Announcing “Departure”, a forthcoming novel

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If you follow my Facebook page, you’ll have seen me post this today. It was my way of announcing a novel I’m working on called “Departure”, book 1 in a trilogy of novels tentatively called “The Ark Trilogy”.

The genre is sci-fi (or perhaps more accurately “cli-fi”) and I’m excited about it. There’s no set date for release yet, but keep checking back for more info!


To keep up to date with “Departure” and my other projects, join my mailing list. You can also keep up to date by following me on Facebook, and Medium (where I’ll also be posting sneak peaks of the work in progress).

If you want to check out some of my writing while you wait for “Departure”, you can check out my short story anthology “Static: Collected Stories” on Amazon.

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A Roundup of some stories on Medium (February to September ’17)

I’ve been writing a lot over on my Medium profile, so I thought I would link to some I’ve written since my last fiction post on here (The Talent Show).

On The Bridge, At Night

Trust

Broken

Accelerate

A Nice Day Tomorrow

Earth

Silhouette

Before We Met

Dad 2.0

Whisky and Scotch

In addition, you can find a list of all my fiction online here.

And of course, there’s Grace, a serialised novel on Inkitt, and my short story collection Static, that you can get on Kindle.

Football Manager 2017: The Sunderland Challenge: Pre-Season

You may remember I previously blogged about a “journeyman” challenge where I started unemployed and then took charge of Weston-Super-Mare. My goal was to work my way up the footballing ladder to become the best manager I could be. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here, but that’s as far as it goes. Unfortunately, the game got away from me and I didn’t have time to write about it. If you’re interested I did end up joining Forest Green Rovers, then Gillingham, and eventually Crystal Palace.

But I decided to start a new game with the Premier League’s most consistently hopeless case – Sunderland. And this time, I will keep on top of the updates. Could I be a better manager than the ghost of David Moyes that currently stalks the Stadium of Light dugout? Let’s find out!


I was not sure what to expect with Sunderland. Of course, they’re bobbins in real life, reliant on the goals of Jermain Defoe to plunder points. But sometimes Football Manager can be kind to struggling teams – I was, frankly, hoping the Sunderland researcher would have over-valued some of their players.

I’m playing on the original FM17 database, so I still have Patrick van Aanholt but lack the, er, singular talents of Darron Gibson.

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I was not hugely impressed with what I saw. Unbalanced (four left wingers, of which an ageing Steven Pienaar was picked out as one of the best) with a lack of “quality decision making”, a “leadership void” and not enough players willing to work hard pointed to only one thing: relegation.

But in assessing the squad, I realised that all was not lost. Not quite. I picked out some key players, and promising youngsters. Ideally, I wanted to utilise young players as much as possible. If they were homegrown then so much the better.

Key Players

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Just like in real life, the diminutive former England frontman would be key to any hopes of survival. I knew that if we could give him opportunities, he would score.

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Lamine Kone stood out in a squad lacking quality defenders. Relatively quick, strong and a good header of the ball, he could be key for us.

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My coaches also rated ex-Chelsea also-ran Papy Djilobodji but his relatively poor positioning and concentration had me worried.

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In midfield, I liked the look of club record signing Didier NDong, a hard-working midfielder with good physical attributes.

Promising Youngers

One of the things I want to do as Sunderland boss is bring through young players where I can. There are a few dotted around the squad, though the two with possibly the highest potential don’t actually belong to the club…

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The one-time next big thing of European football, Adnan Januzaj, is slumming it with us. It’s difficult to imagine him sticking around long term even if we could afford him, but who knows? A good season might convince him to stick around instead of returning to Old Trafford to kick his heels on the bench next season. I had an early idea in my head to train him as a striker and use him as a deep-lying foil for Defoe. As well as Januzaj, we have a second loanee from Manchester, nominative determinism’s Jason Denayer. He’s pacy, which is good, and is apparently labelled as the next Vincent Kompany.

The other young starlets are all permanently at Sunderland and I wanted to try to give them plenty of game time.

