Season 1, Episode 1 (short story)

I just took part in the Halloween Gothic Day of Creation. It was another day-long event organised by Dr Sam Hirst, as a part of the Romancing the Gothic lectures and talks. Today was particularly inspiring with wonderful workshops on world-building and folklore. I was very pleased to be able to read one of my stories as a part of an authors’ showcase.
If you enjoy this story and want to support me, you can donate a cup of coffee to me on my ko-fi!

I was still sizzling from the holy water when she found me. The hunters were after fun that night, their strikes designed to injure, not kill. But they overestimated their abilities and my flight into the building took them by surprise.

Contrary to popular opinion, we’re strong but not that strong. With my arm half off and third degree burns coursing down my neck, I was somewhat weary after the fifth flight of stairs.

I stumbled along a concrete walkway before spying the light through a kitchen window.

I took a chance. In the dead of night, there I was, covered in blood that was mostly my own, hair frazzled from a fiery torch (bloody amateurs), and fangs on display. I can imagine I was quite the sight.

But when I slumped to my knees and pounded my fist upon the door, begging for help, she opened it. A small woman with crinkly, soft skin poked her head out and looked down at me. She adjusted her glasses, then asked if I’d like a cup of tea.

I didn’t understand at the time why she helped me, but afterwards I did. It was just who she was.

She shuffled back inside and beckoned me to follow. Doing as I was told, I limped after her, shutting the door behind me. She led me through to a warm living room containing a sturdy sofa that she instructed me to “park” myself on while she sorted out some tea.

As she passed me, she pulled her dressing gown a little closer and shivered, before frowning at the thermostat on the wall.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, “that’s my fault.”

She smiled and said, “Nice in the summer, though! Do you take sugar?”

People like me don’t generally drink or eat human food. Think of it like lactose-intolerance. However, like many lactose-intolerant people, some of us still eat things we know aren’t good for us: we miss the taste of sandwiches, or cream cakes or, in my case, tea.

While the kettle boiled, I heard the gentle thwacking of her slippers as she went to another room. She emerged shortly after, armed with a fluffy dressing gown and a pink nightdress.

She motioned to the bathroom and suggested I may want to change out of my still smouldering jacket. 

I returned to find her ensconced in a high back armchair facing the sofa. A mug of steaming hot tea sat waiting for me on a coffee table. Upon the mug was an orange cartoon cat declaring an aversion to Mondays.

Taking my seat once again, I held the mug between my hands, placing it upon my knees, thanking her as I sat there.

She nodded and, after a few minutes of silence, asked, “Do you always have the fangs out?”

I threw a hand up to cover my mouth, forgetting my ligaments were still knitting themselves together. My lack of control meant I smacked myself in the face.

She laughed a little at that.

“S-sorry,” I stuttered, “they’re automatic. They come out when we’re threatened or, um-“

I didn’t finish the sentence, but she nodded again.

“So. You’re a – what do you call yourselves?”

“Ah, humans call us vampires,” I explained. “The ones who know about us, that is, like the hunters.”

She made a humph sound at that. Then she said, “And what do you call yourselves?”

I wasn’t expecting that, but Marie was always full of surprises.

I told her and she said it sounded nice to her ears: “lyrical”.

It didn’t take long for the hunters to find me. Marie was in the kitchen, boiling the kettle for our second round of tea (“decaf, this time,” she insisted, “it’s after 8”), when they began knocking on the door.

She popped her head into the living room, squinted at me and asked, “These those hunters of yours?”

I knew they wouldn’t just barge into a human home, but I was putting Marie at risk the longer I stayed. I placed my mug down, and began to thank her for giving me sanctuary, if only for a while.

I had a whole speech prepared. It was very good, noble, even. 

Marie just rolled her eyes at me and told me to sit myself back down. She said that if she could tell that Tory fool to get off her doorstep (then she muttered something indecipherable about someone called Thatcher), she could deal with this.

I stayed out of sight on the sofa, but I heard Marie approach the front door and, in a trembling voice I did not recognise, she asked, “Who-who is it?”

