Remains

She struggled to open her eyes, feeling groggy it took her a few minutes to realise where she was. As she struggled to stand up she watched the desolate horizon as the sun went down.

Shit!

She couldn’t believe she had slept through the day-how had she been so foolish?

Her heart raced as she tried to think of the nearest shelter, if she didn’t get undercover soon she would be toast. Quickly she gathered her worn down backpack and small but precious water bottle. She ran.

She ran towards the cliffs and she did not stop. So many times she had seen this happen to others, watched from afar wishing she could help but knowing there was nothing she could do. She wondered if there was someone near,watching her and wishing they could help. It didn’t matter now.

As she reached the bottom of the cliffs she heard the familiar screech that made her flinch as it echoed around the valley. She had never left it this late before,never been this close to death. Her whole body shook with terror as she took her first steps onto the rock, desperately climbing and hoping to find somewhere to hide. She noticed her hands were bleeding from the sharp stone but she did not let that stop her, she was so terrified she didn’t even feel the pain.

She was lucky.

There was a small indent in the rock about a quarter of the way up. She had managed to find it and to squeeze herself in. She turned herself around to watch the valley as the last light died.

There they were; black, deformed figures flying towards the rocks. Their screams were painful to the ear and their eyes burned red in the darkness. All Emily could do was pray, pray they wouldn’t find her because she knew that there was no worse way to die-the reapers enjoyed pain, the reapers had no mercy.

Pray…

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Consequences

Trapped in a prison of words. I don’t remember light or air, the dark is where I dwell.

I forget how I got here- When did I get here? Who put me here?

The cage is so familiar, the words are all I know.

Have I been forgotten?

ALONE.PAIN.BROKEN.COLD.HEARTLESS.

These words haunt me, these words consume me, I cannot escape these words. They bind my heart and trap my mind. They are cold and sharp and piercing. Each time they tighten their grip another piece of me is taken-never to return.

Why am I here?

Then it hits like a shard of glass perforating my heart. The thing that I could never be allowed to remember.

I built this prison.

Empty Walls

1
For the third time in half an hour she stared at the flowers with a sense of childish wonder.
“Are they mine?” she asked, her eyes fixed on the vase by the window. She didn’t wait for a reply before remarking;
“They’re pretty.”
She turned form the flowers to the cabinet by the door and took a sip of her orange juice. Her mind had already wandered, briefly forgotten the flowers, and was now focused on her purse. It was a stubborn purse, ancient, it should have been thrown out years ago but refused. Her hands shook as she clutched the worn leather and opened it to reveal a twenty pence coin. She was not shocked that there was so little in the purse and without thinking about it put forward her bony hands offering the coin to the girl sitting on the bed.
“No thanks.” the girl said trying to seem grateful for the offering.
The hand retreated and with a slight look of disappointment she turned around and placed the purse back on it’s cabinet. There was a moment of silence as she scanned the room, her face was like a blank canvas absorbing everything she saw. The girl was used to it, it was the same every week. They would have a brief conversation, light topics, before repeating it several times. It didn’t matter, it was being there that counted, at least that’s what she told herself. This was the time to make up for the past and start fresh but of course it could never be the same, never be truly mended.
Her eyes had wandered back to the flowers, she moved to them and stroked their withering petals.
“Are they mine?”
“Yes Gran, they’re yours.”

