Genre Blender: After the Lights Went Out – a Letter from Jo’s Mother


For this weeks writing challenge  two genres are to be blended.  I have chosen to do another piece of writing related to my novel.  This is a letter from Bella to her daughter Jo who is charged with returning hope to a lost human race in a dystopian future on a dying earth.


Darling, Dearest Jo,


What I am leaving you here is basically as much of the contents of my head as I can give you.  In the hard drive, you will find my diary which explains everything.  Also in it are all my favourite songs, all my favourite movies and all my writing.  It would not mean much to some people, but I know that it will mean something to you.


I am so sorry that I could not stay with you.  Nothing gave me greater pain than having to leave you behind, but there really was no other way for me.  I hope that in time you will understand that.


I want you to know that I love you in a way that words will never be able to sufficiently describe.  I feel like my heart is somehow bigger than it was before, it has swollen with love and pride for you, you are such a miracle.  Every child is a miracle, every birth is a miracle.  I only wish everyone was able to see that before, they will ever so much more now.  To think of a world without children is bad enough without understanding what that means for us, the human race.  You are special Jo, I knew it as soon as you started taking shape inside of me, as soon as I saw what was happening to the world, the wonder, the hope, the joy of life turning to ash with the fires and the wars.


Your life Jo will not be as easy as I would like it to be, you have a purpose and that must come before all other things.  You will realise this as you become a young woman.  You have to go out into the world Jo and find all the lost people, the people hiding away, the people who may be waiting for the end.


I fear Jo, that the world has been gripped by a feeling of desolation, people have lost faith in everything, people have lost purpose and if we are to survive, what needs to happen is for a new feeling, a new way of thinking to grip the minds of the people left in the world; they need to relearn hope and faith.


By the time you are eighteen, word will have spread throughout the country about a girl that is going to save the world.  You might laugh, you might not believe it, but the story is about you Jo, and it is true.  You will go out into the world and give people hope again, you will teach them what matters, you will help them to have hope again.  You must go everywhere in the world spreading this feeling until you are confident that all the world has remembered to hope and children are born once again.


You might think I am crazy, there are plenty of people who do, and there are those in the world who would lock me up and take you away from me and give you a different kind of life that would mean you lose your innocence and your own hope a long time before you should.  I have left you to be raised by two of the kindest, most wonderful people I have ever met.  When I arrived at the farm here, I was not sure what I was going to do, my only thoughts were to find you somewhere safe.  You came early and I hadn’t really worked out what I was going to do when I came across Ben and Susan.  I knew that the universe had guided me directly to the answer – it has a way of doing that Jo, you will learn that.


At the right time, someone will come for you, an opportunity will appear for you to go on a journey, you must take it, I have told Ben and Susan the same thing: if the right person comes for you at the right time, you must go with them.


By the time you are fully grown, everyone will be looking for you.  I have spread word over the cities and sent messages in bottles about you.  Even before you do anything, you will start to save people, because even if there is one little part of them that believes in you, one little bit that believes you might help to save them, there is a chance we will survive.


People believe that the God is punishing them, or that there is no God and that the earth itself is revolting against humans, or we are killing it and it is dying.  That is not true Jo, the earth and the universe knows exactly how to live, it is life itself.  It is the people, Jo, who are punishing themselves, revolting against themselves, giving up.  You cannot let them give up.  I have tried in many ways to try to tell them this but they think I am crazy. They did not like the things I was saying because I was rebelling against their systems, against the governments and against the order of things that they could not see was destroying us. Others like me were finding out the truth about their so-called “wars on terrorism” about the oil, about alternative energy, about the capitalist system that was turning the heart of the human race to stone.  There were websites, blogs and facebook pages which were spreading the word and people were listening.  More and more people were coming to the same understanding and the governments started to put a stop to them, because it didn’t serve their purpose which was to covet power and money.


There is a philosophy about existence I once read, and I am not sure where now, but it says that the world exists constantly in a battle of good and evil and it is always a very close battle, swinging slightly one way and then the other, but only ever so slightly so that it always remains in balance.  There is a part of me that believes that and that believes that what is happening now is that the world is out of balance, it has swung too far to the wrong side and not enough people are fighting for the good side, so it seems as if the earth and people are dying.  What I hope is that even now when things are so bad, the universe still knows exactly what it is doing, the universe or God or whatever or whoever you believe holds the power of the earth. I just call it the universe because I am not sure what it is, this power which is in everything.


If nothing else Jo, for your own soul, you must fight for the good.  If you are growing up in the world I suspect you are, you may find it difficult to see any hope or understand faith, but you must find it, you must fight for the good in you every second of every day.  It is not something that you just have to do once and then you are good and everything is fine, it is something you have to do with every thought, every word and every deed. It is something that has to be done again and again and again all throughout your life, no matter what you are going through.


Things will happen in your life that you will have no control over.  You have to understand what things you have control over and what things you do not, you have to clearly separate these two things in your mind and concentrate only on the things you do have control over starting with what you choose to think.


You can choose to believe that I am mad, that this is all just a fabrication and the earth really is dying, or you can believe that just maybe there is some truth in what I am saying and that if you believe in what I am saying, the impossible may just happen, that if you tell people there is still hope, they will believe you.  That is all I am really asking you to do, tell them not to give up, tell them no matter what hardships they have faced, no matter what losses, no matter how many people, how many things have died around them, there is still hope, there is still life.


Maybe this is just a period that we are going through in history where the universe is righting itself, maybe there were a lot of things going on in the world that were bad and that had to be stopped, and this was the only way to do it.


I don’t believe that there is no oil or that there are not numerous other sources of energy that could be used to get the world up and running again.  I think what the world needs to do is remember what is really important, what is really necessary, what you really cannot live without because Jo, you will not believe the things people think they could not live without before, the things people believed they needed.  We had so much, we had everything we could need and more, but still people wanted more and more and no one stood still and appreciated what they had.  People did not want to sacrifice luxuries for things that would have made the world a better place.  They would not give up a little so that more people could have something.  Yet here I am, giving up the most precious thing in my life so that they can understand this, so that they can be saved.  I probably won’t even live to see the earth saved, I may never know if this crazy plan has worked, but still I am giving you up so that they can have you.  I am making the biggest sacrifice I could possibly give, I would give my own life, I am sure before I am finished I will, but that does not mean nearly so much to me as your life and  more importantly what you do with it.


I want you to live in a world where you can have your own children, I want you to know peace and hope and carefree joyous days.  I want you to fall in love, have a family and experience everything that comes with that.  I want you to look around yourself every day and be grateful for the world around you, to appreciate the earth and everything in it.  I want you to see everything, to know everything.  So learn Jo, learn from everything, learn from the things other people say, and learn from their stories, whether told to you in person or written in books, or shown to you in films, music or art.  These people create these things because they have something to tell you, something to say, some part of themselves or their lives that they are sharing with you, a little secret so that when you see it you recognize yourself in it and for some reason you cannot explain, for a few precious seconds, everything makes sense to you.


See the good in people Jo, look for it, most of the time it is there.  Encourage the good in people, feed the good wolf.  Be kind, be caring and do not be afraid to be that way even when it seems no one else is.  Respect life, respect other people, respect their choices and forgive their mistakes.  Do not judge them.  Understand that we all need to make mistakes in order to learn.  Understand that there are many things that people will do that you will not understand, and you will want to stop them doing things that they will do anyway.  You have to let them learn, but think of them kindly, show them compassion, breath in their troubles and let them out with your exhalation.  Meditate and do yoga, I promise you if you learn to do it early, it will help you through life in the most wonderful way.  It took me nearly thirty years to look for it and it has been the most helpful thing I have ever done.  It is the one way you can daily give your mind and your body a hug.


There is so much I want to say to you, but there is no time, I have to leave you before I cannot because every day I stay it is harder than ever to leave.  When I leave I will never be the same again, not until I somehow hear that you are out in the world spreading hope and joy.  Then wherever I am I will be in peace completely.  I cannot tell you where I am going because I really do not know.  I do not think it will be possible for us to meet in this lifetime and even if I do meet you, I may not be able to tell you who I am, but why don’t you think that every strange lady you meet on your journey might be me.  There is a religion that believes that every soul you meet was once your mother, although that is quite a funny thought, if you treat everyone with the same love and respect you do your mother, you are doing things the right way.  You are everyone’s daughter Jo, I don’t deserve to have you all to myself, so I am giving you to the world, I hope they appreciate you.


