Stuck Inside A Story (For 28 years…)

That’s how it feels. That’s what it is. Stuck. Trapped. Held prisoner. I can’t get out. But do I really want to? Evidence would suggest not. Sometimes I wonder what exactly I have done. Created a world, created characters, used some magic and a lot of hard work, an imagination I can’t control, and there you have it, an alternative reality I can’t escape from.

I had no idea this would happen when I started writing as a child. My first attempts were hand-written stories about lost and abandoned animals, heavily influenced by my love of Watership Down and other similar books. I didn’t write my first story about real people living real lives until I was 12 years old. What happened to tear me away from my quaint tales of lost dogs and runaway bunnies? Well, weirdly, this.

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And this.

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Watching The Lost Boys gave me a few vital ingredients for the story that would go on to hold me prisoner for the next 28 years. It gave me the main idea, the main concept and it gave me some characters. Or at least, it inspired me to create characters who would turn out to be the kind of people I wished I knew in real life. As for Stephen King, it was around this time that I started my collection and was well on my way to becoming a truly obsessed fan. Add to that strange mix, the recent divorce of my parents, the usual teenage angst and rebellion, and I had me a story. Remember the bit in The Lost Boys when the younger brother realises his mother is dating the head vampire? That’s where the idea for The Boy With The Thorn In His Side came from. It wasn’t called that back then. It wasn’t called anything for ages. But I kept thinking…what if your mother was dating a monster? Only not the vampire kind, the real-life kind? And what if no one believed you? And what if you only had yourself and your best friends to try to battle this person? It was a weird mix of asking ‘what if’ questions, my parents’ recent divorce playing on my own fears, a dewy-eyed fascination with the actor Corey Haim, and a love of horror and fascination with the darker side of human nature that spawned this tale.

In my mind, my main character Danny, who is 13 at the start of Part 1, looked a lot like Corey Haim, who I was quite a bit in love with at that age. Once I had him in my head, his character started to grow and evolve, and I think I wrote that very early first draft pretty quickly. I remember it was my absolute obsession for a while. I hated to be away from that story. I’d rush home from school and up to my room to pick up my notebook and pen. I’d write endlessly and passionately. I suppose at the time I had no real idea of what I was doing. I was sort of trying to invent friends, I think. People I was intrigued by, people who had drama in their lives. I felt like I was a character in the book too. I was so proud when I finished it. I even started a sequel. I showed my English teacher and she read it and gave me a merit certificate I had to go up in assembly to collect. I remember being embarrassed but happy. The certificate said I had written a novel. At age 12! I don’t think I have the certificate anymore, but here’s the book.

 

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I started rewriting it after that. I had invested in an electronic word processor. It was the most exciting machine in the world to me! I could sit there and tap away and watch my words appear on this mini screen, before hitting print and then holding typed pages in my hands. What also happened to me at that age was that the story crept inside my brain. It kept me awake at night. It was company. I was never, ever bored. I’d look forward to bedtime because I knew I could lie there and think about my story before I fell asleep. I watched the scenes in my head like a movie. I heard them talking and arguing. Inevitably I came up with new ideas and extra bits, but mostly I just let them play it all out, and most of those imagined scenes have never made it into any of the books. It was just me, a fly on the wall of a made-up world, watching them live.

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Here’s one of the many pictures I drew of the characters. Only some of these made it into the final version.

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I rewrote that book again at aged 16. I’d started and not finished tons of other stories in that time. The book had opened a floodgate, forging a lifelong addiction to writing. But that one story, I couldn’t ever let it go. I rewrote it again at 19. I thought about it constantly during the non-writing years of balancing early motherhood with self-employment. The same story, the same characters always in my head, coming back to me night after night. I was 34 before I finally returned to it. I started writing in notebooks again, just like when I was a kid. Snatching spare moments, writing before bed, suddenly entirely addicted all over again, but this time it had to come out, it had to be finished.

I finally released it in 2013. The Mess Of Me snuck in and was released first because The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was so long and needed so much work. But finally, it was out. A real book I could hold in my hands! I’d done it. So now they would fall quiet, surely? I’d stop thinking about them. I’d stop playing out more scenes.

