Ernest – Chapter One

It’s fun to share the first chapter of a book around. It’s a nice way of getting to know whether the writing style is working, whether the initial few pages are enticing, and most importantly- whether people want to read more.
I’d probably even upload a whole book on here a chapter at a time if it got noticed, so if you do stumble across this and want to read more- spread the word!

Back to Ernest though. I came up with the idea for this story and almost all the major twists and turns in a bizarre twenty minutes, one where all I could think of was this one idea. This was that first chapter I wrote just after that, although it’s been amended a little since then. The book is currently 20,000 words in and I’m currently in the middle of a little writer’s block with chapter 11- hence the procrastination here.

Nothing has been edited yet, so mistakes are bound to be found. This is just a first draft after all. If you do read this, do comment and let me know what you think. Maybe even direct others to it- I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on it. 

1.      Emily and Ernest

 

‘There’s nothing wrong with having an imaginary friend’ Emily’s mother used to say to her, whenever she would tell her of the strange encounters she had as a child. Mary never used to believe her daughter when she told her of Ernest. She pretended she did of course, as any parent would with a child of such a young age, but she assumed that he would stop paying her visits the older she got. He did, for a while at least. Ernest didn’t always behave in the way that imaginary friends tended to from time to time. As a rule, they are normally there to play games and keep a child company whenever they are feeling lonely. According to Emily, he wouldn’t usually do those things. He mostly sat there staring at her and avoided attempts she made to interact with him. She didn’t mind though. It was a nice to have a friend that visited lots. But other times, Emily would tell her mother of moments with him that left her feeling afraid. There were moments when she would feel as though there was something off about him; times when he didn’t seem to be the friend she wanted him to be.

A particularly bad experience came one cold December night. Emily was around eight-years-old at the time and had been having trouble sleeping thanks to a nasty cold. She recalled struggling to get to sleep and seeing Ernest standing at the foot of her bed. He always wore the same thing; a large hat, a double-breasted waist coat with a large coat that almost stretched down to his feet. He was a tall man and very thin. His face was long and gaunt with bushy eye brows standing out prominently. He had looked angry to her for some time by that point, but Emily just assumed he was grumpy. She would often tell him to cheer up. He never did.

‘You’re not supposed to be here at night’ she said to him. It was her one rule. She didn’t mind him showing up to play during the day but at night time, when he could scare her, that was a different matter altogether. He didn’t reply, but then he never said anything. He would sometimes gesture or try to mouth words- but she was never able to hear him; at least at first. This time he raised a finger to his mouth, gesturing at her to be quiet. Her drawers, to the left of her bed, opened violently just after he appeared- her clothes spilling out onto the floor. Emily still to this day remembers the fright it gave her. She didn’t scream out for help on that occasion. Instead, she chose to hide under her bed covers until he left. Eventually, she peered out to see if he was there- he was gone. In the morning, Mary came in and gave her a telling off for how messy her room was. Her explanation that it was Ernest didn’t work and she was forced to clean it all up before she was allowed breakfast. She hated Ernest that day.

Moments like this continued to happen until she was ten; albeit sporadically. It seemed that the older Emily was getting, the less she would see Ernest during the day. But his night time visits still occurred at least once every few months. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if he she had seen him. She would catch a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of what looked like his shadow quickly walking past her. It was the shape of the hat that made her think it was him; it was so distinguishable. There was never any warning as to when he might appear- it just happened unexpectedly. She began to become frightened of the man that she had for so long considered to be a friend. There was a week, another time she was ill, where he let her know he was there ever single night. A couple of the nights he would appear once again at the end of her bed and she would hide until he left. But two nights in particular proved to be terrifying for her. The first, just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she felt his hand brush against her cheek. She remembered the moment so vividly. She had never been able to touch him before and he had never shown he could touch her. This was the first time and it’s something she was never able to forget long into adulthood; even if she would never speak of it to anyone. The main thing she recalled was how cold his hand felt against her fevered skin. It sent a shiver straight through her body and she immediately jumped out of bed and ran into her mum’s room. As she ran out of her room, she didn’t look back; but she could feel that he was following her. It was as if he was trying to tell her that she couldn’t run from him.

