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A Curious Valentine’s Day.

Promo A Curious Valentines Da GPy.jpg

“I just don’t know if I can be in the same place as her without feeling like absolute rubbish.”

Friday meowed sympathetically and rubbed against Rory, who sat beside him on the front steps with Daisy snuggled in his lap.

Rory stroked Friday, observing the occasional twitch of his sleek, black tail. “Don’t judge me, okay? She’s so—perfect! Everyone wants to know her and be with her. How am I supposed to measure up to that? She doesn’t even know I’m alive.”

Friday looked deliberately at the front door of the house, and back at Rory, and then swatted him with his tail.

“I can’t talk to Rose about this. What’s she going to say? That I’m a great guy and it’s her loss? Ha!” Rory buried his face in his hands.

“Hey, Rory! Are you okay?” Amy opened the front gate and hurried down the path to Rory, sitting beside him. “What’s wrong?”

“Oh, it’s nothing…”

“Sure it is. Because you’re on top of the world. How can I help?”

“You can’t. Nobody can.”

“Ah, I see. Well, I’m here if you change your mind.”

“Thanks.” His smile when he looked up at Amy was genuine, but it didn’t hide the sadness that plagued him.

“Are you coming to the Valentine’s Day party?”

“Uh— no.”

“Oh, please come. I know it’s a bit lame, but I don’t want to go on my own.”

“Why go at all?”

“It’ll be fun. We can feast on hot dogs and cotton candy. And heaps of kids from school will be there.”

Rory groaned, and a look of understanding crossed Amy’s face.

“Avoiding someone?”

“No need. She doesn’t know I’m alive.”

“Then she doesn’t deserve you.”

“Thanks, but unless she understands some aspect of having lost out, that doesn’t mean much.”

“You could be my Valentine.”

“What? I mean– uh… what?”

“For the party. We can go together and hang out. Maybe she’ll notice, and see what she’s missing out on.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t need a pity date.”

“Oh, Rory, it’s not pity. It’s— we’re friends, right? Friends do things together. Friends hang out. So come with me and hang out, and help me eat all the hot dogs that the popular girls won’t touch because they’re fattening, or not vegan, or whatever.”

Rory shook his head as he stood up. “There’s no reason for vegans not to eat hot dogs. Everyone knows there’s no meat in those things.”

Amy laughed. “I’ve never thought of it that way. Come on.” She looked at the bulge in his sweater. “Are you bringing Daisy?”

“Why not? She goes everywhere except school with me. Friday can come to the party, too. No reason why cats can’t enjoy a Valentine’s Day hot dog, is there?”

***

The local park on the corner of the block had been decorated with streamers and balloons.  Fairy lights twinkled in the trees and around the rotunda, where a DJ had set up his gear at one side, leaving most of the floor free for anyone who wanted to dance. Two couples swayed there to a slow song, while others milled about the stalls and tables offering food, drinks and treats in varying shades of red, pink and white.

“Oh, this is all so pretty!” exclaimed Amy, “Aren’t you glad you came?”

Rory looked at her with a blank expression and muttered, “Kill me now.”

“Oh come on, Rory. Have some fun!” Amy pleaded, taking his hand and trying to pul him further into the park, but his feet stayed planted where they were.

“I don’t think I can do this.”

“Relax. Come and get something to eat. Please?”

As they lined up for hot dogs, Rory’s eyes trailed to the next stand where some teens had set up a kissing booth, decorated with a large banner that read ‘Kisses $1’. It was hosted at present by two pretty girls who wore buttons that said “Kiss me!” and a guy in his late teens who wore a tee shirt with the slogan “Your Next Boyfriend” on the front. On a table at the front of the booth sat a large glass case with an mesh lid on it and “kiss me for free” written on the front in red lipstick.  Inside the tank, two large pet frogs sat quietly, possibly on their best behaviour in the hope of a pretty girl turning one of them into a prince.

Amy rolled her eyes. “I guess that’s one way to make money. Look at them all lining up.”

“I’d rather have a hot dog.” Rory laughed. Yet he couldn’t help watching two of the girls in the line as they took a selfie, smiling and simpering back at themselves through the phone.

Amy followed his line of vision and caught her breath. “Oh no… Rory… tell me it’s not Samantha you’re keen on.”