I don’t know exactly what kind of lies they tried to weave, but I don’t think it would have made any difference.

I have heard the banshee’s shrill wail as it announces the passing of a loved one, and I have endured the screech of mothmen as they swooped upon the damned. However, nothing could have prepared me for Marie’s shrieks as she threatened to call the police, accusing the hunters of being “dodgy conmen” trying to do her harm, that she’d get Steve from no. 6 to sort them out, and he went to the gym 5 times a week and while she was worried he spent far too much time there, it made him happy so who was she to judge?

Hunters aren’t risk-averse, but they are fixated on the idea of “working in the shadows” as anonymous guardians. You can’t maintain that mysterious aura if you end up battling a gym enthusiast called Steve on the 5th floor of a Camden council estate block.

They left, but they wouldn’t be gone forever. When I saw Marie’s grinning face, and how pleased she was with her performance, I almost didn’t want to tell her that my reprieve was a temporary one; that they would be watching this block for some time.

Marie just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I’ve got a spare room. Could do with the company.”

I thanked her for the generous offer, but reminded her that my dietary requirements were somewhat specialised and not covered by a supermarket home delivery.

She pondered this, then said she would deal with it tomorrow.

The next evening, I woke in the spare room, thankful for Marie’s blackout curtains. I found her in the kitchen, warming something in the microwave. I recognised the smell immediately and asked her where she had got it from.

She smiled and said that she was friends with a local butcher. She’d convinced him to sell her some regularly, telling him that she wanted to make blood pudding.

An ingenious woman, Marie.

We spent the next few weeks in a sort of domestic bliss. Marie would carry on with her normal routine while I slept: library visits on Mondays, book group on Wednesdays, catch-up with some friends on Saturdays.

In the evenings, we would eat together, her usually demolishing cauliflower cheese and ham at an alarming speed, while I sipped from a mug.

After dinner was my favourite time, however. On my second night there, I’d noticed what turned out to be a large, remastered DVD box set of Murder, She Wrote, still wrapped in cellophane. I asked what it was and what followed was about 30 minutes of her telling me all about the show: how long it had run for, notable guest stars like Magnum PI, as well as the fan-theory that Jessica Fletcher was secretly a serial killer, covering up her crimes by “solving” them and implicating others.

It was wonderful to watch, honestly.

I asked her why, if she was such a big fan, the DVDs were unopened. She looked at them for a moment and said a friend had gifted the set to her, years ago. That, while she appreciated the thought, she liked the quality of VHS tapes much more, especially the grainy lines that appeared now and again as the tape began to warp and fade. She also found it comforting to watch the old ad breaks, reminding her of products that had long-disappeared.

At this point, she led me to a broom closet. Within were several shelves, all filled with VHS tapes in cardboard sleeves. The tapes were labelled and meticulously arranged into season order. Each season had a different colour label, with 3 episodes listed upon the cassette’s spine in neat handwriting.

I blinked a few times, and asked how long she had been collecting for.

She grinned and said, “Oh, just a few decades.”

I asked if we could watch some episodes. I had never been able to keep up with TV shows and was fascinated to know a bit more about this Jessica Fletcher whom Marie so clearly adored.

She drummed her fingers upon her mouth and shuffled into the closet, her gaze scanning along each shelf in turn. It was like watching a sommelier contemplate the best wine to pair with a fine meal.

Eventually she went back to the start of the shelf and grabbed the very first cassette.

“Always best to start at the beginning,” she said, wiping the dust off the cardboard sleeve and leading me back to the living room and her TV cabinet.

Beneath the TV was a VHS player. Marie pushed the tape through a slot with a satisfying “schlunk” and pressed play. She fiddled with a remote control and the jolly, tinkling music hit me first. There on the screen was the surprisingly upbeat opening sequence, featuring a woman laughing and riding her bike around a cosy seaside town while presumably solving horrific murders.

I fell in love immediately.

