I’m Back… like a Bat out of Hell you might say ;-)

This is what happens when I watch something amazing.

The first time I experience it, I am blown away. So I watch it a second time. I say ‘guys, guys, have you seen this thing?’ and I obsess a little. I google, I tweet, I find my online people and I obsess a lot more. I tell every person that I have ever met in my life and a lot of people I haven’t just how absolutely amazing this thing is and how oh my gosh, everyone should experience it for themselves. And then I get sad.

I get sad because how could I ever create something that powerful myself? I mean really, what’s even the point? It took even the great Jim Steinman himself 40 years to get his dream onstage. What chance do I have?

Then, if I’m very lucky, I manage to tell myself to just shut up already and quit whining. Because if you don’t try, how will you ever know?’

Easier said than done, but so it was with Bat Out of Hell The Musical.

Strat

Andrew Polec killing it as Strat

Given my sudden burst of motivation and decision to screw it all and actually follow my dreams, I thought it appropriate that the my first post in two years (whut?) would be about the show that woke me out of my fatalistic stupor. Now, if there’s any musical that will wake you up, it will be Bat because, well quite frankly it’s very loud. It’s also mad as hell (excuse the pun.) You’ve got pyro, exploding motorbikes, live camera feeds, blood, confetti (the curse of Front of House staff everywhere) and THAT CAST. I could probably talk for hours about the talent of the band, stage crew, LX folk, wardrobe, dancers, the camerawoman who must have guns of steel by now, and every person and every department who helped to bring this insane show to the stage.

However, given this is a website dedicated to my writing, I should probably just stick to the story. And possibly a little bit of gushing about the cast because, well #fangirl.

Strat and Raven - bike
Me getting ready for a night out. Or Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington.

Now the thing is, it’s a very classic story. That’s not to say that it isn’t gripping or imaginative, but when you take away the dystopian future, unhinged dictator (or ‘misunderstood’ depending on your Rob Fowler crush level) and mutant teenagers who never age, it’s simply a story about love. This is pretty fitting when you consider Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman to be the biggest hopeless romantics in rock.

I adore their albums. Their music is possibly the first I ever fell in love with, fascinated as I was by the vivid album covers in my dad’s music collection and the power in which Meat Loaf’s voice grips you from the first note. What separates the Bat Out Of Hell albums from all the other love songs out there is that they are so very real and mundane in the best sort of way. They are love stories without the sentimentality. There’s no unrealistic fairytale romance here. The women in these songs are fierce, unreasonable, understanding, vulnerable, confident, passionate. They are real women and Meat Loaf sings of how loving them can be hard and heartbreaking, but always worth it.

I think these songs did their part to shape me as a child when I sung away loudly while my dad worked or when I danced with my oldest friend making a chocolatey cake-y mess in the kitchen. They taught those little girls that there is no place for shyness in a relationship. Love is tough and confidence is sexy.

“Some days it don’t come easy
Some days it don’t come hard
Some days it don’t come at all, and these are the days that never end”

I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)

Strat and Raven

The star-crossed lovers, Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington as Strat and Raven.

This is what I love about the musical, too. The story follows Strat and Raven, two 18 year-olds (though one who has been that for a while now) falling in love in a Romeo & Juliet star-crossed lovers way. She’s trapped in her tower, he’s from the underworld and together they save each other from a lonely and unfulfilling life. This juxtaposes with Falco and Sloan, the parents of Raven who look at each other after 18 years and wonder who they both are after all this time, and whether or not they still have a life together.

It is this narrative (and the beautiful chemistry between Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler who play the couple) which keeps drawing me back. It is heartbreaking to watch the gradual implosion of a marriage while the couple witness their daughter falling in love for the first time. Sloane looks on with envy but with the determination that her daughter should achieve the life she never had, whereas Falco watches with fear, causing him to lock Raven away in a father’s overzealous protectiveness, desperate as he is for things to remain the way they were but merely pushing the two women in his life further away.

There is no doubt that this rings familiar to anyone who has been touched by divorce. When you have spent half your lives together, do you know who you are? Do you like the person you have become? The person your partner has become? Can love last a lifetime? One of my biggest fears is losing myself when drowned in a relationship that is bigger than the both of you so I watch eagerly as the actors play their roles with equal parts humour and heartbreak with the songs “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”, “What Part Of My Body Hurts The Most?” and “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.” Each one blows you away with the raw emotion of the talented pair, not to mention some kickass staging.

Falco and Sloane

The wonderful Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler in their roles as Sloane and Falco

So is it possible to spend your life with another person, to still love them, and yourself, after all the heartbreak? Well you’ll just have to watch it for yourself, but in Jim Steinman songs, love is not just for the young, it’s just easier.

It is not just the leads that benefit from this character-driven script. The whole cast have repeatedly spoken about how they were involved in helping to create the characters they would play onstage. They added their own backstories, relationships, depth and detail. There is no generic “ensemble” under head shots in the programme; each and every character has a name, their own unique costume and motivation. It is this extra detail that paralyses you as an audience member with the sheer amount of stuff happening on the London Coliseum stage. You could watch the show a hundred times and always see something new, purely because of the silent stories the ensemble act out between each other. Just watch this clip with actors Georgia Carling and Patrick Sullivan talk about how they have made a throwaway prop so meaningful, and a little morbid. Maybe it’s a little bit of fun, but I can’t think of many musicals out there that allow their actors such freedom.

And you know what, when I watched the show again after seeing that YouTube video, I noticed the desperate way Valkyrie (Georgia) threw herself into Blake’s (Patrick) arms after “Objects in the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” and I choked up a little bit. There is so much to this production and so much character.

Strat and ensemble

The epic cast, including Danielle Steers, Dom Hartley-Harris, Giovanni Spanó to name a few.

Bat has helped remind me that your characters lead the story, not the other way around, and it has taught me that you don’t need to create Inception to write something special, it can be as classic as Romeo & Juliet, or Peter Pan and be a hundred times more meaningful. I am very grateful for this show, and for being the catalyst that led me to pick up my fountain pen again.

Go see this show while you can guys. It finishes on Tuesday 22 August before it heads to Toronto. If the above hasn’t convinced you of its worth, simply know that every time I walk in the auditorium doors, I walk out happy.

batoutofhellmusical.com
@BatTheMusical
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That chocolatey mess I told you about, here dressed as Meat Loaf on our first Trip to see Bat Out Of Hell. Abi, me and the lovely Charlotte.

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#housematesfromhell – Introductions

Now I know it’s been a long time since I have posted on here and I blame that almost entirely on the fact that I built an obstacle course of easels, paints and laundry blocking my desk and laptop from use for about two months. That, along with binge-watching Farscape and a renewed Harry Potter obsession of course.

I come to you now because the flocks from Facebook have called for an extension of my #housematesfromhell saga on social media that has brought such gems as:

Gollum

Steps

 

Now before I go on, let me be clear that I do not actually have the housemates from hell. They don’t have all-night parties, bring hookers into the building or sell drugs (the drug dealing housemate moved out at least a year ago but he was a very middle class drug dealer who got all his drugs from working at the hospital) so it could be much worse. No, what my housemates are, is weird. Now as a weird, anti-social sort of person myself, that really is saying a lot.

Let’s go through the culprits.

  1. “Minnie Mouse” – named not really for anything she did, but more after the pyjamas I always seem to be wearing during our encounters. She started out as a nice, middle-aged Christian lady who always asked how my day was, knocked on my door constantly with an ancient laptop to be fixed or to tell me the precise minute my alarm went off in the morning. A woman who literally cannot change a lightbulb on her own, she often sits in her room in the pitch black humming to herself.
  2. “Fridge-wine” – the new housemate. Currently the first to be on my Death Note if a shinigami were to drop one from the sky as he somehow managed to cancel the wi-fi account in my name (thanks for that EE btw).
  3. “Power Ballad Dave” –  the very nice if traditionally a little “right-winged” handyman who lives upstairs and brings the soundtrack to all our adventures. This is primarily a mix of 80s power ballads, the Steps “Gold: Greatest Hits” album and “I Will Survive”.
  4. Tom, the only sensible one of the lot of them who hides in his room playing video games. Sometimes you see the evidence of his existence the next morning with a discarded ready meal or Rustlers packet on the side. I envy his anonymity.
  5. One ominously empty room

It all started when the new guy moved in and I discovered this in the fridge one morning next to my milk:

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Sainsbury’s “house” wine. Red wine. In the fridge. TOUCHING MY MILK.

