Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 5

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4, Part 1

Chapter 4, Part 2

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It came bounding from the threshold of dusky woods, an achromic color like dying fire stirring the ashes, anemic body spilling between the tree trunks, tangling skin and bone and muscle in the branches and wailing as it did.

Neave caught the yellow of its eyes as it narrowed them upon her, piercing, devouring even from the great distance. Like smoke it moved swaying trees in its wake, borrowing a shade of the enclosing night, translucent, yet vibrant as it shifted making her eyes water. The color of death and decay.  Ambrose was eager to send biting bullets and they flew passing through the prism of its body hacking at wood and rock instead.

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Neave took them away, leaving behind the gaping mouths of unclosed doors, like black tombs erect in the dying light. She chose the path not down, never down where it was a territory of the dead and forgotten but up where people had a chance to come and go. Go. It was possible, wasn’t it? Neave wasn’t sure, tripping in the dark audible with snakes hissing, goats belowing. Ghost things, past things, things that didn’t exist but came with the Fox.

The introduction reminded her of something that had happened not long ago, something rotten, cruel, intimate. She jumped at each gunshot unfamiliar to the sound live and present not dull like in the movies. Bang! The growling, drooling sound leapt left to right and back again now outside of its hideout, now with them on the blind road. The sun was nearly gone and everything that didn’t exist in it took a form.

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A car thrown in the bush emerged, doors ajar, light flickering, radio croaking, waves overlapping with indistinguishable voices. Neave recognized her silver, the car she had come with. Come. She had chosen to visit here, days ago, years ago. She had been here and with her had been the Fox. The only memory that mattered appeared.

She stopped abruptly, facing the Fox.

“Go, I’ll keep it busy!” Ambrose was shouting gesturing towards the car. Sierra was already working at it, trying.

The Fox had halted, throbbing, pulsating, a worm wriggling phantom. Its proximity was familiar to Neave, dangerously so. It leered at her, recognizing her scent. Its ragged head dropped down, muzzle sniffing between her breasts.

“You knew. When you asked whether it came for me, you knew it did. But you weren’t sure whether it had taken me.” She looked at Ambrose, reaching for him with eyes that he didn’t return quickly enough.

“If I had said anything you would have run. Back then, across the field in the rain. And I wanted to keep you close, safe. I saw the marks, Neave. I had to do something. For you to face it, however not like this.”

Neave bent back on herself, into herself, shuddering. The bruise where he had grabbed onto her arm, latching himself like a leech, sucking joy out and inducing fear, hurt. She rubbed at it, feeling the muscle underneath leather and skin convulse. He came at her, pushed her into a corner, tasted her, trying her on and off. Fast it became something else, terrifying, unwanted. Something to run away from, unaccepting. Ambrose took careful steps towards her, rifle aimed high at the Fox’s head.

“Maybe if I wasn’t so afraid we wouldn’t be here,” Neave put out a hand untangling a piece of her to give to the Fox. He licked her palm, ruby red tongue darting out to lap at sweat and dirt.

“Neave, don’t…” Ambrose pleaded, his rifle rising and falling with the heavy breaths of his chest, unsteady, sweaty in large palms.

“I have to, Ambrose it’s the only way. He takes me and it all ends. Just like in the story. Otherwise I am no one and everything around me is nothing. He would return me to me. I won’t be afraid this time.”

The Fox nodded, a grotesque thrust of its large head.

“Bullshit. Look at me. Hey!” Ambrose just like the night when he found her, stood there a towering figure with secure eyes and secure smile, grey hair falling against the side of his narrow face. “It will hurt you. You don’t need to indulge its whims. You can come home with me and Sierra.” He looked at the Fox, a tense smile and reached out his hand, long slender fingers touching her skin. Touching. A mistake.

The Fox recoiled from Neave and snapped its jaws closed on Ambrose’s hand tearing flesh from bone, dividing. The scream was Sierra’s, running from inside the car to pick the detached, cradle Ambrose in his blood-spurting convulsions. The luminous yellow irises lacking pupils rolled in their sockets, foam bubbling around the rabid snout. Midway it met Sierra, darting at her neck, departing the head half from her body. The person that had been Sierra seconds ago dropped to a shapeless form.

“They wanted to help…” Neave told the Fox, briefly catching the man that walked inside its skin. The Fox opened its steaming jaws, the pungent smell of carrion escaping, mixed with fresh blood, and laughed a human laughter.

Because she had nearly been stolen and in fear of losing herself she had run here, where there was simplicity and in it there was no one. Except the Fox in the autumn looking for his sacrifice. And in the attempt to escape what was nearly done to her she had come here to receive it anew but unlike the other time, the first time she couldn’t run now. She had been returned to it, some anomaly, some paradox that prevented her from going further. The memory leak.

The opaqueness presented itself to Neave, opposite, upside down, astray. Peripheral. That was a good word for it, Neave thought tasting bitterness and iron on her bitten tongue. Not remembering wasn’t a symptom of him and his advances, the hurtful bruise on her arm, but of this place. She didn’t exist in it, but she had crossed its threshold in a desperate attempt to escape to some familiar normality away from prying eyes. The density of it was unfamiliar to her and she felt lightweight, paper thin, impossible to gather, impossible to connect.

“Take me home,” she spoke to the Fox, gripping a handful of fur between her trembling fingers. The missing item locked into place, the harsh feel of the sharp hair irritating her palm. Going back home, she had to face herself. She closed her eyes waiting patiently, obediently for the Fox to do its duty. Take her, kill her, return her.

It weren’t jaws that closed on her neck but lips, salty and rich on blood. Ambrose’s scream punctured, her eyes snapping open. In his slumped form in the red dust, in the lightless night his grip on the rifle was janky, his voice incoherent, thick with grief and pain but he did send a bullet. It connected with the Fox’s eye, the great beast bellowing at the leaking juice from its yellow socket. In its confusion and pain it snapped different set of jaws on Neave.

The night seeped into her eyes, a cosmos reeling down on her, cold and solid, strangely like daggers sliding into sheaths.

“Neave! Neave!”

She stood on unsteady legs, swaying like the grains had been beaten to a submissive motion by the rain in that field so long ago. A brotherly hand came on her shoulder shaking red dust of her jacket, tears of her caked with regret cheeks. The illumination of multiple flashlights fell upon her, the brightness impossible to stand. She turned her head towards the place where Ambrose lay but there was no one there, there was no one where Sierra had fallen. Something was taken from her hand, a weight disappearing leaving her fingers numb, flexing in and out. Her brother held the rifle putting it away, safe distance, good intentions.

“What are you doing here, Neave? I looked for you everywhere, I thought you were dead!”