So, each evening, we would watch a couple of episodes. Marie had watched them all several times, so it was down to me to try and guess who the murderer was. It became a fun game for the two of us, one I would often lose.

When Marie retired to bed, I’d stay up to watch more. The next morning, I would recap them to her over breakfast. She enjoyed sharing little details I might have missed, like how then little-known actor Andy Garcia shows up as a street thug in the very first episode. Then I’d go to sleep and she would go about her day, before repeating the cycle again in the evening.

I think that was the happiest I’d been in centuries. Maybe ever.

Of course, it couldn’t last. At some point, the videos would run out. At some point, the hunters would return.

I had to make a difficult decision and I told Marie I needed to go; that creatures like me did not get fairytale endings.

I had a whole speech.

She cut me off just as I got to the part where I had begun to explain the historical complexities and solitary life of my kind. Instead, she motioned towards a large trunk she’d brought home the day before and smiled at me like I was a foolish child.

Of course she had a plan.

It wasn’t a comfortable journey, but we managed to escape to America in one piece. Marie had always dreamed of seeing the places portrayed in the show she adored, but she’d never had a suitable companion. Until me.

We started with Cabot Cove, naturally, which was actually filmed in California rather than Maine. She loved that, getting me to take photos of her smiling as she rode a bicycle along the seaside paths.

Without a friendly butcher to help out, we’ve had to improvise around my diet. Marie doesn’t mind me feeding from hunters (but only if you attack first; she thinks it’s unsporting, otherwise), and thankfully there’s always a fresh supply of you. Sometimes I even let you live.

I think she prefers it if you die, though, so I am sorry about that. It pleases her funny sense of humour to go around the States leaving bodies where Jessica Fletcher did; and who am I to disappoint such a wonderful lady?

Microfiction: Waters & Door

I’ve been enjoying creating 50 word stories recently. Here are a couple more I’ve come up with…
Rushing waters in a river flowing over rocks. A black and white photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

Waters
To save our village, we fed people to the river. We pretended this was her desire, but truly it was ours.

Still the waters rose and she swept us away.

When we returned, we found our homes reclaimed. Bloated bodies occupied every bed and chair, with their unending, triumphant smiles.

A glass door. On the outside, through the glass, you can see a breezeblock wall. Photo from Carolina Pimenta

Door
The house tried its usual tricks, but the new owner was unperturbed.

When the walls bled, she thanked it for redecorating.

When the pipes wailed, she complimented its musical talents.

The house, exhausted, asked why she was unafraid.

She glanced for a moment at the rarely-opened front door.

“Am I?”

A work in progress

I’m working on fragments of stories at the moment. This one doesn’t have a real title yet. I’d planned for it to be a longer story, but it kind of feels right to end it where it is, at the moment. It might end up being the start of a different story, but instead focused on another character. I may come back to it later, so we’ll see!
A moss and grass covered forest floor. Thin, bare trees are dotted around

Blood ran down his bare arm, mingling with the drops of rain to form streams along the back of his hand. He suddenly remembered raspberry sauce; the way he would draw patterns with it upon the melting ice cream in his bowl, despite mother’s silent disapproval.

The sound of screeching rubber against asphalt echoed across the forest, usurping the memory of his mother’s implacable face. 

Escaping from the past to an equally hostile present did not ease his distress.

The rain fell hard, and so did he.

He flattened his body to the ground, cheek and jaw resting on the earth and rotting leaves. He dared not lift his head; could not turn his gaze towards the voices that may have been laced with concern, or something darker. The dying light melted its way through the trees, seeking him out like their words.

Shunning them both, he pressed his cheek further into the slick and scratching detritus. He closed his eyes and, as the rain continued to flick at his skin and into his ears, he let the scent of decay envelop him.

Eventually, the voices faded, and he wondered if their owners had resumed their hunt elsewhere. He knew that soon there would be others to aid the search, their voices louder, more insistent, accompanied by shrill electrical screams that would fall like a tocsin upon him.

