Poetry

Choices, cupboards and cats

When the holes appear in your headspace, apparent as the fur on an ash black feline, dare you ask what ingredients are missing? What supplies, though planned, have gone astray? The meaning is lost, you can see it on their faces; clarification is needed. You thought it was there – honest, you did – but they say time over time, that it’s only there in your mind.

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Why I write

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write, and not just writing poetry and fiction, but writing in general. And the more I think about it, the more answers seem to boil up.

I think the first one is that it was probably an escape for me when I was bullied at primary school. I couldn’t do anything myself, but I could make up characters who could. I wasn’t very good at talking to other kids,  either, and if I was sitting by myself writing, then they were less likely to come up to me, so I’d feel more comfortable.

I’ve also always been able to come up with stories – I daydream all the time, and always have done – and writing them down allows me to have a creative output for them, which is important as I’ve discovered that if I don’t have some way to express my creativity, then I get depressed. And writing is what I’m most at ease doing over other creative pursuits (I love dancing and art, but writing is something I can always do even if I’m feeling ill – even writing just one or two lines while in bed with a virus fills me with a sense of achievement).

Inspiring people (and myself) is another reason why I put pen to paper. I can’t count how many times I’ve read a book and loved it so much that I felt fired up to write something great of my own. Without that initial wonder, I’m sure I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about writing as I am now, and it certainly wouldn’t have been my dream as a child.

Linking to this is a basic desire for my work to be read by as many people as possible, so that they can see the worlds that I see. I want them to meet my characters and become so familiar with them that opening a book is like meeting up with old friends, with stories they want to return to again and again.

Finally, not only is writing a part of my daily routine (and I’m a very routine person), but I really don’t know what I’d do without it. The urge to write has buried itself so securely in my core that if I were to suddenly stop, I’d feel empty and unfulfilled. So I guess you could say that writing is therapeutic for me.

Anyway, this was just something I thought I’d chat about, because I always love reading details about other writers and thought this would be a good insight into what drives my work.

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Extract: The Origin Stone

‘True, I’ve felt its desire to lure you here, too. But now that you are here, I believe it recognises who will be more beneficial to it.’ He looks at me, his fake smile fading. ‘You think it’s me stopping you from using your powers? Guess again. The Stone doesn’t want you interfering with my plans, and it especially doesn’t want that,’ he nods to the First, ‘roaming around so close to it either. Like any rational being, the Stone fears its destruction, and one clumsy step from that monstrosity will most likely shatter it into a thousand pieces.’

Poetry

The one who owns the rose (draft)

The sliding shriek of cutlery on fine bone china,

a cup falling down to chip on the hard stone.

Its pattern is ruined, but who cares?

It’s just a cup.

 

The ticking of a clock on the mantelpiece

gathering dust until the particles clog its inner workings.

They grind to a halt, but who cares?

It’s just a clock.

 

The candelabra placed on a table set for one,

its elegant white candles unburnt and dry.

Its golden finish is tarnished, but who cares?

It’s just a candelabra.

 

The rose, cut so long ago from its bush,

each year its waxy, ruby petals fade even more.

They fall one by one, but who cares?

He does.

 

And now he panics.

Poetry

I Am (draft)

I am invisible,

but you are so solid

even your thoughts are

impenetrable.

 

I am endangered,

yet your species has

flourished to the point

where resources are scarce.

 

My home is shrinking,

but yours now takes over

every continent, even encroaching

on mine.

 

We are dying,

and so are you, but you hide

that fact from each other,

pretending it isn’t real.

 

Extracts/ Flash Fiction

Fractals- the start of a story I came up with for a competition, but never finished.

Ivan stepped out of the taxi, handing some notes to the driver after fumbling in his wallet and looked up at the tall, towered building that was Waverick Institute for Boys.

It was like a miniature castle, with all the original stonework on show, far removed from the schools he had taught at in London. Gathering up his suitcases with a small gulp, he made his way over to the intricate metal gates, seeing an intercom on the side of the wall next to them and pressing it. He heard the intercom hiss, as though it had been a long time since it had been used, before a low, yet distinctly feminine voice spoke through it.

‘May I help you?’ the speaker asked.

Ivan cleared his throat. ‘Yes, my name is Ivan Cornersberg and I’m here to fill the position of English teacher,’ he replied, finding a quiver fill his throat that was beyond his control.

