Archive for October, 2014

The Reluctant Punk

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on October 28, 2014 by ofherbsandaltars

Zak was the king of the punk scene, and after every gig, he trashed his guitar and everyone thought it was an act of celebratory anarchy. But the truth was, Zak trashed his guitar at the end of every gig because he wanted to be an opera singer, and every fucking time he just fucked it all up and it sounded terrible, and then he got cross. But the crosser Zak got, and the more he sucked at opera, and the more guitars he hurled into walls and smashed over his head and kicked into tiny pieces, the more the punk kids loved him. Soon, Zak was playing in massive venues to thousands of adoring fans, and whenever he told the journalists from Kerrang and Q Magazine that he hated his music and wanted to be an opera singer, they thought he was being witheringly sarcastic, and the punks loved him even more. He even tried releasing some of his original lyrics to rock magazines – beautiful, eloquent poems about Shakespeare and immortal sadness, shot through with elegant French phrases and archaic spellings, and they all thought he was taking the piss, but they printed them anyway, ‘for a laugh’, and all the opera lovers in the world just hated him even more. No one understood that Zak’s lyrics always started out like that, grandiose and beautiful, but that when he tried to sing them he sounded so awful that he got cross and started screaming and swearing instead. After three hours of rehearsal time, Zak could turn,


“Beneath a tree of rouge and gold,

My fair maiden lies

I pledged my love unto her

But her life was lost with the sunrise…”




“FUCK this FUCKING autumn tree

And FUCK the dead girl too!



This studio REEKS OF POO!


I wish that I was dead!

Smashed a canoe over my head!



Someone shoot me in the face!

And leave me ROTTING IN A DITCH!”


But the more infuriated Zak got in the studio, the more his manager loved it, and all of his apoplectic outbursts were captured on tape and sold to the masses, and Zak gained a reputation for his ‘ingenious’ improvisational techniques. Punks would often discuss with amazement the fact that all of Zak’s songs were recorded in single takes, with the lyrics made up on the spot, and whenever they saw him live, Zak would improvise madly for half an hour straight, swearing and screaming and smashing guitars – no one had seen such an insane performance since the burning pianos of Jerry Lee Lewis. But still Zak hated it, hated it all with a fiery passion, hated every one of his songs and hated his reputation as the wild man of punk when all he wanted was to stand on stage in an elegant opera house, and play cultured music to cultured people in evening dress. He had begged and pleaded with his manager once, let me play in an opera house, let me do opera, just the once – thinking that perhaps in the right setting, in the right atmosphere, he might be capable of singing those beautiful songs. But his manager had laughed and laughed, and when Zak finally persuaded him to phone the opera house, they absolutely refused to allow it, stating that no one of Zak’s reputation could be allowed to ‘soil’ the purity of their establishment. That night, Zak smashed three guitars in a row and wrote his biggest hit yet, four straight minutes of screaming, cursing, and violent self-hatred.

It was at the tail-end of a sold-out European tour that Zak came upon the means of his salvation. In his hotel room, late one night, while idly browsing the internet, he discovered a plastic surgery clinic in Japan which had begun to specialise in vocal chord alteration. Initially it had been aimed at male-to-female transsexuals, helping them to feminise their voices, but now they had several website testimonials from women who wanted prettier singing voices, and Zak felt a tingle of excitement shoot up his spine. Whatever they did to his ghastly voice, it couldn’t possibly be any worse than it was right now – even if they rendered him mute, they would be saving him from the agony of this ghastly rockstar lie. Feeling happier than he had in years, he sent them an email, and the next day, he booked his surgery for the very moment the tour finished.

Zak felt slightly uneasy when he arrived at the clinic, all alone and surrounded by foreigners – he hadn’t dared reveal his plans to his manager, or to his band, as he was well aware they would do everything in their power to stop him. Zak was their meal ticket just the way he was, the wild man of punk – they would never understand that he would rather die a penniless opera singer than live forever as this million pound lie. But before he could worry too much, polite Japanese doctors descended on him with anaesthetic and iodine swabs, and Zak passed into fuzzy unconsciousness.