You don’t need to be middle-class to shudder from the horror of that. This was followed by stuff like this…

Just buy a fucking saucepan

Just buy a fucking saucepan with a lid already

…and coming home one day at midnight to find him squatting under the stairs blinking at me while clutching a very tiny towel around his waist.

anigif_enhanced-buzz-4786-1355518306-2

WTF

 

If I disappear again, I’ve probably been eaten.

Gollum time's up

Next Megan Chapter is Here

New chapter up. Another nice and creepy Megan one this time. More to come soon.  

Megan tried very hard to ignore the voice.

She knew she was being rude but she carried on walking, feeling the guilt niggle at her stomach with every step. He was her only friend after all. Her best friend. Even if he was a monster.

But she could feel her sister’s eyes following her. For weeks now, Rachel had stared at her with an intensity Megan didn’t understand. Ever since she had shown her sister the drawings of her monster, Rachel had followed her around constantly, sometimes materialising into her room so suddenly it was as if she had a secret store of fairy dust.

Usually Megan would have loved to spend so much time with her sister, but she had the feeling Rachel was only there to see the monster again, not her. She’d started locking her bedroom door, even when Daddy was away. Rachel didn’t like that, but then again, she didn’t ask her friend to come back and take the locks away.

Her monster was getting annoyed now. Megan wanted to run, but Rachel was still watching her. If she ran across the road, Rachel would have an excuse to make her stay inside. She was surprised when Rachel had let her go out alone, but judging by the angry silence at breakfast, she probably didn’t want Megan to hear the argument that was obviously about to happen. Megan wasn’t stupid.

She’d known how to get out of the house, even if her monster hadn’t whispered it to her. The tantrum she’d thrown over her cereal had made her mum so angry she’d yelled at the girl to get out of the house. Happily skipping to the front door, Megan swept passed Rachel’s red face and thin lips.

She was about to cross the road when the headache started. A sharp pain squirmed behind her eyes so suddenly that Megan gasped out loud and flung her hands to her forehead before she could stop herself.

“Stop it!” She whispered harshly, hoping that no one was walking close enough to hear as the world had dimmed behind the flare of red that swept through her vision.

Her senses were suffocating her but she could still feel Rachel’s stares.

“Please!” Megan gasped again, “She’s watching. I’ll talk to you soon, I promise!”

The pain intensified for a moment, then snapped off, forcing Megan to stumble forward with the sudden release. Panting, Megan straightened up and tucked her hair behind her ears. There was no one around to see her stumble, though Megan couldn’t stop herself from glancing over her shoulder.

Rachel was still there, a concerned frown on her face and one foot out of the door. Megan forced a smile on her face and waved goodbye. Rachel’s frown lessened slightly and she closed the front door firmly behind her once Megan had successfully crossed the road and pushed the gate open to the park.

“That wasn’t very nice.” Megan sniffled as she walked under the metal frame that used to hold the swings that lay lonely and crumpled on the ground.

It was an accident. I was angry.

“Well it still wasn’t very nice.” Megan muttered to herself, knowing the playground would be deserted.

I’m sorry.

Cheering up a little at her monster’s obvious contriteness, Megan crunched across the bark towards the climbing frame which had quickly become her favourite destination since she and her monster had discovered it two weeks before. They spent their mornings here when Mummy let them out to play. They usually had the whole playground to themselves before the teenagers who lived across the road came to lounge across the bench with their clinking plastic carrier bags.

Avoiding the hiding place on the ground level, Megan swiftly ran up the slide, her trainers squeaking against the metal. She liked to do things backwards.

Tucked in the wooden construction was a little room with a small table and bench. Humming to herself, Megan carefully put down her backpack onto the table and fished in it for her crayons.

“What should we make today?” Megan asked, happier now that she was hidden from view.

Something different. Something to stop her from watching you.

Megan frowned, “What do you mean?”

That nosey girl. Let’s make something to stop her from prying.

“You mean Rachel? She’s just making sure I’m okay.” Megan muttered uncertainly.

You are okay. You have me.

Megan bit her lip and stared at the walls covered from floor to ceiling in crayon. She’d ran out of her favourite colours long ago and had to move on to the yucky ones. She’d asked for new ones but Mummy had told her off, thinking she must have lost them. That was before her monster had shown her how to hide things inside her cardigan at the newsagent around the corner. She picked a new blue crayon, it’s shape smooth and perfect.

“I know, but she doesn’t know that.”

Well let’s make it so she never finds out.

Megan frowned as she listened to her monster. He had a point, but Rachel looked after her. She didn’t mean to be annoying. Her hand aimlessly christened the crayon on the table by drawing fangs and tails on the stick figure children she had drawn the day before.

You shouldn’t do that.

Megan ignored him and kept on scribbling. She could only change little things, it wasn’t like the children would come in to school the next day with monkey tails and claws. That image cheered up her up immensely.

Don’t ignore me!

“What?” Megan huffed sulkily.

Draw Rachel.

“Fine.” Megan snapped, “but I’m not going to be mean.”

Almost without thinking, crayons appeared in Megan’s hand and Rachel slowly started to materialise on the remaining space on the table. Her tongue poked out in concentration, she didn’t hear the gate of the park squeak open again.

“There.” Megan announced happily once Rachel was finished, complete in her yellow dress. She was getting better at people.

Her smile disappeared instantly when black lines started to materialise from Rachel’s feet.

“Stop it!” Megan cried as her sister disappeared behind prison bars. This time it was her monster’s turn to ignore her. Rachel’s flat blue eyes stared mournfully at the little girl with the crayon in her hand. “I said stop it! Now!”

This time he did, though it was too late for the two dimensional Rachel. She stood lonely and trapped behind the prison bars, staring mournfully at Megan.

“Turn her back!” Megan ordered.

No.

“Do it!”

She’s not hurt. She just won’t bother us like this now.

“She’d n-”

Shh!

“Don’t shush me!” Megan huffed grumpily.

No. Someone’s coming!

Megan looked up. Her monster was right. She could hear voices outside and the telltale sound of feet clambering up the ladder.

She could run and make it to the slide before they made it to the top but Megan found herself scratching her crayon on the table again while her monster’s attention was directed outside. Scribbling a key into Rachel’s hand quickly, Megan could have sworn that the little image winked at her.

Delighted at her mischief, Megan felt the monster turn back to her and quickly shoved the crayon into her pocket.

Quick!

But it was too late. The smile instantly dropped when she saw who had climbed into her hiding place. Two girls blocked her path out.

“Umm, you’ve drawn over everything!” Nadia gasped in false shock.

“No I haven’t,” Megan muttered, hoping the girls wouldn’t recognise their likeness in some of the drawings, even with the extra animal features.

“You’re going to get in so much trouble!” Nadia drawled. Her sister simply glared at Megan in silence.

“It wasn’t me!” Megan lied.

“Yes it was. You know what they do to dirty people like you who graffiti things? The police will take you away.”

Megan gripped her backpack to her chest.

“No they won’t.” She muttered quietly.

“They will. And they put you in a grubby little cell with no windows and you won’t see your family ever again!”

Her eyes flicked to the drawing of her sister trapped behind bars and bit her lip. She backed against the wall, desperately wishing that her monster real. Not just in her head but in the real world so he could fight them and then run away with her. She felt his presence like a hug. His concern pressed against her and she knew he wished it too. “Leave me alone!”

“I bet they’d be so happy to see you go. I bet they can’t wait!” Nadia laughed.

Megan felt the tears building inside her but knew she was too scared to really cry. The girls stepped forward, their lips twisting into smiles, knowing Megan had nowhere to go.