‘Ah, yes, I was told that you would be coming. Please stand back while I open the gates.’

Ivan did so, not a moment before the large gates began to open, squeaking slightly on their hinges. Once they were open enough for him to walk through, he picked up his suitcases once again and made his way down the long, serpentine pathway, edged almost to perfection with yellow stone slabs which separated it from the large area of lawn either side.

He reached the door of the main entrance, just as impressive as the gates had been, and used the cast iron knocker to knock three times. He heard the knock echo through the hall beyond and, after half a minute the door opened, revealing a butler dressed in a black tail coat and trousers, with a pocket watch chain hanging across one side of his waistcoat.

‘Good morning, sir,’ the butler said, standing aside to let Ivan in. ‘My name is Francis and the headmaster has bid me to welcome you to Waverick Institute for Boys. He informed me that I am to be of every possible service to you as long as you are employed here.’

‘Thank you,’ Ivan said, marvelling at the butler’s fine suit. Compared to that, he felt rather shabbily dressed in his tweed jacket and plain black trousers. He had never heard of a butler working in a school before, but then he was in the country. Perhaps that was the norm out here. ‘Where might I find the headmaster? I have an appointment with him in ten minutes.’

‘I’m afraid he is teaching at the moment, sir, but I shall take you to his office where you may wait until the bell rings for luncheon.’

The butler picked up his suitcases for him, his face twitching only slightly at the weight of them. He led Ivan down a straight, long hall, carpeted in a rich red that made the English teacher feel as though he was sinking slightly with every step he took. The butler turned sharply to the right just before they reached the end, down a smaller hall that Ivan wouldn’t have noticed by himself.

The headmaster’s office was at the end of it; a single door standing out proudly against the stonework of the walls. The butler took out a small, brass key and put it into the lock, hearing it click before withdrawing it. He opened the door and led Ivan inside, placing his bags next to a tall bookshelf filled with books on all sorts of topics. Ivan scanned some of their titles; An Astronomer’s Guide to the Northern Sky, From Broth to Brunch: Notes by Acclaimed Chefs on Popular Dishes, Military Tactics of the Past One Hundred Years, Popular Bedding Plants and How to Arrange Them. The headmaster obviously had a broad range of interests.

Standing behind him, the butler coughed, making him jump. Ivan had quite forgotten he was still there. ‘Please wait in here until the headmaster arrives. I’m afraid I must lock you in, however, for some of the boys have taken to sneaking in here lately and upsetting the headmaster’s desk,’ he said, his tone polite yet with a definite edge to it. ‘By your leave, sir, I shall depart.’

Ivan nodded to him. ‘Yes, thank you, I’ll be fine,’ he said, sitting down in a velvet covered armchair opposite the headmaster’s desk. The butler bowed low and left the room. Ivan heard the click of the lock as he was locked in, alone. He looked around, taking in the headmaster’s leather chair, and the desk in front of it, which was carved out of one solid piece of mahogany. There was a small box upon it, made of cherry wood and inlaid with what looked like ivory. Ivan hoped it wasn’t; with all the news of elephants disappearing from the wild due to poachers shooting them for their tusks, he felt it would be in rather poor taste. He was tempted to examine it to put his mind at rest if nothing else, but as he got up, he heard a key placed into the lock and swiftly sat back down again.

The door swung open and a short man with his face hidden from view by a large pile of books shuffled his way inside. One of the books toppled off, and Ivan stood up, just managing to catch it before it hit the floor.

‘Ah, thank you,’ the man said, not looking at him and putting the pile of books onto the desk. ‘I was hoping I could manage, but…’

He peered around the books, and his ruddy face broke into a smile. ‘Ah, Ivan. I wasn’t sure if you would be here yet; I’ve just been teaching one of the classes that you might be taking over. Lively one, that,’ he said, sitting down in the leather chair opposite Ivan, and then having to readjust the pile of books he had set down in order to see him properly.

Ivan looked at him, confused. ‘Didn’t the butler tell you I was here?’ he asked.