Well, no, not exactly. Before I knew it I’d penned a sequel, This Is The Day and released that too. That should have been the end of it it, but yet, it still wasn’t. The story itself was so enticing to me, and I was so invested in it, I couldn’t stop imagining other endings, and I guess, truth be told, in my head I did not want it to be over. So the stories went on. Every night, hi guys. What’s happening now?

I wrote an alternative ending in 2016 and included it in Bird People and Other Stories.That was supposed to draw a line under it, but it only made things worse. Now I couldn’t get the thought of other endings out of my head! What if this happened instead? What if? What if? For the fun of it, I started writing a screenplay in a notebook. Brand new material that led on from the original ending of book one, slotting in and delaying the ending, but finishing up before This Is The Day. This was only supposed to be for fun. To get it out of my system. To indulge myself even more than I already had. What the hell, what did it matter? It was for fun. I didn’t have to explain that to anyone!

Except now I do. Because that screenplay became a total obsession. I carried that notebook around with me everywhere. I grabbed every spare moment I had to write into it, getting this new story out. I absolutely loved it. I was so excited about it. I just couldn’t put it down. So eventually, after a lot of thinking and plotting, I came to a decision. I would do it. I would split the book back into two parts and this new material would be part three. Part Four would be This Is The day but it would need some reworking. Then suddenly, parts five and six emerged…

I’ve now accepted the truth. And that is that this story and these characters will never let me go. They are part of me and part of my life and I’m going to leave each book open, just in case I want to revisit it again.

There are new characters introduced in Parts Five and Six, and these also get their own spin-off book or possibly series with characters from both appearing in the others. So, as you can see… this thing could run and run.

So, if you are interested in reading this story, which began when I was 12, followed me through my life and has now evolved into at least a six-part series, you can start with The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part One which is available for pre-order on Amazon now and is released on 9th November. This is a reworked, revised edition. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side Part Two is also available for pre-order now and is also released on 9th November. Both at the special introductory price of 99p.

I plan to release the brand new Part Three in January an Part Four in February. By then I hope to be into the second or third draft of Part Five…

And the weird thing about this story is that I wrote it purely for myself, I indulged myself entirely, became utterly lost and absorbed and have still been unable to climb free from it. So I don’t really expect anyone to buy it, and I don’t really mind if they don’t. It feels weird to even try to plug it if I’m honest. Like this one is just for me. Like this is my mind, my imagination, my daydreams and to imagine anyone else wandering around in there is almost unsettling. And if it holds me prisoner for another 28 years? I think I’m okay with that…

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The Dark and the Light

The Dark and The Light

 

It is wrong. Like me.

Everything about me is wrong, and I hear them say it. I have heard it often enough. I amble through it, warm inside, warm outside, full of acceptance and impatience.

I am impatient because life is long, and slow. Like my love. I need them both to end.

I am thinking about this in my flat. My flat is always warm. And so am I. I am not sure what being cold feels like. I have too many layers, one on top of the other, dirt and grit in-between, guilt and shame. They layer up, they gang up on me, they bind me up and keep me warm at night. I am always warm.

Like now. Watching him.

My face is warm and so is my groin. I lift one arm slowly. I watch it travel through the clogged up, fogged up air, and I can feel how tightly the air surrounds my skin, lingering there, filled with secrets. My hand moves slowly. It is a juddering, shuddering thing, a dark starfish turning, curling through the dust.

I touch my face. My palm is rough against my whiskered jowls. It is a landscape of lumps and bumps, craggy and weathered and warm and pulsing. And I can smell it. If I stand here still enough, if I breathe in slowly enough, inhaling the life I exist in. I can smell my skin and I can smell the stink of age and ruin.

Whiskey on my breath, coating my tongue. Nicotine stains upon my fingers. I can smell the scent of who I am, of what I am. I suck it up. Breathe it in. Remember. Rotten on the outside as well as the in. Decayed from within.

Was I ever anything else? Anything more, or less than this?