I will love you always in everything I think and say and do.  Whenever you are feeling alone or sad or you think you may be losing hope, think of me and know that I am thinking of you, rooting for you, hugging you when you are quiet and on your own, smiling at you when you are having fun, laughing with you, crying with you, connected to you always even when you are unsure, even when you make mistakes.  Think of me somewhere watching your story like a movie, a little audience in the sky, in the trees, in the wind, in everything that has life in it.

I love you, always.


Bella, your mum

The Ray Bradbury Noun List Twist

In today’s challenge we’ll ask you to write a new post using some nouns from various sources.

I chose some random nouns myself last week: Head, Mirror. Lights, Desk, Chin, Mountain, Duvet, Grass, Girl, Dream.  Tonight I wrote a short story with them.

Jo tried to tell herself that it was all in her head.  She was imagining all of this.  She was sitting on her step at the caravan looking at the stars imagining a wonderful adventure where she was the main character like the girl who looked into the mirror and went through it to the other side into a magical world.  Certainly all of a sudden she found herself in a place she never imagined, but it was not a dream.  She found herself surrounded by the most incredible characters that truly fascinated her.  She spent her evenings surrounded by beautiful lights, Verity had decorated the boat with fairy lights so that every night when they sat out on the deck together, they were surrounded by hundreds of tiny gentle lights that glowed in the dark of the sea and sky.  It made everything feel so much more calm and peaceful.  Jo imagined that she was sitting on a star herself in outer space, floating through the air from planet to planet travelling around the galaxy.  It was not difficult to believe when she looked around her and up into the night sky at the millions of stars.  What a truly astounding world this is.  It is unbelievable how simply extraordinary it is, Jo thought.  The earth when you sit still and look around yourself exists in this magical way all of the time, how lucky Jo was to realise this, she knew that, she knew that some people did not see it that way.

When Verity was sitting at her desk telling Jo about the world before the lights went out, she described how people had lived in cities and could go months and even years or their whole lives without looking around themselves at the earth in its natural form and appreciating it.  Verity said that some people could not see beyond their own chin, or was it nose?

Jo looked out to sea and imagined what other lands were out there, she thought about trekking through rain forests and swimming in cold water lakes.  She pictured herself riding on a river in a raft, she pictured herself climbing in trees and walking along sandy beaches, she imagined climbing a huge mountain and reaching the clouds.  She could see herself reaching the top of the mountain and looking all around her at how small all of the buildings looked from above.  How could you not look around yourself and appreciate how large the earth was and how small human beings were?  From up high, or from out at sea, you could not see even one of them they were so tiny.  There could be 70 million of them in one country at a time, all standing together and you would not see them from space.  They would not simply not be there.

Jo pulled the duvet she had around her, she could feel the wind picking up but she did not want to go inside yet, she wanted the night to last as long as possible because she wanted to feel this way forever.  She wanted to press pause, so that she could feel this anticipation, this wonder at the world and at what was to come next.  There was so much unknown, there was a whole other country, a whole other land to explore.  She tried, but she was not sure she could envisage quite how green this country would be.  Verity tried to describe the countryside and how she used to walk through country paths as a girl in the summer and she would be surrounded by hundreds of shades of green.  She told Jo how the green of the grass was a lime green, but that the particular shade would change depending on whether there was a cloud over the sun or what times of the year it was.  She said one field itself could be many different shades of green depending on the light and the wind never mind the different colours and hues of the greens of the trees and the forests.   All Jo could do was dream about it and she did most nights.  Sometimes she dreamt about it so vividly that she was almost sure she had been there before, she could see it.  It did not look like a drawing or a painting, or something her mind had created.  She could see fields of grass and forests of trees all around her.  She could feel the cold wind on her face making her cheeks go red, she could smell the life of the plants around her, she could feel the freshness of the air in her lungs, but never in her life in Australia had she experienced those things.  Perhaps her imagination was so good or Verity’s descriptions so vivid that she could create the experiences in her mind.  She would perhaps be able to tell better when she got there, if she had never been there before, surely nothing in her imagination could ever match the reality of it.

Finally Verity called for everyone to go back downstairs into the cabins.  Jo was beginning to feel sleepy now, and she could feel her eyes getting heavy.  The boat was rocking from side to side gently, the motion lulling her to sleep.  She said her goodnights and went to bed, to dream of lands she had never set foot on and people she had never met.

The Lost Art of Living (from After the Lights Went Out)

How did it get like this?  How did it all get so quiet?  I walked along by the river again this morning and everything seems so lonely.  Not me, I am not lonely, but the city, it is lonely.  It has no people to keep it company.  The big wheel is still and solitary and it is getting rusty.  The ferries sit at the docks waiting for passengers that never come.  The wind blows right through the riverside restaurants and bars that used to be filled with Friday night revellers.  If I close my eyes, I can see them all there again.  I can remember getting off the ferry all dressed up with my hair done and my makeup on ready for a night out with my friends, eager in anticipation of what the night might hold, the whole city bustling with life.

I remember sitting at a bench by the river looking over at the pier.  It felt like I was watching a memory.  It felt like the last time I would see it that way.  I don’t think I will ever see it that way again.

Tables and chairs are knocked over now and no one has bothered to pick them up.  Some of the windows are smashed and there is glass on the floor.  That restaurant was where I had my leaving lunch with the people from my temp job.

I kissed a handsome Belgian boy over there with a French accent on my birthday.  He was beautiful.  Different thoughts were going through my head then.  There was not this dull sadness that hangs over me now.

How busy we all were: working, running, cycling, eating, shopping, dancing, smoking, drinking, travelling and living.

We passed thousands of people every day that we did not notice.   I loved people watching:  standing in line for the ferry watching a young couple on a first date; overhearing another couple having a domestic dispute; teenagers messing around with each other, one quiet one paying attention to something else; men in suits, wondering what their jobs were – a banker, a lawyer, a salesman?

It is the simple things that you miss – the everyday things that you didn’t think about at the time:  driving to work with my music on, singing along, the sun shining and the clouds rolling over the blue sky; that Friday feeling when work is over and you had enjoyable things planned like meeting friends and eating out; wandering around the shops looking at clothes you might never buy; sitting by the pool lost in a book, idling away time because there was all of the time in the world.

There is still time now, it does not run out, they were wrong when they said that.  There is none of the other stuff though, the ordinary, everyday stuff, the stuff that I thought was so mundane; the living.   I never thought I would ever be sad about it, but I am.  It is the people I miss, the people getting on with their own lives without a thought for me – funny that I should miss them.

Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: Student, Teacher: Jo and Verity


An excerpt from “After the Lights Went Out”.  Verity talks to Jo.


The worst thing about it all was this kind of wave of hopeless despair took over the whole country. I have thought about this in some depth. I thought to myself, what if how you feel is not just something subjective? What if your feelings have a purpose other than to motivate you alone? What if how you feel is a frequency that you omit out into the universe that other people can feel? What if it can influence how other people feel?

Would that not explain why certain places have a feeling to them? Would it not explain why at places where something awful has happened like murder or suicide it feels eerie? Perhaps it is not ghosts. Perhaps you are feeling a frequency that was so strong and that unsettled that part of the universe so much that the feelings that resulted can still be felt years later?