He was given strict instructions to stay absolutely silent during his convalescence at the clinic, and for two solid weeks, Zak spoke not a single word to anyone. He had his laptop, so he simply watched movies, and browsed the internet, and above all, listened to hours upon hours of opera, all the while imagining himself as the singer, standing proud on that regal stage as cultured men and women wept at the purity of his voice. These dreams supported him through those few silent weeks, and at the end of a month, Zak was able to start singing again. Still in Japan, he booked a studio, and within minutes, he was in tears of joy. The surgery had worked, had given him everything he ever wanted, and over the next four days he busied himself at the studio, recording a rough demo, a beautiful mixture of raw, ringing guitar notes and golden operatic vocals, the first songs Zak had ever been proud of. Finally, on the fifth day, he packed his beloved demo CD into his bag, and got a cab to the airport, to return to England, and begin his new life.



In the streets of Camden, punks had been discussing Zak’s tour for weeks, following an explosive London gig and sell-outs across Europe. Youtube was crammed with fresh clips of their hero going insane onstage, screaming himself hoarse and trashing every instrument in sight, hurling himself suicidally into crowds, into walls, into drumkits, but the man himself had been strangely silent for the past few weeks. Now the tour was over, the fans were hungry for word of a new album, but Zak seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

Until, on that fateful Thursday, came the terrible news. A passenger plane from Tokyo to London had crash-landed in the sea, debris scattered for miles, not a single survivor, and on board that ill-fated plane had been Zak Marsh, lead singer of the Failures, idol of every punk kid on the planet, lost at sea along with the shattered shards of his precious demo tape.

Within two weeks, Zak’s music was topping charts the world over, and kids were weeping in the streets for the tortured king of rock ‘n roll, who lived fast and died young, leaving behind his raucous, unforgettable legacy. At Zak’s funeral, the rescued remnants of his corpse were cremated alongside one of his trashed guitars, his body burning to a wild cacophony of his own songs, screams and swearing and broken strings, and Zak’s ghost howled in unheard futility at the unfairness of life.


The Gothic Ailments of Gargle

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 27, 2014 by ofherbsandaltars

Gargoyle Noctum Sinistra was the gothiest goth to ever walk the Earth. He was born with a mane of jet black hair, yet wholly bereft of eyebrows, and in his morosely down-turned mouth grew two needle-sharp fangs. The placenta that followed him into the world was webbed in a sinister pattern of spidery black veining, and in his early days, Gargoyle had a strange tendency to scream in the throbbing monotones of Bela Lugosi’s Dead. When his mother tried to breastfeed him, Gargoyle sank his baby-fangs into her breast, and spurning her milk entirely, sucked out her blood instead. Affectionately known by his family as ‘Gargle’, that peculiar baby grew into a peculiar child, with ghostly white skin and long pale fingers, thin and eyebrowless and sullen. The other children at school thought that Gargle was weird, because sometimes he forgot to flush the toilet, and would leave behind him a bobbing turd that was shaped quite naturally into a bat or a coffin or – with eerie yet admirable talent – an eight-legged spider.

By the age of twelve, Gargle had developed an inexplicable allergy to all fabrics that weren’t black, and was living almost entirely off a diet of milk, which had to be dyed green and steeped overnight with several stars of anise, that it might resemble absinthe – anything less would result in violent projectile vomiting, wherein the expelled fluids would spatter the wall in elegant dribbles which invariably spelled out DEATH. After Gargle suffered an entire month of insomnia and began sleeping in the cellar in a prostrate wardrobe, his long-suffering father finally relented and bought him a coffin, in which Gargle enjoyed the best night’s sleep of his entire existence.

Gargle’s high school years were fraught with misery and rejection. From the very first moment, the other children saw his strangeness, and made him their eternal scapegoat – that essential child which must exist in every classroom, that the others might bond over his slow destruction. As more and more of Gargle’s weaknesses became known, his days at school became ever more hellish. Children quickly learned that his skin would redden and start to smoke if poked with the corner of a One Direction CD, and that reading the fashion tips in Cosmopolitan could make Gargle’s eyes bleed. The final straw occurred when Gargle had just turned fifteen, and his tormentors discovered that playing Taylor Swift songs could make him faint on the spot, shortly followed by the appearance of angry red welts across his forehead, spelling out ANGST. At this point, Gargle’s mother intervened, and moved him away from those terrible children, to a high school on the other side of town. That was when everything changed.