Emily’s father had died when she was just five. It was a car accident that wasn’t anybody’s fault. He just lost control of the car; a freak accident. Mary had assumed that his death was the reason Emily had conjured up Ernest. It was around that time he was first mentioned. She had kept him around for far longer than most children ever do. What was also strange was that Ernest never changed. Children tend to cycle through different personas for these friends as the years go on but with Emily, it was always the same person. It made sense to Mary though. Emily having a consistent male in her life was logical, even if he was fictitious. In the past, she had often tried to help her daughter by pretending that she could see this man too. When Emily would be trying to get him to drink fake tea out of her fake tea set, she would actually try to engage in conversations with him. They were one sided of course.

‘He only speaks to me, you know that’ Emily would say. The whole thing seemed so innocent back then.

The final time Emily saw Ernest was also the worst. Whereas the previous night he had gently brushed her face- this time things turned a lot more violent. She was once again struggling to sleep, so she just lay on her back with her eyes closed- hoping that she would drift off. She often had trouble sleeping, but this was the most difficulty she had in quite some time. Every time she looked at the clock, she would get more and more frustrated. It seemed like time was running slower than it ever had done. That hour between 1am and 2am felt like three. The clock was just about to turn to mark the turning of the hour when she heard a noise; the creak of a floor board.

Being an old house, she and her mum often heard creaking when the other was walking about. Sometimes even when they weren’t they would still hear it; albeit much more softly. This was most certainly the sound of a creak that had been caused by someone walking. Emily slowly opened her eyes after hearing it, afraid of what she might see. She scanned the room- there was nobody there. She nervously tried to sleep again, the thought of that sound running around in her head. Then she heard the voice. It was a whisper and it sounded like it was coming from right in front of her. All it said was ‘Emily.’ Even at a whisper, she could tell that this was the voice of a well-spoken male. It was slightly gruff, as if he had a sore throat. She kept her eyes firmly closed for a moment, opening them was a difficult thing for her to muster the courage to do. When she eventually did, she saw Ernest’s face staring down at her. It was so close that his nose was almost touching hers. He was smiling the most menacing smile she had ever seen.

He had always looked a bit off colour to her, but this close up she could tell how pale and grey his skin was. She even felt his ice-cold breath blowing down onto her. As she screamed out for her mum, he grabbed her by the throat and pinned her to the bed so she was unable to move. She was also unable to scream anymore. Thankfully, Mary had heard her and came running in. When she burst through the door, she just saw Emily alone, laying on the bed looking terrified. She had never seen her so hysterical and she barely stopped crying for the rest of the night. She even had a red mark around her throat, right where she said Ernest had grabbed her. He didn’t appear to her again. At least not until she was much older.

The incident that night caused Mary to seek help. She should have done it sooner, but she kept hoping her daughter would grow out of the problems. This was something she couldn’t avoid though and so she booked them both an appointment with a child psychologist to see if there was anything that could be done. She was told that having an imaginary friend whilst at her age was rare in general, but it had been known with children who had experienced trauma. Losing a parent at such a young age certainly counted as trauma.

As for the marks on her neck, this was thought to be something she had just done to herself; a cry for attention perhaps. This is what Mary chose to believe. In fact, over time, Emily herself would come to think the same thing. It’s easy as the years go by to forget how scary something was. You can even end up believing that nothing ever happened at all. In fact, whenever conversations began amongst friends about childhood, she would always recount the story of Ernest. She would say that he was a recurring nightmare that she had, someone who used to appear to her in dreams. That was what her mum would tell her. According to her, this man was never real and it was just her over active imagination that created him in the first place. He didn’t seem so scary to Emily once she started believing that. There were still things she couldn’t explain though. The marks around her neck that night being the most problematic for her to rationalise. It was easier for her to just never mention it.

After that night, she slept in the same room as Mary for a while; far too scared to be on her own. Mary too was insistent that this became the sleeping arrangement for a while. She was deeply concerned about her daughter and a little unnerved by the whole thing herself. This continued for a couple of weeks before Emily made the decision to go back to her own room. That first night was certainly tense for her. Every little sound she heard made her jump. Whether it was the wind outside, somebody shutting their car door loudly or even something as common as her mum getting up to use the toilet in the night- these noises would unnerve her more than she would like to admit. What were just common noises to most became something altogether different for this young girl.