2
The last few years had been tough on Steph, she was only seventeen but had already witnessed death, depression, cancer and now dementia try to tear her family apart. Dementia. The disease that had claimed her Gran two years ago was at it’s worst. Steph had watched as her Gran was consumed and overthrown by the disease and now on her weekly visits she could not help but feel she was visiting a shell; a hollowed out, diluted version of her Gran, not the strong, at times infuriating woman she remembered.
While emptying her Grandmother’s house Steph had found a box of old photographs, a box bursting with memories. The first photo she pulled from the box was Steph as a child, maybe five or six years old. She was at the local park just round the corner from her Gran’s house. This picture brought back one of Steph’s most vivid memories: It was the summer holidays and Steph had been stuck in the house with her Grandparents all day, she was sick of watching the old movies on TV and waiting on her mother to come home so when her friend knocked on the door and asked her to go out she jumped at the chance to escape. She couldn’t remember why but her Papa had not wanted her to go, he gave her half an hour and if she wasn’t back by then he was going to go out and find her. Of course half an hour had passed and Steph had no intention of leaving her friends, she decided to test the limits. As she pushed herself forward on the swing she glanced at the street opposite the play park and saw her Papa striding towards her, she turned her head and pretended not to see him. Ten minutes later she began to wonder why her Papa had not reached her and forced her back home. She took another glance at the street but he was nowhere to be seen. She had a bad feeling and was scared she was in  trouble so left her friends and made her way back to the house. As she gingerly opened the door to her Gran’s house she heard a ruckus coming from the living room. When she entered she saw her Papa stretched out on the sofa, blood pouring from his nose, he had fallen at the park. The two strangers who had helped him home swiftly left and Steph was left with her stern Grandmother. She was ushered to the kitchen and received a powerful telling off by her statue of a Gran. She never tested the limits again.
This was the Gran that Steph had grown up with, struggled with and fought with. This was the Gran she loved.
The next picture that Steph grasped in the box was an old one, it was worn and in black and white and showed children wearing old fashioned clothes playing in a field. This reminded Steph of the stories her Gran would tell on the long afternoons after her Papa died and her Mum began working late. She would tell Steph the stories of her childhood, what it was like growing up in the steelworks, witnessing the end of the war and the mischief she would cause at school. The tears of laughter would gather in the lines of her face, her joy was infectious and glowing. She had never seen her Gran so happy.
After this came the darker days and there were no pictures to describe those.
The day her Gran had been told of her brother’s death Steph saw for the first time true sadness and grief exude from her usually cold Grandmother. The tears did not gather on her face, they poured down it like a flood destroying everything in it’s path. They were tainted with the anguish and regret of a broken and distant relationship. Steph had never seen her Grandmother so exposed, so raw and she never would again.
Even on the day she discovered her cancer she did not flinch, she merely wheeled into the living room and sternly announced it to a shocked daughter and granddaughter. She wore that solemn, stern attitude throughout her treatment and recovery. Steph had never known such a figure of strength. It was a quality she admired and hoped she would gain someday.
As she pulled a portrait of her Gran as a young woman from the box Steph thought of the last memory she held. The days when things began to unravel.
Her mother had left in a rush at four o’clock one morning and Steph did not find out until the next day that her Gran had suffered a bad fall and that she was not recovering as quickly as usual. When she visited with her mother a day later she could immediately see the change in the old woman. Her face was blank, eyes wide and mouth gaping. Her hands shook when she attempted to drink her tea and she was timid, afraid of her own house and unsure of herself. This was the point when Steph realised that her Gran was slipping away. A month later she was moved into permanent care.

3

They had been emptying the house for two weeks, slowly stripping it of it’s heart and soul, reducing it to a shell. An echo of their past. Her mother was exhausted, the years of stress had taken their toll, but seeing the house empty a look of calm washed over her. She didn’t have to worry anymore. As Steph closed the door on the house that had seen so much she could not help but feel something was left behind; The strength and dignity of her Grandmother, the memories of a happy family and the frozen imprint of a fractured relationship.

The Late Bus

It was a Tuesday night, my least favorite night of the week, I was once more waiting for the last bus home. Every Tuesday it was the same; the weekly meeting would make me half an hour late so I’d be on a later train meaning I would miss my usual bus by mere minutes. So there I was standing alone at the bus stop opposite the train station. The silence rang out in the deserted station only being disturbed by the occasional train cutting the air in a race to its destination. I was not used to seeing anyone around at this time of night, most people were at home having finished their dinner, watching TV and winding down from their hectic day. But on this particular Tuesday night as I waited for the late bus the calm and silence was broken by the sound of high heels crushing the ground beneath them. When I turned to see what was happening I saw her shadow emerge from under the orange glow of the streetlights. It was a woman in a long brown coat and high heels. She was stampeding her way from Platform One to the bus stop opposite me. Her hair was a fiery red colour it looked frazzled and worn, an afterthought of someone who had no time for vanity. The woman was on her mobile and seemed to be screaming at someone on the other end of the line, she was angry, someone with authority perhaps, a business woman who had left the office but not her work. Before I had the chance to examine this curious character in further detail a
taxi arrived and in a flash she was gone. I returned to my solitude and thought no more of the woman that night.

