its own rope. In the void of a life that is empty.
When I called the order to turn around, to declare this year’s attempt a failure, we should have gone back. You might have left me, but I would know you still lived, even if I would be alone.
The first problems with your kit were a sign that you had a lot of unseen faults. When the first problems arose, your look of disappointment and your questioning of my competence convinced me there might be a chance, if everything else when right.
But it didn’t go right, the climbers ahead slowed us and the window in the weather was closing. My eagerness to see you succeed almost killed us all. You were the only casualty and what no one else knows is I had to cut you loose to save them all. I listened to the evil, logical voice, telling me I was responsible for protecting the others. I made the inescapable choice and cut away half of my life and I will never let it heal.

(Julie)
I loved you so much, so damned much and in the end that’s what killed you. That and my own selfishness.
You were so delicate. I loved the way that, when we went to parties, you could tuck your head under my chin, even in your heels. It made me feel strong, powerful, and I loved that you looked to me to protect you.
But I didn’t, did I? In an effort to spare your feelings, and my own selfish need to avoid the hurt in your eyes, I told you that you were ready.
And you weren’t.
So instead of hurting you a little, you lay dead under the snow on the mountain I loved almost as much as you.
Even at the very end, when you dangled from a cliff face, you begged me to bring you home.
I could have, you know … that’s the truth. I could have pulled you back up. But the twelve other climbers needed me, too. They needed me to be strong, to make the decisions, to get them off the mountain and back home. So I made the choice.

(Janine)
I wake suddenly. Sitting upright on the bed, the cold night air flutters around the curtains and chills the tears on my cheek. I become aware of your presence beside my bed and, reaching out, I want to grasp your cold hand again. I want to bring you back from the precipice of death. But you pull away, shaking your head. And I hear your voice again, echoing as it did on the mountain.
“It’s ok. I understand why you made that decision. I forgive you.”
I feel a memory of your caress on my face and suddenly you’re gone. I sleep undisturbed by my memories and in the morning there is only the broken window pane and a damp patch on the carpet to remind me of your visit.

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A New Love


(Janine)
Simon adjusted his tie for the fifth time and checked his watch again. He was beginning to wonder if it was a good idea to arrange to meet his friend here in the local bar. He was new to this online dating business and although he hadn’t told anyone about tonight’s assignation, he knew that meeting in a public place was the safest thing to do. If things didn’t work out he could just stay for a drink and make his excuses. If, on the other hand, there was some chemistry happening, they could stay for a meal and see how things developed.
The glass doors opened and the cool night air disturbed the napkins on his table. He glanced up and saw that his date had arrived. He swallowed the lump in his throat and rose to his feet to greet his new friend.

(Talia)
She was … beautiful. Or maybe “ethereal” was a better word.
The first thing he noticed was her large, black eyes. She had a heart-shaped face and her skin was so pale, it was almost translucent. Her long hair flowed over a long, gauzy dress, and both of these blew in the breeze like the curtains of the bar. In fact, it almost seemed like she was blowing in on the wind. Certainly her feet didn’t touch the ground.
She glided to the table.
“Hello,” Simon gulped.
“Hello,” she sighed.
“A-are you … um …”
“Yes, I’m Ophelia.”
“Right, of course.” Simon tugged his collar. “And I’m, I’m Simon.” He thrust out a clammy hand.
She took it, smiling, and he was shocked by how cold her hand was. Mind you, that dress really was quite flimsy, given it was winter.
First he squeezed her hand. Then he thought he might be hurting her, and relaxed it. Then he kicked himself for being so unchivalrous, and bent to kiss it.
As his lips touched her skin, he was aware of a strange scent. He looked up. Her perfume was fresh and cool, but there was more to it than that. Not salty … not fishy … what was it? Then it clicked. She smelt faintly of algae.
They both sat, Simon watching her intently, Ophelia gazing into the distance. She was smiling faintly, as if remembering something pleasant.
It was up to him to break the ice. What did you say to women on the first date? Hobbies, that was it. He wracked his brains for something she’d mentioned in her profile.
“So, uh, what do you like to do on the weekends? You said you go swimming?”
Ophelia laughed, a dainty little sound, and something flickered in her mouth. He squinted at her.
She blushed and coughed into her hand. She raised her napkin to her mouth, then scrunched it up and put it on her lap.
They were saved from awkwardness by the appearance of a waiter, asking if they’d like any drinks. Whilst Ophelia glanced at the menu, Simon took a peek at her lap. There was something moving in her napkin. Hang about, was that a minnow?