He opened his eyes as the rain faded from a steady deluge into haphazard drips. Hesitating, he pushed his body up, ignoring the muddy stains upon his shirt that simply added to the ones already present.

He crouched and counted to 10 in his head, supplanting the pain in his arm from his mind while he still could. He waited for a sound, a tell-tale noise. Hearing none, he stood, and began to run once more.

At first, his lungs shuddered, his throat choking as he pounded his feet into the earth below. His thoughts drifted for a moment to his mother; but they withdrew almost instantly from that sting to focus on his present circumstances.

Looking down at his feet, he marvelled at how it seemed like he was pushing the earth away from him, bounding across it before gravity imprisoned him again, yet the heaviness of each step lessened as he ran. 

He could not place when it started, but soon he felt the distance between each leap lengthen, milliseconds at first then seconds then perhaps minutes. He sensed a growing lightness within his bones, and he stretched out his arms and his legs and his fingers and his toes. Soon, soon, he could not be sure that he was not flying through the trees. Leaves and branches reached out to him, blessing his face as he soared past them. 

He felt a glory singing through every muscle and tendon, a chorus of joy that pushed him further and further, away from the road, away from who he had been and who he would have become.

Absentmindedly, he wondered if he was in his right mind; he knew he was not.

And as he inevitably stumbled, sinking into the ground as it gave way and consumed him whole, he knew he did not care.

Adventures in microfiction

Adventures sounds very grand for what I’ve been doing.

Ever since an inspiring and fascinating talk by Daniel Pietersen about microfiction during the last Gothic Day of Creation, I’ve been taking the time every evening to write a ~50 word story.

It’s helped me work on editing. More importantly, it’s made me think about how to create little worlds as effectively as possible.

They’re starting points, but I find it relaxing to switch off from work and do something creative. I’m privileged to have the ability to do so, to be fair.

Below are two examples of microfiction I’ve made so far. The first, Hunger, is from an exercise during the Gothic Day of Creation. The second, Ritual, is one of my evening stories:

Hunger

He ran, blood falling from his teeth, forest branches scratching his body. His only crime had been hunger, and they had so much meat to spare. Escape was near until, suddenly, it was not: up ahead he spotted her small figure, her shining axe blade and her bloody, red cloak.

Ritual

Candles illuminated the body. Thia kissed his decaying lips and recited words wrenched from her mother.

She waited, watching the mist coalesce and settle upon him. His body spasmed twice, the ritual complete. 

Eyes wide open, Michael stared at her.

“Was I dead?” he whispered.

“Far too long, this time.”

To be seen (short story)

I just took part in the Gothic Day of Creation. This was a day-long event organised by Dr Sam Hirst, who has been incredible in delivering and organising talks about Romancing the Gothic for the last few months.

I’ve learned so much and, while I don’t always have the capacity to join in with the more social aspects like the group’s film nights or book discussion nights, I’ve found a wonderful community when I have joined in. Attend the lectures if you can (they’re free but you can also support via ko-fi and patreon).

I wrote the story below a couple of months ago, inspired by a writing prompt about captivity/escape. I submitted it for the Day of Creation’s Authors’ Showcase and was incredibly pleased to be able to do a reading of it.

To Be Seen

A photo of a woman sitting at the beach. It's a sunny day. She is wearing a red swimsuit and red hat. The image is from a 1970s seaside postcard

There was nothing in particular that drew me to her photo. It was simply there, shuffled in the pile, waiting to be claimed. Anyone else could have picked it out. But they didn’t.

I keep thinking, if only I’d spent more time researching. If only. 

Still. I was the one who wanted to see. 

My course was meant to be the first step in becoming better. While I’d got my photography degree over 10 years ago, I knew I hadn’t achieved as well as I could have. A nasty case of depression in my final year, and a 4 month waiting list for support, put paid to that. 

I originally had plans to become a photographer. Instead, I stumbled into the first sort-of-related job I found. The next decade was just me going through the motions in an advertising firm. It was steady work, and kept me going.