But this was a long time ago. Emily’s life went a lot smoother in the years that followed. She left school with respectable grades and went to university. She ended up doing well there too. It landed her the job in journalism that she had always wanted and on the whole, she didn’t really have much to complain about. She was so different from that girl with the imaginary friend now. She may still have that same shoulder length mousy brown hair, but she was now at a point in her life where she was happy. Her life was exactly where she wanted it to be. She was planning a wedding with her fiancé Robert and they were discussing children. She was also doing better than she ever thought she could at her job. As far as she was concerned, things couldn’t get any better. She was right. A figure from her childhood was about to make a return.

Living With Someone Training for the London Marathon

Living With Someone in Training

I know, I know. I’m not the one going through the hardship here. But still, there’s certain things you need to be prepared for if your other half decides to do something ridiculous- like run the London marathon for example. Mel’s doing a ton of training and I’m incredibly proud of her- but there’s things that you’ll face as the partner of a trainee that I for one wasn’t expecting.

The training

Ok, so I was aware that running 26.2 miles would involve some training. I think if it were me I’d need.. actually no, I’d never do it. But yeah, a lot of training is involved. Some of it very early. Training for something like this can’t just be done on a weekend, it has to be done before or after work too. Mel mixes this up. So some evenings I don’t get to see her if she’s doing a run or having a PT session. This isn’t too bad. I write a lot and evenings are normally when I’m able to be at my most creative. The 05:45 alarm clock that goes off a couple of times a week though- not so fun. Sure, some people get up at that time every day. This household is not one where people like that live. But basically, just be prepared to see much less of them whilst the training is going on. Be supportive about it and think ahead to the day the marathon is done when you’ll get them back again. And if you do start to get annoyed, just sit back and think “at least I’m not out running in this weather”; it really helps.

mel cox

The, erm, well the farting

I remember when I was about 18 or so and I was in a relationship with someone whos sister used to do a lot of running. My girlfriend at the time told me how bad her sister smelt when she farted as a result of the excercise she was doing and the food she was eating as part of her diet. I recall thinking “at least I don’t have to deal with that”. Fast forward far too many years and now I’m dealing with that. This likely won’t be a problem that every marathon runner’s other half faces but in my case, I’m dealing with farts that make me jump at least three times a night. It’s barbaric. I was watching an action movie earlier today and I heard it over the TV-she was two rooms away. She was never like this before (mostly) and it started not long after her training began so I can only hope and pray that the two are linked. Basically, just grin and bare it. Leave the room if it gets too bad. I had to at 2am not too long ago. I’m hoping this side effect diminshes farly quickly after the marathon is complete.

The Food

This will likely only have an impact on you if you share meals. Mel is now on a diet that even a rabbit would turn its nose up at. OK, it’s not quite that bad, but when you love steak and one of your friends on Instagram sends you daily pictures of some of the best food I’ve ever seen, well it become tiresome. You can handle this in a number of ways. You can cook your own stuff, although as I pointed out, the cooking time for meals would double (I mostly do the cooking) and the cost of food would jump up. If you’re fine with that, then you have no problem. I’m not fine with that, so yesterday I had a fish cake and some sweet potato mash. I was left with a feeling that I hadn’t really eaten anything. But, I also look at it as a chance to be healthier myself. With a wedding getting ever closer, it is a good time to lose some weight and at least I don’t have to go run x amount of miles before or after it. Whatever you do though, don’t complain about the meals. From personal experience, this can lead to a dramatic storm out of the room and complaints that you aren’t being supportive. Again, grin and bare it while trying to see the positives. You’re still putting in far less effort on a day to day basis than they are.

mel cox

There’s other things you’ll have to deal with. They’ll be tired a lot more so, certain activities, not be quite as enthusiastic as they once were. You’ll have to help with various fundraising events which can actually be fun, and you’ll have to be on hand to assure them that they won’t fail miserably. On average this is once a day, sometimes more. Oh and don’t forget to sponsor them- that’s definitely one way to get in the bad books. Speaking of which, here’s a link to her fundraising page if you have a little to spare. She’d appreciate it!

