Time Heals… – Chapter Two

I wish I could say that I hadn’t thought about Westmeadow or Holy Trinity Hospital in years, but that’s not true. It seeps back into me on an almost nightly basis. As the empty silence takes over every night, memories creep back in. The last time I was in that hospital, my Mum was laying in the bed. I was seven years old, a couple of weeks away from being eight. I blamed my Dad for her being there, but it probably wasn’t his fault. He used to hit her, but I don’t think he could have done that to her. I still want that to be the last time I step into Holy Trinity, but Casey says someone there will speak to me. Someone who asked for me. Someone I used to know. Someone I don’t want to meet. I don’t even know who it is and I know that I don’t want to meet them.

It’ll all come flooding back to me – as if it ever left. The beeping of the machines. The people talking in hushed voices. Being told to hug Mum even though I didn’t want to. Holding back tears, or at least trying. I don’t want to relive all of that. I don’t want to think about it at all, but now I have too. I owe her, Casey, a lot. She’s already paid me for the article. There’s a little bit of arm-bending to get me there, but it’s not the worst thing she could do to me. I completely flaked on the articles. As always, and she was there to pick up the pieces. Back in University it was the same. I would miss a deadline, and she would spend all night helping me make the extension. Pretty much writing it for me. She earned my 2:1 along with her first.

Straight out of Uni, she set up her blog. A passion project to get her writing out there. She let me write posts. Told me it was to have a more steady output to get more readers. That wasn’t true. It was to help me out and keep me focused. I was working as a dish-cleaner, and probably still would be if it wasn’t for her. I wasn’t writing anything. I hadn’t given up but I wasn’t doing it. I was just waiting for everything to come to me. The days slipped into weeks which charged into months, sprinting into years. I ignored her helping hand and tried it my way. She got me the crappy click-bait job. Told me it was a stepping stone. The only reason I wasn’t too proud to accept it was because she was already doing better than me. I resented her for a while because of it. Didn’t answer her calls, or said I had deadlines to meet. I didn’t. I can sprawl that crap out without thinking, barely needs proofing either. It’s the kind of bull that just flows out of me.

Her blog turned into a website and before long she was barely writing articles any more, she had a team of writers. I got that phone call, one day a few years back. Hey, don’t you wanna quit the crap and come and work for me. For you? I said. Never. We laughed and she told me to send anything I had to her and she would make sure it was put forward. It took me two years to send her anything. I almost thought she would have forgotten about me, but after sending her the email with the career starting story she replied within five minutes. Told me to have the full thing done as soon as and for once things started looking up.

I quit my job pretty much straight away, told myself I would stop drinking and start taking this seriously. But that didn’t happen. Days passed without a word written and before I knew it months passed. I’m twenty-nine and living in some dude’s, I found on the internet called Dave, spare room for cheap. I barely make rent most months, but he doesn’t seem to care as long as I get it to him at some point. The window that leads out to the garden is caked in dirt.. I should have some money waiting for me in the bank, I need to get it before I leave. I can’t buy any drink though, that’s the important thing. I’m not an alcoholic.

The light flickers on and brightens up my room, my whole life. A small unmade single bed with old sheets stuck on, peeling away at one corner. I haven’t slept in it in two days. A desk with a half decade old laptop sitting on top, I can’t move it without it turning off the battery needs to be on constant charge. The chair in front of the desk came with the room, and holds numerous unidentified stains that I don’t really want to think about. I don’t know where the remote for the TV is, not that I’m sure if the TV works in the first place. There are a few stacks of books scattered about, about half of them read. The rest of the room is made up with empty wrappers, cans and bottles.

With my phone in one pocket and my wallet in the other I’m ready to leave. I don’t really own much else. I should probably change clothes, but I don’t know where any clean alternatives are. If the money’s in the bank then I’ll buy some on the way. Not that any one would notice in Westmeadow that I hadn’t changed in a few days. I’m seriously not looking forward to getting back there. I never wanted to go back. I don’t have any contact with anyone. The second I was old enough, I left. That was it. I turned Eighteen and got a place in Uni, didn’t even tell my Dad when I was leaving, just left. Packed my things and got on the bus.

