When a person or neighbour in your village cries out “troll”, lock your children inside the house and keep your hunting rifle by your side. I used to believe they were only children’s tales supposed to scare the kids from stepping deep into caves or under bridges. They had bright pink hair and you stuck them onto the end of your pencil. There was nothing to fear because they were nowhere to be seen.

This all changed a few years ago. I was walking Hunter through the forest on a warm Summer’s day. He was off the lead and jumping through bushes and hopping over streams and rarely waited for me. But when I stopped to tie my shoes I looked up and he was gone. There was nothing but the faint groans of pigs. I moved through the bushes closer to the noise and to stop Hunter from scaring the animals. Clearing through the bushes I saw what looked like three children all dressed in black. They were hopping around the front of a cave and throwing something between them. I stepped closer and noticed they were not children at all. Standing four-foot-tall and covered in wiry black fur. They squatted at the entrance and squealed as they chucked something against the rocks. Stamping the ground and smashing their swollen grey hands down onto the item like they were pressing grapes for wine. Their faces were a mess of mangy hair and bulbous snout covered in warts. For a second I caught sight of their small pebble black eyes scan the trees. I stood horrified as one flung the creature they had been stomping on to the other. Amidst all the blood I saw one of the trolls spinning Hunter’s collar between its fingers. They were throwing my German Shepherd around like he was nothing more than a wet towel. They squealed and painted their cave red with his blood. Only after some time had passed, they finally grew bored and lazily clambered back into the darkness. As I stood there paralysed in fear the last thing I heard where the echoed howls of twenty more.

When I returned to the village and told them of the trolls the older men looked at me displeased. They said they had warned us many times of the trolls, but no-one listened. It was several days later when I heard that they had built a fence around the cave and done nothing more. Looking back now I agree with how they handled it. It was too much of a risk to try and fight them as an angry troll will often follow you home and sniff out your loved ones. Best to let them lay in their caves and hope you don’t catch their eye.

The Bedite Borrows

No matter how much we cleaned the rooms and scrubbed the floors I could never escape that jittering restlessness I had as a child when visiting my grandad. Outside of the semi-detached castle my memories of him are cherished. Sitting at the head of the table at the pubs we would visit for Sunday roast, letting his hand get wet from the frosted glass of his second Guinness in his paws, as he played babysitter and the fool. But inside his castle, amongst all his familiar things, the mask would drop. I could never escape that feeling of unease since he slapped me. After that when visiting I would sit still on the edge of the sofa. Accept a biscuit and cup of tea. Tell him how school – college – work was.  Then wait for that thirty minutes to go by before I made my excuses. He’d nod and hug me goodbye. He knew how it worked now.

‘Bit of a ride but you know Burton always has the best fish and chips.’ My mum said as she closed the front door behind her and dropped the white plastic bags on the living room table. I sat up from the sofa and closed the heavy photo album.

‘I’ll get the knives and forks. You want any sauce or vinegar?’ I said sliding the photo-album under the sofa for later.

‘Ketchup is great – no, vinegar. I asked them to basically drown those chips in it on your request. I’m going to go wash my hands.’ I saw her hesitate for a second before pushing through the door to the downstairs bathroom beside the kitchen. I had forgotten about it too throughout the day while cleaning up. It was like a parasite wriggling under your skin every now and then just to remind you it was still there. I would rather piss in the sink than sit on that toilet. A blue streak passed the window causing me to flick my head in its direction. There was nothing there, but I had to check. Pressing my face close to the glass I could only make out the whistling branches caught in the nights wind. There was no place for a person to hide in the small patio garden with its dotted plant pots and swaying tree. Continue reading “The Bedite Borrows”

Through extreme pressure and heat the coarse sugar melted down and was squeezed out through tiny holes; This molten sugar spread through the air, cooling, and catching on the sides of the steel drum. Clutching one another, this once hard crystal was now lighter, and like webbing it danced in the light growing thicker as the motion continued. Levi watched how it waited, almost invisible to his eyes, until he placed the long stick down into the machine. Like an adder it snapped at the stick and coiled its body around, darkening its glistening threads to a thick and puffy pink. Seconds later it was fat and ready to be consumed.

