WEEK 2. WINNERS
We have had a fantastic response to the second week of our Creative Writing Competition.
The winner of the Published Category is
Damien Donnelly with his story ‘A Thin Slice of Air’.
A Thin Slice of Air
I’d been back a month, the city of light they called it, Paris and all its lovers, everyone hand in hand, lips locked like they were lynching the breath from each other and there I was, alone. It had become my city of shadows; dark, devious and doomed.
Why did I come back here, of all places, the one city that had ripped us apart, literally? It had found us, cracked us open and drained the beat of life that bound us, blood seeping onto sidewalks, terrorising terraces, drowning the river in crimson currents, from your veins to its bed.
I was back in our home, on our balcony, waiting, wondering if I’d catch sight of you. I lost nights chain smoking, drinking, pissing, hurting all over again. Everything inside still aching from that night, even the dust felt your absence and clung to your chair, your brushes, your side of the bed, your box of sharp, sadistic tricks.
It was the end of October when it happened, when the shadows gradually began to find their shape in the darker tones of the season. Breath hung in the crisp air when you exhaled, like an entity all of its own. It was almost midnight on that most hallowed of all eves, I was wearing your scarf, wrapped tightly around my neck. I had the feeling it was your hands wrapped around me, almost to the point of choking me, when I saw the shadow approaching. An icy shiver cut through my veins like I’d swallowed blades, large and hole. I froze to the spot. I recognised the shadow as it came closer and, as the form found its shape, I knew it to be true. I held my breath as it came to the gate, flipped the latch and entered the garden of dying flowers beneath the spell of the moon. The door downstairs groaned opened, followed by the tortured creak of those worn wooden steps, the ones you always demanded me to fix, I wish that had been your only demand. Keys rattled next in the hallway and I could feel the weight of them as if they were the keys to hell itself until one twisted in the slot of my door, which used to be our door. The lock clicked just as I stepped in from the balcony. My pulse was beating so hard it felt like the veins of my body were being snipped up towards the core.
The form stepped into the dimly lit room and I recognised the scent immediately as tears burnt down my face. I opened my mouth to scream but your hand caressed my cheek, wiped my tears before you put your lips against mine and I was captive once again in your disastrous embrace, after so many years of being without, being lost, being broken, resigned to regret.
I thought I was already dead. I didn’t think I could move until you whispered to me to hold you and, without knowing it, without controlling them, my arms wrapped themselves around you and held us together so tightly that I thought we’d break.
This is death, I told myself, I exist now among the dead and yet I could smell you, feel you; your cold lips, that putrid perfume I’d always hated and your body bolt against mine.
I didn’t know how it could be, how you were standing in front of me, touching me, your tongue piercing its way into my mouth. And then the doorbell rang and shook through the aching stone-cold slab of the moment, shook the entire building and maybe even the entire world that had flipped on its axis in a matter of seconds, in the encounter of a kiss, a kiss from death itself.
“The kids,” I said, as if everything was normal, unsure of what else to say, “don’t. It’s
Halloween… they’re just looking for candy.”
You turned and somehow you were instantly out of my grip, standing by the door, turning the handle, but I hadn’t seen you move. You stood in silence regarding the children outside, dressed as ghouls, monsters and one peculiar child hidden from head to toe in a princess costume, perfectly in character except for the gaping wound on her neck. She held a knife in her tiny hand, as real and as sharp as a butcher’s pride and joy.
“You shouldn’t be playing with this, my sweet, you’ll get blood all over your costume,” you said to her before you took the knife from her tiny fingers and suddenly you were back again, standing before me, looking right inside me.
The children were still standing in the doorway as you raised the blade, cutting through the thin slice of air that separated us, as if that was all that separated us.
“I don’t understand,” I said to you, knowing time had deserted me, realising I’d wasted my freedom, watching the shadows, terrified of what would one day arise from them, “you were dead,” I said, “I saw you bleed out on front of me.”
“I know, my love and I still am. The dead don’t come back to life, not after their lover killed them, they just come back for what they left behind,” she said as she slashed the blade across my neck, just below her scarf and the warm blood gushed from the inside out.
She grabbed me and pulled me close to her as the life drained from my body, bringing her lips down on my neck and savagely sucking what was left from my veins.
“You took my life because you discovered my desire to kill, so returned to show you that very desire, first-hand,” she whispered to my fading life-force.
“Happy Halloween,” were the last words I heard her utter as I dropped to the floor while she took the hands of the children who watched from the shadow of the doorway and lead them off with a vengefully demonic laugh.