His silence was even more telling than the misery on his face as he watched his crush snap more pictures of herself and her friend.

“Rory?” Transfixed, he didn’t realise Amy was talking to him until Friday swiped his leg with a paw.

“Ow! What the actual–?” Rory glared at Friday, who stared right back at him with a rather annoyed expression on his own face.

“I was talking to you and you completely zoned out.”

“Sorry, Amy. I got distracted.”

“Yeah, so I noticed.”

“Wait– are you jealous?”

Amy shook her head. “Rory, as soon as that ice princess senses any vulnerability on your part, she’ll make you wish you’d never even looked at her.”

“But–”

“Hey guys, what’ll it be?” Rory and Amy both turned their attention to the server.

“Hey Denny! Good to see you! One with ketchup and cheese and just a plain hot dog extra, no bun, for Friday and Daisy, please.”

Denny grinned. “Feline dates for Valentines, eh?”

“No drama, no fuss!” Rory laughed. “What are you having, Amy?”

“I’ll have one with ketchup and mustard, please,” added Amy.

“Coming right up.”

***

With their hot dogs in hand, they thanked Denny and walked over to a bench at the outer edge of the park where they sat with Friday between them. Daisy wriggled out of Rory’s hoodie and purred as she rubbed against Friday, who gave her face an affectionate lick in return.

“You know, I never get tired of watching them together.” The affection in Rory’s voice matched the adoring expression on his face.

“You’re both so beautiful!” Amy said to Friday and Daisy. “It’s all good when the affection is returned, isn’t it?” She looked up at Rory as she spoke.

“I know, Amy. I know. Samantha doesn’t know I’m alive. She’s so perfect, and I’m–”

“No, she’s not perfect. She might look perfect, but she’s actually a horrible person.” Amy couldn’t bear to look at Rory’s face, so she focused on feeding little pieces of hot dog to Friday and Daisy. “She’s nasty, and she’s heartless. And–”

“And what?” Rory asked, much more subdued and less defensive than Amy had thought he would be.

“I don’t want you to be hurt. Especially by her.”

Rory opened his mouth to speak, but attention was drawn instead by the approach of Samantha and her friend. A soft moan escaped as he nudged Amy to look up.

“What have we here? Can you believe this, Maddy? They’re feeding the cats on a park bench. It’s like they don’t have anywhere else to go.” Derisive giggles fractured the air behind them. “Are you two homeless?”

“Go away, Samantha.” Amy only wished that the defiance in her voice could hide the deflated look on Rory’s face.”

“Ooo, Little Miss Plain has a voice!” Samantha mocked. “Go away, Samantha!” she mimicked in a cruel whine. “And does your friend Mr Nobody have a voice too? Or does he just sit around feeding his dinner to cats and looking pathetic?”

Friday turned his head to look directlyly at Samantha, then at her giggling friend and back again, his whiskers and tail quivering with anger.

“Better look out, Samantha. You know what they say about black cats.” Maddy laughed, crowing over her own cleverness.

“Ohhh no, the poor widdle homeless kitty is angry with me!” she squealed, laughing and recoiling in mock terror of Friday, who stood with his hackles raised and his tail twitching at the end.

Rory stood up at the same time, and took a step toward Samantha. “Cut it out! Just stop! You might look amazing, but your particular brand of ugly goes right to the bone.”

“Is that so?” she laughed. “You’ve been having a pretty good look lately, though, haven’t you?” Maddy cackled mindlessly in agreement.

“They weren’t kidding about you being an Ice Princess!” Rory spat back. At that very moment, Friday leapt from the bench, arched his back and hissed at the hateful girl.

Maddy’s laughter stopped short as she saw her friend stiffen and freeze as she began to transform into an icy statue. Her face froze in mid-sneer, creating an expression on her face as ugly and hateful as her words had been. A blue tinge spread over her skin before it became clear and glassy; underneath, the flesh and bone turned opaque, then solid white and then transparent; only her heart could be seen, as black as deepest night within her, still throbbing at its normal rhythm and pumping murky fluid through inky veins that pulsed with every beat.

“Samantha! No!” Maddy screamed. She turned to face Rory. “What have you done? How did you do this?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Rory replied.