I am too old now, too far gone, too hunched and sorry and broken and lustful to remember. There must have been another me once. A younger, trimmer, taller me. With brighter eyes and sounder mind. I can’t be sure though. I can’t be sure when the rot set in, when the infection took hold. I do know that I never once tried to fight it. Life was too long then, too slow. And it still is now.

Watching him. On guard. Waiting. Always waiting. Stood behind, looking down. Cocooned by the flat, by the dark, warm cave it has become. Lonely, but somehow we are joined here, linked. I sniff it. The darkness does not hide my secrets well. For I can smell them in the sweet cloying air as it cloaks my face. My flat smells too, of everything I am, of everything I bury here, of longing and loathing, and love.

Orange curry and gone off milk, cobwebs hanging with dust and dried flies, stains on the carpet, mould on the walls, fingerprints in the books and on the dirty magazines under the mattress.

In here it is dark, and he is the only light. He never sees this because he thinks he is ruined and destroyed, and maybe he is wrong, maybe he is right. He never thinks about anything too much these days. Only the home he escapes from, and the fear of being found. Only the music he keeps in his ears, in his brain, blocking everything else out, refusing it entry. Only the dark oblivion we enjoy together. Try this. And this.

I am the dark and he is the light.

His pale face turned up to mine, eyes closed and mind gone. I want to reach out and touch him but I cannot. If I lay my dirtied hand against his pale skin I might leave a stain upon it. I might destroy the light. And then we will all be worse off.

I stand behind and look down.

Breathing him in. Absorbing the light. My hand remains against my face. Warm and throbbing, rough and worn. I hold myself there. And my guts are inside me, behind the wall of fat and whiskey and sloth. Behind the solidified alcohol and curry and waste. My guts are back there, knotted and aching and crying. I can feel them there. I want to ease them out and relieve the pain and pressure. I want to stretch them out and let them breathe. They are a weight holding me down. Holding my feet to the sticky carpet.

Everything I deserve is in this place. Dirt and dust and shadows. I don’t belong anywhere else. One day I think, I won’t leave here. The doors and the windows will seal me in. The air will thicken until I suffocate. I will die here and I hope it is soon.

But what of him? What of the light?

How much time have we got? How much longer can I keep holding myself back? I examine the contours of his face lovingly, as I drag my rough palm over my own soggy, saggy features. Where his is sharp, defined, clean edges, mine is lost, sunken, shabby and derelict. My chins pile up. My cheeks hang loose. My eyes vanish under folds of flesh.

His skin is clear and soft and new. The only blemish is the deep cut to his top lip and a slight swelling there. My hand is reaching out to it now, reaching for the bump on his lip, but I pull back just in time. I always do that. I long to reach out and soothe what the monster has inflicted. I don’t say a word when he does it though. I hang back and look on.

Silence pounds my brain.

Blood throbs between my legs.

The monster jeers and laughs at this, but this is not all there is. It’s not just that… It’s not just blood and longing and desire. This is different. The boy has a light. And now the pounding is in my heart as well. The aching and the longing is in all of me.

My hand is where it should not be. It has landed in his hair again. My heavy fat fingers falling through the tousled blonde strands while my heart beats faster. I pull my hand away when the door suddenly opens. I walk quickly away, shoving my hands into my pockets, blinking away a salty tear.

In walks the monster. In walks King Of The Castle. In walks Mr High and Mighty. Mr The Big I Am. He walks in and the air grows colder and the boy shifts and stirs and moans softly on the sofa, but he does not wake.

The monster smiles at me because he can always smell my guilt.

‘Behaving yourself?’

‘Course I am. What do you want?’

No answer, because he does not have to answer your questions. Not the King Of The Castle. Not the King of the Shitting World. He goes to inspect the boy, who he thinks he owns, who he tries to turn into a robot, a yes-man, a minion. The beautiful boy full of light.

‘Is he out of it?’

‘Looks that way.’

‘Little prick.’

I sigh and shuffle towards the kitchen, where there are dead flies on the windowsill.

‘Do you want tea? Whiskey?’

‘Tea. Not staying long.’

‘Are you taking him home?’

