Stories

Chapter 2 – The Deepest Pit

Alice knew she had to get up. Staying behind her shadow wasn’t an option. Inexplicably, as excruciating as it was, she had to keep going. Giving up was physically impossible. She’d tried. Again and again. Impossible.

She had to get on her trembling feet, resting with her hands on her bony knees half way up, and then stretch to her full height. He legs were shaking as she opened her eyes, still puffy and crusted from the tears, looking around in her tiny apartment. She saw the rickety wooden table with its paint peeled off so she could only guess what colour it had once been. The only chair in the place still lay knocked down next to it from last night. The couch she was standing next to – oh, how she longed to throw herself in its waiting embrace and forget about everything that was happening. Forget about the things lurking just behind her vision. Ever present. Whispering. Shouting. Feeding the flames in her.

Suddenly rage burned in her. Rage at how unjust it was. The ‘Why me?!’ was back. If she couldn’t give up, she had to keep fighting. She had to find a way out. She had to! She couldn’t going on hurting everyone around her, hurting herself. Although, after everything she had done she felt that she deserved this and everything else that hell could rain upon her. Such remorse, she felt like it was pulling her apart. She gave in to it, hoping that it would tear her to millions of pieces.

She did her best to keep up her shield of rage. It lit another fire next to the strange one that, once so familiar, now felt alien to her. The desire to be the best no matter the cost was no longer her own. She could not embrace it, she could not give in to it. She had to be strong and fight it. Because ‘no matter the cost’ was a high price to pay indeed.

So she had been the best in class throughout her school years – but what of Penelope Woods? She had been the truly clever one with a brilliantly bright future ahead of her. Until it was taken from her. Alice’s threats had made sure she was too scared to ever speak up. She knew what happened if she defied Alice. She had seen it happening. She had seen it again and again throughout the years. So she stayed silent. She lost any interest in her studies. She lost interest in life. The last news Alice had of her said that Penelope had been caught in a firefight between two drug gangs whilst waitressing at a 24/7 diner. It didn’t say whether she survived.

Marissa Bollard had broken a leg when she was about to beat Alice in an inter school race. She’d been in a wheelchair ever since. Billy Clifford had fallen down the stairs when he applied for the same job as Alice and for which he was better suited. He’d broken his neck and died. The list went on. She remembered them all. She repeated their names in her lowest moments, willing herself to sink even deeper. Punishing herself.

It hadn’t been like this in the beginning. She had been a bright and athletic child, naturally excelling in everything she did. It’s when she started to see that there are others better than her, that it started. Not able to stand the idea of being the first loser – coming second – she’d maliciously wished ill upon her competition. It worked, and the fire – the desperate feverish desire – grew ever stronger. Alice became ruthless. Marissa was tripped. Billy was pushed. Her own sister had been slapped, kicked, beaten and humiliated until she was a shadow of her former bubbly self. Until she took her own life.

The rage was gone. All that was left was remorse. Alice screamed. It sounded inhuman, blood curdling. She lurched forward, throwing herself on the splintered chair leg that was sticking up in the air.

Once again the shadows laughed at her. They were not going to release their hold. Even though she no longer thrived on their power and was growing increasingly cumbersome, they still found her somewhat amusing. Puny human. Pathetic. Worthless. Something to be toyed with.

Wailing, snot and spit dribbling down her hollow face, Alice screamed until she could scream no more. Her voice was reduced to little more than a feeble rasp. Nobody heard. Nobody cared. She was alone. Unable to let go. She had tried. Again and again.

Her shadow was moving once again. More urgently this time. She knew there was no escape. It had allowed her to despair as it found it entertaining every now and again. Now it was time to go.

Not seeing or caring where she was going, she let the fire inside her lead her forward to whatever lay ahead.


 

I guess that’s as good place as any to let you know that this is entirely a work of fiction and the people, places and events aren’t related to me or anyone else. 

G.

Stories

Chapter 1 – The Making of Alice

When Alice was little, she was usually rather on the merry side. She rarely cried, she considered her failures little more than plot twists and she was always looking for ways to prove herself. She needed to be the best at everything. Everything was a competition. She even made family dinners something of a race – always finishing her meal first like it was another victory in her already achievement filled day.

Her parents didn’t discourage her – her father saw this as something that would drive his daughter to do great things one day and her mother simply said ‘She’s so spirited!’.

Even though Alice couldn’t understand it at the time – and what she didn’t understand couldn’t possibly bother her or get her mood down – her drive to be better than everyone else, didn’t really sit with other children and their parents. They saw her as single minded to the point of recklessness and even dangerous. Perhaps they were just envious, or perhaps there was a darker side to Alice – a side that would do anything it takes to achieve her next goal.


