BE AFRAID BUT BUY THE BOOK…

Halloween may be a month away but believe me; fear has come early this year. Tomorrow is the official release date for Gehenna and Hinnom’s Year’s Best Body Horror 2017 Anthology. 

Do you like being scared; the fear finding its way into your flesh, hairs rising and sharpening, the silence being shattered by something sinister? Well go buy this wonderfully terrorizing book featuring a nerve wrecking collection of chilling tales to set your wits on end!

In the words of the publishers: Abodyemigphobia is the fear of the visceral aspects of the human body. Mutilation, alteration, and disfigurement at the epicenter of horror for many ages. In body horror we not only find something to fear, but we learn to fear ourselves.

How can one fear themselves? Why would something so natural disturb generations of readers?

Gehenna & Hinnom is honored to present the Year’s Best Body Horror 2017 Anthology, the most disturbing and blasphemous collection of horror to ever be read by human eyes. Enter the morose. Embrace the Unknown.

Oh, and I am in there too!

Available to purchase on kindle and that old classic book form.

BETWEEN THE PANES

 

Before the #NaPoWriMo kicks in with its 30 days of 30 new poems, (who is taking part?) here is a little chilling tale of ghostly goings on between the window panes…

Between the Panes
A short story

The wife.
I am a wife. I am a mother. There is a brown house with a red picket fence surrounding it that has our name upon the old fashioned and outdated post box. I can’t remember ever really receiving post. Real post; letters stamped with fondness and posted with a hope of reply. Now everything is emailed instead of mailed. Things change so quickly and I am slower every time with keeping up. I was single once and lived in a cramped cottage that was cold in summer and stuffy in winter. I used to walk barefoot in the mud out back, after the rainstorms, my skirt hitched above my knees. My brother would try to push me over. He succeeded only three times. That’s how long it took me to learn that I didn’t like being pushed. I adapted quicker back then as if change was easier; a necessity, a requirement of growth, development. When I was 14, we moved closer to town. My mother cried. Father said something about a fresh start. I got to choose my own bedroom now that it was just my parents and myself.
I am a wife. I am a mother. My daughter doesn’t like mud. I thought she would. I imagined she would find comfort in my footsteps. I assumed she would follow her mother to the ends of the earth. That was not to be. You see, she doesn’t like walking. She likes laughing. She can almost choke herself while covering a fit of giggles if she thinks I’m not in the mood. My husband is also not a walker and finds no grounding, no comfort to be barefoot in the mud. Not like my father once did. My husband is funny. My daughter is devoted to funny. I never acquired the taste. My husband is always on the verge of choking.
I am a wife. I am a mother. I have lived for 32 years. I have inhaled the same air as everyone around me but it didn’t kill me. Others have disappeared. Others that shared my air. Others that often begrudged me my very own breath. Sometimes I see their faces in windowpanes, fleeting flickers trapped between the glass, their voices faint and distant as if an echo of what once was entangled inside an echo of what is no longer. When I was old enough to start working and earn my own money my parents vanished. Somethings I guess happen for a reason. It’s all about timing. I used to hang their photographs on the white polished walls of our brown house with its red picket fence until one day, walking barefoot in the back garden, alone, I caught them looking out at me between the panes of glass in the kitchen window. Their appearance was fractured, like a reflection in a mirror after it’s been smashed. It offered me no clarity but only a cold comfort until I dug my toes deeper into the wet earth as if I could push down that which was trying to rise back up. After that day, I took their photographs down in case their memory was bound in some such way within the picture frame, like that final vision I have of them, the last time I saw them fighting for air in that old attic of our new home near the town that would always and forever be shackled to some part of my soul. I never liked being up in that draughty attic. I couldn’t wait to get out. It was so stuffy, like our old cottage, like my dead brother, like my parents. I loved my father very much and he loved me. But love is not something you can always hold on to. Sometimes you need to clear out so you can start fresh.
I am a wife. I am a mother. Before we had our daughter, my husband would spend hours, days, entire weekends with his fingers, his tongue, his penis, exploring every inch of my flesh. He had an insatiable thirst that could never be quenched and I never let it. I wanted him to match me in all that I desired. I gave myself up to him like a vessel to be filled, feasted on, fornicate with. We were feverous. Fucking was not just a nocturnal pastime but our daily need. I was his trainer without him ever knowing it. I had learned how to be a silent master. It is so much easier to get what you want when the other person believes he is giving it all up on his own terms. I can at least thank my father for this. I am a wife in a marriage but the terms have never been shared. He is my husband. He always came when I called.
Until I became a mother.

The mother.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I didn’t enjoy one more than the other. In fact, I can honestly say I only managed to endure them both. I derived no satisfaction, no comfort from those roles my life led me to. When I was a young girl, my own mother cried often behind the door of the pantry. Occasionally, if I approached her slowly, she would let me take her hand. That was her only outlet. That was her moment of releasing all the pain she embodied but couldn’t speak of. Those minutes behind that door, shrouded with the smell of cinnamon sticks and muslin cloths hanging to dry, were the darkest moments of her day. They were my happiest memories. The only time in my life I felt truly capable to comfort and be comforted.
When I became a wife, my husband took me to his family cottage to live. We had fields instead of neighbours. No one saw us. We had animals instead of friends. No one came to visit. We had a stifling stillness instead of the city’s sound and speed. No one heard me scream. The entire building and surrounding landscape of mounting mud and baying sheep became the pantry I cried in. To hide for a moment behind one door wasn’t enough. My pain, my loss, was bigger, I believe, than my own mother’s. I married a man who was bigger than my father. Stronger than my father. I saw this as seductive and secure. But it was all a myth. He was no less than a monster imitating man. At night, I often woke alone on the soiled sheets. Battered and broken I would rise up and watch him from the window walking barefoot in the mud across the back fields. It comforted me, momentarily, to watch him from behind the windowpane as if somehow that solid sheet of glass could shield me from the sinister spirit that haunted his shadow.
I was a wife. I was a mother. A parent is not meant live beyond their children. That is not the natural order but I grew accustomed over the years to understanding that I had been taken far from anything that was natural. Anything that was expected. We lived on a large farm, in a fading cottage, with that mud and those sheep and the stretched-out fields and a sky full of burnt-out stars still shining because no one had told then they were already dead and yet none of that was ordinary.
Ordinary was not the night I woke to a sound so cold, so crippling that I grabbed my husband’s arms to plead with him to hold me in his careless embrace. It sounded like a stick being broken but more fragile, more finite. It caught the cottage in its reverberating echo and all contents trembled in its wake. My husband found the boy. Our boy. My boy.
We had two children. The daughter came first. My husband claimed her early on for himself and later on for something unforgivable. They shared that foreign fondness for bare feet in the freshly formed mud. She liked to hum to herself as I worked in the kitchen even though she knew it bothered me. She never took my hand in the pantry. She never took my hand at all. And I was glad. Even as a baby her touch felt uncharacteristically cold to me. The boy was my son. He came afterwards. I saw his flesh in my blood. I saw my weakness in his silence. I saw his affection when my side became his side. When my reason became his objective. Our offspring could not have been more different. They were stern shadow and stilted light. I encouraged him, as he grew older, to stand his ground. To hold his place against her. I had been wrong.
My husband found him, that night, the night of the snapping wood and reverberating echo, face down in the mud on the other side of the rusty gate. My husband said he must have been sleep walking and somehow climbed the gate and slipped. His neck had snapped in three places, the doctor told us afterwards. But I knew he never liked the darkness. I knew he would never go outside alone in the night. Not even in sleep. Not alone, at least. And so then there was just myself and my husband and his daughter and they grew closer to each other as my son moved further from my vision, now existing only in brief glimpses as light cast confusions onto windowpanes that occasionally carried whispers of his reflection.
I was a wife. I was a mother. We moved closer to town after it happened. A silly brown house with a white picket fence that my daughter would one day, long after, paint red and too many windows that had no memory of my son. I don’t know if a house, a vessel that has housed so many restless souls, can know what the future holds for it but I am certain that the moment we moved in, it sealed our fate as simply as the shutting of a front door. I had no idea at the time how this house would hold us. I spent too long looking in the windows for a glimpse of the past to notice the reflected projections of what was yet to be, already finding a place within the panes.