Run!

Megan pressed herself against the wall, instantly sorry for snapping at the monster before. If only he could protect her.

Megan, run!

“Where?” she begged in her head.

There!

Then her feet were moving before she realised it. She slammed into the two girls and knocked them backwards. Twisting on the spot she made a dive to the left and the slide to freedom but one of them had grabbed her hair.

Megan screamed.

Kicking as hard as she could, she knew the monster was with her. She could feel his terror and panic as forcefully as her own but she could also feel his strength. Her foot hit something fleshy which squealed in pain and then they were free.

Throwing herself down the slide, she tumbled onto the ground painfully, tearing her tights and skinning her knee. She would get in trouble for that, she knew, but at that moment she didn’t care because she was running across the park and they couldn’t catch her because she was that quick.

We’ll need to find another hiding place.

The words were said with a resigned sigh but Megan could feel the anger and sorrow beneath them. She didn’t bother answering but continued to run.

So, what do you think? Is her monster good or bad? 

Say WHAT? A Chapter you say?

Whadup. Have a chapter. Have a cup of tea while you’re at it. Maybe a hobnob too (chocolate of course). Treat yourself. Life is good, the sun is shining and spring is on its way. What better way to entertain yourself this bright evening than immersing yourself in Nathan’s misery and poor relationship choices. 

If you’d like to have a recap about his journey so far, this is his previous chapter. Or if you’re new, then hello. 🙂 Check this literary extravaganza from the beginning of Her Sweet Graffiti Monster with the prologue

Nathan was drowning.

He knew he was because he’d drowned before. Seven years old and he had bounded to the beach, desperate to keep up with the elder cousins he idolised. It took twenty minutes for him to get into trouble while he watched the other boys slice surfboards into deeper and deeper waters.

It was only after he’d grown bored playing alone and tried to swim for the shore that he realised he wasn’t strong enough to escape the sea’s currents. Time after time he crawled up the pebbly beach only to be dragged back by the surf. Pebbles sliced across his hands and chest, dragging him under and sucking his small body further away from land. Panic consumed him with every breath of the ocean, every crescendo of the rocks as they hurtled down towards him, every wave that pummelled him below the writhing surface. His body was betraying him, his legs weak, lungs burning for air, desperate for light and space and land.

Now he was drowning again. Yet it wasn’t the sea that was crushing him, but the crowds he had been a part of just an hour before. The current swept through the mass of bodies swearing allegiance to the band conquering the stage. Wave after wave of limbs pulsed and pushed and pounded as the crowd obeyed the beat.

Bodies slammed into his chest this time, sweaty and exulted, thrusting into the earth. Nathan didn’t notice their rapture or scowls as he pushed through them with weakening arms. He saw nothing through his stinging eyes, heard nothing but the crack and crescendo of the beach hurtling towards his unprotected body.

Terror strengthened his aching limbs. His fear of the dark eyes that pursued him was enough to keep his body moving, keep running, keep going despite the fatigue dragging him under, and the pain that still flamed in his lungs with every gasp.
When he was seven, he had been saved by a stranger. A passer-by who had dragged him out of the sea’s clutching grasp to the horrified relief of his cousins. This time Kassie was his lifeline. Her small hand gripped his with an urgency that rooted him to the Earth when he wasn’t sure if he was alive or dreaming, running or standing still. Disconnected from everything around him, he focused what was left of his senses on that tight, cool grip.

Dimly, he was aware that Kassie was leading him to safety. Two, three, now four times, she’d darted suddenly to the side, swerving away from those pursuing eyes or ducking under a grasping hand moments before Nathan had even noticed them appear. He was convinced there wasn’t just one attacker, but an army. Again and again they materialised no matter how fast the couple ran. Each time Kassie skidded to a halt, pushing, shoving and screaming at Nathan to run the other way.

He followed blindly, not really knowing if half of the men he saw were genuine, or just phantoms haunting his bewildered mind. He felt unreal, his senses still clouded from oxygen deprivation and the dim, distant realisation that he had almost died.

Slowly, he began to notice that the waves battering him had begun to diminish. People stood close together but not close enough that the couple couldn’t weave between them instead of barging them out of the way. The crowd still moved with the beat but the fervour wasn’t as extreme here, the music losing its command at the edges of the crowd.

The promise of space, blessed breathable space brought an instant clarity to his vision and strength to his body. He ran with renewed desperation, gradually noticing the clawing ache of his muscles and the wheezing of his chest. His eyes locked onto a gap in the crowd with desperate relief. Finally, he could see the horizon of grubby outdoor toilets, parched grass and the huge archway in the distance that was their escape. As soon as he saw a chance at freedom, he knew what was to proceed it. Two identical men stepped calmly into the gap, staring at their targets through the long curtains of black hair obscuring their faces.

Something close to a sob escaped Nathan’s throat as he saw them. His legs tried to slow, ready to collapse on the ground where he was, cry out his last breath and let the things take him.

But Kassie didn’t stop.

As he started to slow, she squeezed his hand tighter until he was sure he heard the bones crunch. Her fearlessness twinged the last of Nathan’s remaining courage and he ran with her foolishly, charging towards their enemy together. The men made no move to defend themselves. They simply cocked their heads and watched baffled as their prey smashed into them, hurtling all four into the air. Only just managing to raise his hand in time to protect his face, Nathan slammed into the hard earth, his skin burning with the friction as he tumbled across the ground.

Around them, bystanders dived quickly out of the way with startled yells as the mess of bodies exploded suddenly into the dusty grass. Nathan didn’t notice their stares, nor the friction burns across his arms and knees. Instead he rolled over to embrace the sky he had never thought to see clearly again. It swept open and vivid above him, the intensity of the sunset finally succumbing to the dark blue of night. So suddenly still, he could almost feel the spin of the Earth beneath him as the skies stretched out and away.

He tilted his head to search for Kassie, not noticing the tears that were carving clear paths on his grubby skin, yet she was already scrambling to her feet, oblivious to the beauty of their escape. Then his eyes noticed the thing sprawled behind her, snapping and jerking with fury as it fought to find its feet.

Nathan rolled over quickly and reached out, desperate for the bright burst of hope that blossomed with the grip of her small hand. He only managed to brush her fingers before he slammed back into the earth once more as his leg was pulled out from beneath him. Twisting onto his back, he kicked out blindly, managing to connect with the chin of the man grasping at his ankle while trying to pull himself backwards out of reach.

He was too slow, or the creature was too fast because suddenly Nathan was screaming out in pain and revulsion, staring down at his own blood smeared across another man’s chin as the thing tore furiously at his ankle with teeth and nails.
It raised its human face and a triumphant growl escaped the back of its throat, worming passed white teeth staining red. It was an it now, Nathan realised with a horrified sob as he stared back into the thing’s wild eyes, recognising nothing human in its gaze.

Trapped in that gaze, he’d forgotten about the other creature until it was charging passed its brother towards him. He watched helplessly, screaming for what had to be the last time before his throat was ripped out.

Then Kassie was there, standing between Nathan and his attacker. His scream turned into a gurgle of horror as the girl rooted herself directly in the path of the rampaging monster. Yet Kassie didn’t seem so small from this angle. She was all he could see, tall and beautiful as she stared down the thing and flung her hand out in front of her. Nathan almost expected sparks to erupt from her fingers, instead just a word was flung from her lips.

“Stop!”

Nathan glanced up in disbelief as the young, naive dreamer he was so desperately in love with transformed into a stranger. Wide eyes narrowed in fury, her smooth pale face became ancient, arrogant. Disdain was chiselled into her features with the curl of her lip and the contempt in her gaze. Nathan was at once awed and terrified.

Her attacker obeyed. Dust billowed across Nathan as the thing scrambled to stop its momentum. He flung his arm up again to protect his eyes and heard the creature slam into its brother, instantly dragging the weight from Nathan’s searing ankle.
Kassie stood above the dust, a triumphant smirk on her face as the creatures sunk their heads into the ground, averting their eyes from hers and whining. Another sob shuddered through Nathan’s chest though he wasn’t sure why.