It’s not something she could answer sleeping in yesterday’s clothes. Yesterday she’d given herself over to the Fox, a ripple in time, a ghoul prancing in golden tilting fields in the moaning mountains. He hadn’t taken his token, his promise. Ambrose had robbed him of that, not allowing for her to sacrifice that which she valued, feared losing, feared giving. He’d understood, had seen why the runaway, why the lack of memory.

But she’d seen the out of place, the different. Now, being picked up, carried away past the trashed car with its doors ajar, past the crumbling houses she gave in to a different touch, the soothing caress on her back, thumb drawing circles. But she missed the other, the friendly hand pulling her from the mud leading her safely to a sanctuary. The only thing existing in that place had been the house with the swing and Ambrose and Sierra in it. She wept for that. She wept for his black eyes. She wept for Sierra.

Coming home she felt like running away again. Coming home she felt like going away.

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The End

Take you for staying for this short journey!

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 4, Part 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

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Their eagerness to know more transfused into Neave. She allowed herself a deeper breath, eyes not meeting eyes, hers into the distant where the memory existed.

“The man who lived in that house over there told it to me.” Neave pointed at the smallest of the three houses, a green door marking it. “When I asked why he would want to hurt a hungry fox he asked me ‘what do you think the fox eats, little girl?’ and I said ‘chickens of course what else’.” Neave reached for Ambrose’s cigarette, an old habit calling back, and took a drag that jimmied open her throat clogged with difficult memories. He received it back with a twinkle in his eye.

“That man was not nice, I recall that. He laughed at me but when I tried to run away he grabbed my arm and took me inside his house. ‘Do you want to know the truth about your precious fox?’ he asked. His breath stank of alcohol and milk, his hands of gunpowder and dirt. But I wanted to know. I wanted to.”

She looked at them, Ambrose eager to hear, Sierra eager to see.

“He told me a long time ago just after the first houses were built near the river ill luck befell the people and the village. It desolated most of it and the elder stricken with grief, took a rope and headed to the oak tree to hang himself. When he got there a man wearing a fox skin was sitting under it roasting a chicken leg on a tiny fire. He talked the elder out of suicide and shared his chicken with him while the elder told him of their predicament. After hearing all, the stranger offered a solution. He told the elder that if they dined him with the finest meal tonight, tomorrow the sick would be healed and the crops would be rich again and if they gave him one girl after her first blood every autumn the village would flourish and expand and fill with the riches of the earth. They would be kings among the hills.”

“The elder agreed and in the morning when he returned to the village what the stranger had promised had come true. Come autumn the man in the fox skin came for the first girl just as he’d promised he would. The villagers were angry with the elder and how he’d hidden the truth from them. Dealing with demons and spirits…they called him a witch and butchered him. The demon took his girls despite everything, sneaking in the night soft as a whisper, quiet as a fox.” Neave inclined her head towards the green door of the small house. “I was so little, couldn’t be more than six. After I heard the story I wanted to cry but the man just laughed. ‘It’ll happen to you too! The man in the fox skin will come to take you and make you his whore you little bitch.’ I snuck past him and didn’t leave our house for days.”

“What a fucking weirdo. I’m so sorry, Neave. That must have been horrible,” Sierra sighed.

“Did it come? Did he come for you?”

Neave watched Ambrose, his unblinking stare piercing.

Sierra’s eyes widened. “Ambrose! Don’t be an asshole!”

She wanted to tell him, she wanted to be sure. The mark of something held in her hand returned and she flexed her digits tickling at her palm and the pressure there. Her mouth was dry, the red dirt carried in the wind crunching beneath her teeth.

A distant almost indistinguishable cry pierced her ears.

“Did you hear that?” Sierra asked and she swiftly ran down the stone steps and back to the yard where it was darker. The narrow light from her phone’s flashlight provided indication as to where she was.

“Inside the cave lived a Fox,” Neave whispered staring at the jagged rock.

 “Why isn’t it marked on the map, the cave?” Ambrose asked.

“It’s so people don’t go there.” Neave said listening to the cry. It was a woman crying, a child screaming, a person wailing in agony. It was a horrible sound and it chased away all other noise present in the vanishing daylight – the sound of night approaching through the trees making them sway as it came.

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Ambrose joined Sierra adding to the stretch of yellow glow. He clutched his hunting rifle and aimed it at the approaching darkness.

Chapter 5

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 4

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3



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After seeing the oak tree it was easy for Neave to find the path to the heart of the village.

“Where is everybody?” Sierra asked as they walked into a small yard surrounded by conjoined houses. Desolate and damaged buildings had given way to sturdier ones, wires and rusted satellites hanging from windows, bolted into walls crumbling in yellow dust over loose doors leading into pigsty’s smelling of feces and blood. Tennis rockets of a decaying green were barred between boards nailed into crooked sheds containing molded nuts and dried herbs hung from rusted hooks on walls black with time and ash. Nature crawled over lamp poles lacking bulbs and webbed its way over natural protruding rock, white marking a pathway leading to a mansized oven filled with child’s summer shoes and magazines with faces dated ten years back. It was an anachronism that made Neave tremble with newfound nostalgia.

“There isn’t anyone here anymore. They all…died.” Neave knew with a certainty the person she had come to see here had perished as well long ago. “It’s a ghost village.” Stood there in the middle of it all, Neave recalled the presence that once made this place a living thing.

This is the village?” Sierra captured the emptiness waiting to see if ghosts would emerge in the Polaroid once she shook it. The three living houses and the barn made for a small world.

“Over time it became that. The wells down in the valley dried and there was not enough water. It drove the people who were still alive to go up the hill and settle in with the wealthier families. Over time they became one. They stayed here for over 100 years, created this area to live close to one another. Almost like one big house. Until there were only five left,” Neave explained useless memories filling the space where she needed the healthier ones, the truth and clarity.

“Which one is your family’s house?” Ambrose stood next to her. Neave pointed to the crooked construction sitting in the middle of the yard. It had a porch aligned with white flower pots but the flowers had waned and only hard soil filled them.

Neave’s gaze filled with lament. She tried to picture it all as it were when she was a child, when she was young. Sweat and blood, hard work and calloused hands, vibrant dialect and echoing songs carried over vast hills overgrown with tobacco, the strange touch of newly shed wool, the stench of guts mixed with shit – all were present under layers of dust and abandonment and Neave took it all in, recalling whatever she could. Her memory had been meddled with; it was not on her own volition that she was a stray without a shadow. Outer help had canceled her existence allowing only short sighted memories and grief and detachment to remain. And this here, a distant home that was never a home. The call of her name upon familiar lips, feminine and gentle but weak with age transformed into the soft whisper of Ambrose raking her out of the past and into the present.