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/melcoxmarathon

But really, you don’t have to do too much more other than being there for them when they need someone to be supportive and reassuring. I can’t even imagine running to catch a train on time, let alone running a bloody marathon. With Mel, I’ve seen how much effort she’s putting into this and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Of course, he bodily functions of late have also made me a little scared of her, but above all else I can’t wait to see her complete it and get her  medal at the end; she will 100 deserve it.

Thanks Matt Damon

Bad Film Day

Don’t you hate it when you line up two movies to watch, you think they’ll both be great, but they both turn out to be duds? Well that happened to me today, and both starred Matt Damon so he’s teh target of my ire.

Downsizing

The real shame is, both Downsizing and Suburbicon could have been great films- particularly the former. What should have been a fun look at what happens when humans shrink down and restart life in new colonies, instead turned into a dull form of social commentary. To be honest, the actual downsizing part of downsizing was largely irrelevant. It was used as a gimmick to kick start the story, but really that was as far as it went. The whole concept wasn’t explored in any way that was entertaining or exciting; it needn’t have been there. What was left was largely uneventful too. This was a really tedious watch which, given the strength of the trailer, is a real shame.

downsizing

Suburbicon

Then there was Suburbicon. I’ll just post my mini review I posted on Smashbomb for this:

Despite a promising and fun fist couple of minutes, it quickly becomes clear that Suburbicon is both a missed opportunity and a jumbled attempt at constructing a story.

On the one hand, we have a black family moving into the area and being subjected to abuse and extreme prejudice, and on the other, a family hiding a dirty secret about a home invasion that led to the death of the mother. The problem is, neither of these plots is given the right amount of attention. The racial story is by far the most interesting here, yet it’s relegated to a side plot and, with the exception of the young boy, none of the family get a chance to develop into actual characters. Then you have the murder story which takes up the bulk of the running time, but it’s neither fresh nor original- it’s actually rather dull.

suburbicon review

Despite being beautifully shot and occasionally amusing (Matt Damon on a kid’s bike), Suburbicon ends up being a bit of a slog. It’s a mish mash of ideas and tones that don’t come close to forming a coherent story. There’s decent performances to be found, but beyond that- don’t expect much.

Speaking of Smashbomb, I don’t know how long it’s been going or how much of a chance it has at becoming a success- but I like it! You can review almost anything there, TV, book, game, film wise and the people there I’ve interacted with seem nice and friendly. I haven’t yet come across a single troll. It’s like a social media for entertainment lovers, so it’s a nice place to go where you don’t have to keep hearing what stupid things Trump has said today. I’m fully aware this last part sounds like I’ve been sponsored to say nice things about Smashbomb- I haven’t. Take a look though if you like. https://smashbomb.com/ Come say hi if you do join up.

The Cottage at the Bottom of the Hill – Chapter One

The Cottage at the Bottom of the Hill

I’m unsure what to do with my second book, The Cottage at the Bottom of the Hill. My first book, Forces, has been self published but with this one, I really feel like it’s a story I should hold onto until I finally have a breakthrough with an agent. Of course, there’s always a chance I’ll never find one and then the book will remain unread by anyone outside my friends and family, but positive thining and all that. At any rate, I thought I could at least publish the first chapter and here seems as good a place as any. If you stumble across it, let me know what you think.

1.      The New Kids in Town

The cottage at the bottom of the hill. To most people it was an abandoned building that had been left to rot, to crumble away and become nothing but a faint memory. To the children who lived in the small village of Greatchurch though; it was something else; it was whatever they wanted it to be. Nobody knew anything about the cottage or how long it had been there, but throughout the years, all the children who had grown up near it had made it whatever they thought would be the most exciting. Some said it was haunted while others speculated it was an old witch’s house. To others, it was simply somewhere to play where they could get up to the type of mischief that youngsters do. One boy, eleven-year old Martin, was about to find out that there was much more to this cottage than he could have ever have imagined. He had played there many times and in fact, it was his favourite place. But that was about to change, and it all started with the arrival of Sally and Ben Gibbs.

The two of them arrived with their parents towards the end of the spring. Ben knew all too well what time of year it was thanks to the hay fever he endures in the lead up to summer. Before they moved, he wasn’t able to go out and play. The pollen had such an effect on him that he was kept indoors as much as possible.  Normally that would be fine as he had many things to keep him amused at home, but this latest spring proved to be a difficult one for the whole Gibbs family.