Noise was erupting around him, but he heard nothing, felt nothing. His senses were paralysed with pain and confusion as his world, so uneventful, so predictable, spun away from him dizzyingly.

Kassie was pulling him up with both hands. He stared at her blankly. She was speaking but he couldn’t hear her. Yet her eyes were hers once more, young and afraid, just like his, though whether her fear was genuine, Nathan didn’t know any more. He stepped forward with his injured leg and instantly collapsed. Kassie fell with him, catching herself to gracefully kneel by his side. She was still speaking to him but pounding in his ears continued to silence her.

Turning his head, he glanced at the mess of limbs behind him. Twisted together so closely, Nathan couldn’t tell whose limbs were whose as the things rolled over and over, snapping at each other’s throats. Each time they tried to pull themselves up, they jerked the wrong limb and fell heavily to the ground.

Nathan started shaking, not entirely sure whether or not he was laughing, but tears streamed down his face nonetheless at the ridiculous sight of these stupid beings who had seemed so utterly terrifying a heartbeat before.

“Nathan,” he heard at last as he bent over double, his stomach hurting almost as much as his bloodied ankle and gasping lungs in his hysteria, “Damnit Nathan!”

He was wrenched around to face two startlingly blue eyes nestled in a furious face. But this was a furious face he was used to. The face that proceeded an argument about travelling or the time he’d overslept and missed his window to buy them Glastonbury tickets.

“Get up you idiot!” Kassie snapped at him.

“What for?” he managed to gasp.

Kassie wrinkled her nose and her lip twinged with disdain once more. The look sobered him instantly, realising once again the power of his fear of losing this maddening, mysterious girl that ordered him about in a way he secretly adored.

“Get. Up.” She ordered this time but Nathan was already scrambling for a footing. She helped him by pulling his arm across her shoulders and sharing his weight.

“You stopped them,” he gasped, wincing as he tested his injured leg without falling this time.

“Not for long. They have more than one master. Move!”

“What?” he panted, but she did not explain herself, only dragging him until he shuddered into a limping run.

Behind him, the things snapped, rolled and spat at each other. Yet with every passing moment they peeled themselves apart like glue, stretching thinner and thinner. Nathan fixed his eyes to the grass before his feet, letting the rest of the world blur into grey – he didn’t want to see them snap apart.

With his vision fixed to the ground, he didn’t notice Kassie veer away from the gate that was their only exit until they started passing the wooden stalls offering food, clothing and cheap tattoos. He didn’t dare to question her this time, though he knew there was no way he could scale the tall fence that surrounded the compound. Saying nothing, he kept running, trying to ignore the disturbing warmth of the blood seeping into his new trainers.

They passed the face-painting stall he had scorned at just hours earlier when Kassie had excitedly deliberated between the opposing designs of flowers and skulls. The butterflies she had chosen still glittered optimistically on her cheek, somehow staying put despite the glisten of sweat that covered her features.

As he glanced towards her, a bolt of terror slammed through him. Without looking, he knew the things behind him had resumed the hunt. A forgotten part of him had woken up, gradually at first then with a sudden terrible force, as if his nature suddenly remembered what it was to be hunted.

Somehow, he sped up and Kassie grunted with approval as she easily matched his pace. As they neared the fence, Nathan flung his head over his shoulder and regretted it instantly when his eyes found the two black shapes charging up the hill side by side. Yet, they were still just shapes, too far away now to catch the couple before they reached the edge of the compound.

They were going to make it.

Nathan knew it was a mistake the second the thought flickered into being. As he twisted his head back around, a shadow darted into his peripheral vision. Incredulous, Nathan almost stopped running, sat down where he was and had a tantrum when he recognised the form of the man-thing in front of them, trying to cut off their escape. There were three of them. Of course there were. Kassie didn’t let the despair reach his legs, she squeezed his hand and twisted them around a group of sunbathers. She hadn’t turned her head yet somehow she knew about the third creature. It was running from the gate where Kassie had known it would be waiting for them. She knew what they were thinking. She would save him.

He continued to tell himself that even as Kassie snatched her hand out of his grip and sped up. Gaping at her back in betrayal as he fell behind, he almost didn’t hear the order thrown over her shoulder.

“Follow me!”

She twisted left and sprinted for the long hut that served as a bar, running past a twisting queue of thirsty revellers. Nathan stared in disbelief as he realised what she was about to do. Moments before she crashed into the low metal safety barrier guiding the queue, she leapt up to meet it, landing her foot on the top and using the momentum to dive for the roof of the bar.

Exhausted bartenders scrambled forward for a better view as Kassie gracefully pulled herself up. She stood on the bar, flicked her hair from her eyes and stared at Nathan expectantly.

She had to be kidding.

Kassie’s free-running prank earned applause, whistles and the resigned sigh of a nearby security guard, though at the sight of Nathan bounding towards them, the bartenders quickly scrambled backwards again with pale faces. He tried to speed up, but his limbs weren’t responding. With every step the ground turned to treacle and he felt the ghost of a hand reaching for his unprotected back.

The guard stared at him in dismay before breaking into a run to head him off. Not truly understanding how his relaxing afternoon had led him to being chased from three different directions at once, Nathan leapt desperately at the barrier, narrowly avoiding the security guard’s outstretched fingers.

The barrier held stubbornly for a moment before it tipped sickeningly under Nathan’s weight and crashed onto the floor, pulling over every fence attached to it. People squealed in dismay as they were flung over with them. Yet, Nathan found his mark and threw himself towards Kassie.

He hurled towards the bar and smacked his chin against the edge. Scrambling to find a grip, he heard another crash as something else hurtled into the chaotic pile of bodies beneath him. He didn’t have to listen for the snarling and snapping of teeth to know what it was.

In the moment before he fell back to the floor to lie sprawled and defenceless as three creatures from hell ripped him apart like an extra in a monster movie, that glorious cool hand grasped his. Kassie grabbed his arm with her other hand and dragged him up. He made it onto the makeshift roof on all floors, fingernails breaking against the cheap MDF which bowed ominously under them.

Wordlessly, Kassie helped him to stand and then jumped the short distance to the fence, now easily within reach. Climbing to the top took seconds before she was diving gracefully to the ground on the other side, floating through the air to land in a perfect roll. Nathan paused long enough to let out an exhausted sigh before he followed suit, hurtling into the fence with a sickening rattle. He clambered awkwardly over the top and scrambled down the other side halfway before falling the remaining distance with closed eyes and a grimace of pain already prepared on his face.

Moments after he had hit the ground, the fence shuddered in pain as three blurry figures slammed into the other side. Nathan scrambled backwards until he hit Kassie’s legs behind him. The things, for they were undoubtedly no more than things now, hurtled themselves into the fence with savage fury. Nathan reached above him for Kassie’s hand automatically, his eyes flinching under the terrible growling of the animals before him.

Nathan felt Kassie hold her breath behind him. Like him, he was sure she was praying that the things didn’t remember they could be human and simply climb over the fence. Over and over again the three creatures threw themselves into the wire, picked themselves up and dived towards their prey that was so tantalisingly close.

Finally, one of the things threw back its head and gave a screeching howl of rage that slammed into Nathan’s heart. It echoed over the thousands of people enjoying their weekend, cutting through the most powerful crescendos blasting from the stages far behind them. Snapping one last time at the metal for good measure, the things turned as one and sprinted back towards the gate on all fours, drool dripping from jaws that weren’t human.

Kassie pulled Nathan to his feet gently. Pausing only to glance at each other’s eyes, they turned without speaking and started to run once again towards the car park, side by side.

Nathan was close to fainting by the time they reached the car. He was dimly aware that he wasn’t supporting his own weight anymore, though he didn’t spend the time wondering how Kassie could possible be dragging him on her own. He found himself drifting away, his thoughts floating aimlessly in the darkening sky, far away from his jerking, stumbling body.

