aliisaacstoryteller

Introducing Sarah Brentyn, author of fantabulous flash fiction, deep thoughts and darkness, a brilliant blogger, and also a fine friend.



This is Sarah’s new book… great cover, isn’t it? And here’s a taster of what it’s all about:

Delve into the deeper reaches of the human condition and the darkness that lives there.

A girl haunted by her sister’s drowning. A boy desperate for his father’s affection. A woman forced to make a devastating decision. A man trapped by his obsessions.

Experience tales of love, loss, murder, and madness through this collection of flash and micro fiction.

Take a peek behind the smile of a stranger. Get a glimpse inside the heart of a friend. Scratch the surface and discover what is hidden beneath.

These stories will open your mind, tug at your thoughts, and allow you to explore the possibility that, even in the brightest moments, something is Hinting at Shadows.


 

Read More

Kathy aka K.A. Krisko… did you see what I did there? 😁… is my lovely author-friend who I met on GoodReads years ago. I loved her Stolen series, but then I read Cornerstone: Raising Rook, and it quite blew me away!

This is grown up contemporary fantasy, in the way that Stephen Donaldson writes grown up contemporary fantasy (only not at all depressing, lol!). In fact, its probably more magical realism. I waited and waited for the sequel, and then she snuck it onto Amazon without so much as a  glittery fanfare or a three minute warning! Read More

Wahaaay! Author friend and blogger, Hugh Roberts has just released GLIMPSES, his first book! I’m well-jell of that gorgeous cover! Hugh is a fellow member of the Bloggers Bash committee, and I can honestly say you couldn’t meet a more lovely guy.

Not only that, but he’s seriously talented when it comes to penning the quirky and the strange, and he’s a master of the compelling trademark sting-in-the-tail, didn’t-see-it-coming conclusion. Meet your new favourite author, and Give the Gift of a BOOK this Christmas! Read More

My dear author-friend and fellow blogger, Helen Jones, has just released her fab new book, A Thousand Rooms, and I was honoured to be able to offer my beta-reading services… all part of my cunning plan to read a great new book by one of my fave authors before anyone else, lol! Helen is already well known for her delightful fantasy series, the Ambeth Chronicles, but A Thousand Rooms takes her writing to a whole new level… this is very much a grown up story, and in its own unique way, sits perfectly with the season. Read on to find out why… Read More

I haven’t taken part in many writing challenges recently. Quite honestly, its all been a bit of a struggle for a while, writing and researching for the blog, keeping up with all your lovely blogs and comments, writing books and all my motherly duties as well. Sometimes everything seems to conspire to suck the inspiration out of you, and it’s a downward spiral from there.

But Sue’s picture really spoke to me; it reminded me of all the old places of Ireland I love with my heart and soul and bones. I need to pay some visits. In the meantime, I wrote this, and added a poem I started when I was about 17, but only finished last year. It seems to fit the prompt. At least to me.

the glade

Beards of moss drape old stones with velvet softness. Stark-raw and already ancient, these great stone-bones once teased and tortured from the earth into grey new skeletons, wherein men danced and dreamed and viewed the stars, survive in hunched fragments of former glory.

Now tumbled and crumbling, they lie discarded, forgotten, memories of magic dormant yet still alive throbbing within them. You can feel it if you touch them, feel the vibration in the air on your skin. Be still.

The earth remembers. Time is meaningless here; there is no rush. She feels her way, creeping slowly over recumbent remains, claiming lost treasure torn from her flesh. She heals the hurt without reproach while no one notices.

ancient places
What cities lie buried beneath each hill?
Monuments born of ancient times,
Forgotten and lost but standing still,
Neglected, disconnected, these are our crimes.

What histories are etched into ancient stones?
Tales decayed with the fall of walls,
The sag of dynasty, the crumble of bones,
The march of ghosts through tumbled halls.

If we could learn to unlock the past
What shrouds would unfurl from our eyes?
Would realisation be ours at last?
Understanding the what, when, who and why's.

The power was strong, up on Shee Mor,
I felt at great peace, content.
At Moytura, where warriors fought their war
no harm for me was meant.

At Uisneach, by the lough where Lugh was drowned
I grieved for Eire's loss, watched Beltaine fires leap.
Then to Tara, where High Kings were crowned,
the Sacred Stone sadly lost in eternal slumber deep.