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“Neave? Are you feeling alright? Do you want us to go back?”

She declined the offer as the feeling of belonging was somewhat more reachable. Above all the floating sensations familiarity escalated and she wanted more. Neave wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve.

 “I think it was the oldest or so my grandmother used to say. I remember sitting on the porch and looking at the-“

Neave tried to remember but she fell in a loophole, memory leaking again. Ambrose caught her, a reassuring smile returning his dimples.

“It’s alright, take your time.”

Again he went first exploring the house, testing the wood, a boot against the floor thumping to raise dust and memories.

“Looks like it was raised from stone and earth!” Ambrose said.

“Boulders brought from the river in ox carts,” Neave remembered. She was surprised the details came to her with such an ease when a fuller, more recent memory was impossible to comprehend. “Over the masonry they used boards crossed with beams and covered that with mud. You can pretty much see the earth pattern on the floor. They made a tracery out of two sets of beams and twined that with oak sticks.”

“Covered it again with mud mixed with straw, right?” Ambrose asked.

Neave nodded. She took the stone steps and crossed over to the unsteady floorboards following Ambrose. The door that had once been shut was ajar, the wire used to twist around the nail to keep it close gone and the latch loose. The primitiveness allowed them to duck into the stale air and gray dark. The beds, twins in size and knitted covers, were still at their places, but the mattress stuffed with old clothes to fill the space was slumped, yellow with black and green and mold from water dripping out of the cracks in the ancient roof.

Sierra’s footsteps were much quieter but the snap of her camera was loud. She had framed the window overlooking the rolling hills. As Neave drew circles in the dust on the table and opened jars collecting dead flies, Sierra had rested her eyes firmly on the small window frame, sneaking closer to it. Her voice came surprised. “That is a formidable rock if I’ve ever seen one. Look, can you see it?”

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Ambrose and Sierra tried to distinguish it through the small rectangle fragments of the unwashed window but Neave knew from where she could see it clear. She went back out to the porch where a red carpet was draped over the DIY bench and sat herself there. She fixed her eyes on the greenery swooshing under some distant wind. It was so simple to remember now.

“I used to sit on the porch and look at the cave.”

Ambrose and Sierra joined her on the porch. On the mountain face jutted out a rock formation and they could just barely catch the opening to a cave before it disappeared bellow the trees.

“Inside that cave lived the Fox?” He asked through a chuckle.

“My grandmother used to tell me that a large fox lived in a cave under that rock. It would come at night through the tall grass and sneak into the chicken box. Four chickens it would eat on the first day and four more on the tenth and it would always come for more avoiding all traps and hissing at the gunshots instead of running. I dreamt to see that fox all my childhood. I thought I could see it come through the woods, through the valley, hear the soft thud of its paws because it was always so quiet up here.”

 “What about the legend?” Sierra asked toying with her camera. Ambrose sat beside Neave lighting a new cigarette. He settled on her line of view. Neave leaned, back against the house. She watched the empty bulb socket rock above her head. It would get dark soon and there would be no light.

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Chapter 4, Part 2

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 3

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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Neave woke in bed in the spare room of the cottage. Mud and anxiety washed away, she had surrendered to a motionless sleep lulled away by the low kept voices of Ambrose and Sierra and the still lingering scent of the opiate candle. The morning was a different shade but Neave was still clutched in the remembrance of yesterday.

She rolled on her side, fingers woved into the blanket, pulling hard to simulate possession. She curled her body into a fetal position escaping for new seconds into darkness behind closed eyes. Beneath the cover she felt naked, exposed, only a skin thin shroud of a memory covering her, the house, Enok, the blurred faces she called family. And nothing more of her present self, of who she was. All memories were fragments from the past, just nostalgia in heaps, nothing useful, only bittersweet. A fickle horror swirled like smoke from a burning cigarette but she blew on it disconnecting its chances of encompassing her to suffocate in its blue haze.

Despite it all her memory loss had boundaries now, a beginning to be placed with precision and an intermission- now, to be played out in order to restore the middle and provide the ending. Her want to go home was still present, but returning would also mean living with the missing and Neave couldn’t bear to be her own stranger. She opened weary eyes to the dull silhouettes in the room. The voices in the other room had escalated to fully developed sentences, rising in volume and urgency. Neave left the bed and received the cool morning air against her bare skin.

She found Ambrose and Sierra in the small kitchen. The devious grin that had played on his lips hours ago was replaced by a youthful smirk.  There was a sudden gentleness lurking in his features and Neave found herself reaching for the coffee mug he offered, a symbol of an act of complete normality she welcomed.

“We know where to go,” he said pointing towards the backpacks on the sofa. Next to them rested against the leather seat was a hunting rifle.

“I don’t know why he needs this,” Sierra joined taking a long sip from her cup.

“In case. Just in case.”

“There is something wild to shoot? How about you leave the shooting to me?” Sierra waved an instant camera at him and slipped it in her backpack.

Neave left the coffee untouched. “I don’t understand. What do you mean you know where to go?”

“It was something you said that gave me an idea. Fair fact, it’s a long shot but I suspect a plausible one. On the way here you mentioned that story, “Inside the cave lived a Fox”. You said it was like local lore, so we did some digging and sure enough there is a similar folklore tale originating in Yarlford, one of the villages up in Mt. Wrell. We figured it would be best to start there.”

Neave folded her arms searching through her brain for the village, a place she had known, had visited. Yarlford, hundreds of years old withstanding the wheels of time, the changing currents. It surfaced with semi-vivid imagery, echoes more than voices, passing weak odors instead of pungent smells. It hovered ghostlike but the more she focused on it, the more the link strengthened returning her to a world less distorted and more memory like. It settled right there in her childhood, a pieced of her mind untouched by her amnesia. Neave could feel Ambrose watching her closely, leaning into the same want to construct a world that was not tainted, that could be reached and anchored.

“I remember spending my summer vacations there but…. Could I have gone there?” And was I alone if I did, Neave wondered.

Sierra took Neave by her hand and pulled her towards the door. Her lips hovered close to Neave’s ear, the breath ticklish on her skin when she whispered. “I think it’s worth the try. Are you ready, Neave? You will rediscover yourself today.”

*      *      *

Yarlford was far. Neave remembered trekking up to it from the train station in Tallbridge. It would take half the hours of daylight to cross the invasive river, hoping from boulder to boulder, to climb over fallen trees shattered by lightning and find the right herd path beside game trails leading into deep woods. A bullet had whistled above her head once, the hunter hiding in silence behind his scope. She had to crisscross over hills and valleys overgrown with grass, remaining at all times above a quaint quiet world populated by distant yowls of cattle. By the time she would reach the house the sky would be turning indigo.