“It was that cat!” Maddy growled and pointed at Friday. “You evil little—“

“You’ll want to be nicer to him then, won’t you?” Rory quipped, earning himself a scowl.

“Whatever this is, she did it to herself,” Amy agreed, folding her arms defiantly and looking directly at Maddy, although she avoided looking at Samantha’s gelid form.

“Is— is she dead?” Maddy’s voice was timid now, all traces of mockery having been banished.

“I don’t know. Her heart is still beating, if that means anything.”

“B-b-but she has n-no brain!” Maddy wailed.

Amy raised her eyebrows and tilted her head in ironic amusement. Rory gave her a wry grin and shrugged silently in reply.

“Samantha!” Sobbing, Maddy reached out to touch her friend, but as soon as she did, her own fingers began to turn to glass, the frost of transformation spreading slowly up her arm.

“NO! Make it stop!” she squealed. “Someone, help me! Please, no!” Her cries were pitiful, but Rory and Amy remained unmoved.

“You’re the only one who can do anything to stop this, Maddy.” Amy spoke quietly and calmly.

Maddy held her breath and began to shake as her hand and arm turned white, then transparent, just as Samantha’s whole body had done.

“How? Tell me how to make it stop,” she begged tearfully, “I don’t want to freeze, and already I can’t feel my hand or my arm.”

“Be willing to step away from Samantha and stand on your own, I suppose.”

“I can’t. I don’t know how.”

“Try moving your feet. The rest of you has to follow.”

“But she’s my friend…”

“You have to choose.”

“I’m going to get Trixie,” Rory told Amy as he tucked Daisy safely back into his hoodie. “She might know what to do. You stay here with Maddy?”

Amy nodded and then continued as Rory jogged away, “You have to let go, Maddy.”

“I can’t. I’m stuck to her.”

It was true. Her arm had turned to frosted glass as far as her shoulder, yet it was still firmly attached to her own body, so that even as she tried to pull away, her arm held fast to the ice princess beside her.

Rory returned with Trixie who sucked in her breath at the sight of the statue-like teenager and her partially frozen friend.

“Trixie, this is Maddy. The other one is Samantha. I’m not exactly sure how this happened–”

“It was that cat!” Maddy avoided looking at Friday, but her accusation was loaded with malice.

“I know exactly how it happened.” Trixie wore an expression of grave disapproval as she spoke. “If all you do is treat people horribly, Maddy, sooner or later everyone will see right through you.”

“How do I make it stop?” Maddy’s voice shook.

“There’s a very special kind of magic that you need.”

“Magic?”

“That’s right.”

“Like the cat is magic.”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Stop blaming Friday.”

“I suppose you’re going to tell me he’s just a regular cat.”

“Oh, I’d never suggest any such thing!”

“Well I don’t know how to do any magic.”

“You just need the right ingredients,” Trixie said. “Remorse, apology, and change.”

“What?” Maddy’s voice rose into a squeak. “How are they ingredients for magic?”

“Maddy, your problem isn’t one of needing some kind of herb or a spell. Your problem is that you don’t realise that your hatefulness is poisoning you. You need to be truly sorry for the hurt you’ve caused, and you need to say so, and then you need to change your ways. That’s how to undo this.”

“Okay. I’m… I’m sorry.”

Instead of melting, though, the pace of the freezing actually sped up, causing her shoulder and chest to stiffen.

“It’s not working!” she cried out. “It hurts!”

“You have to mean it, Maddy. Lying to save your own skin is only going to make it worse. You have to realise that every time you’ve been cruel to someone, you’ve sent coldness into their heart. You’ve made their feelings freeze. You’ve caused hearts to break, bit by bit.”

“It wasn’t me! It was Samantha. She said all the mean things, not me!” As her torso began to turn white, tears of self-pity crystallised on the skin of her cheeks, now ashen with a hint of blue. “Please! Save me!” she whispered, before her voice fell silent and her lips stopped moving.

Rory, Amy and Trixie stood quietly, gazing upon the frozen girls in front of them. Friday sat on the park bench nearby, licking his paw and washing his face with it.

“That is an incredible ice sculpture!” exclaimed a man who was leaving the park with his children. “Did you make that?”