These places, their magic floods my soul,
washes me clean of the now.
Their stories surge through me, re-make me whole,
ancient voices tell of the how.

Ancestors sing and call me home.
I would go if I knew the way.
Under my feet, beneath the loam
stirs blood, beats heart of a by-gone day.

Head on over to Sue Vincent’s blog to take a look at the other entries, and if you fancy giving it a go yourself, here is what you have to do;

Use the image to create a post on your own blog… poetry, prose, humour… by Wednesday 25th May and link back to Sue’s post, not this one, with a pingback. Please make sure that the pingback works and if not, copy and paste your link into the comments section of  Sue’s post.

Don’t forget to use the new and shiny #writephoto hashtag in your title:)

Due to the volume of entries, only the first few posts will feature on Sue’s blog during the week and all posts will be included in a round up on Thursday 26th May.

Feel free to use #writephoto logo or include the prompt photo in your post if you wish or you can replace it with one of your own to illustrate your work. Have fun!


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The Friday Fiction featuring Ronovan Hester and P.S. Bartlett

Ronovan1

Today on the Friday Fiction, I am lucky enough to have not one but TWO authors to present to you, PS Bartlett and Ronovan Hester, who have co-authored their first book together, Amber Wake Gabriel Falling. Here are the excerpts they have chosen from their book… enjoy!


PS Bartlett’s Excerpt Selection

A walk home seemed appropriate for the day, free from all confinements of carriage or any other barriers between myself and the fresh air of freedom. The day was not so awful for autumn in London, and a walk along Whitehall Street was a welcome task of spontaneity that I rarely gave in to. For a change, there was no rain or fierce winds. One might have even mistaken the season for spring, had the trees been in bloom instead of barren. I gazed at the ruins of the palace and wondered if perhaps its burning had been a sign of things to come for the ruling powers of the land and sea of the empire.

As I passed people in the street, I received varied looks without my wig, but no matter. I cared not about the indignant gawking of pious men, nor what might be considered the inquisitive gazes of the women. No longer was I under the hypocritical rule of men such as Admiral Chambers.

Plans had been made. Throughout the trial, my time away from my ship had not been spent simply awaiting my fate. I had been trained to prepare for anything and no loss of title or station changed who I was. The month had provided ample time to discover a great many things about those who’d been plotting against me and my family for far too long. It was time to utilize the knowledge I possessed and set my plans in motion.

Once reaching home, I sat in my mother’s favorite chair beside the garden window to contemplate the only task I had left before me. I retrieved my pistol from the side table drawer and rested it in my lap. What little trust I had left in the world wasn’t enough to allow me to relax in comfort without it. I knew my days in London had come to an end, but I also knew the angry eyes that had burned with revenge had pistols too. I’d set my course and had no choice but to follow it, and there would not be much I would miss other than my family home. However, those few things that I would have to leave behind brought an ache to my chest that drained the strength from my body and filled me with an ill feeling. However, at times there were things one needed to put before those aches.

Not everyone performing duties to the crown need wear powdered fluff. A month ago…an age ago…I received those two messages: one notifying me of my planned court-martial, and the other one of most importance, from my father’s old friend.

The day spent at Hampton Court, learning of possible threats to the throne came rushing back to mind. A month of intrigue and questions followed, too many to think of now, with all pointing to one answer; I must do my duty to my country. The throne needed me in this most dire time, and I would not be found wanting; even if I must fight the Royal Navy itself to complete my mission.

The kindly housemaid, Mildred, brought my afternoon tea, and I watched the few remaining birds as they rested on the branches outside my window.

“Will there be anything else, Captain Wallace?” Mildred asked.

“No, thank you. Has Adam yet returned from his lessons?”

“Not as of yet, sir. I’m sure he’ll be along soon,” she answered.

“Thank you, Mildred. That will be all.”

“Captain Wallace, might I be excused this evening? A friend has inquired as to my joining her for a bit this evening. She is feeling under the weather, ye see. Dinner is prepared and…”

“Yes, yes, yes, please, Mildred. See to your friend. Adam and I are more than capable of warming a meal.”

She bowed to me and made her goodbyes.

At rest for the first time in as long as I could remember and spent of all mental abilities, I succumbed to fatigue and drifted to sleep.

