Friday, 12 December 2014

Commitments

It was love at first sight. She was elegant, beautiful and haughty. He was younger than her, but knew what he wanted from life. No-one knew exactly what had drawn them together, but in that first moment they had bonded.

She had looked at him through those heavily hooded eyes and he had stared back, frank and innocent, into eyes that had known the world. Disregarding everyone stood around him, she stalked over, hips swaying and full of an attitude that declared she expected to be the center of the world. He stared at her, utterly hypnotised and she continued walking up to him until she was close enough to rest her head against him. His fingers reflexively curled into her hair and she encouraged him. When his parents beside him murmured their disapproval, she glared at them and nuzzled their son.

Although her age concerned his parents, it was nothing to how they felt when they discovered her medical history and how much her restoration to full health would cost. Despite the claim she was staking on their son, both knew it was their money she would be spending and, given the fixation he had, if they wanted to remain close to their son's heart, they would have to pay up and house her, as well as sponsoring her medical treatment.

They tried repeatedly to redirect his attention to younger alternatives, but with her draped over his arm, he wasn't interested. In the hours his parents fought over whether to support their son in this, or to enforce their authority, he sat smiling slightly, alternately playing with, hugging and petting the female who had become the center of his world. She responded willingly to every move he made and eventually his commitment to her became unarguable.

At the reception desk, Tina smiled in mingled relief and sympathy as Mr and Mrs Hartness signed the formal adoption papers for Duchess. The cat had been considered un-homeable, lined up to be put down, until seven year old Scott came along and she claimed him.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Thing

In my wallet is an A4 piece of paper. I haven't looked at it for a long time, but I know what it is, where it is, and what is looks like.

I wrote on it shortly after I separated from my ex husband. I had spent a long time compromising so he could have what he claimed he needed to be happy (spoiler alert: it didn't work) and I had no idea what I wanted any more.

So I did what any rational person would do. I wrote a list. A list of things I need and want. At the time, it was astronomical. No man could ever attain such heights!

Then I got my life in order (well, it's a work in progress), started writing here and, nine months after I separated from my husband I revisited that list.

I was so angry at myself when I read it that I wrote a Josh Groban related post mocking myself for my exceptionally low standards. Standards so low that someone I've never met can perfectly fit them. Because they were, all of them, the bare minimum anyone would expect from a boyfriend.

I won't look at that list right now, but I'm keeping it. I'm  keeping it to remind myself how much you can lose when you start living for someone else. I'm keeping it to prove that I'm not unreasonable or asking for the world. I'm keeping it as a talisman against all those little voices inside that say I'm not the right stuff for happiness. I'm keeping it to prove that if a man can't meet that list then it's pretty clear the fault doesn't lie with me.

Right now I have other problems. One in particular is messing with my head, but I don't want to talk about it. I'm afraid someone might read it. I'm even afraid to write fiction around it through fear that someone might understand it.

And yet, I've been wracking my brains for one friend who is distant and impartial enough for me to confide in and receive advice that I can trust won't be coloured by circumstance. I think I'm going to call my therapist.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 04

And thus began the most bewildering day in Helen's memory. She was first ushered downstairs by Emily who seemed to take personal pride in every startled glance cast at her mistress as she trod lightly down the halls. When they arrived in the breakfast room the two footmen who were guarding the boiled eggs gazed fixedly at her for almost ten seconds before leaping into action and, once she was seated and fed, they cast each other approving nods.

It was Aunt Agatha who vocalised the thoughts of all of them - “Well! I suppose you will do well enough. You certainly appear more to advantage this morning, although I fear you shall never be comparable to your sister!”

Helen smiled, In truth, she was comfortable with the mild attention she received for being what she was. The thought of being subjected as Rose was to a constant barrage of admirers made her feel faintly ill and more than a little relieved that the men she attracted accepted her wish to stay distant. Rose was frequently not so well treated, although she had the enviable ability to laugh it off with ease.

Rose came darting into the room bare minutes behind their aunt and casting her arms around Helen's neck (unfortunately timed as it caused a coffee spillage frowned upon heavily by their aunt) crying out about all the joyful things she had already experienced, chief among which were apparently ham and beef for breakfast, alongside eggs and all the other good things that came along with breakfast. Helen smiled at her sister's boisterousness and although Rose became more physically subdued under her aunt's harsher gaze, it did not noticeably cow her spirits.

All three ladies were plied with hot beverages, and for the next half hour sat in animated chatter. Helen was now in a better position to engage and once again Aunt Agatha was pleasantly surprised by the quick mind and good person hidden behind Helen's retiring personality. She mused that many an older gentleman would be looking for such qualities in a wife, although her above average looks may even cause a few of the younger crowd to consider her with favour.

Rose on the other hand was, by her aunt's calculation, the absolutely perfect debutante. Vivacious, vibrant, beautiful, pleasant and clearly well bred and educated; even without her portion she would be considered a toast. With it, Lady Agatha Richmond firmly expected to land her an Earl at the very least. Once the excitement of the season had worn off, calculated Aunt Agatha, Rose would be impeccable.

The sentence structure here is appalling. I hate it and I'm going to destroy it with a big red editing pen when November is through. Sorry for the diversion, it had to be said.

Drinks finished, the savaged remains of breakfast tidied away, and Aunt Agatha determining that for either girl to lunch before three would be sheer gluttony, she sent them scurrying upstairs before whisking them into a barouche to tour the more important parts of the city. En route to the park she instructed them on shopping habits and restricted parts of the city. Both girls solemnly paid attention and duly assured their aunt they would behave in no way that could possibly discredit her. They were past shopping venues, Gunther's, music halls, museums, and even, very briefly, vaguely in the direction of the Tower – all things she saw turned into a complete blur for Helen. She retained strictures and determined to remember as much as possible of the sights and sounds of London and as little as possible of the smells.

They were all too soon in the park and both girls peered excitedly around them. Aunt Agatha's judgement had been sound however, and at this time the Park was deserted of all but a few nursemaids and children. The girls were able to display their full naïve wonder and excitement without creating a public profile that they may later regret. They spent half an hour bowling around the park before they were pulled off in yet another direction. More buildings shot past; more information about places they could or could not go – sleepy looking streets being presented as dens of iniquity, others being pointed out as something worse: where the wealthy merchants lived. With her ambitions and pride, Aunt Agatha wanted neither girl to let any pretender to their hand to come from an undesirable address. Those dens of iniquity were, however, visited by the finest gentlemen among the ton and while the girls absolutely could not go there, they also could not afford to dismiss a gentleman just because he did.

Soon they returned home, where Emily was once again ready to help Helen into new garments and repair the damage done to her hair by the “fresh” air. It was astonishing to Helen that she could spend such a large proportion of her life having her hair brushed, but under Emily's magic hands the boring flat hair was beginning to grow in body and lustre. Certainly her tricks for raising the hair into piles of artificial curls were bewildering and involved a multitude of pins but were astonishingly effective to a young lady who had spent longer than she wanted to wearing pigtails.

Soon she was summoned to her aunt's dressing room – Emily in tow – to meet the modiste and have a whole new set of pins stabbed into her for an hour or two as the most grandiose designs for her wardrobe spilled over her. A few pages in the Ladies Gazette caused her to gasp involuntarily with delight and both the modiste and her aunt were pleased to agree that the styles she admired would suit her nature very well. The delicate nature of the fabrics and the adornment of a simple gown with a few exquisite decorations cried out taste, elegance and style, without being overly ostentatious about the sheer cost of forming such “simple” garments.

Rose was enchanted by embroidery and wanted everything to have patterns endlessly weaving around her. The modiste was delighted – the profit she could make would be vast – but Aunt Agatha talked Rose down into having decorated accessories – scarves, fans, gloves and slippers could all be used to create the same effect without everyone instantly knowing they have seen you in that dress before. Instead, she counselled, select several dresses that could be worn with or without adornment and find accessories that she adored for which her aunt promised to take her on a separate shopping trip, or several.