The car was cool against his cheek. He didn’t remember reaching it. Painfully, he dragged his hand up to the door handle. It was important to get inside but he couldn’t remember why. Fingers scratched at the plastic but the door wouldn’t budge. Someone was yelling at him. Kassie. He tried to listen but he could hear nothing but the endless pounding and the voice in his head yelling ‘you almost died, you almost died’ over and over.

Kassie was groping at his trousers, at least he thought she was, his eyes were closed now, maybe they had been before. Keys were dragged from his back pocket clumsily. Keys. Of course.

He almost giggled at his foolishness, but couldn’t quite find the energy. Soon he was manhandled into the vehicle and fell gratefully into the passenger seat. By the time the car rolled across the grass to hit the tarmac with a scream of speed, Nathan was unconscious.

It was hours later when his eyes snapped open with the dreadful realisation that Kassie couldn’t drive.

That didn’t seem to have stopped her though, he realised as he forced his bleary eyes to drag the world into focus. They were pulled into a petrol station, close to a neon bright shop. No, he was. Kassie was nowhere to be seen.

That forced clarity into his vision. Still crumpled into the passenger’s seat, he twisted himself around to search for her and regretted it immediately. Everything hurt. Groaning, he pulled himself upright and finally took stock of himself. Crisp bandages sliced across his grubby skin though the pristine trainers he had been so proud of the week before were now coated in blood and turned a mucky red-brown. His sock was soggy.

Flexing his foot was a bad idea. Screwing his eyes shut instantly, he took deep breaths and concentrated on quelling the sudden nausea. At least he could move it, he told himself, even if it meant vomiting. Eventually the world righted itself again as if it were a ship tilting on the crest of a wave, not knowing which way to settle. Carefully, he opened his eyes.

The world was much darker than he last remembered it, which was probably a grace considering how much his head was screaming at him. The clock on the dashboard told him it was well passed midnight. If it weren’t for the pulsing ache in his ankle, and those crisp white bandages itchy against his skin he could have convinced himself that everything that night had just been one crazy acid trip.

More slowly this time, he turned his head and looked around him. An open First Aid box was thrown on the back seat, its contents spilt across the floor. Kassie had clearly patched him up before she’d left. He looked down at his leg again and tried not to focus on the dark stain spread across the car’s carpet beneath him. At least he’d stopped bleeding now.

Long moments passed and Kassie didn’t return. Wondering whether to wait or go looking for her, Nathan bit his lip and stared into the darkness beyond the windscreen, ignoring the familiar fear that was building up inside him. What if she’d left him here? Parked the car in a random service station and hitched a ride elsewhere. He’d never know where she went.

As he pushed his door open heavily, the sounds of a motorway snapped into his awareness. At least she’d not left him in some isolated village. By the time Nathan had dragged himself out of the car and was bent over the bonnet gasping and coughing with pain, he’d not noticed the familiar figure walk slowly from the bright service station towards him.

“You shouldn’t be standing,” Kassie reprimanded quietly.

Nathan jumped violently and had to scramble for the door to stop himself from falling. Relief flooded through him as he gaped at his girlfriend standing awkwardly across the bonnet, a breeze ruffling the plastic carrier bag in her hand.

“I thought you’d left,” he smiled with relief. Kassie didn’t respond.

She looked away and his eyes followed hers, glancing around the petrol station when he couldn’t think of anything more profound to say. There weren’t many cars around, despite the dull roar of motorway nearby.

“Where are we?” He asked quietly as the minutes dragged on.

“Near Luton, I think.” Kassie replied calmly, continuing to stare at him with her head cocked to the side.

“Oh,” Nathan replied awkwardly before remembering with a jolt how they’d got here, “You can’t drive!”

“Clearly, I managed.” Kassie sighed sarcastically.

“How? You don’t have a license!” He snapped out in a harsh whisper, though they were the only ones in the car park, “Or where you lying to me about that too?!”

Kassie stared at him in silence.

“Jesus wept, Kassie!” He continued, shouting now, “What would have happened if you’d got pulled over? They would have arrested the both of us! Though how you didn’t crash and kill us both, I don’t know!”

He panted heavily in the quiet, instantly worn out from the effort of his anger.

“After everything that you’ve seen tonight,” Kassie responded slowly, her voice lacking the dark anger he was used to, “that is what you’re angry at.”

Nathan opened his mouth but didn’t know how to respond. How did you respond after surviving an attack by transfiguring men-monsters?

Kassie rolled her eyes at his goldfish face and pulled open the car door.

“Get in,” she ordered.

Nathan did as he was told, falling into the car awkwardly. The rumble of the M1 diminished instantly as his door snapped shut. He sat in silence as Kassie reached into the plastic bag and pulled out a bottle of water. She swigged half of it down before silently offering it to Nathan.

“I don’t think I want to know what happened,” he eventually mumbled.

Nervously, he glanced up at Kassie’s eyes. Her face could have been carved out of marble, but he detected something like disappointment in her gaze. Regardless, she pulled out a chocolate bar from the bag and passed it to him.

“Eat this,” she commanded, “you lost a fair bit of blood, you need some sugar.”

Doing as he was told, Nathan pulled apart the wrapper and bit into the chocolate, tasting nothing. He felt oddly ashamed, though didn’t know why. He didn’t know why he felt a lot of things around her.

“How bad was it?” He asked quietly.

“It could have been worse,” she shrugged, “though you should probably see a doctor tomorrow. I forget how fragile you are.”

“I’m not fragile!” Nathan snapped back, finally feeling his frustration build, “I ran all that way on it didn’t I?”

Kassie glanced at him again with a sigh. Something about the way she had said it made Nathan wonder whether it was just him she was talking about.

Not responding again, Kassie reached for the ignition.

“What are you going to do now?” Nathan asked, not able to bear another silence.

“We’re close to London. I can leave you there and make my way to the airport on the train or something.”

“You’re not leaving!”

“And you’re not coming with me, are you?” She replied coldly.

Nathan dragged his hands across his face, feeling the grime gripping to his day old stubble. He couldn’t believe they were about to do this again.

“Look, I just, I can’t do this right now. I’m so tired.”

Kassie stared at her hand, still resting on the key dangling below the steering wheel.

“I have to go Nathan.”

“Not tonight, please,” he begged, “I have friends in London, we can stay the night and talk in the morning. Just stay the night, please.”

Kassie sighed deeply, turning to look at his pleading face. Nathan couldn’t imagine how pathetic he looked in the orange glow of the car’s light, his face pale behind the dirt and mud smeared across his skin, his eyes shining with desperate tears. He couldn’t have felt further away from the pristine girl beside him, who somehow still looked perfect despite all they’d been through that night. Butterflies still chased each other across her skin.

“Okay,” she sighed and twisted the key.

Nathan’s eyes closed in relief as the car rumbled into life.

Really, really poor relationship choices right? As always, let me know what you think, criticism is always welcome. As are hugs, emoticons and chocolate hobnobs. 

Keep watching this space, Megan is up next. 

I’m Alive, Aliiiiive

Well, am I just the worst.

I don’t really have an excuse other than all of the soul sucking of the last few months. But alas, you haven’t got rid of me for good. Granted the pantomime thing brought me the closest to sticking my head into the slushie machine and ending my life in a vat of bright blue sludge, but we made it through eventually. I’m not really sure how.

going to drink

Ah, of course.

Theatre life is so glamorous.

I shall grovel no more, but instead I will prepare you that there will be a chapter posted in the next couple of days. Poor Nathan. He’s been running away for bloody months. I wish I could say it gets better for him…

If you want a reread of where we left him then have a gander here. The last we saw of him, his relaxing weekend at a festival was ruined by Kassie and the unpleasant “people” chasing him. He’s currently trapped in a crowd of moshpits, head-banging and homicidal man-things bent on ripping him apart. Just your average weekend at Download then.

NaNoWhatOh?