The room was shrouded by nightfall when I abruptly awoke. I jerked and clasped the arms of the chair in confusion, wondering how long I’d slept and having no idea of the hour.

“No need to be alarmed as of yet, Captain.” I turned to the voice.

The young and dashing figure of Maddox Carbonale stood with his arms folded, leaning against the heavy oak desk once belonging to my father. I pulled my pistol and rubbed at my eyes to insure I was indeed awake, as he was the last person I’d expect to find in my home at any hour. “I’d have believed you were wiser, Maddox, and had taken your leave of London by now…or at least I’d hoped you had.”


Ronovan Hester’s Excerpt Selection

“Islands? I abhor the heat. However, I’m always up for an adventure. I just may do that—if I can find a swimming horse.” With one last handshake, the young man set his hat upon his dark curls and began his walk south along the shoreline, until he eventually disappeared into the darkness.

“Will he make it?” Miles asked as we climbed into the boat with our crewmen to begin our trek back to the ship.

I paused for a moment and stared into the night one last time. “Yes. He’s too stubborn not to.”

“You know, he told me you might’ve killed Jonathan.”

I looked across the water at the lantern lights of Majesty’s Venture without acknowledging Miles’s remark.

“Miles, I’ve been thinking she needs a new name. How about—”

The sound of cannon fire shook us with such force we nearly fell out of the boat. “Captain!” Miles bellowed, pointing down the beach.

“What the bloody hell!” I shouted when I realized it was the Venture who’d fired her guns. We shielded our heads as the sand exploded about twenty yards away when the rounds struck. When I raised my head, I turned my eyes back to the beach and saw Carbonale running for his life towards us out of the darkness. He was being pursued by what appeared to be a dozen men on horseback. However, when the round of shot struck the beach, the horses reared up and retreated in fear, bolting from the blasts of flying sand.

The five-man crew hopped to their stations in the longboat as we rowed her back to shore. “Hurry, man!” Miles shouted as he caught Carbonale’s duffle and tossed it into the boat. Maddox quickly followed it with a leap, head first, and rolled to a stop.

“Didn’t I tell you to stay away from the women?” I asked, pulling him by the sleeve to a seat.

“Now you decide to share your sense of humor? I might have been killed, you know.” I couldn’t help but smirk at his question, as well as his gasps for breath as his arms flailed in exasperation.

Again we ducked for cover as another round was fired from the ship, striking the land with a thump and woosh of wet sand. Miles rose and raised his musket, firing on the group of remaining men who’d boldly refused to end their pursuit and had ridden their horses into the surf.


ps-bartlettPS Bartlett

Award winning author, P.S. Bartlett, was born on Valentine’s Day many moons ago in South Baltimore, Maryland, less than a mile from Fort McHenry and Federal Hill.

Her first novel, Fireflies, was published with GMTA Publishing in 2013 and the prequel to Fireflies, entitled, Hope From the Ocean, was published in March of 2014, followed by the flagship book in her new series The Blue Diamond – The Razor’s Edge, in October of 2014.

She loves history and historical fiction. She gets her history fix via movies, television and of course, books although she enjoys reading almost every genre. Her motto is: “I’m taking a fantastic voyage. Won’t you join me?”

Website: http://psbartlett.me/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PSBartlett

Twitter: https://twitter.com/PSBartlett

Goodreads: 

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7012732.P_S_Bartlett

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/peggystankiewicz/

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/psbartlett214/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/P.S.-Bartlett/e/B00CP4PF4U/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1


ronovan-hesterRonovan Hester

Ronovan Hester is a writer living near Athens, GA, home of his alma mater, The University of Georgia, where he received a B.S.Ed. in History Education. Ronovan puts his love of history and his over 20 years of writing experience to use in his debut Historical Adventure set in 1705 England, American Colonies, and Caribbean co-authored with P.S. Bartlett.

Ronovan’s devotion to history and writing sometimes competes with his love of tacos and fresh fruit. At times, all his favorite things work hand in hand in mouth during long binge writing sessions that have been known to last nonstop for over 24 hours. Rather than see a sleep disorder as a hindrance, he uses the time for creative purposes or watching old TV shows on online.

Ronovan enjoys putting elements of history, if only as nods to the past, in all of his book projects. He currently instills that love of history and learning in his son daily as he helps him through his college prep courses, meaning hours of homework every night, even while not yet a teenager—his son, not Ronovan. Now if he could find a very good mute for that trumpet his son just began learning.