Ambrose took the wheel leading them out of the dirt road and on to a new one miles away that climbed them in her periphery of civilization’s reach to a domain where the wind rustled through the tall grass. Sierra rolled down the backseat window. Her hair scattered, toyed with by the currents.

“It really is a moaning mountain,” she noted. They crawled, tires fighting against the still wet unevenness of the red dirt road threatening to become a landslide and throw them in a ditch of splintered trees soaking in mire ponds filled with rocks. Sierra took photos and wrote down with a blue marker on the white space of the Polaroid her thoughts.

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Neave could see she was enthralled by the endless valleys and jutting peaks colored in pale blues.

A map was spread on the dashboard but Neave’s uneducated eyes couldn’t see where they were or would go. Ambrose tapped a finger at a junction. “That would be somewhere at the foot of the village. We’ll leave the car there and continue on foot.”

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Outside of the car the steep trail that opened on the side of the road snaked its way past the first houses, caved in under time and nature’s pressure. Neave knew them to be sanctuaries of snakes, tongue-splitting venomous reptiles hiding inside their man-made shrines.

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“These were abandoned a long time ago,” Ambrose spoke squinting to look inside an empty window.

“When I was a child people would still search for buried gold coins in them. One man was bitten twice by snakes.”

“Did he die?” Sierra snapped her photo pausing only to scribble, the marker leaving a squeaky noise.

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“I think so.”

“But did he find gold coins? A pot of gold coins perhaps?” Ambrose caught up with her lighting a cigar. The smoke he blew caught her in a sweetened haze.

Neave pictured two gold coins dug from underneath dusty floorboards crawling with the slimy bodies of smooth green and yellow snakes, placed over her eyes, a cold payment for greed, mistrust and cruelty.

“I don’t think there were ever any.”

Coming up the uneven trail outside the density of trees and nodding houses, Neave’s heart skipped and she rushed ahead. She slipped over exposed rocks white as bone to climb the path to open ground. The sight of a crownless oak spreading dried branches like a scarecrow to touch no sky, made her smile.

“I remember this tree. Lightning struck it and it never grew afterwards.” The snap of the camera behind her sealed the moment. Ambrose gave her his leading stride offering open palmed the discovery.

“We’re here,” Neave told them.

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Chapter 4

#BestReads2016: Year of the Graphic Novel

Lists from previous years:

Best Reads 2012

Best Reads 2013

Best Reads 2014

Best Reads 2015

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It’s the time of the year again when we sit down and gather our best reads from the past year, the books and stories that made us laugh or cry or dance, dream and think beyond our lives or about our lives in different nuances. It’s the last days of 2016 so as a tradition on this blog as is on many other blogs, it’s time to look back and share which novels made an impact on me.

Last year I went on something close to a rant about myself and my inability to finish bigger works of fiction or non-fiction during 2015. I put my faith in short-story collections and then tried to apologise that the majority of my best reads list consisted of short-story collections. That was 99% stupidity. The Best Reads lists make themselves in our heads as we flip page after page, read book after book and gasp in awe at comic book after comic book.

Short-story collections are one of the best things to exist. They have been my guide, my encyclopedia through fiction. They have been a constant fuel and inspiration. If one genre tops your Best reads list it means it sucked you in, it transformed you and inspired you. It made you think, it made you love. It sat with you through gloom and sunshine, a blanket of words and pictures tightly wrapped around your arms.

Best Reads lists should show all that. I’m ever glad they exist and that we as avid readers can share what stories we fell in love with, what stories moved us. It’s a fitting way to say goodbye, farewell to a passing year because these stories reflect our view of 2016, they mirror what we felt, where we were, who we were. In a way, at least.

Here’s my Best Reads 2016 list!

 *  *  *

FANTASY

A Song of Ice and Fire series: A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords 1 by George R.R. Martin

fhahefhaFive years ago I bought the first book of the series “A Game of Thrones” and didn’t read a single page from it until this past summer. It would sound like a bad excuse but the tv adaptation “Game of Thrones” is to blame for that.

But I’m ever glad I finally started the series especially with the huge hiatus between season 6 and 7 of the tv show. I have plenty of time to catch up on the source material.

A lot of people joke about how much banner talk (I nearly wrote bathroom talk, smh) there is in these books. They aren’t wrong. I’ve lost track of the number of houses, banners, sigils and names George R.R. Martin has come up with. The heraldry in the series is insane. And unlike the people who find that a snore fest I quite enjoy the long paragraphs introducing an endless array of cousins and nieces and houses.

I found an interesting thing when reading the books. They set a very steady rhythm with me. I can read for hours and never the voice in my head drifts off. I don’t know whether it’s because each chapter is told through the POV of different characters or simply because Martin has a way with words that even monologues roll of your tongue with ease and they are quite poetic and sing-song like often times. I hadn’t read much fantasy in the past years so the fact that “A Song of Ice and Fire” clicked with me with ease is the best thing. I can’t talk about the plot of the series, that just feels wrong because it’s just this huge, huge thing today that even if you are not a fan you know the basic premise – a war, a family torn apart, lots of death, lots of Machiavellian mischief and dragons of course.

What I love about the series is the vast diversity in its territories. The transitions are easy to set the mood appropriately for the desert, for lost cities, for rain and mud, snow and frost, lavish fields, and barren castles. Each land just by its description creates a legend – there are a great many legends of the world on their own, but the things Martin doesn’t write but hints at are what makes this story so grand for me.

I won’t stop to talk about the characters because there are so many fantastic personages. I’ll tell you however who one of my favorite characters in the series is – Littlefinger.

HORROR

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

25458371This is the type of novel I finish and can just say “Oooh”.  The Guardian called the novel “a gothic masterpiece” set on the northwest English coastline, two things that quickly made me want to read “The Loney” – a mystery near the bleak, bleak sea. I was looking at reviews the other day and found a surprising amount of 2 star reviews and mentions how the novel did not live up to the hype and how it left much unfinished and unexplained. But the novel is a lie in a way, news you receive at the last page so you go back to the beginning and wonder how much you trusted it when you started reading and how much you trust its narrative now that you’ve finished it. I don’t know. I trust the uncanny, the unexplained, the pagan, mystic, horrible part of it but I also entertain the other possibility. It’s open to interpretations.

The story carries us on a deeply religious pilgrimage that bares the hope that a mute and institutionalised boy, will be cured of his affliction through the ancient powers of a shrine belonging to a desolate, dank, foreboding land giving way to grey sea. Whether a healing process occurs I will not say. The novel dabbles in surreal horror and each character carries a sense of spiritual crisis, a downfall of faith through faith. They seek redemption and we see their nuanced experiences into reaching one or failing to do so. The story battles with the unquestioned love for a past sadistic Father and the mistrust of his successor who interprets faith in a different way.

