Best Friends Forever – Short Story

Ruffles the Bear went everywhere with Melissa. He sat next to her in the backseat on the way to school, stayed hidden away in her bag during lessons, and even sat on her lap during mealtimes. She took him to her friends’ houses and to family gatherings. Every night she fell asleep holding him, and every morning she woke up with him. Melissa loved that bear more than anything or anyone else in the entire world and would never be separated from him. Ruffles was the last line of defence from the thing under the bed when she was young, and as she grew up, he was her confidant who she shared all her secrets and personal thoughts. Then, with almost no warning for poor little Ruffles, she stopped taking him in her bag to school, he stopped appearing at mealtimes, and was just left to sit in the corner of her bed, wedged between her pillow and bed side table. Occasionally she would still talk to him, act as though nothing had changed, but they both knew deep down that she was growing up and the need for Ruffles was depleting.

                Every so often Melissa would wake up and notice that Ruffles had been knocked to the floor during her sleep. She would pick him up, saying something like ‘what are you doing down there you silly bear?’ and place him back in his corner, then as the years started to progress even that reduced to just placing him back. He then ended up on her bed side table, sitting behind her lamp and gathering dust, before he fell from there as well and bounced on the floor. It took her two days to notice, and then she picked him back up and placed him back on the table, but without much care. He fell again a few days later, as the curtain knocked him when Melissa’s mother opened them one morning as part of her cleaning routine. As she was picking up Melissa’s dirty clothes that had just been thrown about the floor, she accidentally kicked the fallen Ruffles under the bed and into the uncertain darkness. When Melissa came back from school, she didn’t notice. Ruffles didn’t even enter her thoughts for months, if not years, as more things got shoved under the bed from childhood, shoe boxes filled with schoolwork, old board games that were only kept due to an over-abundance of sentimentality, and then a couple of boxes of clothes Melissa was too big for, but maybe her younger sister, Sophie, would grow into soon. If he was alive, what could he possibly have been thinking about after all those years. The time spent since going on adventures with Melissa. In his own way Ruffles loved Melissa just as much as she loved him, an orange glow in his eyes that seemed to change whenever she was in the room, and after being stuck under that bed there was no one to see it. Ruffles was as good as forgotten, and that’s where our story begins.

                It was three days before Melissa was leaving for university, and she’d been tasked with clearing up her room before she left. Piles of old boxes, and bin bags were laid out in the hallway, blocking off the rest of the house, a fortress against adulthood. Eventually she would leave this room, and Sophie would take it, and nothing would ever be the same.

                “So much leaving everything for when I get back at Christmas,” Melissa said to herself as she scrunched up some drawings, she done years before and had long since forgotten about.

                It had been decided now that Sophie was a teenager and Melissa was leaving for the majority of at least three years, if she returned at all, that Sophie would take the bigger room. The beds would be swapped around and when Melissa was back for the holidays, she would take the smaller room. Taking down posters that had been hanging for most of her teenage years stung a little bit, even if the bands and movies they represented didn’t mean that much anymore. They were all sitting in a bag waiting to be thrown in the recycling bin outside. The lengthiest part was her wardrobe, that was more of a dumping ground for everything she’d grown out of, than it was for clothes. Every so often her mother would come up the stairs and ask if she needed any help, but Melissa thought that would just make everything take longer, so replied as politely as possible that she would be okay by herself. She pulled out the bags of clothes that had been forgotten about, wondering if Sophie would even be able to fit into them now or had they waited too long to be passed on. Either way they were placed in the corner where her dresser once stood, Sophie’s problem now. Going under the bed again she felt a familiar paw, and pulled out Ruffles, who was covered in cobwebs; his once golden orange eyes were muted with dust.

                “Ruffles,” she said, holding him close. “I can’t believe you’ve been under there for so long. I bet you thought I’d forgotten about you. I’ll be taking you with me, don’t worry.”

                If Ruffles was alive that would have probably meant the world to him, put the spark back into life and sent his heart into overdrive, but Ruffles instead just lay motionless in her arms as she dusted his eyes and wiped all the cobwebs onto the floor. His golden eyes didn’t shine the way she remembered. In the same way that he was for so many years, he was placed on the familiar bed side table, that was now bare apart from her phone that was playing some quiet music.