(Therese)
A feeling of unease and yes, repulsion ran through Simon in waves. As beautiful as she was there was something positively reptilian about her and that algae smell seemed to grow. Her skin seemed to be at once beaded with light, but then it would be normal. Once, as he looked at her from the corner if his eye, it appeared her pupils were like slits rather than round. But when he turned to face he they were normal again.
Ever the charmer, Simon said, “I’m drinking Tooheys Draft. What’s your poison?”

(Julie)
“Just water, please” she replied easily.
Simon reached for the jug on the table and poured, wishing he could simply ignore the rising sense of unease. She really was quite beautiful if he just … didn’t look too hard. As he lifted the menu, he caught her surreptitiously adding a good handful of salt from a small bowl on the table to her glass and swirling it gently as if playing with her drink.
“So Simon, tell me about what you do on your time off. Do you have …” she paused as if considering her next words, “… family?”
“No … no I don’t.” She would have known that if she’d read his bio online. It was almost as if she were checking facts. “You?”
“No. My family died a long time ago.” She looked blankly into the distance as if remembering happier times. “Do you … date often?”
“Not very, I’m new to the area … really don’t know many people yet.”
“Good,” she said. “Very good.”
(Ian)
Ophelia gently placed her glass on the table and, continuing the fluid forward motion, leant across the table. She invaded his personal space, her cool breath gently caressing his ear.
This intimacy caused his ear to warm, as traitorous thoughts danced through his mind. She hesitated, then exhaled a question.
“Would you mind taking a walk in the moonlight, down to the beach? The sound of the waves always improves my appetite.”
Without waiting for an answer, she placed her hand over his, in a gesture both possessive and enticing. Simon was stunned and, before he could organise a useful thought, she drew him up with her. Now they were both standing it seemed foolish to sit back down. Instead, he followed her through the glass doors to the boardwalk behind the restaurant.
Without a word, they walked down to the beach, leaving the lights of the restaurant behind. The waves thundered, with only the breaking crests outlining the dark water beyond. She turned and, catching him by surprise, kissed him deeply. Between them the kiss was complete: her mouth like ice and his like fire. Her silky hand rested at the nape of his neck, and his wound themselves around her back. Time held its breath. Then the crash of a wave woke them to how closely they were holding each other.
Ophelia stepped away and turned her back to him. She glowed in the moonlight, swayed, and retreated into the darkness. He felt drawn towards the barely-visible shoreline. She embraced him again and whispered, “Awake, my prince.”
In the morning, neatly-folded suit was found on the beach.

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Seacat


(Ian)

            Catalane – Seacat as she was known to her crew – peered across the murky, twilit sea to the horizon. She scanned for a white speck of a sail. Her jaw was clenched in frustration and her black tresses stuck to her like a wet blanket in the still, Caribbean humidity. A headache was beginning, which was just a cherry on top of the primal scream she was keeping locked in her heart. She was starting to think it was a waste, the large sums of money spent and less than ladylike information-gathering tactics used to track any sightings of Spanish treasure galleons. She was not looking to take a treasure ship, although it was a hefty prize her crew would celebrate, while also silencing some of the murderous murmurings below decks about her current obsession. She was hunting bigger game, by tracking their route to its origin: the Spanish silver mines. A prize so rich that no known pirate had even thought to dare.

 

(Julie)

            El Dorado … it was a whispered dream, a myth, a lost legend. Since she’d first overheard a careless remark in the port of Andalusia, the dream had taken hold. Singing its siren song across the waves, and drawing her toward the golden promise of fame and riches. Her crew, became increasingly rebellious as days became weeks, became months. And still no signs, no additional hints that the long months of profit-less sailing would soon pay dividends. See could see the wrath in their eyes, the doubt in the set of every sailor’s shoulders, and she knew. Trouble was coming … and soon

 

(Janine)

            There was a shout from the crow’s nest high atop the main mast.

            ”Look, Captain! Over on the horizon!”

            Seacat shaded her eyes from the relentless sun. She spotted the glowing light that rapidly approached her ship. It drew nearer and circled the mainsail. Shards of golden dust shimmered in the air before dropping down to coat the deck with a sparkling light.

            The glow settled on the jib and she saw the golden phoenix shake its tail feathers. She gasped as its glowing, red eyes fixed on her astonished face. This was the sign she had hoped to find. The Phoenix would lead her to her goal but she knew it would demand the ultimate sacrifice.

