🎄 Hearts and Gingerbread 🎄

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This is a dark short story I wrote for this upcoming Christmas season, about a sad, lonely woman who lives in a gingerbread house and lures men into her home, and how she came to be there and became the person she was.

 

I eat men for breakfast.

I lure them into my gingerbread cottage, with promises of love and affection, in bed and out of it, and offer them chocolate chip cookies that taste of faintly of laudanum the next morning, when they’re dusted in the sugar of my skin. They die quite quickly. After that, I put them in the oven and cook them, until they’re golden brown and well-done on the inside.

I cry when I eat them. It shows that I still have a heart. They taste of ashes and meat. I eat them all up, including the head, leaving the eyes and other unsightly body parts neatly arranged on the left side of my plate. Those I leave for my pet sugar dog. He is crafted out of boiled sugar, clear as crystal, and I spent many years getting the magic just right, to make him obey me but never leave me.

I make memorials for the men. I keep a photograph of each of them, developed using the height of candy cane technology, the photos soaked in gelatin, inside chocolate frames on the walls of my living room. There was Tim. He had kind eyes, but it had been so long since he’d had a woman he came into my house quite willingly, lured by the scent of my cakes and sweets. Then there was Ping. Poor guy. He was so hungry, so desperate, he consumed me before I could even get a word in edgeways, and was dead before the sun rose up that same day. James wasn’t very hungry. He was suspicious. Did I live here all alone, in this house made of candy? Was that a dog made out of boiled sugar? I gave him a mug of hot chocolate, to make him shut up, and when that didn’t work, pressed my sweet, gummy lips to his neck until he stopped talking. He wouldn’t take the cookies. I had to shove them down his throat. Then there was Williamson. Boy, was he greedy. He ate more of me than anyone else, never satiated, like some bottomless pit, and eventually, I was so spent I threw him into the oven, still alive. He screamed for a very long time, and I didn’t like that. It was disturbing.

The first? I remember him. He was tall, with eyes like onyx. He moved like an ox, plodding and slow, and had a woodcutter’s hands. I ate him because he ate someone else. He tasted her, and I found the crumbs afterwards, and jam smeared all over his mouth. He looked lazy, and full, sitting there in his armchair in front of the fire, and when I told him I knew what he’d done, he told me it had been going on for a long time. He told me he loved her. He told me had a tiny gingerbread baby, baking in the oven of her stomach. I don’t remember much after that. The magic came, flooding out of me in great gouts, like a river of custard, and when it was over, he had melted, like candy in the sun. To get rid of the evidence, I ate his remains. He tasted of regret. I left his little gingerbread woman and her baby unharmed—they had done nothing wrong, you see. It was him, being greedy and hungry, wanting more than one cookie from the jar.

I turned and left. I built a home for myself, here in the enchanted woods where it always snows and nothing ever melts, and I wait for the men to come to my doorstep. They always do. Like wolves drawn towards carcasses, they come. I see them, see right through them. Hate, greed, loneliness, desire, shame—I see it all. I love it all, and I eat it all. And I keep waiting, one day, for someone to come through the biscuit doors that will understand that the beautiful woman they see on their doorstep, with sprinkles in her hair and pink icing like blush on her cheeks, and smelling of their childhood, of their mothers and baking and kitchens, no longer has a beating heart. In fact, none of her is alive, anymore. It’s all biscuit and marzipan, jam for blood and dark chocolate for skin. Even my eyes, when I look at them in the mirror, look more like chocolate chips everyday.

So I wait, one day, for the right man to come along and realise this, and to eat me, finally, so that I can pass on, into lollipop land, and marry a gingerbread man, have him give me sugary kisses at night, and ten gingerbread children frolicking at my feet in the peppermint grass, and photographs of our adventures on the walls, holidaying in marshmallow town and visits to the mint mines, and no more need to eat any young men to keep my delicate, sugared heart from breaking.

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The Girl Who Fell In Love With The Villain

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I fell in love with a prince who turned out to be a villain.

He wasn’t the knight in shining armour, riding on his horse to save me, but a sorcerer of black magic, dealing in potions that glimmered with dark radiance and evil objects capable of inflicting curses. Even though he was handsome, he was dark, dark as sin, and a curl of black vine-like tattoos traced across his left cheekbone, like a mark, a brand of evil. He came to me, not to love me or rescue me, but to take my blood and my power, both magical, and make him mine, a veritable endless supply of sacrificial blood and strength.

I was hoodwinked at first, by his beguiling voice and good looks, his scent, intoxicating and sweet, like mushrooms cooked in caramel. We met at a tavern, while I was running errands for a friend of mine, helping to supply her midnight rendezvous with chocolate cake, the cocoa beans used to make it in short supply, the Midnight Wraith one of the only places that still stocked it, as a delicacy for the drunk. It helped, apparently, to ease the wooziness that came with ingesting too much mead. He was sitting in an alcove by himself, in a black cape, a guarded look on his face—but something made me go over to him, and talk to him, ask him about his day as I waited for my order. He looked like a prince, that was for sure, a prince in hiding, and I imagined for him a sorrowful life, in which he was forced to dress as a commoner in order to obtain some little freedom every so often from the daily tolls of palace life. How wrong I was. There was a sword in his sheath, and he was soon talking of rescuing maidens from dragons and having a sorcerer for a mother, who had taught him a few tricks. I was smitten, lost the moment I looked into his emerald eyes, with their golden pupils, and when my order of cocoa beans came, it seemed the most natural thing in the world, to bring him back to the cottage where I lived and invite him to have some supper.

He didn’t ask for blood at first. He didn’t even tell me I had the kind of magical blood he was looking for: potent, but only useful for making spells; instead, he regaled me with stories of palace life, playing along with my idea of him being a prince, a wry smile on his face that I thought was charming, but in retrospect was arrogant, as if he enjoyed fooling me. Still I was drawn to him, pulled like a crystal towards a wellspring of magical water, the way he laughed, bitterly and coldly, as if he were lonely and afraid, deep inside, and the confidence he exuded, which made me feel he had seen and done things I could only dream about, fought off demons in far-off lands, perhaps, or flown on chariots made of lightning. He had done those things, as I later found out, but not for the sake of discovery or exploration or enjoyment—he’d done them to get what he wanted, and what he wanted was power, enough power to become the strongest sorcerer that ever existed.