The husband.
I was a husband. I am a father. I was deceived by the first and saved by the second. I was lost for a long time behind a glass wall I couldn’t see through. All I could see was a reflection of my own desires and it wanted more. But it wasn’t me. It was a shadow manipulated by longing and lust. I was held between the frame of a moment caught in time. I had no past or future. I had only the intensity of the structure I was encased in. My wife had led me there. To that place. That house with its white picket fence she insisted on painting raw red. I had no idea I had become no more than a belonging. A longing she infested so as to own. I was ravenous for her. I was becoming her beast. Feeding from her breast was an intoxication that both fired and confined me. When I was a boy I thought my 8-speed silver racer could take me across the world. Every year the distance extended from the back yard, to the end of the street, into town, across Jackson’s field. I could not get enough. That was all I lived for. To see everything that existed beyond the blue door of our two-story semi in a neighbourhood that grew more and more affluent without ever wondering what else life had to offer. When I met my wife, all of that changed instantly. Our bedroom and our hunger became my only existence. I thought it was a choice I had made. I thought I was free within the foundation of our union. I was wrong. My daughter thought me that. It was she, this fragile, bright, smiling little girl who revealed the truth about what was good and all the rest that slips into your bed, under your skin and sucks the spirit out of you in the same way a serpent injects its venom. I never knew how easy it was to fall victim until I finally realised the thing I was addicted to was vicious.
I was a husband. I am a father. My daughter came as a shock to my wife and a jolt to me. It unnerved her and awakened me. I would wake to the pounding rain in the middle of the night and, from the bedroom window, see her walking naked, her swollen belly exposed to the night’s eyes, in the back garden, traipsing through the mud as if trying to pound her weight upon the earth. As if trying to crush all that was growing beneath her. Later I came to understand that she was really trying to stamp out the life that was growing inside her, the stirring within that had never been her intention. But at the time, I couldn’t see this. It is not always easy to see what’s right in front of you. It was even more difficult to see through our windows. The windows of our house, which in fact was my wife’s house, which had been her parent’s house before they disappeared, had shadows in the corners of them where there should have been clarity. I swore, at times, that there was more restless movement between the panes than there was outside in the world. This coming from a man held captive on the inside without knowing it yet.
Summer came with a different light, it poured in through the windows and drowned out all possibility of shadow in pane and in partner. My daughter was born of the summer sun, a radiance almost bigger than her own little body. Eyes of an emerald and hair the colour of corn. She was an eye opener in every way. She was a summation of all I had once dreamed of and all I had left outside when I first walked through the doors of that brown house with its white picket fence soon to be stained red. I love my daughter. I thought I loved my wife but it revealed itself finally as lust entangled within the curse of something not of this world. Something mixed with mud and murder.
I was a husband. I am a father. It was my daughter’s laughter that cracked the spell finally. It came upon me like fresh air into a stale house when the windows are opened and the air invited in. It was that simple and yet so significant. Every day more laughter. Every year more air, more light to wash down the shadow. And then it started. The end. Even ends have beginnings. We came home from an afternoon movie in town to find blank white walls in the hallway where once faces had watched over us. They were not the Instagram finely filtered faces of today. They were not altered of defects or Facebook selfies. They were faces of those who had come before us. Faces that told stories in their lines, in their captivity within the frame, frozen in their own moment. My daughter noticed them first and it was the first time I saw her cry. The faces in the photographs now missing were the faces of her grandparents she had never seen in life. Lost souls who had once walked through the very rooms we called home. My wife was as dismissive of the pictures disappearance as she was of her parent’s actual disappearance. Why remember a weak mother or a father who had been eaten by his own strength and desire? That was all she said. That was all she was ever going to say on the subject. We are who we are, she told our daughter from the doorway of her bedroom as I tucked the blankets around her tiny frame later that night, pictures just capture a single reflection, like light trapped in the window. You don’t want to be trapped between a sheet of glass, do you?
I was a husband. I am a father. My wife was not who I thought she was. After the lust had settled, after the laughter arrived, I began to be aware of fear. For the first time in my life, at the age of 35, on the edge of a town I never managed to cycle far from on that 8-speed silver racer now being recycled into something someone else will also never use to its full extent, in a brown house with a red picket fence that looks like blood-soaked swords shooting up from the afterlife, I found myself face to face with fear.
After the photographs vanished and we were left with only the memory of their existence on once pristine white walls, my daughter began a fascination with sitting by certain windows in the house. At first I thought she was watching the world and wondering, like I once did, how she could become a part of it. But it was more than that. When she was 9, I caught her, while I was taking out the trash in the back yard, staring from the window without looking out. I can’t really explain what I mean by that, suffice to say I was on the outside of the window, she was inside but she didn’t see me. She saw something else. Something between the panes of glass. A trick of shadow and light I told her when she finally whispered about the movement in the windows to me one day. It’s just the sunlight casting reflections on something which isn’t really there, although in the back of my mind I recalled once feeling something similar. Glass is just something to let the light through, it holds nothing of itself. No Daddy, she told me at 9 years of age, there are people within the panes. I can see them, she confessed. They are not just shadows. Mammy thought she was getting rid of them by hiding their photographs. But it’s not true. Grandma and Grandpa are still here. They tell me things. They show me things that happened but I can’t understand. I can’t always make out the shapes. They are fuzzy like the tv when you don’t tune it in properly. But I know neither of them are happy.
I was a husband. I am a father. I owed it to my daughter to protect her, whatever happened.

