Delighted to share my newest short story called The Rising that was recently featured on the Telltales Virtual Event. You can hear me read it aloud on their website. And here is the story in full...
The air was moist, heavy with the morning mist. I stumbled out of the front door onto the lane. The door banged loudly behind me. As if the house was casting me out, exiling me into the outside, another prison but one more terrifying. My breath escaped in white wisps, rapid and uneasy, twisting and releasing into the air, filled with the secrets of what had happened the last time I had left the house, as if warning those around in a vapoury whisper. Something rustled in the hedgerow next to me and I startled, unaccustomed to being up so early and in the open air. It was mid-October and a grey blanket of cloud shrouded the valley, ostensibly a cloud-filled comfort, one that cushioned the sounds around and kept the valley suspended and compressed in space. A hibernation of sorts. But to me it was one that quietly suffocated and expanded the time. It descended in late autumn and didn’t clear until March came.
I shuddered and curled my hands inside my pockets, finding a stray thread to twiddle and twirl around. Thankfully this time, I had brought my knitted cardigan, a hand me down from Auntie Martha. She always took great care with her clothes, single statement pieces that she would wear over and over again, a colour-coded library of garments to match her mood, red was worn when she was in her most playful and passionate of moods, green when she was quietly observing and watching, always at the sidelines ready with some witty one liner, and black for when she needed to be taken seriously by the parish council. She was always passing on her cardigans to me and this one was my favourite. A brilliant mustard colour with a swirling knit that covered me, a wooly armour against the world. She was much taller than me, I had inherited my mother’s diminutive stature, whereas Martha would tower over us, a guardian angel in disguise. I couldn’t actually remember when she used to wear this cardigan but today I felt emboldened. It would be different to that last time, I whispered to myself.
My aunt used to get so worried about me getting cold and was always buying me extra socks and gloves, much to the annoyance of my mother, who felt inadequate and insignificant in her company. I was her ‘favourite’ niece, a fact that she barely kept concealed from my sister Anna. After the funeral, Anna and I had to clear her wardrobes, as my mother was in no fit state to do it. The pain of going through her clothes seared through me, starting as a dull throb in my stomach that lurched and threatened to engulf me in a tidal wave each time I remembered that she was actually gone. That is the cruellest part of grief, the forgetting that someone has actually gone and the awful realisation that they are not coming back. She would dance across my dreams, her memory so vivid and bright, her brilliance and light trailblazing through my subconscious only to be extinguished when I awoke, tears would stream down my face. Even two years down the line, out of nowhere I am overwhelmed and engulfed by her memory. Humiliated by the person that I had become and chastising myself for how I couldn’t bring myself to the surface again.
Her wardrobes were a veritable Aladdin's cave, a museum to her memory, each item was carefully colour coordinated, pressed and ironed and cherished, each pair of shoes immaculately clean and polished—behind every item a story. She wore very sensible brogues for day to day wear and smart small heels for her important meetings. In my muddy wellies and oversized and out of shape hand me down, I felt dowdy and dour. I imagined her walking beside me in the cardigan I was wearing, her presence a brilliant flash of mustard against the muted, damp hedgerow tones. Her laughter echoing around.
As I walked down the drive, I could see that the puddles in the potholes had frozen over, the frost had danced across the grass verges, a sparkling icing-sprinkle decorated each blade. The bracken was frozen stiff, the rusty reds and golden glow dampened and dulled in the mist. The tears threatened again and the magnetic overriding pull of returning to the house made me falter. An invisible leaden weight threatened to weigh my wellies down and drag me backwards, but I pushed forward. Determined not to retreat this time. I reached the gate to the field at the end of the drive. The gate was damp and covered in green slimy moss. Oh how many times had I opened this gate without hesitation, my fingers drummed on the top before I unlatched it.
I trod straight on the top of a massive frozen puddle, the ice cracking and splintering. It was much deeper than I realised and my boot began to sink, rapidly, the mud and ice slush rising up the sides of my boots. The cows must have been in the field recently—I hadn’t noticed, it was so long since I had ventured out. I felt a scream rise in my throat, hot angry tears poured down my cheeks as I lost balance and my hands flew out of my pocket and flapped. I fell, hard and without dignity. Surrounded by mud and cow shit. It felt so ironic and yet so appropriate.
I realised how bloody ridiculous I must have looked, mud splattered, haggard, hopeless. I started to laugh, quietly at first but the giggle turned to a roar and my angry tears turned to joyous ones as I realised that there was no one up at this time anyway and that I had inadvertently wiped even more mud across my face when I tried to wipe away the tears. There was mud splattered up my side and my hands were beginning to go numb, there was smarting on my backside of a bruise in waiting. I had to get even more muddy to extricate myself from the puddle. The mustard cardie now damp, it’s colour sullied and soaked through.
Standing at the gate, I looked back up the lane, the light had come on in the bedroom, I hesitated, a crow overhead called, taking my attention back to the field. It had been many months since I had stood here, on the threshold, the air had lightened as the mist had begun to rise, the cloud like cover breaking in parts across the sky. I looked out, searching for the point where you could see the sea. My eyes wandered and the words that you uttered as you lay in your sick bed rang around me as I watched a sliver of light creep through the clouds, a fine beam that cast down across the brow of the field. ‘Oh my darling girl, but if you don’t go into the dark, how will you know how bright the light can be?’
I stopped, my breath paused, too scared to open my mouth again. I watched as the light appeared and rays extended and expanded across the horizon. Holding on to that moment.
I heard the crunch of footsteps approaching. Turning back up the lane, I saw your silhouette against the hedgerows and ran towards your arms. Every muscle in my body awakening and rising, picking up speed along the lane.
I rushed forward, your arms stretched out, drawing me in. ‘Welcome home love’ you said as we stood and held each other.