Their parents, Jim and Clare, hadn’t meant to let the cat out of the bag, it was a simple slip of the tongue after one too many glasses of wine one evening. But once it was said, they couldn’t take it back. Sally would always know she was adopted.

cottage bottom hill

At eleven years of age, this was particularly hard to process. Not that it’s an easy thing to discover at any age. It would be fair to say that tensions in the Gibbs household were high and young Sally was in no mood to try and make things better. She immediately started looking at things differently, not least her twelve-year-old brother. She started to believe that Ben was starting to look at her differently too; no longer seeing a sister but just someone he lived with. This wasn’t what Ben was thinking, or at least he was trying not to think it. But he couldn’t hide away from the fact that he was struggling to get his head around the news almost as much as she was. They had both often wondered why they looked so different to each other. Sally was of average height with wavy dark brown hair, while Ben was a tall boy who’s naturally messy hair was a light blonde. Other siblings they knew had differences too, so they didn’t read too much into it- until recently at least.

Whilst Ben withdrew into himself a bit, Sally began to act out. She would throw tantrums if she didn’t get her own way. She would refuse to eat her dinner if it had anything even close to the colour of green on the plate. She also made a point of staying awake far past her bed time. But when she heard that her father had a new job and the whole family would be moving, she lost the will to kick up a fuss. All the worries she had about not being a part of the family anymore were added to by the fear she had about moving to a new area and starting a new school. Ben didn’t like their school much, so he was much more open to change than she was. And so, the Gibbs family packed up their things and left. For Sally, she was still trying to work out whether she was still a part of this family or not.

Sally hadn’t asked her parents why she was adopted or whether they knew anything about her biological parents. She made it clear she didn’t want to know and would never want them to tell her. Ben knew though. On the drive to Greatchurch, he asked them after noticing Sally had fallen asleep with her headphones in. They agreed to tell him, as long as he swore to them that he would never tell his sister unless she asked. He promised. He soon wished he hadn’t asked though. He knew that if Sally heard the story then she would feel better about herself and the whole situation, but a promise is a promise. Thankfully, the first few days in their new home found them all too busy to think too much about how he was going to keep this information to himself. The first distraction was who out of the two children would get the bigger room. Both had valid arguments as to why it should be them, but Sally won out.

‘It’s just because she’s adopted’ Ben said, much to the anger of Jim and Clare. If it hadn’t been for all the family drama of late, Ben would most likely have been grounded for a comment like that. They both pointed out to him that it was a nice gesture to allow his sister to take the room. He asked for a new Xbox game as a consolation present, which they reluctantly agreed to. Anything to keep the peace at this point.

Then there was exploring the neighbourhood. Greatchurch wasn’t the biggest of villages. There wasn’t a huge amount to do and it took Sally and Ben about half an hour of wandering around before they realised that.

‘It’s got one park and the only swing is broken’ Sally said to her parents in a huff as they returned home.

‘Well, why don’t you ring the council?’ Jim joked, too distracted by the ever-growing list of flat pack furniture that he needed to attempt to put together.

‘What’s the number?’ Sally asked, making her way to the phone. Clare was quick to take the receiver out of her hand and put it back down before she could even think about trying to find the right number to call.

‘Have you sorted your bedrooms out yet?’ Clare asked, disappointed that the peace and quiet they had with them out of the house didn’t last for longer than thirty-minutes.

‘Won’t take me long, it’s the size of a shoebox’ Ben said in a sulky fashion.

‘Well go help your sister then’ Jim replied, not in the mood for either one of his children to try sulking around him while he was so busy.

‘Nah’ Ben responded, ‘I’m going to go play in the back garden’. Ben took his shirt off and replaced it with his Crystal Palace football team one. He then picked up his football and went outside. He quickly realised he had nobody to play with, so he just started kicking the ball against the wall of the house again and again. He hoped he could be entertained by this for at least a few minutes. After two minutes, he was already growing restless. He was however quickly distracted by a voice from the other side of the fence.

‘You new here?’