The mother.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I was a disappointment in both. Not intentionally, but I failed in both roles nonetheless. I lost a son. I laid his bones in the ground for the earth to comfort in ways that I could not. Now I wonder if he has found that comfort yet. I worry so, because after dying, I realised that I was not yet free. I am still shadow cast upon reflection in pain between the panes of glass that hold me prisoner. That keeps me timeless but without any concept of time passing.
I was a wife. I was a mother. The former was my greatest mistake to begin with. To not be able to see beyond the glimmering pretence of a man so immensely monster was my failing. My mother, in that pantry, with her hand in mine, cried because she had no time to be herself except in tears. She did not know anything more of bruises except for what she kissed on the knees and arms of her children. She did not know what torture meant aside from the monotony of her daily life. She did not know what a monster could rip from you beneath the covers of a marital bed. She had a husband, my father, who drank too much and laughed too little. I would have given anything for such a man as that.
I was a wife. I was a mother. But I was an outsider from the moment my daughter was born. They were the couple, my husband and his daughter. They took the wet walks in the newly fragrant mud in bare feet. They found the broken body of my son, that night when I woke to the sound of something snapping, of a bond breaking. They took the decision to move from the place that held the only memory of the boy who always took my side. They took over the use of the stuffy attic in that new brown house that never felt like a home to me but a sentence to be served. I took control only once in my life. I do not regret my actions, even if the truth later revealed itself as a back-to-front reflection in a picture taken of a moment that shattered my concept of our world, my so-called family and the final crack in a glass wall that could take no more stress.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I opened the door to their attic room one morning when I thought they were out walking. I opened the door and felt my weakness slip from my grasp. I was solid as stone. I was impenetrable in that moment, at the sight laid out on hands and knees before me. There was an old mirror, almost floor to ceiling, that the previous owners had left behind. My daughter and husband were not fond of reflections and all they revealed and had moved it away to the shadows of the attic. It was rusty and the glass had taken a liking to mildew like a man takes to the scent of a woman. But it still had purpose. It still revealed truths that were possibly too difficult for the eyes to see directly. In the ravaged glass I saw my daughter. In that musty glass I saw my husband. He was on his knees before his daughter. She was open legged on the edge of a bed before him. That was how I lost my weakness, finally. I gave it to the reflection in the mirror as I took hold of the old bed pan hanging by the door frame. My husband never had a chance to see his ending begin. With one solid crash, his head split even before it fit the floor.
I was a wife. I was a mother. I thought killing my husband had set us free. I thought I had smashed the monster and only the floorboards would echo with all he had done against us. That was what I thought in those first few minutes. I had killed the monster that had made us meek. I thought that. But I was wrong. I saw it instantly when I looked into the eyes of his daughter. I saw it. In that attic. In that brown house with the white picket fence she would soon stain with the blood of us both. My husband had been a monster but he had planted his seed to root in my body and I had borne nothing of my own likeness and all of his. But she had learned to be more. She had learned to hunger for more. She was already growing tired of being Daddy’s little girl and so she had made him crawl on his knees before her, pleading, begging but even that had grown dull. And then I eliminated him for her. I thought I had lost my weakness but, in part, I had been turned and twisted into fulfilling her desires. Now all that stood in her way was me. Her mother. I knew I had but minutes. Time ticked away from me like the sun descends from day. And she was upon me like the eye of the moon taking hold of the night. Her shadow engulfed me in its clasp. It was cold, like the touch of her skin when she was a baby. But she was no longer a baby and I was no longer for this earth. There was no air. There was to be no more. Or so I thought.
I was a wife. I was a mother. Now I am but shadow. Now I am but a partly forgotten memory of something that once moved. I am the trick you think is light in the corner of your eye when you look out into the world from within. I am at times static and stationary. I am at times a fuzzy blur on the brink of burning out. But I am not alone. I cannot see him but I know he is here with me in between the panes of glass that we no longer have the strength or limbs to shatter. The monster is here, somewhere. That monster I married and murdered.
I was a wife. I was a mother. But it was my granddaughter who finally looked out into the world and saw me trapped between it. I whispered into her thoughts and she whispered into the man who my daughter had tried to turn into her prey. But she had been wrong. She had been so wrong to bring a new life into this world. Evil does always bare its likeness into its offspring, just as goodness does not always bare the brightest fruit. I had given birth to both. She had given birth to a light that was too bright to blanket in the shade.
I saw him, that night, that night the pipe broke at the end of the back garden. It had never burst before but pipes are bursting with water and water can be like a mirror, can be like glass, can show you the truth if you look closely beneath its depths. He was wading through the mud that my daughter loved and he hated, looking for the source but what he found was not what he ever imagined. If you push something down deep in the ground, it will one day find a way to rise back up. No late-night walking, stomping can ever keep fate down for long. I had long since been lost to my body, snared behind the pane but my body was no longer lost to the world. Nor that of my husband and the further he looked for the source of the flooding, the closer my daughter’s husband came to the bones of it all. Our rotting remains came up from hell like a man coming up from air after almost drowning. And suddenly there was the light, crashing against his feet and suddenly, too, her darkness was revealed to him in the muddy waters in his back garden that was once my back garden and had, 15 years earlier, become my grave of utter unrest. He had been looking in all the wrong corners but had finally found, in the depths of night, the truth he had been sleeping next to.
When my daughter returned that night, I turned within the pane of glass from looking outside to a world I was lost to, to looking inside to a daughter I needed to be avenged. He was waiting for her. Standing right next to the bones that had once been mine. The bones that had once been her fathers. He thought he could reason with her until he lost that fight. He thought he could take her until she was on top of him. He thought it was over as her hands chocked the life out of him and I began to see a shadow appearing next to me in the glass. I thought he was finished. I thought evil had finally won. But I was wrong. I had been away from the light so long that I had forgotten how powerful it was. And there it was. In the doorway. And I recalled another doorway and the feeling of my mother’s hand slipping around mine, and the feeling of her tears on my cheek as she leaned her head against mine. And I remembered the comfort I had given her and the comforted folded itself around the memory that I had become. And I whispered to the light. And I reached out deep into the mind of that light. And I offered it comfort as it raised its arms onto all that was comfortless. And the light that was my granddaughter brought its force upon the monster mounted upon her father. And instantly the shadow next to me shifted. And instantly I recognised something cold in its form.

The wife.
I am a wife. I am a mother. But now I am dead. So I don’t know if I can still call myself either. I didn’t know I was dead until I felt the glass press upon my flesh on all sides. I didn’t know I was dead because I could still see the living, picking up the pieces all around me. In losing life, I had lost time. I lost the ability to follow one thought to the next. To define one moment from the other. Suddenly I found myself in a continuum of being present and feeling a descent from my own self, my own processions, my own desires. I was vague when I had always been veracious. I shifted in shape between the sheets of glass, limbs disconnected as if I’d been shattered. Parts of my being belonged to someone else, older, weaker, people once vanished by my own hands. I knew I was dead when I looked at my hand, a hand that wasn’t my hand, and recognised it to be that of my mother.
And then I saw them coming towards me, moving in slow, solid motions to where my reflection had collected into a featureless form on the cold corner of the frosted glass of the front window. I saw them coming towards me with spears of broken wood from the red picket fence I had painted, yielding it like swords. I saw them coming towards me, the man I had married and the child I had pushed out of me, and I knew, right before the glass shattered, that even death had an ending.

The husband.
I was a husband. I am a father. I will never falter again I told myself as we packed up the car with the basic essentials and drove away without looking back at all that lay broken. We did not speak, my daughter or myself. There was nothing left to say. All that once was had been smashed to pieces. All connections, all reflections released as if we’d amputated ourselves from our past. Or so I thought until we hit that turning on the interstate and I signalled left but my daughter said no. We still had one thing left to do. Someone was still trapped. Someone needed us to release them before we could completely release ourselves from the horror we had endured. One shaft of sorrow still stood in a shadow of pain. And so we turned right and eventually fell upon the old cottage, now rotting by the roadside and partially swamped in mud. My daughter knew where to find him. His mother, her grandma had told him where he’d be. And she was right. The window was still there, still unbroken and still captive to the soul of a young boy with a broken neck in search of salvation. I didn’t cry when we killed my wife. I didn’t cry when I smashed every window in that brown house with the red picket fence to send her soul to hell along with her fathers and let her mother find rest without them. But I cried when I broke the last pane of glass that divided fear from freedom.
I was a husband. I am a father. I have a daughter. We have a connection to each other. It is real. It beats. It is palpable. It cannot be shattered. It is more than just a reflection. We are more than just the reflection we see in the mirror, in the glass, in the cold corners where the shadows congregate. It is possible for us now to see beyond the pain.

All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

THE BLIND ASSASSIN; HALLOWEEN HORROR STORY

 

another reblog of my short story for the season of the witch and the rising dead…

Happy Reading…

A Short Horror Story.
       I don’t remember what happened before, no clue as to who I was, what I was, but afterwards, everything that happened afterwards is a completely different story, because when you open your eyes after death, you discover a whole other way of living.
Tick tock, tick tock.

        There is darkness mostly, she left me no eyes to escape the blindness but I can see when I want, when the need fills me. I see shape in sound and smell, these are my senses now, she left me those. Guilt, regret, remorse, those weaknesses have no part in what I’ve become. I’m no longer accountable to the standards Men hold as law. I am beyond law and now, as I’m technically dead, I’m beyond Man.
Tick tock, tick tock.

        “I remade you, better than before. You were a drunk, a drug addict with no direction. No one gave a shit for you. You would’ve died one day, I just gave that day a name. You should be grateful, I’ve given you something greater than life; indestructible, eternal death among the living,” she declared that day, the first day of my everlasting existence, as I realised the horror of what she‘d done. I wasn’t human anymore, this was true. I would be unbeatable, also true. But she hadn’t given me eternal death, it was eternal damnation.
        I recognised her voice from somewhere before death, a sound bite on TV, a ranting about experimentation, radiation, creation; bringing heaven to earth. “I’ll build a world that will never need creation again, all will be eternal,” she’d bragged. I remember that. I’ll always remember that. She won’t, not anymore.
Tick tock, tick tock.

        When I first awoke, to her recreation, I felt no pain at all, that came later, when I came to understand what she’d made of me. She was my Frankenstein, she’d remoulded me from her miscreant mind. “Without sight you’ll see much better,” she whispered to my naked form, strapped to a gurney, as forceps wrenched my eyes from their sockets. “The tongue just teases you with taste,” she insisted, “this’ll teach you to taste from within,” and she snipped the tongue from my mouth with a blade, severing it from service with a single slice. Afterwards, she stitched it to the back of my neck, to remind me of all that was now behind me.
        I was not a body of blood anymore, my veins had been drained, dried out like taunt twine that tore through my flesh from the inside out. My innards had been expunged, discarded, floor fodder for vermin to devour and they did, nightly, as I lay there, a monster metamorphosing. In my chest, empty of all organs except my heart, a machine of amorality maintained me, pumping a self-sustainable liquid through the little that remained of me; limbs that had been ravaged, a hand severed and replaced with a scythe, legs hacked at the knees, mounted on metal spikes while my manhood was slit, sliced and stuffed with the slivering tongue of a serpent, still hissing. I was a despicable demon, an envoy of evil, a punishment for a world that had dismissed her dreams of total autonomy as nothing more than an inhuman, unjustifiable, godless existence. I was her retribution. She believed I’d bring them all down for her but she misjudged who was master. A monster knows no master. A monster needs no master. Monster is master.
Tick tock, tick tock.