I think first a wave of panic and chaos swept over the country and then a feeling of utter despair. People stopped hoping, they stopped believing in religion, they stopped believing in anything and a feeling of sheer hopelessness gripped everyone. No one knew what to do; we had collectively given up on our existence. It got to the point where everyone knew someone who had died; everyone had held someone dying in their arms; many people had lost their children, their parents, their sisters, their brothers, their lovers, their friends. The fires killed so much, so many people, so many animals. Many of the farmers were as devastated at the loss of their stock as they were of the people around them. Death seemed to be blowing over the country with the wind, leaving it in a dark shadow, the people left walking around like ghosts. Hope, Jo, is what keeps us surviving, hope and faith, without those we are a dying species. Oil doesn’t matter, electricity doesn’t matter, money doesn’t matter without hope. It is what made us the most progressive and wondrous of the creatures on earth. Without it we are left with empty buildings and deserted cities. We should have realised that we do not need the governments or wealth to survive and be happy. Money was an illusion. Money is actually worth nothing unless we all believe it means something. If we stop believing in money, we shatter the illusion and we put down the imaginary chains that we’re bound by. That is one thing I am not sorry for and I do not miss. Here we are surviving, living without money. We are finding food and shelter and existing, but we are dying out because we have lost hope. We have stopped reproducing because men and women have lost hope in the human race and there are no children. What a world without children. You, Jo, are among the youngest people in the country, trust me, we have looked and very soon you will be an adult. I do so hope that you get to hold a baby in your arms, to look at its face and see the beauty of human life in its simplest form, to hear children laughing and playing oblivious to everything except love and play.


I saw all of this happening before me. I could understand what was happening to the world. I am not sure why Jo, but I see things other people don’t see. There are moments when I feel like my awareness of my experience of life is slightly in front of the reality if it, like I am looking back and remembering it. Like I am dreaming, or reminiscing. It is like my mind is ahead of time itself and I am looking back as a third person – watching the story play out. I can also very succinctly feel what other people are feeling. I feel feelings from other people that they are not aware of themselves. So I could see all of this happening before me and while most people were terrified of their uncertain future, I could feel the hope, the human experience floating away up to the sky, drifting into the dark with the ashes from the fires. I have tried to capture that feeling of hope and faith and keep it here, but I am only one person and I find it difficult enough to convince myself sometimes, particularly when I realised that women had stopped becoming pregnant. That realization was aching to me, I felt afraid. I truly thought to myself that we were doomed. I knew and understood that this was happening because of the loss of hope but I could see no way to reverse that, because we had stopped believing in ourselves. I cried for a long time in a way I had not done in years. I felt so utterly alone. When I had cried all the tears I had, I lay down and slept and when I awoke I meditated for a long time and I accepted the situation. I was still alive and I was a part of a universe that I knew existed for its own purpose. I still believed that. I still believe that now. I had stopped believing in God in the Christian sense when I was 10 years old and although I had lived many years not believing in anything and living the way people do when they don’t believe in anything, I had learned another way to believe in God. I believe in something I call the universe and that there is a divinity in everything in that universe including myself. I believe we are all connected, every person, every animal, every plant, every particle of energy and that the universe exists in a perfect state of harmony. I still believe that and at that point I had to remind myself of it. Whatever was happening was happening to regain balance in the world. I do not believe that when a person dies that is the end of their energy or their spirit. I have a feeling that we are born again. I am not sure whether it is into this world or another one, but my brain cannot reason that the energy that comprises living creatures simply disappears and becomes nothing. I do not actually believe there is any such thing as nothing, even the air and the space in between is something, has gases and particles of energy. I believe that when we die we just become something else.  I did not believe that it was possible for the earth to die.   I reminded myself that there are things I have control over and things I do not and that I cannot worry about things I have no control over. If the earth was changing, I had no control over that, but I had control over my own thoughts and actions and I while I was alive I had to make sure that what I choose to think and do mattered in some way. I decided that more than ever I had to keep going with what I had started, I had to convince everyone around me that there was still hope. Then something happened.


We heard a story. It came as a kind of Chinese whisper, passed from person to person and I am sure it was being spread all over the country. There was talk of a child who was born the day the last light went out . They said that this girl was going to save us. They said that she was the last pure, good innocent thing left in the world and that she would return the lost children to the world. They said she was here in Australia and soon she would be coming to return our faith in ourselves. They said she was a child of divinity and that she had the power of the universe in her. People started writing things on the sides of buildings everywhere around the city. When I heard people talking about her I was inspired. When people asked if I had heard about her or if I knew anything about it, for a long time I simply smiled and walked away. You see Jo, people think I have some kind of special power, that I can see the future and see into human souls. I can’t see the future in the sense that people think I can, but I understand the nature of the universe and the way it works and I can guess what will happen a lot of the time. I cannot see through skin, but I do see who people really are because I truly understand myself and therefore most other people. The only people I cannot see are truly evil people, because my mind cannot comprehend that and I will tell you, I have only come across one such person in my lifetime, and you have seen him Jo; the cowboy but we have to leave that one for later.


I knew that people believed I had some kind of special powers, which I usually just laughed about and denied, but I had an idea. I thought that if I encourage people to believe in this girl, this “saviour” if they truly began to believe in her then people might begin to hope again and believe. I started to encourage the rumour. I have to admit Jo, I may have written some things on some walls myself. I may have even written some notes and put them in bottles. I may have asked someone to spread the rumour. Well, it grew arms and legs this rumour. People started to believe that this person actually existed and that she would save their souls and the earth. The people around me had a renewed energy. They started to progress in their projects. They were coming to me all the time with new ideas and they were getting things finished. They built a boat Jo, a solar powered boat. They sailed it to Sydney and brought more people back. They were coming to me with thoughts on where we should go, on where this girl might be and they travelled around Australia meeting all of the people who were left and asked about the girl and if the people hadn’t heard about the girl, they told them about it.


“Verity, I am not a saviour or a daughter of god” Jo stated, worried she was going to let everyone down.


Verity smiled “Oh but you are both Jo, in the same sense that we all are. You are a human being who is not hopeless. You are not a daughter of God, you are life itself – we all are, but every now and again we humans need to be reminded of that. You are the light in the dark, the stars in the sky, the sunlight on the sea, sun in the sky, the rain in the air, the reason for existence. We all are. We were not created by a force that is separate from ourselves. We are life, we are creation, there is no difference. What we have lost is simply hope and whether you are real or a metaphor personified, you give us that. You have already given us that. Even just imagining that you exist gives everyone hope. Don’t you see that? Whatever you believe or know about yourself, the way I see it, we have two choices here, we either tell people that you are not the saviour and that in fact she does not exist and the hope dies and kills us all, or we let them believe that you are the saviour, because in a way, in the way that I am explaining to you, you are our saviour. You are youth, you are the future, what you decide to do will affect us all.

And Jo, there is something in the way this has all happened that is strange, don’t you think? I did not start the rumour about you, someone else did. I just ran with it. I did not expect that Tori would find you, but she did and don’t you see you are exactly the kind of person the story describes. Don’t you think there is something in that? You are good and loving and beautiful in the way every person should aspire to be. All you want is to be happy and for other people to be happy, that is all any of us should want. By being you, you inspire other people how to be, you inspire them to be better, to be more like you, because they can see that it is possible. Don’t you see? When you create a story, when you tell it to other people: that makes the story real, imaginations are spoken and let out into the world and come into existence. Don’t you see? People know what an angel is, they know what it looks like, they know its characteristics, not because they have ever seen one in real life, but because someone described it and wrote about it and then other people drew it and painted it and portrayed it and now everyone knows what it is and what it looks like and in that sense, it exists.


“But what will l do? Won’t they expect me to walk on water or turn water into wine or something? I can’t do anything like that. I can’t really do anything special”.


“You just have to be you Jo, you just have to smile and talk to people and make them feel loved and tell them what they need to hear. You will know what that is. I am not telling you to lie about anything. You don’t have to say “Yes I am the daughter of the universe” say what you believe, say what I have said, that we are all sons and daughters of the universe, that we are all divine. Say what you honestly believe, just don’t say all of the things that you are not. If you say you are not divine, you are lying anyway. How can you really know what you are and what you are not? How can you know any of this is what you think it is? This life, how do you know it is real? How do you know it is not a dream? How do you know you are human? There is no real way of knowing these things in this lifetime, so how can you say they are true or not true? Now, it won’t matter what you say. Everyone knows that I sent Tori to find you and that she has brought you here and now everyone believes that you are going to save us”.


“So what now? What do we do?”


“What is it that you want from your life?”


“I want to be happy”.


“And what do you think will make you happy?”


“Mmmm. I guess I want it all to be a big adventure”.


“How does sailing to the other side of the world sound for an adventure?”


Jo’s eyes lit up and widened. “Oooh. Yes please”.