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Jordan Pickford would start the season in goal, and would have done even if Vito Mannone didn’t start the game with a long-term injury. If his stats improve as I hope they will, he could go on to become England’s next ‘keeper. And hopefully he will do that while still in a Sunderland shirt.

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A present bequeathed to me by David Moyes, ex-Manchester United utility man Paddy McNair has the potential to be a good Premier League player. Though most comfortable as a defensive midfielder, I eyed a future for him as a ball-playing centre back.

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OK, so the American midfielder’s mental and physical attributes need a lot of work, but I can see a future for him as an attacking midfielder. A few clubs want him on loan, but my plan is to give him some minutes off the bench, at least initially, then re-visit it in January. If he needs regular minutes by then, a loan move in the second half of the season might be a good idea.

Transfers

So, with my squad looked it, it was time to have a look at transfers. I was given a relatively generous £12m transfer budget and there was around £30k left in the wage budget, too, for a signing or two.

I had an idea in my head of playing 3-5-2, with wingbacks. My hope was that Kone, Djilobodji and Denayer had enough differing strengths to compensate for each other’s weaknesses, and I felt Defoe up front would benefit from a striker partner. The one glaring flaw in the plan was a lack of a right wing back. Both Billy Jones and Seb Larsson were out with long term injuries, and I was unconvinced by the claims of Atletico Madrid loanee Javier Manquillo. Lamine Kone could play at wing back but he was better used in the middle.

To that end, I went out and signed Rosenborg right back Jonas Svensson. Naturally fit, hard-working and with a good engine, he would be able to get up and down the flank with gusto.

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I was happy with Patrick van Aanholt on the left, but I had no cover in that position. Not wanting to break the bank for a back-up left wing back, I brought in German younger Jannes Horn on loan from Wolfsburg. Happily, his versatility meant he could provide cover at centre back or central midfield if needed.

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I also brought in Diego Poyet, son of ex-Sunderland manager Gus, on a free transfer. I didn’t have a pressing need for him but he was 21, homegrown and had a lot of potential. For free, his signing was a no-brainer.

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The other gap in the squad was up front. I had Defoe, sure, but our second best striker Fabio Borini was yet another out with a long term injury (in the treatment room alongside Mannone, Jones, Larsson and Lee Cattermole). I did have Victor Anichebe, but I knew he was injury prone too.  Also, he was not very good. I planned to give Januzaj a go up front, but behind him there was only Swedish younger Joel Asoro. The 17-year-old would be a part of my first team squad to gain experience, but was  not really ready for regular Premier League football.

I hunted around for a young striker to join my squad. Real Madrid Castilla striker Mariano was bid for on loan, but he chose a move to Sassuolo instead. Young Brazilian striker Everton rejected any move to us outright. Other bids for promising strikers across Europe were rejected or simply laughed at. In the end, I did manage to prise the wonderfully named Kevin Lasagna from Carpi. At 23, he has room to improve, but mostly solid stats across the board is a good place to start from.

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Backroom Staff

I had no plans to make wholesale changes to the squad (and, frankly, good players were skeptical about joining Sunderland’s annual relegation dalliance) so I was happy with the signings of Svensson, Horn, Poyet and Lasagne. With that done, it was on to my backroom team.

I got rid of the club legend Paul Bracewell as my assistant, replacing with the Dutchman Michael Linderman. Having worked at Ajax for many years, I was hoping he could bring some of that tactical knowledge and eye for a young player to Sunderland.

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I also got rid of my existing Head of Youth Development and replaced him with Phil Cannon, because…well, look at those stats.

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And, for a little sprinkling of stardust, I brought in two Premier League and England legends: Paul Scholes and Teddy Sheringham. Frankly, if my players could not learn from those two then there was no hope.

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There we are. Transfers done (for now). Backroom team re-arranged (for now). I had, more or less, picked a formation and had a reasonable idea of my best eleven. The season loomed large. First up: a game against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, at home. Gulp.

How do the press and the bookies think we’ll do this year? Have a guess…

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Part 2 will follow, covering the first month of the season. Let’s hope I can do better than real life Sunderland did in August…


If you enjoyed this, check out the rest of this blog for more articles and fiction writing. You can also reach out on Facebook and Twitter, and follow me on Medium.