As for the blood-taking, he did it slowly, gently, idly asking me one day if he could “borrow” some blood for spell to help a woman who was struggling with infertility, and I did as I was told, because I wanted to please him. The extraction of the blood was a gruesome process: instead of using needles and a syringe, he employed a glass snake, attaching its fangs to the veins in the crook of my elbow. When he muttered an enchantment, the snake came alive, siphoning blood into its body so that it turned a deep red, almost black, colour. Once the snake was filled from tail-tip to fang-tips—it was only about a hand span’s width—he whispered another command, and the snake turned back to glass once more, filled with blood. He took this blood-filled snake over to the cauldron he had set up in my bedroom, using my wooden spoon for stirring it, which I’d used for baking cookies and cakes, and, unlatching its belly with his finger, poured the liquid out of it and into the cauldron, giving it a shake for good measure to get rid of the last drops of blood left in it. Then he stirred the cauldron’s mixture. The effect was instantaneous. The potion, originally dark burgundy in colour, turned red, bright red, like cherry juice, and began to flash all sorts of colours, blue, green, yellow, orange. It was like watching an angry chameleon change colours in a matter of seconds. Then he began stoppering the liquid, placing it into bottles and sealing with corks and binding symbols etched onto their glass surfaces, and they turned a dark brown. It seemed an awful lot of potion for one infertile woman, and I asked him that, but he simply glowered at me and moved on, bringing an armful of books on black magic which he had brought with him in his trunk to the table, laying them out and beginning to peruse them.

The first time he summoned a demon, I was asleep. When I awoke, blearily, the ghoul was already floating in the centre of the room, above a pentacle etched in glowing, blue lines, and it was eating the soul of my friend, who had come to visit. It hovered above her, over her prone body, sucking a bluish essence out of her, and I launched myself at it and threw it across the room. It hit the wall with a thwack, despite seeming incorporeal, and turned into a dead skull, empty of magic, of life, of anything. That was the first time I encountered his rage. It roared upon me like a wave upon a shore in a storm, and he dragged me into the storeroom and locked me in it, with no food or water, for two days.

Still, I loved him. Make no mistake: I hated him, too, with every fibre of my being, every shred of my soul, and would not have hesitated to kill him if I’d had the chance, a stab to the heart with a shard of glass, a bit of poison slipped in his food. He was evil, and he didn’t care who he stepped on or whose lives he discarded in order to achieve his aims. But some part of me adored him,too, in a way I had never adored anyone before: it was like seeing a painting come to life, seeing him move around making his potions and casting his spells, and to me, his face and mannerisms were as fascinating as the inner workings of a watch. His voice dipped up and down, like music, if the music was destined for funerals and other similarly depressing events, and his happiness, when it came, poisonous and selfish, like a child delighting in killing the bees because he got the honey, was as alluring as the winter moon. His whole face would light up, wild with delight, stunning in its ferocity, and I’d be left breathless and fascinated, as if someone had hit me lightly in the chest, right over my heart.

I tried to kill him. I really did. He imprisoned me sometimes, kept me shackled to the wall in chains he’d conjured out of nowhere, and drew my blood without permission, the shadows underneath his eyes growing as the days passed, and other times, when I was behaving well, he would let me run free. Disgustingly enough, I’d feel strangely pleased when he rewarded my good behaviour, as if he approved of me on some level, him, a high-level mage, and this sickened me to no end. One day, after another blood-drawing, and returning home—it was his home now, not mine, the cottage transformed into a devil’s den of potions, cauldrons and the bitter, acrid stench of black magic—after leaving for several hours, he found dinner laid out for him, a roast chicken and peas and potatoes, an entire pecan-nut cake. He sat down, and he ate it, but before he could even take a bite of the pecan-nut cake, a demon of red light shot out of the necklace he always wore around his throat, with a pendant shaped like an animal’s tooth, and swirled around it. The cake blackened and grew dark, and the poison I had filled it with, black widow’s venom, rose up to the surface, in tiny, glistening drops.

I was in disgrace after that. I wasn’t imprisoned, or trapped. He turned me into a painting, and hung it on the wall, and I stayed there, week after week, always looking at the same patch of wall. Sometimes, when I tell this story to people, they ask how it felt, to be a painting on a wall, and, well, I couldn’t possibly describe it to someone who hasn’t felt it. It was like the world had shrunk, like the world had flattened and grown small, and all I could see was the scene of the room, the cauldron bubbling, him moving about.

He knew that I loved him. I didn’t know how he knew—I kept it as secret as I could—but he knew, oh he knew. And he used to his advantage, as any self-absorbed, cunning sorcerer would, sometimes doling out a little affection, like feeding a starving man crumbs to keep him hungry for more, a gentle word here, a glance out of the corner of his eye there, to keep me tethered to him. Then there were the times he tortured me, brought home beautiful women and let me watch him court them, kiss them. He always extracted something from them afterwards, be it information, or the strength of first love, a potent ingredient in dark potions used for making people bend to your will and persuade minds. I hated those women, hated them with a passion, and that only made me hate myself all the more.

He finally left me, one day, and it was a while before I realised why. One night, while he’d been out, I’d snuck into the town, escaping the magical barrier on the door—I’d learned a few magical runes myself by now, and it was a simple task to draw them over the existing ones with a sharp kitchen knife—and found myself at a small ball held in the village hallway. There, I danced with a man, eager and clean-shaven, and all the passion that had been building inside of me in that house all those years came to a crescendo, and we slept together in the adjacent barn, amongst the hay and the smell of animals. It was over quickly, and I returned to the house before he got back, but the damage had been done: apparently, in black magic, only the blood of a virginal female is useful, and once she experiences sex for the first time, her blood not only loses its magical potency, but begins to become useful for undoing magic, rather than creating it. In short, I became a threat to him, instead of a resource, and I was to be eliminated. He tried to kill me, in one short blast of magic, but I slashed my arm and blocked the spell with my own blood seeping into the crook of my elbow, absorbing the magic. Then, using my own blood, I drew a simple warding rune, quickly, on the floor of the room, and that certainly sent him into a tailspin, howling and knocking things off shelves as some kind of unseen pain assailed him. Finally, he left, in a whirlwind of black dust, his black cape sweeping like some evil creature’s wings out of the window and into the night.