I wasn’t happy that day. I thought I would be in the weeks leading to the moment, but I wasn’t. Fear probably took over. I’m not sure. There was no way I was going to miss the place, not even my Dad. The only family I actually had left. He was still asleep as I left. Ten in the morning, he hadn’t even asked when I was planning on leaving. I don’t think he even remembers me telling him I got into Uni.

With two bags I left that house, and I never looked back. Took a couople of buses to Northampton and then got the train to London. It was my first time in the capital. Once I’d been through the tube and got out onto the busy streets, whatever had stopped me from being happy before disappeared. I was there, couldn’t believe it in the slightest.

But here I am, getting ready to go back there, why would I want to do that? I bite my tongue, not wanting to shout at Casey, even if she isn’t there. I take a heavy breath and look around the room one last time. It’s a mess, but I don’t want to run away from this one. I’m not running away. If anything, I’m trying to keep this place together. I’m not going to tell Dave, he’ll tell me he wants some rent before I go.

I flick the light off and walk out of the room, hoping the air outside will mask my scent until I can grab some deodorant at the very least. The door leads into a dark hallway, where I turn right and jog down some stairs, through a door frame that’s missing a door and then through the front door onto the street.

“Hey, Christian Hopkins, as I live and breathe, walking around outside with the rest of us living people?”

“Case? What are you doing?”

“I couldn’t let you go all the way to Westmeadow without some help, that wouldn’t be fair. I can’t imagine job seekers will get you there, a hotel and everything else.”

“I have other means of income. Someone owes me, they should be giving me the money today.”

I’ve been hoping that money would be in my account every day for a week. A couple of weeks back, I lent Mark a hundred pounds to put on a fight he knew the outcome to. The plan was, he knew the outcome and I had the money. Simple, at worst I lose all the money I have in the world, at best? I get 50%. I haven’t heard from him since the fight went his way. I saw that on Facebook. I called Mark twice, and both times, straight to voicemail.

“And when that doesn’t work out?”  Casey asked with a smile.

“It’ll work out, I’ll make it work out.”

“Just hear me out, alright? You don’t have to take my help.”

“I’m listening.”

“You can take this car, and drive there.”

“Case you need your car.”

“No I don’t, it’s London. I can get everywhere on the tube. Also I’m giving you another advance. £2000. That should cover expenses on this article, since I really want this story. I also want three more articles after this. Click-bait if they have to be.”

“No, that’s too much. I already took enough of your money. I’ll get you this article and that’ll be the end of it. I don’t think I’m cut out for this kind of work. This is the end. I need to sort my life out and waiting for this job to happen isn’t working.”

“Chris. You’re a good writer. You just need to focus on actually writing. I’ve read your articles. They’re good, that’s why I want you to do this.”

“You don’t need to butter me up any more, I already agreed to help you. But this is the end of it. I don’t want to do this any more. I need to get a better job and actually start living.”

“Okay, just take this money. I’ve already sent it to your bank. Take the car as well. At least then you can get there quickly.”

“I can’t, Case. I’m not insured.”

“Don’t worry about it, I added you on the insurance for the week.”

“Jesus, Casey you don’t quit. That crap’s expensive. I can’t believe you did that.”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing. I wanted you to get this story for me. It’s important. Only you can do this one, and I look after my writers, my friends.”

“What’s so important about this story? So what if there’s a suicide. There’s nothing else to go on.”

“There has to be something. It’s not just that there’s a suicide, there hasn’t been any reported crime there in a decade. No peep from the town. I can’t even find people who live there on the internet. Just this one guy, who works at Holy Trinity, who says they will only talk to you.”

“How did they know about me? Who are they?”

“You’re probably not going to like this. It’s Ryan Campbell. He read one of your articles.”

That’s a name I hadn’t heard in years. If I wasn’t already having second thoughts, I definitely was now after that bombshell. Little Campy’s brother. So many doors I didn’t want to reopen. My legs start shaking and turn to jelly. I can’t do this. Simple. That’s the end of it.

