My Last Love

He has long stopped seeing me, my last love. At first, when I would brush his cheek, he would shiver and swear I was there. And when I would call for him, he might turn. It has been too long now, and he is so sure that he is mad that he no longer hears the real me, though he still jumps at sounds and embraces the breeze. I suppose he should. The creak and draught from the broken window in the third floor guest room can be heard, felt, experienced, and I cannot.

There is a new person in the house today, a plain young woman with a serious brow that suggests experience beyond her years. She is to replace the last governess, who left. I am not sure what hand I had in that. I often watch my daughter Adaline in her room, but I did not think it troubled her last tutor. She said she was leaving to be married, and perhaps that is true. My husband is showing the new governess to her room now, and carries her case.

“It is simple, but I hope it is to your liking,” he says, gesturing her into the suite down the corridor from Adaline’s.

“Very much so,” the woman replies promptly. He sets down her case and leaves her to settle in, warning her before he goes not to disturb the third floor guest room. He does not tell her it is because he believes I reside there. Does not tell her that he used to keep the room empty so he could not be caught telling his woes to me, of his loneliness in this great empty house, and the friends he could not bear to visit because of how they remind him of me.

The governess flips open the lid of her case and begins to remove her dresses to the wardrobe, but then stops, shakily, her hands braced against the open trunk. She sobs too quietly to be heard outside the room, not even if my husband were still waiting by the door. But I am here, and so I hear.

I am not sure what is wrong, and not sure how to ask – but I cannot simply leave her like this. I extend a hand and hover it gently against her shoulder. I do not know if she feels it, but her quivering chest begins to still.

When she returns to unpacking her case I drift down the corridor to Adaline’s room. I kiss her on the forehead as she snores in her cot. She does not wake. It is already dark outside, and the child shall likely lie peacefully until morning. Though I do not sleep, I find myself falling into torpor when the majority of the house is in slumber. Sometimes I rest in my husband’s bed, sometimes another, sometimes the attic or the servants’ quarters. Sometimes, I rest in my tomb. Tonight, I decide, I shall rest beside my daughter. In my hazy, scattered state I can almost believe that I am merely, truly asleep, dozing in the armchair next to where she dreams.

#

The governess takes Adaline down to breakfast, and I follow. She is terse, but not unloving. Adaline is still wary of her, as she is of any new companion. My husband sternly guides the governess away from sitting in my old seat at the opposite end of the table.

“Miss Aitkin,” he calls her, “how is your room?”

She hesitates, and from the look on her face I think she is going to talk about what happened while she was opening her case, but her expression quickly changes. Whatever her sorrows and whatever she sensed of me, neither are for my husband’s consumption.

“There is plenty of storage,” she replies reassuringly.

I follow my husband until the clock strikes noon, when he will leave for town. Unable to stray too far from my tomb, I cannot follow him there. He is in a cheerful mood, and plays piano in the drawing room while I recline in an unused chair. He does not play music as frequently as he did when I first passed, and what he chooses to entertain himself with now is far less sombre. I sink back to the sound of spring melodies, the blissful tune drawing me into an almost restful state, as if I am being carried away in a breeze beat by beat. I snap back to alertness with the shut of the piano lid, and silence.

After he has left, I flit up to the schoolroom where Miss Aitkin is testing Adaline’s French with a chalk and slate. Adaline’s fingers rest on a neatly-drawn cat as she tries to recall le chat to her tongue. They pay no notice to me, as I suppose they shouldn’t. A young girl bonding with her new governess should not be distracted by shades and shapes in the wallpaper. But as I am about to leave them be, the governess looks up and catches my eye. All colour drains from her face.

#

Tonight, I find myself in the dream of another. I play the role of some spectre, and am in Adaline’s room, as before. My hair is lighter in this guise, my skin more tan than my own.

“Catherine,” the governess murmurs, kneeling and shaking on the floor.

I feel I should say something, but I find myself simply shaking my head.

#

Miss Aitkin is quieter than usual this morning, and tutors Adaline at the dining table rather than in the schoolroom. I am careful to stay out of sight as I watch her lessons, in case I should frighten Miss Aitkin again. My daughter has finally remembered le chat, and the governess smiles at her genuinely, though not without a distracted glaze in her eye. My husband does not notice, instead busying himself with his notebook.