‘Butler?’ the headmaster said. ‘Oh, you mean Francis? He’s not really a butler, you know, he’s actually our caretaker. Bit of an odd one, dressing up like that and speaking in such a funny manner, but he’s good at his job and the boys take no notice of him, so we just decided to leave him to it.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Ivan, sitting back in the armchair. He looked over at the headmaster. Though he hadn’t seen his brother-in-law properly since the incident, he thought he looked more overworked than usual. His face, although still quite broad, looked thinner than it had been and his hair line had receded back a lot. Still, Ivan knew that he had changed as well; no one could go through what he had over the past year and stay the same.

‘Now, down to business,’ the headmaster said, resting his hands on the desk in front of him and crossing his fingers. ‘I know you’ve had a lot of trouble finding work recently, and I’m sure…given the circumstances, it’s been hard living alone.

‘As I told you over the phone, Mr Summers, our previous English teacher, became ill just before the start of term and had to leave. Now, I’ve been teaching his class for the past few weeks since then, but with my work as headmaster, it’s proving to be very difficult to do both. I know you agreed to take the position when I called you, but I wanted to show you Waverick before you made your final decision. As you have no doubt already seen, this is no London school. Here at Waverick Institute for Boys, we take the needs of every student very seriously and so our classes are small, with ten students being the maximum in each class. How do you feel about this?’

‘Well, I’m sure it’ll take me a while to get used to it, but this may be the very thing I need,’ Ivan replied.

‘Glad to hear it,’ the headmaster said, smiling. ‘As we are a boarding school, I should tell you that only one or two of our students go home for the holidays, as most of their parents work overseas. I will warn you now that they can be a handful, though if you start with the right approach, they can be just as eager to learn as any. Are you still happy to take on the position after hearing this?’

Ivan nodded. ‘Of course I am. If I’m honest, Marcus, then just being out of London and being allowed to teach again is a weight off my shoulders.’ He sat for a moment, thinking. ‘I must ask you, though, do the students and other staff know about what happened?’

A small crease appeared on the headmaster’s brow. ‘Yes, they do, but I have told them all that I have the utmost confidence in you and had I any doubt about your innocence, then I would have been the first one to turn away from you.’

Ivan breathed a long sigh of relief. ‘Well, at least I don’t have to hide anything.’

‘Of course, that would be an intimidating situation for anyone to have to walk into,’ the headmaster said. He opened a drawer in his desk and took out a sheet of paper, headed at the top with a crest depicting an eagle with a rabbit in its talons; Waverick Institute’s crest. He pushed it in front of Ivan and handed him a pen. ‘Here is your official contract. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.’

Ivan scanned the document quickly. It looked like a standard teacher’s contract, like any other he had signed. He took up the pen and scribbled his signature and the date at the bottom, before passing it back to the headmaster.

‘Excellent,’ the headmaster said, taking it and putting it back in his drawer. ‘I’ll just give Francis a ring so he can show you up to your room. Oh, I will ask you not to call me Marcus in front of the students, though. You must address me as headmaster. They tend to get cocky if they know your first name,’ he added, before picking up the receiver to an old fashioned rotary phone on a shelf behind him. Ivan smiled. He hadn’t seen one of those since his visits to his grandmother’s as a child.

As the headmaster turned away, Ivan took a moment to check his own phone, an old Nokia which had served him faithfully these past ten years. The signal bar at the top had disappeared; he ought to have known as much, he hadn’t seen any signal towers at all on his ride down there. He sighed, knowing that it was just one of the things he would have to get used to, but knew that there were benefits to it, too. After all, with no signal, he couldn’t receive any hate messages left by people he didn’t know that had somehow gotten hold of his number.

‘Francis will be with us in a moment,’ the headmaster said, putting down the receiver and turning back to him. ‘Want a drink while you wait?’ he asked, opening a cabinet to his side that was stocked full of brandy.

Ivan laughed. ‘I think it’s a little early in the day for me,’ he said, watching the headmaster pour himself a glass.

A moment later, there was a knock on the door and, at the headmaster’s command, Francis, the butler—or caretaker, whatever he was— came into the room and bowed to them both.

‘You summoned me, headmaster?’ he asked.

‘Yes, I did,’ the headmaster said, eyeing up Francis’ attire and shaking his head slightly. ‘Would you please show Ivan up to his room?’

‘If that is your wish, headmaster,’ Francis replied and, picking up Ivan’s suitcases once more, he strode out of the room. Ivan jumped up to follow him before he headed out of sight.