The winner of the Unpublished Category is Bernadette Jameson with her story ‘Lullaby’
At a certain time of night, when the mist on the river Liffey gathers under her bridges, and the old Georgian buildings along the quay condescend to admit the veiled darkness, the city seemed to settle back into its former self. From the partly opened sash window of one of those buildings, former grand houses from an era long past, the noise of the dwindling traffic on the quay far below sounded like a sigh.
Dublin drifted unwillingly towards sleep, and the inexorable pull of the past was like an irresistible force the city had learned to welcome as the night took hold, favouring it over the strangeness of modernity.
I was coming to the end of a long evening shift in the large empty newsroom of a radio station, which was in the topmost room of an old building, formerly a general hospital. The grimy windows were like world weary eyes observing the scene far below: an umbilical cord of a tram track, revellers waiting at the stop, chatting, laughing. The odd scuffle broke out, but nothing serious; and lovers stopped for a kiss in the doorway. It was a quiet street usually on a weeknight after the last Luas had departed, and the strong pulse of life was barely perceptible. A street in a capital city that the multitudes had earlier danced attention on, later set the scene for the homebound dance of a lone drunk.
This was a good time to gather my thoughts. The longest hour was usually the one before midnight, when there was usually no one left in the entire building except me. The staff had gone home, and the late-night show was pre-recorded. My voice, delivering the last bulletin of the day, was the only live human voice to be heard, I mused, as I put the midnight bulletin together. Tiredness and the need to concentrate tended to blot out the perception of the creaks and groans that an old building makes. I was barely aware that a closet in the wall behind me had swung open.
I closed it impatiently and resumed my work; but gradually, I became aware of something else. It sounded as if someone was humming a song nearby; it was a slow, sad, but nevertheless contented sound, that seemed to come from the other side of the room. One can be easily deceived when trying to discover where sounds emanate from in a big old room with the window open, so I slammed the window shut. This humming was somehow oddly distracting, even more intrusive than the Luas bells which had earlier formed part of the background noise. Yet it continued, and I wondered had someone left a radio or a computer on at a desk in the far corner of the room. I walked over to the empty desk; the computer was switched off and there was no radio or speakers there. I noticed the humming had stopped as I approached the corner, so I returned to my desk, believing I must have imagined it. As I sat down, it started up again. It was disconcerting, but I did not have time to deal with it as a correspondent called with a breaking story. Afterwards, I realised that the mysterious humming had apparently been continuing in the background. It is hard to describe the quality of this disembodied voice; it did not sound quite like someone standing there humming aloud. Rather, it hovered, like an echo, somewhere between the desks and the old Georgian ceiling. Impatiently, I walked over towards the corner, and as I approached, it stopped abruptly. I walked away, and it started up again. An uneasy suspicion set in. It seemed that something, some presence, was aware of my intrusion upon it, and it did not want to be disturbed. It was suddenly unnerving to think that another consciousness was in that room. That consciousness was invisible, but it was audible – either by choice, or despite itself.
I left the room and its mysterious occupant and quickly descended the carpeted stairs, fervently hoping I would find someone working late on a floor below. I felt slightly apprehensive as I walked all the way down to the basement, where a damp smell from the old walls was strongest, but there was not a soul to be seen. All three floors were also vacant.
Music drifted out of the studio; it was a modern, upbeat and distinctive sound, interspersed with advertisements. It was nothing like the gentle wistful old-fashioned solitary voice at the top of the building. I was devoid of all human company; but, it seemed, I was not alone. Checking my watch, I realised it was time to read the midnight news, and so I quickly ran up the stairs.
I ventured back into the room tentatively, and I was aware, with some relief, that the humming has stopped. Had I imagined it, or was it a lullaby that no longer needed to be sung? I thought of the history of the building, which was part of a former hospital. I remembered hearing that the room I was working had once been a nursery. It would not be unusual, back in those days, to hear a lullaby sung by a nurse to a baby who was fretting in the night. Now, however, the soft and soothing musical cadence of the song seemed out of place in the blank empty office. Had someone’s routine, part of a job they loved, feeding and settling the infants, singing them a favourite lullaby, been repeating itself somehow in echoing fragments, long after her death, long after the youngest child had grown up, aged and passed on?
This city can seem timeless, anonymous, even callous; but on the darkest of nights, it has occasion to recall that which moved it most. Perhaps the walls of these old buildings hold layered memories close, releasing them in sound waves for anyone who listens: a weeping child, a haunting lullaby.
