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The Ring

Good morning and long time no see, my lovely WordPress peeps! How is this disgustingly hot summer treating everyone so far? I’m just dropping by amid working on my dissertation to share a short story that I wrote. Every Wednesday, a good friend of mine hosts a Twitter challenge called Museum Musings (search #MuseumMusings on Twitter to check it out and participate!). Each week, an object is selected and participants make a creative response. Stories, songs, poems, gifs, puns…your creativity has no boundaries! This week’s object was this awesome skull ring that most definitely has a curse upon it and that’s exactly what my story is…well, no spoilers. Just read it 😉

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The Ring

Age before beauty,” Diana grimaced, sweeping her arm out towards the ladder, “If you wanna go up there so badly, you can go first.”

Ryan rolled his eyes and grabbed a rusted rung just above shoulder height, “Aren’t you even a little bit curious? Grandma lived her for the best part of seventy years. Even Dad hasn’t been in the attic and he grew up here.”

He placed a foot on the first rung and the entire ladder lurched, dislodging the thick, decades-old dust that had accumulated around the edge of the open hatch. The hatch, blackened with grime and the cobwebs of hundreds of spiders long since passed, hung down into the hallway like a dead, lolling tongue mocking Ryan for his squeal.

You think I’d give up my secrets so easily?

Diana coughed amid the dispersed dust and swiped at the grey sprinkling upon her bare arms. Was it dust or was it actually shrivelled spider corpses? She shuddered and swiped at her hair and face as well.

Judging by the state of the ladder, I’m guessing Grandma never went in there either,” she said, “Maybe because, I dunno, there’s nothing in there.”

Ryan was already halfway up the ladder, each step higher slow and careful. He ignored her, the only sound a marriage between the laboured creaking of the ladder and the chafe of metal against the wooden rim of the hatch.

He flicked the switch of the torch in his hand, casting its beam into the dark expanse of the roof space.

See anything?” Diana asked, injecting as much sarcasm as she could muster into her voice.

Ryan’s head, partially swallowed by the darkness of the attic, swung from side to side. Suddenly, he paused, his gaze and the light of the torch apparently rooted to one spot.

It’s empty -”

– told you so -”

– aside from some trunk.”

A trunk?”

Yeah, I think. At the very back.”

Diana wouldn’t admit to it aloud, of course, but a spark of curiousity had been ignited within her. She sighed and glanced up at the empty space where her brother had been but moments before. His footsteps retreated across the ceiling.

Fine. I’m coming up.”

A tense minute or so later, Diana had her hands on the dust carpeted floor of the attic as she gingerly hoisted herself off the ladder. She squinted, following the fresh set of footprints with her eyes until she found Ryan’s hunched form. His body blocked most of the torch’s light, but she could see the trunk. It was, to put it mildly, gargantuan, the lid nearly parallel with his waist.

She padded over, wishing she’d donned her Converse and not just a flimsy pair of slippers. He was right, though. The attic was empty save for the trunk.

As she drew level, she saw Ryan was examining a brass plaque nailed to the front of it.

What does it say?”

Ryan hesitated before replying.

It’s…it’s our grandfather’s name.”

It was Diana’s turn to hesitate.

I don’t understand, Grandma said he’d left her before Dad was even born? Said he’d cheated. Why would she keep his stuff?”

I dunno, but the padlock is pretty much hanging off. Should we open it?”

Diana glanced at the massive padlock. A patch of rust seemed to be the only thing holding it closed. She shrugged.

Why not? Not like Grandma’s gonna find us up here.”

Ryan took the lock in his hand, still gripping the torch in the other, and wrenched it towards him. It gave so easily that he almost fell on his ass, prompting Diana to grab his shoulders to steady him.

Shall we?” she said, stepping away to the right of the trunk and placing a hand under the rim of its lid. Ryan rose from his crouch and grabbed the lid on its left side. He pointed the torch downwards, ready to illuminate whatever treasures lurked within.

1…2…3…and lift,” he huffed, straining with his one hand.

Diana gritted her teeth and curled the fingers of both hands under the opening lid. With a final grunt, they heaved it upwards and back. It hit the back wall with a hollow thunk and an explosion of grey. They looked to one another, panting slightly.

Think I’ll skip the gym for the rest of this week,” Ryan grinned.