‘I’ll see you at dinner tonight, Ivan,’ the headmaster called to him, giving him a wave.

The next morning, dressing hurriedly after realising that he’d set his alarm clock half an hour later than he was supposed to, Ivan rushed out of his room and down the staircase taking him to the entrance hall. He looked across at the four corridors leading out of it, trying to remember which one led to the dining hall. Taking a guess, he chose the one leading left and followed it down.

Seeing the sturdy wooden door at the end, he sighed with relief. He had chosen correctly. He went in, wearing what he hoped was a friendly, yet authoritative expression as the crowd of students looked up at him from their breakfast plates. He had seen them briefly at dinner the previous night, but had retired early due to a sudden headache.

The other teachers, whom the headmaster had told him usually arrived at dinner half an hour later than himself and the students, due to the marking they always did after class, had not met him yet and so also watched him with curiosity as he made his way up to their table. He sat in the empty seat next to the headmaster and his secretary; the middle aged woman who had answered the intercom when he had first arrived.

‘Sorry I’m late,’ he apologised to them all as he shuffled in his chair.

‘Not to worry,’ a man sitting opposite him said, with a finely trimmed beard and glasses. ‘I remember my first day here; I was so unprepared that I walked into a geography class and tried to teach them maths. It was only until I was half-way through my explanation of Pythagoras’s theorem that I realised that Miss Jenkins here was waiting patiently for me to stop talking so that she could teach her class.’ He nodded to the young woman next to Ivan and smiled at her.

‘I remember that,’ she said, also smiling. ‘But I believe the best award goes to Mr Heathers, at the end there. He teaches biology, and muddled up his explanation of reproduction so badly that the boys kept getting meiosis confused with mitosis and it took him the rest of the term to get them to relearn it correctly. Of course, that’s partly because his eyesight is so bad that he didn’t realise their mistake for a good few weeks.’

‘What’s this?’ Mr Heathers said from the end of the table. Ivan saw that he was an elderly man in his seventies, well past the age of any of the teachers he had known in London. ‘What’s all this talk of my toes?’

Miss Jenkins shook her head. ‘He’s also quite deaf,’ she said to Ivan despairingly.

They finished breakfast and the headmaster led Ivan to the English classroom. To his surprise, the students were already there, despite it being at least two minutes until the bell. He recognised a number of them from the breakfast hall.

‘Class, I am pleased to introduce you to your new English teacher, Mr Cornersberg. I assure you that he is much more knowledgeable than me on this subject, as I am sure you were all hoping.’

A boy at the back, with his tie done up roughly, sniggered. ‘We don’t mind, headmaster,’ he called out. ‘At least with you, we got away with messing up our usage of there, their, and they’re.’

The headmaster looked at Ivan with a pained expression. ‘Spelling and grammar have always been a weakness of mine,’ he admitted. ‘Now then, I suppose I should leave you to it?’

‘Thank you, headmaster,’ Ivan said, giving him a nod as he left the room. He turned to his class, feeling a nervousness that he hadn’t felt since his days as a teacher in training. ‘As the headmaster just informed you, my name is Mr Cornersberg. I’ll write that on the board for you so that you can write it correctly on your books.’

He turned to the blackboard and chalked his name on it, unused to using them now that most schools preferred white boards or computers with projections of the screen. Somehow, it felt nice to be using such basic equipment again, without all the fuss of technology.

‘Now,’ he said, rubbing the chalk from his fingers onto his black trousers without thinking. A few of the class smirked at the white prints now on them. ‘The headmaster has given me some notes left by your teacher from last year, Mr Summers, I believe. According to them, you have already done one piece of coursework analysing Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, yet he feels that most of your pieces were not strong enough to include in your GCSE portfolios. Not to worry, though, as we’ll be working on a different piece of work that you might engage with slightly more. Tell me, has anyone heard of To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee?’

The class progressed smoothly and, as Ivan had suspected, the boys engaged with the book much more than the previous one they’d had to study. He had brought enough copies of it for them to have one each and by the end of the class, they had covered the whole of the first chapter and had time to analyse it, too.

As the bell rang for the second period, the class left and Ivan collected the copies of the book and stacked them on his desk, preparing another set for the year above them, this time Shakespeare’s Othello. He put a copy on each desk before returning to his own and counting the copies of To Kill A Mockingbird, making sure that no-one had walked off with one accidently.