 

Swoosh and CRACK. Alice’s sleeve had caught on the handle of her mug and she pulled it off the table when she moved. She jumped, knocking her chair over. More crashes and bangs. She couldn’t deal with all the noise anymore. Looking around her apartment, she saw shadows everywhere. What was hiding in the shadows? Were they back? Was she alone? Was she imagining it all?

Her eyes were red, face blotchy. She’d been crying again. Tired, so tired. All the time. Exhausted. Was today the day she could finally end it? She looked down at the broken pieces of the cup. They looked quite sharp. She tentatively picked one piece up. So many thoughts racing through her head. Memories of other nights like this. Of the shadows. Forever lurking, just beyond the rays of the solitary light blazing above the table.

It was unbearable. She gripped the shard and pulled decisively across her arm. She felt no pain. Nothing happened. Shadows whispered to her louder. They were angry. Alice slashed at her arm again and again, but to no avail. Not even a scratch appeared.

The shard fell from her slack fingers and she dropped to her knees. Tears were running down her face again. ‘Stop it,’ she sobbed. ‘Please, let me go. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,’ she cried feebly. There wasn’t an ounce of strength left in her to go on. She wanted to go to sleep and stay there. Even her usual questions weren’t fighting for a place on her mind. Gone. Even the desperate ‘Why me?’ had left her.

Silent tears kept falling down her face, her breathing shallow. She was letting the fear take over – anything to escape the reality of her life.

After a while, Alice crawled to the dirty couch next to the table. It was one of the very few pieces of furniture in the room. She didn’t feel like she deserved any more. Even this was too much. Nevertheless, there was the tiniest part of her that longed to curl up on this rat eaten piece of junk with springs sticking out in odd angles that prodded her through her clothes whenever she didn’t feel herself enough to resist this luxury.

Not this time though. She just lay next to the couch on the bare floor, hiding in the shadow of it. She’d succumbed. Too weak to resist the whispers, she let the shadows in.

Gleefully they seeped in through her skin, feeding the fire that would refuse to go out. Like the first time all those years ago.

How could she possibly still remember? She’d been so young, so foolish. Just a child. And yet she remembered.


 

She remembered how she had always wanted to be first, be the best. She remembered how hard it had been to achieve. She remembered how one night, on the verge of falling asleep in her bed, she felt the shadows talk to her. They talked to her all night.

When Alice opened her eyes in the morning, she didn’t feel like her usual self. She felt tired and her maple leaf patterned sheets were crumpled like she’d been tossing and turning all night. When she looked around in her small bedroom, nothing was out of the ordinary. Her stuffed toys were still looking up at her from the floor by her night cabinet. Her school things were still on the white wooden desk under the window. Her wardrobe doors were still ajar with jumper sleeves and trouser legs sticking out.

Yet something felt different. It felt like someone had come with a huge brush and painted everything just a slightly different shade. Or moved every piece of furniture just slightly away from where they should have been. And the shadows that every item in her room cast, felt just a bit more menacing than they used to.

It felt strange, but she didn’t have time to pay much attention to it. She got dressed in her usual jeans, t-shirt and jumper and bolted out the door.

Had she paid more attention, would she have noticed how her shadow didn’t move quite with her, but always seeming to stay just a fraction ahead of her movements? Or if he’d delved deeper in her thoughts and feelings, could she have detected a tiny fire that had started in her, telling her that she should spare no means to get to the top and trample down anyone who dared get in her way?


 

It was morning. Alice lifted her head an inch off the floor but fell back down almost immediately. Tired. So tired. Exhausted of being terrified of her own shadow. Drained of constantly being alert to what terrible thing was going to happen next – what terrible thing she was going to do next.

Sleep. She just wanted to sleep.

But already she saw her shadow move.


 

So yeah, I felt like writing a bit. Don’t mind the ‘Chapter 1’, I have no idea where this is going next – if it’s going anywhere at all. But it felt right to start from the beginning. 

G.

My life, Stories

Lily, hold on!

‘Lily, hold on!’

‘What a brilliant piece of advice,’ Lily grunted, more to herself than to Poppy who’d called out to her, as it was almost impossible to hear anything over the wind whistling in her ears, not to mention the deafening noise the dragons made. She was currently hanging from a gigantic red one’s wing bone. She was holding on to dear life after their dragon had been attacked by another one of the creatures whose tail knocked her out of her position and almost off into the sky. At the last moment she’d been able to grab on to her dragon’s leathery wing and pulled her way back towards the dragon’s massive body in an attempt to get back on it. That plan had failed and she was all too aware that she wouldn’t be able to hold on for much longer, as her hands were getting sweatier and growing more tired by the second.