“No,” replied Rory. “Two teenage girls made it. But they’ve gone now.”

“Teenage girls, eh?” the man responded. “Unbelievable!”

As the man walked away, Rory shook his head and said quietly, “Sir, you have no idea how right you are.”

Frost and Fire.

Promo Y Frost and Fire
Love and pain, frost and fire,
Each will leave their scars
But they can’t withstand desire’s power
Over our embattled hearts.

 

You and I once made a vow
To love for all of time
But even now, I don’t know how
To make you truly mine.

 

Bless and fight, kiss and curse,
Either way, we burn;
But every parting would be worse
If we were to not return.

 

People love so differently
It’s often hard to know;
If we could live less selfishly
Our love would surely grow.

 

Frost and fire, love and hate,
Each will leave their scars,
But the mark of fate can’t be erased
From our embattled hearts.

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam

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The Burn.

Promo The Burn Plain
Empty should feel like nothing
But it’s not really emptiness—
It’s full of grief and longing:
Caustic and merciless
Pain:
It burns,
It burns,
It burns.
And I cry out for someone
Who can put out the flames —
I drown in coldness and tears
But that is not the same
Thing:
It burns,
It burns,
It burns.

©2018 Joanne Van Leerdam

Nevermore.

Promo TPOTN Nevermore

To 2017 and that which tried to destroy me in it:

They say “the winner takes it all”
But that isn’t always true;
Even though you’ve watched me fall
There are things I’ll never cede to you:
You cannot take my dignity,
Nor my creative mind,
My soul, my heart, my integrity
Are things I’ll never leave behind.
You may not have the time of day,
You will not control my words,
You shall not tell me what to do,
For you will not be heard.
I will feel nothing for you,
I refuse to see your face,
I will neither think about you,
Nor give your opinions grace.
This is my last communication
Before I close the door –
And thus, I find my liberation,
For you are welcome nevermore.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam
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This poem appears in the collection titled ‘The Passing Of The Night’.

A Curious New Year’s Eve.

A Curious New Years Eve Title
The street had been closed off at both ends at six o’clock, and shortly after it had filled with people setting up for the neighbourhood New Year’s Eve party. Tables and booths were placed on the sidewalks. Fire drums and cut wood were set out so that people could gather around them and share the warmth when the night got cold. Excitement was building, especially among the children who were allowed to stay up until midnight on this one magical night of the year.  Fairy lights, Christmas decorations and street lights blinked into action, adding a festive tone to the streetscape as the pale wintry afternoon sunlight faded into evening.

Friday had spent the early part of the evening walking back and forth along the front garden wall, looking at what different folks were doing and enjoying the building excitement.  He now sat on the fence, keeping a watchful eye on the table which Trixie, Kathleen and Tom had set up under a streetlight on the sidewalk with  crock pots full of hot soup to share. Cups, spoons and napkins were stacked nearby.

Kathleen inhaled deeply as she stirred one of the pots. “This lentil soup smells divine, Trixie!”

“I hope people like it. It’s my Grandmother’s recipe – the one she always said would bring people luck.”

“If they don’t like the lentils, they can have some of Tom’s veggie soup. It’s delicious, too.”

“If they don’t like this soup, they’re crazy!” Tom stated between savouring mouthfuls from a steaming cup.

“It will warm them up, that’s the main thing!” Trixie smiled. “I’m glad you’re enjoying it, Tom.”

“The term ‘enjoyment’ doesn’t come close enough, Trixie, my dear!” Tom would have returned her smile, but he was too busy eating his soup.

As the crowd began to gather and wander around, a family of three walked toward the soup table.

“Would you like some soup?” offered Trixie. “We’ve got vegetable or my grandmother’s lucky lentil soup.”

“That would be great, thank you! I’ll have the lentil, please, and these three…” his voice trailed off as he searched the crowd for the third child, who had lagged behind and now stood looking hopefully at the table where Mrs Rizzo was frying delicious smelling donuts. He called out, “Jamie! Come and get some soup!” rather impatiently, then smiled apologetically at Trixie before completing his request. “Sorry, it’s hard keeping track of them all. They’ll have vegetable, please.”