“Let’s do it then”.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Time Machine: Jo Imagines How it Was


Jo sat down on a fallen tree. She had not had time to think since the journey over to Britain. So much had happened, so much excitement and drama. It was good to finally sit down and process it all. She had wanted an adventure well and she certainly got that. She laughed to herself. Never in her wildest dreams could she of imagined the journey that had led her to this moment. She thought about all the stories that Verity had told her on the boat. On nights when the sea was calm, they would sit together and Jo would ask Verity questions about how life was before.


She wondered what it must have been like then, when the world was full of people everywhere. Her mind could not quite fathom the sheer number of people that you would pass in a day and back then, people did not even take notice of each other, not in person, not unless it was someone they knew and even then Verity said unless it was someone you knew really well, people would often pretend they did not see each other to avoid having to make small talk.



Verity had described how just before the lights went out, the media was such that things that happened in every country were broadcast everywhere across the world, how at any second in time, people could connect to the internet and talk to each other, even if they were millions of miles away from each other. People spoke to each other on video on the other side of the world. It took seconds to send an email full of words and pictures to anywhere in the world, travelling through the air. Jo tried to comprehend how that was even possible. What a strange concept. Where were these words and pictures in between leaving one computer and arriving at the next? Did they physically move all the way to the other side of the world, or were they copied and recreated at the other side? Verity said that these things became so every day that people stopped seeing the wonder in them.


Jo made Verity tell her about her day to day life before she was travelling. Verity described getting up, driving to the gym to exercise indoors every morning before driving to work. Verity described how she had always enjoyed driving in her car with her music on, thinking about things, or just driving singing along. Work was something that everyone did but few people enjoyed. Verity left because she found her job mundane, most people did, but most people did nothing about it except complain often, people found a comfort in complaining to each other about their boring jobs but kept doing them anyway. People were living these lives that they thought they had to, but a lot of the time they were not sure why.


At weekends Verity would visit family and friends, go for walks, go for lunch or dinner or shopping, she enjoyed going to the cinema, Jo would have loved to have done that, the clips from movies on her mother’s hard drive had entranced her. There was something magical about them. To think that people spent millions of pounds making a movie a couple of hours long where everything was make believe, where actors played parts as though it was their real lives, where they built sets and made costumes to recreate real life so that they could tell a story.


She loved hearing about concerts and music festivals, places where thousands of people went to hang out all weekend, camping in mud to listen to hundreds of bands playing music. Verity described the music festivals as one of her favourite places to be, because for two days, ordinary life did not exist there, all there was were your friends, the strangers who would be your friends for just one day, dancing and singing. Nothing else, no stress, no worry, no normality, everyone just did what they felt like doing. It sounded amazing. Verity had managed to get a guitar and had it on the boat with her, she used to get Sam to play it, it was so moving when they were all sitting there in the dark, the waves crashing all around them, the stars shining, the sky looming like an enormous silent crowd of people, everyone listening to Sam playing guitar and Verity singing softly. Jo loved music, she did not just hear it, she felt it, she could feel the fingers strumming the guitar strumming something inside of her, she felt the touch of the musician. It gave her such a familiar feeling when she heard a beautiful melody; it was like remembering a long forgotten childhood home. No matter what was happening and how scared she was, the sound of music comforted her, it made the world turn a pace or two more slowly.


Jo remembered when Tori had played the music in the bar that had been in a playlist called “hip hop music”. Now that was something else entirely. Jo could not help but bouncing to that music and it instantly made her smile and laugh. What a happy moment, dancing around that bar with Tori, feeling young and silly and suddenly not in the middle of life anymore, the worrying, the fear dispelled for a time, transported to another life, where everything was just simply sublime. If she could have watched it back, it would have been like a moment in one of those movies. To think that people could have done that at any time before, to think that people could go to clubs and dance all night, Jo wondered if there would ever come a time in her lifetime when that would be possible again. Perhaps somewhere in the world people were still doing that.


Jo felt a little melancholy about it all, a bit like the way she felt about her mother. She missed a time she had not experienced, how could that be? She saw how wearied everyone was by what had happened and by all the people they had lost and she wondered how everyone could have let it happen? Would it all have happened anyway? Verity had said and they now knew that the oil running out did not have to be the end of everything, there were many other sources of energy, but governments and corporations could just not seem to let go of using the oil. They fought wars over it; they spilled it in seas; fumes from using it killed people. Scientists and innovators and inventors and entreupeneurs had developed other energy sources that could have fuelled the whole world had they spent all the money they did on trying to covet the oil on developing these things and making them available for everyone to use. Verity had said it was all about money.


Money; another thing Jo just could not understand. Before the lights went out, most people thought it meant everything. They spent their whole lives trying to earn it so that they could spend it or keep it in a bank. It was just paper thought Jo, an illusion, how could people possibly need billions of pieces of paper, but then Verity had said in the end, it was not even on printed paper, it was in banks, and only there in computers, only really there in theory. The money that people owed, that countries owed did not really exist. It was all to do with credit and lending and interest. To be honest, Jo could not quite get her head round it. Every time someone tried to explain it to her, she got lost. She was never very good at that type of maths, the type where to Jo it all seemed imaginary. Jo could only really understand things that were actually there, not all this algebra and letters representing numbers and interest rates and all that. Jo liked to keep things simple. Except perhaps when it came to talking or thinking about the concept of the world and the universe and being alive; then she could go as deep and as complicated as anyone and that was why she loved talking to Verity so much.


Verity said Jo was a philosopher. They talked for hours and hours on the boat about everything – life, existence, religion. Religion – another thing that was beyond Jo’s comprehension. She could understand the concept of God and some kind of divine power or person that created and ruled everything. What she could not understand was why people thought that there could only be one understanding of it. How people could kill each other because they believed the version of one prophet or another. Often it seemed from what Verity said, they even believed in a lot of the same things, the same god perhaps, the same son of god, but they fought over the particulars, over which book that was written was the right version. It seemed to Jo that no one could really know what the right version was, therefore all versions could potentially be true, so why did everyone not just accept that and let people believe what they wanted to. Verity said, and Jo agreed, that it was no matter what religion people believed in, there were good forces and bad forces in the world and all that mattered was what people choose to focus on, whether people choose to fight for the good side of their souls or the bad side. What matters is not whether someone is a Muslim or a Christian, a Buddhist or a Hindu, a Jew or a Mormon. What matters is what you do, what you say, what you think. What matters is whether you are kind or cruel, whether you help or hinder, whether you love or hate. People of all religions do all of those things, people from all countries do all of those things.



It seemed to Jo like there was a kind of rivalry between the people of different countries and different religions. People thought that the colour of their skin, the country they were born in or the religion they followed defined them and gave them some kind of sense of righteousness over people from other countries, colours or religions. Jo thought that was very sad. Now there were so few people left in the world that every time more people appeared, it did not matter one bit where they were from or what they looked like, what mattered was that they were alive and that there might still be hope for us all.


Jo somehow wished that the people then could see how things were now. She wished they could know how much they were about to lose. She wished they could all know that in the end, when everything else is gone, when the earth is either flooding or burning, when people are dying in their thousands, when you are not sure whether you are going to live another day, when a great wave comes, all that matters is the people around you. The people you love, your children, your parents, your siblings, your friends, strangers, people who might help you, the people you choose to help or not. All that matters is whether they are alive and whether they are suffering.

Jo wished she could go back there and tell them what would really matter to them when all is lost, tell them to look around at what they have and appreciate it, because one day soon, everything would be different.



Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections; Verity’s Reflections



Jo looked around Verity’s office, there was a large shelf filled with books and many notebooks piled up on her desk.

“Wow, you have so many books, have you read them all?” asked Jo, squinting to try and read the spines of them.

“Ha. Yep I have read all of the ones that are there. Reading books makes me feel very peaceful, and it has always helped me to understand other people and how they experience things. It helps me to be more compassionate” answered Verity smiling.

“Yeah, we had some books, but not many, I read the same ones over and over again and then I used to make up my own stories, when I was sitting out at night looking at the stars” Jo said dreamily.

“Feel free to borrow any of them. I encourage everyone to read as much as possible. My only regret is that I will never be able to read all of the books I want to! What books did you read at home?” asked Verity.

“Mmmm. I read some Jane Austin books, The Secret Garden, a couple of Harry Potter books, the Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, The Life of Pi”.