On Gargle’s first day at his new school, he noticed some children who looked a bit like him. He watched them in fascination, that day in the schoolyard, until they noticed him, and began whispering amongst themselves. Finally, a girl with purple hair stepped forward, leading the group towards him. Gargle chewed his lip with one nervous fang, getting ready to stick his fingers into his ears at the first vile strains of Taylor Swift. But instead, the purple-haired girl asked,

“How come you’re allowed to wear all black? Why don’t they make you wear school uniform?”

“I’m…allergic to it,” Gargle shamefully admitted. “I’m allergic to…colours…”

The girl said nothing, but seemed intrigued by this notion, so Gargle reached out one thin pale hand, and brushed it against the maroon sleeve of her sweater. Seconds later, his fingers turned red and blotchy, and the girl stared in amazement.

“You’re allergic to colours?” she repeated, sounding awed.

“All colours,” Gargle agreed sadly. “Except for black…”

The strange children continued to watch him, and their expressions looked almost envious. It was the closest thing to sympathy, even to friendship, that Gargle had ever been shown, and he found himself continuing on that miserable tangent, of all the iniquities he had been forced to suffer in life. He told them about the absinthe flavoured milk, showed them his dental abnormalities, explained about the spontaneous eye-bleeding which would occur in the presence of bad magazines, and he got so carried away with his tale of woe that he only just managed to stop himself before he revealed the shameful secret of his perpetually spider-shaped shits, at which point he lapsed into awkward silence.

That,” proclaimed the purple haired girl, “Is so fucking cool!”

And with these words, Gargle became the undisputed king of their strange little group.



Over the next few weeks, Gargle’s life underwent radical changes. He had friends now, three of them, and although Gargle wasn’t entirely sure what one was supposed to do with a friend, the other children talked him through it. Having friends meant sitting together at lunchtime, and sometimes after school, and the purple-haired Lucretia (once known as Tracy) introduced Gargle to music that didn’t make him faint or haemorrhage, which Gargle found intensely exciting. On the walls of Lucretia’s bedroom were big black posters of those weird musicians, and all of them looked like Gargle – pale and thin and elegantly corpselike, and Gargle began to wonder whether he hadn’t been born wrong after all; instead perhaps, he had been born special.

Gargle floated through a haze of absolute happiness for those brief few weeks, and occasionally he almost caught himself smiling, which was a daunting art he had never quite gotten the hang of. But then, in the fourth week of Gargle’s new existence, another boy joined the school. He was wearing a black velvet coat over his school jumper, and it was so long that it swept the ground as he walked. For the first half a day he carried around a dramatic silver-topped cane, until one of the other kids stole it and started whacking people over the head, at which point it was permanently confiscated. Gargle’s friends noticed the new boy, who was called Kevin, and invited him into their group. For a few days, all was well, until Gargle noticed the slitty-eyed glares he was getting from their new friend Kevin.

By the second week, Kevin had changed his name to Raven Obsidian, and every time Gargle didn’t know the words to a Goth Song, Raven-Kevin would snort scornfully, and begin a long-winded and pompous lecture on the detailed history and inter-member rivalries of that particular band. Raven-Kevin, Gargle was coolly informed, had been a goth since he was seven years old. Raven-Kevin could name the members, ex-members, and prominent family members of every goth band that had ever existed. Raven-Kevin would never dream of leaving the house without crimping every hair on his body, including those growing in his armpits, and when he ran out of black nail polish once, Raven-Kevin had stood in the snow for three straight hours in the hope of acquiring some stylish frostbite. Gargle was intimidated and depressed by all these things that he didn’t know, but for some reason, Lucretia and the others didn’t seem to care. The more things Raven-Kevin bragged about, the more they scorned him, and lavished their affections on a very confused Gargle. It clearly made Kevin furious.

Over the course of a further week, Kevin changed his name three more times, from Raven to Nightshade, from Nightshade to Death, and finally, with obvious desperation, to Doombat-God-of-Suffering. He took to wearing a cape and sunglasses everywhere he went, even after he got his toe stuck in the folds of his cloak in a gloomy stairwell and almost broke his neck. Kevin-Doombat’s next move was to murder his mother’s goldfish, and then to begin wearing its soggy corpse around his neck as a reminder of the ‘tragic mortality of life’, but this activity was quashed on the third day by their English teacher, who could no longer tolerate the stench of rotting fish. By the end of that week, Lucretia and co. were deeply amused by Kevin’s ongoing insanity, and they had begun sniggering about him whenever he seemed to be out of earshot.