A mild panic has ensued at the realisation that NaNoWriMo is three days away now. THREE DAYS. Terrifying enough but my actual panic has bloomed from the realisation that I am not panicked enough. In fact I’m quite blasé about the whole thing. Considering I only just managed it last year (with about 28 minutes to spare) I should really be more prepared.

nano is coming

Yet with so much In A Thousand Blades Of Grass left to write, I know there’s not much point in plotting too heavily. I know the vague direction it is going in and I’m sure the characters will take me there on their own. However, I am prepared enough to have a backup option in case Her Sweet Graffiti Monster tries to kill me. Again. I also have three days to get together another chapter so you lovely people will have something to read and comment on in November.

So what have I been doing instead of prepping? Science.

Ooh yah.

At the absence of an instantly available source of physics knowledge now, I decided that I should probably learn some if I want to finish that sci-fi screenplay to rival Alien. With the help of some amazing free lectures (big shout out to David Spergel, the Princeton professor making knowledge accessible to us wee mortals), today I embarked on General Relativity and Chaos Theory.

dcdiktug9mlh5zy6yh27

It went great.

Yeah. I got them smarts now init.

I spent part of the day consumed with overwhelming shock while staring at alien markings pasted in my notebook, somehow in my own handwriting, part of the day giving myself high-fives and the rest of the time pretending I was Jeff Goldblum. I had to stop when the businessmen and women in this coworking space were blinded by my evident divine-like powers of awesome.

So with any luck, in the next month I’ll have 50,000 words of epicness, another chapter up, a brain to rival Einstein and all the while ignoring that pantomime thing that’s coming up. Gulp.

goldblum is god

Me, but with bewbs

What about you friends? Are we all embarking on Nano this year? Anyone more panicked/prepared than me?  Anyone want me to explain Chaos Theory to you? 

 

Rachel is having a pretty bad day…

October is finally here people, in my opinion the best month where clearly all the best people were born in. With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, the month of literary abandonment and looming deadlines, I’m taking this month to continue with a little gentle editing, studious planning and copious birthday drinking (I still hurt).

Hopefully you haven’t forgotten her but here’s another chapter from Rachel to entertain you this fine Autumn afternoon. She’s having a wee bit of a bad day. As always, you can read it as a webpage or catch up with the rest of the novel. Chat soon peeps. 

The click of the lock echoed through the silent hallway. Rachel paused on the doormat and peered into the darkness, not entirely sure she was in the right house. It was only the second time that week she had returned home sober. The stairway didn’t look right when it wasn’t spinning around her mockingly or rushing to meet her stumbling body, and the house certainly didn’t feel like home without arguments screeching through the walls.

The unexpected silence put her instantly on edge. Autumn’s fresh breeze bit at the back of her neck as she hovered in the warmth of the open door, waiting for any sign of life that would assure her the family hadn’t killed each other in her absence. Eventually a muffled voice drifted towards her and she recognised the orange glow escape from beneath the living room door.

Comforted by the voice of a stranger, Rachel pushed the door shut quietly and followed the muffled sounds of the television. Her fingers paused as they reached the door handle, brushing the metal lightly. As a child she often hovered on this spot every time she couldn’t sleep, as equally scared of the darkness creeping up behind her as walking in on another of her parent’s arguments. Preferring to linger in the possibility of a happy family scene, she’d stood behind the closed door for what felt like hours some nights.

Sick of the past, Rachel grasped the handle firmly and walked into the warm living room.

“Where’s mum?” she asked her sister.

“Bed.” Bex replied without turning her head from the TV, her eyes reflecting the flickering images on the screen.

Rachel sighed, understanding the house’s silence instantly. Bex flicked her eyes towards Rachel’s and the same knowing look reflected back at them both. It had taken them years to realise their mother’s flu attacked her on the same day each year. Every time she told her daughters that they would have to take themselves to school, they would give each other a knowing glance. As children they grasped the opportunity to spend the day playing truth and dare in the park, eating sweets and learning to smoke. Yet as they got older their mother’s depression pressed down at them more, both resenting having to mourn a man who had abandoned them as children.

Bex turned her head back to the screen before Rachel could acknowledge the moment and smile. As she lost the brief contact with her sister, she realised with a shock that it was the first time they had looked at each other without venom in their eyes in months. One brief moment remembering they were sisters and the sixteen year old had disappeared again, staring blankly into nothingness.

One lamp attempted to illuminate the room and Rachel looked down to find Megan sprawled beneath its warm glow, surrounded by a field of colouring pencils and felt tips whose pen lids were making a break for freedom across the carpet.

“Hey Megs,” Rachel greeted as she tiptoed her way across the obstacle course, “shouldn’t you be in bed?”

Megan smiled up at her with a well practised innocence that Rachel didn’t buy for a second. Returning the look, the two engaged in a silent battle of wills, each analysing how much energy the other had for the nightly battle of bedtime. Rachel glanced at Bex lounged on the sofa immersed in a what was no doubt a highly inappropriate show for a nine year old and knew that she would get no help from her.

Knowing the bags under her eyes had already given her away, Rachel flung her work bag down and sunk gratefully to the floor, far too tired to drag the girl upstairs if she threw a tantrum. Megan smiled triumphantly as Rachel gave in. Deciding that it was a reward for Megan’s sharpness and not because she was too tired to play mum for the evening, Rachel let her get away with it.

“What are you doing?” she asked as Megan rewarded herself with another bright pencil and continued scribbling on the paper. She paused her colouring long enough pass over a large bundle of drawings to her sister.

“It’s a jungle,” the girl chattered happily, “there’s a tiger and a giraffe and all my favourite animals.

“And what’s this one by the river?” She asked, lowering the paper so Megan could shuffle closer and poke her nose over the edge.

“That’s a crocodile.”

“And in it’s mouth?”

“A hamster,” Megan replied happily and Rachel’s eyebrows rose in amusement.

“You sure that giraffes live in jungles… or hamsters?” She asked, peering closer at the unfortunate rodent trapped behind the crocodile’s jaws in an artistic scribble of red crayon.

“That’s why it’s getting eat,” Megan explained seriously as she turned back to her current creation.

Rachel nodded seriously at the artist’s frown and struggled to hide her smile. While messy, each animal was recognisable. She hadn’t managed to get all the colours in between the lines but she had made up for it with her imagination. Megan was certainly more creative than Rachel had ever been.

“You know, these are pretty cool.”

A small smile was just visible between the soft ginger curls that fell across Megan’s face as she bent over her drawing, squinting at the colours flowering on Colin’s white printer paper.

As she peered down at her sister Rachel suddenly saw her as a teenager acing her exams, maybe even going to college. Surely she wouldn’t have any trouble finding friends if she was at the top of her art class. She could see her strolling into the canteen with a gaggle of classmates, red hair in a scruffy bun, paint on her fingers, probably with large glasses too if Megan’s continued squinting was any indication. Rachel tried to ignore how much an eyesight problem could cost them and tried to focus on the image. Megan started humming under her breath, utterly absorbed in her work. She was already everything Rachel hadn’t aspired to be.

The idea for the perfect Christmas present popped into Rachel’s head. Their mum had bought her a colouring book for her birthday earlier in the year but Megan liked to draw her own pictures and so had hardly touched it, much to her mum’s irritation. Rachel would buy her a blank sketch book, a really posh one that artists used. She’d like that.

Rachel smiled and turned the next page, soaking in the nine year old’s colourful optimism when a smudge of black caught her attention. It was a man, one that she had just seen. Frowning, she glanced back at the previous page, searching the jungle for the black figure she’d assumed was another animal. It took her a while to find him as if he were playing hide and seek with her, running to a new position every time her eyes flicked across the page. She found him hiding between the trees, a smear of darkness amongst the magical creatures and bright optimism.

Flicking through more drawings, she found one in which their dysfunctional family had been dragged together in a semblance of a happy scene. Rachel recognised herself as the tallest stick figure dressed in yellow stood beside her sisters and mother. She winced as she saw a purple Bex with a little stick figure in her stomach and made a mental note to hide the drawing before Megan left for school in the morning. The last thing they needed was Megan being dragged to a family therapist by her teacher. Yet there, next to the women, was the same dark man again.

“Megan,” Rachel asked carefully, “is this Colin?”