‘Might do. Why? Will you miss him?’

Of course he laughs at his little joke, because he has always found my pain amusing. I deserve it though. He knows this as well as I do. We exist like this, somehow. The monsters. Both of us. Vile. Inhuman. We don’t deserve love or light.

Only I feel the guilt. That is the only real difference. The thing is, we both want the same thing. We both want love given to us, we both want what we do not deserve, what is not rightfully ours. We go about it in different ways. And the boy on the sofa knows all of this and none of this. He knows everything and yet nothing.

I make tea and in the lounge the monster sits next to the sleeping boy, dulling his light. Can it work the other way around, I wonder? Can the light fight back? Can it ward off the darkness and win? Theirs is a fight to the death. A fight neither can afford to lose. I make the tea and try not to think about the future. Time passes too slowly for the likes of me. I have been dying slowly for years. I am trampled fruit underneath the autumn tree, I am crushed and squashed and pulped and rotting. It takes too long. I should be dust by now, but it all takes too long.

Another unseen salty tear stings my eye while I make the tea and think about the boy. I think about him and how rotten we are to surround him like this, to want to own him and love him, to want his light to reflect back on us. I think about the very first time I saw it. I think how my breath hitched in my throat, and how my old eyes widened and my mouth fell open and how my blackened old heart ran up to my mouth, pounding, though it had no right to, though it was not allowed.

I have no right to love of any kind.

And there is a clock ticking somewhere in this place. There is inevitability and pain waiting for all of us in this dark, warm cave.

Something will happen. Something is coming. This, this is all wrong…I swirl the bloated teabags around the mugs, one at a time, my movements clumsy and stiff, sploshing brown liquid over the sides. I listen to the voices in the lounge. King of The Castle is waking the light up, easing him out from his dreams. I wonder how he feels when he wakes up like that. Realising. Remembering. Does he get a jolt of cold fear right in the centre of his chest? Do the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end? Does he feel the most powerful urge a human body can experience; the urge to run? Or does he just feel flat, empty and resigned? Does he just remember and then give in? I don’t know anymore. There used to be more fire in his eyes, I remember that. I enjoyed that. But now I don’t know.

I pick up the mugs and carry them in. They don’t look at me or speak to me, and yet I know what we are. We are a triangle of misery and hatred and love and the whole thing turns like a never-ending circle, but it can’t do that forever, because one of us will be blunted. One of us has to go.

 

This is a short story written from the point of view of one of the minor characters in my novel The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – you can find out more about these characters and this story by following this link – the novel is available in ebook and paperback 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boy-Thorn-His-Side-ebook/dp/B00W8DLGKA/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1431972783&sr=1-1&keywords=the+boy+with+the+thorn+in+his+side

 

He Is A Storm

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He Is A Storm

There is a storm in his head.

It is black and violent and consuming and becomes him.

It has been there for so long, ebbing and flowing, dimming and glowing. It burns from the inside of his brain, begging release. His heart is on fire. Pain explodes in his guts and suddenly he is not human anymore.

Because a fine line snaps.

Because it pulls taut, tighter than normal, tighter than anyone can stand, vibrating like guitar strings. And on this day, and in this moment, it snaps. The line snaps and it sets him free.

He is no longer tethered, or loosely, marginally restrained. He is no longer held back, warned off, given the look, or contained. There is nothing between them now. Nothing except the black storm inside his head and the ping of the line as it snaps inside of him, and sets him free, sets him reeling forwards.

He moves soundlessly in his head, yet somehow he knows his open mouth is bellowing years of pent up rage. He feels his bulk multiplying in size and force. He is like a building rising up before exploding and falling down. And he does fall down.

Set free, he gives himself totally to violence. It’s blind and raging and delicious and addictive. He falls down upon the smaller body, and they clash, bones jarring, muscles screaming, eyes popping. Game on. And sounds rise into the air around them and above them, as they entwine and entangle, as they smash and crash and dance into the wall.

His own soul bellowing while it dies.

The cries of shock and pain. They make primal sounds, the two of them, dancing. And the girl is in the background but she is insignificant to the fight. A fly in the air buzzing. A bug on his neck scratching. He swats her away like she is nothing.

