Friday, February 27, 2015

Free Today!

Hello and a very good Friday to you!

Today, the book "Beyond the Ashes" is free on Amazon!

Take a look!

This is the last day it's going to be available for free on Amazon, so get it now while you can.

The most important thing a reader can do to help an author they like is to leave a review. Good, bad or terrible, all reviews are helpful and would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks so much :)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Help(less) Chapter 4

Hello, Current Readers!

Ready for another chapter? I suppose so, why else would you be here?
Anyhoo, things are about to heat up a bit. Not only does Stephanie have a few more unpleasant run ins with Charles, but there is also another man who comes around asking questions. And the last thing Stephanie wants is someone digging up her past.

Chapter 4

The dim glow of sunrise crested over the dense forest behind the estate. Stephanie breathed in the fresh scent of dew and flowers as she dumped a pail water off the back steps.
“I can’t believe it,” Maggie said, as Stephanie stepped into the kitchen again. “I don’t remember the last time these pots looked so clean.”
Stephanie dropped her head to hide her flushing cheeks. Before she could say anything else, the front door to the kitchen flew open as Charles barged through. She retreated slightly, standing against the wall as he made his way across the kitchen. He didn’t seem to notice her anyway.
Maggie maintained a cool expression, but Stephanie could see how her eyes lit up when she saw him. “Morning, Charlie.”
“Morning love,” he responded with a wink, plucking an apple from the bushel on the table.
Maggie smiled and shook her head, signifying she wasn’t complete impervious to his flirtation. "You should be saving that charm for the young ladies."
His eyes landed on Stephanie, and he seemed to clench his jaw. He looked back to Maggie, taking a large bite from his apple. "I would if there were any."
Stephanie looked down at the floor, embarrassed that she should be there.
“You hear anything about Tilly?” he asked Maggie, his brow cocked high.
“No,” she answered coldly, all humour gone. “Of course not.” She turned her back to Stephanie, facing Charles. Stephanie imagined her mouthing something urgent to him but saw and heard nothing. Maggie turned back to the table, throwing her rag down. “I got eggs to gather.” She sent a glare Charles’ way. She grabbed the woven basket by Stephanie’s feet, sending her jumping out of the way, and stormed out the back door. Stephanie watched as she stomped towards the hen house.
“I suppose no one’s told you about Tilly.”
Reluctantly, she turned back around to find Charles staring at her intensely.
He went on, not waiting for a response. “Tilly was the old maid. About your age.” He took another bite of the apple and wiped a dribble of juice from his lips. "She didn’t last very long either.”
“What happened to her?” she asked, her voice quiet. Like a mouse.
“This house happened. You know…some houses are built for comfort, some for shelter. But this house, it’s built to last.” He moved to the doorway. His hand slid up the rich, dark wood of the frame. “It’s strong. A force that crushes anything and everything weak and unstable in its wake.” He looked back at her. “It’s not a good place for someone like you.”
She broke the eye contact to look down at her feet. She hated herself for it. For looking away. For having to look away. But what else could she do?
He gave a satisfied sniff. The heel of his boot scraped the floor as he turned.
“I’m not as weak as you think.”
He stopped. ”For your sake, I hope not.”