I vastly enjoyed the novel and it became my train read on late nights coming back from uni. If anything tickled your interest, go see for yourself. If its blank, it’ll show right away.

***

Whitstable by Stephen Volk

16163489“1971. A middle-aged man, wracked with grief, walks along the beach at Whitstable in Kent.

A boy walks approaches him and, taking him for the famous vampire-hunter Doctor Van Helsing from the Hammer movies, asks for his help. Because he believes his stepfather really is a vampire…”

                                                                               – from Goodreads

Whitstable is probably my favorite read from this year. I put the description here on purpose because if you haven’t figured out who this novella is about or dedicated to just by reading it…well I’ll tell you.

It’s about Peter Cushing.

I don’t want to sound like one of those fans but my first introduction to him was through Star Wars: Episode IV as Grand Moff Tarkin. Of course when I watched it I had no idea who he was. I was a wee child! And much later on becoming better versed in the classic horror movies I recognized him and saw him in a different light – as the hero. As Doctor Van Helsing.

Whitstable is a crushingly poignant story exploring in frightening depths the darkness inside us. It’s a story mixing fact and fiction but Stephen Volk balances that masterfully. His language is rich and detailed in his rebuilding of Cushing’s world of grief and solitude after the death of his wife Helen.

The story true in its main character and his difficult period in life, fictionalized an event which awakes Cushing from his peripheral, private existence and asks of him to be brave again, to step into the shoes of the actor but do so in a new role that begs of him to be cunning and fight a much more real monster of flesh and bones, but not with stakes and sunlight – with compassion, with understanding.

I urge you to read this novella. It’s equal parts sad and uplifting. You don’t have to be acquainted with Peter Cushing or his career to enjoy this. Just know that whilst fiction in the sense of the narrative, it’s also a true to life story. It’s a very human story.

The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

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Blackwood became a favorite with “The Willows” which I read for #NaNoReMo ( a.k.a The National Novel Reading Month) in 2015. I scared me beyond words and its howling winds are still audible in my nights. But when I saw there was a novella called “The Wendigo” I got over excited. Wendigos are one of my favorite creatures in folklore by far surpassing werewolves. I believe some areas in Canada still see practiced the wendigo taboo ceremony. It was performed in times of famine when the human soul was thought to become greedy and the human flesh a craving. Thus the evil spirit was awoken and it took over the human transforming or possessing him with the Wendigo spirit.

 

It was really cool to learn that Blackwood’s Wendigo is considered to be the first appearance of the creature in literature. And although it vastly differs from its folklore description – a cannibalistic monster, an evil spirit – Blackwood’s monster of the wilderness is a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve watched a lot of movies and tv shows featuring a Wendigo – namely Supernatural, Hannibal even games like Until Dawn (where the story was set in Blackwood Mountain). So I was aware of what a Wendigo looked like, how it behaved, what it wanted. Algernon Blackwood surprised me with his vision of the spirit of the wild. It befalls at first two men camping in the Canadian wilderness during their moose-hunting trip. Again as with The Willows though not as rich in details, the novella carries with sounds, night noises that are outside of the world the characters inhabit, unnatural and provoking the telling of legends and spirits, that of the Wendigo. When divinity student Simpson sees his guide Defago run out of their tent seemingly called by a voice high above the trees, he panics and follows only to discover two sets of footprints – one of unnatural proportions and one human, oddly transforming with each stride until they too become unnatural, belonging to some entity of giant proportions.

The brave but delirious student Simpson finds his way to the main camp and calls for reinforcements. Alas Algernon Blackwood is unforgiving and his characters cannot brave the sights they see, the scents they smell – if you’ve ever wondered how a Wendigo smells, its odor is that of lions in a cage – the voices and words they hear. Wendigos have their feet on fire. The heroes fall in deep beliwderment and as they recollect the events frightening images of the dark depths of the Canadian wilderness form.

Artist: Matt Fox

Artist: Matt Fox

Photo belongs to Sffaudio.com

Photo belongs to Sffaudio.com

CRIME

When Will There Be Good News? (Jackson Brodie #3) by Kate Atkinson

3289281I approached this novel series from the middle but that’s because I couldn’t find the other books at the time. I assured myself it wouldn’t be that much of a problem since I was familiar with Case Histories, the tv series based on Atkinson’s famous PI Jackson Brodie (quality drama!).

I used to love reading crime novels. There were plenty of books at home, noir, mafia novels, lots of Puzo, Chandler, Greene and others more diverse it seemed to me with elements of sci-fi and horror. So I always had a crime to solve in the face of a novel or a short story and still do.

This novel is a train wreck both in its narrative where a train literally crashes and in terms of the lives of its characters. People deceive, people lie and people’s destinies lay on the same path. Junctures lead to a highway of sadness, memories, passion, friendship, love and family. And of course mystery. Jackson Brodie is a pretty neat character – he’s cheeky, smart, determined, loyal to his work as a private investigator. And somewhat unfortunate as he always gets tangled so deeply in people’s lives that the ordeal often threatens his own life. I grew fond of him via the tv series and whilst reading this novel couldn’t help but blend the episode based on it with the written word. I was actually quite pleased with how they had approached the episode. The novel has buckets and buckets of dark humour in the midst of all the drama which sets the pace quite nicely and the novels becomes easily gripping. One can only hurry to finish it as the story doesn’t allow you to catch your breath. There’s a healthy dose of Scotland as the events unfold there. What’s not to love?

SHORT-STORY COLLECTIONS

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

22522808I would betray myself and the tradition of creating these lists if Neil Gaiman isn’t included. This year he is more than present not only with this collection but with a few graphic novels. Right off the start I want to say how gorgeous this William Morrow paperback edition is. I love the cover and the print is fantastic as well.

Gaiman’s short-story collections have always been amongst my favorites starting with Fragile Things, my first introduction to him. I mention Fragile Things because it surprised readers with an additional novella – “The Monarch of the Glen” – about Shadow Moon, the protagonist from Gaiman’s most celebrated novel “American Gods”. Trigger Warning repeated that gesture with another novella about Shadow set again after the events in “American Gods” called “Black Dog”.

I remember there was some controversy surrounding the title as people didn’t consider the stories and poems published in this body of work to fit the meaning behind a “trigger warning”. If my memory serves me right there was a backlash of sorts and people were genuinely offended.

This is an excerpt from the introduction of “Trigger Warning”. You can read the full piece here.