They gazed down at the trunk’s contents, ready to revel in the old photographs and family trinkets that hadn’t seen the light of day – or, at least, of a torch – in thirty years shy of a century.

They both screamed.

Fuck!” Ryan yelled, the light of the torch strobing across the walls and roof beams as it tumbled into the trunk.

Oh. My. God.” Diana whimpered, locking eyes with her grandfather’s hollowed sockets. Ryan’s torch lay nestled between the corpse’s ribs, the lack of tissue or muscle rendering them a bony cradle. Its light caught beneath Grandpa’s chin and cast his sunken cheeks into shadow. Clawed, sand-coloured hands framed his face, the fingers bent out of shape as though he had desperately tried to scratch his way out of the trunk, snapping the bones in the process.

Whatthefuckwhatthefuck,” Ryan chanted, staggering backwards.

Grab the torch!” screeched Diana, “Grab the torch and call the fucking police!”

Ryan tripped towards the trunk and fumbled for the torch, his breath coming out in ragged gasps.

Diana saw it happen before Ryan’s screams began.

One of Grandpa’s claws surged forward and clasped Ryan’s wrist in mid-air.

He’s got me! He’s got me!” Ryan bellowed, each panicked yank of his arm pulling Grandpa further out of his trunk…until he was finally sat upright like a macabre caricature of someone taking a bath. His head, yellowed and pinched with but a scrap of hair clinging to the front, turned towards Ryan oh-so-slowly, his empty eyes somehow seeing his first born grandchild for the very first time. His grip on Ryan was unrelenting and Diana could do nothing more than sob as Grandpa’s mouth began to open, punctuating Ryan’s screams with a sound akin to tearing paper as a mouth that hadn’t uttered a single word for seventy years tried to speak.

Riiiiiing,” Grandpa rasped, two beetles dribbling out of the side of his puckered mouth, “Riiiiiiiiiiing.”

The torch, now in Grandpa’s lap, shifted as Ryan continued his desperate attempt to evade his grandpa’s embrace and its beam caught his claw.

Diana saw the tell-tale glitter.

Grandpa was wearing a ring.

Riiiiiiiing,” came the rasp.

Ryan, crazed with blind panic, was deaf to Grandpa’s pleading tone, but Diana suddenly realised that there was only one way to end the horror.

With a cry, she lunged forward and began to grapple with with the claw. She grasped his wedding ring finger and tugged.

His dead finger, nothing but a brittle bone encased in dried, papery skin, detached with a quiet snap. There was no blinding white light, no whoosh as his soul soured free like in the horror movies. Grandpa’s body simply slackened and he fell back, his thin neck catching on the edge of the trunk. There was a sickening crunch as his head fell away, hitting the floor with a soft thump and rolling out of sight, a shadowy recess of the attic claiming it as its own.

Ryan lay on the floor, curled in on himself, his body wracked by silent sobs as he cradled his wrist. Diana, with shaking hands, inspected the finger, turning it over and over. It wavered through the film of tears, but she could see the burnished bronzed ring adorning it had been shaped into a skull, the band made to resemble bones. Despite her care, the finger disintegrated as she slid the ring off. Too numb to care, she sidled over to the trunk and reached down for the torch, flinching as the soft, warm skin of her hand brushed against the rough, parchment-like skin of her grandpa’s leg.

Shining the torch on the ring, she could see there was a tiny inscription on the flattened back of the skull:

There is no til

death do us part

when you have

broken my heart.

 

Thank you for reading! Feel free to connect with me on Instagram, Twitter and Goodreads

 

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Updates

Hey, guys!

So, a quick update on things seen as my last post was mega depressing.

Things are looking up! I’ve officially passed the taught part of my course and I’m now onto my dissertation…which also means I have way more free time! I’ve been having way more time to read and have some fantastic book recommendations for you all. I’m hoping to delve back into the blogosphere at some point this week and have a catch up too.