The modiste was by no means finished when the hairdresser arrived. He cast his experienced eye over the multitude of designs for each girl in order to choose the best arrangement of their hair. He began with Rose, and ruthlessly cropped her hair into a cloud of riotous curls and spent ten minutes instructing her maid in the correct arrangement of it. Emily had begun removing Helen's pins part way through this instruction and was barely finished and ready to brush out her hair when the hairdresser minced over to inspect her locks.

He spent only a moment there before returning to scrutinise the designs made for Helen. In his absence Emily returned to the process of slowly and carefully brushing out Helen's hair. When he returned the hairdresser tutted, sighed and shook his head. Newly proud of her hair, Helen was a little disappointed, but he simply murmured “Too much! Too much!” and began trimming off some of the length. Unlike with Rose where he had started by cutting off almost a foot of hair, he began slowly, trimming off an inch at a time. After six inches were removed at last he seemed satisfied and turned his attention from the length to fringing and dressing the hair as he liked.

Initially Emily had seemed politely distant, but as Helen's new design took shape under his hands, she nodded approvingly. Finally, the work was complete and Helen looked in the mirror. Her first reaction was deep disappointment – she had been so proud of the piled up curls Emily had created and now her hair lay flat on her head once again. However, she recognised Emily's approval of it and she had already come to trust the girl's opinion of how Helen should look. Casting her own doubts aside and reassuring herself that at least she could now leave her bedroom without enough steel to armour a fourteenth century knight she thanked the hairdresser and stood, ready to parade under Aunt Agatha's eagle eye.

Aunt Agatha approved most heartily. Aside from the aesthetic concerns which tended to be foremost with her she made the point to Helen that when one returns home at three am, the last thing one wants is to wait another hour or more for the maid to finish disrobing one before one can sleep. Nodding reluctant assent Helen was on the verge of returning to the modiste when her aunt brusquely informed her that they must now provide Rose with the promised trinkets to complete her wardrobe. They might also at this time purchase new shoes and necessities to turn both girls into ladies.

Three hours later, the ladies were home once again, this time laden with parcels and with a whole delivery to follow them at a later date. Hungry and exhausted, Helen was delighted when her aunt announced they must bustle as dinner would be served in half an hour. She retreated to her room and submitted to her hair being redressed again – this time much more quickly but no less thoroughly. With two minutes to spare both sisters darted out of their respective rooms and headed for the stairs. They spared each other a smile, but otherwise remained focussed on being where and when their aunt had instructed them to be.

They made it in time and were waiting when their aunt arrived at the door with the butler behind them, ready to guide them into dinner. After the hustle and bustle of the day, a quiet dinner was delightful. After several dishes were presented, consumed and dismissed, Helen found herself rapidly becoming sleepy, but followed her sister and aunt into the drawing room where a piano forte and harp were available. The two girls spent two hours playing quietly and intermittently, while their aunt read. After she had finished her book she requested they play a game amongst the three of them and called for some cards.

For another hour the three played cards – relaxedly for the first game, intensely competitive for the second and for the third, displaying clear signs of weariness. Finally, their aunt dismissed them and both girls went to bed. Once Helen was tucked up into the bed she mentally referred to as a place of bliss, there was a gentle tapping on the door seconds before Rose peeked in. The two girls, alone for the first time today, spent half an hour chattering about their responses to their day, the new circumstances and how they felt about it all before both fell asleep. It was 4:30 am when Rose awoke Helen from her dream. It had barely started and Helen had not yet cried out, but she was already showing the physical signs and she was grateful when Rose shook her awake.


Minutes later Rose returned to her own room, where her bed had chilled in the night and so she wrapped herself in an extra blanket before returning to sleep. In the meantime, Helen subconsciously moved to wrap herself in the robe and slippers, before standing at the window gazing outwards. At 5:00 am a maid came to light the fire. Ten minutes after she left, Emily arrived in Helen's bedroom, flustered by her mistresses early awakening.  

Monday, 3 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 03

The sisters arrived at their aunt's house late in the evening. Darkness had already descended and the choking smoke and stench of the city had driven Helen from distress to despair. The improved quality of air as they reached the wealthier part of the city wasn't enough to cure her, and even being inside their aunt's home – scented beautifully of lavender, beeswax and warmed wine – couldn't soothe her, although it delighted Rose.

The servants were expecting the sisters and were all miraculously available and required to help bring in luggage and whisk the girls into the required room. Even the cook found it justified to come upstairs carrying a platter of delicate cakes and biscuits for the girls to snack on. Within half an hour the entire household were gossiping delightedly about Miss Rose, while even the nicest, most forgiving individual was unable to attribute to Miss Helen a quality more appealing than having a “very pleasant voice” when she declined the special treats laid before her.

Their aunt shared the opinions of all her staff, although the knowledge would never be admitted by the separate parties. She had previously held to the opinion that the elder should be presented and wed before the younger could be admitted into society. Witnessing the girls before her now, she was convinced that Rose would never have had a chance if that rule were adhered to. That being so, she refrained from making the speech she originally intended which had been expressly designed to inform Rose that while she may be in public, she must at all times be no more than a shadow as it was truly Helen's presentation and Rose was here merely on sufferance and instead calmly observed that as both girls were being presented together she would ensure that they were subjected to the same preparation lessons.

Helen, wan and wilting after the journey, allowed the words to wash over her. Rose alternated between excitement over the plans being made on her behalf and concern for Helen, but as she had herself firmly under control and was eventually able to sip delicately at a cup of tea, Rose soon became consumed by her enthusiasm for the plans over the next few months including, but not limited to seemingly endless amounts of shopping, dance lessons, dress fittings, parties, picnics, morning visits, afternoons driving through parks, potentially horse rising lessons, musical soirées, a multitude of balls and even one masked ball.

As she became increasingly animated, her aunt marvelled at how the sparkle in her eye and the light flush in her cheeks enhanced the beauty of her facial features. Casting a baleful glance at Helen, she wondered, with some slight resentment, how she was ever going to get the elder sister off her hands once the younger was married. Helen was oblivious to her aunt's burgeoning hostility and for some reason the lack of response to an attitude her aunt felt slightly ashamed of only caused her to feel irritated that Helen was such an insipid, dull, grey wisp of a thing.

Sighing internally, she asked the girls if they knew sufficient card games to join in a little light entertainment at quiet house parties. Not, she averred, that they should gamble to excess, but they must be able to participate in the lighter entertainments that were offered to young maids. Rose happily regaled her aunt with tales of the specific games they knew and evenings with the son of the local pastor as young girls as well as parlour games at their seminary. The picture she painted of her sister as gaily leading a pitched battle of wits against the headmistress on a weekly basis, with teams supporting either side and the celebrations afterwards caused her to regard Helen with a quizzical eye and a sudden realisation that perhaps few women look their best after a few days of travel.

That being the case, she decided they should all retire early as they had a terribly long day ahead of them. Both girls assented, although Rose seemed a little disappointed at the abrupt end to her evening and briefly wondered if her story had offended her aunt. The insistence that they call her “Aunt Agatha” rather than the “ladyships” and “ma'ams” that had so far littered their conversation went some way to assuaging that fear. Aunt Agatha rang the bell vigorously and directed the girls to their rooms. When they arrived and Helen realised she would be sleeping alone, she was as fearful as Rose had guessed she might be. However, the shame she felt of her dreams caused her to internalise any feeling related to them as much as possible and even in her exhausted state she was able to disguise a response that the vast majority of people would consider odd enough to remark on.

Rose said she would check her own room, change into nightwear and revisit before they slept. Helen assented, relieved, and one of the aids that had escorted them up helped her disrobe and guided her to bathe in the warm water at the basin. The maid then sat her before the mirror and spent twenty minutes brushing her hair out until it shone. The unaccustomed luxury lulled Helen beyond anything she had ever imagined and when the maid coaxed her into bed and she discovered, instead of the chill sheets of the seminary, the damp sheets of a public inn or the hard mattress of her childhood she had been provided with a luxurious feather quilt, several blankets and a deep, soft mattress which had been perfectly and evenly warmed. It was like climbing into a full body hug and although she propped herself up on the copious pillows provided intending to wait for Rose, the maid hadn't even closed the door before she was soundly asleep. Peeking through the door ten minutes later, Rose smiled and blew out the majority of the candles before returning to her own room and sleeping herself.