Her sorrow does not lighten after lunch. I remove myself to the third floor guest room, this time to hide rather than to be needed. It is quite empty. It has a lamp, a shelf, and a bed, of course, but as it has not truly been a room for guests in years, it has been slowly emptied of its other contents; the books, the rugs, the toys borrowed to other parts of the house and never returned.

Not that these things are of use to me. When one cannot read a book or hold a cross-stitch, one becomes adept at living in one’s own head, and so when I am alone I pass my time absorbed in the imagined melodrama of a fictional medieval court. I am brought out only as I hear footsteps, then quiet voices, and look towards the door.

“That’s where father says mother lives,” I hear Adaline say faintly, before the footsteps pass and continue on along the corridor.

#

I can usually tell when someone is speaking about me, and much as I may sometimes wish otherwise my instinct is to be drawn towards them. I imagine I should have little purpose as a ghost were I to ignore those who think of me. As I sneak into the dining room, I catch the tail end of my husband recounting the story of my consumption, looking mournfully towards my vacant chair as he speaks to Miss Aitkin of still hearing my voice on occasion. It still pains him to speak of losing me, but it will never again burn with the rawness and hurt of a fresh wound. I do not let the governess see me as I slip out.

#

Though I have been trying not to disturb her further, I find myself entangled in the governess’ restless mind again tonight. This time, the blonde spectre is separate from myself, and pursues her. She runs to me for aid and I pull her close, but my black hair turns light before her eyes, and she screams, and screams, and wakes.

The governess is white-faced throughout breakfast. My husband asks if she was disturbed during the night, and she brushes him off with a terse smile and pleasant talk of the comfort of the mattress he has provided for her. Adaline asks of her also, as they go to her room, but Miss Aitkin shushes her, settling her for her nap. She turns to walk upstairs. I take myself to where I need to be.

I am in the armchair of the third floor room when she opens the door, and she looks straight to me. She appears relieved, almost, and crosses to sit on the bed. This is the closest I have been to her since that first day, and I can make out in better detail the point of her nose and the press of her thin, sensible lips.

“Who is Catherine?” I ask.

The governess’s gaze drops. “She was a scullery girl around my age at the first house I was employed at, until she passed of pneumonia in the winter.”

“You were close,” I say. It has been so long since I have been able to have a conversation that I struggle with where to put my eyes, where to focus.

The governess pauses. “Closer than friends,” she eventually replies.

“I understand.” I turn my head to find that she is studying me, and attempt to observe her in return. Her blouse is embroidered with flower-like details that trace and loop and twirl across her shoulder, and I follow them.

“As she was passing, I told her I wished she would never leave my side. And so she didn’t. Or at least, something which appeared to be her didn’t.”

I suppose her hair is lighter, and her skin more tan than mine. “And you thought I was that imitation of her, returned?” I suggest.

I break my gaze from her clothing, and settle on her face for long enough to catch her nodding.

“Yes. Though I gather you are someone else’s spectre.” Her water-blue eyes glisten with what I can only describe as longing.

“None but yours, today,” I reply, in a way I hope is pleasant. When I was alive, it would be a careful choice to unburden myself to a stranger such as Miss Aitkin. Now that I can scarcely be heard, any connection is one I must trust. She has already put her trust in me, after all, with all that she has shared. “My husband sees me less and less these days. I seem to no longer pain him this way, so I suppose it is for the best.”

“I see.” She places her palms together in her lap, fingers pointing to the floor. “Can you be touched?” she asks hesitantly.

“You are welcome to try,” I reply, holding out a hand. She rises slowly, then tentatively reaches out. She is not truly solid to me, as I must not be to her, but I feel a vague warmth as she probes with her fingertips where she likely feels a cold.

“It was you that was in my room the first night,” she says matter-of-factly.

I nod.

“Thank you for what you did,” she says, her hand lingering in mine. “It is good to be cared for.”

Before I can respond, her eyes dart away.

“Adaline will be waking soon.”

“Then go to her,” I reply. She looks back to me as she leaves, holding my gaze, then departs. I feel my hand where she touched it, now cold on cold, but the warmth in my chest lingers for a few minutes longer.

#

My husband takes Adaline into town in the morning. I expect Miss Aitkin to have gone with him, but I find her sitting at the breakfast table.

“Was that your seat?” she asks, nodding at the chair I stand behind. I nod in reply. She quietly returns to her porridge and book, and does not stir again until she has finished eating.

“Do you have plans for the day?” I ask her.