‘We need to go back or at least land somewhere!’ she shouted, trying to make herself heard over the continuous dragon roars and wind.

Poppy, who had managed to stay on the back of the beast when Lily slipped, nodded briefly to let Lily know she’d heard. Lily could see the panic in Poppy’s eyes. It wasn’t easy to fly a dragon on the best of days and today was pretty much as bad as it gets. The battle around them was raging on, drawing the dragon’s attention and the wind was picking up as well, making it even more difficult for the dragon to hear Poppy’s instructions. It took great skill and a powerful mind on top of years of training and bonding with a dragon to be able to control it enough to ride it. Poppy was young and inexperienced, but had been forced to take the reins anyway as they were losing dragon riders every day and needed to replace them or admit defeat. Without dragons they didn’t stand a chance. And they couldn’t afford to lose. Giving up now would mean that everything they know would be destroyed and millions would die. And the deaths wouldn’t be quick. The destruction wouldn’t be swift. It would be drawn out to ensure maximum amount of torture. They knew this as it had already begun to happen before they gathered the resistance and halted the doom’s progress.

Slowly starting to lose her nerve, Lily tried to swing her leg up again, as the dragon’s leathery wing beat down, but failed and nearly lost her grip completely. She closed her eyes, feeling tears and terror starting to overwhelm her. ‘I must hold on. I can’t let go. It’s not an option to give up,’ she whispered, to no-one in particular. She was out of ideas and about to lose hope. How could she not? They’d been in open battle for days and even before this she’d been in raid parties sent out to conduct surprise attacks on the enemy or scouting or bringing in more supplies. She was always busy, always in the thick of things. She was tired. It would be so simple to just let go and not have to worry about anything anymore. She was exhausted of trying to be what everyone expected of her.

Looking down, Poppy saw that Lily was really struggling so she focused all of her efforts once more on the dragon. She closed her eyes in concentration and thought: ‘It’s going to work. You’re going to hear me. We need to get somewhere safe. We need to land. I command you to fly away from the battle. Anywhere safe.’ She put as much conviction in it as she could muster, wishing that this time the dragon would pick up the command and do what she wanted. It was their only chance. Her magic was slowly waning and to be honest she was surprised it had lasted her that long. She had last refilled her reserves hours ago, before they set off towards the battle with the other troops who had been resting, if you could call it that. A couple of hours of fitful naps, more like dosing off from exhaustion than knowingly going to sleep. It was hard to get any rest so close to the war front. If you couldn’t get it out of your mind, it’d haunt you in your dreams. So it made little difference, but they were still grateful to know that at least for those few hours they weren’t in imminent danger from being burnt to death, thrown off a dragon, blown apart or any other common occurrences that came along with being in open war.

To Poppy’s immense surprise and relief, the dragon seemed to have heard and was now banking left, turning its back on the battle and making its way back. It didn’t take long for the dragon to get low enough so Lily wouldn’t be in mortal danger anymore. This seemed to encourage Poppy so she felt more confident when closing her eyes again and thinking: ‘Hurry.’ She felt the dragon speed up and looking down she saw the scorched ground fly by so fast it became a blur of fully burnt black and wilted yellow. Occasionally a grey rocky patch would break the monotony, but overall it was a bleak sight. Soon they were far enough so they were able to land.

Instantly Lily let go of the dragon, feeling drained. She tumbled and fell clumsily to her knees before collapsing completely. She was still alive. She could hardly believe it. She’d used the last of her magic to bind herself to the dragon as they’d been speeding off to safety. A few more minutes and her last drops of magic would’ve been gone and even though they weren’t flying that high, falling when flying at that speed would’ve been dangerous. So for now she was content just breathing in the smell of burnt ground and knowing that even though she’s not the hero everyone’s expecting her to be, she’s surprisingly lucky. And still alive.

As soon as the dragon’s claws reached the ground, Poppy slid off it. It wasn’t the most graceful disembarking, but little to do with dragons was graceful these days. Everything was rushed and technical, it was about practicality, not about what was right. That’s not something she wanted to think about now, however. She’d been lamenting over the poor treatment of dragons and her part in it ever since she was recruited to the army. She didn’t want to think about that either. She didn’t want to give in to her thoughts at all recently as a lot of them span around the horrors she’d seen, been through and inflicted. Attacking the enemy still meant killing and not all of the enemy soldiers were evil. Some of them were recruits like herself. The other side had just reached them before. She pushed all of that to the back of her mind and crouched down next to Lily. Her sister needed her and that’s all that mattered for now.

To be continued…

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The featured picture was drawn by my sister.