        Monster let her believe she had control while she trained me, taught me to walk, to hunt, to appreciate the divinity of my own damnation. Monster appeared grateful to his creator and her darkness, monster acted thankful to his creator and her inventiveness until one day when monster stabbed his spikes into his creator’s feet as she leaned against the wall, smiling at the completion of her own genius. Monster smiled as his scythe slit her from nipple to neck and his one remaining hand reached inside her and disgorged the heart from her blood bathed body before her face even had time to register fear. Monster left her there, in her darkness, in that heartless body, further fodder for the vermin who’d already begun to sniff her out.

        That was 4 years ago. I can finally admit I’m grateful to her. I’ve lived more in death than I ever could in life. I don’t need food or drink, don’t shit or sleep. I exist as if everyday were the first, do you understand? Can you understand me now, now that I’m standing behind you, so close that your skin prickles with fear as I sliver my scythe around your neck?
        You came looking for me, didn’t you? Foolishly searching the shadows for the monster you thought was myth. Well, now you’re truly the fool because this monster is no myth, nor a white knight. I am the Blind Assassin, devoid of compassion. She removed that from me when she raided my body of blood and being. Do you hear the ticking clock? Tick tock, tick tock. It’s inside me. It goes where I go. It counts down humanity while I continue on, slaying it. I feel nothing for you people anymore, nothing. And in a moment, you’ll feel nothing too.

        And he was right. In an instant blood spewed from the gash in the human’s neck and splattered onto the glasses that covered Monster’s eyeless sockets and down onto his tongueless, grinning mouth as the clock continued counting…
Tick tock, tick tock.

    He’d killed his creator but he couldn’t extinguish the desire for revenge that she’d transplanted into his useless, still beating, eternally damned heart.

 

All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

AN UNOBTAINABLE NEED, A SHORT STORY

 

He stands in the shadows, staring out the window of his one bedroom suburban house onto the street outside. The late afternoon sunlight skirts the jaded red carpet as if looking for a way out. An old typewriter gathers dust on a desk next to stacks of unwanted, and seemingly unworthy, manuscripts. A breeze blows through an open window, filling the room with a sense of unease. The laughter of children playing outside occasionally drifts in and out, breaking the eerie silence. His gaze is upon these children and lately, his thoughts have been incapable of leaving them.

A bachelor all his life has meant no chance to have children and with his 86th year approaching, the possibilities seem to have fallen away like the blonde hairs that once covered his balding head. Although his chance has long since faded, his wish for children is something that will continue to haunt him for as long as he hears the laughter.
As his life draws to its climax, his spirit itches to move on from this existence and yet his fragile body continues to breath and he remains staring out a window, nurturing distant dreams that are now as futile as the pages on his desk. Manuscripts that he had hoped would fill the void in his life and yet all he could bring himself to write about was that very void. A void that nobody wanted to read about. He is now become a prisoner trapped inside his own body; a body that has changed while his feelings have not. He doesn’t remember growing old and yet his frame has welcomed it. No longer standing with the poise of a young man, his back now slouches forward, his pace has slowed and all movement has become an effort. There is little on his body that is familiar to him any more.
The mundane pattern of daily life tries to convince him that he is settled. He settles daily into his cream cardigan, his brown slippers settle unto his feet from morning until night. His pleasures are all but dead, except for his smoking, though even that brings a chesty cough. Alone in his house, he is noticed by no one because life has passed him by. His aching body no longer fits into the momentum of modern living. He takes one final glance out the window before climbing the stairs with legs no longer capable of climbing. On a single bed, he rests until dinner. The children continue to play outside on the street.

He tries to go for a walk everyday, but who can go far with legs that want to rest. Resisting the temptation not to, he forces his legs to take him past his neighbours who watch over their children with the usual parental intensity. He watches them run when their little ones fall over and hold them tightly as if to smoother their tears. The moment shared by parent and child is filled with so much love that their bond is almost visible, as beauty is to fragility, as love is to loss, while alone he simply clutches a cigarette. They barely notice him anymore. He is the old man who lives in the old house with the old curtains and the musty smell. He wanders on, past the school playground where again children laugh and play and, watching from behind the wire fence, he feels isolated. He lowers his hearing aid. With no sound, the visions are less painful, but for all too short a time. When the scene needs no sound to hammer home the truth, he moves along, continuously smoking and pent up with jealousy.
He passes the graveyard where voices jeer him from deep inside his own head.
“It will be the end with you, my friend. Your grave shall be bare but for you. No one will continue your name and none shall follow yours on the tombstone. When you go, your name will be no more; for you are the last.”
This is the place that hurts the most. This is the place where green eyes drown in bitter tears. He has been here many times lately, dressed in his black suit, bidding a final farewell to others like himself. But there were always children huddled together on these occasions. They may have been adults, but they had always been children to their parents, in the same way that a single lonely old man can only be a single lonely old man. When the inner voices mourn too loudly, he moves on, using each headstone as a morbid crutch. The hardest truth to accept is that which lies directly in front of you. Waiting.

Epilogue

It has been one week since his 86th birthday. A single card rests on the mantle piece; a sympathetic token from the local Meals on Wheels. There is not a sound in the house, all is quiet. No one looks out from the shadows, no one is haunted by the sounds from the children outside. Junk mail collects in the letterbox. The last of the evening sunlight just hovers in the hallway, creating ethereal shadows in the musty air on the stairway. Upstairs, on a single bed, there is a single body surrounded in silence. In his room, there is not even the sound of breathing. His body is lifeless. His name will continue no more.
All Words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

Photograph taken in the gardens of the Musee Rodin, Paris, France

HOUSE AND HOME, A MEMOIR

 

Definition of a House: A structure serving as a dwelling for one or more persons, especially for a family.

It should have been an ordinary day, a day like any other in May, a Wednesday, not the beginning or the end of the week, not the struggle of a Monday or the excitement of a Friday. The sun did not shine and the rain did not fall, at least not from the sky that day. It’s difficult to tell what will break you, what the final point will be when the struggle bears down so much that breath betrays you and the guard falls away like withered leaves from winter trees leaving you naked and defenceless against the elements.
The setting had been the most ordinary scene to me; the long road winding from where the tiny river ran, that car lined street where children played football with driveways for goal posts and pillars for counting at during juvenile games of Hide and Seek, those low walled gardens with their flower beds and cherry blossom trees which let pale pink petals dance in the summer breeze and those semi detached, two-story houses which had been homes for more than 25 years, and that 3 bedroomed No.19 with its front porch of potted plants which had been the only real place, till then, that had informed me of what the word home meant and no more so than on that normally mundane Wednesday when it no longer meant home anymore.

Throughout childhood, the world is a place of wonder, to play with and run among, dream in and sleep upon. Days are full of such certainly that the next day will follow on from the one before in much the same way, with a similar ease, that weekdays spent in school will be rewarded with weekends spent in bed, by the television, in the street; at play on a canvas of life so vast and endless that nothing should ever touch nor threaten it with any thoughts other than those derived and dreamed from the point of view of a child, lest they dry up before the painting is completed. So is the way we look at the world at first, from our youthful point of view, our arrogant train of thought and an innocently ignorant perspective.
Which is why it came to pass that day, that Wednesday, that Mayday without rain or shine, it came to be the ending that bore the rest of all my beginnings. It came without announcement, without prior warning, without any preparation being taken on my account of how to handle myself, my thoughts, my strength, that day that would be the relinquishing of the last cord, releasing childhood from manhood. The last look of a boy caught around the first cry of a man.

Definition of Family: A fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children…who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside usually in the same dwelling place.