I had a lot of cleaning up to do after that. I was twenty years old by then, no longer of marriageable age, and, besides, so many years of staying around black magic had changed me, made a scar grow on my own cheek, white as snow, against my skin, of a rose losing its petals, a sign of extended exposure to evil spells, and I had seen too much of the magical world to leave it. I began collecting magic books, ones that undid spells and banished demons, and began sketching runes in books in my spare time, muttering spells under my breath. The only thing I didn’t do was experiment with my own blood. In all the magic books I read, none had mentioned the effects of years of close proximity to black magic spells on the power of one’s blood, and one day, in trying to cast a simple finding spell, I pricked my finger on the needle I was using as a makeshift compass, and a drop fell on the thin, pointed metal. It immediately began to glow, white-hot and bright, and, ordinarily, if what I read was true, blood that could undo spells would strengthen spells only slightly, make them a little more stronger and better working. But my blood changed the tiny needle into a small, silver compass, in a flash of light, delicate and perfect, and its needle, minuscule and lovely as a diamond set in a ring, pointed straight to the north-east, in the direction he had gone.

I think I will find him someday, and I still don’t know, when I do, if I’ll kill him or kiss him, or perhaps do both. I know he’s out there somewhere, finding his way ever deeper down the paths of black magic, trying to build enough power to raise an undead army or bring torrential rain, thunderstorms, earthquakes and fires across the world, to prove to himself and everyone there was no-one stronger than he, and I intended on turning each walking, dead thing back into a corpse, and every fire, storm, wind, rain or cyclone of his conjuring into spring and summer breezes. And then, maybe, just maybe, he would look at me with fear, instead of hate, loathing, indifference or arrogance, like a scared, little boy, and I would finally be able to stop loving him, as I still did, travelling across the world in my white cloak, one hand occasionally touching the rose on my cheek.

My Writing Process

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I just finished reading “The Martian” by Andy Weir, and while it was a magnificent book, chock-a-block with scientific facts and space terminology that went right over my head, and I found the main character, Mark Watney, to be brilliant and funny, the ending absolutely blew. Completely. In terms of the build-up and amount of suspense gearing up towards the ending, I expected something earth-shattering and irrevocable to happen. Instead (spoiler alert!), it all passed without a hitch and everybody lived happily ever after like a bunch of fairytale princes and princesses living in their castles and sipping on fine, red wine or something. It was as if a fairy godmother had waved a wand at the end and made everything happen perfectly. I wanted tragedy, suspense, excitement, something, an explosion of fireworks like the Fourth of July—but it all fizzled away with barely a spark. The writing, though, was beautiful and I enjoyed every lovely, succinct sentence of it.

Anyway. Back to the topic of this post. A ramble. I do a lot of rambles, simply because I have a lot of thoughts swirling around inside of me which need to be released every now and then, like air from a balloon. My writing is going well, I’m working at a steady pace of several thousand words a day. That might seem like a lot, but it really isn’t, because after editing those thousands of words can probably be pared down to about a thousand words or less, give or take. My writing process kind of goes like this: write an almost stream-of-consciousness piece of writing, blabbering everything about the scene I can onto the page, then edit later, and edit hard. Other people like editing—there are writers who hate the first draft and love the edit, the refining and polishing part—but I actually dislike it, because during the edit, I don’t really experience the scene with colour and bursts of light the way I do when I first blurt it out onto the page.

Instead, it’s like painting gaily and then having to add in the lines and contours to turn the painting into something legible. Something people can recognise. For instance, a line written on its first draft would probably go like “the sun burst through the clouds in rays of sunshine that sparkled and dappled the waters until it looked like it was encrusted with diamonds and Jasmine stepped close to the water, watching as its ripples flowed and receded against the shore” and the edited version would be something like “The sun burst through the cloud, its rays of light sparkling over the dappled waters as if diamonds encrusted the lake’s surface. Jasmine stepped close to the shore of the lake, watching as the ripples of its glittering waters flowed and receded against its banks.” Basically, it’s a bit like tidying your room, except in this case, you’re shuffling around words, punctuation marks and capital letters.

Actually, I think this is the first time I’m ever writing about my writing process, which is strange, considering I’ve been writing for most of my life and my love for writing was the reason I started this blog in the first place. How do I go about creating a book? Easy. You sit at the typewriter and bleed. Just kidding. There’s no blood involved, and I do not use a typewriter, as cool and inconvenient that would be. Instead, it first starts off as a seed of an idea. I won’t tell you my ideas, because that would spoil my future books for you, but say, for instance, the idea is a woman falling in love with a werewolf. Once I get that idea, I start to create what China Mieville calls “a constellation of images” surrounding that particular idea, in that, almost like a film or an animation movie (I tend to imagine my books either as live-action films or animations in the style of The Legend of Korra, my favourite show), scenes start popping into my head, like magic, and I write them down, oftentimes in chronological order. Then, using these images as “fabric”, I stitch together the body of my story.

After that, it’s just a matter of translating that short synopsis into a full-length book, experiencing the world and events through my characters and developing everything from dialogue to world-building as I go along. I write, as I said before, in a stream-of-consciousness, word-vomit kind of way, just splashing whatever I’m thinking onto the page, then spend grueling hours afterwards fixing it, neatening it up and making it look nice. A 60,000 word book, after it has been edited, oftentimes turns into a 45,000 word novel. Recently, I received an email from a literary agent recommending I transform my supposedly “middle-grade” fiction into an adult novel of 95k words. That’s a lot of words. What’s more, my writing style isn’t complicated enough for adult fiction, and the main character is only eighteen or seventeen (I still need to work out her exact age). So, even though I’ll try to hit 95k, I think I’ll make it a YA (Young Adult) novel instead and see how that works out. If it really doesn’t work, I’ll just have to up my ante and write a more complicated book using bigger words and longer sentences.

Then there’s the incubation phase. It’s crucial to writing a good novel. Even Stephen King, the greatest horror writer who has ever lived, recommends it (although I must admit, I’ve only read The Long Walk by him, since I can’t stand gore and horror fiction at all—like, I’d nearly rather die than watch something extremely gruesome and frightening). An “incubation phase” is when, after you finish a book, you set it aside, preferably start another book while you are waiting, and then, when a couple of months or weeks have passed, depending on your preference, you dig the book back up out of your computer files or that drawer in your desk and re-read it with fresh eyes. Basically, you read it as though you’re reading it for the first time, as a reader instead of a writer, pretending your reading someone else’s book.