 

(Talia)

            The sailors had turned into a bunch of gibbering ninnies, falling on their faces and snivelling. No sense of poise, that was their problem.

            Catalane stood proud before the phoenix, and they eyed each other coldly.

            “Well?” she demanded. “What do you want?”

            From the corner of her eye, she saw Felix sneaking up behind it.

            “You are trespassing in the Golden Waters,” it rasped.

            “What of it?”

            “Nothing comes for free, pirate.”

            “As well I know,” she replied. “But tell me, what will you pay for enjoying the hospitality of my ship?”

            With that, Felix sprang, catching the phoenix in a canvas bag.

            There was an almighty shriek, and Catalane fell back. Felix rose in the air, hanging on to the bag, which burst into flame. Felix plummeted into the sea, and the phoenix swooped away, leaving nothing but the sound of its cry.

            Catalane got to her feet and adjusted her hat. “Fish him out!” she shouted to her crew, huddling on the far end of the ship.

            She stalked to the prow and gazed after the phoenix, eyes narrowed.

            So thats how you want it? She thought to herself. Youre a fool if you think youll get the better of me. Make no mistake, bird: you and all your kind in El Dorado will fall at my feet.

(Therese)

            The small ship followed as swiftly as the winds allowed. The golden trail of light left by the Phoenix went towards the west. They almost lost the trail at sunset when an even brighter golden light outshone it. But as darkness descended they picked it up again.

            In the first light the cry of “Land Ahoy” brought the Pirate up onto the deck. Before her was land, but what a land – looking as if the mountains and valleys were sculptured in gold.

            “Ha! Phoenix! It’ll all be mine. The crew cheered and broke open the rum to celebrate. Holding her glass to the light she said “I will be the Queen of the world” And the men saluted with her, seeing riches unknown.

            As the ship entered the bay it became very hot. She didn’t notice the cries of terror and then of pain of the crew as the ship began to explode in flames. Catalene’s last sight on earth was of a graveyard of burnt out ships littler with charred skeletons.

            The Phoenix in their thousands erupted as if a volcano and swooped above the island in joy.

 

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Heart to Heart


(Therese)
Down through the black square.
“I’ll hit the bottom this time,” she said inside her head. Her skin prickled in a cold-hot flush. She jumped, and started breathing.
She was sitting in the evening cool. She was a small, dumpy old lady ensconced in a battered cane chair. She rubbed stubby old hands across pale, blue eyes … eyes the colour of distance. Gruffly she wiped the tears away.
“Is that all that’ll happen? Do I just go to sleep and nothing?” She spoke out loud to no one, to everyone. Her raspy cry cut  through the moist, evening air.
There was a rare moment of total stillness and the world stopped for the moment as if to think about the old lady’s question. Her heart flopped it its own, mad rhythm, reminding her loudly, “Nah! You won’t get out of it that easily. I’m going to be darn sure to wake you up first, after all the trouble you’ve given me over the years.”
The huge heart flopped about some more and said, “You don’t want to go unprepared and wander round like a wisp, scaring everyone, do you? You can rely on me to do that last service. I’ll make sure you get the big ‘whammo’ so you’re wide awake. Why miss the biggest ride of your life?”
The old heart resumed its frantic rhythm.
Mrs  McGillicuddy looked at her chest in astonishment.
“My heart talks! Wonder when it learnt to do that? Hm? I need a bloody big drink.”

 (Julie)
“Don’t speak too soon, you overgrown muscle. If anyone is taking her out, it’ll be me,” sneered the brain. “A quick stroke and, ‘pop,’ off she’ll go like a blown lightbulb. Time it right and she’ll be dead before she hits the floor.”
Her heart considered for a moment. After years of providing the ever present lub-dub soundtrack of her life, perhaps it was only fair to allow the quiet achiever of the body the last hurrah of a dramatic exit.
“But will she be happy without the gripping, thundering pain of her last moments? The chance for one last regretful thought about chances squandered? It seems … wasteful.”
“I can’t believe you two are giving up”, shouted her lungs. “Ten years of smoking, but I’m still pumping away, in and out without a grumble. You should both be ashamed of yourselves.”