But regrets erode you, piece by piece, and one day I decided to make a change before I became worn down by them. I wanted to go back to creating things for people to enjoy. Adult education centres aren’t as well-funded as they used to be, but there was still a decent advanced arts photography course to get me back into the game.

The first project was about using images of the past. One of my classmates wanted to colourise old photos, another was going to collect and arrange some to tell a story.

As for me, I didn’t feel particularly inspired. I thought that, once I got the materials together, I’d know where to start. 

I left it to the last minute, partly thanks to an issue with an office project, but mostly because I struggle to get anything done until I’m right up against the deadline.

That’s why I ended up scanning the shelves of the local bric-a-brac shop only a week before the hand-in. To call Treasure Trove a shop doesn’t really do it justice. It’s spread over two floors and almost the size of a warehouse, an Aladdin’s Cave of antiques, eccentric objet d’arts and general weird crap. 

Come for the 1930s bakelite phones, leave with a creepy clown painting.

This bizarre mixture means it’s favoured by local art students searching for resources, as well as determined middle class couples hoping to find some unique home decor trinket. I’m painfully middle class, but this time I wasn’t visiting for fun or to marvel at the 1960s magazines. This time, I was there as an aspiring art student.

One of the things they sell at Treasure Trove is photos. There are literally thousands of them, featuring people probably long-dead. Discarded photo albums packed with memories end up here, shaken apart for the paying public to pick through.

I’d had an idea to find pictures with a historical link to the area. Honestly, though, I just wanted to grab whatever intrigued me.

I found her photo, the first one, in an unmarked green shoe box. The scene was that of a young woman standing on the local beach. Judging by the colourful pier in the background, I guessed the photo was at least 50 years old, way before the fire that had reduced the pier to a charred skeleton.

She was standing on the sand a few metres from whoever was taking the photo. She was mostly turned away from the camera, one hand raised as if waving at someone in the sea. Her red skirt was ruffled by the wind, blowing up against her legs as strands of dark brown hair whipped across her face. With her blue and white striped top, she looked very nautical, like she had heard the word “seaside” and leaned into it, style-wise.

I rummaged through the box and was pleasantly surprised to find more photos of the young woman, all of her facing the sea. They were almost identical, but each one captured her arm in a different position as she waved.

Pleased with my haul, I went to pay. The owner, Gracie, is an odd sort. He runs the place, permanently fixed behind the counter, but I’ve never seen any indication that he actually wants to be there. There’s a scowl ground into his fleshy face, immovable after years of practice. I’ve maybe heard five words out of him in all the years I’ve visited.

So you can understand it was a shock when Gracie started a conversation. He had just taken the photos to check the backs for his pencil-marked price, and I was preparing to place the money on the counter for him, as he preferred.

Then he paused, looked at me with his milky blue eyes and said, “You interested in the lady?”

It took me a moment to respond, but eventually I replied that yes I was, sort of, for an art project.

Gracie nodded once and said he had got a whole batch of photo albums from a house clearance, and this woman was in most of them. He didn’t know if she was the deceased person whose possessions he had bought, catalogued and set upon his shelves. He said that, for some reason, her photos had caught the eyes of several locals, and they’d been buying handfuls of them.

I should have just left it at that, made a polite comment about the whole situation, and moved on quickly, but, like the fool I am, I asked what it was about the photos that made them so popular.

Gracie smirked then and I didn’t particularly care for it. He said he didn’t know, but there must be something I and the other collectors saw in them that he couldn’t.

Then he almost too-casually mentioned that he might have more of her photos, and would I be interested in them?

My immediate thought was no, not really: I had what I needed, which was the research material for my project. There was also something about the way Gracie was looking at me that made me feel like I was being weighed up, and that I had been found wanting. Something bristled against my skin and, in that moment, I needed to be as far away from him as possible.

But instead of no, the word that tumbled from my lips was “Yes”.

His mouth spread thin across his face like an elastic band stretched too far and he grabbed a pencil, demanding to know my contact number.