Stephanie stood before the fireplace. A chill hung in the air of the salon. There wasn't enough wood for a fire in every room, or so Maggie said. Half the rooms were cold and the other half freezing. Her muscles, back, neck, almost everything ached after being cold so long. Her muscles constantly tensed, trying to keep the chill at bay. But there was nothing for it. If there wasn’t wood, there wasn’t wood. Like her father used to say, no use whining over things that can’t be.
She flicked the feather duster over the surface of a photograph. A black and white picture with a young Mrs. Callowell standing next to a man. He was young, mildly handsome, with a thick, dark mustache. They looked stern, yet serenely at the camera. Stephanie wondered at what might have driven away that calm tranquil look, leaving only the sombre and severe. And who’s this man? Her eyes moved up to the ceiling. All had been quiet since that first day.
A sharp knock rang out, startling her. She fumbled with a picture frame, almost dropping it, but caught it at the last moment. She positioned the heavy, silver frame to its proper place and went to answer the front door.
She opened the door slightly. Enough to fit her face in the doorway. She squinted in the glaring light. “Yes?”
A man in a brown suit and hat turned, smiling. “Good afternoon, Miss.” He removed his hat. He stood very straight, his narrow shoulders squared and back. His dark blond hair was brushed back and thick with curls. A thin moustache curled upwards in a slight smile.
“Good day. I’m afraid Mrs. Callowell isn’t here. She’s gone into town.”
“That’s quite all right. I’m actually here to see you, Stephanie.”
She took a step back, so she stood behind the door. “You know my name? But I’m not anyone.”
“I’m sorry, I’m being rather rude. I’m Theodore Glanville.” When she didn’t move or respond, he continued. “And yes, I know who you are. Or, rather, your name.”
“What do you want?” She didn't mean for it to sound like an accusation.
“Straight to business,” he said, chuckling. “Quite right. I’m here on behalf of Mrs. Rebecca Burbank.”
Stephanie’s grip on the door tightened. The name was like a stab in her gut. “Why..what does she want with me?” She loosened her grip on the brass door handle and wiped a sweaty palm on the front of her dress.
Theodore opened his coat and pulled a narrow, leather bound notebook from his pocket. “I understand you used to work for Mrs. Burbank.”
“Mr. Burbank hired me.”
“Mmm hmm.” He wrote something and looked back at her. “And how long did you work for them?”
“Umm,” she said, pretending to think. Her heart thumped like a drum. She prayed he didn't notice the intense flush in her cheeks. “A few years. I suppose.” She pulled her hands behind her back to hide their shaking.
“Why’d you leave?”
“What did you say this was about?”
“I didn’t, actually,” he said, smiling. “It seems Mrs. Burbank is missing a locket, a family heirloom. You cleaned her room, I’m sure you’re more familiar with it than me.”
“That’s not true.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“I mean, I wasn’t responsible for her room.”
“Oh?” He looked at his notes again. “She told me you were.”
“She’s mistaken.” Liar.
“Well, she does have a rather large staff. I suppose mixing up a maid here and there is common.”
Stephanie gripped her hands tightly behind her back. “Yes, we do all look alike,” she said, looking down at her feet. To some, she added to herself.
When she looked up again, he raised an eyebrow, as though not quite sure how to take her remark. “And did you leave on good terms with Mrs. Burbank?”
Stephanie was trembling now, understanding perfectly. If Mrs. Burbank sent him, he already knew the answer to that question. Furthermore, he should know that she would know that. The only reason he would ask such a question would be to see her reaction and response. She took a deep breath.
“Can I help you with something?” came a voice from the side.
She looked to see Charles walking up alongside the house. His eyes darted between Theodore and Stephanie. The situation was getting worse by the moment. If Charles found out...if Mrs. Callowell found out, she'd be both out of a job and homeless. Why can't that woman just leave me be?
Theodore began turned his hat in his hands. “I’m just having a word with Miss Kitling, here. It won’t take but a minute.”
“What is this in regards to?” Charles asked, taking the stairs towards them two at a time.
“For Miss Kitling’s sake, I think that’s better left between us.”
Stephanie's heart picked up its pace. She retreated further behind the door, terrified they might hear her thumping heart. Go away! Please, just leave!
Charles looked from Theodore to Stephanie. She withdrew from his glance as much as from Theodore’s questions. Charles looked Theodore up and down and crossed his arms, taking a step towards the man. “And who are you?”
“Theodore Glanville.”
“Yes, but, what are you?”
“I’m a detective, sir.”
“And under what authority are you questioning her?”
Theodore faltered momentarily. “I suppose, under my own.”
“You aren’t a police officer, then?”
“I’m a private investigator.”
“Then she isn’t bound by law to answer any of your questions?”
“No, but I—”
Stephanie bit her lip. Charles wasn't needling her, or trying to humiliate her. He was actually helping, defending her. She tried not to smile.
“Very well,” he said, stepping in front of him and brushing past Stephanie into the house. “A good day to you, sir.” He shut the door before Theodore or Stephanie could say another word.
A relieved breath filled her lungs, but there wasn’t time to enjoy it. Immediately after the door clicked shut, Charles spun around on her. “What did he want?” he said, grabbing Stephanie by the arm.
Any gratitude she might have harboured towards him, shrivelled away under his grasp. She inhaled quickly. “I don’t—”
“Don’t lie to me. What did he want?”
She tried to pull away, but he was too strong. “You’re hurting me!”
He seemed to notice his hand on her arm for the first time. Surprise showed in his eyes. He released his grip. “Fine, keep your secrets.” He looked away, running his fingers through his dark hair. “But just know that Mrs. Callowell doesn’t like people sniffing around asking questions.”
“I’m sure it was nothing to do with Mrs. Callowell.” She rubbing her arm where his hand had been. It did nothing to relieve the dull ache there.
His face fell. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking away. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Well, you did.”
He looked as though he was about to say something but stopped. A sudden darkness crossed his face as his brow furrowed. He turned and fled for the side staircase. He bounded upwards, taking the stairs two at a time as though he were fleeing something.
Or someone.