(Ian)
This tasteless discussion started by the heart, brain and lungs opened a floodgate. Each and every organ weighed in, bleating their own litany, trying to spruik why they alone were the most dedicated or essential to quality of life or even absolutely fundamental in the continuing of the collective’s existence.
The soul listened to the cacophony and reflected sadly how they had all once worked together seamlessly, like a beautiful, golden haired watch. The soft rhythm set by the heart, the boundless endurance provided by the lungs the crystal clear hopefulness of purpose woven by the brain. She inhabited and was the silent director of this now dysfunctional rabble.
She had a plan to bring harmony to this self focused, co-dependent collective, but she was going to enlist some outside help.

(Janine)
The opportunity came from an unexpected quarter. Mrs McGillicuddy had a visit from the council welfare officer, who sniffed and coughed the whole time she was in the house. The attack started quietly and insidiously, Mrs McGillicuddy woke the next morning with a dull headache and a sore throat. As the day progressed, all her joints ached and her temperature climbed. There was nothing she could do, apart from take a couple of Panadol and tuck herself in bed.
The virus rapidly attacked the delicate tissues of her lungs, invaded the life-giving cells and sought out the strands of DNA which would sustain its short life. As it over powered the cells they would rupture, sending more and more copies of the virus to other parts of her body.
She struggled to breathe and coughed incessantly. Her heart struggled to cope with the extra load that had been imposed on her aging body. The brain became dull and clouded as her temperature soared. Rigors shook her body and she lay drenched in her own sweat, moaning for relief. The Soul decided it was time to call in the army and summoned the immune system for a rapid response.

(Talia)
But even this gallant effort was too little, too late. The years of smoking conspired against her and, as the sun set on that long afternoon, she gave a last, tired rasp.
The funeral directors did wonders with her. New techniques and make-up technology took fifteen years off her corpse. She was given an open coffin at the funeral, and people were amazed.
One of those people – the partner of the late Mrs McGillicuddy’s granddaughter’s best friend – was an up-and-coming manager for Morgan and Pearce market research. And he knew an opportunity when he saw one.
Within a year, he’d been promoted, and Afterlife Cosmetics was a hit. With permission from her relatives, Mrs McGillicuddy became the poster girl for “Death-defying beauty,” and her body considered too important to be allowed to rot in the ground. She was preserved, improved, and won second place on Scotland’s Next Top Model.
So, gentle readers, let this tale of woe be a lesson to you all: smoking may have further reaching consequences than you thought. As does having a family with no sense of propriety.

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Under


(Ian) It’s amazing how the extraordinary can become ordinary with the right training. Here I am, 30 metres under water and it seems perfectly normal. Breathing in slow, relaxed breaths through the regulator is now an unconscious reflex and the pressure of the suit is as familiar as my work clothes. The bite of the cold water around the gloves and mask are the only reminder that his is not my habitat, that I’m just a visitor. A single fault in my scuba and I will be sucking water, not air, through my regulator. The training quiets that voice and the quiet of my mind my fills the watery space surrounding me. I float effortlessly in the deep green water above the prow of a galleon, like an angel guiding this doomed wreck back from its forgotten place in history and into the light.

(Julie) I am alone, yet not. All divers take a buddy, providing a modicum of safety in this foreign environment. I glance to where my partner hangs in the darkness, seemingly tethered by a string. Legs slowly scissoring in the water, she waves and points to the wreck, motioning that we should descend and explore. Together we investigate this kindred spirit from the world above, now doomed to spend its days drowned in a foreign land without guiding hands to bring it to life.

(Talia) As I move around the prow, something flickers in the sand, and I see it: an electric ray. I hang in the water, watching it, making out its rounded shape, so well-camouflaged. This could be my chance. Gwen and I are alone. No witnesses.
    I move back into her line of sight and beckon, and she comes closer. I have to time it carefully. One shove, one blunder and the ray will strike. An awful accident that neither of us could have foreseen … and I’ll be free.

(Therese) “Oh Shit! How could I have known?”
    His lifeless body drifted loosely to the surface. His soul hovered in shock and confusion.
    “I think I’m dead. I look pretty dead down there … and there’s Gwen, paddling away. I think I heard her laughing. Gwen killed me. Unbelievable!”
    His consciousness blipped off and was gone. Gwen — stolid, predictable, plain and quiet — paddled clumsily away to the shore, free at last.
    “Help! Help! He’s dead … a ray … he’s dead.”

(Janine) Suddenly there is a flurry of activity. The rescue boat roars towards my lifeless body and two men lean over and drag my limp body into the boat. They pull off the mask and start thumping my chest. I am suddenly aware of a presence beside me.
    He whispers, “You must go back. Don’t let her win. Don’t blame the Ray.”
    I leave the warmth of the light behind me and I am drawn downwards towards the body shuddering on the boat. With a gasp, I’m back. As I struggle to suck deep lungfuls of fresh air into my aching body, I hear a scream from the shore. Oh my God, the Ray’s got Gwen.