“I suppose not,” she replies.

“Would you like to visit my tomb?”

She looks at me warily, then nods.

“He said it has been two years,” she comments as we wind through the gardens. They were considered beautiful at one time, but I have been drawn along this path so many times that I barely notice them.

“Has it?” I have trouble telling a week from a month, which is perhaps a sign that it has indeed been that long. I can scarcely even remember my passing. I rested in bed for a while, and the next time I walked I was not alive.

My tomb lies within the family mausoleum, a squat cylinder with a domed roof, built of cool granite. I am drawn to hover by my body, and from my niche I watch the governess. She turns her head from side to side in wonder, examining the pillars and peering at the light filtering in through the twin windows; the stately, illuminated dance of dust motes and dandelion spores.

“It’s beautiful,” she says as she joins me, and glances down at my coffin.

“You look at lot like yourself,” she adds, gesturing at the miniature; a circular profile of myself built into the lid as if it were a window. I am unsure if she is simply saying this to be polite. I feel more a vague blur than a person, most days.

“Was it Catherine you were upset over on your first night here?” I ask.

She nods. “It was hard to leave that place. Each time I thought things were changing, she returned to me in some way.”

“As in your dreams,” I note. She does not seem disturbed by this comment, merely accepts it with a dip of her head as she has all things concerning my existence.

“Perhaps it is as with yourself and your husband,” she replies, “and I was jumping at shadows by the end. Or perhaps not.” She pauses, and leans against the mausoleum wall. “The days we had together when she was alive, I shall never forget. But by the end, I feared her shade more than I loved it, and even that was beginning to wear. One can only fear so much before collapsing.”

Miss Aitkin looks up and meets my eye, smiling faintly. “With you here… Well, I do not believe a house can hold more than one spirit, especially if the second has never visited the place in question. I am remembering what it feels like to be comfortable.”

Her eyes travel further, to examine the inscriptions on the ceiling. I explain a little of my family tree to her, surprising myself with my memory of it, and she seems delighted to learn. It is only when we hear clattering hooves at the front gate that we decide it is time to leave. She leads me back down the path to the house at a gentle pace, and I force myself to see as her eyes do, to observe the freshly blooming wildflowers and admire the statues.

#

Miss Aitkin is teaching Adaline numbers this afternoon, and I am invited to lounge on the armchair in her room and observe. Sometimes, when I was alive, I would watch her like this, with some embroidery or a book in my lap, and she would look up to me with a smile when she wanted me to note a particularly clever answer.

While practicing her multiplication, Adaline knocks over a block that tumbles to my feet. I reach down as if I might hope to retrieve it, but my hand passes through. Adaline scurries to the foot of the armchair to take it back without a glance at me. I lower my eyes from them and gaze into the folds of my dress until Miss Aitkin sends Adaline to ask when my husband wishes them down for dinner. I hear pacing, and Miss Aitkin shutting the door.

“Does Adaline usually respond to you?” she asks.

My eyes remain lowered. Miss Aitkin does not prompt. She simply waits, her deft hands clearing away the clutter of the lesson.

I sigh as if I had lungs, as if putting off what I must say will hide it. “In truth, Adaline has never responded to me in a way that cannot be mistaken for some other distraction,” I eventually reply.

Miss Aitkin pauses her tidying, and moves to kneel at my feet. “She speaks of you with fondness,” she says firmly.

As thoughts come to my mind, I find myself sharing them. “I fear that perhaps she speaks of the idea of me rather than the person.” I pause, but Miss Aitkin’s bright eyes encourage me onwards. “She may even be too young to remember me. When I am near her, she simply looks to the window, or the chair, and I happen to be between her and the object of her gaze.”

Miss Aitkin takes only a moment to think. “Even if she cannot see you, I do not doubt that she still loves you, in the way the living do. As your husband does you, or I Catherine – with true warmth and care when they think of you, even if you are not present to them every day.” She takes hold of my palm again, and I move my second hand to cup hers in gratitude.