At lunchtime, Lucretia informed Gargle that she was having a gathering tonight. Her parents were away, and not only that, but she had caught her older brother smoking weed, and to ensure that she wouldn’t tell, he had given her a little bag of that very same weed. And tonight, they were going to smoke it! Gargle nodded, privately hoping that something as supposedly enjoyable as weed wouldn’t make his eyes bleed, and Lucretia added in a whisper,

“But don’t tell Kevin!”

“Tell me what?” demanded a squeaky-yet-imperious voice. “And my name is Doombat, God of Suffering!”

“Oh…” said Lucretia. “Sorry…”

Doombat-God-of-Suffering continued to scowl at her, and after a long and tense silence, she added reluctantly,

“We’re…sort of…having a thing, tonight. At mine. But…it probably won’t be very good, and you live really far away, so you don’t have to bother co-”

“Doombat shall be there!” announced Doombat, before spinning on his heel and marching away across the lunch-hall in a dramatic swoosh of black velvet.

“Shit,” said Lucretia.



That night, they gathered in Lucretia’s room as planned, where she was sitting on the floor with a pack of watermelon rizlas (stolen from her brother in the hope that their dismal red colouring would not offend Gargle’s delicate constitution), a bag of weed, three lighters (just to make sure), and a gleaming new skull ashtray bought especially for the occasion. After half an hour, and several angrily scrunkled rizlas, Lucretia succeeded in rolling a lumpy-yet-functional joint (with the addition of a few crushed cloves to appease Gargle’s weird system), and there was still no sign of Doombat-Kevin. As soon as Lucretia picked up a lighter though, the doorbell rang.

Shit,” said Lucretia.

She jumped up and ran off to answer the door, and when she returned, Gargle could see her black-painted lips twitching slightly as though in a desperate attempt to restrain herself from laughing. Seconds later, he discovered the cause of her amusement. Kevin-Doombat had painted his entire face jet black, and appeared to be nothing more than a greasy tower of soot with gleaming eyes.

“Bit…racist, mate,” commented Justin, frowning slightly. “You’ll get beaten up walking around like that!”

“Doombat fears nothing!” declared Doombat, “You foolish mortal! Doombat is protected by the powers of darkness! And this is not racist, for I doth not seek to align myself with the people of colour! I hath painted myself in these shades of night that I might experience the darkness of my soul more truly!”

There was a badly stifled snigger from Justin, and Lucretia surreptitiously kicked him in the back before sitting down next to Gargle, and picking up the joint. Doombat dumped himself down between Lucretia and Richard, and Justin shuffled nervously sideways, complaining,

“I don’t want to be looking at you while I’m getting stoned, all painted black like a creepy gollywog, you’ll freak me out!”

“Fear is for the weak,” Doombat replied haughtily. “And fear of the dark is for idiotic normals. Art thou a normal, Justin?

Justin declined to comment on the subject of his own normality, when compared to a walking, talking, racist anecdote, and Lucretia picked up a purple lighter, to begin their first ever journey into the world of drugs. It was quickly apparent that adding cloves to the joint had been a dubious move – though they tasted wonderful, they crackled and sparked and scorched the lungs of the unfortunate smoker, but for the price of not making Gargle’s eyes bleed, the others suffered these pains, and within minutes they were all flopped out on the carpet, beaming dopily and waving vague hands in front of their faces. Justin rolled onto his stomach and slithered across the floor like a giggling slug to put on a Cure CD, and seconds later, Doombat commented,

“Ah, the children of the night – what sweet music they make!”

“Do you ever…” Justin began, slithering slowly back from the CD player, “Do you ever…like…drop all this bollocks?”

“Of what ‘bollocks’ dost thou speak?” asked Doombat.

“The bollocks, the fucking bollocks, mate! Don’t you ever just drop it and…like…talk like a fucking person for once?”

“I apologise!” Doombat squeaked indignantly, “If I hath offended thy peasant ears with my supreme eloquencia!”

Justin dissolved into hopeless sniggering, and Lucretia fuzzily agreed,

“He is right, Kev- I mean, Doombat. When you first…came to school, you didn’t talk like a…like such a-”

“Like a retard,” Richard mumbled, staring at the ceiling. “Like a retard…”

Moron,” Justin corrected. “You’re supposed to say moron, these days.”