“No,” I whisper. “I can’t do this. Send someone else if you really think there’s a story. I just can’t do it.”

“Christian, please. You owe me. You think you can’t do this, but I know you can. I believe in you. I know you can do this. Trust me. It’ll do you good to go back there. Resolve some problems.”

“I don’t want to go back there, I never want to go back there. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Just get in the car, you can shout at me on the way. We need to get you some food, and God you stink. Then you can drop me off home, and make your way up there. You’re meeting Ryan at the hospital after his shift ends at eight. You can interview him then, and then make your way to Westmeadow. I didn’t organise you anywhere to stay, I thought you might have a preference. Come on, let’s go.”

To be continued…

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What I’ve Been Reading This Week – Divergent and The Stand

Image result for divergent book

In the last week I’ve finished two books. Both being something I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I was recommended Divergent way back in University, which feels longer than four years ago. I also started reading The Stand over ten years ago back in secondary school. I’ve finally finished them both.

I’ll start with Divergent, which I think is a damn good book. I’ve never seen the films, so I knew nothing about the story before reading. I really enjoyed it. The characters are well written, and are fully developed people. The plot moves along at a good pace, with good twists and turns coming throughout. I didn’t see the final act coming at all, not untill it was already happening.

The book presents a very possible and a little frightening dystopian vision of our society. There is a hint of the past, but there’s no dwelling on what came before, just future bleakness. With strong political undertones, Divergent is a pretty standard book about growing up and moving away from parents to find yourself in the world. It’s just presented in a very unique and engaging way.

I couldn’t put the book down, even staying up late to carry on reading. The ending was satisfying and set up the sequel perfectly. I can’t wait to read the second book. I know I’m a bit late to the party but this is a really good book and I highly recommend it.

Image result for the stand book

This is without a doubt the longest book I’ve ever gotten through. I did listen to it as an audio book, so I technically didn’t read it, but in my mind it still counts. I’m not sure where to start with this one. It’s humongous, over 1100 pages, or 48 hours of audio book.

I’m already a fan of Stephen King. I’m going to get round to reading everything he’s written eventually, so I already knew I was going to enjoy this. I’ve heard nothing but good things. The epic story deals with a post apocalyptic world and the raging battle between good and evil.

While there is a grand scale battle propelling the plot forward, most of the book focuses on a handful of characters on either side. While there are thousands of people living in both Boulder and Las Vegas we only really find out about a select few. Throughout the novel each of these characters is developed completely. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like I’ve known characters as fully developed as these. I found myself caring about each of these characters and feeling their struggle. The villains feel like real people as well, especially Harold Lauder whose story is simply tragic.

The book is very well written, and I loved the details that goes not only into the main characters but also random characters who die during the outbreak of the virus or just after. There are a couple of chapters that just deals with little characters who serve no purpose to the plot, but it all builds the world.

Overall I’ve finished two very good books in the last week. This week I’m going to be finishing Bonfire by Krysten Ritter and a short story collection, Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories by Bram Stoker.

Let me know if you have any recommendations?

Also check out my Facebook and Twitter pages and Patreon, where you can read chapters to my own book earlier than on here.

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Time Heals… – Chapter One

I fell asleep at the desk again. Another deadline missed. I haven’t published anything in months, not even some stupid click bait crap. What’s the time? The red numbers are flashing at me in the darkness. The clock isn’t even set. What the hell happened? I spin the chair away from the table and kick a glass bottle, oh, that happened. My head. Why do I do this. Because I’m a failure? Obviously. I know that. Casey is going to be so angry with me, again. Another deadline missed means one less article for her website. I’m lucky she hasn’t sacked me already.

The phone has been ringing the whole time. That’s what woke me up, I just wasn’t completely aware of the world yet. It stops and the silence continues. At least I work from home, for now. I’m behind on bills, barely enough money for food and now I’ve messed up again. I don’t think I can borrow any more from anyone else. Casey gave me money for five, two thousand word pieces in advance after that first one. I succeeded on three of them. All crap, stuff that I researched from home. Click bait titles, nothing of substance but hey people click on them. I should just churn out two more and then settle. She’s never going to give me another advance though. If it wasn’t for that first article I would never have gotten the first one. I was able to expose a cheating ring run by the teachers at a local rich-kids school. Where their coursework was finished for them, as long as the parents paid. Big scandal, and it all broke on Casey’s website. Since then, nothing. A one time thing.