I could not see you but I felt you there, a step beyond the shadows, your gaze heavy upon your son as I melted in the mayhem on that street. The one that used to be ours. The one we had lived on together, in what the outside world called family, for so many years. The street you drove me home to as a baby, next to the driveway which you walked on as you carried me in your arms into our home for the very first time, tears of joy streaming down everyones faces and a poster in the window of Welcome Home Baby Boy, did I even have a name at that time? But that day, that afternoon, you stood behind that very same window watching, yet this time with no tears on your side. There was no poster now to pronounce the end, to say the welcome was no longer warm, at least from you.
And yet it is only with time that we can look back with hindsight, it is only with distance that we can see how close we were to the edge, it is only with age that we can look back on youth and cringe at all it believes to be black and white which is why, at that time, I failed to see the grey area that lay with you in the shadowed window on that equally grey day.
For although I was about to become a man, I was still clinging desperately on my claim to being a child that day when I arrived to that place I’d called home for 18 years to say a final goodbye while everyone else tried their best to make it appear extra-ordinary. How lonely was it really for you to watch the world close in with their arms around us and exclude you? Did it make you more angry than before, that they’d loved us more in all those years together, it had been Mum and I that had made the friends, felt the affection, reaped the final benefits like crutches we could lean against in those last years when your anger at your world found its release in us and yet all that could so easily have been a better world for you to be a part of. But you had carved yourself over time as stubborn man, worn and wounded and unwilling to see the world in any wondrous way but the one you’d clumsily created in your head, full of mischief and mistrust, misery and mind games. I pitied your unfounded, self destructive view on life and those who lived it and, in the naivety of my own newness, I wanted no part of that darkness that weighed upon you like an ageing blanket you’d wrapped around yourself, deriving no comfort from but eager to hold onto something.

You weren’t there when I first arrived that day, off somewhere festering wounds that should have healed during your childhood and should have not bothered mine. They took me next door first as if I had just called in to say hello to those neighbours that had proved more like family, at times, than you ever had. The Bernie’s and Mikes and Angela’s and Marie’s and Carmel’s of my world, the ones who held in their eyes all the comforts I ever needed. Who poured mugs of tea and big glasses of wine and cut apple tarts with extra helpings of whipped cream on the side like any normal Wednesday, who hugged me at 18 just enough without it feeling like pity. Who joked with me as if just to remind me that it would be possible to smile again. So I sat among the voices and faces I’d known forever and wondered where my place was. What would now be home now that home was no more? Two weeks of rainy night flat hunting resulted in a basement flat on the south side of the river for a north side boy. Was that now home? I’d been an independent child since I’d first learned to walk but I’d walked in circles around those I knew and places familiar. Suddenly there was the possibility that independence had muddled itself with isolation and loneliness and my brittle hold on childhood security was swelling up inside the man I was turning into.

Definition of a Home: An environment offering security and happiness. A valued place regarded as a refuge or place of origin. The place where something is discovered, founded, developed, or promoted; a source.

I went in alone that day, that afternoon, to No.19, back to where all my life had begun, back to that very source, trying to convince myself that I was brave, that I’d already moved on and this was nothing more than walls and carpets and doors and stairs. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing to pine over, nothing to feel torn from. It was as if time had stopped, I’d moved out, moved away, moved on, seemingly, and now I’d come back to find everything was as it had always been; that porch door which jammed slightly as it opened, the hallway with its carpeted stairs and telephone trolly, the last place I’d seen you as you screamed at me to get out of your house, not our house, your house, you had said, the sitting room with its plush green sofa and two single seater swinging chairs, the ones I could nestle in when I was a kid and hide in when the tension seemed to much to bare and the living room that I’d wall papered every other year since learning that Daddies aren’t always DIY aficionados. I could remember the very step I had sat on, that morning, on the stairs when it all came out, when you and Mum had made up again after another 6 months of you not speaking to us again for some reason which no one could remember, when you both wanted all three of us to hug it out minutes before I broke the un-swallowable sweetness and flung the boiling burden of my ‘Outing’ at you both like I was vomiting up an unbearable bile that had festered for too many years.

It was upstairs where it really started though, in the bedroom, those four walls that had been the sanctuary for an Irish boy growing up gay in 80‘s Dublin and feeling so alone and scared and who prayed on his hands and knees at night just to be normal, just like everyone else. I had actually forgotten how much I had hid from in that room upstairs, how much I had dreamed and lived within that space. It had been a sanctuary, it wasn’t just a word or an exaggeration. It had been my whole world, a make believe place so removed from the injustices of life where I had been happy, found, saved and loved and all this before I’d even began living.
It was my neighbour who found me crouched on those shining floors and who held me that day. She watched me as I carved my name into the inside of the airing cupboard and she then cried for me when I could not cry anymore, Tracey, the neighbours daughter and my childhood friend with a golden soul, gentle eyes, blonde hair, tougher than me at times but the kindest of hearts on the street.
Somehow I ended up back next door, to the other home that I’d spent half my childhood playing in, eating in, growing up in and now I was the sinking mess on the sofa, Mum in tears, my aunt arriving to take us away for the final time, childhood was over and I was starting manhood as a crying mess and it felt like the world was watching as I fumbled on those first steps.

Did you fumble too, did you ever feel as confused as I did that day in May? I had seen you fumble all though our life together, unable to say what you felt and mistaking silence as an attempt to take control, taking pride in our downfall because you couldn’t be man enough to raise us up instead. When was it that you fell so weak? There was so much love around you but it never seemed to sink in although I only see that now. You were drowning amid all the joy that surrounded you and instead of joining in you tried to take us all with you; me, Mum, our friends and neighbours.

Somewhere amid the commotion of trying to console me you slipped back into the house, the neighbours saw you and, like guards, informed us it was indeed time to say goodbye. They didn’t want me to see you. Funny, because at that moment you could not have hurt me anymore. I was beyond it then, at that point, on that afternoon. Or maybe they saw it in my eyes, how I now wanted to take back the control, I wanted to kick you out and unlike you, I had a reason and I could verbalise it. Whatever your reasons were you never let me know, you took that to the grave with you. Had you planned that too?

Definition of Goodbye: a conventional expression used at leave-taking or parting with people and at the loss or rejection of things or ideas.

They almost had me in the car, we’d almost made a quiet getaway when someone whispered he was at the window. You’d always been the neighbourhood curtain twitcher, constantly on the lookout for what others were doing, was that a way to avoid what you were not doing or did you watch others to see what you should do, were you trying to learn how to live in those hours you spent watching life pass by? Or did you really just despise the world as it seemed to me, back then, when all I wanted to do was grow up and be a part of it and accepted by it for who I really was.
And so there, on that street, my street, I screamed out everything I’d never said, every drop of anger built up over the years but never expressed because you were my father and, as I was told by others, I was supposed to respect you. But now they all saw what that respect had gotten me. They saw the hurt that I’d held, the pain that I’d suppressed and they had no idea what to do with the shy and quiet boy they once knew who stood by the open door of the car and cursed the single shadow within the house he’d always called home, 18 years at No. 19.
It took two of them to get me into the car as mum cried in the back seat and shouted at my aunt to drive away while my aunt tried to wipe her eyes, hold my hand and start the engine. It was too much and too real and too bare for all of us. And all the time you just watched in the shadows, behind the drapes, without a sound.

Did you hurt as much as I did that day when the sun didn’t shine and the rain didn’t fall but I flooded our road with tears. Did it ever occur to you that I could not have been so hurt had there not been so much love there to begin with? Did you remember better times in your head? Those christmas mornings when all three of us sat beneath a tree so big that it scraped the ceiling and opened our gifts together as a family, those parties when the house was filled with laughter and singing, guitars and debates? Did it all mean nothing in the end? Was it really just bricks and mortar, weakness that bore bitterness and a frightened boy inside a broken man I once called Father? How did it not break you, that day, or did it? Was there a moment when you tried to find a way through all that had separated us over time and recover what we had lost? Did you feel like a cast away, carried off on a fury of wild waves that stole the mainland and all salvation from view? Did you sink away from the world as I did in those final moments while you watched me?

As we slowly pulled away from the curb I saw, in the corner of my eye, movement, a door opening, someone running, hands waving in the air. I felt the breath steal itself away from me. But not because of you, because it wasn’t you. Door No. 20 was open and Angela was running, our neighbour, one of the other mothers, who almost felt like my mother. And I turned to her and she ran to me. She ran after the car to tell me she loved me and all the time you stood still and watched. She ran after the car to say that she’d never forget me while all that time you never uttered a word. She chased after the car and cried that she’d miss me while you remained, forever, lost to me in the shadows.