“There are things that upset us. That’s not quite what we’re talking about here, though. I’m thinking about those images or words or ideas that drop like trapdoors beneath us, throwing us out of our safe, sane world into a place much more dark and less welcoming. Our hearts skip a ratatat drumbeat in our chests, and we fight for breath. Blood retreats from our faces and our fingers, leaving us pale and gasping and shocked.

And what we learn about ourselves in those moments, where the trigger has been squeezed, is this: the past is not dead…..”

“We build the stories in our heads. We take words, and we give them power, and we look out through other eyes, and we see, and experience, what they see. I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places?”

I urge you to read the full introduction even if you are not interested in the collection itself. It discusses a topic considering creators of content from movies to books to art everywhere and Gaiman’s opinion or theory is a solid one that I too share.

I’ve talked about Neil Gaiman many, many times on this blog. His stories are worth your time. In this short-story collection they come from distant places, they are different from one another controversial to the traditional way short-story collections are constructed. So you go near and far within the span of a few pages. You travel light and never land in the same narrative.

You get to visit a tribute to Bowie, run alongside the 11th Doctor in a nightmarish scenario. You journey to caves withholding gold for a price. I love how Gaiman says that this short-story collection fails the consistency test but that’s why I quite love it. It’s hazardous and in that unknown between each story hide other smaller trigger warnings. I like to do this thing that after I’ve read a story or two I go back to the beginning of the book at the behind the scenes of each story. Beforehand I try to figure out where Gaiman might have written it, for whom, why. I never guess correctly but am always surprised at the reveal.

I had many favorite stories here so I’ll just point out a few that gave me a fright at night or rattled my bones. You’ll have to discover what hides behind these titles on your own: The Thing About Cassandra (which I looked for, for ages even convincing myself at one point Gaiman hadn’t even written), Down to a Sunless Sea (which you can read here), The Case of Death and Honey, Jerusalem, The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury, Observing the Formalities, In Relig Odhrain and Black Dog.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

The Sandman – Issues 40 to 75 by Neil Gaiman

sandman_no-1_modern_age-comiccoverAfter so many years I finally had the chance to finish my favorite comic book series. The unraveling of its protagonist Dream of the Endless, Morpehus, Lord of Dreams ending with him becoming a tragic hero is a one of a kind journey from the dimmest corners of dark horror through the multilayered fantasy LSD trip incorporated with classical and contemporary mythology ending with the masterful artwork of Michael Zulli.

I actually don’t know what to write here. This comic book series was the highlight this year as it was with its first 39 issues years back when I first discovered it. It combines everything I love in fiction ticking off genre after genre – urban fantasy, epic fantasy, occult, superhero, mythology, history. I couldn’t summarize it in such a short space here, this legend of the late 80’s and titan by the time it ended its original run in 1996.

Dream of the Endless is perhaps my all times favorite character. I’ve always thought there’s a hint of Gaiman himself in his visual.

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I was trying to pick an issue or issues that I really loved but it’s very hard. Worlds’ End is amongst them in which travelers from different universal plains or realms are stuck in an endless inn called “Worlds’ End” whilst a reality storm roams outside. They tell stories to pass the time and each story is narrated by a different character. “A Tale of Two Cities” is told by a city dweller who one day finds himself in what he thinks to be a dream or opposite version of the city in which he lives, but then he meets an old man stuck there who explains his fear that the cities will someday awaken because they too sleep and are aware of wandering people through them.  “Cerements” the fifth story is told by a ‘prentice’ from the necropolis Litharge which is basically a city devoted to the processes of multicultural burial.  During these storytelling sessions a funeral procession crosses the sky and that perhaps is one of the most frightening things I’ve seen drawn on paper. It’s also a neat foreshadowing.

The Sandman: Overture has been sitting on my shelf since last bloody Christmas and I’m really excited to be able to finally read it because I didn’t want to start it before The Sandman was done.

If you haven’t by this day and age read any Sandman please, please do so especially if you enjoy the genres it combines. You will not regret it.

***

The Dark Night: A True Batman Story by Paul Dini

dark_night_a_true_batman_story_vol-1_1I actually did an extended review on this autobiographical graphic novel some weeks ago. You can check it out here. It includes some additional thoughts and memories about Batman, some personal aspects regarding the idea behind the Caped Crusader and is filled with links to cool blogs and videos.

I will shamelessly pull out a paragraph from that review and paste it here!

Dini, a lifelong Batman fan is a lucky man as he is writing stories for his idol. Alas he isn’t a happy man. In the first pages of the graphic novel Dini tells the story of a loner, battling low self-esteem and fighting to float above but always drowning in his self-manufactured misery that generates from falling for shallow women mistaking him with a BFF ticket to a Hollywood success. Then one night, in 1993, as he is taking a long walk home Dini gets attacked, mugged and brutally beaten. He survives the attack but spirals down a cycle of self-pity, self-harm, alcohol and abstinence from Batman.

“So…I got beat up.”

That’s how the autobiographical story opens and throughout it we as readers get to experience a painful yet oddly humorous transition from the pretend happiness of a loner to the downright scary self-harming psychological daymare infested with Batman’s cast pouring criticism and bullying Dini into submission or opposition.

I really enjoyed it not knowing what exactly I was getting myself into and after I read it I was confused for a while until my brain processed the brutal impact this story delivers and how true it speaks for the darkness lurking inside of us in moments of vulnerability. I highly recommend it.

***

The Nikopol Trilogy by Enki Bilal

2128495By far the weirdest thing I read this year. I remembered the movie Immortel (ad vitam) which was really bizarre to me and I got the vague notion that it was based on a graphic novel. Truly it is, written in French by Yugoslavian born Enki Bilal between 1980 and 1992.

So, check this out. The central plot of the science fiction trilogy, set in a dystopian, technopolis 2023 Paris, follows one Alcide Nikopol, a man returning, more like crashing to Earth after a  30-year sentence spent orbiting our planet in a cryopreservation chamber/capsule. He finds himself in France under fascist rule following two nuclear wars. Also there’s an Egyptian pyramid doubling as airship hovering above the capital. Le immortel gods are stuck there because they don’t have fuel and the government doesn’t want to give them any. Also they want to revive their rule over humanity. Can you imagine a pyramid hovering above Trump tower demanding fuel or promising destruction? I can.

Alas, Horus isn’t having any of that, so he hopes down to Paris and possesses crashed Nikopol’s body sharing his immortality with the fragile human. Together they concoct a conspiracy that would overthrow the regime and screw the ancient gods plans.

If any of this doesn’t grab your attention here is a snapshot.