Ben looked around to see if he could spot where this voice was coming from. He spotted a face peering over the fence, looking straight at him.

‘Yeah, just moved here’ Ben replied, unsure what to make of this stranger staring at him.

The boy took a big bite out of the chocolate bar he was holding and continued to talk, not really caring that his mouth was full.

‘My name’s Martin. What’s yours?’

‘Ben’.

‘Nice to meet you, Ben. Can I come and play?’

Ben was unsure. There was something odd about this boy that he thought may irritate him. But then he realised that he was going to have start making friends with the other kids sooner or later. ‘Sure. You going to climb over the fence?’

‘No’ Martin replied. ‘I’m not the best climber. I’ll just come around the front. See you in a minute.’

‘See you in a minute’ replied Ben.

A couple of seconds later, Ben heard Martin call for him. ‘You want me to bring you a chocolate bar?’ he yelled out.

‘No thanks.’

‘What about crisps?’

‘I’m fine for food.’ Ben was beginning to regret telling Martin he could come over. He already seemed to be one of those excitable children that he always struggled to get along with.

Ben then heard the knock at the front door and heard his confused mum invite Martin in. ‘Ben, you’ve got a visitor’ Clare said as she led this new face into the back garden.

‘Yeah, that’s Martin.’

‘How have you two had time to meet in the three minutes you’ve been out here?’ Clare asked.

‘I live next door… Ben’s mum.’ Martin answered for Ben, realising half way through his sentence that he didn’t know what to call her.  Clare told him that she much preferred being called Mrs Gibbs as opposed to “Ben’s mum.”

Martin wasn’t overweight, but he looked like he could end up that way if he kept on snacking. He obviously didn’t mind though. He already had another chocolate bar and two packets of prawn cocktail crisps in his pocket.

The two of them kicked the ball about and got to know each other. Whilst Ben continued to think they wouldn’t get on, they at least quickly discovered they had computer games in common. Although Martin was a PlayStation fan whereas Ben loved his Xbox. They did realise that at least they could go and play with each other’s consoles to see what they’ve been missing.

‘Hey, you wanna come play in the woods?’ Martin asked.

Ben had seen all he thought there was to offer with Greatchurch. The idea of some woods didn’t do a great deal to excite him. Martin was persistent though, telling him that his favourite place to play was down in those woods at the bottom of a hill. Ben agreed, if only because he got the feeling that Martin wouldn’t stop going on about it until he did.

Martin went back to his house to tell his mum where they were going, whilst Ben asked Clare if it was OK for him to go. It was, but she had a condition; he had to invite his sister.

‘Mum, that’s not fair’ Ben exclaimed, frustrated that he wasn’t allowed to hang out with his possible new friend without Sally tagging along.

‘Either you ask her to come, or you don’t go’ she replied. ‘There’s your choices. It’s up to you.’

Ben went to Sally’s room and asked her if she wanted to go in the least enthusiastic way ever. He was hoping that if he asked her and made it sound boring then she wouldn’t want to join them. It didn’t work. She quickly put her shoes on and the two of them went and sat on the curb waiting for Martin to join them.

‘Surprised you even wanted to come’ Ben said, making it clear he would rather she didn’t. ‘You don’t have to. You can stay at home if you want.’

Sally quite enjoyed the fact that Ben would rather she didn’t come. It made her want to go even more than she already did. ‘Surprised you wanted to go, what with your hay fever. You can stay home if you like?’

‘It’s mostly gone for the year. You know it’s only the middle of spring I get it’ he replied, annoyed that she was having so much fun trying to wind him up.

Thankfully, the tense sibling conversation was interrupted by Martin who walked past them, tossing two bags of crisps in their direction. ‘Come on then’ he said, eager to get to the hill and to show them his favourite place to hang out. He was so keen to go that he didn’t even stop to ask who Sally was. Instead, she introduced herself as they were walking.

It was about a ten-minute walk to the woods and about five minutes further to the hill; certainly not the quick few minutes that Martin had led them to believe. He used the time to tell them what they were going to see; the remains of an old building- a cottage.

‘Sometimes bigger kids hang out here’ he said. ‘But if they do, we’ll go somewhere else and come back when they’ve gone. They just smoke and things which is disgusting. It makes the place smell more than it does already. I also have to ring mum every twenty-minutes else she’ll get annoyed.’