And that shadow was the last I ever saw of you, a hazy darkness barely seen through tear stained eyes, something not quite in focus, a blur just beyond arms length. Later I learned you’d been bullied as a kid, you’d never told me that when I cried in mum’s arms after torments in school playgrounds left me feigning sickness to avoid being picked on and spit upon. You were quiet and lonely growing up, just like me, did you not see how connected we could have been? But the world had scared you and knocked you and you let it in, let it breathe its weight into your soul. The world scared me too and yet I fought to believe in it, to believe it could be better to a small gay boy than what the TV showed and the papers remarked. I believed that a quiet soul could be a gentle light in grey days, those times when insecurities ran deep but hope remained strong. Did you have hope, did you believe that it could be better or was it always all just waste.
What was it like to learn you could never father children, that was the duty of every husband to his wife, no? Did it make you less a man in your own eyes? Is that when you felt the void, is that when the emptiness engulfed you, took you away, is that where you went during those long months when you left us for your own world? A world that could not communicate with us. Every year it was for longer and longer, it began with just a few days of silence, you were there but not there and then it grew to weeks of not speaking, then a month and then months reaped upon months. And we were meant to feel this, that was what you said once, that by your silence I was meant to feel hurt, lost, saddened. And you said it with such razor sharp eyes, with such a look of final control, that this was you at your strongest, rising above us all and judging what lay beneath you. But I saw no strength in your stance, no power in your position and no compassion in your soul. For so long, I thanked the lord that I had not your blood in my veins, that I had not your temper in my hands, not your tendencies in my DNA. It was only after I mourned for you that I finally began to understand you and, in time, felt sorry for you and all the love that had lost itself on you, it was only then that I saw all that grey matter that lay in between the black and the white picture of you that had carved itself into my memory.

It was an ordinary day, a day like any other in July, another Wednesday, not the beginning or the end of the week, not the struggle of a Monday or the excitement of a Friday. But this time, this Wednesday, the sun did shine and but no tears fell. There was peace, all around. There was a serenity, even as we drove in the car, along the streets. All was calm. Gentle nods as we walked through the gates from strangers on their way out from paying their respects, silent smiles from the florist was we bought the flowers and a breeze that left your skin caressed with the sweet scent of nature’s perfume. It was silent as I lay the flowers down on the ground under which you lay next to your own father, that ordinary day, beneath the shade of the tree.

It’s difficult to tell what will break you, as you wander through life in long pants and big man’s shoes and it’s even more difficult to tell what can heal you. I left the graveyard that day, in the light of the sun and felt lighter than I had in years. It’s not until you truly let go that you realise how much you held yourself down. No one can really hurt you unless you let them and no one can really heal you unless you accept all that you have been, the person you’ve become and the possibilities in the future still to come.

Definition of Memory: The power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained especially through associative mechanisms… an image or impression of one that is remembered.

All Words by Damien B. Donnelly. Photograph probably by a beloved Neighbour

BREAKING NEWS; A TINY STORY

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It wasn’t front page breaking news or even in the supplement section. It wasn’t the sex scandal that scorched the headlines or bloody enough to have readers beat each other for a copy but it still found its way into black and white, pressed forever, or until the print faded, into a line between births and marriages, deaths and disasters.

“Mary, come take a look,” Peter called to his wife at No. 19, “it’s here. Look at it.”
Mary wrapped her dressing gown around her waist but didn’t need to ask what he meant as she came downstairs towards what she knew would be the tiniest of ads, for what more was there to say?

“Have you seen it?” Joe asked his brother over breakfast at No. 15.
“I did,” he said sombrely, “still can’t… can’t believe it. Has she called?”
“No,” replied Joe, “not a sound, but, sure… we’ll see her later.”

At No. 21, Matthew could hear the newspaper being shoved through the letterbox. He was lying on the daybed, in that room, with the cot, staring at a million stars they’d filled the ceiling with only a month ago.

Michael was busy folding the morning paper into a million creases at No. 22, covering it with smudged fingerprints, looking for yesterday’s football results when Anne came in and saw the mess he was making of everything that had kept her awake all night.
“Would it kill you to think of something other than sport, just for once?” she asked him, pulling the paper from his jam-stained clutch and bringing it up to her chest like it were gold leaf about to dissolve and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

At No. 20, the kids were throwing Cheerios at one another when John walked into the kitchen, wondering why his normally rule-rigid wife was ignoring the commotion as she held the newspaper up, lost in what she was reading. Was the world ending and only the newspaper was reporting it? He walked behind her to see what was stealing her attention and then, there it was, the tiny message, not even a paragraph, but it had been enough to let riot rule at their breakfast table that morning. He put his hands on his wife’s shoulders and Alice knew, instantly, that that gentle touch meant more than any words he could ever say.
“I can’t go over yet,” she told him, looking up from the newspaper to her children who played as if there wasn’t a worry in the world. Suddenly she felt guilty at being able to see her own kids on front of her, as wild and wearisome as they were.

Back at No. 21, Jane was also lying down, but in their own bedroom, when she heard the weight of the newspaper falling to the floor downstairs, just below the letterbox. She felt the force of it like it was a building falling on her chest. She couldn’t move, breath. She couldn’t face reading it, not just yet. Was it wrong to seek comfort in the shadows and stillness for just a moment longer? Was it wrong to let reality linger outside for another minute or two? She knew he was in the other room, that room, with its yellow walls and butterfly border. Why had they listened to everyone telling them to paint it yellow? Why was yellow a neutral colour? Now it felt simply cold, sickly and uninviting, or at least that’s what she imagined. She hadn’t gone into that room since, well, not for a while.

In a daze at No. 19, Mary made Peter his coffee, with a dash of milk and two spoonfuls of sugar. When she finished, she sat across from him at the table, watching him drink it, wondering how and when she’d made it. His black hair had a life of its own in the morning, finding every way to stick up, out of place and at odd angles but she would’t have him any other way. He put his cup down and caught her stare. The clock ticked away on the wall but he heard nothing except his wife’s gentle breathing and he realised that if that one sound was all he heard, for the rest of his life, then that would be more than enough.

Joe stood by the hallway mirror of No. 15, attempting to knot his tie for the forth time while his palms perspired.
“Ah, for God’s sake, did Dad teach you nothing?” his brother asked him as he came over and took the tie and all its complications away from his younger brother. When he finished, they both turned and looked at each other in their black suits, white shirts and black, now neatly knotted, ties.
“Our sister needs us today, so head up, young man,” he told Joe, smiling at him in the mirror but they both knew there was nothing concrete behind that smile to hold it up for long.

“For feck’s sake, come on now, Mick, why are we always the last ones? You’re always saying that women are the slow ones! And look at you, Jesus, was it too much to ask for a suit… on today of all days?” Anne was asking at No. 22.
“Ah for Christ’s sake, you kidding me? It’s bloody Tuesday, Anne. I’ve a job this afternoon. Want me fixing a leak in that penguin suit? I mark it and I’ll never hear the end of it from you.”
She took a deep breath, as if every reply from him lately was the wrong reply and he knew exactly what she was thinking, saw it all on her face. 18 years of marriage was a lesson in reading expressions, if nothing else.
“Hey, come here to me for a minute,” he said and, totally unexpected, he put his arms around her and held his wife against his chest like he had done so often in the early years and it felt so good, in that moment, to be held, to be wanted, to be still seen amid all that was now invisible.

“I want you both to behave today,” Alice told her kids while John finished washing the breakfast dishes at No. 20.
“Maybe we should get a dishwasher,” she then said randomly, “to make life a little easier, you know?”
“I think it’ll take more than just a dishwasher for that,” he answered with nod towards their two blonde boys, already kicking each other under the table, “don’t you agree? And you were the one who wanted kids?”
“We wanted kids,” she corrected him, “and aren’t we lucky to have them,” Alice reminded him and he hit his head with a sudsy covered hand for his majorly inappropriate remark in the midst of the current devastation that had brought a silence and a halt to life on their normally idilic street.
“Jesus, I’m sorry, you’re right… of course we are. I’m a gobshite at times.”
“That’s true, but I love you for that too,” she told him as she walked behind him on the way to put on her black dress and ran her hand along the broad expanse of his back, the back which she nestled her head against every night.

When they finished dressing at No. 21, they came downstairs together as the cars arrived. The silence felt like a presence that had moved in with Jane and Matthew, suffocating them. The only break came from occasional cries that filled certain rooms, cries from adults now, not their child. The newspaper was lying by the door. They didn’t pick it up. They knew what was written inside.

‘We held you for only a moment, but we’ll remember you for a lifetime.’

All Words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly.

Photograph taken in the Musee Rodin, Paris, France.

Originally published by OriginalWriting in Ireland in their 2015 Short Story Anthology ‘Second Chance.’