As he picked up the top copy, a note slid out from under the cover. He looked at it curiously. There was a single word scrawled upon it in thick, capital letters.

MURDERER.

Uncategorized

NaNoWriMo

While I was studying creative writing with the Open University in 2012, a fellow student mentioned that she was going to take part in National Novel Writing Month  (NaNoWriMo for short) that year. At the time, I had no idea what that meant, so when I checked out their website I was amazed that so many people were taking up the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. I’d already written a manuscript, of about 68,000 words, and that had taken a whole year to do. So how in the world did people manage to write a book in a month?

The idea was crazy, but strangely alluring. So, I did what any person already halfway through another manuscript and up to their ears in coursework would do: I decided to give it a go (this was mid-october, and NaNoWriMo takes place in November- talk about spur of the moment!)

I had a vague plot in my head, about a young wizard who would have to turn detective, and a name. And that’s it. When November 1st hit, I wasn’t even sure I was going to get even 500 words done, because as luck would have it, I had a family gathering to attend that day. However, the drive up there would take a few hours, and as I was a passenger, I took my laptop with me. And I started typing.

By the time we arrived, I’d finished the first chapter and completed my target word count for the day. I’d done it- I’d made a start, a good start, and now all I had to do was do the same the next day, and then the next until I had 50,000 words. At the end of day 17, I achieved the 50,000 word goal. I had a book, and it had only taken a few weeks of hard work.

What’s more, when I read the draft back a month or so later, after my ‘cool down’ period, I actually found that the quality of the writing for a first draft was much better than when I’d taken my time with my other manuscript. I realised for the first time that having a deadline and forcing myself to do the work quickly actually helped to focus my ideas and make the plot more coherent.

I’ve now completed NaNoWriMo five years in a row, and reduced the amount of time it took nearly every year. The second year was 13 days, the third, only eight, the fourth, seven (and that year I was on such a writing high that I actually started another book in November, though I didn’t complete it until mid-December) and the fifth year was also seven days. Now, that’s not to say it was easy. With the seven and eight day ones, I was writing for 2.5-3 hours three times a day, usually getting up at six and going to bed no earlier than 11.

I was exhausted, but the quality of my drafts when I went back through to edit them after a month or two had passed meant that editing was a pleasant experience that I could enjoy, rather than saying ‘what is this rubbish?’ and hanging my head in despair.

So, for anyone wondering about NaNoWriMo, I’d say if you can set aside the time (and if you’re busy, you will have to fight to make that time – I’ve now learnt to book a week or two off work in November just so I can take part) then it’s definitely worth it. Even if you don’t finish by the end of the month, you’re sure to have made a decent start. And who knows, that might be just the help you need.

Short Stories

The Hidden (a partial story from an old OU assigment)

I sat down at the table. The sun was bright and shone in my eyes, while the chill winter breeze blew my hair across my face.

I looked down at my notebook, flicking through the pages like I always did when I was anxious. My writing was nothing but a scrawl, yet nearly all the pages were full of it. I began to read through some of my notes, stopping now and then to try and decipher a word or two.  I was so absorbed in it that it took me a moment to realise that someone was casting a shadow over the pages. I looked up, pushing my glasses back onto the bridge of my nose.

‘Still lost in your notes as always, I see,’ said the well dressed young man in front of me.

‘Lawrence,’ I greeted him.

He pulled up a chair and sat opposite me, and caught the eye of the waitress two tables behind.  He ordered two cappuccinos. I watched her go over to the counter inside the cafe before turning to him.

‘So, what is this all about?’

‘Well,’ he said smiling, ‘I believe I have something of great interest to you. To us all, actually.’

I raised my eyebrow, about to reply when the waitress came back with our drinks. Lawrence nodded his thanks, and without bothering to watch her leave, proceeded to put his briefcase on the table. Two clicks told me he’d unlocked it, and before I could utter a sound he opened it and turned it round so that I could see what was inside.

I gasped. Then, noticing how many people were around us, turned it into a cough. The clatter of cutlery and babble of small talk told me that no one had noticed. Still, I felt the urge to whisper.

‘Where on earth did you find it?’

‘Here, actually,’ Lawrence replied.

‘Here? After all this time, it was here?’