The next morning Aunt Agatha, herself an early riser, had instructed the household staff most strictly that they were on no account to disturb either girl. Consequently, it was almost 11 am when Helen, blinking, pushed herself upright in a brightly lit room, decorated in emerald and teal colours, picked out in gold. The vibrant colours after years of practical greys and browns made it seem like a fantasy. In addition, she had been so physically and mentally exhausted by the rigours of her journey that she had spent the night in a deep dreamless sleep and the feeling of blissful, rested contentment that resulted was vaguely alien to her. She slid out of bed and spied the night coat cast across a sofa. It was so luxurious and soft that she slid into it, even though the room was beautifully warm and smiled as she looked around the room.

She spied a pair of matching slippers and eagerly climbed into them. Before she had the second on, she was interrupted by the maid peering cautiously around the door. Seeing the bedcovers cast to one side she made her way into the room and bobbed a curtsey to Helen. When she rose, she was unable to hide the surprise she felt.

“Oh!” Helen saw her expression and immediately feared she had done something wrong. “Am I not supposed to wear the robe? I thought it had been put there...” trailing off, she gazed, wide eyed at the maid who was vigorously shaking her head and bobbing a series of apologetic curtseys.

“No, miss, no indeed miss, I'm so sorry miss. I didn't mean to stare.”

Walking forwards, Helen touched the maid gently on the arm. “No, I should apologise, I obviously startled you. Would you please tell me how?”

Helen's voice, which had been discussed as pleasant the night before, now she was rested, happy and relaxed was soft, gentle, warm and musical. It carried with it the essence of Helen's gentle personality and made kinds of promises about what she could do as a singer and the maid, as so many before her had, immediately fell under its spell. Deeply flushing and wishing she had something nice to say, the maid confessed that she looked like a different person this morning.

Helen burst out laughing.

Startled, the maid gazed wide eyed at her for another moment before recalling herself and dropping her gaze to the fingers she knotted wildly before her. Helen soon stopped laughing and next time she spoke her voice was once again a new kind of joy to listen to. The smile on her face was audible as she reassured the maid that no-one would disagree as she was renowned for being a poor traveller; and when the maid cast her eyes up into that face she was shocked once again by the difference a genuine smile made in the face of this young lady.

Her eyes, so big and grey had acquired shades of sparkling blue and green, her skin was tinted with the faintest coral tone and her lips curving upwards pushed out her cheeks and turned her long thin face into a heart shaped, well balanced arrangement of features that were delightful to contemplate. In comparison to her sister – the epitome of a Snow White princess – she would always be considered washed out and faded, but by herself she possessed a grace, charm and quiet beauty that appealed to many without them quite understanding why.

The maid felt her own lips quivering upwards into a timid smile and when asked for her name confessed she was called Emily.

“Well, Emily, it's lovely to meet you. Would you please direct me to my clothing? I haven't eaten properly for a few days and I'm in need of some sustenance.”

Emily bobbed into yet another curtsey and asked a series of polite questions about whether Miss wanted to wash, what she wanted to wear, whether she wanted a bonnet put aside for afternoon activities. Helen dealt with each enquiry in the calm manner which made her seem accustomed to such a thing, while inside she still marvelled at her surroundings and the bewildering upgrade in her circumstances now she had left school. Although she had grown up in similar circumstances of wealth, as a child she had never experienced them for herself – schoolrooms and governesses were not, in her limited experience, palaces of delight and young girls were certainly not permitted to have someone run around after them.

Eventually she was seated, mostly dressed, before her mirror again as Emily dressed her hair. Curious about the household, Helen had encouraged Emily to talk and it had already been revealed to her that Rose had risen two hours before and breakfasted well. She was currently in the morning room flitting between playing idly on the pianoforte and playing with the various decorative trinkets that festooned the surfaces of the room. Aunt Agatha had been awake since before 6, and had breakfasted alone, spending an hour with her Bible in the quiet of her own dressing room as was her custom. Each lady had a dedicated maid who was currently either cleaning, unpacking, preparing or, in Emily's case, preparing her mistress for the day. In the afternoon they were expecting a hairdresser and modiste to visit the house so the maids had been set the task of identifying clothes that must be discarded: those that could be modified and those that were suitable for town wear. Aunt Agatha's maid was searching through her wardrobes to see if there were any dresses of her own that could be adjusted for the girls – her expectation (which would shortly be justified) being that neither girl would own anything that couldn't be worn by a fifteen year old.



Nano 2014: Day 01b (Overdue, sorry!)

When the sun eventually broke through the cloud cover, it did so fairly abruptly. Storm clouds had gathered overnight and it was only a heavy wind clearing it that allowed the sunlight through. Helen and Rose breakfasted in a private parlour, one of three that the inn was furnished with. Rose had slept excellently apart from the brief disturbance Helen had caused and, as was her wont, Rose refrained from even alluding to it or her otherwise peaceful night. Helen's nightmares had started when their mother died and the nights she spent uninterrupted were few and far between. Today she looked particularly haggared b the experience – a combination of poor sleep and travel- induced nausea had wreaked havoc on her delicate constitution.

Rose had cared for her sister wherever she could since, and had rapidly learned that not only did He;en fear her dreams, she feared what would happen if anyone else knew the content. She point blank refused to discuss them with her sister, and Rose let it lie. Rose also knew that however muh Helen needed sleep, at the first signs of a dream starting, she wanted to be woken. When she slept through a dream in its entirety, she inevitably wet the bed and the mortification at home had been so unbearable that when they went to school together, Helen had begged Rose for her help. They had kept that understanding for the last two years and it was now foremost in Rose's mind – although she would not mention it to her – that in their aunt's home it was unlikely they would share a room.

Helen was roused from her abstracted, exhausted demeanour by the arrival of a waiter who was clearly accustomed to ladies wilting in the inn. He gently prepared breakfast on the table before them, instead of filling the sideboards as was customary and ensured both ladies had tea and chocolate to hand before he left.

Helen picked desultorily t the cold cuts and eggs laid before her. Rose tore through a substantial breakfast with the enthusiasm of a wholly healthy girl. IT was oddly at this time that the physical similarities between the girls became most obvious – typically, Helen was so quiet, pale and wan beside her flourishing sister that most people even denied they had the same colouring. Now however, one could see both had the same pale skin and black hair – although Rose's lustrous curls both literally and figuratively outshone Helen's dull straight locks. They had the same large, almond shaped eyes – Rose's violet and Helen's grey. Both had slim straight noses and full lips in which the only difference that could be detected was the colour: Helen seemed perpetually grey tinted while Rose favoured her namesake with a healthy blush.

Their cheekbones and jawlines were also matched, and it was this that made them seem so similar while eating and drinking. While eyes and lips were disguised by crockery and cutlery and emotional expression was obfuscated by chewing, they seemed almost identical.

They sat silently – apart from the sounds of Rose's overenthusiastic mastication – for ten or fifteen minutes before a flurry of activity was heard from the room adjacent to theirs. A door opened and a woman was heard to declare her joyful opinion of tea and hot rolls on such a miserable morning. Her following proclamation of thanks and affection suggested the presence of a male companion who had helped seat her. She summarily dispatched him to retrieve her specified breakfast items and launched into idle chatter about the inn, their journey, the people she expected on the other end of the road and a number of other matters which her companion expressed absolutely no interest in – although in fairness to him he wasn't given much chance to speak.

At some point there was a brief cessation in her chatter – presumably to enable her to eat something and in the quiet his voice finally appeared – speaking without force or rancour he calmly stated “Georgiana, dear, I love you beyond measure, but if you don't cease your idle chatter at the breakfast table I will dump you in the first ditch we find.”