‘Every twenty minutes?’ Sally asked. ‘That seems a bit much.’

‘Couple of kids went missing a while back’ Martin said. ‘She gets more worried than normal lately.’

It became apparent to Ben and Sally quite quickly that Martin wasn’t the smartest kid in the village. His use of the English language wasn’t always as good as it could have been and it took him a good couple of minutes to tie his shoelaces when they came undone. Still, despite being overly excited about almost everything, including a badger they walked past, he seemed like a nice boy. At least this would be one friend they had made.

Arriving at the top of the hill, they looked down and saw the cottage. It was as Martin had said; burnt out and just the shell of a building. Luckily for them, there didn’t seem to be any bigger kids hanging out around it today. It was surrounded by grass and trees and looked as if it didn’t belong there, as if it was left to rot whilst the world around it changed.

‘Come on’ said Martin, clumsily making his way down the hill and almost falling several times. Sally and Ben followed at a much slower rate. They didn’t see the excitement of an abandoned run-down building.

‘What do you do here?’ Sally asked.

‘I sometimes pretend it’s my hideout from zombies’ replied Martin, before adding that he was happy to pretend it’s whatever they wanted it to be.

‘I could pretend it’s an old building with nothing inside it?’ Ben asked, sarcastically.

‘Oh, use your imagination’ said Sally, willing to at least play along with Martin so they had something to do.

They made their way towards the cottage but as they did, things started to get very strange. A loud bell chime sounded, just once, echoing around the woodland. Only there was no bell around that they could see. Birds then came flying out of the trees, the noises from all the crickets and other wildlife stopped and there was an icy chill in the air that had no business being there in July.

‘Does this happen often?’ Ben asked, starting to get a little apprehensive.

‘No’ Martin replied, showing he was just as concerned.

Martin’s response unnerved both Sally and Ben. They hadn’t been able to get him to stay quiet the whole way there, yet now he was just giving a one-word response. The three of them stood there, staring at the cottage trying to work out whether they should go inside or do the sensible thing and return home.

Before they could make a decision, another bell sounded. It was much louder than the one they had heard before. They all jumped and turned around to see what was there. Only there was nothing. Martin told them that the nearest church was back in the centre of the village. All that surrounded them now was trees and grass.

‘Let’s get out of here’ Ben said.

‘Good plan’ Martin agreed, already starting to jog back towards the hill.

‘Wait!’ yelled Sally.

Ben and Martin looked at her and saw she was facing back towards the cottage. They too turned to see what she was staring at and both of them were astounded by what was there. It was still the cottage, but it wasn’t a burnt-out, run down shell anymore. This was a fully intact building. It had windows with curtains drawn, a light on inside, smoke coming out of the chimney and even a sturdy looking wooden door. That door was about to unnerve them even more. It slowly opened with a loud creak, as if it were gesturing at them to come inside.

‘How does that even happen?’ Ben asked with a nervous shake to his voice.

Nobody answered. What could they say? There was nothing that could even begin to explain what they were seeing.

‘I think it wants us to go in’ Sally said, edging closer to the opened door. Ben and Martin grabbed her and pulled her back.

‘It’s a building’ Ben snapped, growing ever more scared. ‘It doesn’t want anything.’ Both he and Martin were insistent they needed to get home and try to explain to their parents what had happened. Sally was curious though. She broke free from their grip and jogged to the door, heading straight inside without hesitating.

Between Ben and Sally, it had always been her that was the brave one- Ben had always been wary of things he thinks may hurt him. Now with everything that had been going on, she was almost looking for danger. She was seeking out trouble as if it would help distract her. Unfortunately, this reckless attitude was going to affect Ben and Martin too.

‘We can’t go in there’ Martin said to Ben. All his excitability had faded now. He was simply just a scared child at this point.