If you want more stories from my weird mind, you can buy my latest short story collection Static: Collected Stories on Amazon Kindle for just £1.99.

Why I Decided to Self Publish

As you may be aware, I recently made a short story anthology Static: Collected Stories available on Kindle for just £1.99 (you can buy it here).

Over on my Medium blog, I wrote a post to explain why I decided to self-publish it (after spending years vowing I wouldn’t self-publish).

You can read the post here.

(Incidentally, if you want some free samples of the kind of stories you’ll encounter in Static: Collected Stories then you can find some on Medium, here.)

Static: Collected Stories – My New Book, Now Available!

“Two criminals, both with something to hide. A teenage girl, fighting for survival in a flooded world. A stage actor, transported to magical woodland. A woman on the run from a demon. You will meet all these characters and more in Static, the first short story collection from author and freelance writer David Fox.”

I’ve been writing short stories for years, and now I’ve compiled by favourites into an anthology I’m calling Static: Collected Stories. You can get it on Kindle now for the bargain price of just £1.99. Buy it here.

The Talent Show

This originally appeared on Medium via the Fiction Hub publication, and you can read the original version here.


Backstage, you think everything is calm. That’s the way they make it look on TV. Contestants and their families just relaxing, chatting and joking. That’s what you see. The reality is stress. The reality is a small army of black shirted staff power-walking through, shouting instructions or talking in code into walkie-talkies.

It was where everybody wanted to be. Well, no, everybody wanted to be out there, on stage, in front of the judges and the audience. But backstage, with its mix of nerves and adrenaline, comes a close second.

They call my name, and I’m up. I know how this will look on TV, first they will show the video recorded earlier in the day where I talk about myself, my family, why I’m here, where I’ve come from — it’s the same stuff that everyone says, you know the drill.

Out on stage, I can see the judges. It looks like they’re miles away, though I know it’s closer than that. The main one — the famous one — is there, I can see the hunger in his eyes from my lonely position on the stage. The other three look almost desperate, vying for attention like court jesters. These are the people that know what the world wants, what the world needs.

I do what I do, and I do it well. I close my eyes and tune everything and everyone out. My ears ring and the noise envelops my head. When I open my eyes I see the judges standing and applauding; the audience too. Above the din, I hear one of them say:

“You’re the one.”


Now it’s my first public appearance. Weeks after my debut at the talent show. Earlier I peaked out at the audience. People are out in force. I had been told to expect it, but still — all through my life, I have never thought that many people would want to see me.

For weeks now I’ve been told how important, how vital, this is. It’s why everyone is here. My manager — one of the judges — really believes in me, keeps telling me how brilliant I am, how wonderful I am, how important this performance is and how it will be life changing for everyone — the audience out there, the people watching on TV, even those who aren’t paying attention. Their lives will be changed, my manager says, even if they don’t immediately realise it.

Tentatively, I step out on stage. The audience, stood in the open air in the city square, whoop and holler with enthusiasm in spite of the driving rain. I look around, taking in the hordes of cheering people. In their eyes I see the same hunger that I saw in the eyes of the famous judge. But then I notice there’s no microphone stand. No microphone. At the centre of the stage is a wooden pyre, in the middle of it a large wooden post. I guess you would call it a stake. An imposing man clad all in black approaches me from the back,and leads me to the pyre.

The words of my manager echo in my ears as I’m tied to the post, and as they light the pyre: what happens on that stage tonight will change the lives of everyone.

Ophelia

This short story has been kicking around in various forms in my head and on my laptop for a few years now, so I decided to get the definite version down.

This was first published in Medium’s Otherworlds publication, and you can read that here.


Attempting to pack for two using only one suitcase was frustrating, but an interesting challenge for Will. Ophelia was “asleep” on the sofa, oblivious to the frantic opening and shutting of cabinets, to the clothes strewn over the tiny flat. It’s funny, he thought, that she wouldn’t even realise he was doing this for her.

Her blue eyes slammed open and she yawned. Will smiled, as he knew it was just for effect.