THE STARS, A SHORT LIFE/STORY

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She was a married woman, with stars in her eyes, by the age of ten. She’d seen him in the back yard at 9 ¾ and in seconds had painted their future together. Mrs. Mulligan’s daughter would be Mrs. Michael Menkas and at 12 she dropped her bike at his gate and, upon his stoop, told him so.

At 13 he kissed her upon the lips; clumsy, sloppy and unaware of what to do with his tongue. But she was unaware that it could have been any better. At 14 he held her to his heart and promised her the earth, the moon and the stars but at 16 he heard the call and got wrapped up in a flag with stripes and other stars.

His letters came home twice a week at 18, from the front lines, they said, tales of heroes covered the pages while between the lines she saw the smudges of fear but they always signed off with a kiss.

When he first came home, he held her in his 19 year old arms. He placed a ring upon her finger as she glowed from head to toe in a white dress his mother had made her. She was a woman now whose breasts filled her bodice and eyes still sparkling stars beneath her veil while he, in uniform, played his part but the stars in his eyes had blown out.

For 20 days they played house, like in their childhood dreams long gone. Nights of passioned love making that ran far into the dawn before dreams fell to sweaty nightmares and she held him to her heart afterwards as if someone could pull him away from her at any moment. The truth of his imminent departure seeped out of every thread on the uniform that hung on the side of the closet.

At 21 she answered the knock at the door with a hand upon a swollen belly. Two men, too young to be adults and too young to be delivering the burden handed her a letter that ripped her apart before she could rip the envelope.

At 22 she bore his child and a tiny girl roared into the world. When Mrs Michael Menkas looked at her daughter, a tiny ball of wrinkles and wonder, her heart broke all over again for the tales she would one day have to tell her daughter of a husband and father now lost in the stars.

All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

THE STILLNESS IN THE BARN

 

And so he waved back, and, as if brushing back the years, he remembered when they cycled through the lanes together, well not together, in their group, but he was there and she was there though, in truth, it was not this particular woman, the woman who had waved to him as the train passed but he recalled the recollection with her reflection. A time when he watched a girls hair in front of him as it caught the breeze and the sun light above them and the wisps of leaves that leaned from trees overhead as if to touch her and he remembered how much it hurt. How much he resented nature in that moment, on that perfectly ordinary day in the countryside when everything, it seemed, reached out to touch her but him while he peddled to keep up with her scent, with her hair, with her hands that caressed the handlebars, with all that had always alluded him at such a young age. And he wondered, as he cycled, if she knew how he fantasised about her every move.

Falling back to reality, the train upon which he sat in the crowded carriage continued along its tracks, and the crowds continued their insubstantial chatter of babies and breakfasts and lunch dates and reunions and mass projections and program malfunctions, and she, a stranger who’d stopped to watch a train pass and wave at him, momentarily, inexplicably, strapped herself, in his mind, to a memory of another, long since lost, before she continued onwards and away on her bicycle, fading in the fields, now but a tiny glimmer of blonde waves brushing above the bushes of blood red berries.

And he recalled that day, after that dance where she had smiled at him across the floor, across the crowded floor of feet shuffling, of socks showing and leather straps cutting into ankles, of teenagers attempting to be attractive, alluring, aloof and yet she had smiled at him or had he smiled at her, was that the truth and the reason she blanked him the following day as if nothing had ever really happened? Which it hadn’t, of course, except in the meandering mind of the boy who wished and waited and met with nothing more than disappointment which grew into embarrassment before it slipped into anger which lingered for a while, just below the fist, until that other extra ordinary day, three months later, beneath the stillness of the barn, when the world stopped rushing past him and he finally realised what it felt like to hold her in his arms, to catch her scent, like butter and pine, in his nostrils, to have her hair against his cheek and feel her blood on his body.

And as the train pulled into the station that had once been his station, he counted 30 years that had past since that day of death, discovery and detainment. A childhood imprisoned by ferocious feelings and a life imprisoned behind unbreakable bars.

All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly

BOY ON THE MOON

 

            I woke up to the sounds of early afternoon cutting into the late morning as the bus bell, resounding from the end of our street, signalled the first stop for the beach, kids shouted jeers and shrieked with laughter as they played catch in the neighbour’s yard and Mum twisted the knob on the washing machine back and forth before it finally chugged into gear like the Saturn V Rocket roaring from Cape Kennedy. I could hear Jinni tapping her tiny plastic horses’ hooves on the window ledge in her room next door, humming Let the Sunshine In for the millionth time while downstairs, on the back porch, Dad switched off the already irritating voice of Nixon on the wireless and instead spun Davis’ Porgy and Bess on the ageing gramophone. The Dickermans’ had had a wooden incased portable turntable for years now while we still had to make do with grampa’s old one even though we’d more money than anyone on the beach side of Branford hills.
            Jackson, Haines and Todd Tierney turned up as Mum cleared away my late breakfast tray and were allowed stay all afternoon. Jackson, the only out-of-stater in our little group, had just come back from Boy Scouts camp with his newly built Estes Big Bertha model rocket, standing almost 2 feet high, it was big, black, bold and my, was it certainly yare. I watched from the bedroom window as they set it up in the yard and followed the trail of white smoke as it soared into the air before the red parachute burst out and returned her to the ground. Ayah, I thought, Bertha was wicked enough but, for me, the shiny white Trident model with its sleek line and red stripe was much more akin to Armstrong’s awesome Apollo.

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            Mum kept the smiles on our faces with mid meal bites; a long grinder packed with cold meat, lettuce and tomato, her best-in-the-town cherry lemonade and double helpings of apple pie. Dad turned on the Linkletter show and cracked up the volume for the neighbours to hear and Haines ogled at my kid sister out the window as she cartwheeled around the yard. We wrapped the rest of the afternoon up in Monopoly. Tierney, the old nutmegger, cheated twice, Jackson spent almost the entire time in jail, just like his grandfather, and yet, somehow, I still lost even though I’d managed to trade Short Line railroad with gumball-brained Tierney early on and had also been the lucky son-of-a-gun to call shotgun on Illinois Avenue before anyone else, and usually only jail is more popular than this place, usually!
            The boys set off home after they’d brought me down to the parlour in time for the news so we could check in with our three bravest countrymen. It turned out that our Space Race heroes were no more talkative on a rocket than they’d been on land. They’d spent their second day in space cooking, sweeping, making coffee and forecasting the weather. Cronkite told us that no news was good news but Jeez man, give us a little something, I thought. This was Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, but for real. I’d been dreaming about this moment, awake and asleep, from lift off to set down and no sweeping brush or coffee maker had got in the way of the weightlessness of my body floating through space. The final news report was some story about someone who said sorry to someone else who had once said something about spaceflight not being possible even though someone else had said it would be and now that someone was embarrassed because someone else was actually right and three humans were now in space. Phew!
            Pops returned me to bed at 9pm that evening with a tummy fit to burst from Nellies creamy clam chowder, whose smell could not even be matched by the blueberry cobbler she’d made us for dessert. Once Mum had helped me with the final duties of the night, toilets and teeth, I took my torch and elbow-crawled my way under the blankets, dragging Pops childhood copy of Amazing Adventures with me. In Pop’s day, when Buck Rogers was called Anthony for a reason I never understood, the coolest toy was Rogers’ Rocket Police Patrol Ship, which he now had locked behind a glass case in this study, the one room in the 15 roomed house which smelt constantly of spicy flowers, the lasting residue of his Connecticut shade, constantly smoked, cigars. I wasn’t often allowed play with the ship, unless a doctor’s visit had left me too unsettled, but I always pictured it in my head when I went swashbuckling with Buck and his galpal Wilma Deering. Rogers had miraculously awoken after a sleep of over 400 years and within days was battling the Han race with rocket pistols and jumping belts. Suddenly it was turning out that science, space and super heroes were more real today than yesterday. A man was now on his way to the moon and there was sure nothing more wicked than that. You know, plenty of people who couldn’t imagine it yesterday now believed in it today. Who knows what else could happen with a little time and imagination, perhaps a crippled boy of today could rise up, all by himself, tomorrow. One step at a time.