Her ripple of laughter in response was silvery and musical and enraptured Helen who thought it was the most breathtaking sound she had ever heard. Rose had already been unashamedly eavesdropping but now Helen joined her. Together they exchanged grins at the witticisms and banter passed between the two who abused each other horrifically under an evident and sincere love for one another. A few moments after she accused him of having a dependency on his morning paper for protection “not protection, my dear, aggression. I know how it infuriates you.”

“Oh, yes of course! I just recalled - it's no wonder you're in such a foul mood. I was woken up by that racket as well. For a short while I thought it was something to do with you but Jenny told me this morning it was a schoolgirl having nightmares. Were you tormented by the sounds?”

“Georgiana dear, you know that would be ridiculous. Particularly as I'm wholly absorbed in escorting you.”

“Thank you, beloved, I'm very reassured.” Her tone was sardonic. “I must admit though, I have little faith in your interest in being focused on me and can only hope you won't deposit me in Bath and flee even before I'm unpacked.”

“As your purpose in going to Bath is to find amenable company, wouldn't I rather get in the way?”

“You never get in the way, my dear. You do rile and irritate, but you are always useful in some way. I only hope to find such a husband one day.”

“that, my dear, will never happen. I am unique and you and I shall never wed.”

Her chuckle rippled out again. “Once again, I'm very reassured!”

“To return to your original question however, I was woken up by something and went for a brief walk. I did see a young female – not your schoolgirl, I think as she seemed rather towards her late twenties than late teens and she was certainly immodest enough to press up against a window in her night shift. If we were to stay, you might have had cause for concern through my relation with her.”

In the next room, Helen went white then scarlet. Rose stared at her in horror as her eyes filled with shameful tears.

Helen felt nothing. For one blessed moment she was so entirely shocked that this could have happened that she felt nothing at all. Then her world came crashing down. Mortification that he had seen her, horror at his response, disgust at herself for allowing it to happen; all these things bubbled up and her eyes began to burn. Her breath seized in her lungs and she began to shiver violently. Leaping into action, Rose seized a nearby blanket, flung it over her sister and vigorously rang the bell for a waiter. With an urgency that leant her authority she instructed the waiter to provide hartshorn and burnt feathers before instructing their maid that they were leaving at the earliest opportunity.

There was no more audible conversation from the adjoining room, but neither Helen nor Rose noticed. They were both consumed: one by care and the practicalities, the other by horror as it seemed that all of the worst parts of her nightmares were returning to haunt her at once. She was hustled and bustled into the carriage, in which their driver had placed several hot bricks, and which the maid had stacked to ensure Helen would be warmed and supported by plenty of cushions. With the aid of the waiter, the party ensured Helen was safely ensconced in her corner of the carriage, then Rose clambered in and the maid organised all other aspects with ruthless efficiency before they departed.

From his room in the inn, Lord George Carstairs watched as the carriage trundled away. He was a reckless man, but he was not insensitive and although he had initially been irritated by the chaos from the girls' parlour assuming it to be the hysteria of a spinster; once he discovered that it was, in truth the schoolgirls, he had been deeply distressed that his words – intended only to put Georgiana to blush – had reached innocent ears to such a shocking degree. He also made a point of honour to never trifle with any woman unaware of the game and under ordinary circumstances would not have spoken in such a way about any schoolgirl, regardless of what he thought of her behaviour.

Castigating himself, he acknowledged that he would never be able to apologise – he had no way of tracking the girl and to approach her at a later date and apologise for such addresses would only serve to mortify her further. He sighed, dismissed it (as far as he was able) from his mind and returned to the issue of escorting Georgiana – the most irritating female he'd ever had to spend his life with – to her new home in Bath. The thought fleeted into his mind that the schoolgirls were going the opposite way – most likely from a Bath seminary to London for the season, but he rapidly dismissed it as irrelevant and refocussed.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Nano 2014: Day 01a (midnight writing)

The sun unfurled lazily through the morning mist. Shards of light crashed through the autumn leaves decorating the estate and in their schoolroom two girls looked excitedly at each other. One erupted with glee, before settling into a decorous, ladylike pose, while the other smiled quietly as they prepared to leave and head to the main part of the house.

The first girl bounded downstairs, leaping and dancing along hallways, landing surprisingly quietly until she reached the most opulent part of the house. Her she resumed her sedate state. The other had tagged along behind – laughing silently at her sisters antics, but not participating until specifically caught up in the maelstrom.

Now both of them faced their parents. The first girl – Rose – knocked quietly and entered her mother's drawing room formally when invited to. The second – Helen – walked quickly and with the air of one sure of her welcome into her father's study.

Their ambition was the same; to be granted permission to play outside on the first sunny day anyone had seen for weeks. The mother petulantly waved the child away from her. There were no visitors that morning, no need for the child to be seen. The father recognised the signs of suppressed excitement in his eldest daughter, smiled and waved Helen out of his sight.

The two girls met in the hallway and, grinning, sped upstairs to collect bonnets, gloves and coats before going outside. They played happily in the wilder gardens beside the kitchens – more butterflies were here during summer and so the girls developed a preference for it. Now the air was chilled, even the birdsong had stopped and they subconsciously began to drift away. A quiet mewling sound led them to investigate the presence of some unexpected kittens. Large enough to leave their mother, yet small enough to be incredibly playful, the kittens discovered the two girls and invited them to join a game of chasing falling leaves. The two girls laughed and played and ran along with the miniature felines.

As they rounded the corner of the house the girls, without realising, automatically restrained their behaviour. While their father believed the girls should be children, their mother was adamant that they should be young ladies at all times. Whenever they were likely to be in sight of her, they had learned long ago it was better to seem as restrained as possible.

The presence of the kittens slightly distracted Helen and she was laughing aloud as one particularly adventurous kitten tried to chase three leaves at once. She reached out to snag one of he leaves herself, misjudged and fell. Unhurt, she rapidly stood up again but her hands were now encrusted with dirt. In tacit agreement, Helen left Rose to play while she washed her hands.

It was almost an hour later when Rose realised Helen should have returned long since. Curious and concerned – suspecting her mother might have spied her dirtiness – Rose returned to the house. She headed straight to her own room and sure enough, Helen was locked in there. Rose knocked on the door and spoke to her in hushed, comforting tones. Inside, Helen was audibly sobbing. When the sobs didn't abate, Rose became increasingly worried and decided to plead with her father for Helen's release, or at least for the option of comforting her.

She hurried downstairs but mid way down the final flight she came to a halt. The door to her father's study was shut, but she could clearly hear both her parents speaking – shouting, if truth be told – although she couldn't quite make out the words. Suddenly the door burst open and her mother came out, white lipped and taut. She stalked away from him, screeching “And I will make certain you never again have the opportunity to commit such a sinful act!”

He followed her to the door: also white faced and visibly angry. He was dishevelled – his wig askew and his waistcoat hastily fastened, but seemed somehow more contained than the impeccably presented, furious woman currently lashing out verbally and physically at the footman as she retrieved her riding crop and a bonnet.

Rose and her father watched her mother leave. He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. About to turn into his study he noticed his younger daughter perched on the stairs. “Are you alright pumpkin?”

She was briefly mute, aware that something momentous was happening, but then the urgency of her original errand caught up with her and she quickly shook her head. “If you please, papa, may I be allowed to be with Helen? She is truly distressed and I do not want her to be alone.”

Her father's eyes sharpened and focused on her; “Where is she?”

“Sir, she is locked in our bedroom.”

“Come with me,” he sprang into action, already unfolding the correct keys out of his pocket as he headed up the stairs at a dignified yet rapid pace. Opening the door he allowed Rose to precede him and he hesitated on the threshold as he considered his elder daughter. She was sobbing still, although she had made an effort to dim the sound as the door was opened. She lay huddled in bed, curled in a tight ball, seeking some kind of comfort from her pillows.

Rose clambered onto the bed behind her and she flinched slightly, but hearing her voice, Helen was able to relax and her breathing became more natural. When her father was satisfied she was no longer hysterical, he prompted her to sit up, and prepare for a servant to bring her a glass of lemonade and then wash her face and hands before dinner. They would, he informed them, be eating in the schoolroom due to the disruption of the day.