I do not wish Adaline to be forever chasing my shadow, but still I want to be with her, to speak with her and see her grow. I know why Miss Aitkin probes me. I cannot be a mother to this child any longer, and that I cannot bear. “Thank you,” I reply. “I—”

Adaline returns as I am about to continue, and I am comforted that Miss Aitkin does not throw my hand from hers in guilt. Instead, she lowers it carefully, and makes a motion as if to suggest that she is adjusting the chair. Adaline informs Miss Aitkin that her father would like them down in an hour, and Miss Aitkin smoothes the front of her pinafore and takes the opportunity to grill Adaline on her telling of the time. I slide through the wall, and know that even if Adaline does not see me, Miss Aitkin’s eyes follow me keenly. I retreat to the guest room, and my mind takes me away. Lady Veritus has come to court again, bringing scandal and intrigue…

#

It is dark when Miss Aitkin comes to me next. I did not notice the sun setting, or indeed perhaps the days passing. She is wearing an outfit I have not seen her in before, a rare blue dress among her greys, and brings the sound of spring melodies drifting through the door with her.

“I am glad you are here tonight,” she whispers, “though I cannot speak here long, lest your husband notice I have escaped the gathering in the drawing room.” She rubs her lips together, glances behind her, her face illuminated by the lamp she holds. “I wanted you to know that I care for you. Not as a memory, but as… a companion.” She meets my eyes briefly. “As if you were alive, or I were dead.”

Words do not spring to me, but I feel my way to producing a smile across my questionably visible mouth. She nods in acknowledgement and slips away into the corridor, the door batting shut in the draught.

In my loneliness I am as if asleep, and as if asleep I dream, and though the vision is mine it feels much less real than the dreams I have seen of Miss Aitkin’s. It is a pink and red dream, and in it I am sure I dream in senses, of real hands on my waist and the smell of the garden after the rain and the sharp, acid taste of lemon and ginger. When I stir, I know I must see her again.

I stumble through the corridors, not stopping and barely seeing until I find my hands upon a door and know that it is hers.

The governess sits on her bed, though she is now wearing a night-gown rather than her blue dress. She acknowledges me with a glance, and I set myself down next to her.

“Do you want me to tell you of how the gathering went?” she asks, releasing her hair from its pins.

“You don’t need to,” I reply. I feel as if I am shaking, as if I am coming apart. I must keep myself together with the concrete, with speech. “I came to see you, to thank you for visiting me earlier.”

“I’m glad,” she says simply, face flushing in gratitude. I feel the heady physical pull of the red dream, and avert my eyes from her. I am afraid she would think me like Catherine, another ghost that will not let her live. We are in silence, though I am not sure what kind, until I feel her warm hand turn my face and kiss me with all the vagaries of her mouth. I put my hands on her shoulders and feel her, more firm, more real, the warmth of her skin through her gown and the lavender scent of her perfume. I can be seen. I can be touched. I can be heard.

I am not sure if torpor takes me that night. In lying awake, or dreaming as if I am, I feel the scratchiness of the thick winter sheets, smell the once familiar mustiness of the house, can reach out with my cold hand and feel the expanding and contracting of Miss Aitkin’s lungs through her back. Only in the morning am I dead again.

#

Miss Aitkin is not there when I stir. I flit to the window and see her in the garden, playing with Adaline in the freshly cut grass. Smiling, I drift down the corridor, heading for the ground floor study, where as expected I find my husband sitting at his desk, spindly hands smudged with ink from letter-writing. I perch on the rickety chair by the bookcase and observe him as he works.

“I shall always love you,” I say, “in the way the dead do. With a love caught in my heart of you as you were when last I was alive. I have found my way to love another, and perhaps you shall too. But know that should you ever need me, I shall be here to listen.”

He pauses, scratches out a word then pulls another sheaf of paper to begin his letter anew. He does not respond, but in my heart I feel he understands.

#

I think I am in the garden again. Miss Aitkin is running with Adaline, and when she looks to me I feel like I am becoming a sunbeam, lovely and translucent. She sends Adaline to hide, and informs the girl that she will count to a hundred. As the child disappears into the wildflowers, Miss Aitkin draws me close. For a hundred beats.

“How do you feel?” she asks.

I realise I do not know.

“I feel…” I begin. I feel as I should not feel. I have found another love, and made my peace with my husband, but now all I feel is… a sickness.

“It’s a beautiful day,” I respond. “And I am here with you.”

She smiles acceptingly, and kisses my forehead as if it is real to her. I feel a faint clamminess, which I can only connect to her touch from seeing it.

“Seventy-six,” she announces.

“Seventy-seven, seventy-eight, seventy-nine,” I continue.

I know what that feeling is now. I have bid farewell to being a mother to my daughter, accepted that my husband will move on, and brought comfort and joy to the governess’ sad heart.