                “You sit right there, Ruffles. Let me finish up in here and then I’ll get you packed and ready to go.”

                It took the rest the of the afternoon for Melissa to finish clearing the room up. The black and blue lidded bins out in front of the house were filled with rubbish and recycling, that contained a good trace of Melissa’s childhood. As a celebration, Melissa’s dad ordered pizza for everyone and they sat around the table talking about how uni was looking, and then Sophie said that it might be the last time the family was together like that for a long time, which set off Melissa’s mother crying. And like so many of their family meals, it ended with everyone having a little row, that got more heated until no one at the table really remembered what started it.

                “I’m sorry,” Sophie said. “I just meant that it’s going to be strange without you, I didn’t mean to upset mum.”

                “I know,” Melissa replied. “It doesn’t matter. We have another day tomorrow. No, the day after, tomorrow I’m meeting up with everyone from school.” By that point it was only Melissa and Sophie left at the table, since their parents had left to go to bed after the arguing had settled. There were still a few slices of pizza left, that was cold by that point, but still tasty. “It’s going to be weird without you around as well Soph. I’m going to miss you.”

                “Oh, don’t make me cry as well,” they both looked at each other and laughed.

                “Did you finish your room,” Melissa asked, knowing that once she had they would be switching and then childhood was over.

                “Not quite, I’ll finish cleaning up and sorting out tomorrow and we can swap the beds then.”

                They finished up the food, put the leftovers in the fridge, and both went upstairs to spend one last night in their, soon to be, old rooms.  Melissa closed the door behind her, turning on the light and looking at how bare everything was. With the quietness of the night hanging in the background, everything looked so empty and cold. There were scuff marks on the wall next to where her dresser and desk once stood which was now in her parent’s room, which had been turned into a halfway house for Melissa’s stuff while Sophie’s was moved over. The posters were gone, the wardrobe was empty, her books were pilled up in boxes that were scattered around the house. She moved over to the bed and sat down, looking over at her beloved Ruffles.

                “It’s going to be strange leaving all of this behind, isn’t it?” She asked the bear, who just sat and stared straight passed her and towards the bedroom door. “I wonder what you think about all this. Exeter is going to be an adventure and a half. Sorry that you got a little dusty under there, by the way. Good night.”

                She looked around the room, lit up by the moonlight coming through the cracks in the blind, and tried to hold back a tear. Everything was changing so quickly. Almost a year before the head of her year at sixth form had said that they may not feel ready for university then, but by the time exams came around they all would be. That was true, but by the time university came around, she was ready to go back to school for one more year and ward off growing up for as long as possible. She lay down and looked up at Ruffles, who seemed to be looking over her. For half a second, she froze, thinking Ruffles had moved. Wasn’t he looking at the door before? She thought, not at me. Her blood froze, but then the moment passed and she just thought it was a trick of the light or she’d knocked him or something like that and then sleep started to take hold. Cleaning and moving furniture for most of the day had taken a lot out of her, and the following day was going to be another long one as well, the last big send off for everyone as they all started to leave and get their lives started.

                Later in the night Melissa was woken by a scratching sound. She sat up in bed, and looked around, her heart racing. What was that? She thought. It was repetitive and consistent. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, resting them down on the floor, on top of the dust and little pieces of rubbish that had been pulled out from under the bed earlier. There was nothing under there now, just more dust that would be vacuumed up the next day. The sound continued, as Melissa stayed still, trying to figure out where it was coming from. It sounded like it was coming from the window, so she grabbed her phone from the bed side table, the charging wire slowly snaked onto the floor, leaving the table empty. She stood up and walked over to the blind and peeked through the slats. There was a tree in the front garden, and the wind was making one of the branches hit into her window, tapping on it as if wanting to be let in. She sighed with relief, and let the blind slats fall back into place. She gently tossed the phone back onto the table and got back into bed. Wait, where was Ruffles, she thought before covering herself with the quilt.