Amber Wake: Gabriel Falling on Amazon.com

Amber Wake; Gabriel Falling on Amazon.UK

Amber Wake; Gabriel Falling on Amazon.CA

Amber Wake: Gabriel Falling on Amazon.IN

You may connect with Ronovan through:

Amazon Author Page: Ronovan Hester

Amazon UK Author Page: Ronovan Hester

Personal Blog: RonovanWrites.WordPress.com

Author Site: RonovanHester.com

Book Review Site: LitWorldInterviews.com

Twitter: @RonovanWrites

Goodreads: Ronovan Hester

Facebook: Ronovan Writes

Google+: Ronovan Writes

LinkedIn: Ronovan Hester

About.me: Ronovan

Pinterest: RonovanWrites

Swanskin Update No3 I DID IT!

I did it! The first draft of Swanskin is complete! I wrote a mighty (for me!) 7033 words, and on Wednesday, the job was done. Swanskin is just a little book, my first novella. I anticipated around 30K words, and it came in at just under, but that could change. There are a few areas I need to rewrite. And of course, the whole thing needs a bit of spit and polish. The story came to me in such a rush, that I was in a hurry to get it all down and catch up with myself.

Strangely, once I got going, I became very emotionally invested in this story. I didn’t expect that. It was inspired by the lovely tale from Irish mythology called The Dream of Óengus, which I retold for my compilation, Conor Kelly’s Legends of Ireland. This story is one of the few Irish myth stories which ends on a happy note. Swanskin, I have to tell you, does not, but follows in the true vein of romantic tragedies.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Ten, in which Cethlenn is considering whether to tell her bestie, Sophie, about Ruadhán…

“Where the hell have you been? You missed registration,” hissed Sophie.

“Well I’m here now, aren’t I?” I banged the door of my locker shut and turned to face her.

She gasped. “What happened to you?”

“Nothing.” I picked up my bag and shouldered past her.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try me.”

I stopped and stared at her, weighing up what I could trust her with. She was my best friend, and we had shared everything since we first met at primary school. We were more like sisters than friends.

“Really, it’s nothing.” I carried on walking.

She shrugged. “Ok, but you’re going the wrong way. First exam is in Room 12.”

“I know that,” I snapped.

She fell in beside me. “You sure you’re in a fit state to do this exam? Maybe you should tell old Poker-face you’re not well.”

I took a deep breath. “I’m fine.”

“Ok. Well, I covered for you. I told her you were so nervous you were puking your guts up in the bogs,  and that’s why you missed registration. I reckon you’ll get away with it.”

I grinned. “Thanks, Sophie. You’re the best.”

Here’s another little excerpt. Ruadhán had gone missing, and this is what happened on his return…

I opened my eyes, but blackness still pressed against them. I blinked just to be sure. Yes, pitch black. No moon. I reached for my phone; 2am. Great.

My eyes were swollen and tender from crying. I’d had a huge row with Mam. I squeezed them tightly shut again. I just wanted to sleep, so I didn’t have to remember, so I didn’t have to think, so I could just slip into oblivion and not have to feel so shit.

There it was again; the noise which had awoken me. Someone was throwing stones up at my window. But who? Sophie? No way, we hadn’t spoken in weeks. Besides, not much would drag her from her bed before lunch-time. Cian? Had he forgotten his keys again? I’d bloody kill him.

I yanked the quilt aside furiously, and went to the window. Although it was a dark night, there was no mistaking the long coppery hair which glinted under the starlight.

Ruadhán!

I flew down the stairs, heart hammering like a pneumatic drill. I wanted to scream at him, thump him, beat him black and blue for dumping me, but most of all, I wanted to lose myself in his kiss. Then I would kill him.

I fumbled with the key in the lock. Somehow, my fingers didn’t seem to know what to do, ten stubby fat sausages struggling to manipulate a key so tiny it must have been made for Barbie’s gaudy apartment. My whole body was shaking. But I managed it, and then I was in his arms, clinging to him like ivy to a tree.

So there you have it. Next week, I will begin  editing, and contacting beta readers soon after. Thank you to my lovely volunteers!

SWAN FACT No3: A swan can fly at speeds of up to  sixty miles per hour.

other news. 