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Hellblazer, book 2: The Devil You Know & book 3: The Fear Machine by Jamie Delano

2382804I guess Hellblazer will always have a place on my Best Reads lists until the day I finish all issues and all spin-offs. I’m madly in love with it. Book 1 was rightfully included in my 2015 list and back then I said how much I loved Constantine as a character. He is right there with Morpehus from The Sandman, an equally complex character though vastly more nuanced. He’s only human after all, though he dabbles in inhuman practices.

Once more I can only urge you to introduce yourself with the multidimensional, dark and oft gory universe of Hellblazer, the charming John Constantine battling demon after demon. It’s quite political at times as well, so mind that.

***

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman

18956270Death of the Endless is my second favorite character in the Sandman universe. I really wanted to go as her this Halloween but couldn’t muster the courage. She is a complex character as Death should be and when I saw that there was a separate story involving her as the protagonist I had to read it.

Simply put one day in every century, Death has a tradition to walk the Earth in order to better understand people, those to whom she takes the hand last. She becomes a young mortal girl named Didi.

Didi befriends Sexton, a teenager typing his death note on the computer one afternoon. It isn’t a suicide note to say. It’s a way to say he’s tired. It’s all pointless.

But after accidentally meeting Didi he spends the most remarkable time in his life in her company and together they help a 250-year old homeless woman find her missing heart.

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It’s a heartwarming story of life, love, ones place in the world and of course Death. She as a character both mortal and immortal is enigmatic and comforting as she lays her pale hand on your shoulder and gently guides you away without fear, without concerns. Reading the three issues was a pleasing adventure offering a different mindset.

***

The City of Shifting Waters (Valérian, 1)  by Pierre Christin 

7810429This was a pleasant surprise. I kept hearing about the movie and how faithful it would stay to the comics. Now I’m a sucker for comics and for the original source, so naturally I had to see what the fuss was about. It turned out to be a very neat sci-fi comics with charismatic protagonists Valerian and Laureline, two Spatio-Temporal agents jumping from adventure to adventure in time.

The comic carries that 70’s style of talk and walk. It’s comical and bright in the best possible way with all the crazy sci-fi talk you’d expect.

*         *        *

So there you have it – my #BestReadsList of 2016. Why can’t I never keep this thing short and simple? I’ll try to behave in 2017.

I’ve got my hands on Foundation by Asimov, Red Rising, some Hunter S. Thompson with his Hell’s Angels memoir and an array of horror novels like Let the Right one In, The Ritual and many, many more. I’m looking forward to a diverse list for next year – classics meeting new age fiction. And a Gaiman story. Otherwise I’ll break my tradition. It’s like that House Stark saying that there must always be a Stark in Winterfell. There must always be a Gaiman in my Best Reads Lists. Funny thing that.

What did you read this year? What made you excited about reading and about literature? Share your lists! This is the best way to exchange books!

I also want to wish you a Happy New Year! I hope you will be the best you in 2017, that you will love and be loved, share happiness and comfort and you will be patient and understanding. I hope you read the best books and write the cleverest stories. Cheers guys! Xx

Melting for you

Last Christmas…and the Christmas before that….and the one before it, these were the stories. They might be better than this one:

A Christmas Horrortale

Neon Claus

Christmas at Granny Rose

Happy holidays & a Merry Christmas! Xx

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Photo courtesy of friends. You know who you are!

 

Before dinner on Christmas Day, the children of the Flinchers, Milly and Anthony began a simple game of snow angel making in the front yard.

Patrick Flincher, their father, had decided that in these final days of 2016 he would be a risk taker. He would “go for it” and live dangerously, thus becoming one of the cool dads. Christmas didn’t frighten him this year – no giant spiders, no Neon Santa, no ghosts in the supermarket would put him down and make him shun the Christmas spirit away. He had convinced the rest of the Flinchers that giving in to the festivity was a great idea.

So while he was reclining brazenly with his much deserved cup of eggnog and Mrs. Flincher was putting the turkey in the oven, the children accepting their father’s new found motto of Christmas bravery, competed out of breath forgetting all the past horrortales they had lived through.

Milly and Anthony decided the traditional snow angel was a bore to make so instead they began building an angel out of ice. There was plenty of that hidden underneath the heaps of snow.

“It doesn’t look like an angel,” Anthony complained staring at the misshapen figure in the middle of the yard.

“Yes it does,” his sister protested. “This is its left wing and this, its right. And this is its gown.” On the thin ice pieces, jagged and uneven protruding flat from its blocky body, Milly scattered the snow she had gathered in her gloved palms. It stuck to the transparent surface and became one with it. Milly scooped more snow and scattered it generously again and again and again until the wings such as they were and the blocky body already wearing a skirt of dulled snow at its base were nearly white and semi-translucent.

“But we don’t have a head!” Anthony protested as he was shaking off the snow from his hat.

Milly skipped and slid through the yard and kicked here and there for hidden ice while her brother laughed and poorly sang a quickly made up song of her futile task. Her boot however connected with one of the rainwater pipes and while she whimpered in pain, the pipe rattled spitting out a halo of ice with its stalactite icicles. Milly picked it up and examined how symmetrical and smooth it was. She then skipped back to her angel sculpture and carefully placed the halo on the top of the statue. Now it had two long and one short icicles for a beard and a transparent face through which light could shine. But it was missing something. Milly snatched her brother’s hat and placed it atop the halo.

“It’ll melt,” he murmured thinking the angel was too girly even with his hat on. It was small and odd with a head without a face, chipped wings that would break in the wind, no hands or legs and a skirt made of hard snow. It looked like nothing. Milly was thrilled by their creation. She stared at it for the longest time when Mrs. Flincher called them inside for dinner. She was quite proud of their ice angel.

***

Later that evening, the ice angel hopped on the rooftop of the Flincher house and sat there contemplating why the children had neglected to give it arms. It was in a desperate need to light a smoke and melt its head off and be done with this “alive with the spirit of Christmas” ordeal. It could only slightly play with the hat the girl had given him by poking at the fluffy ball hanging on its tip with its icicles. The angel could hear the Flinchers still talking down in the house and instead busied itself with their conversation.

 “What is it, Mr. Flincher?” Mrs. Flincher was asking.

“There’s a snowman staring at me. Look, just across the street. It’s grinning!”

There was a rustle and the large living room curtain was pulled.

“We should run, shouldn’t we?” Mrs. Flincher was whispering.

Mr. Flincher snorted. “Nonsense. Don’t be silly, I’m being silly. It’s just a regular, ol’ snowman that someone built…”

The angel stood on the edge of the rooftop looking about the place. It could just make out a large form across the street where the forest began. It counted three balls, one large, one medium, one small and could just see the beady dark eyes reflecting the street lamp in a fiery orange. Father Flincher was wrong, the angel knew it. The snowman wasn’t just any snowman. It was alive with the spirit of Christmas but in a reverse way, the bad way. It had left a trail behind it when that big bottom ball of ice and horror had rolled the snowman through the forest and to the front yard of the Flinchers to grin at them.