Doombat opened and shut his mouth several times, and then scowled. Lucretia hastily added,

“Not in, like…a nasty way, or anything, I just think…that you try a bit too hard sometimes…”

“Well, I’m sorry!” Doombat squeaked, still scowling, “I’m sorry if I’m not as cool as Gargle! Even though Gargle doesn’t know the names of Andrew Eldritch’s second cousins, or the meaning of the German bit in Marian, or the-”

“But none of that bollocks matters, mate,” Justin interjected, picking up a lighter and waving the flame back and forth in front of his squinty eyes. “No one gives a shit about all of that bollocks, we’re not in a school quiz here! You’re like that bloke off Mastermind all the time, if that bloke was a…like a-”

“Retard,” said Richard. “Like a retard. A really boring retard…”

“Yeah,” Justin agreed, nodding sagely. “Gargle’s cool because he’s just so…Gargle, but you’re like a walking dictionary of bollocks every time you try to out-Gargle him. And I’m telling you, mate, that is really racist, all that bollocks on your face. What the fuck were you thinking?”

Gargle frowned, letting the bickering flow over his head and beginning to feel increasingly paranoid. Kevin-Doombat’s attempts to ‘out-Gargle’ him didn’t feel like flattery, not at all. The things that Kevin envied about him were all innate parts of himself that he could never, ever change, and every impersonation of Kevin’s just turned his innate weirdnesses into a pantomime, into nothing more than a crude mockery of his life and his body and his soul and his-


“This is exactly what we’re talking about, you dickhead!” Justin cut in, rolling his eyes impatiently. “Stop losing your shit and being mental because you’re not Gargle – no one wants you to be Gargle, because…like…Gargle’s already Gargle, so…you can’t…be like…oh, fuck it, I dunno…” he trailed off, frowning, and returned to hypnotising himself with the lighter flame.

“But…Gargle’s so cool,” said Doombat, in a small, defeated voice. “And I just want to be cool too…”

Gargle chewed his lip with a contemplative fang, and after a long and awkward silence, he confessed,

“But…I’m not cool though – not really. At my old school everyone hated me, and whenever I tried to be cool, the music made my eyes bleed and the clothes gave me a rash, and…everyone laughed at me, just like they’re laughing at you. And I’m only cool now…if I even am cool…because I met you guys. So I think that…maybe there isn’t even such a thing as being cool. There’s just…proper friends, who think you’re cool. That’s all that matters…”

Lucretia smiled at him gratefully, and shuffled up to give Gargle a hug. After a moment, Gargle smiled the first real smile of his entire life, until it gave him face-ache, and welts appeared across his cheeks, spelling out NEVERMORE.

Blood Moon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on October 8, 2014 by ofherbsandaltars

Shelby was allowed two diaries, during her stay at the hospital. One was a therapy diary, the other was for Private Thoughts. In the former, she wrote all the things expected of a young, anorexic patient – concerns about her weight, outright terror of Friday night pizza – but in the other, Shelby wrote far darker things.

“Every night, I see their faces – the way they were at the end. The bone-white holes of their noses gleaming from within the wreckage of blood and ravaged flesh, those ribbons of tattered peach skin that hung from their throats, and the frozen terror in the clouded jelly orbs of their eyes. But worst of all, I can taste it – I taste the blood, and remember the crunching of cartilage between my teeth, the crackling shards of broken bones, and for that moment, I feel no remorse. There is only power, and ecstasy, those two things I have forsaken. I have neither now. I am weak, and cold, and my family think me shallow and vain and stupid, just a silly little girl with a ‘slimmer’s disease’, but far better that than the truth. My hair is falling out, and my heart beats slower every day, but this is necessary – this is penance for all I have done, and protection from all I know I could do, in some ghastly blood-red future. Puberty brought this curse, the madness that comes with monthly blood, and puberty is what I must undo. Whatever they say, whatever they do to me here, I must not eat. I must remain pure, remain weak, remain sane. I must keep my family safe – safe from me…”