It was a week later that I saw the woman again. I did not recognise her at first, but her chaotic hair gave her away. She did not look as strong as the previous week- perhaps because she was not shouting into her phone- she looked tired and as she stood at the bus stop the orange light of the streetlight above her highlighted the wrinkles and lines on her face. I found myself feeling sorry for her as I noticed the sadness in her eyes, usually hidden by her tough exterior. She hadn’t seen me, her mind was far away and only the blinding lights of the taxi broke her gaze.

The next Tuesday I found myself waiting for the woman almost looking forward to seeing her, she had become a distraction from my hectic day and long wait for the bus. There had been something in her eyes that last Tuesday night, a look of despair perhaps, that made me want to know her story; she was like a jigsaw puzzle I had to finish.
And there she was just as I expected, she was talking on her mobile and seemed to be back to the strong business woman I saw on the first night. She stopped under her usual streetlamp at the bus stop and she let her body collapse against it as she fought her final battle of the day- I couldn’t help but listen in:
“…if he thinks I’m going to back down that easily he can think again. I suffered all those years and I’m damn well getting what’s owed to me…yes I know…yes…mmhm…well he always did, didn’t he? Anyway with the team I’ve put together it’ll be over by the end of the year, he won’t make a fool of me again…yes thanks for your call darling, we’ll have lunch soon…okay, bye.”
That is what her mouth was saying but her face told another story. I could see her desperately trying to hold it together for her friend but behind the tough talk and sarcasm the woman looked broken. She was clearly exhausted and whoever “he” was affected her more than she wanted to believe. When she spoke of him she often glanced at her hand perhaps thinking of the wedding ring that used to live their or perhaps it was just a nervous habit. As her taxi approached she forced her body forward and tried to fix her hair. She glanced once more at her hand before putting on a fake smile for the taxi driver and entering the vehicle. Watching the car drive away that night I wondered how long the woman would be able to keep up her act and hoped I would see her again.

It had been two weeks since I had seen the woman; last week I had a 21st birthday party straight after work so I didn’t make it home. Part of me felt like I had let the woman down, it seemed as if she did not have many people in her life- probably due to being a workaholic- and those people who were in her life seemed not to care too much like the “friend” on the phone who would maybe meet for lunch soon. Even if I was a complete stranger and she didn’t know I existed, I still cared and I found myself wanting her to find a happy ending to her sad tale. And as the cold breeze tore through me that Tuesday night I looked forward to finding out what I had missed, and wondered how close I was to finishing her puzzle.
I waited. I waited and it got colder and the sky opened and the rain poured. I waited and the train drew in, no-one got off. I waited and the silence became deafening. I waited and my bus came. The woman was nowhere to be seen.

Over the next week I thought often of the woman, had I missed her happy ending? Had something terrible happened to her? Had she finally had enough of the act she put on? Would I ever finish her story? I looked forward to Tuesday night for a change and hoped that I would see the woman, hear her heels pierce the ground beneath her, see her hair ignite the shadows, see the fire in her eyes return. I was not disappointed.
I stood alone at the bus stop, as the train drew into the station my anticipation became unbearable. Silence…Yes! The familiar sound of her black high heels echoed around the deserted station. As a figure emerged from the shadows I tried to squint and make sure it was her. It was but it wasn’t. I couldn‘t quite believe my eyes, she was completely transformed. Her usually tangled and wild hair neatly framed her face, it was cut differently and dyed a dark brown to suit her skin tone. Underneath her worn brown coat was not her usual crumpled blouse and ill-fitting skirt- she was wearing a long figure hugging dress, red with a floral print. Most importantly was her eyes, the lost and longing look was gone, the fire was back, she was smiling and it wasn’t an act. She did not go to the bus stop as usual instead she ran to the car park where a car was waiting, had it been there all this time? Before she reached the vehicle a man jumped out to greet her, when they embraced I noticed the most important change: the light bounced off of the wedding ring that had been firmly reinstated on her finger.
“I‘m so proud of you.” I heard the man say.
“I should have done it years ago, I‘m glad to see the back of that place.” She replied joyfully.
They quickly bundled into the car and were gone. Although I did not have all the pieces of her puzzle I had seen her happy ending. That was all that mattered.
The next morning I quit my job. It was time to think of my story and how I wanted it to end.