‘Yes- but Jenn, there’s something you should know. The dig site where we found it suggests that it’s over fifteen hundred years old.’

Fifteen hundred? How can that be? Our records of it only go back seven hundred years.’

‘There’s something else, too,’ he said. Fishing through his jacket pockets, he produced two photos.

‘We found these markings all over the site.’

I looked at them. They both showed the same marking, an inverted triangle with its point set on a horizontal line. Each end of the line was connected to a downward diagonal line.

‘This looks just like a House Mark!’

‘That’s what I thought, so I checked. It was there all right, along with all the other Marks of the Old Houses.’

‘And?’ I asked. ‘Which house does it belong to?’

‘That’s the thing, there was no name next to it, just the Mark.’

I frowned. That was unheard of. A House Mark surrounding the Object, but with no clue to the House it belonged to? No, surely we’d gone wrong somewhere.

‘Have you thought about it being something other than a House Mark?’

‘Yes, I’ve searched through the whole of the Great Library. There’s no sign of it. But the question is, if it isn’t a House Mark, then what was it doing in the records of the Old Houses?’

I tried to think, but no answers came to me. What was the link between the Object and this Mark? Was it a House Mark? I just didn’t know. There was only one thing I could think to suggest.

‘I think we should show my Father.’

‘Your Father?’ Lawrence said, turning pale.

‘Yes, he has quite a few articles in his personal library that I haven’t seen in the Great Library. Maybe one of those can answer our questions.’

‘Are you sure he wouldn’t mind us looking? I heard he’s been ill lately, I’d hate to interrupt him unnecessarily.’

‘Oh Lawrence, don’t be ridiculous! If he finds out that we have the Object from someone other than us, he’d probably go so far as to disown me.’

‘Well, if you’re sure…’

Two hours later we arrived at my Father’s house. I looked at it distastefully as we drove up the long gravel path. I took Lawrence around the back to the workmen’s entrance, and then raced up to the library. Swinging open the great double doors, I revealed the rows and rows of bookshelves, and at the very far end, as though expecting us, was my Father.

Uncategorized

Falling into the pit of despair.

It’s always exciting to finish the first draft of a story. Finally, you get to say ‘yeah, I did that, I made it!’ and dance around the house full of the joys of spring. And so you should- the very fact that you’ve written a story is an achievement in itself.

But then you put it away for a week or two, forget about it while starting something new, and when you return to it, suddenly that wonderful story full of fantastic characters, rich settings and dramatic story arcs suddenly isn’t so, well, fantastic. So then you decide to redraft it. The writing gets better, but its still not quite how you want it. You go over it again, and this time you get back some of that magic that you felt was in your work before, but this time it really is- you know because you’ve let your friends or other beta readers test it out. The story works, the characters are believable but…but what about that part where your character does something so unnatural for his usual personality? It’s there like a crease in your work, but you can’t simply take it out because this one thing, detailed in a single paragraph or sentence, is actually the start of a chain reaction that ultimately brings that great conclusion you’ve worked so hard on into play.

Do you go back and alter that character’s personality, so that when that fateful moment arrives, their actions are no longer so unnatural, but risk sabotaging his relationship to the other characters? Or do you focus on adjusting that part by having another, minor character take his place, and so rewrite the entire ending afresh?

You go over your work yet again looking for a viable solution, and then again, and again, until you realise that you no longer have any idea if your story is interesting anymore. Your words seem flat and uninspiring, and when you read another author’s work, you just can’t help but compare them. You come back thinking, ‘this is so creative and absorbing, how can I compete with that?’

Curious, you look the author up, and with great surprise you find in their bio or blog that they had times when they thought about their work in the same way you’re now thinking about your own.But they pushed through their self-doubt and decided to go ahead and put their work out into the world just on the chance that someone might like it.

You think, ‘if they thought that about such an amazing  piece of writing, maybe my work isn’t as bad as I think. Who knows, maybe readers will love and be inspired by my work someday too!’

 

Short Stories

Shadow Water (second draft)

Eight hundred years I’ve been here, separated from the outside. Every day, I gaze through the wall of ice to the tree covered mountain beyond, and wonder: how is it that no-one knows the ice- and myself- are here?