It wasn’t as hard as she had imagined, to fool the doctors at the clinic. She was surrounded by ten other girls who burned with the same obsessive zeal for starvation, and some of the older ones had been in hospital four times or more. Late at night, and in periods between therapy sessions, there were fervent, whispered discussions on how to break the rules, how to keep one’s precious hold on emaciation, the only thing of value in this house of insanity – the feeling of safety that it brought those waiflike girls, who fought with dying breaths to preserve the sanctity of their self-made prisons, the purity of control that existed in numbers, in routines, in tape measures and weighing scales and carrots dipped in mustard. Socks could be filled with coins and hidden inside underwear, adding precious pounds to the morning weigh-ins. Salt caused water retention, which was loathsome but preferable to real weight – fat weight. One girl had sacrificed her purse as a vessel to keep vomit in until it could be poured out of the window. Another girl had persuaded her sister to smuggle in caffeine pills. All of them spent most of the night running through every exercise that could conceivably be performed without making too much noise – barefoot jumping jacks, crunches, jogging on the spot, ballet twirls, lunges and squats, turning the midnight ward into a frenzy of manic activity and stifled whispering -101, 102, 103…. If all else failed, there was blatant refusal – they were easy here, said one of the habitual offenders, they don’t tube you until they’ve tried everything else, unless you’re literally about to die. This last word was spoken with a derisory snort and a roll of the eyes – death was not to be feared; these girls had taunted death in every possible way for years on end, yet here they were, still standing. Like the worshippers of a God who never comes, they had long since ceased to believe in the credible threat of death.

Shelby’s personal theology was not so different from the others – a retreat from the fear of adulthood, a deep-seated loathing of their growing womanly bodies, a fight for control, to burrow back into the safety of childhood, the safety of being small, and vulnerable, and cared for. This made it easy for her to lie, in group sessions, easy for her to relate to the tales of the others, and to weave a few half-truths of her own, but soon this similarity began to confuse her. With every passing day that she starved herself, her brain felt foggier, slow and sleepy, and it became harder and harder to argue with the logic of the doctors and therapists. She was a very sick girl, wasting away her life in this hospital – didn’t she want to be happy and healthy? Didn’t she want a life outside of these oppressive walls, to learn to live and to laugh again? They put her on pills that made her feel different – calmer, more optimistic, and she began to doubt her own sanity. Could any of it really be true, those blood-soaked tales in her journal, a handful of disturbing, faded memories, or was it all nothing more than a bad dream, a ghastly vision of temporary madness? These people couldn’t be lying to her, these firm, kind women who had treated hundreds of girls before. Every girl on the ward was disturbed in her mind to some degree, and Shelby had witnessed for weeks now the younger girls shrieking and shaking in genuine terror of food on their arrival, until slowly they were cured before her eyes, and it did them no harm. Their hollow faces and translucent yellow skin began to fade away, until they were plump and pink and youthful, until their eyes began to shine and they started to laugh again, to talk with intelligence and vigour, instead of the slow, monosyllabic mumbles of the starving.

As the weeks went by, nothing terrible happened to any of them, these girls that Shelby watched. They would tell her with a smile how silly it had all been, those mad beliefs and crazed ideals they had laboured under for months, or even years, before they got here, and some of the older ones would weep for their lost youth, for the years and years they’d lost inside the dull white walls of hospitals, or locked inside the duller, colder walls of their own sick minds, their failing bodies, while the healthy children played and laughed as though on the other side of an impenetrable glass wall. But now, they would swear, now, they were going to be a part of that world – they had plans and dreams and wishes again, the glass wall was gone and they were no longer a dying moth battering itself against an invisible prison – it was all so different now. They told of how the very air in the room felt different, that colours were brighter, that the grass and the trees in the garden were alive and when they walked out there they felt the breeze on their skin and the sunlight on their backs, and finally they were a part of the world again, walking amongst the human race, just like everyone else. Those girls, they revelled in the beauty of their newfound normality. When they got day passes to go home, they would return with tales of eating real takeaway pizza from the box with their fingers, as though relating a perverse foreign ritual they had shared with an alien tribe. And finally, they would leave the hospital, leave Shelby behind in her lonely institutional bed, and they would write every week, tales of school and new friends and movie dates with boys. In all of those weeks, and all of those girls, all of the letters scrawled in glittery pen and curly childish handwriting, there was not a single mention of blood-drenched woodlands, violent slaughter and unstoppable rage, and Shelby’s doubts grew larger.

