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  1. Last week was pretty depressing.

    One of my pet rats, Sobeknofru ("Sobey"), had a stroke (all my four rats were named after Egyptian queens: Sobeknofru, Twosret, Nefertiti and Hatchepsut). As a result, she was too weak to feed herself so I began to hand feed her 3-4 times a day. I also washed her every couple of days since she wasn't able to do that either - or not to any satisfactory degree.

    She was doing better for a while there, seemed to be improving...and then she had another stroke. She didn't recover from that one. She lost a lot of her balance and coordination and seemed to be pretty out of it most of the time. Still very eager to eat though, flopping out of their igloo when I approached with her food. But she was losing weight even with regular feedings, and moving even a tiny amount made her pant.

    So I took her to the vets today and had her put to sleep. Even though I feel it was the best thing for her, and for my sanity as I hated watching her deteriorate, I feel immensely guilty. Guilty because despite everything, she was still willing to eat and make a go of it. She didn't give up. I did.
    But in the end I can only use my own judgement, and rightly or wrongly I judged that the situation was probably distressing for her and that it was kinder to put her to sleep before she deteriorated any further.

    Sighs... I feel very tired after all that. Agonizing over what to do. Trying to juggle looking after her with my university work... I suppose I need to throw myself into that for the rest of the day. Writing about Waiting for Godot at the moment... Seems strangley apt. But I have fallen behind schedule and I really need to bang my argument into a coherent shape.

    On a more positive note: I'm generally feeling positive about writing at the moment and I'm in danger of getting addicted to this site again. And I sent a poem to a magazine and the editor actually bothered to put a PS on my rejection letter! :p (Ran something along the lines of "I like it but not quite enough") So I will regard that as a positive thing since I didn't expect to get any comment at all.



    After the violence,
    a vague suffocation:
    Cotton in the lungs,
    A fog in the brain.

    Nigh invisible to the eye,
    Heavy in the heart and sigh -
    Better to assume its

    Yet pain remains
    a lonely burden,
    and hard to share:
    a dull dried-up stare.

    *I know this looks to have something of a patchy rhyme (non-)scheme, but I didn't actually plan for it to have any rhyme scheme at all. It just came out like that.
  2. =WARNING: potential plot spoilers for 'Prometheus'=

    I seem to have been seized by a very positive mood recently. Everything just seems to be going well. University work seems more manageable, and I have even had time to play video games and watch Prometheus, which has been sitting on my DVD shelf since Christmas. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it.
    Initially I thought it had quite a good atmosphere going - creepy and suspenseful. Bit claustrophobic at the beginning...invasion of privacy by David...some mystery...etc...but once the proverbial hit the fan it lost me. I didn't find the aliens particularly scary. Maybe it was lost on me because I haven't seen "Alien". Anyway I don't think I'll bother to see the second; if I didn't like the first film in a trilogy it is very rare that I like the second any better.

    Anyway, at least "Tomb Raider" was good. I mean not long enough...and certainly not perfect...but I enjoyed it. I'm not sure I would leap at more games with kid-Lara in though. In general, I think I prefer her when she's older and sarcastic. I found young Lara was a bit too self-righteous for me. And the jiggly camera made me feel disorientated and sick at times. In some areas it worked, added atmosphere...but all the time? I dunno, bit too much for me. Generally though I felt the gameplay was strong. Story and cutscenes? - Not so much. Could have used a few more puzzles, and I missed the time challenges and acrobatics (admittedly though the former is harder to incorporate into an 'open' world).

    I've been getting back into my writing more again. Actually I've been working sporadically throughout the last few months but trying to focus mainly on my uni work, which is why I haven't been contributing to this site recently.
    The closer I get to finishing my degree the more I keep thinking about what I'll do next - and to be honest I'm pretty tempted to go straight onto an MA Literature course, despite talking about having breaks from it and stuff. We'll see. I don't have to decide right now. My course doesn't finish for another few months and then I'll have to wait to get graduation over with. I really don't want to attend but my mum has a bit of a bee in her hat about it. But that's an argument for another day.

    I wrote this for the 'Plan-B' contest but didn't get it finished in time - still isn't really finished, actually. Wrote it in a bit of a rush.
    It is/was a cool contest theme actually, and inspired some very interesting stories.