I just finished reading “The Martian” by Andy Weir, and while it was a magnificent book, chock-a-block with scientific facts and space terminology that went right over my head, and I found the main character, Mark Watney, to be brilliant and funny, the ending absolutely blew. Completely. In terms of the build-up and amount of suspense gearing up towards the ending, I expected something earth-shattering and irrevocable to happen. Instead (spoiler alert!), it all passed without a hitch and everybody lived happily ever after like a bunch of fairytale princes and princesses living in their castles and sipping on fine, red wine or something. It was as if a fairy godmother had waved a wand at the end and made everything happen perfectly. I wanted tragedy, suspense, excitement, something, an explosion of fireworks like the Fourth of July—but it all fizzled away with barely a spark. The writing, though, was beautiful and I enjoyed every lovely, succinct sentence of it.

Anyway. Back to the topic of this post. A ramble. I do a lot of rambles, simply because I have a lot of thoughts swirling around inside of me which need to be released every now and then, like air from a balloon. My writing is going well, I’m working at a steady pace of several thousand words a day. That might seem like a lot, but it really isn’t, because after editing those thousands of words can probably be pared down to about a thousand words or less, give or take. My writing process kind of goes like this: write an almost stream-of-consciousness piece of writing, blabbering everything about the scene I can onto the page, then edit later, and edit hard. Other people like editing—there are writers who hate the first draft and love the edit, the refining and polishing part—but I actually dislike it, because during the edit, I don’t really experience the scene with colour and bursts of light the way I do when I first blurt it out onto the page.

Instead, it’s like painting gaily and then having to add in the lines and contours to turn the painting into something legible. Something people can recognise. For instance, a line written on its first draft would probably go like “the sun burst through the clouds in rays of sunshine that sparkled and dappled the waters until it looked like it was encrusted with diamonds and Jasmine stepped close to the water, watching as its ripples flowed and receded against the shore” and the edited version would be something like “The sun burst through the cloud, its rays of light sparkling over the dappled waters as if diamonds encrusted the lake’s surface. Jasmine stepped close to the shore of the lake, watching as the ripples of its glittering waters flowed and receded against its banks.” Basically, it’s a bit like tidying your room, except in this case, you’re shuffling around words, punctuation marks and capital letters.

Actually, I think this is the first time I’m ever writing about my writing process, which is strange, considering I’ve been writing for most of my life and my love for writing was the reason I started this blog in the first place. How do I go about creating a book? Easy. You sit at the typewriter and bleed. Just kidding. There’s no blood involved, and I do not use a typewriter, as cool and inconvenient that would be. Instead, it first starts off as a seed of an idea. I won’t tell you my ideas, because that would spoil my future books for you, but say, for instance, the idea is a woman falling in love with a werewolf. Once I get that idea, I start to create what China Mieville calls “a constellation of images” surrounding that particular idea, in that, almost like a film or an animation movie (I tend to imagine my books either as live-action films or animations in the style of The Legend of Korra, my favourite show), scenes start popping into my head, like magic, and I write them down, oftentimes in chronological order. Then, using these images as “fabric”, I stitch together the body of my story.

After that, it’s just a matter of translating that short synopsis into a full-length book, experiencing the world and events through my characters and developing everything from dialogue to world-building as I go along. I write, as I said before, in a stream-of-consciousness, word-vomit kind of way, just splashing whatever I’m thinking onto the page, then spend grueling hours afterwards fixing it, neatening it up and making it look nice. A 60,000 word book, after it has been edited, oftentimes turns into a 45,000 word. Recently, I received an email from a literary agent recommending I transform my supposedly “middle-grade” fiction into an adult novel of 95k words. That’s a lot of words. What’s more, my writing style isn’t complicated enough for adult fiction, and the main character is only eighteen or seventeen (I still need to work out her exact age). So, even though I’ll try to hit 95k, I think I’ll make it a YA (Young Adult) novel instead and see how that works out. If it really doesn’t work, I’ll just have to up my ante and write a more complicated book using bigger words and longer sentences.

Then there’s the incubation phase. It’s crucial to writing a good novel. Even Stephen King, the greatest horror writer who has ever lived, recommends it (although I must admit, I’ve only read The Long Walk by him, since I can’t stand gore and horror fiction at all—like, I’d nearly rather die than watch something extremely gruesome and frightening). An “incubation phase” is when, after you finish a book, you set it aside, preferably start another book while you are waiting, and then, when a couple of months or weeks have passed, depending on your preference, you dig the book back up out of your computer files or that drawer in your desk and re-read it with fresh eyes. Basically, you read it as though you’re reading it for the first time, as a reader instead of a writer, pretending you’re reading someone else’s book. By this point, so much time would have passed that it practically feels like something someone else wrote. This method allows you to spot flaws and plot holes in your writing that you wouldn’t have otherwise because staring at the same piece of writing for months on end can make it hard to spot errors, just like accountants find it difficult to spot mistakes in calculation on a Spreadsheet and might have to take a break and look at it with “fresh eyes” to locate the problem.

Re-reading what I’ve wrote, I’ve realised I’ve made writing seem like a job, with rules and regulations, and other boring stuff, instead of something exciting and glorious. In a way, it is like a job. You show up, you clock in your hours, do your work, return to the real world exhausted after spending so much time in a fantasy world for eight hours. But it’s so much more fun that a regular job, if you like it. You get to spend time with people you love—your characters. You get to explore and go on adventures, just by sitting at home in your chair. It’s marvellous fun, honest, and if you ever get the slightest inclination to write a story, I suggest you do it, not to get published or for worldly fame and riches, but for the pure joy of it.

Happy writing.