All my tasks are done.

There is no sorrow holding me here.

I am loose and free as the housebird, flitting through the garden trees without a flock.

#

I dream again, or perhaps experience a different kind of sense. To say I was in the darkness, hearing voices, would be to impose my imagination upon the experience. I simply am, and know that words are occurring. My husband wonders if there was some purpose he missed in my visits to him. The governess knows I am a good person. I am not sure if this is said aloud, if this is some conversation, or only their feelings, imaginary or otherwise. The words fade, and I am alone for some time.

#

I am in Miss Aitkin’s room, sitting on the bed, and snap awake as she enters, becoming aware that I have been waiting for her to return.

“I was beginning to worry I would not see you again,” she says, her hurt papered over with relief. “It has been weeks since I saw you last.

“I’m afraid it has only been hours for me.” I take her hands. “I am not as youngly dead as I used to be.”

“I miss you when you are gone,” Miss Aitkin says quietly, and in that moment I almost feel her again, a sorrowful warmth pressing into my palm. “But I am glad you returned today,” she says, her eyes raising and the pain passing. “It has been quite a week, and I could not imagine speaking of it with anyone else.”

I grip her as best I can, unsure how long I will be able to hold her. I take a deep pause, and try to assemble my voice in its coyest, warmest tone. “Oh, please share…”

I can scarcely pay attention as she speaks, saying something about Adaline and a party and the new cleaner. My hands shake in hers, fearing that each sentence will be her last, that some disturbance will take her from me and in doing so remove me from being needed here.

“…Are you alright?” she asks, words drawing me into solid shapes again. I watch the blush of her cheeks, the soft quivering of breath passing her lips.

“I feel faint,” I reply.

In her expression, I do see love, I do see some kind of need. But still I am slipping. Perhaps I have strained myself too much, being there for her in the way I have. Perhaps I just need to rest.

I close my eyes. In the grey, she reaches out, and repeats my name. Her tears are a lighthouse, drawing me back home. And I am anchored, for now.

Lady Veritus clings to her chambermaid’s hand as she dangles above the vast, empty ocean. Do not let me go, she asks, the storm whipping beneath her. The chambermaid swears that she won’t. They strain in pendulum until their hearts both accept – if she does not let go, they both will drown.


My Last Love was first published in 2016 in Thirty Years of Rain.

The Countess de Mar

The Countess drops her glass and grasps her throat as the poison tracks spidery lines through the veins on her face.

As you rise from the floor you see the Countess clutching her stomach, blood from the knife wound puckering between her fingers.

You are paralysed as the abysmal mist passes over the Countess, withering her hands to the bone, powdering her chalk-white face into dust.

The Countess de Mar will die on the 13th of February, 1899. It is marked on her calendar. Across the decade that you have been her lady in waiting, she has mentioned it a number of times.

“Yes, I have known since I was a little girl. A woman read it on my cards.” You remember her saying this while you combed out her hair one evening. She was not looking at you as you watched her red mouth in the mirror.

“A most unlucky day, particularly for me.” She said this upon finding out that February the 13th was the date of her brother-in-law’s birth. She has wondered on several occasions if this meant he was to be related to her death in some way, but eventually decided that no gentleman would be so brutish as to murder someone on his birthday.

“I just want to get out… today, of all days.” This is what she told you this morning, looking at you knowingly. You called around all the travel companies on her behalf, looking for something leaving before noon. There was a private cabin available on a steam train going north.

You unload her bags from the carriage and follow her, running your free hand along the gleaming green exterior of the train as you board. The porter is dressed in the little blue hat and jacket of a Great Northern Railway employee. He leads her to your cabin, and you trail after them.

With one foot on the leather seating, you sling the Countess’ bag onto the overhead rack. The luggage shelf collapses, and the bag falls and strikes the Countess’ head.

You store the luggage above your seat. She is looking out of the window, the sunlight bringing out bright whorls of purple on her crushed velvet dress. You braided and pinned her hair yourself, and now it sits in place behind her head like a wheel of licorice. She turns to you, her face warm.

“Daphne, could you fetch my book?”

You nod and drag the luggage back down. As you search for the book, the door opens and another smartly dressed Steward steps in, holding a green bottle and several glasses.

“Madam, some newlyweds have offered a glass of champagne to everyone else in the carriage. May I interest you in one?”