I wanted to be a big time reporter, actually report on things. That one story fell on my lap, and after that? Nothing. I was able to get some science research group from some university to lend me enough credibility to tell the world that sleeping with your legs straight helps blood flow – “Is the Way you Sleep Killing You?”. I wasn’t happy with the title either, but I needed to get something in. Since then it’s been two more badly researched, probably completely made up, articles. God, I don’t know what I’m doing.

The phone chimes up again. Should have switched it to voicemail.

“Hello?” I croak.

“Chris? It’s Casey. It’s Tuesday and no article in my inbox. What’s the deal? You told me it would be today.”

“Just a bit of a hang-up, give me a couple of hours. It’ll be there. I promise.”

“Your promises mean nothing to me. You’re just going to churn out some more crap that you’ve made up. What happened? I thought you actually wanted this job.”

“I do. I just.”

“Stop making excuses. There are plenty of stories out there. Not everything has to be some kind of scandal. There are other avenues.”

“Yeah, but that’s not how I work.”

“You don’t work at all. Don’t start with your crap again. I know you. I’ve known you since Uni. You always procrastinated. That’s why you nearly got kicked out twice. I stood by you then, but now. This is costing me money. I paid for your articles. I need those articles. Or the money back. It’s as simple as that. I can’t buy other people’s stories if I don’t have money. And if you aren’t going to make me money, then I want that money back.”

“Jesus, Casey. Call me at three in the morning. And expect me to just hand over all that money. I don’t have your money.”

“Chris, it’s half ten in the morning. If you looked outside your window, you’d know that.” Blackout curtains, a gift and a curse. “And you better have that money. I don’t want to get lawyers involved.”

“Come on, Casey. I don’t want lawyers either. Not that they would do much. It was just an agreement between friends.”

“That you signed on. It still counts if you were drunk. 5 articles. £250 each. Plus £1000 for the original article. You signed, and took the money. It’s been three months since the last one. How are you even affording to live?”

“Rent’s cheap when you don’t pay it, and claim unemployment at the same time.”

“Jesus. David. Get yourself together. You’re a joke.”

I know. I’m not proud of what I am. But what can I do. I’m a hack. I knew someone whose kids were going to that school. They told me about the deal, they didn’t want to pay it. They paid me instead to expose it. Since I was a journalist. I was sticking my neck on the line I told them. Fortunately they hadn’t read the crap I’d written up to that point. Ten things to do with a wet sponge. I hate my life. That’s how I afforded life. Click bait sells. Sells well. I thought this was my big break, it wasn’t. But I thought it was. I quit my other job, the original click bait crap. I was born anew. Going to stay sober and get things sorted. A proper journalist. Took me a while to get there, but I was still going to do it. My life dream was coming true. An actual story that actually mattered. And then nothing. I was a hack. Didn’t know where to start with the follow-up, wouldn’t have even got the first one published if it wasn’t for Casey.

“David. Are you there?”

“Yeah, Casey, I’m here. I’m sorry I messed up. I didn’t mean for it to get out of hand again, I thought this was my big break.”

“It was. You messed it up. But I still need those articles.”

“I know you do. I’ll get to work on it right now, I’ll have some crap by mid day, and then the next one will be something good. So good, you’ll want another contract signed straight away. I’ll even be sober for this one.”

“I don’t want more crap. No one actually reads that stuff. They might click it, but they don’t read past the title. I’ve got other writers, they write good stuff. But I need you to do this for me. Pull yourself together. I don’t like seeing you like this.”

Jesus, she actually cares that I’m a mess. Bless her.

“I don’t have any leads, and I don’t even know where to start. It’s been a real mess over here. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

“You don’t need to, I have a story. I have a friend, who works at a hospital. She told me about this suicide.”

“Yeah? And?”