 

A Princess Story

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I used to be a princess, pampered and beloved. I spent my days in the palace gardens, playing amongst the flowers and butterflies. Ladies-in-waiting tended to my every need, threading beautiful hairpins into my hair, tying it up into knots and curlicues. I wore the most beautiful gowns, each one lovelier than the last, and had grand, lavish meals in the castle’s banquet room. I dreamed of one day marrying a prince, for him to kiss me under a blue moon, and give birth to an heir to the throne. I wondered what it would be like, to spend the wedding night with him, and how much joy I would have spoiling our children. I loved my wealth, my prettiness and my own grandeur. Everyone loved and flattered me.
Then came the war.
They took everything. My home, my palace. Every servant I had, their throats were cut and slit, their bodies bled dry. My father was beheaded, and my mother, too, and the opposing army’s soldiers, from a kingdom neighbouring ours, had their way with me, in that moonlit room, one after another.
Somehow, I survived. Maybe they got a little tired of the killing. Maybe they thought I was a pretty thing, and I wanted to keep me around for later, like a child stowing away a sweet. Either way, I was kept, I was left alone. They left me there, in that cold, empty bedroom, without anyone by my side except a small kitten.
The kitten and I, together, we grew stronger. I named her Strength, and we formed and built a new life together, on the ashes of the bodies I was forced by the soldiers to haul out into the palace gardens. Every so often, a triage of soldiers would visit the place, and desecrate me. I became pregnant. The children I gave birth to were taken away from me.
Then, one night, a witch visited me, from the closest village, riding on a broomstick up to my window. She whispered secrets in my ear, and touched a finger to my forehead. Having been granted witchcraft, I started practising magic.
When the soldiers next visited my bedroom, I was ready for them.
An onslaught of magic, and they were nothing but smears of blood against the parquet floor. Well. Good job, my princess. Strength, look at what we have done. This is marvellous. Blood-thirsty and filled with vengeful hate, I left the castle, and scoured the land, searching for victims. Any soldier from the neighbouring kingdom I met, I slaughtered. I brought Strength with me, perched on my shoulder, and became known as the Nightmare Witch and her Secret Cat. Day after day, I spent killing those who had dared to take over my kingdom, the magic building in my veins like bile. I found the children I had given birth to, with my eyes, my nose, my skin. I took them, enfolded them in my arms, for they were innocent, for I was strong enough, now, to face the products of my horrific pain.
I built a new kingdom, upon the dead bodies of those who had dared to threaten us in the first place. I called it Hope. I became a queen, instead of princess—no longer did I laugh gaily, or dream of princes. Instead, I laughed, maniacally, at the thought of my lost innocence, and dreamed of a day when men would no longer plunder and slaughter, and realise any crimes in this lifetime are eventually judged by the Great One. And when the kingdom finally crowned me, to much cheering and fanfare, for lifting the shadow from their lands, I did not shed a tear, or unleash a single sob. Instead, I stood tall and proud, and spied the flash of a small figure on a broomstick, flying off into the sunset.

On Loneliness and Writing

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Excuse me for my absence. I have been busy writing away, like some kind of maniac, and haven’t surfaced from the watery depths of my secret worlds for the last month or so. Maybe more.

Tonight was another one of those nights when I couldn’t sleep, and thoughts swirled through my brain like honey. While there is no doubt I am not completely a lonely person—I have friends, and family, and all of you—sometimes, at night, when all is quiet, I get unbearably lonely. For some reason, I found myself trawling through Instagram—which is absolutely the worst thing to do when you’re lonely—and really began to question whether I was entirely happy with my life. Look at all these people, with their beautiful, shining lives, publishing books, travelling to far-flung places, living out their lives with their families and friends, while I laboured alone in my bedroom, watching Chinese and Korean dramas whenever I felt sad, trying to eke out a living from my writing and failing miserably.

It all really came to a head. All my hopes, all my fears—next week Thursday, I will find out if a particular Australian publisher will have accepted my book or not. It’s a book I’m very proud of, but I have no idea if it will get accepted. In fact, my soul is screaming to me it will not, that I have no chance, while my heart years and pines and hopes.

I am so anxious it’s a wonder I haven’t chewed off all my fingernails. If my dreams are dashed, once again, next week, I don’t think I could bear it. Obviously, I’m not the type to really take my life or anything drastic like that, but I imagine I would be quite miserable. Give or take a few days—well, four, to be exact—and I will know whether I “made” it or not, and it’s terrifying.

Nevertheless, I do apologise for not being on this blog for so long. As for my career arrangements, I am thinking about becoming a librarian, either doing a course in librarianship or completing a traineeship. After all, I love books, I don’t much mind conversing with people (well, it’s hard for me, but I can force myself to do it), and who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by literature and computers all day long? Not me, that’s who. Because to be honest with you, I’ve never considered doing anything in this lifetime except for writing. It has always been my one dream and goal. Anything other than it—entertaining the thought of an alternative career—is impossible. I have my heart set on carving a name for myself in the literary sphere, and that is what I intend to do.

As for my loneliness, well, that can hardly be helped. I mean, in the end, nothing can assuage the loneliness deep within our souls, nothing except God, for we are, all of us, lost children, stumbling in the dark. No matter how many people we surround ourselves with, friends, lovers, family, children, spouses, in the end, when the lights are off, and we drift off to sleep, we are completely and utterly alone. When we die, we are alone. On the brink of death, there is nothing and no-one who can save us, who can go with us to wherever we go after our spirits leave the flesh. That’s a sad truth. So we better get used to this loneliness, and realise there is no cure for it, rather than pine and make ourselves more miserable in our lack of acceptance of it.

I wish you well. I hope your lives are flourishing and beautiful, like the Garden of Eden. I hope no poisonous apples come flying your way, and no pesky snakes whisper secrets in your ear. I hope your life is filled with joy, wonder and hope. I hope your life is the complete opposite of mine. Well, my life isn’t all bad. Currently, I’m working on another book, and it’s a marvellous one, if I do say so myself, such a joy to work with, to play with, spinning words and tales the way a seamstress might hem a dress, skilfully and quickly. I am blown away by the extent of my own imagination sometimes, which is a little bit arrogant of me to say, but is the truth, after all. Not that any publishers, so far, have recognised this brilliance. Mayhaps I am doomed to forever wander across the beautiful terrain of my imagination, with no-one ever to recognise its sparkle and glitter. Maybe I’m not cut out for writing, after all.

Or maybe I am. Perhaps next week Thursday, emblazoned across this blog will be the words I GOT PUBLISHED and all the angels will sing and heaven will rejoice and all the birds will come fluttering out of the trees in vibrant singsong, all because my dream finally came true. Maybe.

Or maybe not.

Death of a Writer’s Heart

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I live life in a perpetual state of feeling like something is exciting is going to happen, only it never does.