The Countess de Mar’s roulette wheel spins. In this life, you do not fix your mouth over hers, hoping to suck the poison from her system. Nor are the events to follow complicated by a perfectly ordinary glass of champagne rendering the Countess inebriated.

She nods towards the book in your hand. “I get quite the headache when I read while drinking,” she says.

“Very well, ma’am,” the man says, and withdraws from your cabin.

In the lives where she survives thus far, the Countess de Mar usually wins herself half an hour of blissful peace between the intrusion of the Steward and his reappearance to summon the pair of you to lunch in the dining car. She reads her book, and looks out of the window at the sunny countryside. You read yours, but mostly watch her until the time comes to leave paradise.

In some of her lives, the Countess de Mar is one of two siblings, and her death would make her sister the sole inheritor of the de Mar fortune. And in an unfortunately high number of his lives, the Countess de Mar’s brother-in-law is indeed brutal enough to murder someone on his birthday.

Sometimes, he attempts to do the dirty work himself, either by sending the Countess the poisoned wine or by stabbing her in the dining car. A handful of times, his brutality is matched only by his short-sightedness, and the man he has hired to kill the Countess misses the train. In this life, the Countess de Mar’s younger brother survives childhood, and nobody is waiting to attempt to or succeed at skewering her with a bread knife over lunch.

In this life, your misfortune instead crosses paths with the misfortune of Professor Robert Henry Ward, an archaeologist returning to the north with a mysterious crown he unearthed in the great bog near Kilmartin. In some lives, it is merely a crown. In others, the apparition possessing it is a run-of-the-mill ghoul. In this life, it is not.

The steward leads you to a seat in the middle of the dining car, with a good view of the window. You appear to pore over the menu meticulously. You are waiting for the Countess to order first, so that you can order the same. At around the time she decides to order the potato and leek soup, a thin white mist begins to emerge from the crown, creeping between the slats of the wooden crate housing it in the luggage car. At around the time the waiter delivers your order to the kitchen, it has reached third class.

By the time it reaches second class, the blue-uniformed staff are barricading the door to the luggage car. You watch them do it. A white-haired man sitting further down the carriage, unknown to you as Robert Henry Ward, stands to question them. As the waiter begins to bring your soup, the mist begins to seep through the doors. You put your hand on your lady’s arm and tell her to run. There is no life in which she doesn’t listen to you.

She runs for the far door, and you follow her. As you reach it, you turn to look. A wall of wisps shimmer forward, and the white-haired man cries out as he crumples to the floor. His gibbering disintegrates as the mist crosses his torso and into his lungs. His mouth hangs stiff in silent shock, and you know he will never scream again. Your heart sinks as you watch, shadowed by the feelings of other lives.

The lives where Professor Robert Henry Ward sat with the two of you in the dining car and you struck up a friendship – where he accompanied you on the rest of the day – where he witnessed the Countess’ deaths with you. The life where you made it all the way to Lossiemouth only to lose her on the pier, struck down by the Count’s man in the rain. The lives where, after the tragedy of the day, he took you on as his assistant and became like a father to you. In this life, he dies without you knowing his name, but your heart drags all the same until your fear blocks out all other feelings.

The driver’s car is already locked. There is nowhere further for you to take her. Instead, you duck into one of the first class cabins and lock the door. The Countess seems oddly calm. You shove luggage against the gap under the door, hoping that will slow it down. You go to the window and try to open it, but it’s bolted shut.

The mist creeps into the booth, and you feel your limbs begin to seize as it drifts toward the pair of you, towards her.

But you will not allow it. You throw your stiff arm against the glass, beating it, beating it, spider-web cracks snaking out from where you strike. You will not allow it. She does not move, as the glass shatters. The mist is coming.

As you feel your legs begin to give out from under you, you push her out the window and watch her beautiful neck snap against the tracks.

As you feel your legs begin to give out from under you, you drag yourself half-through the fragmented portal.

“Take my hand,” you say. And she does. You jump together and roll across the dirt. Where her neck hit the metal at an angle, now strikes your head. For a moment, your world is colours and pain. As the fog clears, you see that she is already running. You stagger to your feet and run after her. As she hears your footsteps she turns in alarm, but slows as she realises it’s just you. Her face is white.

“I thought you…” she begins.

“Not quite,” you finish.