Travellers and merchants regularly drive past in their wagons, but they never even spare it a glance. Of course, any horses and livestock they have with them all give the ice as wide a berth as their masters will allow, but the humans pay them no attention except to encourage them onwards.

Sometimes I think I understand, for though my original and current form is human, I have lived the lives of many species in between. It was only as my first human life closed to an end and my form quite unexpectedly changed into a beast- an arctic fox, I think- did I see this icy wall for what it truly is. Layer upon layer of hardened Shadow Water, barely an inch thick, yet as resistant as ice of eight feet.

The curious thing: Shadow Water is never of natural origin. It is always drawn up by those who seek it, and those who seek it have not once revealed themselves. In any case, who raised it isn’t important. Now, why it was raised, that’s the real question. But no matter how long I ponder it, I can’t come up with an answer. The Shadow Water encloses nothing but a few rocks, petrified trees and a large, vacant cave (which, I confess, I have lived in for several centuries. I know, I know, there aren’t any predators here and the temperature is constant, but the cave has a rather ‘homey’ feel).

I straighten up sharply; the ground beyond the wall crunches as someone hurries over the ice covered flora. It’s midwinter out there, and though I can’t tell exactly how cold it is, for nothing, not even a breeze permeates the Shadow Water, it’s clear that the conditions outside are in no way ideal for the young boy scurrying towards me. Barefoot and dressed in rags, I have to wonder how the sorry creature survived the distance between here and the village. Curiously, he isn’t shivering. In fact, he seems to be ignoring the weather completely.

Now he’s a few feet away. I wait for him to crash into the Shadow Water, but he doesn’t. Instead, he stops, raises his head as though to examine the sheer scale of it, and smiles. What’s with this kid? You’re not telling me that, after all this time, someone can actually see it?

The boy places his hand flat on the Water. It hisses, and a boy-sized hole appears in it. He steps through; I stare at him.

He stares back, taking in every detail of my slim, naked body (when you live alone for as long as I have, the modesty of normal humans seems foolish). He laughs, and gasping for breath, says, ‘You’re really here! I was afraid you might have perished long ago, before I had a chance to retrieve you!’ His jubilation is so great that he starts dancing around in a circle.

‘Forgive my interruption,’ I say, slightly irritated by his loudness in my normally quiet enclosure, ‘but may I ask just one thing? Who the hell are you?’

The laughter dies on his lips. ‘You don’t know? I thought they explained everything when they brought you here.’

‘Brought me here? I remember being hit on the head, bound and gagged, and then waking up here with the Shadow Water fully formed and cutting me off from everything. It was a long time ago, mind, but I know there were certainly no explanations,’ I reply bitterly.

‘Oh. That wasn’t quite how I’d planned it at all. Perhaps I should start from the beginning. I am your master, Phin, and I had you brought here to protect you. The Shadow Water was for your benefit, I never meant for it to cut you off from the world— at least not for this long.’

‘Yes, eight hundred years is rather a long time,’ I say sourly. ‘And what do you mean, you’re my ‘master’? I’m no servant, kid.’

‘Guardian, then. And I’m no child. I’m what’s known as a Rememberer; so are you.’ He notices me shiver and turns back to the hole he made in the Water. He runs his hand down it and it seals shut again like a zipper. I goggle at him.

‘A Rememberer? You do realise that I have no idea what that means? And if you are my…guardian, then why did you leave me here for so long?’

‘Well, firstly, a Rememberer is a being who lives through the ages, taking many different forms and keeping watch over the world to try and prevent mistakes being repeated. There aren’t many of us. Including myself and my own master, you’re the only other. You were so young back then and living so close to the war zone that I had to keep you safe. It was only supposed to be for a few weeks, while we helped negotiate a treaty between the nations. But I was captured instead, a slave until the final descendant of my imprisoner died.’

My mind is spinning; I have to sit down. How can he possibly think that I can just take this all in, after so many years of silence? ‘Even if I am a Rememberer…I’ve been trapped in here, unable to see the world. What possible use can I be to you?’

‘Are you joking? You must have been staring through this Water every day for centuries. You can see the mountains, the town, what travellers come and go, any diseases that ravage the flora and fauna— the knowledge you’ve built up must be substantial. Far more than I have gained in that period. So, will you come with me out into the world? We do need you.’

He holds his hand out to me. After all these years, I can finally leave this place. I look around, and then back at him. I take it.