                Leaning over the side of the bed, Melissa found Ruffles on the floor.

                “What are you doing down there, silly bear,” she said and then picked him up.

                Almost instinctively she went to place the bear on the side table, but instead held him close and laid back down. She could have sworn that she felt Ruffles hold her back but chalked that down to just being tired and drifted back off to sleep once more. She dreamed about going to school, but all the lessons were wrong and made no sense. There were people from primary school there, instead of people her own age, and the teacher just seemed to be talking nonsense.

                A few hours later Melissa woke back up, feeling rested and ready for the day, even though the sun hadn’t risen. She peered at her phone, blinding herself in the process. It was half three in the morning. There was a brief moment where she thought she should just get up as she knew she’d feel more tired when her alarm went off, but at the same time it was so early, and the lure of more sleep won her over. Then she realised that Ruffes wasn’t on the bed.

                “Where has silly bear gone?” she said under her breath, deciding whether she should just forget about him until morning or take a look over the edge of the bed.

                Ruffles wasn’t on the floor, and she couldn’t find him by swiping her arms under the bed. She sat up completely and that’s when she found him, sitting at the end of the bed watching her.

                Something felt off, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. How had he gotten so far down the bed, and sitting up as well? She moved down the bed to reach him and Ruffles’s head moved. Just ever so slightly, but enough to make her pull back. Maybe it was in her head, she was still half asleep, she thought. But then he moved again, going onto all fours and pulling himself towards her, his head with that vacant smile staring at her the whole time. Melissa moved backwards, pulling her knees and the quilt up to her stomach. This has to be a dream, she tried to convince herself, but it wasn’t. Ruffles pulled himself up the quilted mountain of her knees and sat at the peak. His golden eyes staring at her with the same love they had done all those years ago. They sat there for a moment starring at each other, and then Ruffles’s eyes started to bulge out, stuffing squeezing through the edges like tears, and then the eyes popped off completely and were replaced by long black hairy spider legs that wiggled around.

                Melissa wanted to scream, but bit it back, thinking this was all a dream and everything would go back to normal soon. She closed her eyes tightly, hoping when she opened them Ruffles would be back to normal, but he wasn’t. He just sat there on her knees with the spider legs roaming around, getting closer and closer to her face.

                “You forgot about me, didn’t you?”

                The voice didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular, but everywhere all at once. She started to cry, realising that this wasn’t a dream.

                “I lived under your bed for years and your precious bear kept you safe, but I waited and waited until the time was right. Your bear was a tasty treat, but I waited more and more and now you’re here.”

                Another two legs burst out from Ruffles’s side, around half way down his torso on both sides, stuffing floating across the room like confetti at a concert. The spider-Ruffles got closer and closer, its four arms waggling around in the air. The bear started to fall apart at the seams, stuffing falling out everywhere as the black mess of legs and eyes sprawled forward and attached itself to Melissa’s face, who in turn tried to scream, the pain proof that this wasn’t a dream. She tried to stop it, as it’s legs wound their way into her ears and up her nose, into her tear ducts and then she fell backwards as it wormed its way inside of her, biting and squeezing, just as it had done to Ruffles under the bed so many years ago. There was nothing she could do, as it was all over.

                The next morning Melissa woke up, washed, got dressed, and walked downstairs to the breakfast bar in the kitchen, taking a seat usually left unoccupied.

                “Having breakfast this morning?” her dad asked, nibbling on some toast while reading the paper. “How nice of you to join us,”

                “What are you having?” her mum asked. “Oh, and I noticed that little bear you had was in the bin outside. What happened to it? It was such a mess. You know you used to take that thing everywhere with you.”  