She stared at the black figure on the page, so unlike the rest of the family, not knowing if either answer would make her feel better. Megan dragged her eyes away from the paper with a frustrated sigh. A smile immediately replaced her frown as she glimpsed her drawing and Rachel knew it couldn’t be the girl’s father. She shook her head and returned to her drawing, the smile remaining on her lips.

Rachel felt her eyes being dragged back to the expressionless face. Filled entirely with black crayon, he didn’t have his own colourful outfit or features at all. Only his shape defined him as a man as he intruded on their family scene.

Rachel analysed her little sister. She’d not considered how much the constant arguments might effect Megan. When she was younger, Rachel had embraced the bitter anger of her parents, using it to fuel her own. Yet Megan wasn’t like her, she was quieter, fragile. She seemed happy now, content to sit alone with her drawings, but maybe she wasn’t. Rachel tried to recall the last time she had seen the girl play outside or go round to a friend’s house but realised that she simply wasn’t in the house enough to know.

Her hands flicked impatiently through the remaining drawings, finding the mystery man in each one. His darkness isolated him instantly in the gleaming polar expanse but she had to search hard for him in other scenes as he blended into backgrounds or hid behind scenery. Yet in every scene she found him, on every page that Megan had touched, never engaging with what was going on around him but always present, always watching.

Horror started to infected the fingers that flicked through the drawings faster and faster before creeping up her arms and into her chest. The man never gained any features in his journey across Megan’s magical creations, remaining nothing but a blank silhouette who haunted every page.

“Megan, who is this?” Rachel tried to ask casually.

Not bothering to look up this time, Megan smiled brightly, knowing instinctively who Rachel was talking about, “That’s my monster.”

The horror stopped playing with her stomach, jumping instead straight to her throat in an attempt to claw it’s way out.

“A monster?” She made herself ask.

Megan nodded.

“Why did you draw a monster with all these nice things?”

“He’s not a bad monster,” Megan replied with exasperation, “he’s my friend.”

Rachel didn’t know what to do. The man didn’t look very friendly to Rachel. Despite not having eyes, she’d felt him stare into her from every jungle, every supermarket and pirate ship he inhabited. She could almost hear the voice in her head commanding her to leave, as if her sticky fingers were dirtying the magic.

Grasping the pages in her sweaty hands, she pulled them to her chest in an attempt to make him stop staring at her. She wasn’t a psychologist, the most experience she had with things like this was falling asleep in Health and Social Care, yet even Rachel knew that something was wrong.

“Is he real?” Rachel eventually asked, struggling to find the right words to discover the man’s identity. Megan said nothing and Rachel held her breath, desperately hoping he was an imaginary friend, despite what that would reveal about the little girl’s anxiety. The other option was too terrifying to consider. If he wasn’t Colin…

“I mean,” Rachel continued hastily as Megan’s forehead wrinkled, “Is your monster an imaginary, a make-believe friend?”

“No,” she replied slowly with a frown, “but he’s not like us.”

Rachel shot a panicked look to Bex but the teenager was still consumed by the flickering images, oblivious to the revelations that Rachel was making.

“I mean he talks to me,” Megan continued with a shrug, stretching forward to reach an escaping felt tip. Horrific possibilities flashed through Rachel’s imagination. He couldn’t be real.

“Where does he talk to you Meg?”

Rachel didn’t think she was going to get a reply as the girl had already stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth in concentration.

“By the wall.” She mumbled eventually before pulling another blank sheet from the pile and thrusting it at Rachel, “Here. You can do one too.”

Rachel took it without looking but the girl didn’t notice, already consumed with her next creation.

“Hey Megs,” Rachel forced her dry throat to stutter, “Can I keep this one?”

Megan looked up in one final glance of irritation at the family picture Rachel had chosen. She frowned, clearly not wanting to give up her masterpiece but Rachel smiled enthusiastically in return.

“All right,” the nine year old grumbled.

Rachel turned to place it on the coffee table but paused, wondering what Colin would do if he found it. He didn’t involve himself much in Megan’s life but he was still her father. He might object if he presumed the girl was portraying him as a vacant scribble of darkness. Deciding to hide it instead, Rachel stretched out on her stomach by Megan, using the motion to slip the sheet under the sofa. She would come back for it once Megan was asleep.

“Don’t you think it’s time for bed Megan? You got school in the morning.”

Megan pretended not to hear her by pulling her face closer to the sheet. Rachel tried to push away her anxiety as she mentally prepared herself for the Bed Time Argument. She didn’t seem disturbed, right now she seemed like any other mischievous child determined not to go to bed. Megan knew what was coming and twisted her head in the other direction as if avoiding eye contact would prevent the command. It almost did as a smile tried to creep into Rachel’s best Mum Voice.

“Megan…” she began just as a screech of tires interrupted her.

Shamelessly using the distraction to avoid the argument for another minute, Rachel pulled herself up and crossed the room to poke her head out of the curtains. A car pulled into their driveway and her stomach flipped for the second time that evening as she realised the driver wasn’t alone.

“Megan, go to bed now.” She commanded, dropping the curtain as if it burned her and strode back across the room.

Megan sat up and opened her mouth to argue, the well-rehearsed tears starting to form.

“Megan, now!” Rachel shouted, much to Bex’s irritation who reached for the remote control.

There was a heavy thunk at the door and masculine laughter penetrated into the hall beyond. A key scraped against the keyhole, missing its target and scratching the metal. Megan’s eyes widened in realisation as she heard the noise. Scrambling to pick up all her drawings, she shot upstairs before Rachel had to say another word.

“What?” Bex huffed, turning down the telly.

Not having the time to feel relieved at winning the argument before it had started, Rachel followed Megan’s footsteps, running to pick up the remaining pens from the floor.

“Colin’s home,” she answered quickly, “And he brought them idiot drunks with him.”

Rachel watched Bex with dismay as excitement animated her sister’s face. Punching the remote, the television snapped the room into further darkness and she ran to the downstairs toilet, shutting the door just as the key finally hit its target. The front door swung open and slammed into the wall.

Cursing filled the small hallway as she heard Colin stumble after the door into the wall, much to the amusement of the men who followed him into the cramped house. Rachel shoved the pens into the closest draw and ran into the hallway, hoping to be up the stairs before he noticed her.

“Look who it is,” he called out before she had even reached halfway, “Where d’you think you’re going?”

A voice in her head urged her to keep going, running until she reached her bedroom, but she knew as well as Colin did that she was never going to listen to that part of herself. Pausing on the step, the Rachel that was desperate for a fight turned slowly on the spot to look down at her stepfather with contempt.

“I’m going bed. I’ve been at work all day.”

Laughter spurted from Colin’s mouth and he stumbled towards the foot of the stairs.

“Yeah right,” he scoffed, “You? Doing some actual work? Get down here.”

Hate sparked Rachel’s veins into a fire at his casual order but she obliged, stepping down calmly onto the first step.

“I said come here,” he repeated without moving out of the way. The men behind him continued to sway in the hallway but said nothing as Rachel descended the final step to stand before him. Colin shifted his weight, his presence somehow trapping her against the wall without needing to touch her. She felt the grimy gaze of the five men fondle her as she pressed her body into the wall.

“What do you want?”

“Don’t speak to me like that ya lazy cow,” he snapped, “We’ve been working hard all day to feed you freeloaders.”

The laughter behind him only stroked his ego and he pulled himself up taller, his hot breath grazing her cheek. “But since you’ve been working so hard all day, you’ll be well practised to get us something to drink won’t you.”

Rachel couldn’t stop the disbelieving laugh that pushed its way from her throat, “You’re joking right? I ain’t getting you nothing.”

Colin grabbed her arm as she turned to walk back up the stairs.

“Get off!” she growled, her anger suppressed by her need not to disturb her mother.

As she fell into Colin she recognised the anger scarring his face that must have mirrored her own. Each time he came home drunk they danced this scene, both pushing the other, waiting, hoping for them to crack first. It was the first time he had grabbed her though and the masculine laughter fell silent instantly as he dragged her through the gaggle of men. Her feet scrambled to keep her upright as she was forced back through the living room towards the kitchen.