    "In Flux"


    O'Rourke felt a jolt run through his body. His fingers twitched. His eyelids flickered. He was suddenly aware of seagulls crying and the sound of the sea roaring at his feet, the mournful zither of the wind plucking the rigging of the boats in the shipyard. Hussssh. The water gushed up under his body, sucking at his fingertips. He had the sensation of sinking as the water drew away. He let go.

    O'Rourke sat up, eyes snapping open, and was half blinded by the light, pale quality the world had assumed while he slept. The sea was grey and marbled with white froth, the air around him clouded with mist. He raised an arm to his face but the sunlight, such as it was, filtered right through. He slowly lowered his arm, examining the luminous pink quality of his fingers. He twisted at the waist and looked at the man who lay beneath him. His short dark curly hair was plastered across his face, one green eye visible, staring out from the strands at nothing in particular. It was a youthful face; the long nose had obviously been broken more than once in his life. The skin had a wet blue tinge to it. The man was and was not O'Rourke.

    Presently O'Rourke rose from the body and went to brush the sand from his rear, though there was none. He then took a few paces and felt in his pockets for the cigarettes he had taken from the man, only to find that they had been soaked. He turned back to the body, gazed at it and tutted. It was such a waste of a nice looking man. Still, it couldn't be helped.
    'Are you lost?'
    The hairs on the back of O'Rourk's neck shot up. The voice had echoed within his own head, like a memory, but he had felt something warp behind him - an experience difficult to describe, but it was like having your perception of the world behind you, your memory of walking past an object or seeing something, disappear for a second. A form of backwards deja vu.

    Sure enough behind him stood Lich; a gaunt gentleman – 'gentleman' sprang to O'Rourke's mind because Lich seemed to belong to a period of gentlemen - with papery skin so thin that to look at his face was to look at the contours of a skull. He had no ears and no eyes, and only a thin veil of black hair clung to the back of his head. Buried in the recesses of his skull, when the light hit it just so, two bright bronze pennies gleamed. He was dressed in a drab black suit which smelled faintly of lillies and stagnant water. He held his hands clasped at his front as he stood facing O'Rourke.

    'Oh I wondered how long it'd take ya,' O'Rourke said, turning, 'I'm just on my way back now.'
    'Hmm-mm...' Lich stared at him intently.
    'Honest to god! I was just about to come back...I swear he was like that when I found him... I just got in for a bit.'
    'But it didn't fit you,' Lich said flatly. His mouth didn't move when he spoke. The voice seemed to pull itself from your memory, always faintly familiar; a composite of voices. So when O'Rourke heard it he heard his mother and his father, his sister, and his first teacher Mr Hemsworth, and his old mate Gunn. But it lacked their humanity, their warmth.
    O'Rourke glanced back at the man's body. It had reverted now to its original appearance. The dark hair remained, but the nose had shortened, the face had lengthened, and the wrinkles had fallen back into place around the eyes and mouth. O'Rourke had died at twenty-five, this man was at least forty. O'Rourke had died from a ruptured stomach, this man had dropped dead of a heart attack.

    O'Rourke touched his own chest in sympathy. He'd been wandering along the beach when it had happened. He'd seen the man collapse. And, well, he would have gone for help if he hadn't been dead himself. So instead he'd slipped into the body during its weakening moments, which was nice...warm...but ill-fitting, as Lich said, and a little cramped with the man's own confused spirit still hanging around. But it had slipped away during the earlier hours of the morning, leaving O'Rourke alone in the body. He had just lain there, as one might lay in a bath after the water has cooled, clinging to the last lingering feelings of warmth even as the cold encroaches.