The End

I wrote this story on the 8th August (my birthday) pretty much in one sitting. I’ve barely edited it since then, going over just to check if there are any errors. If there is any that I’ve missed, let me know and I’ll correct it. Otherwise I’m grateful for you reading and if you have any feedback at all, please let me know,

Ashley

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Deep Red – Film Review

Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento and Bernardino Zapponi

Starring: David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Macha Méril, and Clara Calamai

Rating: ★★★★½

In 1970 Darion Argento launched his directorial career five years earlier with The Animal Trilogy (Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tailes, and Four Flies on Grey Velvet). Those films fit under the Giallo genre, that was massive in Italy at the time, filled with murder mysteries, twist endings and bloody violence. The Animal Trilogy was released between 1970 and 1971, and in the four years following Argento tried to branch out with the comedies Man Called Amen and The Five Days of Milan, but without finding the same success he came back to Giallo with Deep Red, just as the genre was declining in popularity. Deep Red is not only considered to be one of the best of Argento’s filmography but also one of the best examples of the genre all together.

After witnessing the murder of the psychic Helga Ulmann (Macha Méril) in her flat, Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) sets out to investigate. As he tries to save Helga, he believes he saw a painting that was missing by the time the police arrive that he thinks would solve the whole case. Marcus joins together with a local reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi) to solve the murder, getting deeper and deeper into a mystery that may cost them their lives.

Deep Red is one hell of a gripping mystery, with incredibly tense scenes throughout. There’s a report on the TV that Marcus will be able to identify the murderer and that puts him right in the crosshairs and then there’s a sequence where Marcus is writing music at the piano in his flat and the killer breaks in. Marcus knows that someone else in the building but to not alert them, he continues playing the piano with one hand, while gripping a statue with the other to keep the element of surprise for when the killer comes close. It’s an incredibly tense moment to the point that you’ll be holding your breath the entire time.

There are some extremely horrific and brutal killings in this story, taking everything to the extreme. Without going into too much detail, people are thrown about, held under scolding hot water, sliced up, and at one point someone is dragged through the streets in one of the most squeal-inducing moments ever. The effects are definitely dated, but you still feel it. The film feels like a slasher, years before the genre was popular. It fits the genre with deaths that are all unique and memorable, there’s also a lot of shots with the camera taking the place of the killer’s eyes as he stalks his prey, and a body count that could rival any Friday the 13th entry. It feels like John Carpenter’s Halloween must have been influenced by the first-person perspective, especially with Michael Myers’s first kill as he stalks around the outside of the house before murdering his sister.

This also marks the first collaboration between Dario Argento and the prog-rock band Goblin, who would go on to make the scores for Suspiria and Tenebre as well as more films by Argento. The score is funky and jazzy, with really loud moments that make everything feel disorientating. It’s heightened further by the moments of quietness between the killings where there’s long periods of silence in the background as the investigation. The score is wild and works as a stand alone piece as well. It’s not quite as great as Goblin’s score for Suspiria but it’s still fantastic in its own right. 

If you watch Dario Argento’s films in chronological release order, then one of the first things you’ll notice is that Deep Red follows the formula that he first established in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Marcus witnesses a murder, believes he saw a vital clue at the scene of the crime, follows the clues and ends up confronting the killer. Both the protagonist from Crystal Plumage and Marcus are foreign artists who have moved to Italy and find themselves the centre of a serial killer investigation. While the outline is definitely similar, this isn’t a copy and paste film. Instead, it’s darker, more twisted and completely engrossing compared to what came before. Crystal Plumage was the original, but Deep Red is the perfection of that template.

Yes, almost fifty years on the film is very dated in places. Some of the effects don’t stand the test of time, the music if full-on prog rock that’s a little jarring from more subtle scores you’d expect from a dark thriller, some of the acting is barely passable, but none of those things matter. If you ignore that and imagine you’re watching it in 1975, then the film completely gets under your skin, with a tense atmosphere, squeal-inducing deaths, and a phenomenal twist and finale.

There’s also a really interesting undercurrent of deeper themes. It’s dealing with gender roles Instead of Gianna playing the damsel in distress, she’s often coming to save Marcus. Her seat in the car is taller, and she’s able to beat him at arm-wrestling which sends him into a childish rant. The idea that family causes trauma that affects people as they grow up is also explored. Marcus is haunted by his childhood, as are other characters. Argento didn’t have a happy childhood and reflects that through the film. There’s also a blend of childhood innocence and brutality. The film’s opening credits are interrupted to show a silhouette of a murder to the sound of a nursery rhyme, and that repeats with most of the killings throughout Deep Red.