“Wait, wait, wait. You have read some Harry Potter books – not all of them?”

“No, we didn’t have all of them, I was so upset when I couldn’t find out what happened next!”

“Well Jo, I have them all here! Please read them, they get better and better towards the end”.

“Oh, my, that should good. Thank you, so much. I can’t wait. Did you read those when you were a young girl?”

“No, I was older when they came out, and I wasn’t in the right place in my mind to read stuff like that. We had to read some of them for a university class on children’s fiction and I didn’t like them then. They were too innocent and not realistic enough for me. I was into violent movies and angry music at that point. I was going through my dark adult period! I read them all again later, and I loved them. I wish you could have seen the films, they were so good, a whole new world was created in those films they were brilliant!”

“Oh I would so much love to see the films, but that’s not likely to be possible anytime soon is it? What was the first book you remember reading when you were little?”

“Well I loved a writer called Roald Dahl, he had a lot of books for kids, one called the BFG and one I particularly loved, The Magic Finger. It was about this girl who had a magic finger that could make her fly at night time. I also loved nursery rhymes, we had this big heavy book filled with nursery rhymes that my mum used to read to us. She also used to read fairy stories to us and we had a big book about fairies and elves and pixies. I also loved a series of books called point horrors which were basically teenage ghost stories. Another author I liked was called Stephen King who had this book of short stories that were all quite weird and creepy – my gran bought me it for my birthday, I don’t think she knew how adult the book was, there was some things in it that I probably shouldn’t have been reading at such a young age.”

“Did you learn about books at school? What did schools make you read?”

“At school they made you read a lot yeah, especially secondary school. I read some Shakespeare plays, some poetry by Tennyson and Keats. I read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens which I adored, it was a love story, but also a story about class and how the people who come into your life can change it dramatically. Charles Dickens was a wonderful writer. He described characters so humorously. I remember him describing a man as having a mouth like a letterbox. I have some of his books up there too. We will be on the ship for a few months, so we can take them and you can read them and we can talk about them. I loved discussing them as much as reading them” Verity’s eyes had lit up, she was animated, clearly excited to talk to Jo about books.

“What are all those notebooks?” asked Jo.

“They are my journals and my writing” answered Verity.

“Wow, you write as well? Have you always done that?

“I started writing when I was about 10. I remember writing poems with my mum and writing a diary and some poems on my own. I distinctly remember lying in my bed one night looking at the moon out of my window and getting up because I had to write about it.”

“Do you show people your writing?”

“I used to have a blog and I was writing a book before the lights went out. I have been writing an account of everything that has happened since the lights went out, in case anyone needs it one day”.

“Is it all just a diary?”

“No, a lot of it is fiction as well, short stories, poems I write for people, thoughts I have about philosophies and theories and religion, anything that comes to me, I just write it down. I always carry a notebook around with me in case something comes to me. It’s so easy to forget all about it later”.

“So do you write every day at the same time, or just when you get an idea?”

“I try to write every day, the same way I try to meditate every day. I try to write something every day after dinner, just so that I am keeping up the practice, also so that I get better at just letting the thoughts come out onto the paper without too much disruption from my ego – it is more truthful that way”.

“Have you written your whole life then?”

Verity laughed, “Well, like I said, I started writing when I was very young, and then I stopped for a few years and I started again just before I came to Australia and I wrote because I really just felt like I had to and then every time I wrote, no matter what it was, it made me feel better. It felt like I was doing something right, things always happened when I wrote, things moved on in my life. It has now got to the point where, now, I have to write, I have to let the words come out, because there are too many to go wandering around and around in my head all of the time – it gets crowded in there and I need space to think of other things. It also makes time fly”.

“Did you want to be a writer?”

“I was a writer, I am a writer. I would have liked to have been able to write to make my living, and for that to have been my career, I was working on it, but then everything went wrong, and I got stuck here and the world went crazy and now I don’t know where everyone is and whether things will ever go back to the way they were. I think I will be long gone before they pay people to write books again. I am sure if we all survive though, some of the books written now will be profound and wonderful. I wish I could read them.”

“Your book might be one of them”.

“Well you never know Jo, you never know”.



After the Lights Went Out: What Sam means to Verity

“No tree it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell” Carl Jung.

Dearest Sam,
I just want to let you know that I understand what you have been through. Although I did not directly experience it, I am human and I am the same as you, and when you let compassion for others in, you uncover this bond of pain between humans that means I can feel what you feel even so.

Try not to hate yourself for what you have seen and what you did or did not do. That part of your life is over and you never have to go back there.

If you truly feel regret and compassion, you can be forgiven in this life and in any other but you must remember that you have to forgive yourself first. You have been punished and you continue to punish yourself with every thought you torture yourself with, surely that is enough punishment now?

It is not all your fault, this was the path your life took and you had to experience what you did. You can spend the rest of your life feeling ashamed and staying silent, you can ignore the horrors that haunt your nightmares, or you can face them. You can accept that they happened and you can look at them and learn something from them.
Sam, speak to someone, anyone, a stranger, a lover, a friend, a sibling, anyone who has shown you kindness. Choose someone who is quiet and who will listen without judgement and tell them what is inside of you. If you cannot say it to another person, say it to the air; let it out into the world. Go to a quiet place where no one can hear you but the earth and tell the clouds what happened, speak out loud what you did, what you should have done but you didn’t, what you seen that has affected you so, say out loud what was wrong and what was right, say sorry to the people you feel you let down, ask for forgiveness from the people that you could not save and know that they will give you it. If you cannot speak it, write it down and read it to yourself, let the thoughts and feelings pour out onto paper, burn it afterwards if you feel you must, let the words turn to ash and float away into the air.

I cannot imagine the horrors that you have seen or the nightmares that you suffer. There is a part of me however that knows that blackness. I do not know why, but this world can only exist with light and dark, good and evil, these dark things have to happen so that wonderful miraculous things can happen too.

Do not think or feel that you are damned, do not feel that there is no hope for you. I am telling you undoubtedly in my mind there is hope for you and for everyone. Sometimes, some people have to see the darkest side of the universe before they can see the light. There is light, there is good, and they are there for you too, you can experience them in your life, you just need to let go of what happened. Breathe in your pain and breathe it back it out.

There is a fight for your soul and you must not lose it. You must fight with everything you have for the good that is in you, you must know that it is possible to leave that hell that you walk around in. You must know that that is what you must do now for your own good and for the good of the human race. You must forgive yourself and you must learn from your past. Do not dwell, do not wallow, accept and move on. You are a good person and this world needs every good soul to fight for the right side, for good. You cannot do that if you are lost in a past hell, you can only do good and help people if you figure out how to get passed the suffering and the pain. When you are imprisoned there, you are letting the evil win; you are letting the bad in the world keep you from doing good because it has paralysed you.

You are not alone, I care about you, I care about what happened, about what you saw, what you did, what you wish you had or had not done. I care for you and for every man, woman and child that has ever known war. I am not alone in this, many other people care about you too, they do not want you to be unhappy, they do not want you to suffer in guilt and shame, they want you to know that you are forgiven, that you are loved and that they feel compassion for you as I do.

Do not give up that fight, do not get lost in the darkness of that war, come back to the earth and see that there is still good in it, there is still love and peace and hope, it is just in another place and you can only find it if you choose to leave the hell you exist in now.

Do not be afraid to let someone show you love, take your hand and gently look into your eyes and say without speaking, I understand. Do not be afraid to show that you are human and that what you experienced has changed you in a way that you will never reverse. Let someone care for you and help you build yourself again.

We all knew that war is wrong, we all wept when we saw people dying in the name of war or religion. We never wanted our countries to be at war. We did not want soldiers to be sent to the frontline to fight. We did not want guns, we did not want killing. We do not want you or anyone else to suffer. We wanted only peace. We did not care if governments had to debate for a thousand years about what the right solution to a problem is as long as they did not reason that violence and killing was the answer.

We are all people, we are all of the same species, we care about each other, no matter the religion, or colour, or ethnicity, or country. We wanted peace, peace and only peace, but no one would listen to us. Society ignored you because to acknowledge you would be to admit what war does to man. War destroys man and it destroys the earth. I know that in my heart better than I know anything, better than I know whether or not there is a god, better than I know what happens when I die, better than I know whether this is the real existence or hell or a dream, better than I know language, better than I know speech, better than I know the meaning of anything, I know beyond any doubt that violence is wrong, that killing is wrong, that anyone who finds themselves involved in the business of killing is in danger of their soul being smothered by an all consuming darkness.