She takes your hand, and you carry on through the field. Hot, thick blood trickles from your nose. The tall grass comes up to your waist, and your skirt snags and releases, snags and releases as you run. Before you, the grass gives way to rows and rows of blueberry plants just as tall but with space apart for you to run through. The Countess leads you on. You hear a distant call, but can’t make it out. Then a bang.

In the lives where she survives until the end of the day, the Countess de Mar dies of heart failure at one minute to midnight, precisely. Here is where she dies today. James Donaldson, a farmer, has been losing whole plants to thieving youths from the surrounding villages for weeks. Today, he has decided he will not tolerate any more trespassers.

The Countess de Mar’s shoulder explodes in vibrant red, spattering the green leaves, the blueberries, her purple crushed velvet dress. She falls to her knees, frantic but lucid, screeching like an animal.

You try to crawl across the floor to her, but the hired thug knocks you away with a backhand.

You hold a handful of her dust in your fingers as the ends of your body start to feel cold and vague.

Strikes her head, killing her instantly.

The train carries on, leaving her broken body lying on the rails, alone.

You crawl to her and take her hand, as a shot intended for you misses. You hold her head, and meet her tearful eyes. Your vision is beginning to swirl, and her black hair has fallen from where it is pinned, cascading over her sticky wound.

She will die a thousand times in a thousand lives today.

In this one, you will get to tell her that you love her.


The Countess de Mar was first published in 2016 in Temporal Discombobulations, an anthology produced for the University of Surrey’s Time and the Gothic conference. It was later reprinted in Volume 7.4 of LampLight magazine.

Watch me reading Countess de Mar at Romancing the Gothic.

2020 Publication Roundup

It’s finally almost the end of 2020 – here’s what I’ve published this year and where you can find it.

My first publication of the year was in Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology from Nyx Publishing. I was very happy to be a part of this anthology, and had a lot of fun meeting queer lit lovers at book groups and through doing the blog tour.

My story in this anthology is Lady of Letters, a mid-2000s twist on the epistolary gothic in which a teenage girl begins to receive mysterious messages after creating a fake MySpace profile.

You can pick up a copy of Unspeakable from Nyx Publishing – and while you’re there you can have a look at the amazing queer novellas they’re publishing next year.

My next publication was in Flotation Device, a COVID-19 charity anthology put together by the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle. At the time of writing, the anthology had managed to raise £500 to split between Simon Community, The Trussel Trust and Doctors Without Borders. The anthology is available directly from the editor to avoid giving Amazon a cut of the donations.

My story in this one is Amaranth, a story about a Sailor Moon-style magical girl who tries to solve her depression by staying transformed.

And finally, I had a story released in the Kickstarter-backed Moonlight, an anthology of queer werewolf stories.

My story in this one is a short piece of slice-of-life titled Lesbian Werewolf Goes To IKEA, which is about exactly what you would expect.

At the time of writing, this anthology is only available to people who backed the original Kickstarter – I will update this page if that changes.

It’s been a surprisingly productive year for me publication-wise, even if circumstances mean that I’ve not produced as much new writing as I did last year. If you’re reading this, I wish you all the best in your own endeavours into 2021.

Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology

I’m happy to share that Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology has now been published. I’m really excited to be a part of this anthology of eighteen gothic stories by queer creators.

A copy of Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology. The cover is a drawing of a skull wearing a crown of flowers against a rainbow background.
Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology, cover art by Jenni Coutts and Charlie Bramald.

My own story in the anthology is Lady of Letters; or, the Twenty-First Century Homunculus, the title being a riff on the original publication title of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. I’d been toying with the idea of a story about instant messaging and early social media for a while, but it wasn’t until I saw the call for submissions for this anthology that everything clicked into place.

If you’d like to read a story about having MSN arguments with your terrible online boyfriend and fake MySpace profiles with a mind of their own, as well as seventeen other stories, you can order Unspeakable: A Queer Gothic Anthology in print or as an e-book at the Nyx Publishing website.

2019 Publication Roundup

It’s the last month of 2019 – here’s what I’ve published this year and where you can find it.

A copy of We Were Always Here. The cover is in pink leopard print.

My first publication of the year was Projector, a story about queer cinema that appeared in We Were Always Here: A Queer Words Anthology from 404 Ink.

We Were Always Here is the largest publication I’ve been involved in to date – I had a great time being involved in talks and launch events for it around Glasgow, and seeing it stocked in local libraries and queer bookshops.