Deep Red is widely considered to be one of Argento’s best films and may even be his best. It’s a dark thriller, that builds on his previous works, perfecting the formula he created with The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. The datedness is probably going to put some people off, but once you start the film, it’s easy to forget and get sucked into the film itself.

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Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Director: Joseph Zito

Writer: Barney Cohen (Story by Bruce Hidemi Sakow)

Starring: Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Corey Feldman, E. Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Alan Hayes, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Joan Freeman, Judie Aronson, Camilla and Carey More

Rating: ★★½

The fourth Friday the 13th film was subtitled The Final Chapter to mark the death of Jason and the end of the series, while also being a marketing ploy at the same time. After a declining box office and lowering interest in slasher films, the idea was to kill Jason off. Paramount also liked the idea of calling it the final film from a marketing angle, thinking that it would bring a bigger box office. The plan worked and the film made enough money for the series continued for years afterwards with six more entries to the main series, a spin-off and a remake in the years since.

Like the previous three films The Final Chapter is about a group of teenagers going to Crystal Lake for a weekend getaway and Jason slowly murders them one by one. It starts with a recap of the series so far, making this feel like the ending as it goes through the highlights of each of the previous film. It feels more like an event than a standard sequel. After the recap, the opening of the film picks up exactly where the third one ends, with Jason’s body being moved to the hospital with everyone thinking he’s dead. Surprise! He’s not. Jason gets up in the hospital, with a pretty cool sequence, and murders his way out of there.

The group of new characters are almost all completely bland and interchangeable. None of them feel like anything more than fodder for Jason to work his way through. The scenes with them just hanging out are so mind-numbingly dull it’s painful to sit through, apart from Crispin Glover’s dance moves which are genuinely funny. There’s so much unnecessary nudity that just makes the film feel cheap. Maybe if you’re a thirteen-year-old boy the lead up to the killings will be entertaining, but for anyone older than that it’s just a real struggle to get through. Even when Jason starts killing them, it’s hard to care. There’s nothing scary about it or even jumpy.

The characters that actually feel more developed aren’t even part of the group on their weekend getaway. It’s the family who live opposite the holiday home that are more interesting, Trish (Kimberly) and Tommy (Corey Feldman). Tommy is obsessed with effects and animatronics, and also manages to make it through to the end to give a pretty creepy final scene. Trish handles her own against Jason, fighting back more than most other characters. The other good character is Rob (E. Erich Anderson) who has travelled to the lake specifically to find and kill Jason. His character is wasted, but at least he’s more interesting than the main group of teenagers/future body count. 

The effects are a strange one. On the one-hand they’re really well done, especially when you watch some of the special features that shows them slowed down, but during the film it’s often hard to make out what’s happening. They’re quick, and before you really know what’s happening they’re over. Tom Savini re-joined the series to help with he effects, wanting to give an end to Jason and he does just that. While every effect seems to happen at lightning speed, Jason’s death is slow and brutal. It’s the best moment of the film  and the most blood curdling. One of the highlights of the series for sure.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter is a real mixed bag. It sticks to the formula and gives everything you’d expect from a slasher sequel. It’s not a very good slasher film, but it is what it is. It’s braindead entertainment.

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More Updates

Happy Monday everyone. I hope you’ve had a good weekend. I thought it was time for another little update. First things first, Blossoms of the Apocalypse is currently sitting at 23,000 words. Just under half way through. Still going easy, but haven’t written any over the weekend due to work and time constraints.

Last night, I made a joke to Tabby about a horror short story, just before we went to bed, because what am I for if it’s not for giving her nightmares. I was joking when I said it, then it kept on going around my head and I thought this would make a pretty decent short story, a YA horror. This morning, I woke up at half 7, got on the computer and started typing away, having 2100 words done before work started at 10 (I work from home, so it meant commuting from my writing office upstairs to the kitchen downstairs). All the way through my shift I wanted to just go back upstairs and carry on. After work finished at 6, I got back to writing and finished the short story at around 2700 words. Wednesday is my next day off, so I’ll edit and work on it then and hoping to get it posted on Thursday or Friday this week.