Jessica O’Brien with her story ‘Give up the Ghost' is the winner of the Teens Category
Give up the Ghost
I had never been one for ghost stories. My parents discovered my overactive imagination early on and did their best to protect me from otherwise harmless works of fiction and movies rated 12. Stories had this certain never ending pull to them, I would become the main character and feel their pain long after the story ended. Over the next few sleepless nights I would meticulously pull apart my own soul from theirs until I was free from their remnants. Of course with time, my sheltered existence began to show, and I grew tired of the cobwebby, unfinished exposure I’d had. Like any other rule or restriction, it caused my curiosity to grow larger, more rampant, until I decided it was time I brazened reality’s blow.
Nobody can scare me more than I can scare myself. I know what will push me over the edge, what memories to tug at until the thread frays and my vision splits. That’s when I see them. The girls, the ghosts, past versions of myself that hang from the ceiling of my skull. When I close my eyes and conjure them up in my mind though- wispy, eyeless spirits, withdrawing from my attention, I think of the little girls they once were. How each one of them was innocent and never wanted to hurt me and linger as long as they’ve had to. And how many more will join them, including the person I see in the mirror each morning and evening. How long do I have until I inevitably become my own ghost?
The ghosts keep me hostage in their various timeframes, forever frozen as a twelve year old, a fourteen year old, several fifteen year olds, all with their own trauma in their pale hands with no place to put it. Yet it would destroy me to destroy them. Bludgeon myself with a bloody rock, tear their lifeless limbs from mine, drag their nerves and veins by the fistful and disconnect their reproachful voices or screeches of bottled anger from my head. There’s no way to do so without causing irreparable damage and undoubtedly creating a fresh string of ghosts who would use the instance to convince me that I had fatally ruined my life for good.
The thing about having voices in your head is after a while, you become so accustomed that you can’t differentiate the real voices from the imaginary. You start to trust them. They become your own little camaraderie of hysterical therapists who are the only ones who truly know you. You end up letting the ghosts have their way because it’s just easier. So the next time you catch a glimpse of your reflection and don’t recognise it, you blink and ask for the memory to be wiped. Sometimes you cut your legs shaving and let the blood run and leave it to clot because it reminds you you’re alive. Then you see how long you can go without getting out of bed until somebody remembers you exist.
They’ve taken everything from me.
It bubbles up from time to time, the anger. At myself. I never granted those ghosts the power to pick and choose my memories. To overwhelm me with past disease ridden images, ceaselessly until I let them take control.
I suppose it’s less painful to forget what you were tearing yourself apart for in the first place.
I can feel their nails clawing under my skin. Their voices buzzing. Everything tastes like metal. I believed they’d protect me.
But it’s my fault for letting it get this far. I should’ve stopped it at the root of this rot. Maybe I secretly wanted it. Maybe I wanted something to mark me as special.
I just want it to be quiet in here. For once.
If somebody asked me what I was most afraid of, I would say my mind.
I’m going to do whatever it takes to make it quiet.
Switching emotions like a hot and cold tap. Welcoming more ghosts into its slimy walls to sit and scream talk and talk and talk and talk
I have to make it stop.
Their voices exist purely in my head, my brain, so my head must be the problem. Remove the seed and the weed can’t grow and infect. Remove where it began and all of the poison ivy growing across my skull will shrivel up and die in seconds, leaving me alone. In silence. Logic defies fear. That’s what they all told me.
‘To remove the seed you’ll have to bleed, but it decays the poisonous flower.’
It can’t be any worse than a child playing doctor. Take the knife, insert it like a key into the left temple and swing it around until you’ve got a hinge. A lid even, disguising the most putrid and infectious mutation known. The brain. Open and close. A quick, easy procedure.
And then it will be quiet again.
If it doesn’t bring quiet let it bring something more permanent out of mercy.
I imagine all of my little girls, my ghosts, my demons, my angels, ebbing out of the wound. Hovering above me to watch until I am sightless, because when I cease to be so do they. I see the hunger in their eyes, waiting for that moment. The relief it will give them.
Suddenly it is done.
I saved them. I saved my little girls, and by doing that, myself. Now they only exist in other people’s minds as the snapshots of happy youth they thought they were. Their projections will live on as the happy moments everybody saw. 15, 14, 13. They were so young.
I won’t prolong their pain or mine.
The truth and severity of my situation dawns on me just a moment too late. What a trick I’d fallen for! Laughter trickles out of me and it sounds like moans of agony.
Oh, but my beautiful little girls are free. And all I can hear is silence. Beautiful, wretched, glorious, maddening silence, forever and ever.