Stephanie rushed up to her bedroom. Once in the room, door closed, she dove for her pillow. Underneath, the gold locket remained, just where she’d left it. She snatched it up and held it close to her chest, closing her eyes tightly. Warm tears trickled between the creases of her eyelids.
“It’s mine,” she whispered. A promise. “She’ll never get it back.” I’ll die before I let her touch it again.
She was about to put the locket back under her pillow when she thought better of it. The safest place for such a valuable article was on her person, where she could keep an eye on it. She pulled the chain over her head and tucked the locket under her uniform. The heavy locket fell between her breasts. It was surprisingly cold. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the locket against her skin, reminding herself she’d done the right thing. It belonged with her, with family.
A soft noise from outside the door made her jump, grasping the locket through her dress. It sounded like footsteps. Her pulse quickened. Slowly, she crept towards the door. Pressing an ear against the door, she listened as another footstep fell in the hallway. It was probably Maggie, coming to look for her, she told herself, unconvincingly. The sounds of laboured breathing seeped through the door.
She grasped the door knob. Quickly, she thought. She jumped back, throwing open the door. She gasped at what she saw. A look down either side of the hallway confirmed it.
There was no one there.

So, that chapter is a touch longer, but I think it's an exciting one. What do you think? And who do you think was standing outside Stephanie's bedroom door at the end?
If you like it, or have any questions, let me hear them in the comments section!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Help(less) Chapter Three

Hello Current Reader!

Thanks for sticking it through to the next chapter, or starting with this one! I hope you like it :)

Stephanie is still trying to find her place in the house, but it isn't easy. The rest of the occupants aren't making it easier.
Stephanie meets Charles, the man who is taking care of Victor. They don't exactly hit it off.
Eloise and Charles have a late night quarrel about the new maid's mere presence.
Finally, Stephanie, left alone to finish working in the kitchen,  is introduced to another, more frightening aspect of the house.