I know it, Sam, I know. I don’t know how I can, I don’t know how I know how you feel, but I do, I can feel it, I picture the things you have seen, I feel the way those things made you feel, and I weep, I weep for you and for all the others and I wish I could take the pain away, I wish I could just put my hand in yours and breathe all your suffering in and breathe it back out, but I cannot. My wishing only helps me; you have to do some wishing for yourself, some letting go before you can begin to feel peace again.

Take my hand, look into my eyes, and know that I am there for you now and always and I forgive you and love you.



Weekly Writing Challege: Power of Names: What Verity means to Sam

noun: verity; plural noun: verities

  1. 1. a true principle or belief, especially one of fundamental importance.

Sam had had no idea what he was getting himself into by joining the army.  He had thought it would be a good profession with a good pension and that he would be good at it.  When he thought back now, there was a cockiness and an arrogance about him, god save his soul, but he had wanted action, adventure and excitement.  He had wanted to hold a gun, and to be put through the intense training.  He sometimes hated that young boy that asked for the torturous existence in which he now lived.   When you first go out to combat, in the planes and ships, you feel a sense of such power, you feel strong, invincible even; they made you feel that way; they had you all fired up and everyone believed that they were going in to fight for good.  Slowly the realisation came for most of them, that there was no sense of value for the individual human life, not of the enemy and not of the soldiers.  They were all dispensable.  The feeling of power was short lived.   When they arrived on land and went out to the front line, there was such a feeling of emptiness, of nothingness, and then fear filled that vacuum and there was no space for anything else.  Nothing strips you bare like fear.

It was like running into an unknown hell world. Your wildest imagination could not describe it. The earth seemed to bleed beneath the soles of the soldiers boots.  It felt like there were demons waiting in shadow in the buildings.  You could not see them, but you could feel their presence, they were waiting for you.  Then a bomb would go off; an explosion of dirt and helmets and limbs.  You saw faces you knew lying in the dirt, dead.  You tried to move forward with the rest of your battalion but like those dreams where you cannot move your limbs no matter how hard you try, you slowly get a few steps forward and then you a bomb throws you to the ground and all around you men fall and fall and fall.  All the time you are shooting at these unseen entities, you shoot at mounds of earth, at bushes, at windows, at the air.  The air becomes a mixture of black and fire.  Eventually you worm your way in closer, and closer and suddenly the guns have faces and they are looking right at you, and their eyes hate and these are the faces of the men who have killed your friends, who have blown your friends bodies to pieces and you do not realise at the time, but your eyes hold the same hate.  In a blind rage you roar and you shoot, and you shoot and someone shouts “keep moving forward, keep moving forward” and you do, but all you can see are the eyes of the man you just and blood.  It all happens so quickly that there is no time to process anything, all that stays with you are the sounds and the images, the chorus of groans and cries, the sound of bones crunching, the sound of blood and flesh, the mixture of black and red all over the ground, the eyes, always the eyes of dying men.

When you return from the war zone and it is all over, you are relieved, and you try to pretend that none of that just happened, as though you had just watched it on a movie and it was not real.  You pretend you are the same person you were before, but you are kidding yourself.  You kid around with your mates, you all make jokes about things, but you are a shell.   Some soldiers cannot pretend and cannot forget.  Once they have been out there, they are lost out there and they can never come back.  The change in them is almost instant. Their soul is out there on the killing field looking in shame at the bowels of humanity.  The only thing left in their hearts is rage and hate and that is all you can see in their face, it is there even when they look at you, their comrade, their friend, they have the same hate in their eyes for you as they do the enemy.   It scares you because you do not know what they might do, but what scares you most is that you know that the rage in their eyes is also in you and one day you might not be able to come back either.  Like your friend, you will be lost in a hell in the past, desperately looking for a friendly face and finding only loathing and fear.


When you get home, you are safe and unharmed when so many of your friends are dead.  You wonder why you survived when others perished.  You think about your friends who have died and you feel like somehow you cheated at something and that at any moment someone is going to realise that they made a mistake and realise that you were not supposed to live and at any moment you will receive a bullet in the head.  You would welcome it.  You did not deserve to live, others deserved to live more than you did.  Perhaps it would have been easier or more just if you had all lived or died together.   There is nothing easy or just about war, there is no reason or understanding.  It is not right that some live and some die, not in a squad, not when they have all experienced such horror together.  It is unjust and unfair, and they should not have died and for the rest of your days, you have to walk around looking for them, screaming their names in the desert, hearing them shout your name in your sleep, hearing their cries for help in crowded streets where there is no place for them.  You can never be free of these men, these friends who you realise you loved better than anyone else and better than you will ever love anyone again.  You carry them around on your back like your pack.

The men you killed.  You never talk about that.  No one does and no one wants to hear.  You do not even talk about it to yourself in your own mind.  Think of your worst memory, something that makes your stomach sink and shame rush through you veins every time you think of it.  It does not come close.  The memory of looking into a man’s eyes as you take his life is like slaughtering your own soul.  It is like looking into the darkest part of your own soul, a part you should never see.  It never leaves you.  It hangs over you.  You can try to push the memory away, but it always finds its way back.  It will appear in your head randomly at any time and it is exhausting.

In the end, Sam thought, it did not matter whether it was right or wrong to fight for your country.  It did not matter whether on the grand scale of things you were doing something for the greater good.  The politics did not matter, the real reasons for the war, be it for oil or for religion or for human rights do not matter.  It does not even matter whether it made any difference to the countries that you were supposedly helping, although Sam along with many other soldiers never saw much sign of it helping, not in the Far East.  It did not matter anyway, all that mattered was that every soldier and every person innocent or otherwise who has been touched by war is tainted by death and that a darkness that you see there follows you around forever.  All that mattered to Sam was that the things he did were wrong, the things he saw were wrong and no one ever says it like that.  It tortured him.

Sam had never came out and told Verity any of this, but he knew she knew he had been in the war on the front line and he knew that unlike some people, she was honest with herself about what went on in a war.  She was the kind of person who really thought about these things, and tried to understand what it must be like for all involved, for the victims and the soldiers.  She tried to imagine what it must feel like to see so much death, to have killed.  He knew she knew.   He would always try and push those thoughts away even though Verity told him not too, instead he would think of Verity and imagine her smiling and then it would lead elsewhere and he would eventually get to sleep.  He was not sure if he was in lust or in love with Verity, but he desperately wanted to be around her all of the time and sometimes all he could think about was kissing her.  It stirred in him a boiling desire that it was hard for him to control.  She seemed oblivious to it, he never could figure out women.  She was kind and attentive to Sam, but she was the same with everyone, that was her nature.  He just could not stop thinking about her.  He thought maybe it was just close proximity and being around her so much, it was driving him crazy but at the same time, it felt like it was the only thing that was keeping him going.  He wondered if she had any idea.

Ah, Verity, Verity.  Her name meant to so much to him.  It was melodic.  He felt shy saying it because it meant so much to him, so he called her V instead.  It was so simple yet it epitomised her.


Everything she said, everything she did spoke the truth.  It was impossible not to believe in everything she said.  If she was a god he would have faith in her, he would kneel before her and ask for her love and forgiveness and he knew she would give it gladly.  She looked like her name as well, her face spoke of her feelings with subtlety and although you had to look closely to read it, it never lied.   She often smiled, not just with her mouth, but also with her grey blue eyes.  When she looked into your eyes it felt like she was taking your pain away.  She was so kind and she never judged.  At times there was a real sadness and a tiredness in her eyes.  She hated hearing about injustices, about people being treated unfairly, she hated hypocrisy and lies. She always said that these things would always exist in the world but that you had to understand that the people who behaved in these ways deserved your compassion, because they were so far behind you in the journey for their soul.  She said that life was a journey on a long road and the purpose of your journey was to create a soul that you can love completely, that loves all souls and that exists in peace.  She said it was your own responsibility to create yourself in this way, that it took many lives before you even began on the journey and that once you were on it, it never ended, but you learn that the road is the purpose and that the experience of the journey can be heaven. She said that if you felt guilt or shame, or sadness or pain, you were on the right path, you just had to persevere.  You had to learn to forgive and love yourself first, on your own and then you project that love and forgiveness onto everyone else, even the people who have strayed from their paths. She had such a way of putting these things.  It just quite simply made sense and it meant that perhaps Sam was not damned after all.