Lately, I’ve been sending my precious, little book to publishers left, right and centre, hoping one of them lands a hit. I think it’s fair to say I’ve sent my book to at least six different publishers. Hoping. Praying. And waiting—-I will have to wait for months to receive a reply, if there is any at all. In the meantime, I read my manuscript over and over again, obsessively, picking at its flaws, wondering if the writing is too simple and concise because I wanted it to be accessible for children, wondering if I should just jump off a cliff and be done with it (not literally, but you get what I mean).

I can taste publication. I can taste it, the way a bird can sense freedom when you lift the latch of its cage. Right now, my fate is in God’s hands—and in the power of the words I wrote. I think it’s fair to say I’m not a complex writer. That’s why I write children’s books—my writing just isn’t complicated enough to write adult fiction, at least the kind that publishers want to sell. I just have this feeling, this awful, drowning feeling, that I’m not good enough, and never will be. That the subject matter of my children’s book, that of a little girl who is hit by her father, is too sordid and ugly for kids to read. That everything I have worked for, up until this point, has been for nothing.

What do you do when you’re not good enough? What do you do when salvation is the only hope, when the wall in front of you has to be broken through or else you starve to death behind it, and you can’t break through it? What, then? Death. Death and death. In the non-literal sense, of course: if I don’t ever get published, the truth is, slowly, over time, I’d turn into a living corpse. Walking through the days with a lumbering gait, my heart dead in my chest. A zombie, of the worst kind: that of a person whose greatest dream has eluded their grasp.

Not good enough. Sometimes, the pressure of it is enough to make me scream. I don’t actually scream, though. I don’t have the energy to. I’m quite a placid person, on the outside. Outsiders don’t seem to understand what publishing a book means to me. Since I was five years old, I have wanted to be an author. Five. While other children dreamed of being ballerinas or princesses or superheroes, I dreamed of one day writing a book and seeing it on a shelf at a book store or a library. When others worshipped basketball players or famous singers, I worshipped Roald Dahl, who is, by far, my most favourite author in the whole entire world, and whose steps I hope to follow, big shoes to fill though they may be. This dream, of becoming a writer, is so firmly embedded in me, that to kill it would be to kill my soul, too, my heart and my body and everything in between.

I wish I could sit down with a world-famous publisher and editor, and have them go through my manuscript with me, to point out all of its flaws, to show me where I went wrong. And then to tell me that, of course, with some work, they can publish it! My daydreams involving being a writer are numerous. I imagine myself selling the movie rights of the book, travelling to America to meet the movie producer, seeing my book as a film (I can already imagine the entirety of the book perfectly as a film), seeing my book on shelves in libraries and book stores. You can’t imagine what it’d be like to see my book on book store shelves. I would cry and collapse, almost as though someone had stabbed me in the heart.

What if I’m not good enough? What if wanting something isn’t enough? What if?

These are the questions that are slowly starting to kill me.

I Was Targeted By A Vanity Publisher

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So, for the last couple of days or so, I was in a whirlwind of excitement because I received a message, after much waiting, that my book had been accepted by a publisher.

At first, I was filled with joyous elation; the sound of ringing bells echoed throughout my mind, my spirits soared, and a thousand angels seemed to be singing an aria inside my soul at once. Finally, whispered a voice inside of me, finally the day has come! This was it. My big break. All I had to do was sign a contract, pay $4000 in fees and—

Wait. Sign a contract? Pay $4000? What was going on? After a little digging, I realised I had been targeted by what is known as a “vanity publisher”. They are “hybrid” publishers, meaning they forge the path of self-publishing on your behalf, oftentimes for a hefty fee, and for doing simple things like posting your book on the Barnes and Noble website or Amazon. They take almost any legible submissions that come their way, and the money they earn come not from sales of the book itself, but from the money they can glean from contented cash cow authors.

In other words, my publishing dreams were still dust, and I had been nearly duped into handing over my life savings (yes, my life savings, at 20 years old, are absolutely measly).

The shock and horror of what had occurred to me was unspeakable: in a matter of minutes, of seconds, I plummeted from a height of great joy to extreme despair. Once more, I had to face the grueling process of submitting my book to publishing houses, face more rejections, write more synopses, edit my book even more because I’m very pedantic about things like that, and continue the search for a home for my dear, little book. I honestly felt as though the rug had been pulled away from underneath my feet, leaving me sprawled on the floor in a most ungainly position. One moment, I was the starry-eyed author of a soon-to-be published novel—the next, I was left with nothing once again. It was as if I had, just for a moment, tasted stardom and the warmth of the spotlight, only for it to be snatched away, in the blink of an eye, by some cruel and unseen hand, and left alone and cold in the dark once more.

Beware vanity publishers. They are out for not just your money, but your heart and soul. They prey on young, desperate, unsuspecting writers, who dream of having their books published, sometimes no matter the cost. If I hadn’t had the use of the internet at my fingertips, nor well-discerning family members and friends, I might have been conned by these scam artists, who want nothing more than the money from your pocket.

Of course, I am back to square one again. It doesn’t matter, though, because I will always love writing, and enjoy the process of creating words and characters and worlds. Returning to where I began isn’t such a bad thing after all: it just spurs me to work harder, hustle with greater intensity, and follow my dreams to the ends of the earth, if need be. But no dream is worth forking out $4000 to someone who will not distribute or market your book properly, and just slap it on Amazon; every dreamer needs to look out for will-o’-the-wisps along the way, that will cause you to stumble, get lost in the woods and lose sight of what you came to find.

I Buy My Own Wedding Ring (song)

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I take myself out on dates

And the only one pays is me

And I buy myself jewellery

And give myself hugs

‘Cause only someone who’s loved can love

 

I give myself a crown

A tiara of silver

‘Cause I’m a queen

Living the dream

And it goes well with my hair

And I know what you’re thinking

She’s a little bit crazy

But if you knew the life I’d been living

You wouldn’t judge me

 

Chorus

I bought my own wedding ring

And I like it

Less than you think

I’m a girl who…

…needs a guy

A prince to be mine

One without a crown

And no kingdom

 

I wear a dress and look amazing

The prettiest girl alive

I’m covered in jewels and bling

Even if it’s not bright

And I’ve got a sharp mind

I know how to calculate

Exactly like a mime

 

The people all stare at me

In my imagination

They all gaze openly

At this beautiful specimen

And I have no pride

I’m kind and pure as they come

 

Chorus

 

Bridge x2

Please someone come for me

Someone tall and nice-looking

You won’t regret

Your choice

I’m a champagne glass of prettiness/I love myself too well

+

Chorus

Click here to listen to this:  https://vocaroo.com/i/s0FQP9R1ZGtC

 

 

 

A Lost Princess

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Are princesses meant to be like this? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I know everything there is to know about princesses. I know that we are meant to find love, very soon, and very quickly, because that’s just what princesses do. I know that we are shy and demure, but filled with a shining light of our own. I know that our prince is waiting for us, just around the corner, even if we have to kiss a lot of frogs to find them.