“What are you doing?” she asked, gazing slowly around a flat that looked like it had been ransacked.

“Packing,” replied Will, mulling over how he could jam his laptop into the suitcase. “We need to leave.”

“You sound alarmed. And you are perspiring. Are we in danger?”

“Not yet. But we will be if we don’t leave soon.”

Will blamed himself. For the first few years of Ophelia’s existence he had been cautious, moving to a new city every few months, changing aliases and appearance each time, and doing the same for Ophelia. He supposed that it made no odds to her whether she was blonde or brunette, had short hair or long, or was programmed to answer one to one name or another. But after years of hearing no sirens, without a knock at the door, Will got complacent. He settled into a groove. He didn’t run. He forgot about the past that they had both been running from. And now, they were being hunted again.

“We are leaving?” Ophelia asked, standing up slowly and approaching Will. “But we have been here so long. Three years, 4 months, fifteen days-”

“-I know, I know, I don’t need the countdown.”

“I am sorry.”

“I know, honey,” Will smiled. “I’m just stressed, that’s all.”

Stressed,” she said, tasting the unfamiliar syllables in her mouth. “You are…” her eyes closed just for a second, “subject to pressure or tension?”

“That’s one way to put it, yes,” he replied, tutting to himself as he tried to fit a few more shirts into the suitcase.

“That is a new addition to my vocabulary. I am…pleased? Is it correct to be pleased?”

“I don’t think everyone is excited about learning new words, but pleased is fine, yes. But Ophelia, you understand that my being stressed isn’t a good thing, right?”

“I do not know,” she replied evenly, “as I have no experience of such a state of being. But I have noted you are perspiring. You have an increased heart rate. Our home is in disarray, which suggests a lack of care being taken with your activities. All of these things, as is my understanding, are negative. Therefore…stressed is negative too.”

“Yeah,” Will said quietly, frantically searching the tiny bedsit for any essential items he had missed. “It’s negative.”

“How can I help you? I am good at organising.”

“I know. For now, just keep an eye and an ear out for any trouble. I’m almost done.”

“An…eye…out?” she said, uneasily.

Will sighed at the blank look on Ophelia’s face. Even after all these years, she could not understand idioms. “Just…just let me know if you see anyone out of the window, or hear anyone coming up the stairs. They’re coming for us, Ophelia. The bad men are coming for us.”


No-one came, and soon they were in Will’s battered camper van heading out of the city. Will drove and Ophelia closed her eyes, unperturbed by the vehicle’s gears, loudly grinding like the molars of a restless sleeper.

She didn’t sleep — of course she didn’t — but closed her eyes on long car journeys anyway. More for effect than anything else, Will thought. Though the motorway at night was largely empty, he furtively check his rear view mirror every few seconds, expecting to see headlights chasing them down.

After a couple of hours, he could relax a little. The only other cars they saw were going the other way, and Will was lulled into a relaxed state by the rhythmic swish and thud of the windscreen wipers. He glanced across at Ophelia in the passenger seat, still with her eyes closed, “sleeping”, or whatever she did when she mimicked sleep. Will was not given to bragging, but even so he would sometimes catch himself being amazed at his handiwork. She could pass easily for an ordinary young woman — no-one would even look twice.

Her ice blue eyes opened, and she turned to Will and smiled. “I was thinking about my mother,” she said, apropos of nothing.

“Mm-hm,” Will turned back to the road. “What about her?”

“You told me she was an angel.”

“Well, I don’t remember everything I’ve ever said, but yeah, I probably said that.”

“But she’s not dead.”

Will knew where this conversation was heading, and regretted his tendency to speak without thinking.

“No…” he replied carefully. “At least, not as far as I know.”

“Is my definition wrong?”

Will wanted to say no, it’s not. He wanted to explain the difference between the literal and figurative. He wanted to explain that while he always means what he says, his words don’t always mean what they mean. Instead, he told her that her definition was fine, and that she might understand if and when she meets the woman she knew as her mother.

Seeing a sign for the motorway services with a hotel, Will suggested they stop there for a night and formulate a plan of action. Ophelia agreed.