I wrote a quatern poem for Jane Dougherty‘s prompt called The Bridge. Please pop along to her blog to read it, if you are interested. I love poetry, but it doesn’t come easy to me.

I also submitted a micro-fiction piece to Sacha Black‘s Writespiration, inspired by the prompt; ‘Write about a rusty thing’. So I did, but it’s probably not what you might think. Why not drop by her blog and check out all the other fab entries while you’re there.

Last but by no means least, I would like to thank lovely ladies Marje of Kyrosmagica, and Sally of Smorgasbord – Variety is the Spice of Life, who both nominated me for the #Girllove Blog Challenge. I am deeply touched and honoured, and hope to complete this challenge in the not too distant future.

#Girllove challenge was launched by Lilly Singh, a.k.a. Superwoman, on her  YouTube Channel. Lilly Singh is a Canadian vlogger, actress, comedian, and rapper, age 27. She is tired of ‘girl-on-girl hate’ in schools, workplaces, and social media, so she decided to reverse trends by promoting #GirlLove.  In her empowering video  young women speak out  about their respect and gratitude for other women in their lives. Proceeds from video views will go to the Malala Fund to help educate girls around the world. The goal of the fund is to “enable girls to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so that they can achieve their potential and be positive change-makers in their families and communities”.

 

(c) Seamus McArdle

(c) Seamus McArdle

A few days ago, I received the following sketch in a message, with the words, “Thanks for the inspiration for this.”

(c) Seamus McArdle

Seamus McArdle is an Irish author and artist who has featured on this blog before. You can read about him in my post, The Friday Fiction with Artist and Author Seamus McArdle. I have always loved the intricate detail, the colours, the symbolism, and the style of Seamus’s artwork, so to receive a sketch and message like this was intriguing and exciting, to say the least.

It turns out that Seamus had been inspired by a story I had included in one of my blog posts about a giant serpent-like creature which had swallowed a drunken harper, who had continued to play his harp from inside the beast, not realising where he was. Here is how I told it…

“One such creature, named Oillipéist (oll meaning ‘great’, péist meaningworm/ reptile/ beast’) is credited with having carved out the route of the River Shannon. Apparently, he swallowed a drunken piper by the name of Ó Ruirc, who, much to his chagrin, continued playing, unaware of his fate. Infuriated by the din, Oillipéist consequently coughed him up and spat him out in disgust.”

Now I can’t take any credit for the story, it already exists in Irish folklore, but you can read more in my post,  Lake Dwellers of Ancient Ireland. Little did I know when I wrote it that it would inspire someone to create a painting!

Writing isn’t just about number of blog views, or book sales. It’s about connecting with people, and I am so happy that in this case, a few words I wrote down one evening connected with someone to such an extent, that he was inspired to create a work of art. What a compliment that is.

A few days after sending me the initial sketch, Seamus messaged me with the final completed picture. Thanks, Seamus, you really made my day! I love it! I love the colour, I love the detail particularly of the hands, face and hair. I love the fish skeletons, and the molluscs. I love the eternal, circular aspect of it. It’s so full of colour and life and movement. You can see the finished painting in its glorious detail at the top of the post.

You can view more of Seamus’s art on his website, www.seamusmcardle.ie, and you can buy his enchanting book on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

The Friday Fiction with Charles E. Yallowitz

Now on Amazon for $2.99!
LEGENDS OF WINDEMERE:
THE MERCENARY PRINCE

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Cover Art by Jason Pedersen

Delvin Cunningham has left the champions.

Lost to his tribe in the Yagervan Plains, fear and shame have kept the former Mercenary Prince away from his homeland. With his confidence crumbling, he has decided to return and bring closure to his past. Reuniting with his old friends, Delvin’s timing could not be worse as a deadly campaign is brewing within Yagervan’s borders. Dawn Fangs are on the march and these powerful vampires are determined to turn the entire region into a graveyard.

To protect his family, friends, and two homelands, Delvin will have to push his doubt away and become the cunning Mercenary Prince once again.

Art by Jason Pedersen

Art by Jason Pedersen

Please feel free to put this on your ‘To Read’ list on Goodreads by clicking below:

The Mercenary Prince on Goodreads!