Relieved to avoid their mother, neither girl made any demur and their father left. Rose spent the afternoon and early evening trying to soothe Helen, who would periodically break into spasmodic sobs. It was several hours later when the news was brought to them by their governess – their mother had gone riding and in her rage had misjudged a wall. The horse had thrown her into a stone wall and she had been killed outright.

Rose, antagonised by Helen's suffering and blaming her mother entirely, felt a brief spurt of savage satisfaction. This was short lived however, as it was swamped by concern for Helen, who upon hearing the announcement had turned completely white as her eyes darkened to solid black and she fainted.


She stared out of the window, shivering in the cold despite the thick heavy shawl wrapped around her. Her feet were icy cold, and the fire wasn't lit but she didn't want to return to the bed.

Rose had collapsed into exhausted sleep once again and Helen could neither bear to wake her nor relinquish the fear of her dreams starting again. To return to bed, and thereby return to sleep, might cause both. In the darkness of the pre dawn hour, she stood alone. She had decided years before that while a sofa or chair would be more comfortable, and certainly wrapping her feet up would be easier on them! She got so bored of staring at the same four walls night after night. It had now become a habit with her that wherever she was, when the dreams woke her she would retreat to the window and stare outwards until her eyes became accustomed and she could pick out motion and activity.

Now, she couldn't see very much at all. There was a lit torch close to the window on the outside of the building: lighting the way for any late (or early) traveller. The post would be through shortly after dawn, but stage coaches ran through the night in this part of the country. As a result, the world outside was unremittingly black, but as was her habit she stood, gazing outwards and instead cast her mind over the last two days.

She had known for a long time that she would have to make her debut. Her father's death had given her an excuse to delay it and, although she sensed her aunt's reluctance to agree a postponement, the agreement had finally come – the sisters would be presented together. Helen did not look forward to it with any pleasure. Rose did and Helen had every confidence that she would make and excellent match. For herself, she preferred her books, her sewing, her artwork. All these things she could sink her heart and soul into more readily than the prospect of spending a year entrapping some unfortunate gentleman into matrimony.

In the trundle bed near the door the maid snored incessantly. Helen sighed and dropped her head against the window frame. Below her a flash of light indicated a door opening. Weary, she dropped her eyelids, but remained huddled under her shawl near the window. Beneath her, the gentleman strolled the courtyard casually; hidden from her sight in the shadows. As she adjusted her shawl, the flicker of white caught his eye and he gazed admiringly at the ethereal form, so fragile and alone, so unselfconscious.


After a brief look, he bored of it and returned to his previous activity, pacing around the courtyard, willing himself to relax, uncertain what had awoken him in the first place.

Friday, 31 October 2014

NaNo 2014

NaNo 2014 starts at midnight. I have my plan. I'm also working on getting my household chores done today which will hopefully make the coming five days easier to commit to (my flat is usually spotless midway through NaNo as it's the one time of year I use cleaning to procrastinate against something else.)

This year I know my story in advance. I even know that it's a relatively short story so for those poor sods who've been through this with me before: you might actually see the end of a novel from me! You so lucky ;)

For now, I'm trying to decide if I should go food shopping for junk, finish cleaning the flat, visit my GP or go to the gym. I have so much to do today. You know how the next four hours is going to be right? Crappy daytime TV all round!

Alicia

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How I met your mother [the ending]

So, this isn't exactly immediately after the release of the final episode but there is still a limited possibility that there are some people out there who want to see the end of #himym and haven't yet had the chance. For you, I say, Really? You're risking a lot to be looking it up online. But in case it isn't obvious, this post contains spoilers of the last episodes.

-------------------------------

I invested years into himym. I watched for nearly a decade as these people became as well known to me as some of my real friends. The heartache of Marshall's dad dying, the excitement of weddings, births and promises of the future all sucked me in and had me weeping and cheering right alongside the characters.

You may imagine my disappointment then when, although the first episode of the 2-part finale had me weeping for a few moments as Ted and Barney high-fived outside the wedding venue, the second episode left me utterly unmoved.1

This was the episode where the mother died. Where Ted and the mother finally meet. Where Barney has a child - just like he always wanted - and without having to commit to *her* mother (which we can only assume is also exactly what he wanted). And where Ted and Robin hook up once again.

By all rights, I should have been in buckets of tears. I should have been (admittedly with a little relocation) in a position to solve the Californian drought. I wasn't. And I resent that hugely. I am about to detail exactly why I was unmoved and I'm spectacularly sorry to say that my analysis suggests the *story* was not the problem. The story was moving and real and convincing (although I have to address the Ted and Robin thing a bit later). What let it down - and I genuinely feel crappy about saying this after some of the more spectacular episodes of Himym - was the storytelling.

Lets look at a general map of the last two series - during the making of which I believe it was generally understood these would be the last two seasons and we can reasonably extrapolate that the writers were working towards a specific end goal.2 The eighth season went roughly as follows:

  1. Ted and Victoria break up. This was critical, obviously, but it was important they didn't just break up. They had to lose any possibility of a future as well as ending their present. The writers needed the audience to decide that Ted and Victoria would not work out. Asking someone to end a friendship on your behalf is something that will only incite resentment in the long term, however understandable the circumstances. In that way, Victoria nullified herself as a potential partner for Ted.
  2. Lily and Marshall become parents and Lily develops her career as an art consultant. This is massively important - both for the continuation and development of their relationship, but also because it provides the real, recognisable stress and strain that many of the audience of himym will be experiencing. 
  3. Barney begins and wins his play for Robin. This is crucial to being the foundation of the final season and the framework through which Ted and the mother meet.
  4. Ted begins his obsession with the locket, reflecting his obsession with Robin and providing the largest continuous story arc over the two seasons.
  5. Marshall is offered a judgship and accepts without discussing it with Lily.
Aside from the stress of new parenthood, which is addressed and resolved fairly thoroughly within 1 episode, there is nothing really distressing here. For a series with such emotional highs and lows, it's suddenly a very plateaued journey, excepting only the proposal episode as a high. Everything that could be intense is dealt with very rapidly. This only gets worse in the final season.  

The two events that form the main arcs of the last two seasons - Marshall's judgship and Ted's feelings for Robin - never really get their time in the sun. Lily hears from Marshall's driving companion, threatens Marshall, when he arrives they "pause" then have their fight later (which is disastrously punctuated by a comic interlude involving Ted, Barney and Robin) during which Marshall asks if he and their children were only the second prize for Lily. This was a devastating question - it should have been given time and investment. Instead, Lily disappeared, Marshall contemplates his "win" and then she returns and they resolve things. Later we get the full story but by that point, there's no long term effect - we know the outcome, so the story loses its impact.

Similarly with Ted's feelings for Robin. We get the one episode *just* before Robin and Barney are due to get married, where Ted lets Robin go. At this time, I observed that everything in their "relationship" was one sided. He was the only one expressing any difficulty with moving on. She wasn't interested. I'll come back to this, but let's face it - when your best man is in love with your fiancee the stress and strain are *significantly* greater than presented here. 

However, moving on. There are lots of very bitty episodes in the final season: mostly using up space, as far as I can tell. The portions involving the mother are spectacularly well written. In the space of a season, they created a character who lived up to all the ideals developed over the first eight seasons, who fit in perfectly with the group without it being blatantly obvious she was shaped to fit a hole they'd created and who was able to rectify the failures of all Ted's previous girlfriends, including Victoria and Robin. 

This made it all the more unreal when there was not one single second spent on mourning her death in the final episode.


Similarly, Barney and Robin had two whole seasons dedicated to their relationship, proposal and marriage. There were maybe two minutes spent on their separation and divorce. As far as we know they never tried counselling, and apart from a single reference to not liking being apart when she was working we don't know what they actually tried to keep their relationship going. The worst part for me was that less than ten minutes later, Robin was wishing she'd never broken up with Ted the "guy she was always meant to be with".

And a quick look at Marshall and Lily completes the tri-factor. Marshall gave up his judgeship for Lily's art career. So why is he now in a job that makes him thoroughly miserable? Isn't Lily's income enough to support them while he does environmental law? What happened to Lily's career anyway? They have a third child on the way and there is no suggestion that she may have to make career decisions as a result.