    'No, didn't fit. Felt a little claustrophobic after a while. Suppose I'm not used to it any more.' Said O'Rourke. Lich shook his head slightly.
    'It's not about being used to or not used to it. You're not conscious of being inside it when you're alive.'
    'I guess so,' O'Rourke sighed and held up the packet of cigarettes. 'Got these off him. Bit wet.'
    'Thank you,' Lich took the packet. A black flame leapt up from his palm. The next moment the packet had been reduced to grey ash.
    'Wow. You've got to teach me to do that.' Said O'Rourke, watching as Lich let the grey specks fall from his palm into the air. 'Waste of tobacco though. Couldn't you have just dried them a little?'
    'It would be better if you just didn't touch other people's things while they're in a state of flux.' Said Lich. 'Besides, you're dead, I can't teach you anything.'
    'So are you.'
    Lich inclined his head a little, eyeing O'Rourke. 'I was never alive. It's hardly the same thing.'
    O'Rourke grinned behind his hand and began to wander up the beach. Lich followed in heavy and uneven strides, like someone unused to walking.
    'That's not what I've heard,' O'Rourke said casually, after a moment. Lich drew level with him, turning his gleaming eyes on him. A red rope, the rope used to guide souls back to the other world, had appeared in his hands.
    'Who said otherwise?'
    'Oh you know...people...ghosts mainly.' O'Rourke stopped and sniffed, shoving his hands into his pockets. They had wandered up onto the road now. The mist was beginning to thin as the sun rose. O'Rourke reckoned it would be about fifty seconds...
    'Well, you can take it from me that I've never been anything but a ghoul,' said Lich firmly. He never much liked being associated with the living, never mind being accused of having once been alive – that was a little too much to bear. He was a ghoul, he had and would always be a ghoul; his non-life would eternally be dedicated to the rounding up of trespassers like O'Rourke - ghosts who wandered back to earth, either because of unfinished business or mischief. He didn't have the glamour of being Death; he was more like a poor cousin charged with wrangling stragglers. But he was proud of his work nonetheless.
    O'Rourke privately agreed that it would be a very vulgar thing for anyone to suggest that Lich had ever been alive - in truth no one had. He just needed to distract Lich long enough for...
    A clock nearby struck 6am. Lich looked up sharply, turned towards O'Rourke and then promptly vanished into thin air.
    O'Rourke chuckled to himself and made his way into the town. In a very small way he pitied Lich - maybe if he had once been alive, he would have more cunning or at least a better understanding of ghosts like O'Rourke, who, despite being interminably cold in the corporeal world, infinitely preferred it to any other plain of existence.

    As people started to emerge, he began looking for someone to attach himself to for the day. He wasn't sure what he was looking for until he saw her - a small girl of around ten, wandering across the road with a slightly bewildered expression, clutching a clipboard to her chest. She looked like she belonged to a nearby parochial school; she had a faint smell of church about her that O'Rourke found appealing. He fell into step behind her. She reminded him, vaguely, of his own little sister as he had last seen her: a young girl of ten with a head of long black curls, and faintly churchy. He felt a slight stab of sadness – it had just struck him, as it did now and again, that his sister would now be a lot older. No longer a sweet little girl, but a woman and a stranger. He longed to see her but could never quite bring himself to go back to the places he'd haunted in life. He was aware that, seeing his old friends and family, he was likely to start feeling sad and jealous. So he stayed away, out of fear and a need to preserve his own sanity.
    The girl paused to look over her shoulder, as if she had sensed his movement behind her. He gave a little wave. A small tag on her backpack read Rebecca. He shook his head a little. The name was too old for her yet.
    'I'll call you Becky,' he announced.
    A scowl passed over her delicate mutable little features, and for a moment he thought she had heard him. But she turned away with a slight shrug and continued on her way. He followed.