Verity, Verity, if Sam could just learn how to be like that, calm and peaceful and accepting.  He saw how she was and he knew it was how he should be, but he did not know how.  He had nightmares that he had not faced, that he felt he was not strong enough to face.  It was one thing to understand, and another to experience.  He could not forgive himself, he did not know how, how could he?  He knew at the time somewhere inside of himself that what was going on around him was wrong, he knew it but he did what he was ordered to do anyway.  There were people who could have been saved, soldiers, civilians, innocent people.  There were people who did not need to die.  He saw mothers cradling their children in their arms, their husbands dead in their own homes. He had held men in his arms dying, crying for their mothers. How could you get those images out of your head? The wailing in your ears, the screams, how could you forget those sounds.  How could he ever, even if he could see these people again, express to them how sorry he was, how awful he felt about what had happened to them, about what he had let happen.  How could anyone forgive him?  Verity would not forgive him if she knew, not if she knew truly.   What if she could though?  He often wondered that. What if he could manage to get the words out and explain to her what had went on, what he had seen, what he had done.  Could she possibly really forgive him, still care for him?  Did he not represent everything she hated about the world?  Would she not think him weak and pathetic if he broke down and cried?  Would he ever be able to look her in the face again without shame?

  “Oh Verity, help me, help me get all of this pain out.  I can’t take it anymore”  he silently begged her before sleeping every night, as though he could will her to hear his pleading.



Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years: Stolen Children

Olivia was eight years old when they took her away from her mum and dad.  She was a child, who was only just beginning to learn about the world and how it worked.  Before the lights went out all she wanted was to make her family and her friends happy.  She was an active child and went to karate, gymnastics and dancing.  She was good at these things because she was never afraid.  She liked performing the most; reciting poems, singing and dancing.  She told her aunt Verity many times “I want to be a singer and dancer” and Aunt Verity would always say, “You can be anything you like darling, all you have to do is believe that you can” and Olivia did believe.  She was excited about growing up and being able to do all the exciting things adults could do.  She loved learning about things and easily understood her lessons at school.   She really was a lucky little girl and she felt loved.  She was also very thoughtful and kind, especially for a child her age.  She liked giving people things and never asked for too much.  She listened to her mum and dad even if she thought they were being silly.  She was a good little girl and she was happy.

That was until they took her and her brother away.  Olivia could not really remember a lot about what had happened just before that.  She remembered everything being normal and going to school, going to her classes, she remembered Aunt Verity coming to stay over and playing games with her and listening to her saying poems and singing and her mum being so happy to see her.  She remembered being very sad when Aunt Verity was away but knew she would see her again soon and loved talking to her on Skype when she was in Australia.  Somehow though, very quickly everything started to change and her parents started talking in hushed voices all the time and being so serious.  Olivia can remember vaguely people around her, her parents, her gran and papa, her auntie Lana, her teachers all talking quietly to each other whenever there were kids around.  She remembered all the adults watching the news all the time and telling Olivia to shush a lot.  Her dad used to tell her everything she asked about things that were going in the world, but he just seemed to stop doing that and Olivia could just sense that something was wrong.  All of a sudden things changed very quickly and everything seemed very panicked and on the news they kept talking about the oil running out and the lights going out in other countries and then came the day that she will never forget.

Olivia had not been at school for a while, maybe it was a week, her child mind could still not tell how much time was passing, but she was in the house with her mum, her dad and Jack house and the TV went grey and then black and it was all very quiet.  Her mum and dad were sitting in the kitchen drinking tea and talking quietly again, telling Olivia to go out of the room when she came in to ask what was happening and when she would be going back to school.  She had this feeling that something awful was happening and it was all the more frightening because nobody would tell her what it was.  Her tummy was feeling sick.  Jack, her little brother was being even more difficult than usual and his tantrums were more frequent because he was getting no attention.  Olivia was being a little nicer to him then because they were both scared and it felt better to at least have someone.

Suddenly she heard a van coming round into the street and a lot of doors started banging and then there was shouting and crying.  Someone banged on the door very loud.  Olivia just froze at first, the knock was different.  It was loud and sharp and it sounded serious.  There was silence throughout house.  Her mum and dad were still in the kitchen but they did not move.  Olivia and Jack had been playing in the living room and ran through to the kitchen to their parents.  Her mum was sitting at the kitchen table, eyes wide and face frozen.  Her dad was standing up, but still and his face was such as Olivia had never seen before, he was scared and that made Olivia feel a dread she had never felt before.  She simply looked up at him and Jack started to cry.  Her dad knelt down quickly to Jack and said severely “Jack, you have to be quiet now. Go to mummy”.

Her mum took Jack in her arms, held him, and began to cry too and rock a little.  The door banged again and still her dad stood there, thinking.  He took a deep breath looked at her mum and started walking out of the kitchen.

“No Jake. Noooo” begged her mother in a wail.  “I’ll handle this Elis” he stated his face as serious as ever.

Her dad answered the door and had started to say “How can I help you?” when several men barged through the door.  Her dad was strong and muscly but Olivia could hear scuffling in the hall as he tried to stop them coming in.  She heard further noises of a struggle and shouting.  Olivia began to cry too and ran to her mother and Jack.  They all held onto each other, all three of them just sobbing and grabbing on to each other.  Olivia remembered looking at her mother’s face and seeing such an utter helplessness there.  She had not understood at the time, but her mother was in despair and was paralysed with fear.  It seemed like a long time they all sat there in the kitchen holding on to each other and crying, Jack now wailing.  The men burst through the kitchen door, her dad behind them still trying to fight them off but they kept pushing and punching him out of the way.  Olivia saw blood.  The men came towards the three of them and still Elise held on to her two children with a great force, she was hurting Olivia now, but Olivia only held on tighter.  She looked at the faces of the men their faces were as forceful as their actions and their eyes were blind to hers.  She hated them.

“Nooo. Nooo. Nooo.  Nooo” her mother cried again and again and again, tears falling among the cries and wails all over the kitchen table.  Olivia began to scream as the men’s hands were upon her and her brother, pulling, pulling them away, all just a blur of limbs and salt and screaming and pain in Olivia’s young mind.  She could no longer really see what was happening she just feel the hands grabbing her arms and pulling her, the sounds of her mother crying and sobbing and screaming doing something to Olivia inside that would change her forever.

Somehow the men pried Olivia and Jack away from their screaming mother and their dad was lying on the floor beaten by the men, defeated.  Olivia looked over the shoulders of the man who was carrying as the men carried her to the front door and the cold air outside.  “Dad, daddy, help, help daddy” Olivia yelled tears soaking the shirt of the man who had her over his shoulder, she was kicking and hitting him now, hitting him in the face, but he was like a bull and did not stop.

“Daddy will find you.  Daddy will find you.  Daddy will find you”  repeated her daddy, his face so contorted with blood and sadness.  That was the last Olivia could remember, of her childhood and night after night after night every time she went to sleep those words circled around in her head, “Daddy will find you. Daddy will find you.  Daddy will find you”.

They had taken her to a school underground and the children told that a massive flood was coming and that no one on the ground would survive.  Later teachers taught them about what had happened to the world, about how they had used up all the oil, how humans had caused global warming which had caused the flood.  Olivia listened to the lessons, but she inwardly she questioned everything they told her.  She had heard the rain and the water overhead not long after they had arrived at the school and been aware of a change in the air, so she believed that the flood had happened, but she also knew that they were lying to her about a lot of things, and she could not believe that there was no one left outside or that God was punishing them the way they said, she believed God was good and that whatever had happened, there was a reason for it and a reason she was still alive and still sane.