It really has been too long. I was making myself feel really guilty about neglecting my blog and you guys, some of whom I’d made good friends with prior to uni. I decided it was maybe best to just leave it completely alone until I knew I had time to both post and interact. I think that time is just about here 😁

Also, on the update front, I have some exciting news! I’m moving up to Glasgow in Scotland on 10th August to live with my boyfriend! So all in all, things are well and truly looking up for me. Also, if any of you blogging peeps are Scottish natives, let me know! I literally know no-one here aside from my boyfriend 😂

Thank you to everyone here for continuing to support me throughout the past 8 or so months ❤️

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I know I’m hardly active and I know I hardly interact much anymore either and I’m sorry for that. I promise I’ll get better when I finish at uni. I know I maybe post about my feelings too much but I don’t have many places left to turn now. I’m nearing the end of my university counselling sessions and I’ve been on medication for nearly two months and I can feel all those old feelings creeping back in again. I hear the weariness in people’s voices when I tell them I’m not feeling so good and I hate myself for it. I hate myself for everything. I hate myself for being unable to feel better. I hate myself for letting everyone down. I hate myself for the things I get down and anxious about because I know they’re fucking stupid. I just hate myself full stop. I’m ugly and stupid. I’m nothing.

‘The witch doesn’t burn in this one’ Amanda Lovelace

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2016 Goodreads Choice Award-winning poet Amanda Lovelace returns in ‘the witch doesn’t burn in this one’ — the bold second book in her “women are some kind of magic” series. 

The witch: supernaturally powerful, inscrutably independent, and now—indestructible. These moving, relatable poems encourage resilience and embolden women to take control of their own stories. Enemies try to judge, oppress, and marginalize her, but the witch doesn’t burn in this one.

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Check out my review for the princess saves herself in this one here!

There seems to be this general rule that the second one – be it a movie or book in a series or a band’s second album – is never as good as the first. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule (actually, a lot of exceptions…maybe I made that ‘general rule’ up) and Amanda Lovelace’s second collection is one such exception. Unlike the witch, her creative energy most certainly burns and burns yet brighter in the witch doesn’t burn in this one. 

The thing I adore about Amanda’s work is that I always feel like I’m being addressed directly. There are so many of her poems that just speak to me on a soul level, one such poem being:

say it / with me / now: / “i am a woman. / i am a human. / & i matter with / no conditions / attached / you may not / see my worth / but i do. / i do.”  (page 120)

(and countless others, I’ve folded over so many page corners, forgive me, Amanda)

I think everybody interprets poetry differently and the meaning they derive is the meaning that brings them the most solace. For me, this poem reminded me of the non-relationship I have with my father. I’ve been rejected by him twice as an adult and despite telling myself I’m ‘over’ it, that wound has never quite healed. I ask myself things like “How much am I worth if my own flesh and blood doesn’t want me?” or “If my own father doesn’t like me, what chance do I stand with anyone else?”. In a few lines, Amanda reminded me that as long as I see my worth, fuck what my father thinks or doesn’t think of me. I matter even if I don’t matter to him.

the witch doesn’t burn in this one implores us women to support all of our fellow women, regardless of how they identify, regardless of their skin colour, regardless of their age, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of their religion, regardless of their education. They are all our sisters.  Some people naively believe that the fight for women’s rights is ‘over’ just because things are okay for them and the women in their inner circle, but Amanda reminds us that globally – and sometimes not even that, sometimes it can be the woman next door or the woman we see everyday on the bus on the way to work – there are women being stripped of their rights; they’re stripped of their bodily autonomy, they’re stripped of their voices and they’re stripped of their dignity. These are the women we must lift “above the flames”. These are the women we must continue to fight for.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Song: Two Steps From Hell’s The Fire in Her Eyes 

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This book is available on Amazon in paperback and e-reader format.

‘New Fears’ edited by Mark Morris

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The horror genre’s greatest living practitioners drag our darkest fears kicking and screaming into the light in this collection of nineteen brand-new stories. In “The Boggle Hole” by Alison Littlewood an ancient folk tale leads to irrevocable loss. In Josh Malerman’s “The House of the Head” a dollhouse becomes the focus for an incident both violent and inexplicable. In “Speaking Still” Ramsey Campbell suggests that beyond death there may be far worse things waiting than we can ever imagine… Numinous, surreal and gut wrenching, New Fears is a vibrant collection showcasing the very best fiction modern horror has to offer.

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Okay, so I initially went into Waterstones hunting for the final installment in Ezekiel Boone’s Hatching trilogy (check out my reviews for the first two books here and here) and came out instead with New Fears. My quest for Zero Day ended in failure (I eventually ordered it and am now happily devouring it), but the cover for New Fears pulled me in simply because it put me in mind of the covers of The Hatching and Skitter. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions in my reviews of Boone’s books that I’m prone to night terrors that revolve solely around bugs so any horror book that has such things adorning its cover is guaranteed to be a book that’ll scare the living crap out of me (metaphorically, of course).