The rest of the dinner passed without another incident.
Between clearing the table after Mrs. Callowell ate and washing up, Stephanie ate her own dinner. She sat at the kitchen table, hovering over her own meal, fretting over whether Mrs. Callowell’s silence was a good thing or a bad thing.
“You gonna eat that or just push it ‘round till it gets bored and walks off yer plate?” Maggie asked, wiping the corners of her mouth with her apron.
“I’m afraid I’m not very hungry.”
“All the same, you better eat up.” She stood, carrying her dishes to the sink. “You got yer work cut out. See you in the morning.”
“Goodnight,” she said as Maggie left. She turned her attention back to her plate. Her stomach churned at the notion of eating. She forced a spoonful of peas into her mouth and swallowed them down. She sighed, evaluating the ten or so bites she had left.
“Don’t be so excited,” came a deep male voice. Stephanie jumped, sending a forkful of peas flying. The man standing in the doorway grinned, leaning against the frame. He was tall with black hair that fell around his face and dark, piercing eyes.
She faltered under his gaze but recovered, rising to her feet. “Sir,” she said, curtseying. “I didn’t realize anyone else was here.”
The man laughed.
Stephanie flinched, his laughter grating on her already raw nerves. Eyes down casted, she said “I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to offend you.”
The man stifled his laughter, content to merely shake his head and chuckle.
Stephanie looked up at him. Being ignored and unappreciated was one thing, but being openly mocked was quite another. She didn’t even know who this man was.
“I beg your pardon,” she said, forcing her voice and lip not to tremble. “But I don’t see what’s so funny.”
“It’s not you,” he said, launching himself away from the door. “Not to worry.” He walked to the stove where the remnants of the dinner lay.
“You must find something funny."
He turned back to her. “Well, do I look like a sir to you?” he asked, gesturing to his clothes.
She looked him over again. He was right, his brown trousers and faded white shirt didn’t look very proper, let alone noble. But there was something in his face that implied nobility. Arrogance, maybe.
“Who are you then?” she asked.
He turned back to the stove and began serving himself. “I’m Charles.”
“Oh, are you Mr. Callowell’s nurse?”
“His nurse?” His eyes wandered about the ceiling momentarily before landing back on her. “Is that what she’s calling me?”
“What do you call yourself?” she asked, trying hard to hide her curiousity behind a veil of indifference.
He chuckled again, setting her teeth on edge. She’d just met this man and already she hated him.
He turned towards her, bowl in hand. He shovelled a spoonful into his mouth before answering. “I’m a man of many roles.”
Stephanie rolled her eyes away and lowered herself back into her chair. She’d rather face the last of her dinner than hear anymore from Charles.
Charles drained the rest of the soup from the side of the bowl and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He left the bowl on the table and walked back towards the door.
“I thought the servants used the other doors,” Stephanie asked him.
He stopped midstep and turned. “What makes you think I’m a servant?”
“If you’re not a sir and you’re not a servant, who are you?”
“I already told you. I’m Charles. Who are you?”
She faltered. “I..I’m Stephanie.”
He tilted his head to the side. “Stephanie? A word of advice, Stephanie.” He took a step forward and leaned over the table. “Don’t get too comfortable around here.” He winked and pushed himself away, walking backwards towards the door.
She could only seethe in quiet anger as he winked and disappeared behind the door.

Charles rounded the corner towards Victor’s bedroom. Eloise’s dark, straight form sat opposite his door, her hands resting in her lap.
“Has he eaten anything?” he whispered.
She shook her head, her eyes keenly focused on the door in front. Her watery eyes betrayed her calm, hard exterior.
“Did something happen, Ellie?”
She looked at him starkly. “Of course not,” she said, deep furrows creasing her brow. She stood to face him. “And how many times must I ask you not to call me that?”
“Would you prefer I call you Mrs. Callowell, pretend we’re strangers?"
She answered him with a hard stare.
"It’s not as easy for me as you.”
She scoffed, waving a hand. “Eloise would suffice.”
He laughed quietly, bitterly. “So, rather an acquaintance than a stranger. A vast improvement.”
“It’s a lie.”
“It’s appropriate.”
“And Ellie isn’t? Since when is it-"
She stopped him. “It is inappropriate when I’ve asked you not to.”
“Fine,” he said, coldly. “Mrs. Callowell.”
She sighed. “Must you be so dramatic?”
“Why shouldn’t I be? Isn’t this an act?” he asked, looking around. “Aren’t I keeping to my character? The nurse,” he spat.
“I have work to do,” she said, straightening the wrinkles from her dark dress. She brushed passed him, moving back towards the staircase.
“About the maid,” he called after her.
“What about her?” she asked, clearly ready to be done with the conversation.
“You shouldn’t have hired her.”
“What concern is it of yours?”
“She doesn’t belong here.”
“Do any of us anymore?”
He took a step towards her. “A girl like that, she’d be better off...elsewhere.”
She paused before answering. “I hardly have the time to go about looking for young women for hire.” He saw her eye twitched in the dim light of the hall. “Unless you feel better qualified to find such a person, she will have to do.”
Clenching his jaw, Charles looked away, pushing his breath out through his nose. He threw himself into the chair and listened as her footsteps retreated down the hall.