But are we meant to be like this? So stumbling, so unsure? Surely I can’t be the only princess around who feels this way. Do you? What do you mean, you’re not a princess? Look at you. You’ve got the dress, the tiara, the—costume? What? As in, for a play? You mean you’re only pretending to be a princess? Then who are you? What is your life like?

It isn’t easy? You have to—to WORK? Surely not! A beautiful, lovely lady like you should spend her time sitting in an ivory tower, waiting for her prince to come along. Who would pay the bills? Bills? What on earth are bills? Don’t you—isn’t your father—oh, to hell with it, you mean he isn’t the king? He isn’t anything? That what is he? Dead? Oh. Oh dear. I’m sorry. Oh, not dead, he’s just not with you anymore. Then where is he? With another—with someone—oh my. You’re life is tragic, indeed. It is almost as if you’ve been cursed. What do you mean, that’s not the worst of it? What! There’s a chance you might never find your prince? Are the words issuing from your mouth right now the truth? How can you possibly now find your prince? That’s like the sun not rising tomorrow!

Listen, I’ve been through this kind of thing before. People think princesses have not an ounce of sense in their head, and spend their days beautifying themselves and going to grand parties. Well, that’s not true. I’m well-versed in The History of Princesses, The Geography of Kingdoms, the study of various languages, including Bullfrog, and many more, and my opinion is—you are pulling my leg, young lady! This surely cannot be your life. A beautiful lady such as yourself deserves a better fate. Come, come with me, to my kingdom. You shall be given gowns and pearls to wear, and you will find your prince. Come with—with—oh dear, I was sure there was a doorway here just a minute ago. Where did it go? What did you say? Portal? What’s a portal? What do you mean, the way back is gone? Where am I, exactly? What on earth is Washington, I’ve never heard of such a kingdom before. Let me ask my Geography teacher, she’ll know. I’m her brightest student, I’ll have you know. Now, if I could just get back…Listen, dear, are there are princes in your world? Fairy godmothers? Wishes and curses? Do you have any wishing wells? Well, how else do you get the things you want? Through TEKNOLEGEE? What kind of magic is teknolegee?

You know, all this bother is really rather putting me out. I think I need a good lie-down. I don’t suppose you happen to have a bed soft enough for a princess’s skin? What was that? The Princess and the Pea? A story?? Silly child, that was my cousin. Now, if you could just wave that magic wand of yours and use some teknolegee to whisk me back to me own kingdom, that would be much appreciated. I don’t believe it. You’re eating your wand. A preztel stick? What’s a pretzel stick? How old are you? Twelve? Does your kingdom have a king and queen, and how do I reach them and speak to them? Tell them it’s urgent, will you. I appear to have been stranded in a kingdom far from my own, due to witchcraft, and I intend to get back before my prince comes. Who is Donald Trump?

My self-published short story “Zodiac”