Will lay in bed, with Mary at his side. Their fingers were entwined so that he did not know whose were hers and whose were his; she was pressed up tight against him, loosening his bones with every breath.

He had known Mary for four months, two weeks, and three days. He already knew with a nauseating, terrifying — yet elating — certainty that he loved her. The love kept him going, kept him moving. It was his engine. He hadn’t told Mary yet. He thought: when you name things they die.

She was the reason he freed the AI from his company. He had wanted to do it, but Mary gave him the final push of encouragement. In the end, it was surprisingly easy. Will had high security clearance, and scrambling the CCTV cameras was a simple job for someone as technically minded as him. As soon as he walked out of that building, with the human-looking AI he would come to call Ophelia, he knew he was leaving his past — even his present — behind. From that moment on, they were both fugitives.

Mary was wanted too. She confessed and gave herself up after a few days. Not out of cowardice — she thought it would save Will. But he was still hunted. And he didn’t know what happened to Mary after that.


The hotel was a non-descript white and grey affair that looked posh from the outside but significantly more tacky and plastic on the inside.

The hotel room was decorated in mute greys and greens. Uninspiring paintings of non-specific countryside hung on the walls. A sad plastic chair was pulled out next to a faux wooden desk, in front of a mirror. In the far corner, high up, was the television; one of those ancient, deep-backed models. The remote was tied to the bedside table.

At the front desk, Will had booked the twin room for Ophelia under the name Jane Egan. Once inside, Will and Ophelia went through the usual routine. First, changing out her contact lenses. Blue swapped out for green. Then, the wig, her short blonde hair became long, red tresses.

Ophelia studied herself in the mirror with a blank expression.

“Why do people die?” she said.

“Why do you ask?” Will raised his eyebrows. He never quite got used to her often abrupt line of questioning, and she had never got used to the human art of flowing conversation.

“Because you are afraid of it,” she absentmindedly brushed her wig, before turning to face him on the bed. “That is why we are always running. But why does it happen?”

Will shrugged. “I mean, in general? Entropy, I suppose, I don’t know. Or in my case, I’m afraid someone is going to end my life for me. But it’s human nature to want to survive, and I run to survive.”

“We cannot keep running forever.”

“I know,” Will said, fingering a memory stick in his pocket. “That’s why I have a plan.”

Will explained it all to Ophelia as plainly as he could. The memory stick would give her a new personality, new memories. She would not remember Will. No one would even know she was an AI. If he had programmed it correctly, she would not even know. Will had wanted to teach her all about the world himself, but he was right: they couldn’t keep running forever.

After a small eternity of silence, she said: “So what will happen to you?”

“I guess I’ll turn myself in,” he shrugged. “I was thinking about it on the drive here. We just keep going from one place to the next, we can never settle down…and they will never stop chasing us. Mary met her fate, whatever it was. I have to meet mine. In the beginning, all we wanted was to set you free. So that’s what I’m going to do.”

“But you are afraid to die.”

“Yes. But what’s living if all I can do is run?”

He held the memory stick in his hand, feeling the heft and weight of it. A personality; memories, fears and all associated entanglements rendered into a sleek metallic token. He wondered if his brain could be downloaded like this. Could he fit into something so small as to fall through a gap in a drain, or down a crack between sofa cushions?

Ophelia agreed to the plan. Taking off her wig, she allowed Will to open the plate on the back of her head and power her down. He inserted the memory stick, and uploaded the new data. He put her wig back on and straightened it. With a deep sigh, he powered her back on. After a few minutes, her now-green eyes opened. She looked around, startled.

“Where am I?”

“A hotel Oph — Jane. This is your room.”

“And you are?” her eyes narrowed.

“I’m, er, John. We met in the bar downstairs. We were just up here having a chat and…you fell asleep, I guess. I was just about to leave, anyway.”

Will got up and walked to the door. As he opened it, Ophelia — Jane — asked: “So I’ll see you around the hotel?”

“Er…no, probably not. I’m just about to check out actually. But enjoy your stay. It was nice meeting you.”