“It happened in this nearby town. Where there hasn’t been a suicide in years. I’m talking a decade. No reported crime either. Nothing. This town hasn’t made a peep in a decade.”

“That doesn’t sound like a story.”

“It does. If everything is perfect there, why did someone suddenly commit suicide.”

“People get depressed. It’s not like there’s going to be some weird supernatural thing going on. I’m sure whatever town you’re on about has its own baggage. Everywhere does. Where is this anyway?”

“The hospital, it’s called Holy Trinity Hospital.”

“No.”

“Please you owe me.”

“I don’t owe you that much. I won’t do it. Get someone else. I’m not going back. I’ve spent my whole life escaping that place, I’m not going back.”

“Come on, it’s been like what? A decade?”

“I’m not doing it. I will hang up if you ask again.”

“Come on, we both know you’re not going to do that. It just requires a little bit of leg work. You’re the best person for the job. There is literally no better person. You know that. You’re from Westmeadow, literally the only I’ve ever met from the place. You have to go back at some point, might as well make it now.”

“I’m not going back, Case, listen to me. This is final. I will write you five more pieces today, all crap and all will get you clicks. That’s the end of it. I’m not going back there. I told you about my past in secret. Not for you to turn it against me. This is the end of the conversation.”

To Be Continued

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New Story Tomorrow (Or right now on Patreon!!)

Tomorrow I’ll be uploading the first chapter of “Time Heals…”, my new novel. I can’t wait for people to read it, I’m very happy with it so far. If like me you can’t wait that long then you can jump onto my patreon page and read it a day early. You’ll have access to my posts a day in advance and be supporting me at the same time. The story will be on here tomorrow either way so don’t feel like you have to.

I’ll be back next week with an update post and the second chapter of Time Heals…

Thanks for reading,

Ashley

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Locked Door

There is a tree outside my window that was planted before I was born. It stretches up-towards the sky, branches spread wide, mid-yawn. A breeze pushing through the leaves is the only reminder that there is an outside. Even in summer only an autumn’s evening glaze reaches my room. My mum doesn’t like me to have the light on, unless it’s actually dark outside. My door remains closed. I want to open it, but I can’t. It’s jammed in the frame somehow. Warped. I tried pulling it and nothing happened. I’ve nearly bent the door handle off.

It doesn’t matter that I can’t get out. Someone will find me sooner or later. Mum or Dad will return from work and let me out. They always do. I could open the window, and scream for help. But no one  would listen. The tree muffles the scream of summer joy coming from children playing outside.

I should be at work today, but I’m not. They won’t mind. I called in sick, expecting some kind of questioning and got nothing. A one word answer and that was the end of it. A forgotten thought that doesn’t continue after the click. I can do everything I need to in this room. I can walk and exercise. Scraps of food will keep me going for a couple of days at least. Always a bottle of water left next to the computer.

The internet is down. Dad probably turned the plug off last night. He often does that. I can turn the computer on, but there is nothing to do. I could carry on writing a story, but no one reads it. I could play a game but I only have a couple and don’t feel like it.

I wish the sun would come into the room and perform its day long dance, slowly winding along the floor like a snake watching its prey. I would be able to tell something is moving then. That time isn’t just standing still. Frozen like a man watching a car crash.

I press the button on the remote but the red light doesn’t blink on the TV. Batteries may be dead. I don’t know. What’s the point though. Aerial TV disappeared a long time ago and I don’t have anything else to watch. I could watch static for a while, at least something would be moving. I can’t move from the bed to click the big button though.

I fetch my phone from the bed side table. The screen lights up the whole room, sucking away the darkness. My eyes transfixed. Slowly everything outside of the phone fades into complete blackness. I can’t see anything other than the screen. No new texts, no missed calls. I ran out of data so no internet for me. At least I can tell time is moving. I open the clock app and watch as the fake second hand moves around. 1 – 60. Then the fake minute hand moves once. I watch this a few times. The rest of the world has gone. The joy from outside is gone. The pale sunlight faded and it’s only eleven in the morning.

The door clicks open, I hear it but I don’t look up. I don’t move from the bed. My eyes glued to the empty screen of rotating illusion.

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