Where but to think is to be full of sorrow…

 

natural_history_birds_-_nightingale

In memory of the nightingale that sang outside my childhood home.

 

Ode To A Nightingale by John Keats

 

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk.

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness –

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

 

Oh, for a draught of vintage that hath been

Cooled a long age in the deep-delvèd earth,

Tasting of Flora and the country green,

Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!

Oh, for a beaker full of the warm South,

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stained mouth,

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim –

 

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness, the fever, and the fret

Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin,

and dies;

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

And leaden-eyed despairs;

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

 

Away! away! For I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

Though the dull brain perplexes and retards.

Already with thee! Tender is the night,

And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,

Clustered around by all her starry fays;

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding

mossy ways.

 

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,

But, in embalmèd darkness, guess each sweet

Wherewith the seasonable month endows

The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild –

White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;

And mid-May’s eldest child,

The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

 

Darkling, I listen; and, for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Called him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

In such an ecstasy.

Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain –

To thy high requiem become a sod.

 

Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,

She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

The same that oft-times hath

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam

Of perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn.

 

Forlorn! The very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! adieu! Thy plaintive anthem fades

Past the near meadows, over the still stream,

Up the hill-side; and now ’tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music… Do I wake or sleep?

Eternity

In a million years
we will still be
driving in your car

As I watch
the sunlight slanting onto your face
through the riotous fields
of early March

How you made me feel –
so alive,
I had forgotten how;

A sense of history had returned
– a sense of time
and not 
of disconnectedness

And I felt 
like I was part 
of a greater theme
and the world was sliding into one.

Devil’s Circus

creepy-sky

This is a short story I wrote a few years ago, based on a dream I had…

It seemed like a fairly ordinary cottage, or so Laura had thought when she and her father had first moved in. Built during the Victorian era, it was small, neat and pretty, with a little garden at the back.  The only feature that could be considered to be out of the ordinary was in the garden itself, where there  was a large, black, wrought-iron door set into the tall back hedgerow. The door didn’t open, because it stood alone, but even if it did it wouldn’t lead to anywhere; over the hedge was an empty field.

It became apparent however, after a few days of living there, that this wasn’t the only unusual thing about the cottage. Laura became aware of some odd things happening. For one thing, the electricity supply in the cottage was decidedly faulty. The lights kept flickering on and off. Then there were the noises coming from the attic that Laura sometimes heard when she was lying in bed at night. Laura thought that perhaps there were rats or bats up there. She mentioned it to her father, who said that he would go up and put some traps around.

However, the problem got worse in a couple of days, and soon there were banging noises coming from the attic at night, as if there were people up there, and tiny holes appeared in Laura’s ceiling, like spy-holes. Her father had been up there and could find nothing. Terrified, it was apparent to Laura that the attic was possessed by spirits. Laura’s father, drunk on whisky and afraid, sent her to get Rev. Johnson immediately, to perform an exorcism. Rev. Johnson was the vicar at the local church, where Laura went for her bible classes every weekday evening. Laura did not like the church very much. She liked Rev. Johnson even less.

Laura ran out through the back door into the garden, as the front door was always locked, and it was here that she saw someone who would change her life forever. It was dusk, and the moon was out already, casting her milky light upon the grass. A tall, female form in a long, black cloak was standing in the garden with her back to Laura. She turned as Laura approached. The face she presented Laura with   as she turned was young and beautiful beneath the large, black hood, although Laura had been expecting her to be old; she didn’t know why. She thought it was a strangely sombre outfit. Was it a costume of some sort?

The woman beckoned to Laura with a pale hand.

“Come here, child,” she said to Laura, although she looked barely older than Laura herself, “I have a secret to show you.”

“Who are you?” asked Laura, “And why are you here?”

A subtle smile crept across the woman’s face. “Don’t you want to know what’s in your attic?” she asked Laura.

“Yes” said Laura. “How do you know what’s in there?”

“Follow me and you shall see” said the woman in black. “I have the key to all your wildest dreams”.

Following this cryptic statement, the woman walked towards the large wrought iron door in the hedgerow at the back of the garden. Laura followed a few paces behind, curious in spite of herself.  The woman produced a black key which was hanging from a chain around her neck and slotted it into the keyhole of the gate, as if to unlock it, but there was nothing behind it, Laura thought, so why was she bothering? The woman turned the key in the keyhole and a low muffled clunk indicated that the door had been unlocked. The woman removed the key and put the chain back around her neck. Then she  turned and smiled at Laura, as if to say watch this, and pushed the door so that it opened inwards  onto… another world.