Jamie caught up with the rest of the family as Trixie served the soup. He looked at the pots and at the tall man with the long beard who was licking his lips before his eyes came to rest on the black cat sitting on the fence nearby.

“That black cat is staring at me.”

“I’m sure he’s not,” Trixie replied.

“He is.  And he looks… wicked.”

“You’re imagining things. Have some soup.” Trixie tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice as she handed the boy a cup of soup and a spoon.

“Is it safe?” he asked timidly.

Friday narrowed his eyes slightly at the young boy’s suggestion that his beloved Trixie would feed people anything that wasn’t good. Keen to look anywhere except at the cat,  Jamie looked up at Tom, taking in for the first time the tall man’s long grey beard, black coat and piercing blue eyes that peered out from feathery grey eyebrows.

“Of course it’s safe. We’ve been feeding this very pot of soup to children for six years, and not one of them has died yet!” Tom delivered his answer with a very straight face, then winked at the boy’s father.

Jamie’s hands trembled slightly as he “What’s in it?” Jamie was not convinced.

“Eye of newt and toe of frog,” Tom replied with mock seriousness.

Delighted by their older brother’s discomfort, the two younger children squealed, “Ewwwwwww!”

“The soup is fine, Jamie. What’s not safe is you wandering off on your own. You have to stay close to the rest of us. I don’t want the bogeyman to get you!”

Jamie rolled his eyes insolently at his father and complained, “That’s kids’ stuff, dad. Geeze!” Nevertheless, he took care to stay near his father as they stood nearby and ate their soup, . Halfway through his cup, however, Jamie let out a roar of disgust.

“What’s the matter now?”

“There’s an eyeball in my soup!”

“A what? Don’t be ridiculous.”

‘There is! Look!”

“Jamie, the man was just joking about eyes. He was just having fun with you. That’s all.”

Jamie looked fearfully at Tom and then at Friday, both of whom were staring right at him. Neither one seemed as though they were particularly amused.  Averting his eyes, he turned and timidly put his spoon into his cup once more before dropping his cup in fright and bawling, “It blinked at me! That eyeball blinked at me!”

His father looked at the mess on the pavement and then at his tearful son.  “I’m really sorry,” he said apologetically to Trixie, although he couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact with her.

There was no trace of anything untoward in the spilt soup, and Jamie was left with no choice but to follow his father as he walked away, shaking his head.

Friday waved them goodbye with a smug twitch of his tail, fully aware that had he bothered to look under the table, Jamie’s father would have seen the offending eyeball now resting against the curb, gazing unblinkingly at the starry sky.

“I’m going to get some of those donuts,” Tom announced. “Anyone else want one?”

“Oh, yes please, Tom!” Kathleen answered almost before he had finished offering.

“I’m fairly sure those are lucky, too,” Trixie added. “One for me, please!”

As Tom strolled away, Trixie turned to see Rose and Trevor coming out of their house, followed by a third person carrying a large, flat box.

“Hello, Rose! Would you like some soup?”

“Lovely to see you, Trix! Hello, Kathleen” Rose kissed her friends lightly on the cheek as she greeted them. “Soup would be wonderful.”

“Try this. It’s my grandmother’s lucky lentil soup.”

“Smells fantastic! We have a family tradition to share, too… grapes!”

“Grapes?”  Kathleen raised her eyebrows.

“Grapes!” Trevor affirmed.

“It’s a Spanish tradition passed down in my family,” Rose explained. “Everyone gets twelve grapes to eat at midnight. The sweeter the grape, the sweeter that month will be. If your fourth grape is the sweetest, you have every reason to look forward to April.”

“You just want to hope you don’t get a sour one,” added Trevor.

“I can see how that might not be a good thing,” Trixie observed while passing a cup of soup to Trevor. She smiled at the sight of the young man who stood by the fence, stroking Friday affectionately.  “It’s good to see you, Rory. How are things going?”

“Hi, Trixie. Things are– improving. Definitely better than they were on Christmas Eve!”

“Well, that’s good to hear!”

“He’s come to live with us!” Trevor announced, smiling reassuringly at Rory.

“That’s wonderful!” Trixie exclaimed. “You really are making a new start, Rory. I’m very pleased for you.” She smiled warmly at Rory, and felt a lump in her throat when she recognised in Rose’s eyes and gentle smile the radiant happiness of a woman whose long-time wish to be a mother had finally been fulfilled.