Now, I have seen it argued online that it makes perfect sense to gloss over these part of the story to the children who are listening because they already know the outcome, they mourned for their mother, they don't need the back story. But you know what? They aren't real. They have never been real. No one in this series is real, except the writers and the audience.

These last two episodes were not written to reach an audience. They were written to finish the story and, as I mentioned earlier, the storytelling suffers.

Lastly, Ted and Robin. Ted and Robin have failed repeatedly in the past for very good reasons. Not because they got bored or because they were temporarily incompatible: but because they wanted fundamentally different things. Is it just coincidence that during the story Ted tells - apparently in an effort to convince them that Robin is the perfect woman for him - Robin is repeatedly portrayed as thoroughly selfish, obnoxious, overwrought by the slightest thing, vain and intolerant. Is it another coincidence that Ted appears to *know* that Robin reverted to wanting him? Is his interest in her genuine, or triggered by this knowledge that the one who got away is actually within his reach again?

I wish the writers had been braver. I wish they had given us the time to experience how much they all suffered; and the time to understand why it happened and to answer our questions. Was Marshall Lily's consolation prize? Did she get it all in the end? Did the group re-bond over the death of the mother, or did the loss of her push them further apart? How did Robin respond to Barney having a daughter when it was one of the things she couldn't do and which caused her significant heartache in the past?

I wish they had spent less time focussing on the happy stuff and instead did what they did so spectacularly when Marvin Senior died. Focused on the realities we all face and give us a way to come to terms with the horrendous things in life that are out of our control.

Alicia

1 I cry at everything. I cried at the end of Free Willy 2. I did not cry at the end of Himym.
2 I heard after seeing the last episode that the "ending" with the kids had been filmed at the start of season 2. That ending would have made sense up  to (I think) about season 4, but it slipped a little at the end of the final season.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Supersonic Man

Once upon a time a friend of mine posted on his blog about how the lyrics to Queen songs don't make sense. It was about 7 years ago and it's not that I want to give you the impression I hold a grudge, but I definitely need to address a few of his misconceptions.

The song in question was "Don't stop me now" and his objections included the one that sticks out in my mind:

I'm burnin' through the skies yeah 
Two hundred degrees
That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit

He stated that there was no link between 200 degrees and Fahrenheit - that the measure you use doesn't affect the actual temperature, and furthermore that things burning through the sky do not necessarily hit 200 degrees by any measure.

To which I am obliged to respond: It's almost certainly a pun, numpty. Fahren"height"; because it's a high temperature and the reference to burning in the sky.

I'm trav'ling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic woman of you

Well, he also mentioned that supersonic is the speed of sound, not the speed of light. Lets face it mate, anyone going at the speed of light has broken the sound barrier and is therefore supersonic. That's just a given.

Now my favourite verse and I'm making up his objections because I can't remember them and I really just want to talk about this verse

I'm a shooting star leaping through the skies
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva
I'm gonna go go go
There's no stopping me

Lady Godiva rode naked through the streets of London a few centuries back. I think she would have a) been determined not to stop until she'd reached a place of safety and b) everyone would have been looking at her in the same way modern people gawp at passing racecars.

The first two lines are very interesting. They scan well, and they fit in with the other themes of the song (flying through skies, power, defiance, etc) but if we use the same treatment that the other lines earned and really think about how it could be true, it's very simple. He's not comparing a tiger to a star,

He's comparing himself to a star; then to a tiger. Almost like bullet points.

And isn't that the best thing about this song? It's an anthem of empowerment from one of the greatest writers of all time and only becomes more impressive when you consider his personal trials and how he lived up to the meaning behind these words in the face of them.

It's humorous, intelligent, defiant, strong, proud and beautiful. All the things I imagine the man himself was.

And anyone who has any kind of logical or pedantic objections to the lyrics is welcome to express them. In about a decade I'll respond.

Alicia

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

67 page views from 6,000

I am remarkably good at flying under the radar. I don't know how it works - other people writing a blog even with my limited hit rate of good to bland posts would have a dedicated followship by now. I've been writing for a year and a half and apart from one friend who (I'm pretty sure) followed me just to make me feel better about myself; I don't have any committed readers.

It's a little pathetic how excited I get when a piece I've written gets more than 10 views (yeah, seriously). In fact, I only have four things that have broken the three-figure barrier. All four of them are about Josh Groban, and happened to be caught by his fan board. Let's just consider that for a moment - a fan board, with thousands of active users, posted a link to my blog and less than 200 people clicked on it.

Seriously - how do I do it? How do I remain completely unnoticeable?

I don't want to be famous. I think it would be horrible to be considered fodder for shallow judgments by people who cannot bear to look at themselves honestly in the mirror or their soul.

Despite this: every now and then I write something I'm genuinely proud of and I want it to make its way into the world.

Now, being so close to the 6,000 barrier, I feel .... Incredibly whiny, actually. Reflecting on this post, it is utterly valueless. I don't write for an audience, I write for me.

But it would be lovely to *have* an audience so I can make a more fully informed judgment.

Alicia

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Lyrics (very, very sad lyrics)

Before you read these, I need to make very clear (especially for newcomers to the site who may not understand how this works yet and who I may be dating and perhaps don't want them to freak out about this):

These lyrics are not how I feel right now. I'm incapable of writing how I feel right now, I always have to refer back to a historical point. Also, these lyrics are about three people, not one. And almost certainly they aren't the three you might think they are. :)

I was watching the end of A Knight's Tale last weekend and the bit at the end where they're trying to persuade Heath Ledger to run away really stuck with me. He asks Paul Bettany "And you Geoff? Do you want me to run?"

"With all of the pieces of my heart."

Paul Bettany gets some of the best lines ever in that film, but I do feel that one is particularly epic. And it's been chasing a few other thougths around in my head and this is what (I hope) may break the writer's block I've been having.

It seems like there is a space
where you used to be in my life
I'd wake up in the morning just to see you smile
You taught me freedom
You brought me joy
You gave me the chance to be the best of all I am

Remember how we met: I was so insecure
But you didn't seem to notice
You thought great things of me and I tried
so hard
to live up to them
And now I wake up greater and more lonely than I have ever known

I dream of you with me
While I stand, work, walk and sleep alone
I know how wonderful life could be if it was the two of us together
But for all you have given me
I have to give you your freedom in return

And I wish you love and the happiness you deserve
with all the pieces of my heart.

 And, for those of you wondering, yes, this was sad enough to make me cry.