You can find We Were Always Here at 404 Ink’s website here.

A copy of an issue of LampLight Magazine. The cover is a black-and-white photograph of an electric street lamp.

Over the summer, I had a reprint of Countess de Mar, a queer gothic time loop story, featured in LampLight Volume 7, Issue 4.

Countess was my first professional sale back in 2016, and the anthology it was featured in is now out of print, so I was excited to see it reach more readers.

You can find LampLight Volume 7, Issue 4 here.

Lastly, if you’re a British Fantasy Society member, you’ll find my story Greenwoman, about a woman who wants to be a plant, in the December issue of members magazine BFS Horizons.

This was also the year when I started running Glasgow Fanfiction Open Mic Nights, which have been a great experience in reuniting me with writing purely for fun. If you’re reading this and would like to set up a similar event near you, I’m happy to answer questions and give advice on what I’ve learned so far, so please feel free to get in touch on Twitter or through the contact form on my homepage.

I’m proud of all of the work I’ve had printed this year, and I’m looking forward to what 2020 will bring – the start of the year will already be bringing the queer werewolf anthology I’ve been involved with for a few years, and I have one other anthology feature that I’ll be announcing once everything is signed off. You can check back here, or on my social media (in between all of the shitposts and pictures of cows) for more details.

Fantasycon 2019 Roundup

It’s been a couple of days since Fantasycon 2019 came to a close, so “while I’m recovering from con crud” seemed like the best time to reflect on the weekend! I had an excellent time hanging out with old writing pals, and meeting new ones.

A black-and-white photo of four people sitting behind a table.
Shona Kinsella, Allen Stroud, Heather Valentine and David Tallerman discuss Scotland on Screen

This weekend was the first time I’ve been on panels at a writing convention, and it was a great experience – thank you to my fellow panellists and open mic readers, and to everyone who popped in to one of the panels or the fanfiction open mic night. It was lovely to present for such knowledgeable, engaged audiences and I hope you came away with something interesting to think about.

Four books lying in a square.
Jack of Thorns by A.K. Faulkner, Resurrection Men by David Craig, The Trans Space Octopus Congregation by Bogi Takács, and The Forgotten and The Fantastical 5, edited by Teika Bellamy.

Fantasycon is, obviously, about books, so I picked up some small press offerings from the dealer’s room. Faulkner was (a) incredibly fun at Friday night karaoke and (b) writing queer X-Men style fantasy adventures, and Resurrection Men came about after I complained, in the Scotland on Screen panel, that speculative representations of Scotland often gloss over its involvement in colonialism, and I was afterwards recommended Craig’s book as a piece of grimy Scottish Victoriana. I’d already had my eyes on The Trans Space Octopus Congregation from reading Takács’ non-fiction work, so I’m excited to crack open their fiction collection, and I was intrigued by Teika Bellamy’s fairytale collections after seeing her speak at a panel on running a small press.

I was also fortunate enough to get a seat at the British Fantasy Awards – congratulations to all of the shortlisted and winners, but particularly to Ruth EJ Booth for her nonfiction win – Ruth is a keenly supportive and talented figure in the Glasgow speculative fiction writing scene, and it’s lovely to see her receive recognition for her essays in Shoreline of Infinity.

FantasyCon 2019 Programming

The programme for FantasyCon Glasgow 2019 has gone live! I will be appearing on a few panels and running an open mic, so please drop in and see me if you’ll be around! I will be at:

  • Scotland on Screen, Friday 7pm
  • Alien: 40 Years Later, Saturday 2pm
  • Fanfic to Profic, Saturday 6pm
  • FantasyCon Fanfic Open Mic Night, Saturday 7pm

The full programme for all three days can be found below:

The logo for the British Fantasy Society, which consists of the letters "BFS" surrounded by a stylised dragon

https://www.fantasycon.org/programming/

Moonlight Anthology Kickstarter goes live

The Kickstarter for Moonlight: A Queer Werewolf Anthology has gone live! The comic + short story anthology is projected for a January 2020 release, and includes my slice-of-life story, “Lesbian Werewolf Goes to IKEA”, which is about… a lesbian werewolf going to IKEA, surprisingly enough.

Check out full details of all the amazing artists involved, and consider backing us, here:

The logo for "Moonlight: A Queer Werewolf Anthology", which features a pack of wolves howling in front of a rainbow

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mckayandgray/moonlight-a-queer-werewolf-anthology