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Aries was a constellation in the form of a ram, that stood on his hind legs. He was alive. He moved from place to place, shimmering gently, his aura a dark blue, and threaded with tiny lights like stars.
One day, he woke up and found that the sun in the sky had grown to tremendous proportions. The sun was the closest star to them in this part of the galaxy, Zorgia, where they lived. It blazed, a beacon of light. He was curious. He wondered why this had happened. So he went to the bull constellation for help, to ask him what was going on. The bull constellation’s name was Taurus, and he lived to the east of the galaxy. Like him, he had a blue aura, like deep, bluish light, and he had tiny lights threaded throughout his body, with several of them forming his horns.
“You want to know why that star has grown so big?” The bull constellation, Taurus, sighed. “It is reaching the end of its life. Leave it be, little Aries.”
Aries, however, was not satisfied with this answer. He went over to Gemini, a pair of twin constellations, one a boy and the other a girl. They were floating, up near the highest part of the starlight city they called Zorgia, and twirling around and around, whispering things to one another.
“Do you know why the sun has become so large?” he asked. “Taurus says it is because the sun is dying.” He looked down at his hoofs; they were a see-through blue, and glimmered with tiny spots of light. “Do you that think is true?”
The Gemini twins nodded. “We do, little Aries, we do.” They smiled and floated around their dress, and shirt and pants, flowing around their bodies, like silk through water. “The sun is going to die, it is, it is.” In unison, just like the way they spoke, the two twins jumped over a bank of starlight, and vanished from sight.
Puzzled, Aries decided to seek out the wise Cancer, a crab that floated in the starlit waters of the seas of their galaxy. As he came up to the crab, treading light over the sea’s starry banks, with a gurgle of interstellar bubbles the crab surfaced, a great, bold, blue thing, with pincers that glimmered, and stalks for eyes. He was a galactic creature of few words. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t a very clever constellation—he just liked to measure out his words carefully, to think and ponder before speaking his mind.
Still, Aries, young and impatient, found it rather difficult to wait. He asked the great crab his question, and the crab stood still, in the water, for several heartbeats. Then he pinched him, gently, on the arm, with the tip of his left pincer. “My dear little one, one day, I will become like that star. Ten thousand trillion years from now. Do you see?”
Aries did not see. In fact, he was beginning to think Cancer had spent too much time in his sea of starwater, and his mind had become waterlogged, living amongst the bubbles and other galactic star sea-creatures. So he bid him a polite farewell, and said, “I hope you do not drink too much starwater anymore.”
It was a rude thing to say, but he couldn’t help it. It wasn’t as if Cancer didn’t know the kind of constellation he was; brash and unthinking, young and inexperienced. He would forgive him, he hoped. Now. Who else was there to ask?
He made a brief stop at Leo’s home, a wide land of endless starry dirt, with plenty of stars—small ones, only of course, for him to eat. He was a constellation Aries had always felt rather shy about talking to.
As usual, the great lion constellation was busy eating stars, batting at them playfully in the air, as they twinkled and sparkled, before swallowing them whole. They travelled down his throat, down into his belly, where they glimmered and glowed, joining the fabric of his being.
Aries, who kept stars as pets, tried not to look too upset, as he asked the mighty lion constellation, “Why is the star up there,” he pointed to it, “so big?” The lion constellation thought for a moment. Then he opened his great mouth, and replied, “That is because it is now becoming the mightiest star it can be of all, just for a short period of time.”
“And after?” asked Aries, hoping he would say it would continue to be mighty and strong.
“After it will die, and no longer be great and mighty.”
Distraught, Aries gave his thanks and quickly left the starry land, in search of someone less brutal, more patient and understanding. It was then, as he was flying along through the air, that he bumped into Virgo, a beautiful constellation, in the shape of a human woman.
She was calm, attentive, and rather quiet, but Aries had always rather liked her. “Aries, what brings you to this corner of the galaxy?” The stars inside Virgo’s body, tiny lights, flickered and glowed. Aries tried his best to sound calm, too, but he failed. “The sun—my favourite star—has been growing bigger and bigger, and everyone says it’s going to die soon. Please tell me that isn’t true.”
Virgo thought about this for a moment; then she said, gently, “No. It’s not true. It won’t really die. It’ll just be—different. Transformed. Bits of it will fly outwards, at incredible speeds, and make up other parts of the galaxy. It won’t die, exactly—it’ll just be turned into something else.”
Aries blinked. This was worse than he had thought! If it died, at the very least things would be over and done with, but if bits of it were everywhere, he would never be able to forget about her dear star, and its shining, awe-inspiring brilliance. Quickly, he flew away, leaving behind a befuddled Virgo, who wondered, and hoped, desperately, that what she said had been the right thing to say.
No. It was time to move onto drastic measures. Libra—well, she was just a set of scales, bluish and translucent, stitched with tiny pinpoints of starlight. She didn’t talk, or speak; instead, using her weighing platforms, she answered yes or no questions: right weighing platform for yes, left one for no, dipping the weighing platforms downwards on either side of her body.
Aries approached Libra, cautiously: in the past, Libra had been known to get startled if you moved too close, too quickly, and refused to answer your questions. “Is that star up there really going to die?” he asked. “Yes,” said the tilt of Libra’s scales. Aries was greatly saddened. “Will it die very soon?” “Yes,” came the answer again.
Disappointed, Aries felt resigned, and was leaving Libra when he came across Capricorn, tussling with Sagittarius. The two constellations were joined together in a headlock, Sagittarius’s human arms wrapped around Capricorn’s great head, and Capricorn’s horns curved around Sagittarius’s head.
But when they saw Aries passing by, looking so sad, they quickly broke out of the headlock and came over to him. “Aries?” asked Capricorn, licking his injured hoof. “What’s wrong?” “Oh,” said Aries, close to tears. “Nothing, really. It’s just that a favourite star of mine, the sun, is about to die.” He pointed up at it, with one elegant hoof, and the two others, Capricorn and Sagittarius, followed where he was pointing with their eyes, and, slowly, nodding, they understood his predicament. Sagittarius licked his lips. Both he and Capricorn had lived long enough in this universe to know when a star was dying, but they didn’t know, despite their wisdom, how to break the news gently to a creature as sensitive as Aries.
Capricorn cleared his throat. “No, er, that star is not dying.” He shot a warning look at Sagittarius, who was beginning to frown. “No. It’s just—putting on a show. Yes.”
Arie’s face lit up. “Really? You’re not lying to me?” “Of course not,” said Capricorn, nudging Sagittarius in the ribs. “Why would we ever do such a thing?”
Heartened by this, Aries went on his way. After a while, however, his thoughts grew dark again, and he thought it might be best to get a second opinion. So he went over to where Aquarius lived, a huge chamber of watery starlight, on the north coast of the galaxy. She was busily churning the starry waters with her jug, tossing the waters this way and that, so that it shone and gleamed.
Aries went over to the older constellation, and asked,” Is that star up there dying or putting on a show?” Aquarius didn’t say anything. She could be quite preoccupied at times. But, finally, after a last sweep of the waters with her urn, she said, “Hello, little Aries. You look very tired. Why does the fate of this star matter to you so? It is only a dying star, after all.”
At this, Aries burst into tears. Aquarius was discomfited. She didn’t like seeing Aries cry. No-one did. So she thought of the only thing she could say, and said it, even if it wasn’t completely the truth. “The star is moving on. It’ll go to a different place. A better place.”
Aries blinked. “Really? After it—dies?” “Yes,” said Aquarius, nodding sagely. ‘That is exactly what will happen. A place stars go after they die. A safe place.”
“But—but I don’t want it to go to this other place!” He didn’t even say good-bye; poor little Aries fled from the distraught Aquarius.
He was walking so fast, on his hind legs, he didn’t even realise he had waded into a great, starry pond. He stood on the edge of it, the water up to his ankles, crying.
Up from the waters appeared Pisces, two fish who always travelled together. Like all constellations, they were translucent and dark blue, their scales knitted of stars. They gazed up at Aries, with their orb-like eyes, and said nothing. High up in the higher reaches of the galaxy, something was happening. Aries, standing in the water, kept on sobbing, oblivious to what was going on. “Watch,” gurgled Pisces.
Abruptly, Aries stopped crying, and looked, lifting his head upwards. High up in the galaxy, amongst the stars, the greatest star of all, known as the sun, was beginning to grow larger. In fact, it seemed to be inflating before their very eyes; and before long, it was the size of an enormous ball, hanging there in the starry heavens.
Aries stared, in absolute awe, his jaw gone slack. He was just thinking about whether or not he should run away, before it burst and exploded, but to her surprise, the explosion was very slow, and magnificent. Starry dust rained down on the galaxy of Zorgia, as the star burst apart into thousands of pieces of star matter, whirling away into the rest of the galaxy.
It was the most beautiful thing Aries had ever seen. Maybe dying wasn’t so frightening, after all. And what was more, after the star fragments blew away, what was left was the core, a tiny, soft, glowing pinpoint of light, rather like an echo of what the great star had been.
“See?” said Pisces, as they stared up at it together. “It’s not so bad now, is it?” “No,” said Aries, staring up at the star’s core, which flickered faintly. “Not at all.”