Alicia

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Hurry up and wait


It’s beautiful. She turns it in her hands, gazing in awe as the harsh light fails to pick out a single flaw in the manufacture or design. She has seen similar before, but always flawed, always ill-conceived. Always with a point of weakness that she can isolate and target.
This however, is perfect.
Around her the laboratory whirls as she slips into a trance like focus state, assessing what she knows, analysing the device against the criteria she can draw up on their systems and seeking, ever seeking for appoint of weakness to be exploited.
Time after time she tests it. Days fly by as she works with her whole being focussed around this one inanimate object. Bullets cannot penetrate, no missile, however big or strong can provide enough force to beat through the shielding. And yet she can hold it in her bare hands without harm.
For months the two armies have been battling on the hostile terrain of the moons around the 12th planet of the system. Humanity, seeking ever to expand had long since left earth, settled in the far reaches of the galaxy and, when every barely inhabitable planet was overrun, they had moved on. Ever reproducing, ever infecting, a plague across the universe. Now they were in a new galaxy and out of resources. No supplies would ever come in and the initial planets they had colonised, while suitable in terms of air and water, lacked severely in metals. Aluminium, iron and the other building blocks of their civilisation could only be garnered from recycling the crafts they had landed in. It had quickly become a race. Large crafts were repurposed into a fleet of smaller ships and, initially working as a team, the first who had happened upon these mineral rich moons had realised the bargaining power they now held and the mining rights had triggered war.
Now the materials that were mined were immediately thrown into the arms race. Designers and technicians on both sides had worked with their limited resources to create ever more fabulous shielding devices, and then counter measures, back and forth in an endless cycle until this.
It seemed unbeatable, the perfect armour.
The wearer was perfectly safe, but anyone outside who tried to hit them would upon impact receive a massive jolt. It was sufficient to repel bullets, axes, lasers even. Nothing could penetrate that barrier, except for a hand reaching out to grasp and manipulate it.
This was the only one they had been able to recover. A freak accident had caused one of the soldiers wearing it to have a heart attack and their own people had got to him first. He was receiving first aid in a hospital near her, while she was supposedly testing it to destruction. In reality she had not yet made a single mark. She couldn’t even begin to take it apart to analyse how it worked let alone devise a means of defeating it.
Frustrated, she recalled her tester for the day to put the armour back on so they could try a few things.
He fitted himself carefully into the armour, then, following her instructions, threw on a set of civilian clothes. They were going, she said, to test it in an exposure zone. As these were all on the opposite side of the facility he needed to cover-up. However, she didn’t want the kit in its usual shielded carry case, because it was a possibility that the kit would be unlocked in some way after being worn in certain environments.
The two walked together through the halls. As they passed a communal room, he nearly bumped into one of his friends who admonished him to look where he was going and punched him playfully on the shoulder, before yelping and waving his had in the air, comically accusing the wearer of being staticy.
Mostly oblivious to this point the woman’s head shot up when she heard the word static. She stared at the two men and as the newcomer was about to head off she instructed him sharply to come with them. Not bothering to ascertain whether he did, she curtly insisted they hurry and charged to the testing zone.
Slamming down a lever which caused both men to whiten slightly, she instructed the newcomer to gently take his friend by the elbow. He did and there was no reaction from the armour. Now, punch him lightly, as you did in the hall. A very small spark appeared between his fingers and the armour as his hand entered the last millimetre or two before the polished surface.
Slap him, she commanded. Don’t be shy.
The flat of his hand moving faster, the spark was bigger and leaped further.  Gazing at a monitor nearby the woman seems satisfied. Now, she said, hit him as hard as you can. The armed man closed his eyes in sympathy, while his friend visibly gritted his teeth, before swinging a fast powerful roundhouse. His fist was still a foot away when it happened.
A bolt of lightning erupted from the armour and flung the aggressor several feet across the room. The lever she had pushed had summoned first aid teams, prepared for treating the outcomes of life threatening testing and they now sprang into action, seizing him and treating him for a massive electric shock.
She took the arm plate off her tester and eyed it closely, stroking and pressing over the device looking for a point that responded to gentle pressure. Suddenly, it popped open and she smiled in triumph.
2 days later she was ready to take her outlandish proposal to the generals.
“This armour has sensors which identify incoming missiles. Objects are assessed by mass and momentum. Any object which is very large but moving slowly will trigger a distributed shield, so a ram for instance will cause the shield to rise, but if it cannot repel the attack, the wearer will instead be flung back. Smaller missiles at higher speeds will cause the shield to rise in focussed areas, to absorb the force of the projectile before impact.”
Behind her, as she spoke, her tester, clad in the armour was undergoing attack from various items to illustrate her point.
“At first glance it would seem there is little we can do without unduly exposing our own people. However, I am delighted to say we have been able to recreate this armour, meaning we will be able to at least protect our people.”
Another individual, wearing similar armour, walked onto the stage.
“Furthermore,” she declared, “we have isolated a single weakness in the armour which can be exploited when both sides have the protection it affords.” The generals, until now morose and only slightly relieved by the news they could create their own armour, perked up a little. The two men on stage moved into a combat stance.
“The suits will work against each other. Should either man attack, both suits will perceive an incoming threat and repel the other. However, in order for them to be wearable the suits first have several unprotected areas – designed to save resources and allow flexibility on the assumption that nothing will pass the shield. Second, human mass is required to be combined with an effective assault speed before it will trigger the shielding. Therefore, by restricting their movements to a slow, controlled action, both men can engage in martial combat with blades and bare fists, which will, if they move slowly enough, pass through the shielding zone and can penetrate an exposed area, enabling the severing of life support systems.”
Behind her, the two men engaged in low speed knife fight, revolved gracefully around the stage. Occasionally one would move too fast and be repelled by the shielding on the other’s suit, but they learned quickly and finally one manipulated an opening and, blade gliding gently through the air he severed the seam of his opponent’s space suit. In the demonstration room this had no impact, but out in the fields, this single breach would mean instant death.
Delighted, the generals provided clearance for mass production of the suits and instant training requirements for all combat personnel to be fully versed in hand to hand combat and, in response to her advice, the ancient art of T’ai Chi.
She, meanwhile, returned to her quarters with a reflective smile on her lips. She hoped he would appreciate the elegance of her solution as she admired the beauty of his designs. It would be a long few weeks until she was able to see his response, but she knew when she received the call that a new weapon had appeared, she would eagerly analyse every iota of data she was offered to play the next level in this increasingly challenging game.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Mills and Boon synopsi

Crappy, raunchy romance novella plot forthcoming:

Mid thirties professional woman, broken up with her boyfriend of three years is taken to Vegas by her friends. After a night of gambling, drinking and all you can eat buffet, her friends take her to a strip club. She is quite uncomfortable and slips out of a side door while they aren't looking.

In the alley, she catches her breath and starts thinking about her ex. After a while she realises that actually, she feels a little bit relieved that they split up and she is shocked, mentally clinging to the pretense that she's still broken hearted.

While she is dealing with her inner conflict, a door in the wall opposite opens and a man strolls out, calling something over his shoulder to whoever is behind him. He is striding purposefully down the alley when he suddenly notices her. He seems very annoyed and is a little aggressive when he asks her what she is doing there. Tipsy enough to be full of bravado, and with a decade of experience facing down aggressive men at work, she told him off for being so disrespectful and informed him succinctly that he needn't fear for his virtue as there was a building full of professionally sexy men behind her.

He looked briefly stymied then laughed, slightly embarrassedly and apologised. She accepts graciously, then unbends far enough to admit that actually hairless and oily men aren't that sexy and if the alley was well lit, she would probably have to admit he was attractive. (or something) Basically, she says something that boosts his ego and references strippers. He then questions her about it and they talk for ten minutes about her holiday. Then he gives her his number and suggests they meet for coffee the next morning as he thinks her friends will be comatose until mid afternoon. He warns her not to loiter in unlit alleys as it isn't safe, then heads off in the direction he was originally going.

She returns to the groups they party, she doesn't really get into it. The next day she wakes up and she's still thinking about ex, but also about the other guy she met. Bored of waiting for her friends to wake up, she texts the guy and suggests he meets her at some Vegas landmark. He finds her, he's wearing t-shirt, jeans and a ratty hat with a wide brim. They hang out for a few hours, very flirty and they don't quite kiss when she goes back to her friends.

That night she wins big on the tables and she decides to extend her holiday. Her friends all have to go back to work, so she is alone and gets back in touch with the guy. They still don't go past flirting and she tells him all about her ex and how much she is still attached to him. All their time together has been during the day until now because he works in the theatre she first met him outside. Finally he has a night off and they make arrangements to go see a show. He comes to her hotel to pick her up, things escalate and they stay there for 36 hours.

At the end of this time she wakes up and realises he is gone. She also has a voicemail from her ex who is interested in getting back with her.

She gets the plane straight home and spends the majority of it wondering why the new guy didn't say goodbye. When she gets back and meets up with her ex she realises she is completely uninterested in him. As they are talking and she is trying to find a way out of the conversation she sees a page of a magazine with her new guy's photo in it. Surprised, she makes a mental note to check it out, but reverts back to the conversation when she realises that her ex keeps alluding to her wealth and how without the stresses of having to earn a living, the two of them would be so much better off together.

Blithely, she apologises and tells him it's all gone. He's gobsmacked; she concocts a story about a two day party binge with several bad bets at a roulette table and excuses herself.