And the more he punishes the body he has seized, the more free he becomes. An ugly wound stuffed tight now breaks open, and the foul gush runs free, rumbling and turning within the fire that burns. And the more he hates and the more he punishes, the better he feels, the best ever, and he wants to cling onto that feeling for longer. And so the rage screams from his lips, and the fists go in and out, in and out, until the blood smothers them, thick and warm like crimson gloves.

It spatters his face like paint. Droplets in his hair and eyes and mouth. He is eating him alive. Blood brothers. The bug is on his back again, fighting and clawing, her screams mixed with the bellow in his own brain, until he throws her aside and lands on top of her.

And now the storms starts to subside, starts to ease off, like a deep breath taken and held, and everything stops, and he sees his bloody fists and he feels the ache of his knuckles and he sees the terror in her face, and he sees the body lying still against the wall.

But he asked for it. He went too far. Wrong moment. Wrong time. Wrong person. Wrong place. Wrong life. He couldn’t stop. Because he didn’t want to stop. But now he has stopped. The storm betrays him and skies start to clear.

She stares back at him and suddenly there is someone else, coming towards them, shocked and crying out. And this breaks whatever is left of the spell, and the hold the storm had on him is gone, over, broken.

The line tries to find its way back, tries to reattach, but it can’t find its way. He gives up. He gives himself up to everything. He runs from their terror and from the blood on the wall and from the figure on the floor. Like a beast, like a creature, like a monster, he charges bull-like, monstrous, inhuman, thick and hard and powering through everything as he explodes from the inside, and he runs from them all.

Blood in his mouth.

Sweet and tangy.

He spits and retches and heaves and runs. He opens the car door and somehow he is driving. Tyres screech against tarmac. Panic thunders in his chest. He can’t breathe, or see, or think. He is not human, he knows only this. He turned his back on it and embraced insanity. He drives, not knowing where he is driving to.

He drives to her.

Something desperate and clawing, something raw and open and bleeding and weeping and begging and shaking. Something hammering at his blackened mind. Words and visions and blood soaked dreams. His mother washing his mouth out with soap. Picking up the frying pan and battering his step-dad over the head with it. Wanting to do so much more. Needing to.

The door is open. Unlocked. No cars. No one home? It is like the house is waiting for him, door open, enticing, inviting him in. He runs in, blood soaked and calling her name, twisting his hands inside his t-shirt, trying to wipe off his crime.

His mind is chattering. Cold now. Afraid.

Oh what have I done, what have I done, what have I done, what have I done…

            Powers up the stairs. His body is rigid, rock hard with adrenaline tightened muscles. He could run through walls. Sail through windows. Calling her name. Calling for her.

What have I done, what have I done? Oh what have you done? What have you done?

            He finds her lying there like a pale, limp starfish.

Arms and legs all stuck out to the side of her tiny body dressed in black. He finds her open eyes staring, but not seeing. He finds her sheets soaked in blood. He finds her wrists sliced open, undone, like him. Her line snapped too.

Oh what have you done? What have you done?

            He pulls off his t-shirt and wraps it around her wrists, winding the bloody material around and around, binding her hands together.

What have you done?

            He gathers her small body into his big, naked arms, and her head rolls back and he hears her gasp, feels the breath leave her mouth and smother his face, and he holds her and runs.

In the hospital he sits, covered in so much blood, yet none of it is his. They think it has all come from her, the girl he brought in, the life he saved. He sits there, on a hard plastic chair while they stitch her up, fix her, attach her line and shake their fingers.

You saved her life.

            She’ll be okay. What’s your name?

            Where are you going? Where are you going?

            Don’t you want to see her now? You can see her now.

            But he can’t see her now. He can’t see anyone. Least of all himself. He is a storm.

This short story is written from the POV of Leon, a character in my novel The Mess Of Me. If you would like to find out more about his story, you can download the novel here;http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mess-Me-Chantelle-Atkins-ebook/dp/B00CSVQ8EQ/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1438892427&sr=1-3