Or another garden. But this one was much bigger. It was a vast lawn, leading to a red-brick mansion in the distance. Laura was confused. She knew there had been fields behind her garden – was she having some sort of strange dream? The woman stepped though the doorway and Laura followed, then the woman closed the gate behind them. Scattered about the lawn, some near and some further away, was a variety of strange-looking creatures, some humanoid and some more like animals in appearance. Laura  turned to the woman in black who had been standing by her right shoulder, but found that the woman had gone and there was now an enormous black spider the size of a horse standing next to her.

Startled, Laura stepped back.

“Do not be alarmed, it is I,” said the spider, in the voice of the woman in black.

Laura was not afraid of spiders usually, but was taken aback by the fact that this one was so very large.

“This is my true form,” said the woman in black. “When I go into your world I take on a human form so I don’t attract any unwanted attention, but here, in our world, I can be my true self again. Come and meet the rest of us.”

The spider led Laura around the garden, introducing her to the many strange creatures there. Laura met a beautiful fairy with green skin who bowed gracefully upon making her acquaintance. Two very tall woman who appeared to be twins sauntered past in sparkling leotards, looking like giant acrobats. A  magician, with a pointed beard and the legs of a goat, produced a rangy white rabbit out of an upturned  top hat. A boy about Laura’s age was dressed as a court jester, except, as the boy demonstrated to her, that the three points of his motley hat were in fact part of his horned head, and had been cleverly disguised with paint and bells to look like part of his costume.

There were several creatures that were more monstrous in appearance, with several arms, many legs, or excessive amounts of eyes. There were creatures that looked like zebras, except that they were walking on two legs. A bright blue dog the size of a cow came up to Laura and sniffed her in a friendly fashion. Friendly. That was the thing. Although these creatures were all unusual or even scary in appearance, they were all friendly towards her. And the jester boy was really rather cute…

But this still didn’t explain what was in her attic.

“I suppose you’re wondering what we have to do with what’s in your attic,” said the spider, as if she could read Laura’s mind. “Well, I’ll tell you.”

Some of the creatures gathered around them, as if to hear a story.

“There are two spirits up there,” said the woman in black. “One is a girl about your age, and the other is one of us.”

“And what are you?” asked Laura.

The creatures gathered around them shifted uncomfortably.

“We are what your people would call demons,” the spider explained. “Devils even. But we are not so. We are just creatures from another world, and are punished unfairly for being so.”

The creatures all grumbled in agreement. Then the spider went on.

“It happened many years ago. The girl, like you, discovered this world through the door in the garden. Here she met a demon, a boy, who she fell in love with. He was unwise, and used to visit her often in her room, which was in the attic. Her father had suspicions about his daughter’s behavior, and called the local priest. It was then that the two were discovered together, I believe. I don’t know precisely what happened, but the two of them were murdered by her father, and now their souls are haunting your attic, waiting to be released.”

“Murdered?!” said Laura. “But that’s horrible! What had they done wrong?”

“Alas, nothing,” said the spider. “But the boy was one of us, and so it was wrong in the eyes of humans. Evil.”

“That’s unfair,” said Laura. “And to think that my father would want them exorcised. He told me to fetch the priest”.

Everyone looked at her.

“What did you say?” asked the spider.

“My father wants them exorcised,” Laura said again, indignation rising within her. “But you’re just people, like me. What have you ever done wrong?”

“We have done nothing wrong,” said the giant blue dog. “Your people punish us unjustly.”

“Alas, we do not enter the world of the living often, in case our true identity is discovered,” said the jester boy.

“They call us devils,” said the spider angrily. “They call us demons, but they are the demons with their unfair prejudices.”

“You won’t do anything to harm my father, will you?” said Laura, suddenly anxious. “He is ignorant through fear and the superstitions of society. It’s not his fault.”

“Of course not,” said the spider soothingly. She turned to address the others. “We must leave this world to ensure we are not discovered, and return to the otherworld for a while.”

“What about the spirits trapped in my attic?” Laura asked. “Will you go back to get them?”

The creatures all murmured amongst themselves.

“We cannot take the risk of going back for them,” said the spider decisively. “Your father may already have gone to get the priest himself. We must seal the gate and return to the otherworld.”

“Take me with you!” Laura suddenly said. She couldn’t abide the thought of more long, lonely days and bible classes in that evil church.

All eyes were on her. “You don’t know what you ask,” the spider said.

“I want to come with you”, Laura said. “Please,” she added. “My life is really not that interesting. I want to see the otherworld. All I ask is that you don’t hurt my father, and let me come with you.”