“Thank you, Trixie. Did you hear that, Friday? I’m your new neighbour – and Daisy’s new big brother!”

Friday purred and rubbed against Rory’s hand. A tiny mew from inside Rory’s fleece-lined hoodie was followed by a joyful, rumbling purr as Daisy popped her head out  to greet Friday.

“Will you look at that? No prizes for guessing who Daisy wants to kiss at midnight!” The amusement in Rory’s eyes was affectionate and warm. “Why do people do that, anyway?” he asked.

“It’s starting the way you intend to continue, Rory. It’s a sign that our love and affection for one another will continue through the year.” Rose blinked back tears as she explained, realising that the young man before her had probably never been kissed or hugged at New Year’s, and probably hadn’t seen much love or affection on any other day, either.

“And if you don’t get kissed?” The young man’s voice was hesitant.

“It’s said to be a year of being unlucky in love,” Tom offered as he returned with a bowl of donuts. “It’s why I’m still single. I’m too tall for any of the girls I know to kiss properly.”

“And here I was, thinking it was because he was too fussy!” Kathleen teased.

Rory smiled awkwardly as everyone laughed at Tom, and reminded himself that superstitions were exactly that, and not based on any scientific fact. Besides, his luck was certainly changing, and maybe this New Year really would be the new beginning he was hoping for.

“Have some lentil soup, Rory. It’s good luck, you know.” Tom smiled kindly at the young man. “Of course, I believe in making my own luck,” he continued,and winked as he added, “It’s why I’m still single.”

Rory smiled and his shoulders relaxed. After his experiences a week ago when he found himself being confronted and challenged by the Christmas Spirit, he was none too sure how luck worked but knew that he was unwilling to find out the hard way.

“Would you like a donut?”

Rory snapped out of his thoughts.  A short lady wearing an apron stood before him with a large bowl of donuts in one hand and a pile of neatly folded paper napkins in the other. She smiled broadly at him, and for a moment he wondered if  her smile would be as wide if her grey hair were not pulled so tightly into the neat bun on top of her head.

“I’m sorry?”

“A donut. Have one?”

“Sure, thank you.”

“They’re good luck, you know.”

“Really?”

“Of course. Look at them! There is no end… everything is a full circle. And if you eat enough of them, you end up a full circle too, like me!” Her laughter was infectious, and Rory found himself very much enjoying the company of a group of friends at whom he would have sneered just a week ago.

Standing near the fire drum that Tom and Trevor had just lit, Rory was feeding tiny donut crumbs to Daisy when he heard Friday growling and hissing from the fence, his back arched and his tail puffed out into a bristled brush. As he turned to see what had upset Friday, a shadow fell across his face.

Standing between Rory and Friday was a tall, solid man. Broad shoulders had absorbed the neck on which his head swivelled, and muscular arms ended with his clenched fists. The scowl that darkened his features was focused on Rory, who resisted the urge to take a step backwards as he looked up at the hulking figure.

“So this is where I find you. Out in the street, enjoying a nice fire with other people, instead of  being at home, looking after me.”

“D-d-dad–I–uh–” Rory’s voice faltered.

“You’ve got not business being out here, boy. You belong at home.”

Rory forced himself to stand a little taller and looked his father in the eye.

“Actually, I don’t. It’s no longer home. I’m not coming back.”

“You what?” Rory’s father grabbed him by the front of his sweater. A fearful wail emanated from Daisy.

“Let go! You’ll hurt the kitten!” Rory wrapped his arms protectively around his middle.

“The kitten? You want me to worry about a kitten? You soft little–” Angry words were replaced by a loud bellow of surprise and anger as he swung around, trying to shake off the angry black cat that had leapt from the fence and landed on his shoulders, sinking its claws into the thick muscles.  Then he stood still, glowering at his son. “Get this thing off me. Now!”

“No. I won’t. You don’t get to tell me what to do anymore. I’m not coming back, You’re on your own.”

Trevor stepped forward. “Rory has found a new home, Angus, with a family who respect and care for him. You should be ashamed of yourself, treating your own son the way you have.”