On her way home she buys a copy of the magazine and finds the story about her new friend. It turns out he's an actor, with a pretty big role in a successful show. It further turns out that he is engaged. Only reading half of the story, she throws the magazine in the bin and spends some time trying to come to terms with the fact that she's now potentially broken some other woman's relationship.

Over the next few weeks she completely avoids all celebrity magazines because she doesn't want to deal with seeing his face. One day she gets a text from him saying he's in her city and can they meet up. She initially decides to refuse but eventually agrees so she can yell at him and get a bit of closure. When they meet, she immediately explains her reasons for seeing him and doesn't give him much chance to defend himself. Eventually he manages to convince her he's broken up with his ex, because of the time the two of them shared. She is furious at him for (as she sees it) shifting the blame onto her.

Now, at this point he tries to suggest the two of them get together, but then he sees her ex, who has heard back from her friends that she hasn't lost all her money and he is still trying to hook up with her. New guy misunderstands the ex's behaviour to imply that the two got back together and congratulates her and goes away.

She finally gets rid of the ex and convinces him they have no chance. Over the next few days she gradually becomes more depressed - she has worked out all the issues that she had had with the new guy and without her anger to sustain her, all she could think was that she had lost a great opportunity to be with a really cool guy.

She continues working, but becomes more detatched from the role. Without the urgency of paying bills to drive her and without any real enthusiasm in life she finds it very difficult to get out of bed. Talking with her friends in the bar one night they convince her to quit her job and try doing something she had always loved. She buys in a bunch of craft kits and becomes absorbed with creating jewellery. Setting up an Etsy shop she quickly builds her business to become independent and finds  a lot of pleasure in making beautiful things for people to enjoy. One day she uses her jewellers techniques to make a bigger piece and ends up with a large sculpture. In the absence of anywhere else to put it, she takes it to a local gallery and asks if they can sell it.

Two days later they call to tell her it's been sold and the buyer is commissioning a partner for the piece. Something different, but along the same lines. She works on it for a few weeks and calls the gallery when its done. They arrange for her to meet the buyer there. It turns out to be her new guy, he is as surprised as she is - he hadn't looked at the artist's details and simply liked the piece. He also likes the new one and talks her into going out to dinner to celebrate. She agrees, as friends.

They go to dinner, they have a good time, they relax, he escorts her home, they once again spend the night together. The next morning she woke up and he was lying next to her, awake and watching her. She is a bit embarrassed but he insists they talk things over. Last time, he says, he'd heard her exes message and didn't want to get in the way of that. Also, knowing he had to sort out his own situation he'd thought it was best just to leave. Now, he had no barriers to the two of them being totally honest with each other.

She explains her ex was a douche and she was never really that into him in the first place. However, she is very upset that he would cheat on his own girlfriend and she doesn't feel that she could trust him.

Haven't yet figured out how, but as it's a M&B, they obviously work it out and are happy forever and have 3 kids and two dogs and she is a super successful artist and he carries on being successful and famous.

Alicia

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Sing me a song

It is 3:00 pm, a perfect time to lie in a meadow in summer, with the fingers of one hand dangling into a swift moving stream. The icy cold is such a relief from the unpleasant sticky sweatiness I feel generally. I see blue sky above me and hear birdsong and plant life rustling.

I have a lover nearby who talks intermittently. I smile, laugh and occasionally gaze adoringly in his general direction. I know he doesn't need me when he's talking. He could be talking to anyone. But he wouldn't be silent with anyone else. That's my time. That's our thing.

He finishes telling me about the guy who made his sub and the bond they had formed, ever so briefly, over a band they hand both seen in the last week. I recommend they make a date for the next gig and he grins before lapsing into silence. He pulls on the grass and plucks a single stalk which he gradually shreds; first de-seeding, then unpeeling the leaves one by one. I don't need to watch, I've seen it a thousand times. I don't need to listen. The sound of his breathing will remain unchanged. As I relax, my breathing slows and deepens, but he always has such control that it stays constant.

Instead I feel. I feel the heat of the sun above me, the prickly earth below. The chilly waters endlessly flowing and leaching the heat from my fingers feels icy cold. I feel a warm breeze, barely disturbing my skin. I feel the light cotton of my skirt on my legs, acting as a shield from the sun. The portion of my legs that lies exposed feels slightly tighter and dryer than the portion protected by the skirt.

I feel his hand. It rests on my belly. He must have finished with his grass. It is gentle and soft, yet I know its size and strength intimately. Every detail is burned into my mind of the crisp curling hairs over the back of his hand, the callus on his palm and the scar on one finger where he was marked as a child by a falling knife he'd tried to catch. Each of his fingers is lightly dusted with hair and his nails are short and squared. The hand I have been resting in the grass until now reaches up to join his almost of its own volition. My fingers wrap around his wrist and caress his hand, before intertwining with his own fingers.

I feel his blood pumping through his hand and the pulse jumping lightly in his wrist. There is no need for me to see his face to know his eyes are watching our fingers. In his mind he is meticulously logging each visual and audible moment; probably without even realising it in the same way I record every sensation to cherish on a cold, lonely day.

He lifts his hand pulling mine to his lips and kisses it lightly before returning it to my midriff, and begins to croon a soft lullaby.

My breathing slows and deepens. My heartbeat is steady. I smile slightly and close my eyes as the song washes over me.

Alicia

Monday, 2 June 2014

They go to the wind

She sat in the cool grass of a beautifully manicured lawn, resting her back against the trunk of a tree which, these days, seemed to be the only thing thicker than her own midriff.

Sighing, she tilted her head back and gazed at the canopy of leaves above her. From her vantage point the leaves were yellowy and the light filtered through in scattered patterns. She frowned and turned away; gazing across the lawn to a flowerbed. A bird clung to a fine upright branch, performing acrobatic feats to nibble on the insects infesting the bush to one side of him.

Here, she felt she was alone. The tree to her back cut out half of the world and in front of her various plant beds featured large bushes which effectively cut out the world ahead of her. Discontented with her lot she frowned out into the garden; disapproving of the flora and fauna alike.

As she sat alone, her negativity graduated into genuine sorrow. The last time she had been here had been as a child; between 8 and 10 years old, she had walked here with her father and he had pointed out that the tree she was currently sat beneath was covered in cherry blossom. He'd talked about how the cherries would follow the flowers later in the year, how things change and grow and are endlessly renewed.

Two years ago he had died. An unsuspected high blood pressure had caused a massive stroke from which he had never woken.

She had refused to think of him since. He had always promised her forever and she couldn't forgive him for reneging. Sitting in this place now, the loneliness and sorrow could no longer be suppressed. Her eyes began to burn and her throat tightened.

As her head drooped in a prelude to a storm of sobbing, she felt an unexpected caress on the side of her neck.

She brushed her hand over the exposed area and, slightly startled, turned to see what had caused it. A leaf fell from her shoulder. Sighing, she felt the moroseness returning to the fore but the wind picked up again and a light breeze enveloped her. It was warm and soft and felt briefly like it caught hold of her and did not want to let her go.

Wishful thinking, she told herself. and looked out into the garden once again. A brief ripple passed through the plants opposite her and, moments later, she felt another embrace from the wind. She watched the activity in the garden again - the bird clung and bobbed as it remained focussed on its dinner; the flower heads swung under the pressure of the breeze and the few loose leaves were only fractionally disturbed as the breeze was far too gentle to lift them.

Anticipating the next breeze, she reached out her hand to see if she could feel it. In her mind, she pictured the breeze slipping around her outstretched fingers. In reality thee was no physical sensation, but once again, when the breeze hit her face and neck, she felt the impact. This time she smiled as she nestled into the brief moment where the wind caught her in its embrace.

Now she was not alone. Now the wind was with her and within it she could hear the voice of her father telling her about renewal and rebirth. Nothing, he had told her, was ever truly destroyed. Now, alone in the garden thinking of him, she believed it. She found a measure of relief in this certainty she suddenly held: when her father was buried the priest had declared he was being returned to the earth and she had seen the 6 foot barrier of dirt laying between them. She believed she had lost him forever, but now she knew he was with her, wherever she went.

Her father was not laying in the cold earth; he had gone to the wind.

Alicia