Excerpt from The Mercenary Prince

With the hint of a smirk, Selenia quickens her pace and unleashes a barrage of blows on her former student. Each strike and stab is deflected by the sweat-covered champion, his speed increasing to match her every time. At one point, the half-elf leaps forward and is struck in her stomach by his shield, which forces her to flip over his head. The headmistress lands in a crouch and whirls around to block the counterattack, the point of Delvin’s sword gently running along the leather patch over her stomach. Realizing that he is still holding back, Selenia bats his next attack away and delivers a painful kick to his exposed side. The blow knocks him against the fountain and he comes dangerously close to falling into the water.

While rubbing his bruised side, Delvin circles the headmistress who turns to continue facing him. He makes a few feints that she refuses to acknowledge because they are clumsy and pathetically amateurish. The gathered students and teachers shout for more action, all of them believing the brown-haired warrior to be afraid of the legendary woman. None of them realize that his circles have been getting tighter and his fake attacks have caused Selenia to misjudge his distance. It is something she realizes when Delvin makes a quick swing for her hip and their weapons strike closer to their hilts than she expects. The moment the half-elf steps back to gain some space, her former student pushes forward with precise strikes that mirror the onslaught she previously unleashed. Without a shield, the headmistress finds it more difficult to block every attack and has to twist her body away from several attacks. The movements prevent her from throwing a kick or punch, which would probably hit the shield that he has yet to include in his advance.

Selenia eventually catches Delvin’s blade and slides her weapon along its edge to step within his swinging range. The pair push against each other, their muscles straining to gain the upper hand. Every time one of them is about to gain ground, their opponent shifts enough to continue the frustrating stalemate. With a grunt of exertion, Delvin moves his shield in front of the headmistress’s face and blocks her view. Knowing she is expecting him to push forward, the warrior falls onto his back and lets the surprised half-elf’s momentum slam her face into the wooden disc. The back of his head bounces off the ground as he flicks his wrist to deliver an extra shot to Selenia’s chin. She rolls away from him to recover her senses, but Delvin scrambles to keep her in reach and continue his attack as they stand.

“You actually hit me,” Selenia states when she notices that her nose is bleeding. She ducks under her opponent’s swing and aims her hilt for his stomach, the blow only grazing his shirt. “I think you’ve achieved two firsts for this academy, Delvin. Nobody has ever drawn my blood or made me dizzy during a match.”

Want to Dive into the Adventure from the Beginning?

Find all of these exciting adventures by visiting the Amazon Author Page of Charles E. Yallowitz

So charge up your Kindle and end 2015 with an adventure full of action, humour, old friends, new enemies, grudge matches, tears, ale, and vampires.

author-photoAbout the Author:

Charles Yallowitz was born and raised on Long Island, NY, but he has spent most of his life wandering his own imagination in a blissful haze. Occasionally, he would return from this world for the necessities such as food, showers, and Saturday morning cartoons. One day he returned from his imagination and decided he would share his stories with the world. After his wife decided that she was tired of hearing the same stories repeatedly, she convinced him that it would make more sense to follow his dream of being a fantasy author. So, locked within the house under orders to shut up and get to work, Charles brings you Legends of Windemere. He looks forward to sharing all of his stories with you, and his wife is happy he finally has someone else to play with.

Blog: Legends of Windemere 

Twitter: @cyallowitz

Facebook: Charles Yallowitz

Website: www.charleseyallowitz.com

“I’ll take them,” I hear myself say, and suddenly, my heart is fluttering randomly like a butterfly in my chest. “I’ll keep them on.”

The two young sales assistants exchange snooty glances, rolling black-rimmed eyes at each other. One of them goes to get a bag for my old grey trainers, while the other processes my purchase at the till.

As I teeter out of the store on my new high heels, I hear the ring of their mocking laughter, and my spine stiffens.

I glance down at my feet. Four hundred euros of Swarovski encrusted soft silver leather now adorn each one, balanced on a perfectly crafted, needle-thin mirrored heel.



I push back the panic which is welling into my throat, locking away the guilt for later. I just want to enjoy the elation which is coursing through my body. It is a long time since I have felt the excitement which accompanies an illicit act. I am appalled, and enthralled, by my own audacity.

I don’t just walk around the shopping centre, I float, basking in the admiring glances of passers-by. I may be a woman of a certain age, but in my skinnies, and with a heel, my legs still look good. I drop my trainers in a bin.