So I think my writing has been going pretty well recently, and after writing barely any fiction this year, I’ve written more than I write most years in the span of three weeks. Feeling very productive.

Other than that I’m aiming to finish watching all of the films that Dario Argento directed in the next couple of weeks. Apart from Five Days in Milan, which I can’t find a way to watch legally in the UK. So expect a fair few Argento reviews soon. I’ve already written one for Deep Red, which will be published at some point this week.

After watching Suspiria last year, which I absolutely loved, I’ve been making my way through his films. In a few weeks his latest, Dark Glasses, is getting its UK premiere at FrightFest, which I’ve got tickets for along with Tabby and my mum. Argento will be introducing the film and doing a Q+A afterwards. Very much looking forward to that and want to make sure I’ve watched as many of his as possible before going. Only got a few left, as I watched most of his early work last year shortly after Suspiria.

We have a whole plan for the day for walking around London. Something Tabby and I started doing a few months back was aiming to go to every street on the London Monopoly board, after we saw the sign for Pall Mall while wandering around as we had time to kill before meeting someone. So we’re aiming to go to a few other streets that day as well. It may sound a little sad, but it’s just a good way to find more things to do and sights to see, shops to explore. It’s done us pretty well so far.

That’s my update for this week. Thanks for reading and until next time,

Ashley

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Where the Crawdads Sing – Film Review

Director: Olivia Newman

Writer: Lucy Alibar

Starring: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Taylor John Smith, Harris Dickinson, Michael Hyatt, Sterling Macer Jr., David Strathairn

Rating: ★★★★

Where the Crawdads Sing is written by Lucy Alibar and directed by Olivia Newman, and is based on the bestselling 2018 novel of the same name by Delia Owens. The film was also produced by Reese Witherspoon with her production company Hello Sunshine, after previously being selected for Witherspoon’s book club in September 2018. It’s one of the best selling books of recent years and the film adaptation does a good job at bringing the story to the big screen.

The story is part murder mystery and part slice-of-life drama. It jumps between 1969 where Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson) is found dead in the marshes of North Carolina and the past, showing the main suspect Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) growing up isolated from society and becoming known as the ‘Marsh Girl’. The 1969 sections mostly focus on Kya in court with the charge of murdering Chase, in tense short scenes that show witnesses being questioned and accusations being thrown around. The larger part of the film is the past, which starts in 1953 with Kya as a child subject to the physical abuse of her father, and slowly meets up with the present day and the ongoing trial. One day her mother leaves home, and quickly her siblings start to follow leaving her alone with their father until he leaves as well, and Kya is forced to learn to survive and grow up by herself.

It feels almost like two different films, with the flashbacks showing Kya’s day to day struggles, making money, not being able to go to school due to instant bully from her peers, and as she grows up it becomes a love story. At first, she falls in love with Tate (Taylor John Smith), who teaches her to read and write, before leaving to go to college. Later, Kya meets Chase and enters a relationship with him, where there’s always an undercurrent of sinister coming from Chase. He puts on a nice face, but you know he’s hiding something. There’s not the same love and affection with Chase as there is with Tate. All the way through there are small snippets of violence, specifically domestic abuse. It’s not overly graphic, but still hard hitting. It’s a little upsetting to watch at points.

The film runs at around two hours, and in places it does feel longer. Despite that, it does feel like some plot points are skimmed over, and probably get a lot more attention in the book (which I confess I haven’t read although I did buy a copy recently and will read soon). It does feel like the story would be better suited for a mini-series like Big Little Lies, another adaptation from Witherspoon’s company, especially since the tone varies quite a bit throughout the story. The characters are so well created and acted that you do genuinely want to see more of them, learn more of their history and see more of Kya and Tate’s relationship.

Overall, the film is very strong. It may feel long, but it does take you away to a different world and completely absorbs you into its story with its fantastic setting, cast, and the central mystery of who actually killed Chase Andrews.

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