Rory’s father raised a fist and moved toward Trevor, but the man froze in fear when a large, ghostly grey hand, and not attached to any body or being, came out of nowhere and held him by the wrist. He looked around without moving his head, but nobody else seemed to be able to see it.

Furious eyes turned from Trevor to Rory and then to the black cat that jumped from his shoulders.  “How are you doing that? Let me go!” Panic rose in his voice, but the hand held his arm just as firmly. “You little bast–” He got no further, for another hand came out of the air and clapped itself over his mouth. His eyes widened and his breathing grew heavier. He tried to pry the fingers lose and pull the hand off his mouth with his free hand, but it would not budge.

Angus’ eyes narrowed with accusation as he pointed threateningly at Friday. A third hand appeared out of nowhere, seizing his other wrist and lifting him off the ground, leaving him dangling just above the point where his toes could touch the sidewalk. An electric shock of pain crackled into life in his wrist and began to flow into his elbow and shoulder, stretching and straining with all his weight hanging from them.

Rory faced his father. “I mean it. I’m not coming back to live with you – ever. You’re just going to have to accept that.” His father glared at him. “And don’t be angry at me for that. You only have yourself to blame.”  Having said what he needed to say, Rory turned his back on Angus and walked back to the warmth of the fire and the company around it.

His father swung a leg at him, narrowly missing Rory’s hips before yet another hand appeared and caught his foot in mid swing so that Angus found himself fully suspended at an awkward not-quite-sideways angle. He grunted and groaned in protest as the disembodied hands began to carry him toward the fire, yet it seemed that nobody could see or hear him in his predicament.

The prickle of heat from the fire crept upwards from his dangling foot as they held him above it, not close enough to burn but near enough to feel the singeing hot air rising from it.  The hairs on his dangling leg began to curl under his trousers and an urgent, awkward desire to relieve his bladder settled heavily in his loins.

“Wouldn’t it be awful to be so humiliated?” a smooth, suggestive voice  crooned in his ear. “How awful to feel such fear that you lose control of yourself… like you made your son do on occasion. And then you punished him for it. Now that’s fatherhood.”

He looked around but couldn’t see where the voice was coming from. Maybe it’s one of those little horned guys sitting on my shoulder like they show on TV, he thought.

“How dare you? I’m no devil,” the voice continued. “In fact,  there’s only one devil here.”

A swirl of red sparks burst around him, enveloping him in a fiery shroud. He cringed at the sting of thousands of sparks on his skin, and opened his eyes to find himself face to face with a horned beast, covered in cherry coloured skin that looked like scales of leather, and deep black eyes that bore into his soul. It opened its mouth and smiled at him, releasing an acrid smell of sulfur and brimstone that made his stomach heave and his bowels quicken.

“Feeling afraid? You poor thing.” He tried to pull away from the clawed foot that stroked his face in mock sympathy, but the hand over his mouth held his head firmly in place. “It’s not nice to face a monster, is it? But you were never ashamed to make your own son fear you.  Now you know how he felt when you shouted at him and threw things at him.  Sometimes those things hit him. Some of them… cut his face.” The monster looked at Angus in mock sympathy as it suddenly drew one of its claws across the side of his forehead, slicing skin and flesh open. Blood washed over his right eye, turning his vision as red as the beast that taunted him.

So, that useless kid leaves home and it’s my fault. I try to get him to come home, and I end up in the clutches of some monster. Could this night get any worse?

“How dare you? I’m no monster.” The beast snarled at him, its nostrils flaring. “There’s only one monster here, Angus.”

Tears of self-pity stung Angus’ eyes.

“Don’t cry, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

A memory – and then another, and another – of himself saying that to Rory played out in his mind.

“Or would you prefer a beating, anyway? That’s quite your style, isn’t it?” The monster raised its paw  and slapped him soundly on the side of the head. “You had that coming, didn’t you, eh?”

More memories plagued his conscience as the monster continued with the next slap, “Oh, you asked for that.” The hands that held him turned him around so that the monster could kick his backside with its foot, but his cries of outrage and pain were suppressed by the hand that still covered his mouth.

“You’re pathetic. You disgust me. Get out of my sight!” The monster roared, and his mind filled with echoes of the many times Rory had begged for mercy, pleaded with his father not to hit him again, and sobbed as he tended to his own cuts and bruises.