    She stopped outside a restaurant. A large red sign on the door read 'CLOSED'. The girl glanced down at her clipboard and then slipped in through the front door. O'Rourke slid in behind her, glancing about at the empty restaurant. Most of the chairs were still upside down on the tables. A couple of waiters were sat at one table, talking in hushed voices. They looked up as Becky threaded her way through the tables, but they didn't bother to get up.
    Becky went straight to the man behind the bar. He was large, with a thick neck and little hair to cover the large shiny dome of his head. He looked decidedly unfriendly – until he saw Becky approach. His face split into a smile.
    'Hello lil lady, what can I do for you today?' He asked cheerfully.
    'Hi, my name is Rebecca and I'm collecting for our church raffle.'
    The man regarded her for a moment and then smiled. 'Well sweetheart-'
    'Rebecca,' she said firmly.
    'Well sweet Rebecca, I'm sorry but I can't give you anything.'
    'Why not?'
    'Broke. Hard times.' He shrugged.
    O'Rourke raised an eyebrow and glanced about. The restaurant certainly didn't look broke – it looked like it probably turned a healthy profit. He was surprised to hear Becky utter almost exactly what he had thought.
    'So are you going to give me anything?' She asked, businesslike. The man was evidently as surprised as O'Rourke: he looked like he'd just seen a ghost.
    'No.' The man said sharply. O'Rourke frowned. If he were alive he'd have made the man pay up by now. How could he refuse such a sweet little girl? And one working for the church, too.
    'Fine,' said the girl, 'Then I'll just tell everyone that you wouldn't give a thing for the orphans.'
    'Thought you said it was for the church raffle,' the man said, eyes narrowing. Becky shrugged.
    'I can say whatever I want. Who do you think they'll believe?'
    'Fine. I'll donate twenty pounds.'
    'One hundred.'
    'Forty and a slap up meal.'
    O'Rourke pulled a face at the man as he made out the cheque, and then blew his ghostly breath into the man's ear. The man slapped a hand to his ear where the skin tingled and shivered slightly. 'Drafty.' He muttered.
    'Make it out to Raffle Fund, please.' Said Becky. The man grunted and scribbled.
    He pulled the cheque from the book. 'Here you go.' He said, cheerful again. Becky took it carefully and slipped it into a small black velvet purse produced from her coat. It had a gold 'R' embroidered on it.
    'Thank you. I'll see you next month about the roof fund – I think it'll need patching up soon.'
    O'Rourke chuckled as they made their way back out to the street. The look on the man's face had been priceless. He liked the girl, though she was a little strange. He liked her a lot; he thought vaguely that, had he lived long enough, he would have liked a daughter just like her.

    For the rest of the day, O'Rourke followed Becky about as she went from door to door collecting donations. He followed her as if in a dream, walking along side her at times, as if they walked together. He did get a little bored by the afternoon, and was even tempted to peel off and follow someone else. But something about the girl kept calling him back. It wasn't just her attitude or her similarity to his sister. There was an energy about her which called to him like a siren song.

    It was about four in the afternoon when, laden with donation promises and cheques, the girl began to make her way towards the church. O'Rourke followed doggedly behind. He felt sapped of energy – being around all these bodies, their warmth wafting past him, ever out of reach; it took its toll on him eventually. He felt colder than ever, he couldn't feel his body any more. The sensation gifted to him, briefly, by lying in the dead man's body was all but gone. Heading towards the church, however, perked him up again. He could feel the hallowed ground calling to him. It was a bit of flux in the corporeal world which he desperately needed. But the girl bypassed the cemetery, glancing at it suspiciously. O'Rourke stopped and gazed at the gate. He couldn't open it by himself. He sighed, swung himself round and trailed after her. She went right into the church.
    It was dark, lit here and there by the yellow glimmer of candelabra. The ceiling went up in a great arch above their heads. In truth it was two great interlocking arches which formed a kind of minimalist cage overhead. The little girl's heels clicked on the flagstones. It was eerily quiet, and yet O'Rourke would have sworn that he could hear a low voice singing somewhere far off.

    Then the girl did something that surprised him. She tipped the cheques and promises into the charity box. Then she turned quickly on her heel.

    Before O'Rourke quite knew what was happening, the girl's arms were around him. She was hugging him. He could feel her warmth, the weight and solidity of her arms. He was so stunned that he couldn't move or think. He was struck back in time. He smelt his sister's shampoo wafting up into his nose. Memories rushed into his head in a blur. He couldn't separate them or get any sense from them – it was overpowering.
    Then Becky withdrew. The sensations faded as did the warmth, and he found himself again back in the church, standing in front of the pulpit. He glanced down and saw that a red rope had been lashed around his arms and waist. The end was held in Becky's small pale hands. When he looked at her, she smiled. It was a humourless smile which did not reach her eyes.