Could she really be so different, to all these other girls? She had never felt so miserable in all her life as she did in this awful ward, with its stench of boiled cabbage, its lumpy beds, the stilted, awkward visits with her family once a week, and the perpetual sadness of watching other girls get better, get happier, then leave her behind forever. To live like this indefinitely was worse than not living at all, so what did she have to lose? When she read those initial pages of her Private Diary, they sounded crazier every day, and the words of her therapist rang louder and louder with truth. It was natural for Shelby to be traumatised, to blame it all on herself, when just a year ago she had lost her little brother and sister in the most horrific way. Not only that, but to have witnessed their violent deaths, as they were mauled by an animal in the woods, leaving only Shelby alive, drenched in blood from her futile attempts to resuscitate them. It was survivor’s guilt, said her therapist, and it was the most natural thing in the world, but her siblings wouldn’t want this for her – they would never blame this on you, Shelby, and they wouldn’t want you to suffer like this. You have to forgive yourself – you have to let yourself mourn, and then you have to let it go, let it go, and live your own life. And it all made such perfect sense, that little by little, Shelby believed it. Little by little, she started eating again.

For the first three weeks, Shelby experienced all the wonders the other girls had described. She felt the warmth and life and happiness pulsing through her veins for the first time in a year, and the grey haze that had cut her off from the world evaporated. The flowers had colour, the spring breeze smelled of cut grass and endless possibility, she could read books and keep her focus – she felt happy, felt free. Even the doughy stodge of hospital food tasted better than anything she had ever eaten, and her family were delighted to bring in the things she requested – cinnamon rolls, chocolate bars, cheese and pickle sandwiches, and all these things tasted of life itself, because every bite signified that choice she had made; to live again, to forgive herself, to stop dwelling in a dark and twisted fairytale. On a day pass, she visited the graves of her brother and sister, left them flowers, and for the first time, she knew that she wasn’t to blame. The tales related by her parents formed images in her mind more vivid than her own bad dreams, and now all she remembered was her attempts to save them, was the fuzzy, indistinct shape of some dark, hairy creature slipping back into the woods, its jaws stained with blood. Not her fault – not to blame. When she wrote and told the older girls about her recovery, they wrote back with curly glitter words of love and congratulation – one sent her a purple friendship bracelet, its beaded letters spelling out ‘HOPE’, and she never took it off.

Finally, the doctors agreed to give her a release date – ten more days in the hospital, and if she had reached her target weight, she could go home, for good. Shelby felt no fear – felt nothing but happiness, could see the winding road of life unfurling before her, bereft of dark shadows and lurking ghosts, and she was eager to begin, to let the past be the past. Four days prior to her release, her stomach began to cramp with a dull, twisting ache. When she brushed her teeth before bed, she found the spots of blood in her pants, and for the briefest second she felt fear. Then she shook it off, because it was irrational, nothing more than a lingering ghost of that old and silly life, and she went to the nurses’ station for a handful of pads.

As she lay down in bed, the darkened room seemed brighter than usual, the shapes of her sleeping ward-mates clear under their white blankets. Through the window, the full moon shone bright and clear from the velvet blackness of the sky, and when she closed her eyes, its glowing imprint remained behind her eyelids. Sleep would not come, and soon she felt the fierce, forgotten power beginning to pound through her veins, felt the hot, itchy prickling of her skin, as though a million coarse black hairs were sprouting beneath it. She could hear the ponderous thudding of starved but juicy hearts all around her, the salt and smoke of their blood cutting sharply through the lingering scent of boiled cabbage, and the moon looked down like a silent sentinel wreathed in silver light.

When the nurse on the night station heard the screams, she came running, startled from her dozing boredom. In the moonlight, dark blood was splotched and sprayed across the white-painted walls, mangled corpses strewn across the floor, one girl still screaming gutturally from within the tattered meat of her ruined face. Against the wall a shadow slunk, huge and black and bristling with fur. It turned to face her, its yellow eyes sparking with reflected moonlight, gleaming with a sinister, human intelligence. Its black snout was slicked with dark blood, thick trails of reddish drool and gobbets of tattered flesh dribbling from between its bared teeth. The nurse stared in frozen terror at those unblinking yellow eyes, before the creature span and leaped through the window, the shattered glass mingling with the reedy screams of the dying girl. As the wolf dropped from view, a wild, roughened howl shredding the night air, she noticed the purple bracelet wrapped around its foreleg, stained with blood, glittering with beads that spelled out ‘HOPE’.