It is Culchie Day; December 8th, the day when traditionally, all the country folk visit Dublin for the big Christmas shopping trip. The shops are crowded. The decorations are overblown and gaudy. The seasonal songs are grating. The eagerness to spend, spend, spend is impulsive and overwhelming, a mass frenzy which has people competing to snap up bargains, splash out on luxuries, and procure what will be St Stephen’s Day’s unwanted gifts.

I am swept away on this tide of consumerism, happy to flow for a while in this vast sea of human flesh. I drift where it takes me, like flotsam in the current.

After a few hours, it washes me into Starbucks. I queue for coffee, squeeze onto a vacant bar stool, and with that first bitter sip, acknowledge the uneasy feelings which push against the edge of my euphoria.

I have done a terrible thing.

Emboldened by admission, my guilt breaks free of its bonds, and I am seized by sudden trembling. I set down my cup.

I can feel something unravelling deep inside me, and I don’t know how to stop it. It has been threatening for years, ever since that day six years ago, when the doctors had handed back my new mystery child and washed their hands of us.

They had done everything humanly possible to wrench him from the doors of death. They had fixed up his weak, malformed little body as best they could, leaving me to rear a child so rare, so complex, so unfathomable, no one knew how to help me, or him.

But it’s Ok, because I am strong, so people confidently tell me, while telling themselves I am the kind of woman who can cope with any truckloads of shit life throws her way.

But they’re wrong. Their expectation only piles the pressure on a woman who is already overloaded. I smile and agree, while all the time shoring up the gaps as another piece of me crumbles. It looks solid and immoveable, this great wall I have built. Little do they know it is built on foundations of sand, and now the sands are shifting.

The money I blew on shoes was all I had to buy Christmas gifts for my children, who are eagerly eyeing the advent calendar every morning, counting down the days till Santa’s visit. This year, what will they find beneath the tree? Mama’s glittery shoes. My gift to me.

I feel my mouth run dry as bile rises in my stomach.

When I saw those shoes, twinkling with allure on their own stage beneath their own spotlight, I was immediately star-struck. Before I knew it, they were on my feet and I was strutting up and down, throwing my hard-won cash at the staff with imperious hand.

What had I been thinking? I was just a woman past her best with lines of tiredness in her face, and the flat gaze of hopelessness, sporting the hoodie, jeans and old trainers of someone who didn’t care too much about herself any more.

Feeling the heat of shame burn in my cheeks, I raise my cappuccino to my lips, but it has gone cold. I set it back down on the counter, and take a deep breath. I rummage frantically in my handbag for my purse. A few coins are all that remain. I’ll need them for the car parking.

I grab my phone and check my bank balance; less than a hundred and fifty euros left until pay-day. I feel so faint, I think I am going to fall from my stool. My coffee-swigging neighbours glance at me in alarm. I smile wan reassurance at them.

Inside, I’m panicking. How am I going to create Christmas for my family on that?

My husband will hit the roof. I can’t expect him to understand something I can’t even comprehend myself.

Beneath the table, the first faint throb begins to pulse through my feet. I slide out of my beautiful new shoes, sighing with relief as I spread my cramped toes. I reach down to the tender buds of blisters blooming on my heels, and realise that the more expensive the shoe, the less likely they are to comfortably accommodate anything foot-shaped.

And suddenly, the crowded café with its warm coffee-scented air and its cloying Christmas music is too stifling for me. The more deeply I breathe, the less oxygen I seem to take in.

I stab my feet back into my shoes and stumble out into the mall. I’m no longer floating on cushions of air, but hobbling across a hotbed of nails. I take the pain as penance. I barge through stressy, spent-up shoppers, searching for an exit. I need fresh air.

Outside, the afternoon is dark, dreary, the pavement rain-washed and pocked with puddles. My shoes light up like a pair of constellations in the headlights of passing cars, but I am no longer dazzled by them. Now they have me gripped in their spell, I realise that theirs is dark magic indeed.

I lean against a wall and suck in damp, wintry air. It chills me, but clears my head a little. People hurry past me to the car-park, laden with bags and boxes, shoulders hunched against the elements. I lift my face, feel my hair pulled back by the wind, icy water tracing a route down my neck with unforgiving fingers.