 

All Words by Damien B. Donnelly

CURIOUS CALUM CAUSES A COMMOTION

 

For Calum Solan, the best Godson in the world…

A funny thing happened to me the other day, although I didn’t realise it at the time, well, you never do, do you? I was strolling down MacMiddle Street, around the corner from Bertie Bryant’s Book Emporium, my home away from home, passing by Margella’s Marvellous Magic shop, when Margella’s not too marvellous magician came tumbling head over feet out the door, with his magic wand between his teeth. With a mighty momentum, he rolled towards me, catching me in a mass of movement and we tumbled dangerously close the edge of the path and the whizzing wheels of cruising cars on the winding road. My heart was in my foot.
Curious Calum, the barmiest 10 year old to ever be called a magician, babbled away in a language I’d never heard of, and I am, by far, the greatest language recogniser for at least four blocks (my name is often mentioned in many a bookshop and library, only around the language section of course, but it still counts).
“Higgledy sprik bubbin,” muttered Calum through his teeth, which still held his wand, “higgledy sprik ewwey.”
We were knotted up good (the type of knot that would take an expert fisherman years to learn) and about to be considerably crushed by cars. The next thing that happened I fear that all the grown ups out there, the silly ones, the ones who only see things in black and white, will never for the life of them believe. But I’ll tell the rest of you who still see rainbows of colour when you close your eyes before you go to sleep at night.
As I rolled over him, I saw the path about to end and car wheels getting ever closer. I thought we’d be knocked over for sure until we rolled over each other again and, when I came back up, I noticed the size of the wheels had changed, I lie to you not. They’d become giant wheels, like the type of wheels that 25 foot people have on their cars but there’s not many 25 foot people left anymore on MacMiddle Street or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. Although, if you do see one, please tell them to contact me as I have a few pairs of 10 foot trousers left over at home from a 25 foot man who used to live there before me.

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But back to the story. At the edge of the giant path, a drain hole came into sight, looking like an enormous black hole and I realised that it wasn’t the wheel or the path or even the drain that had grown, it was myself and Curious Calum that had shrunk. That must have been a spell he’d been mumbling in all the commotion and so the pair of us tumbled, head first, into the giant drain hole that smelt like stinky socks.
Well, when you’ve been shrunk to the size of a fly and plummeted into a dark blackness, a blackness so black that it bursts with colour, what do you say when you end up landing on a turtle and awake him from his dream of winning the 20 centimetre race in the Annual Animal Olympics, beating Pat Mac Paws, the Asian-Irish panther whose winning record had never before been broken?

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“What’s all the commotion?” inquired the turtle, whose name was Tom, in a drowsy voice, “I was about to collect my medal and we were going to have a big party with lots of chocolate cake.”
“Oh well, how and ever, things to do, it’s now or never. I saved this boy from being run down, now let’s find the tunnel to get back up to town!” chanted Curious Calum who I saw crawling out from underneath Tom the Turtle’s shell.
“How in the love of lollipops did you ever end up down there when we fell from up above?” I asked the bumbling magician.
“I always do, I don’t know why, I end up under when I fall from the sky, but I saved you boy and there’s no time to waste, so we’ll take the tunnel and we better make haste,” answered Calum as he climbed up onto Tom, wrapped a blanket around our legs, tapped two times on the shell and off we went into a world of talking turtles and a mysterious magician who seemed to think he’d saved me when he was the one who’d knocked me down. I had a trillion questions and not a clue which one to ask first. I could feel my tummy rumbling and wondered if we’d stop for lunch soon as I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

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An hour passed by and we hadn’t even gone a single mile. We were travelling by turtle and as most of you will know, when travelling by turtle, speed is not a factor that one considers or even mentions. In Tom’s defence, I must say there were quite a few obstacles in our way. Obstacles, which it must be said, proved rather dangerous for Curious Calum and myself when you’re sitting on the shell of a moving turtle with nothing much to hold on to but a crevice or two in the crusty formation of the shell and the seat of your own trousers. These moments of difficulty included twice having to carefully clamber along a swaying bridge made from what appeared to be giant lollipop sticks tied together with bits of coloured wool, the type your granny uses to make you a knitted jumper as a Christmas present, even when all you wanted was a either a set of shiny tools or a book on how to train insects to do summersaults on command or, if you were a girl, a party skirt made from glow in the dark pink satin with twenty million sequins in rosy red.
Another tricky situation occurred when we climbed what looked to me like a mountain made entirely of cracked egg shells and boiled potatoes, still with their skins on. We managed to climb up successfully but the slide down the other side left my tummy in my mouth and my breakfast almost coming back up. For the first time in my 11 years, I was glad I hadn’t had any lunch.
After the bridge, which only had a drop of about three feet, proving it to be rather pointless, and the messy mountains, we came across a shallow lake of mud that we had to wade across. This was the only time I saw a hint of energy from Tom as he splattered and spluttered through the mud, throwing as much coffee coloured muck into our faces as there was in the whole of the lake. Twice Curious Calum almost fell in due to slipping on the shell that had become wet and slimy from the splash back. The first time I didn’t even notice until I heard a strange sound of swallowing and looked behind to see the magician holding on for dear life to Tom’s back leg which was flapping about the place, flinging Curious Calum from right to left and under and over the muddy lake.
“If you could, if you please” he shouted in between spitting out mouthfuls of mud “ give me a hand to get out of this squeeze.”
After dragging him back to safety, using the blanket as a rope for him to grab on to and so enabling me to pull him up, we sat back on our positions on top of Tom the Turtle only to be hit with not one but four angry fish, who, as they flew past my face offered me such downright insulting language that, for the fear of offending all you readers out there and putting you off keeping goldfish in your house ever again, I’m not going to repeat what they said whilst blowing bubbles of stale air from their gills into my face. Enough to say that I’ll never again feel funny about eating a few fish fingers for a Friday dinner and washing them down with a glass of milk!
Eventually, when we reached the other end of the tunnel, another giant hole opened up above us and I could hear, once again, the familiar sounds of my world above the ground but I had no idea how we’d get back up there until, low and behold, two clacking gulls soared down to greet us.

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“There’s fierce weather approaching just over the Millach Mountains to the east, young Curious Calum. We had better be getting you top side before the rains set in,” said one of them to my magical turtle shell companion, who was then introduced to me as the Great General Gilbert Glacklan-Glack, the grandest gull of the Garrick Group Brigade who fought the foggy storm of 1998 with his troop of Glacken-Glack Go-For–It Gull air force.
He was an elderly bird, by anyone’s terms, and the oldest active General for many a blue sky. He wore old brown flying goggles, made from what appeared to be clear circles of plastic joined over the beak by sticky tape, trimmed with brown paper and held on with an elastic band. Beneath both his wings, which he kept to mint army regulation condition, he wore with pride his medals of honour for his heroic years of sea gull service and every pose he struck while with us enabled him to left up one or the other wing so as to show them off without ever having to directly bring our attention to them.
“The rain can fall but not before we fly, let’s take our positions and take to the sky,” shouted Curious Calum as he grabbed me by the back of my coat tails, almost causing two of my favourite books to fall from the inner pockets of the lining, I always travel book prepared, and pushed me onto the back of the Great General while he took position on the back of Commanding Officer Gregory Glacken Glack, a distant nephew of the Great General, and they swept us up towards the drain hole above without even the time to say thank you or goodbye to Tom the Turtle, but, as we ascended, I could hear the echo of his snore coming up from below us and realised that he was back in dreamland, probably devouring a delicious chocolate cake at his celebratory Annual Animal Olympics After-Party.
With the wisp of a wing and the flip of a feather we flew through the hole and came out top side once more just as I heard Curious Calum chant another one of his spells. In the blink of an eye and a blip and a pop, we leapt off our Glacken Glacks who took to the sky and landed safely on the path, on the opposite side of MacMiddle Street, were we’d started, once again returned to human size and almost without a single scratch or a scrape.
“Now, Damien Does’Accents,” Curious Calum said to me as he dusted off the back seat of his trousers, “you watch out how you walk down the street in future, I won’t always be here to save you, you know.”
Well, I never. First of all, he’d stopped speaking in rhymes and, second of all, I am very proud of how I walk down the street and have had a whole 8 years of practice, even though I am 11. Mother said I was a slow starter. But before I could respond, Curious Calum turned and crossed the road to Margella’s Marvellous Magic Shop to join in the magic show with Airport Emma, Fearless Fiona, Dangerous Derek, Daredevil Dympna and Magic Mona, leaving me wide-eyed, full-sized and speechless.

Oh, what a day that was.

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All Words and Pictures by Damien B. Donnelly