She had been in the school for ten years now and daddy had not found her but she had never given up hope that she would find him and her mother.  She had to at least try to find her mother, she just had this feeling that she was out there somewhere thinking horrible things about what had happened to Jack and Olivia, and she could not bare the thought of her mother living in such pain.  If there was anything or anyone outside, Olivia had to find out, because if her mother was alive, she had to know that Olivia and Jack were still alive so that she could have peace.  That thought kept Olivia going.

She was no longer a child, but she had not progressed through her childhood and teenage years in a slow transgression the way she should have, with all the mistakes and experiences and emotions of growing up.  She had been ripped from her childhood in an instant like a tree from its roots and she was never the same since.  Olivia was now eighteen years old, but she was not adult nor teenager, nor child.

The children in the school had never stepped outside in the world since the day they were taken away from their families.  They were not allowed to play or socialise or interact like humans.  They had lessons together, meals together, exercise together, but always under the watchful eyes of the teachers and they were never allowed to talk freely to each other or to the teachers.  They were not shown affection or nurtured or shown real love.  They slept in bunks on their own, separated from each other.  Most of them had retreated into themselves and did what was necessary to appease the teachers and pass their tests.  It was as though their souls were dead.  They functioned like human beings, but they did not act like human beings.  The existed without living, that was how it seemed to Olivia.  She was not even allowed to interact with her brother although she had seen him at some of the classes.  She could not tell anymore if he knew her or not.  The younger children had been kept separately from the older ones for a long time, until they forgot Olivia supposed.

Olivia’s soul was not dead.  She was like a snake lying in the desert as still as a stone, waiting for an opportunity.  She was forever changed by what had happened to her, but not broken in the way some of the other children seemed to be.  They had this vacant look in their eyes.  Olivia’s face would not give away anything to anyone, but if anyone had looked closely enough, right down in the back of her eyes was a burning; not a naked wild flame, but a deep depths of the earth burning that would never go out and that only grew outwards the more she understood and the older she got.

Without sunlight and without life, the children still looked like children, their faces far too youthful and their bodies not fully grown, but they were not children.


Olivia had lost childhood the minute she was taken from her mother so violently but she also knew that really she was as old as the earth.  Innocence was gone, love was gone but passionate earthly fire was not, the fury of injustice was not.  It was not something that could be taught or that grew or that could be taken away, it was like the energy in the stars, it had always been there and always would be there and Olivia had decided that it was time to let some of it out.  She was getting out of the school and she was taking her brother with her, and no one was going to stop her.

Daily Prompt: We Built This City: Home: a Village in a Valley

It had now been over ten years since Verity had last seen the village she had grown up in and she missed it.  She remembered walking around it before she left, she had this sense that it was the last time she would ever see it that way.  Before she went to Australia, Verity had moved to the nearest  town.  She remembered going back home at weekends to see her parents or to visit Elise or Jenny.  She had been desperate to move out of her little village when she was young, it was a very small village and that had limitations that did not suit someone like Verity who wanted to experience the world and everything in it, but she never stopped loving it and driving back there always made her feel very content.

Verity remembered driving there after work to visit Elise when the sun was just setting, early in the year.  She had that quiet, calm feeling that comes with dusk and although the light was fading, there was still enough to see the valley stretch up to the sky from the road into Darvel.  Verity loved that road, you turned a corner and you were suddenly in the country in the middle of a beautiful valley.   It felt like you were driving into a little hidden secret.  One minute all you see are shops, houses and supermarkets, worn and tedious looking and then around the corner this valley opens up on either side of you with rolling hills of fields and forests.  It has a good feeling about it.  It is the last village in that valley and it always seemed less touched than the other villages, it seemed much quainter.

Verity had climbed those hills many times as a young girl up to an area where people used to go camping with a stream and a deep dark pool that the kids jumped into.  Verity jumped into it once and never felt the need to repeat the experience.  The pool was shaded by trees, never got any sunlight and it was high up in the hills.  The boys had jumped in first and said that the water was fine, but when Verity finally jumped in and hit the cold water, she thought her heart had stopped.  She could still remember how cold that water was, it stung.  You could feel it on your legs as though someone had slapped them hard, it was all you could do to move to get back out again.  Verity gasped for breath and got out as quickly as possible.  The boys all thought it was hilarious.

The valley was a beautiful place, with many lovely walks along the river and up into the hills that Verity had walked along time and time again, as a child, as a teenager, as an adult.   Her parents stayed in a small house in a quiet street that used to have a big tree facing it that was cut down which had made Verity sad at the time.  Verity remembered her mother had kept one of the seeds that it discarded and planted it in their back garden.  She had had to take the tree that grew from it out when it started to get too big and the roots started growing under the fence into the neighbour’s garden.

The village had a small high street with several old fashioned pubs of the kind you used to see all over Britain as well as the usual Indian Takeaways and chip shops.  It had a big playing park that Verity used to play in as a child which was also along the river.  There was an estate open to the public with a path leading to a forest that had deer and pigs.  Verity had loved going for long walks in the country there and as a child they had all marvelled at the punching tree; a single tree with strange soft bark that you could punch without hurting yourself.  Verity and her friends used to ride their bikes up there. It was a slow climb uphill with a couple of steep parts where you had to get off your bike.  Once you had climbed to the top though, the hill back down was great to cycle down really fast into the neighbouring town and the second damn.  It was worth swallowing a few flies on the way down to feel the force of the air against your face and the thrill of speeding downhill.

All the kids used to swim in the river that coursed through the valley, and Verity could remember pictures of her dad standing on the it when it had frozen over on a particularly cold winter’s day; he looked so happy with a youthful face and a big Arran sweater on.  At the park you could go down to the river using “the big steps” and swim in a deeper part of the water there.  Verity remembered the time where her seven foot cousin leaped down the stairs and jumped into the river to save a boy who was drowning.  She remembered climbing down under the bridge to a secluded spot down at the river collecting tadpoles; she took them home and put them into a basin in the back garden to see them turn into frogs, they were in the shade when she left for school but her young mind did not realise that by the afternoon the sun would be on the opposite side of the hut and when she came home they had all died in the water that nearly boiled with the heat of the sun, she felt terrible that she had killed them.    She remembered the time Elise fell off the roundabout and got concussion and Verity ran all the way from the park to Elise’s house to her dad.  Elise got taken to hospital in an ambulance.  Verity had been very frightened at the time although they always laughed later about how Elise had kept trying to take her braces out.   She remembered accidentally breaking Elise’s nose with a golf club when she swung around too hard and spun in a full circle into Elise’s face.  Elise was too nice to be mad and just kept saying she was fine.

She remembered going down to the woods with her friend Kirsty and seeing a couple spread out on a blanket making love.  She remembered the year of the millennium celebrations when they had a street party at the village square, she remembered clambering about the ground at weddings outside the church collecting money from the scatter.  She remembered the gala days and drinking down at the football club with Elise and Jake.  She remembered the time they were running away from the police and a cow chased Elise, her new jeans ripping on the fence as she tried to climb to safety.  She remembered when the football club was open, her aunt had been the manager there and her mum used to work there.  She remembered drinking bad lemonade and the smell of the beer kegs.  She remembered smelling smoke from her mother’s hair after she had been working in the bar.  She remembered the day she had found a four leaf clover on the playing field and showed everyone but one of the boys had taken it out of her hands and ripped it up. She had been so upset, but found a pound on the way home and later that night her dad won the pools and they bought a new washing machine.  She remembered sleeping in her room at her parents’ house with the window open and lying looking at the moon, listening to the silence of the village.  She remembered it being so quiet she could hear a hedgehog moving around under the hut.  She remembered camping out on her front lawn with Elise and performing plays at the swing park next to her house singing songs from “Grease”.   She remembered the day she had decided she was running away when she was probably about seven years old, packing her Thomas the Tank Engine lunch box with who knows what and walking around the block a few times.

It was beautiful in every season, rich greens in the summer; lovely orange and red colours in the autumn and often sparkly white in the winter.


She had often thought how lucky she had been to have spent her childhood somewhere like that and she had always thought that when she was older she would retire there in the peaceful quiet.  That was not likely to happen now, Verity was not sure when the world would feel real peace again; it all depended what had happened to everyone and what could be done to fix things.  Right now though, Verity had to get back there to see if there was any sign of the people who used to live there and of her parents and sister.  She was afraid that she would either find no trace of them, or find death and she was not sure what would be worse.