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March Writing Meeting


The next writing meeting is on: 22nd March at 10:00 am at Janine’s House
Agenda:

  1. Chat to catch up.
  2. A five minute writing exercise. (This will be on a popularly voted randomly selected/suggested, writing prompt).
  3. Readout our creations for the monthly writing prompt.

The Prompt: (Indian whispers Stories)

Each person to write an introductory paragraph. Send this to Talia for distribution and each writer will add to the story with their own paragraph. 

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Lucy’s Trip


Lucy found Departure lounge 23 located at the far end of the airport terminal. She manipulated her way through the gathering throng of passengers, stepping around overstuffed bags, avoiding the whining children and their harassed parents, exchanged resigned glances with a few seasoned travelers and finally found some vacant seats in a far corner. Lucy flung her battered backpack on a chair before retrieving her phone and earplugs. She started the music and with a deep sigh, closed her eyes. She hoped this trip would not be as adventurous as the last one!

(Janine)

 

Someone stood over her and she sat up, pulling an earplug out.

“Mina! What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same question,” Wilhelmina said, raising a dark eyebrow. “Do you know I’ve been looking for you everywhere?”

Lucy glanced around, nervous. Could anyone hear her heart pounding, her breath coming quicker?

“Where is it this time?” Mina asked. “Mongolia? Chad?”

“Barbados,” Lucy mumbled.

“When will you learn,” Mina pulled Lucy to her feet, “that it doesn’t matter where you go?”

Mina took Lucy in her arms, crushed her with a kiss, and Lucy melted. It didn’t matter who saw.

They looked into each other’s eyes, and Lucy saw anger and passion mixed in Mina’s face.

“I’ll always find you,” Mina hissed.

Lucy made a half-hearted show of wriggling free, and Mina released her with a sigh.

“Just tell me one thing,” Mina said. “Why do you run from me?”

 (Talia)

 

“She has to ask,” Lucy thought to herself. Lucy had always attracted nutters. Her family had always warned her to not make eye contact with strangers – it had gotten her into all sorts of trouble over the years. Mina was a real nutter, wealthy and beautiful but mad as a cut snake and Lisa knew this from person experience. Frankly the farther away from Mina the better .

Mina belonged to the smelly, hairy armpit brigade that the locals in Wauchope used to snigger about. They were the Mountain women who lived on a Commune west of Wauchope in the hills, miles from anywhere – Sort of a Cult and Mina made the rules. One rule was that all boys in the commune were to be ejected when they hit twelve.

It was this rule that forced Lucy to get out late one cold evening with her young son. Lucy didn’t run just from Mina the woman she had once loved, and who’s beauty could still stir her – she fled from Mina, the psychopath who’s graceful movements reminded her of a Cobra ready to strike.

      (Therese)

 

“What you’re doing is wrong Mina, you know it is.”

“What we are doing is preserving the purity of womankind Lucy. You know that.”

“What I know is that you treat men as objects to be used. Little more than breeding cattle and certainly no better that the way you claim men treat us. I won’t be a part of it anymore.”

 

“It’s because of that boy-child you insisted on keeping, isn’t it?” Mina almost spat the words, derision in her tone and something skin to disgust, “I knew we should have taken it from you.”

“You’d have had to kill me, and you knew it. What stopped you Mina? What stopped you from killing us both?”

“We don’t kill women Lucy. We’re not animals.”

Lucy looked at the woman standing before her. She was mad, that much was clear but she no longer cared whether Lucy got the help she needed, or just got arrested. That’s why, when she’d left the compound this time, she’d made plans. This would be finished….once and for all.

(Julie)

 

Mina’s predictability was what had given her the opportunity. She need to crow about how clever she was that this Airport ruse was just too attractive an opportunity for her to show off. Lucy reached into her handbag and keeping it concealed in her palm removed the neurotoxin patch. Reaching over she grasped Mina by the arm. It was almost instantaneous, Mina stiffened and Lucy guided her to a seat and threw her coat over her like she was cold. With a signal Jack came over with the wheel chair and they worked Mina into the chair with a smoke screen of comments to placate the nearby passengers. Come on mother it’s time to go, and go they did. So next time you hear a person being last called for a plane they may have had other plans all along. 

(Ian)

 

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