“You must leave,” said the spider urgently. “We must seal the gate. Run back home, and I will return for  you later. I promise. Just do as I say.”

Laura did as she was told and ran back through the gate into her own garden. The back door of the house stood open, and voices came from inside. Laura ran into the living room. Her father and Rev. Johnson were drinking mugs of her father’s foul-tasting tea and talking. When they saw her they both stood up.

“Where have you been?” asked her father, angrily. “I told you to go and get Rev. Johnson.”

“Have you performed the exorcism?” Laura demanded.

The priest said nothing, but merely stared at her with his dark, piercing eyes.

“Have you been with a boy?” her father asked her, ignoring her question.

“No!” said Laura, taken aback.

“You have, haven’t you?” said her father. The smell of whisky was still strong on him. “You’ve been sneaking about behind my back!”

“I never did!” exclaimed Laura.

“She has the mark of the devil upon her!” exclaimed Rev. Johnson, suddenly. “I see it in her eyes! She has been cavorting with devils!”

Her father stared at her, aghast. Then his fear quickly turned to anger, and he slapped her hard across the face.

“Go to your room! And stay there!” he yelled. “Devil’s whore!”

Laura raced up the stairs, tears streaming from her eyes.

She slammed her bedroom door behind her and threw herself face down upon her bed.

***

She must have cried herself to sleep because she woke in the early hours of the morning. The house was silent. She stared up at the ceiling and tried to think. The spider had said she would come back for her. She couldn’t stay in this world now, surely, not now she had been accused of cavorting with devil. That was the worst crime known to man. Known to women especially. What would become of her? She could run away , she supposed, but where would she go?

As she was thinking, a voice spoke to her inside her head, quiet but clear. It was the voice of the woman  in black; the voice of the spider.

“Laura,” it said. “I can come back to get you, but you must make a gateway for me so I can come into your world. Draw an entrance on the wall for me so I can come through.”

Laura sprang up from the bed and switched her light on. She scrabbled around in a chest of drawers until she found a green crayon. Then she went over to a blank wall opposite the foot of her bed and drew a large door outline, big enough for a person to get through. Then she stepped back and waited. Before her very eyes the section of the wall that was inside the outline faded to reveal a dark corridor  beyond, from which the women in black stepped into Laura’s room.

But something didn’t seem right. The woman in black seemed taller than before, and her eyes glowed red. Had Laura somehow made a mistake? Was this really the woman in black, or was it some unknown demon? The woman silently reached out a hand towards her. Hesitantly, Laura took it in her own, and the woman seized Laura’s hand in a grip that was unfeasibly strong, pulling Laura with her into the dark corridor. Laura, suddenly cold all over, tried to resist, but the woman was too strong. The cold air and the darkness of the corridor whirled around her, and seemed to echo with malevolent laughter. The wall rematerialized behind them, sealing Laura off from history forever.

***

At nine o’clock that morning, Rev. Johnson made his way back down to the cottage to see how Mr. Farthing was and to discuss what to do about his daughter, Laura. The front door of the house stood open. He knocked, and then entered, calling out for Mr. Farthing, but the house was silent. He walked into the living room then, where a terrible sight greeted his eyes.

Mr. Farthing’s body was scattered in several pieces about the living room floor. The vicar went upstairs cautiously, but no-one presented themselves. He knocked on the door of Laura’s room, but heard no response. He opened the door and slowly walked in. Inside the room was a single bed, a chest of drawers and four plain, whitewashed walls. Laura was nowhere to be seen.

The Days Before

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It was hard growing up and losing my childhood. I was corrupted by the world, corrupted by sin. It sits in my skin – I have lost that pearly perfection; grown coarsened by time. It is in my hands, grown withered and yellowed by the years.

Each night I cried, a baptism of tears, wanting to be born again. I was carried away on a sea of regrets, grown faded in memory, like a ghost in a storm. I tried to shout over the din, but nobody heard me, nobody cared.

But then, an angel appeared, and made me feel new, whole, no longer corrupted. You are my friend. I am striving to live again, but I’m not sure how; I was broken by my fall from grace.

I am healing, slowly, but it could take years, and I still have the flashbacks, the memories.

At least you care.

And in this way I’m better off than I was before – everybody needs a friend.

To hold their hand in the darkness, speak comforting words to them.

Yes, I’m better than I was before, in the days before you came.

I don’t want to go back to being a slave, to something I don’t believe in. I just need this glow inside me, and then I’ll be okay.

The days before you came were so barren, cold and empty. But now I have this hope, this love that lives inside me.

Thank you for being my friend.