Levi raised the stick from the machine and admired its sixties beehive hairstyle shape. The kid next to him stared at it wide-eyed and waited for Levi to move out the way before taking hold of the stick from the vendor working there. Stepping out towards the group of tourists alongside the sandy edges of Positano, he sat down on a deck chair and waited for the Pink Sea to arrive. It had always been an unwritten rule or cheek-kissing custom for him to buy Emil a treat whenever they visited a beach. And this was no exception. Emil would have complained about how terrible the colour was before unabashedly scoffing the candy floss down. Levi wished he had shared the sweet with Emil just once instead of feigning disgust at the chemical sugars. It was a constant regret he had let go of Emil’s hand when he strolled down to the strange phenomena happening in the water. He said he knew all about it but did he really? Even now Levi still couldn’t decide what it was. That coral-toned shimmer; rising with the waves yet so alien to the sea-water it inhabits.

A gaggle of tourists pointed their phones as a dolphin broke out from the water in the distance. Levi wondered how many people in the growing crowd would bite the bullet. After all the talk, the arguments, the endless doubt and fiery bursts of courage – would they give it all up, everything and everyone, to plunge into the Pink Sea? Levi had not been so sure several years ago when it appeared over Skegness. Families screamed for their kids to get out the water. Sirens wailed and the police commanded everyone to leave. He could still feel the gentle squeeze of Emil’s hand leading him towards the ruby froth rushing back and forth. His words, like whispers, were muted through the chaos on the land and rhythmic crashing of the waves. But Levi could still remember the look in his eyes. “It’s going to be better. Embrace it with me.” But that warmth and reassurance slipped free once Levi saw the man and woman ahead of them; swallowed at their waist they held onto each other as the pink froth lit up, and in moments, what was skin and bone and everything considered human began to dissolve. They did not scream, not one of the many people who accepted the cosmic oil-slick dancing over the water felt any pain. They all smiled. Levi let go of Emils hand and stepped back. He watched Emil continue to transcend into the deep and only once he was a floating head did he turn back to the shore. He could not hear Levis cries and apologies. He simply watched and when the Pink Sea was ready he became one with it. Continue reading

The Projectionist – Chapter Four

Oliver had spent the rest of that evening weighing up the invitation. There was nothing else, no small lead or person he knew who could help. It was only Una and Caspar. Even if she could not fully help then perhaps she had knowledge of something that could. Her son had the same affliction. Oliver wondered if he would ask the boy about the moth.

After his conversation with Caspar he had thanked the man and withdrew to his room. The slip of paper with the address of where Una was staying and Caspar’s number burned in his pocket. He lay that evening on his bed with an ice pack wrapped around his neck. Between small naps he watched trashy TV shows and documentaries on animals. He was worried about the hag. Caspar seemed to think it would come for him. It had found something in him the man had said. Oliver gripped the oversized straw the hotel waiter had given him, and drank the remainder of the orange juice.

Checking the jotted-down address he saw it was a day or two drive north with the fastest method being by train. He would pack first and then head down to the help desk and have them order a taxi.

Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter Four”

The Projectionist – Chapter Three

Autumn leaves were scattered over the black water. Wrinkled and crumbling they floated almost still in shades of sun-burnt orange and maple browns. Clinging to Olivers pale skin. Waist high in the water he tread forward. The floor below was loose and shifting between his toes. He could see something in the distance. Piercing the black sky and water on the horizon. Leaves clung to his skin as he waded through them. Sliding over his stomach they wavered. Connecting to one another they trailed from behind like a brides gown. Tree trunk. Oliver stood in front of it now. The great remains of a tree split open at the base. Carved out like a butchered cow. The gathering leaves floated ahead of him and into it’s split wooden mouth. Touching the shadow within they began to twitch and jerk. Clustering together into one great ball of wriggling life; Droplets of yellow oil began to cover the bark surrounding the mouth. As if it was sweating out a virus, the yellow sap seeped through the cracks from within the wood framing it.
Was it open?
The leaves floated back towards him. Clustered over the water they flapped with abandon. Twig legs struggling to turn itself over. They were not leaves anymore. Oliver felt them find solace on him. Pricking his skin to compose themselves, they crawled one on top of the other. No part of him was safe. Fluttering to dry their wings they crept upwards. No patch of skin free from their needle-like feet. Raising his arms out they followed over and up his neck. They were no longer dead leaves. Moths transformed anew. They would crawl into his mouth if he opened it. He could let them.
Was it open?
The window frame.
Was it open?
The yellow mouth of misshapen wood began to bleed its yellow mess all over now.