He was so eager, scribbling away, promising me more photos for my collection. At the time, I put it down to him appraising me, like I was a profitable source of further income. Nothing more.

When I got home, I began to think about what I wanted to do and I had the bright idea of taking this figure of the woman and superimposing her upon new photos of the same scenery.

It was supposed to be an image full of pathos, this carefree person set against the now ruined remains of the pier. Unoriginal, maybe, but quick and easy to complete before the deadline.

I took the three photos and, one by one, began to cut chunks of them away with scissors, freeing her from the surrounding scene. 

The next few days, I took photos of the seafront during my lunch break. It was 5 minutes from where I work, so it didn’t take long, and I made sure the derelict pier was always in frame. 

I printed the photos out and pasted her onto the new scenery. It looked better than I had imagined it would. She seemed so out of place, her brightly lit figure practically glowing against the murky grey of a September sky. Staring at her photo, for the first time in a long while, I felt a sense of calm fall upon me.

A loud, shrill noise interrupted my reverie. I remember snatching up my phone as if I was going to throw it against the wall, but I stopped myself when I saw the call was from Gracie. He’d found more photos and said he could drop them off, if I’d be happy to send him the money online. So I did.

That night, I dreamt of the woman. I was begging her to look at me, screaming until my voice evaporated. Her hair moved like crashing waves as she began to turn, only for me to wake, shivering alone in the darkness, tears still falling down my face.

The next day, I found a small envelope on my doormat. There were three photos inside, and I was excited because I recognised some of the places in them. A famous old pub (practically a national heritage site round here), a shot of the high street, and one of the clocktower. 

The woman was in all three of the photos, still wearing the same outfit. Still as exquisite as before. 

In each one, she was walking away from the camera, though looking back a little towards her mysterious companion. Her face always seemed to be out of focus or obscured, though in one of the photos I could just about trace the faint outline of a smile developing beneath the dark strands of her hair.

I thought about making the project into a series. Fired up, I charged further into town during lunch, taking photos at all three sites.

Cut. Shoot. Print. Paste. That’s all I’d been doing the last few days.

Then yesterday, I was woken early by the letterbox clattering as another envelope fell through it. In it, three more photos, this time of the woman strolling down what looked like Hilder Road, a street not far from mine. Her strides were getting wider, like she was almost jogging. She was moving towards the camera now, but her head was twisted to the left, towards a row of houses. 

I could see her smile more clearly, her mouth curling at the corners, and I realised that my heart was racing at the thought she might reveal her face to me.

The joy and excitement all seemed so normal, at the time.

After work, I decided to walk home and get the shots I needed on the way back.

I left the office with a starless night beginning to settle upon the town. I found myself going past the old pub I had stood outside the day before. I then turned down the high street, and it didn’t even register when I walked past the clocktower.

I stopped at Hilder Road and decided to make the best of the dying light. I was so busy messing around with the camera, I almost missed her. 

I felt someone brush past me and by the time I looked up, she was already at the end of the street. I saw the flash of a red skirt disappearing around the corner and I felt the cold air punch through my chest.

I chased after her, of course I did, but she wasn’t there. 

I think I ran home. I know I didn’t stop.

There was another envelope waiting for me. This one was crumpled, almost balled up, just sitting on my doormat.

I shouldn’t have opened it.

But I needed to see her.

Three more photos of the woman. In each one, she’s now facing towards the camera. She’s sprinting down another street, the one at the end of my road, and her arms are swinging, her long fingers outstretched, and she’s running towards me. 

In each photo, she moves closer to the lens, catching up to her photographer, until in the last one her entire face fills the frame and I can see everything now and I cannot understand and I can hear her whisper how she could never get the smile right.

I’ve tried calling Gracie. He’s not picking up anymore.

An envelope arrived earlier this evening, corners ripped. There are dirty, long fingerprints smeared all over it.

I don’t want to open it. I already know where she’s standing.

Short story: Here Lies My Love

blue velvet ribbon background

Note: I’ve posted this previously on a different blog, but am slowly shifting things over.