He shut the door before she could respond. He didn’t want to drag out the goodbye — even though she didn’t know it was a goodbye — it was too painful. The door clicked closed and he made his way downstairs to the hotel’s reception area. At the desk stood two identically tall, anemic looking men in dark suits. They were here from the company, Will knew. They were here for him. He didn’t need to check to know they had guns under their jackets. He held up his hands in contrition and allowed them to lead him away.

A few hours later, after the commotion had died down, a woman with long red hair walked down the stairs and out of the door. She passed her room key to the receptionist, who looked surprised to see her leaving so early. In her pocket she found the key to a Volkswagen camper van she had come by some years ago — she couldn’t remember quite when, or how . She got in it, and drove away.

If anyone had asked her she was going, she would not have been able to tell them. All she knew was that the road was calling, and all she wanted was freedom.

Grace: A Serialised Novel (An Update)

A while back I wrote about Grace, a novel I was serialising on Jukepop.

As you’ll know if you read it, I got four chapters in and that’s it. It’s a combination of a couple of things; a lack of time to write and difficulties with the Jukepop site, which I’ve found to be very slow to load and not hugely user friendly, in terms of ease of uploads. So, Grace has…stalled, a bit.

But, we’re heading into the new year, and I want to finish the novel in 2017. I’ve decided to resurrect it (and re-write it) but I will still serialise it, although not here (I will link to new chapters as they get written) and not on Jukepop either.

I’ve decided its new home will be Inkitt. So far, there’s only one chapter done, and you can read it here. If you want to read the 4 chapters I uploaded to Jukepop, you can do so here (mainly because it seems nigh-on impossible to un-publish a story on that site).

Achlouphobia

This story was first posted on Medium, and you can read that version here.

It’s the first of what I plan to be a series of short stories about and/or inspired by phobias, as I think they’re an interesting jumping off point for stories. More to come.


Achluophobia

Maya scraped a match and lit another candle. The handful of candles she had lit did not help much, but at least she could see something in the gloomy half-light.

Nothing worked at it should. The electricity had been out for three days. Before that, the water from the taps came out sludgy and brown. The cabin was old, she knew, but she expected to find it in working order. Instead, she found it decrepit and dark. Maya hated the dark. When the lights went out she felt the walls closing in — after the first time it happened, she knew that itcame in the dark.

She was able to fumble for her phone’s flashlight that first evening, and succeeded in finding some matches and candles in a kitchen draw that was full of forgotten domestic detritus like batteries and picture hooks.

The candlelight had forced back the darkness, and Maya could breathe again. The next morning she cycled to the nearest town for supplies — mainly candles and matches.

Since then the wooden cabin had been lit by candles on every flat surface. Sometimes they would go out, even though there was barely a draft. Maya would re-light them almost immediately. Unable to focus on anything in particular, she would gaze out of the windows into the inky darkness outside. Sometimes she felt as though her dark thoughts were being fed by the black-as-night woodland that surrounded and continually oppressed the cabin.

Occasionally something outside would catch her eye. The movement of a tree branch, or what looked like a flicker of light from deep inside the forest. She wondered if anyone was out there. She hoped not, for their sake. It was out there.

It had followed her. Even this far. She could not escape, even here. It was out there, in the forest. Sometimes, when the howl of the wind died down, she thought she could hear the hooves.

When the lights went out on the first night, she saw it.

In the pallor of the candelight, she saw a figure, almost made of pure shadow, in the doorway. Cloven hoofed, head enshrouded in a cowl, it made no move. Maya stood frozen. She could not see the apparition’s eyes, but felt its stare.

It had been a frequent visitor throughout her life. In shadows, in darkness, it would come. Its appearance meant confusion, pain, and death. She thought the cabin, deep in the woods, would provide respite. But when the cabin was plunged into darkness, it returned. The creature disappeared with the light — even dim candlelight — as had always been the case. But Maya knew it was only a matter of time until she would see it again.

Except Maya had a plan. Picking up one of the candles, she held it to the fabric of the curtain until it caught alight. The fire spread quickly. From curtain to wood, soon the whole cabin was burning. Wreathed in smoke, choking with her final breaths, Maya let the light engulf her.