She was close. Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter Three”

The Projectionist – Chapter Two

A mist encroached the hardening woods. Covering the dead autumnal leaves and foliage in a crisp shaving of ice. Gary Tumnal had found peace in those early mornings where the birds barely sang. He would leave the warmth of his bed and wife for a chance to hike out into the vast forest. She never understood it but there was a wonder out there only Gary knew. It swallowed all the thoughts and pressures of his daily life – giving him a sense of peace. He had scoffed at his wife when she referred to his practice as meditative. It was enough to curl the bottom of his lip up like a dog snarling. How could she call me a fucking hippie he thought. He was a man who knew what he liked. He drank ales and enjoyed lifting weights. There was nothing peculiar about him.

He stooped down over a muddy creak and scanned through the dark water to see how deep it was. The floating specks and mulch made it look deceptively shallow. Gary chose to walk around it until he could find a way to cross. He had gone further into the woods this morning. He had seen a pattern emerging from last year. After a severe argument with his wife he remembered slamming the door to his kitchen and retreating upstairs. Smashing his hand against the window frame he glanced out over the town view and stopped dead in his tracks. Swiped clean of all rage and bitterness he stared deep into the matchstick rows of trees fading out. There was a scratching sound or perhaps pressure. Like a spinning top on a wooden desk it peaked every now and then before the scratch would turn to a dull hum.

Through discussions with his boss and meals at their families Gary felt that scratch linger. Every night he would linger in his bathroom before bed, opening up the window to catch sight of the trees. Alittle piece of his soul seemed to float further ahead and into the unknown where the woods began. It wasn’t until he had heard the news from the doctors did he finally take his first step. Dropping his wife off at her mums he fumbled with an excuse to putting extra time in at work before taking off. He didn’t feel guilty – “she had her shows to watch” he reasoned to himself. Parking his car in the back parking lot of the church he stepped out and walked. He walked over puddle ridden pathways and through squelching grasslands. He walked a whole hour out until all he could see was bark and branches. Then, kneeling down, he placed his hands over his face and wept. Beyond the scratch something had finally turned loose and a great wave of emotion poured out. Long snotty snorts and blubbering wails resonated out from between his cupped hands. He pushed his body down further into the dirt and grass. Welcoming the cool touch of something natural on his bare skin. Stretching his arms out he pushed his hands out into the ground. Digging hands into the mud and pulling it all away. The base layer of dried leaves and rocks gave way to wet soil. Wet soil sunk between his webbing until roots found his grasp. Like a loose thread he wrapped them round his fingers and pulled it out. The spinning-top scratched harder around the bone of his inner skull. Smelling that mix of dirt in the air fuelled him on with excitement. He tore the roots out fully but that wasn’t enough. He needed to corrupt them more. Sinking his teeth around them, he pushed them to the back molars and crunched down hard. Gnashing the root to paste as tears streamed down his eyes and rolled off the chin. Poison bled out and filled his mouth like a dry paste. He needed it. It was his initiation. His ritual for the woods. For the scratching. Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter Two”

The Projectionist – Chapter One

Oliver stared at himself in the circular mirror. Wiping the condensation from the surface he saw the air gather against it and droplets pool together before sliding down. This was his second shower of the evening. He stood there in the spray, letting the force crash against his face and closed eyes. Gradually turning the temperature dial one peg colder each time until unbearable. Then with gritted teeth and clenched muscles he counted down to ten. Never reaching zero, switching back to five again and again, until he could not cope with the sharp sting of the icy water. The shower had done its purpose though; he was more awake than ever.

The plughole gurgled and spat across from him. A shadow darted over the sink upwards, Oliver span his head to see the fluttering of a moth attempting to land on the cornflower yellow wall.