There were a couple of stories within New Fears that genuinely creeped me out, namely The House of the Head, which is unique take on the traditional haunted house story in the respect that it’s about a haunting that takes place inside a dolls house. We witness the events unfolding through the eyes of a young girl, who’s reflecting upon it many years later as a grown woman. The description of the creepy ass doll’s head which seems to be at the epicenter of the haunting genuinely chilled me and don’t even get me started on the scene where the girl can see its reflection in the dolls house bathroom mirror…despite not actually seeing it in the bathroom! Also, somewhat ironically, this story was written by Josh Malerman whose novella A House at the Bottom of a Lake I didn’t get on with overly well.

However, I found a majority of the stories somewhat anticlimactic. The Salter Collection, for example, had a great premise. Imagine having an immense collection of phonograph cylinders dating back to more than a century ago, only to find undiscovered secret cylinders hidden beneath the outer wax coating, cylinders that contain sound recordings of a mysterious language and haunting screams. That’s pretty cool, right? Well, yeah, it would have been if the ending hadn’t fallen so flat. It’s sometimes good to leave the conclusion of a story open ended, but I have to confess and say that I didn’t understand it at all. I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit stupid and not good at reading between the lines. I mean, I don’t need things spoon feeding to me but I just found it didn’t seem to make sense.

An intriguing collection of horror stories nonetheless and well worth a read. Amazon informs me that a second collection is due out later this year!

Rating: 3 out of 5

Song: Eels’ Fresh Blood

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This book is available on Amazon in paperback and e-reader format.

Anxiety update

Hey, guys. How’s everyone doing?

I’m not sure how many people stop by my blog anymore because I hardly post anymore, but I figured it might be good to post an update. I was once a very active member of the book blogging community and, truth be told, I miss it so much it hurts.

I haven’t been blogging for a few reasons, but the main reason has been my mental health. My anxiety has been gradually worsening over the past three or four months and things came to a head about a month ago when I had an episode which saw me having to have a week of university to go home because I’d called my grandparents, hysterical, having been unable to both sleep or eat because I was so anxious.

Long story short, I’ve been trying to get back on my feet and trying to take care of myself. At my last doctor’s appointment, I was prescribed some SSRIs (a specific type of antidepressant which can also help with anxiety disorders) to trial for a month. I also had my first counselling appointment last week. I’m hoping I might finally start being on the up soon. I really, really hope so. I’m exhausted if I’m honest.

These are probably details people aren’t interested in but it’s my blog and I want to be honest about my mental health. Too often people feel ashamed to talk about their mental health out of fear of judgment, but illnesses such as anxiety and depression are just as real and as valid as any other.

When I’ll be back to regular blogging I can’t say, but I do miss you guys. I know I’m not the podcast-making, book-blogging, flash fiction-writing annoying person that I used to be but that person is still here somewhere, underneath everything that’s happening at the moment. If anyone wants a catch up or anything, feel free to drop me a message, either on Facebook or on Instagram.

Jazz x

Meat Feast (as in the pizza) – flash fiction

I promise the Meat Feast referenced is the actual pizza. I thought I was being all clever with the double meaning, but I think it genuinely just sounds like she’s having an affair with the pizza fella? Anyway, here’s a 100 worder (103 if we’re gonna be pedantic)…

She brushed a finger against the screen of her phone, disappointment an ache that found its origins in her very soul. No missed calls. She bit her bottom lip as she stared at the softly illuminated screen.

9:16pm.

One minute late. She moaned softly and leaned back into the pillows behind her, her toes curling at the thought of the illicit pleasure that had been promised and had, as yet, been denied.

Bzzt bzzt bzzt.

Finally. She leapt from the bed and pounded down the stairs, flinging the front door open.

“Meat feast?” the Dominoes’ guy said.

She sighed.

“Give it to me.”

 

‘Dracula’ Bram Stoker

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Bram Stoker’s peerless tale of desperate battle against a powerful, ancient vampire, the Penguin Classics edition of ‘Dracula’ is edited with notes and an introduction by Maurice Hindle, as well as a preface by Christopher Frayling.