    'Lich?' He said suddenly.
    'Are you lost?' She said as if in answer, her tone dead as stone.
    'So you did hear me earlier...' he murmured. He shook his head. 'But what about the 6am rule?'
    'I am capable of breaking rules, you know, when it is deemed necessary. The direct approach didn't seem to be working.'
    The face of the girl began to contort, stretch. Lich grew out of her form, his features resuming their skeletal appearance.
    'Well I've got to say I'm impressed,' said O'Rourke. Lich tipped his head forward slightly, looking at O'Rourke from beneath the bony ridges of his eye sockets. 'I mean you well and truly got me. Looking so like my sister...the whole energy sapping thing, too – that was you wasn't it?' Lich nodded slightly.
    'For a dead man you have too much energy,' he said grimly.
    'It was very well-done...I didn't think you had it in you.'
    An expression which might have been close to pleasure flitted across Lich's features.
    'Thank you.'
    O'Rourke could feel his energy returning. Lich had evidently closed whatever flux tentacle he had been using to sap energy from him. He began to wriggle slightly in his bonds. The ropes were loosening.

    At that moment a side door opened and a priest appeared carrying a watering can and singing softly to himself. Lich turned slightly at the sound. That was the moment. O'Rourke contracted himself into a wisp, a painful thing but necessary, and the bonds fell to the floor. The priest dropped the watering can, his face contorting in a sudden look of horror. Lich watched, inclining his head slightly, and then noticed the slackness of the rope in his hands.

    As he looked towards the pile of rope on the floor, the priest – who now bore a striking resemblance to O'Rourke – dashed past him and out of the church.
    He began to move towards the door, then stopped. A slip of white had caught his eye. He leaned down and picked up the piece of paper. It was one of the cheques. He glanced towards the doors, which were now swinging on their hinges, and then turned away. He went back and slipped the cheque into the box. He then followed calmly after O'Rourke, ravelling the rope around his fist. He would take his time. He would think of another method. After all, he had all the time in the world.

    O'Rourke ran madly down the road. The body felt heavy and crushing. The man wasn't fit; his breath came in sharp stabbing gasps. The man's spirit was trying to push O'Rourke out. But O'Rourke held on tightly. He just needed to get a little further and then he could abandon it, possess another or... or...
    Even as he ran, O'Rourke knew he would inevitably have to be caught. But he didn't care. Something inside of him still wanted to keep running.
  3. I'm currently meant to be writing an essay debating a proposition by George Orwell, unlikely as that may sound depending upon how dirty your mind is. Essentially it is about whether judgements about literature are ever based on 'abstract aesthetic standards' or if they are actually based on whether the book/work in question 'preaches the right sermon'... but right now I'm just thinking about my own writing. I probably shouldn't have chosen 'now' to post a bit of my own writing for people to critique as I will obsess about it. I'm already sitting here thinking about the critiques I've received so far and possible changes I could make, and making a mental note to remember them for the future, too. I know why I did choose now to post my work though: good distraction from my essay. Stupid thing is I actually enjoy writing essays as much as I enjoy writing fiction, once I get into it.

    Anyway my main point is aesthetics vs. instrumentality (actual content or 'message') in literature. It got me thinking about my own writing and which is more important to me.
    Well, they're both important, I think. When I write, I write for the pleasure of it, but I also want my reader to be provoked into thought by what I write. But sometimes I worry that the 'instrumental' half of my writing sometimes compromises its aesthetics. In other words I get too obsessed about trying to convey a 'message' and forget to write something that is actually enjoyable to read. I can kind of see that in 'Marigold' - the detail about her activities/domestic stuff is there to try and build a kind of repressive/boring atmosphere (I think I was kind of thinking about 'The Life of Ma Parker' when I began writing it) - could say that worked but not in the way intended thus far. :p
    I know in my other pieces of writing there are things that, as a reader, I would probably prefer were kept out...but being able to separate yourself from your own 'intent' and being able to consume your own writing as a distanced reader - wow that's got to be a real talent. But it's not impossible. I definitely think that writing critiques is helpful.

    I dunno my brain feels so full at the moment, thinking about my own writing and doing this literature course. From the surface the two seem like a marriage made in heaven, but actually they seem more hellish to me. Whenever I come across a new interesting idea/perspective in my lit course, I instantly want to apply it to my own writing and that totally distracts me from my coursework. I've already had to put my longer works on hold while I do this course, and I'm not entering any more writing competitions while I do it; I'm still waiting for the result of the Jeremy Mogford one anyway. I'll know in January whether I actually got anywhere in it. Probably won't have but that doesn't matter - I enjoyed writing 'tum' whatever happens with it. I may well post it on here once the competition is over.

    That's all; going to try and plug my academic brain back in and get this essay done before I'm forced to beg my tutor for an extension.