It was barely alive, trying to cling to the everlasting halogen star that hung from the ceiling. Oliver leaned in, holding his breath. The head was bleached white like a tiny skeletal man with a dusty brown anorak on. He dared not blink for the bug could, within that split second, crawl onto his face. Cupping his hand against the wall, he gently blew against the insect until it scuttled into his palm. Before it could retreat, the hand closed. Little skeletal man legs scratched between the folds to no avail. Oliver listened to the wind whistle from the window. The image of a sour yellow window-frame appeared in his mind. Slowly but surely it grew closer from the dark recesses. Everything had started with a choice and Oliver knew he had the freedom to deny what was given to him back then.

He squeezed his hand tight around the moth. Chewing it between the fingers until only dust remained. A change of scenery was needed. Continue reading “The Projectionist – Chapter One”

Growth

 

Towards the end of the summer holidays we would catch sight of Barry walking aimlessly around the town. Down the streets and through the fields he would plod along and not take notice of anyone. His only concern it seemed was to find a river or large pool of water. This was not a worrying or bizarre act – the days were long and hot as we cycled and played out in the sun. We would zip past the fat boy on our bikes. Trying to edge ourselves as close as possible from striking him. Only Nick would dare get the closest. He would spit with long drawn out phlegm gurgled especially for him. “Watch out fat boy” or “Barrel belly’s gonna get ya” he would chuckle as his bicycle handlebars grazed the boys arms.

I had caught sight of Barry along the nettled bank of a stream while carrying wood for a fort. He was wallowing in the water. Letting it go up to his chin. There was a sloshing noise. Like a fish struggling on a reel. Yet there was no movement in the water. Only Barry. His eyes drifting off to some far away place in his mind. I felt it then. A kid does not know the cruelty that gathers on the edge of isolation. It warps the frayed image of a person. But I felt it then, or some shade of it. Bubbles rose from the water near his covered mouth. Then with a shiver he began to wade himself out the water.

It was only four days later when I saw Barry again. His face was hollow. He did not carry his glowing yellow rucksack filled with snacks. He was making his way to the river again. The fat and marrow of his arms and legs had melted off. Yet even more bizarre was the sudden swelling of his belly. Perhaps it was the sudden weight loss on the rest of his body that made the stomach appear so much jovially rounder. “Pot belly pig” Nick snorted and pushed Barry. He did not register it and carried on down the small slope to the water.

‘Don’t walk away fat boy.’ Nick said, slowing down his bike and parking it on the grass. He followed in pursuit of Barry.

‘Just leave him. He wants to go into the water.’ I said, standing at the top of the slope. ‘Just leave him to go into the water.’

‘I’ll let him in the water…’ Nick was especially venomous that day for no reason. He began to prod the boy from behind. ‘Let. Me. Help you. In. The.Water.’

And with that final word he kicked Barry in the butt sending him flying into the shallow muck. I thought that would be the end of it but Nick wanted more. Barry’s soaked body was streaked in brown and greens. He waded into the water with Nick heavy in pursuit.

‘The water. I need water.’ Barry said in a dull tone.

‘Piggy needs to clean himself?’ Nick grabbed the shirt of Barry awkwardly and without knowing his strength he ripped the front buttons off. Barry’s shirt popped open and belly protruded. Long and swirling shadows marked something under the skin pulsing. Barry held onto Nick as he slipped onto his knees. Kneeling infront of Barry I heard him squeal in disgust at the sight and scream for Barry to get off. The boy pulled Nick closer. Pressing his face against the protruding belly.

Barry’s eyes rolled white. His head rolled from side to side unconscious but his body still held onto Nick. And with mouth wide open and tongue laid flat we all saw something crawl from his throat. What we thought was just the steamy rising of milk and bile was infact much harder. It was smooth and buckwheat brown. What I imagine now to be the head slithered out full and rapid. Wriggling out as thick as a cucumber at a state fair, it latched onto Nick. Nick struggled with the ropes of its body unfurling out of Barry’s belly. He could not shake the fat boys grip from him. He could not stop the worm slipping around his neck and under his shirt. Spewing a great white mulch of eggs onto his hair and neck.

It did not fully leave Barry’s body. It was still controlling the boy. Manipulating him to pull himself and Nick further into the water. I watched on. Transfixed and terrified as the two boys and the worm sank under the water. I waited there on the rivers side. Fist clenched to strike anything that arose. Every thought screamed for me to run yet I could not. I stood on. Watching the river continue to flow downstream.

I never saw the two boys again.