The monster’s face morphed and Angus found himself staring at his own face, contorted with rage and malice. It spoke one word, its voice laced with contempt: “Monster.”

Hatred emanated from Angus as he stared at the face before him.

“Do you feel no shame?” it asked him.

Shame is for the weak. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than Angus regretted it. Nice work, Angus. Give it something else to take exception to. 

“Let’s just see how strong you are, then.” The monster wrapped its talons around his only free ankle as the hands that held him began to pull slowly in opposing directions. His joints screamed in agony as ligaments and sinews strained to hold bones together, while flesh seemed to ignite within him as his muscles and skin extended to their limits. Lifting him higher and higher into the dark sky, the ghostly hands continued to slowly stretch and pull his limbs from his body, setting agonising flames alight in his joints and flesh. Looking down at the tiny street below him, lined with doll houses with miniature cars in their tiny driveways or garages, and filled with people the size of ants, dread coursed through him in anticipation of the pain he suspected was yet to come. By the time his bladder released its burden, he was past caring about that.

As high in the sky as he was, he was convinced that he could hear a tiny bell in the miniscule church below striking midnight. He thundered with rage as a paroxysm of pain exploded in him when the ghastly hands finally succeeded in pulling his limbs from his body, causing him to burst into a million tiny pieces that flew through the sky.

Rose smiled at Rory as she opened her arms for him when the church bells rang out twelve peals for midnight, kissing him warmly on the cheek. “Happy New Year, Rory. We love you.”

Blinking back tears and swallowing the lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat, he could barely whisper “Happy New Year, Rose,” in response. Trevor’s arms wrapped around them both as the final bell pealed and the first firework exploded in the sky above them.

“Right on time!” Trixie said, looking up at the sky.

“That first one didn’t seem so bright though, for some reason,” Tom observed.

“You can’t win them all, I suppose! Happy New Year,Tom!” Kathleen added as she wrapped her arms around her brother and cousin and hugged them close to her. “Here’s to new beginnings!”

“New beginnings indeed,” replied Trixie, smiling as she watched Rose and Trevor enfold Rory in the most loving embrace he had ever known.

Promo A Curious NYE
©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

Fairy Lights.

Promo Fairy Lights Plain
Just like a bundle of fairy lights, stowed carelessly,
I am a mess of entangled emotions
A jumbled catastrophe, knotted and messy,
Some parts are missing, some coloured glass broken;
Synapses misfire in slightly frayed wires:
There’s danger in causing my power to surge,
I don’t always light up the way others desire
But I can be quite lovely when I have the urge.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

Living in Babylon.

Daniellion.jpg

Thrown into the den of the lion
With a predator beyond hunger;
I walk each day in the blazing fire
Greedy and roaring like thunder;
Yet these are no more dangerous than
The prosecutor’s accusation,
My life is held in those very hands
That desire my humiliation.
While there are many flagrant outlaws
Who never pay for their rebellion
I am the one hauled before the judge,
Indicted, convicted: a hellion.
Although I protest my innocence
Among the belligerent rabble,
My protestations are overwhelmed
By the accuser’s angry babble.
My sin is bold nonconformity,
In standing out among the many;
They care not for integrity
Perhaps because they haven’t any.
My only true standing conviction
Is one they will never understand:
There is a higher jurisdiction
Than the cruel tyrant who rules this land.
Despite the living hell I endure,
I have no choice but to believe
That the reign of fear must end soon
And I shall win my reprieve.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

You, Amy Winehouse and Me.

You AmyWinehouse and Me
You always remind me of Amy:
Not because you look like her,
Nor because of talent, or tattoos,
But because I want to fade to black.
Every time I think of you.

Only— Amy was wrong
Because you can’t drink your way
Out of a nightmare that haunts you
Day after day;
You’re not stronger than me
And tears don’t dry themselves;
You didn’t love me tomorrow, but I
Found someone else.

Sometimes the only rehabilitation
Is going different ways,
Because life still goes on
And there will be better days.
Someday I’ll put the pain behind me
And you won’t ever cross my mind:
It will be you, not me, that fades
Away to black.

©2017 Joanne Van Leerdam

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