“Well I bet…I bet I can go out there and tell him to be on his way and wish him a happy Christmas,” Mr. Flincher was saying. The angel could hear the tremble in his voice.

Mrs. Flincher tutted. It was a loud tut. “Do you really think you’ll scare him Mr. Flincher and he’ll just burst into a million tiny snowflakes?”

The ice angel decided it would like to see that. It hopped down from the rooftop and flapped its stiff uneven wings into the darkness outside of the perimeter shined by yellow, red, blue and green Christmas lights. It glided above the snowman and ducked in the shadows behind it. It could barely contain its laughter.

In minutes Mr. Flincher left the house carrying a steaming pot with his Santa Claus mitts. He slid and slipped sloshing boiling water that hissed and made holes in the snow.

The snowman, the leer on his plump face gone after seeing the approaching danger, tried to roll back the way it had come but something blocked its way. Angrily the snowman spun his head around and sharp toothed looked down at the angel with its sharp icicle beard. The snowman roared and thrust his full weight at the tiny angel. Its wing broke and its base cracked underneath the snow coat but it stood its icy ground and poked the giant creature with its icicles.

Patrick Flincher came just on time to throw the boiling water at the snowman’s face. It shrieked and started grabbing chunks of its melting face with thin wooden hands and tried to put them back blindly, but the snow turned to water and it drooled through its core collapsing the snowman ball by ball. The angel dragged itself out of the rubble but it too had met with the boiling water and had melted halfway.

“Thank you little ice angel. For not trying to kill me that is. And for helping.”

The ice angel managed a nod with its broken halo head before it too collapsed to nothing but jagged pieces of ice.

Patrick bent down and picked Anthony’s hat patting off bits of ice and layers of snow off of it. He had survived yet another Christmas and he had been brazen about it, though running through his yard in his slippers with Santa mitts and a pot of hot water was an image far away from looking like a heroic one. He could now add to the list of supernatural Christmas disasters an abominable snowman and a headless ice angel, though the latter had actually tried to help him. He had Milly and Anthony to thank for that. Also he had to explain why their ice angel was gone.

One Christmas Eve I saw an elf

So…I don’t have a Christmas themed Friday Flash story for today. That’s for next week for the day before everyone is panicking over burned meals, badly wrapped presents and awkward family meetings. Or however you’re having it. It could be just a regular day. But in my case it’s the day before Christmas Eve. It’s a story about ice and angels.

But nonetheless I am going to tell you a very old memory of mine and I’ll use ugly drawings to help convince all of you that what I experienced truly happened.

It all happened on Christmas Eve. I was an impossibly curly six-year-old, impossibly curious and impatient and I saw an elf stuck in the living room ceiling.

untitled_drawing_by_cindyvaskova-darwy1xIn the evening after the holy dinner, when the grownups were catching their breath in the kitchen, I decided to masterfully sneak out and go into the living room to get just a glimpse at the wrapped presents because I couldn’t wait.

This is how the ceiling looks like. But it was night when the elf was there so not a totally accurate representation.

imag3004That’s more like it. It was dark and I always remember it darker and darker when I recall the memory. But I wasn’t afraid because I could see the twinkle of the ornaments on the Christmas tree towering on the other side of the room. I didn’t dare turn on the light and ruin the moment. Or get caught.

imag3006

So, trying very carefully to not let the door handle make that squeaky noise it used to make, I snuck my little head inside and basked in the glory of the Christmas tree and marveled at the shiny packets and boxes placed neatly underneath it. There were voices coming from the other room, distant, laughing. But I was in awe, my little prowl in the night unnoticed. I ventured forth unafraid, tiptoeing through the hushed shadows, the carpet softening the sound of my tiny feet. I thought I could probably even investigate the presents.

untitled_drawing_by_cindyvaskova-darwv4c

But just as I was about to make my move a  pair of red wiggling legs in stripped socks and curly green shoes appeared above me. They kicked helplessly and soundlessly in the air. They were somewhat transparent like the elf was almost trying to be invisible but failing miserably. He had been seen by a child. I knew it was an elf immediately of course – who else would try to sneak through the roof and wear those cloths?

untitled_drawing_by_cindyvaskova-darwtnq

I watched him struggle and wondered what kind of stupid elf mistakes a solid roof for a chimney. A part of me felt sorry for him being stuck like that. I wondered whether it hurt him and whether there were other elves above trying to pull him out and whether Santa was sitting beside tut-ting at the scene. I giggled.

It was all well until…untill it lasted too long. You would say a child could manifest such imagery with ease more so just before Christmas when the hunger for gifts is great and the festivity is in full swing. But I wasn’t a child who solemnly believed in Santa. I knew he lived so far away that he would never come to a place where no one spoke his language, or the streets were icy and mushy at the same time and blocked by noisy traffic. I amused myself with the notion of him but never truly expected to find him kneeling beside the Christmas tree hiding presents.

Suddenly the red wiggling legs in their transparent blood red color and the curly sharp shoes of poison green frightened me. What if something else came? What if it meant to do harm, steal the presents? What if it wasn’t an elf at all? Would it glow in the dark or drink it in, the red becoming black, the green becoming ash? Would it have pointy teeth and yellow eyes and sing carols backwards? What if it came down and I was there all alone with the floor that softened my feet and the adults miles and miles away in the other room where it was bright and warm and funny?

I screamed and the elf began to kick frantically, desperate to escape. When my grandfather came to the rescue and flipped the light switch the elf was gone. Poof! Like he had never been there or the light had erased the already fading colors off of him.

“I saw an elf stuck in the ceiling!” I said.

“Santa forgot to take him when he came to leave the presents!” the grownups explained.

It was back to sweet talk and joyful laughter before long, my little curly head forgetting all about the elf and focusing anew on the coming day and the prospect of all those presents being finally gifted.

I don’t know if you believe me or not. I know how these illusions appear and how the brain alters memories and such but this one always resurfaces as true, so, so vivid too. Kind of like that time when we all sat in the living room and a dark shadow of a tall man in a trench coat and a fedora ran past the glass door and towards the bathroom. He just paused to look. At me.

untitled_drawing_by_cindyvaskova-dary6vr

They are fun little memories that I am fond of so I choose to believe in them. Elves get stuck in ceilings, it’s a possibility, why not? They are either demonic spawns, specters from another world or just Santa’s helpers. Who am I to judge? On Christmas Eve all things are possible.

Have you seen similar things when you were a child or in the dark? Do you believe in them?