Then I walk. I just follow the path in front of my feet. It turns intermittently this way and that, and so do I. I cross the car-park exit without raising my eyes, and don’t even flinch when a car screeches to a halt, beeping loudly. I just walk, splashing my designer shoes through dirty puddles with a perverse sense of satisfaction, while I get wetter and colder, and then find myself pausing outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The entrance is brightly lit and welcoming.

I need a drink.

And once again my brain disengages, and I find myself in auto mode. I walk into the foyer, book a room at reception, then buy a bottle of Prosecco at the bar.

The room is a shoebox, dark, well-furnished but characterless. I sit on the sumptuous bed, shaking. I switch off my mobile, turn on the TV, and pour the wine. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but tonight I’m not going home.

***

I swim into consciousness, unsure if the noise I hear is the beating of my heart or the ache thumping in my head.

“Let me in,” calls a familiar voice, and I sit up, wide awake. I’m not sure which is worse, the dizziness and nausea, or the throb in my feet.

“Go away,” I mutter.

He hears me. “Open the bloody door, or I’ll beat it down.”

I let him in. I am afraid to meet his eyes, but he rushes forward and scoops me into his arms. I want to melt into him, but I push him away.

“Don’t,” I say, and retreat. I sit nervously on the edge of the bed. “Are the kids OK?”

He would be within his rights to retort, “As if you care,” but he doesn’t. He closes the door, follows me into the room, and sits beside me. He runs a hand through his hair, then lets it drop helplessly into his lap.

“They’re having a sleepover at Sally’s. Can you please tell me what the hell is going on? I’ve been out of my mind with worry.”

How can I explain something which is incomprehensible even to me? I say instead, “How did you find me?”

He sighs. “I rang all your friends, the hospitals, the police. I didn’t know what to think. Eventually I got in the car and drove down here. Your car’s still in the car park… it’s been clamped. I just thought I’d check the hotels…” his voice trails way, and I see his eyes move to the bed, then back to me. He frowns. “Is there… someone else?”

I almost laugh. Who would want me? Middle-aged, shapeless, invisible, depressed.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I snap.

He takes my hands. “Then what is it?” I can hear the hurt in his voice.

“Why aren’t you angry?”

“I was. I am. I’ve been through the full range of emotions in the last few hours, believe me. I was so scared that something had happened to you, a car crash, or an accident. I even thought, you know…” he pauses and gulps loudly. “I thought maybe you had jumped off the bridge, or something.”

“I thought about it.” I meet his eyes for the first time. He kisses my hand, not knowing what to say. He looks worried.

“So what happened?” he prompts me gently.

I look away. “I bought shoes.”

He laughs. Just a gentle sound at first, but then his body starts to shake. He throws himself back on the bed and lets the emotion consume him, great guffaws of riotous sound somewhere halfway between hysteria and mirth. Then he lies still.

“I’m glad you find it funny. They cost me every penny of the Christmas money. I’ve just enough left to pay for this room. I can’t afford to get the clamp off the car. There’s nothing left at all for Christmas.”

He pulls me down to him. I resist at first, but he’s not taking no for an answer. “We can take the shoes back when the shops open,” he suggests.

“I don’t think so. I walked around in them all afternoon, and then traipsed through the rain.”

He kisses my hair. “Well keep them, then. Don’t worry about Christmas, we’ll have to tighten our belts a bit, but we’ll manage. I just need to know why. You owe me that much at least. Don’t you love me any more?”

But I am not able to explain. The bottle containing my emotion has been uncorked, and there’s no stopping the flow. So we just lie together through the dawn while my tears slide, silent and unrelenting, listening to the sounds of the world gradually wake around us, and I wish that time would linger and wrap us in a bubble and forget about us.

I am woken some time later by his voice, brimming with amusement. “Are these your Cinderella shoes?” He holds up the offending articles.

They look a little worse for wear after the abuse I put them through. The shiny mirror heels are scuffed, and a few diamantes are missing from the toes. The leather is soaked, discoloured. Their magic has worn off. They just look kitsch and tawdry.

“Not your usual style,” is all he says, setting them down on the dressing table. “I’m going to pay for the room. Meet me downstairs when you’re ready.”

I hurry into the shower, then slip back into my jeans. They are still a little damp from the rain. I sit on the bed looking at the shoes glowing on the dressing table like a glittering work of art.

Then I walk out of the room bare foot. I don’t need them where I’m going.