A while ago, I had the opportunity to attend a Creative Writing Workshop at the London College of Fashion. The aim was to create stories, poetry or narratives generally inspired by pieces of clothing from the LCF Archive.

I can’t help but feel incredibly privileged to have been able to view and handle things like exquisite lace dresses from the 1930s, or kid leather shoes from the 1800s. It was like being able to step into a museum exhibit and literally get to grips with history.

It was fascinating to get an insight into how other people viewed each piece, and the stories they wanted to tell. I wanted to share the story I wrote because I sometimes forget that I can write.

I was obsessed by a blue, velvet jacket. I’ll describe it in the story so you get a sense of it.

Here Lies My Love

He couldn’t remember the photo being taken, but there he was, framed on the mantlepiece, and looking very handsome even if he did say so himself.

Wearing that beautiful blue jacket; my goodness, hadn’t he been beautiful?

In the photo, his eyes were certainly less bloodshot, his hair more blonde than the strange, tobacco-stained locks he sported now.

The walking frame barely supported his weight, but he pulled himself up from the draining comfort of his armchair. It wasn’t like he had far to travel.

He grimaced as he set off, musing that when they had imprisoned him here, they had made the cramped space sound like a positive feature.

‘Traitorous bastards,’ he thought, his socks scratching the carpet as he shuffled forward.

Back then, when they had made him a pot of musty-smelling tea, when they had sat him down in his own living room to “have a chat”, it hadn’t taken long for the full horror of what they were saying to start peeling away at his mind.

He had looked past them then, his gaze instead flittering around his lounge, his home with its many secrets. He had cried then.

They had told him to cheer up.

Over the next few weeks, they had informed him of the need to “downsize”, allowing him to keep little. However, he’d fought for that jacket and he had won.

Step. Step. Step.

He mentally saluted himself for another strenuous mission completed as he arrived in front of the closet. Carefully, he lifted one finger, then his hand, testing his balance.

It held, and he opened the closet door.

The blue velvet sparkled and shone amongst dull, sensible shirts and drab trousers (which reached impossibly, unnecessarily high).

His ran his hands over the black lace of the lapels, the papery skin of his palms catching upon it, his fingertips juttering at every detail.

Years ago, too many to recall, he had spotted the jacket in a shop window and fallen deeply in love for the first time. He had saved for weeks to afford it because, from the moment it had appeared before him, he had known that he needed it. It was an extravagant piece, true, but it was a statement.

And he had always wanted to make a statement.

He closed his eyes and let his hand fall away from the velvet. He glanced back over at the mantlepiece and smiled at his younger self, as well as the dark-haired vision arranged beside him in the photo.

His smile grew a little wider as he remembered that the jacket had certainly caught Simon’s attention.

He reached once more for the jacket and, holding it lightly between his fingers, he slipped it off the satin hanger.

He had forgotten how soft the velvet felt on his skin. He lifted it up and slid his arms through the sleeves, pursing his lips as he did so; he had also forgotten how much the lace cuffs scratched the shit out of him.

Grabbing hold of the frame once more, he manoeuvred his unreliable bones backwards in order to admire his reflection on the closet door mirror.

He nearly cried when he saw himself. True, he was older, and Simon was no longer there to hold him up, but he could still see the face of the beautiful boy, the boy who had fallen in love and who had been loved.

Tiredness ate at his muscles and he suddenly found the armchair a terribly inviting prospect.

He collapsed back into his meagre throne and felt warmer for the first time in years. His eyelids began to slide shut, but he didn’t try to fight it.

‘Let them find me like this,’ he thought, ‘the beautiful boy in the beautiful jacket.’

As his eyes closed for the final time, he thought about Simon and his stupid, lop-sided grin, and the way that the light from his smile could resolve the darkest disquiet. He thought about what his not-family would do with the jacket. He wondered if they would let him wear it as they poured the soft earth upon him.

He thought that he would like that, to be buried with his love. And though it would decay around him and rot as he rotted, it would always be his.