‘I can’t just leave her’ Ben replied. He wanted to in a way. He was furious that she would go in like that. He slowly made his way to the cottage door with Martin nervously following behind. The two of then looked at each other and then walked inside. As they entered, they saw that the interior had changed too. They had seen it through the window when they arrived and it looked normal. It had just been stone walls and nothing of note to look at. Now, it was carpeted and furnished. Before they could really see what was in there, they were distracted by a loud bang. Without touching the door, it slammed shut with force behind them. What they didn’t know was that outside, the cottage instantly turned back into being remains again as soon as the door closed. As for Sally, Ben and Martin, they were nowhere to be seen.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Review

three billboards review

Three Billboards

It’s 2018 and despite missing yesterday, I really want to try and post something a day on here now- even if it ends up just being a link to something I happened to find funny. Having just watched a movie I really enjoyed, and seeing as i used to write reviews on a daily basis, I figured reviewing that would count for today!

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage.

Written and Directed by: Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: 

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon — an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence — gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.

Review: 

Given that the premise to this movie focuses on the unsolved rape and murder of a teenage girl, you would be forgiven for thinking that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would be a bleak and depressing watch. And at times it is. This is by no means a happy movie and there is a lot of misery and upset that plagues the central characters. But, interwoven in all that is a dark comedic vibe that makes the script story and characters come to life in ways that I wasn’t expecting going in.

three billboards mildred

The film starts us off seven months after Mildred’s daughter’s death and we immediately get a sense of how frustrated she is that she’s had no answers or closure as to what happened. Her blame for this lies solely with the police department and as the man in charge, it’s Willoughby that initially is the target of her ire; his is the name that is plastered across billboard number 3. What follows is a story that is utterly engrossing for almost all of its run time. The cast here are across the board superb. Everyone here puts in a stellar performance but despite Sam Rockwell giving her a run for her money, this is Frances McDormand’s movie through and through. She’s utterly captivating in every second of screen time she gets which is all the more remarkable given that Mildred is not an easy role to play. She’s almost joyless given what has happened to her and her fractured family, yet her cynical and blunt nature allows for some wonderfully, sometimes uncomfortable, comedic moments that really help make the character one that feels oddly warm despite her cold hardened exterior.

I mentioned Rockwell too and this is the best I’ve seen him. Officer Dixon isn’t a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination. He’s a racist mother’s boy that has little care for his job or the people that he’s meant to be protecting. And yet despite his flaws, Rockwell makes him almost sympathetic. Dixon also ends up having what I think to be the best arc of the whole movie- something I would not have picked when he first appeared on the screen and showed what kind of man he is. Just naming these two seems like a detriment to everyone else as there isn’t anyone that puts a foot wrong. Harrelson for example is wonderful as Chief Willoughby and delivers a nuanced and understated performance that really made me feel for the character and the horrible things he’s going through. Even those with far smaller parts are memorable, such as Peter Dinklage as the alcoholic “town midget” with an unreciprocated crush.

three billboards harreson rockwell

Performances aside, Three Billboards would be nothing without a decent script and Martin McDonagh delivers that in spades. This is a sharp script that doesn’t waste a moment of dialogue. And there’s some fantastic lines here with laughs coming at the most unexpected moments and at the most unexpected of times. There’s an early zinger in a scene with Mildred and a priest at her home that took me by surprise with its crassness that seemed to perfectly suit the scene. McDonagh is also on directing duties and he is equally as impressive with that as he is with penning the screenplay. This is a beautifully shot film with the rural location and the small-town setting used perfectly. He never oversells a moment despite the fact there are a few moments where it would be possible to do so. One scene in particular featuring Mildred in perhaps her angriest moment of the movie could easily have been overblown, yet it’s somewhat subdued despite being the closest to an action sequence that we get.

If there’s issues to be found in Three Billboards, it would be, at least for me, its ending. Until just before the credits rolled, this was an easy perfect score film for me, yet it’s ambiguity with its conclusion left me feeling a little cold. It’s not that I need every story I experience to have a neat and clear-cut end, but this was one that I felt needed something more final to close it out. It almost feels like it ended too soon, like there were a few more minutes worth of story still to be told that for whatever reason ended up being removed from the final product. Of course, that’s not the case, but it’s hard not to feel like things are left incomplete in a way that is more frustrating than they are intriguing.

Verdict

Despite an ending that felt too abrupt, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a joy to watch. Brilliantly written, acted and directed, this is one of those movies that had me completely immersed in its world right from the start and had me gripped until the final frame. Highly recommended.