When her trainers squeaked on the plastic linoleum Colin thrust her towards the fridge. She spun on the spot as soon as she found her balance, forcing him away from her with a mouthful of expletives. Flames roared through her blood now at the shock, scorching her skin with rage to hide her humiliation.

“Well?” He spat at her, gesturing towards the fridge.

“Let me go.” She demanded, the words slow and dangerous, utterly relieved when her voice didn’t break. She’d always recognise the rage inside him, but had never seen it so focused before, and it was focused on her now.

“Ah let her go Colin,” a man snickered nervously, “We know where they are.”

The younger man headed for the fridge when Colin thrust his hand out towards him threateningly, “Stay where you damn well are.”

He stopped. The jovial atmosphere surrounding the men had snapped completely in the last few seconds. No one spoke. Colin stepped closer to Rachel and brought his face close to hers. She forced herself not to back away.

“Just look how thirsty Lee is Rach. Why don’t you get the man a drink huh?”

She felt the gaze of everyone in the room on her, sympathetic or amused in turn yet their silence continued. Lee didn’t try to help her again, knowing his lanky frame was no match for Colin’s bulk. Curling her hand into a sweaty fist beside her, she held her ground. Let them watch, she told herself, waiting for the shift in balance that would announce Colin’s attack. She didn’t need them to help her.

The seconds ticked on. A man she vaguely recognised as one of her stepfather’s closest friends stepped closer to Colin, firmly blocking her escape route with a smirk. The room was suffocating with silence, no one having seen Colin go this far so quickly before, no one knowing what to say to ease the tension. Rachel couldn’t bare the wait any longer, she almost attacked him herself, desperate for something to happen, desperate to release the hate scorching her insides.

Silence snapped with an innocent clicking of the toilet door. Oblivious to the tension in the room, Bex rescued her elder sister by sauntering passed the men surrounding Rachel and into the kitchen.

“Oh, hey Colin. Didn’t hear you come back.” She greeted with a failed attempt at nonchalance as she hopped onto the counter.

The irritation on Colin’s face would have entertained Rachel considerably if she hadn’t been convinced that the man had been seconds away from punching her.

“Hey Lee.” Bex greeted the highly uncomfortable man, looking up at him with wide eyes and freshly applied mascara.

Colin stepped away from Rachel quickly, but remained close enough for her to recognise her continued danger.

“Bex, go to bed.” She ordered without taking her eyes off her stepfather. She could sense a new anger radiate towards her without having to look at Bex’s disbelieving expression.

“Erm, I’ll go to bed when I’m tired thanks.” She heard her scoff at the others, brushing off the childish implication quickly.

Rachel pursed her lips and hovered on the spot. She should use the break in tension to get away from Colin but wasn’t about to leave the sixteen year old in her place.

“Bex, get out of here. You got school in the morning remember.”

“Shut up,” the girl snapped.

Colin smirked at Rachel before flicking his eyes briefly towards her sister, “Yeah stay Bex. Rachel here was just about to get us a drink. And maybe a little something to eat too.” The eyes snapped back to hers, “We’re hungry.”

Someone snickered, no doubt at the reaction on Rachel’s face as she glared into Colin’s smirking one.

“I told you, I ain’t getting you nothing.”

Before Colin could retort they heard Bex flop off the counter, her slippers slapping against the floor.

“I’ll cook you something,” she announced eagerly.

Rachel watched the triumphant look flick between Colin and one of the men. She’d heard them joke the last time they came round about the willing young teenager who would do almost anything to get the attention of her stepfather. She wouldn’t let the fool cook the ape’s dinner too. Dragging her eyes from Colin’s, she snapped at Bex over her shoulder, feeling his burning gaze just as sharply on the back of her neck.

“Bex, I’m only thinking of you. You don’t want to wear yourself out before the the little one’s even born eh?”

The colour drained from Bex’s face as she stared open mouthed at her sister. Guilt avenged the girl immediately as Rachel watched the mortified tears materialise in her sister’s eyes. She knew Bex wouldn’t forgive her but her words had the desired effect.

“She ain’t pregnant!” Someone exclaimed, erupting into laughter.

Colour quickly replaced Bex’s momentary whiteness as humiliation tinged her skin pink.

“Jesus, Bex!” Lee stuttered, unintentionally taking a step away from her.

Broken hearted at Lee’s instant disgust, Bex escaped the room in tears, sprinting up the stairs to a chorus of whooping. They heard a door slam moments later. Rachel watched her go with regret but her concern was replaced immediately as she turned back to face Colin’s own humiliation. His red face flushed darker as his friends roared. She’d never considered that his pride would be affected by the actions of the stepdaughters he didn’t care about.

This time Rachel did step back, knowing instantly from the darkness in Colin’s eyes that their world of constant pushing, taunting and provoking was about to shift somewhere far more dangerous. She didn’t recognise his expression anymore, calm hate vanquished by a wild fury that transformed his face into a snarl. The fight left her body and the fire froze rapidly into fear.

“That was rude,” he whispered so only she could hear him, “This is my house you brat and you’re going to learn to behave if you want to stay under my roof.”

He lunged towards her. Rachel screamed as she dived out of the way, utterly grateful for the alcohol dulling his reactions as he stumbled into the counter top heavily. Slamming her way through the bewildered wall of men, she didn’t waste time in checking whether anyone would stop Colin, instead flinging herself up the stairs as soon as she neared them. By the time she had reached the top, Colin was already crashing through the living room.

Pausing only the check Megan’s door was closed, she dived into her bedroom as Colin thundered up the stairs after her. Slamming the door shut, she slid the bolt across just in time as Colin’s bulk slammed into the other side. Another scream escaped her mouth but the door held.

With nowhere else to run, Rachel backed away from the rage hammering against the thin wood. Dust fluttered down from the door jam as Colin slammed his fists against the door, not understanding how it was locked. Unbidden, her hands flung to her mouth, trying to contain the terror that was consuming her so suddenly. Stevo’s lock was secure but Rachel realised with horror that it was stronger than the door itself. The bolt held the enraged man back stubbornly but the hinges on the other side weren’t nearly as motivated.

Colin sucked in a breath and the sudden pause in his hollering allowed her to hear the front door slam close one last time. They’d left him with them like this. They’d actually left her. She turned to look for something, anything to hold him off when she realised with a shudder that her phone was still downstairs in her work bag. The new lock only enraged the man further and his attack increased in a frenzy and oh God, they’d left her.

She gripped her mouth tightly, unable to move or prepare herself for the storm that was about to descend.

Then, “What the hell is all the noise for?”

Mum. Her Mum.

Colin stopped hammering long enough to scream at his wife about her skank of a daughter. To Rachel’s utter relief, her mother didn’t demand her to unlock the door. Instead, the voice dropped. In the sudden quiet, Rachel dared herself to step closer. Eyes fixed on the flimsy hinges, she listened intently as her mother mumbled a criticism of her husband’s state.

“Oh just shut up,” Colin screamed back, “Just go back to your room and cry about your scummy ex. You know what, I don’t blame him! Who wouldn’t leave a bitch like you and all your brats!?”

Her mother disappeared behind another slammed door. Rachel waited for Colin’s anger to target her again but the silence continued.

A moment passed and then his voice was transformed, “Baby, come back. Baby, I’m sorry.”

Rachel listened to Colin knock gently on the other door with desperate relief. Moments later she heard him walk into the room and the door clicked behind him, abandoning Rachel to a sudden, screaming silence.

She collapsed onto the bed, her head dropped into shaking hands, willing the tears not to escape. She wouldn’t cry for him. Taking a shuddering breath, she looked up and only then noticed the blackness of her room. She sat without moving towards the light switch and breathed deeply.

She owed Stevo a pint.

Yes she does. So what’s the consensus with this chapter. Anyone liking Rachel more? Or is she just really really silly? 

Anyone else enjoy the Autumn? What’s everybody getting up to this October, other than panicking about next month’s novel that is?