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a London house, he makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England: a ship runs aground on the shores of Whitby, its crew vanished; beautiful Lucy Westenra slowly succumbs to a mysterious, wasting illness, her blood drained away; and the lunatic Renfield raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘master’. In the ensuing battle of wills between the sinister Count and a determined group of adversaries – led by the intrepid vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing – Bram Stoker created a masterpiece of the horror genre, probing into questions of identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.

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Does a novel that’s 120 years old really need a spoiler alert notice stamping across its review? Hmm probably not, but I was once famed for my spoilers and I refuse to ruin yet more books for my adoring fans. There are just so many elements of this book that I want to discuss and it would be impossible to do so without letting slip major plot points.

So, Dracula, eh? My last encounter with the titular character was during my reading of a horrifically bad paranormal romance trilogy in which Dracula (or Vlad, c’mon, let’s use first names here, no point in being shy…I mean, I did read a graphic description of his, ahem, manhood), but I had this deep rooted desire to read about the actual Dracula, the original Dracula, the Dracula who has inspired generations of people in everything from music to art, from movies to Halloween costumes.

I will confess; I did try and read this book some years ago but Jonathan Harker’s fifty page account of travelling through the Carpathians proved too much for my 17 year old self (may or may not have exaggerated just slightly there). However, having seen this pretty Penguin English Library edition sitting on a shelf in Waterstones, I felt compelled to give Jonathan one more chance. Just one more single chance, though. Life’s too short for boring books after all.

But Dracula is far from boring. The issue, it seems, lay more with my impatient teenage self, who disliked the lengthy descriptions so often found in Victorian literature. The thing with Victorian literature is this; the readers whose eyes first read the words we’re still reading today didn’t have the likes of Google at the literal tips of their fingers. They didn’t have £40 EasyJet flights into central Europe. They didn’t have Netflix streaming movies from all over the globe. Their world was their home, their street and their town. Places such as Transylvania were far off places of almost mythical proportions. The overly lengthy descriptions were essential. How could a writer immerse their readers in a story if the place in which it was set was unimaginable?

Dracula struck me as a Victorian novel that’s very…well, unVictorian. In a time when a woman’s place was deemed as the kitchen and more than two decades before women won the right to vote (that right with many conditions placed upon it), the character of Mina Murray is a breath of fresh air. Sure, she’s annoyingly dramatic in places (well, I guess most people would be if their best friend had to be beheaded because they’d become a god damned shit sucking vampire), but she’s treated as an equal among the men. Towards the end of the novel, when they’re off gallivanting in hot pursuit of the boxed up Dracula, Mina accompanies them and she’s recognised as the valuable asset asset that she is. She’s brave, intelligent and resourceful.  She’s never treated as a hindrance and her opinion is always, always taken into consideration. Jonathan is initially reluctant for her to travel to Dracula’s castle (for obvious reasons), but he hears her out and eventually understands that it’s her right to exact revenge against Dracula.

In regards to Dracula himself, I initially assumed that I’d been desensitised to horror books. I read The Shining when I was 12 and figured nothing would ever scare or creep me out again in regards to a horror novel…but that moment when Jonathan sees Dracula freaking crawling down the castle walls? Eugh! That’s a scene that had shudders wracking my body! Creeeeeeeepy! My only issues with Dracula himself were a) how little he appears in a book with his name gracing the cover and b) how easily he was defeated. I won’t go into details for those who haven’t read it, but that scene is near enough over and done with in five pages. For such a feared, centuries-old being, it didn’t seem feasible that he’d be taken down so easily.

I can see why this book has endured for as long as it has and, minor faults aside, it’s one that should be read by all horror fans. The book itself is the forefather of modern horror and Dracula is the forefather of the modern vampire.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Song: HIM’s Vampire Heart (RIP HIM, the first band to ever capture my heart)

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This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format…and the Kindle version is free!

 

 

Jazz dabbles in spoken word poetry

Why do I always title my posts in the third person, like my non-existent PA drafts them up for me?

Anyway, here’s a short ten minute recording of me attempting spoken word poetry and a bit of general chit chat (excuse the naughty words, I’m not the squeaky clean, sweet and innocent persona I exude in my writing)

Have any of you guys dabbled (love that word) in spoken word poetry? Tell me about your experiences!

Check out my attempt here.

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