Stephanie leaned over the basin, washing the dishes. She was almost done. Only a few pots to go and she could sleep. She was saving the largest pot with the hardest, stuck on food for last. She marvelled at the state of the pots. Old grease and heat charred the bottoms. Her forehead was damp with sweat as she scratched at it.
The house was quiet. She barely noticed the darkness creeping in around her, held at bay by the flickering lanterns. Scratching echoed through the room on the otherwise still air.
Stephanie’s mind was elsewhere, lost in her own dream world, while she worked. It was the only way for her to pass the time. If nothing else, her new position supplied her with a fresh fantasy. The library. She imagined leather bound books, worn from use; yellowed pages that crinkled when you turned them; running her fingers across a line up of book spines.
She wiped her brow. Her back ached incredibly. Driving her shoulders back, she tried to stretch the kinks from her spine. Without the continuous scratching, a strange sound drew her attention. A soft squeaking. She scanned the kitchen. The periphery of the room throbbed between darkness and dim light as the lanterns flickered.
She put the pan down and dried her hands on her apron. Reaching for the lantern, she stepped forwards. As she stepped towards the spring door, the sound grew louder. Holding her breath, she pushed the door open. The sound stopped. Shining the lantern into the room, she saw it exactly how she left it. Nothing. She looked back into the kitchen. Nothing.
The house was silent again.
Releasing the door, she walked back to the washing basin. The door swung noisily on its hinges, its sound and movement gradually ceasing.
Her heart beat faster as the sound and movement of the door gradually waned. She scratched harder at the pot drowning out the sound and the impending silence.
The light from the lantern weakened, allowing the encroaching darkness to creep closer. Of the two lanterns, only one burned brightly. The other’s pale blue flame struggled for life. As she reached for it, the light snuffed out, leaving only one lantern to fend off the darkness. The empty canister rattled as she shook it.
She sighed and moved the other lantern closer. Appraising the work she had left and the amount of time she’d take, she considered doing a moderate job on the last pot and waiting for the morning to clean it properly. The idea was abandoned, regretfully. It would never do to leave half done.
With darkness hanging about her shoulders and over her head, she grit her teeth and cleaned the last pots.
When she was finally finished, she regarded the cleaned dishes. Even in the dim light of the lantern, they looked ten years younger. She hoped Maggie would be pleased. It might take time for her to master the art of serving, but she was already a master at cleaning up after people.

That's it for Chapter Three. What do you think? Charles was one of my favourite additions to my little cast of characters. What do you think of him so far? Let me know in the comment below!

Thanks again,

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Help(less) Chapter Two

In this Chapter, Stephanie gets a tour of the house and a run down of the rules, courtesy of Mrs. Downy, the cook.

As Stephanie entered the kitchen, a short woman with greying, red hair looked up at her. The woman put aside the loaf of bread she was shaping. “Stephanie, isn’t it?” she said, brushing her hands on her apron. “I’m Margaret Downy, you can call me Maggie.” She didn’t smile but her voice and face had a warmth that put Stephanie at ease.
Maggie looked Stephanie over and nodded. “Come with me,” she said, walking to the door. The door swung back and forth through the doorframe when she released it. “This house runs on routine, or that’s the idea. Don’t always go that way, but never you mind that. Here’s the china and silverware for the table. Linens in the drawer.” She opened the cabinet doors to show the stacks of plates and bowls and shut them again. Opening the opposite door, Maggie continued the tour. “Breakfast is at seven, lunch at twelve, tea at three and dinner at six. You set, serve, clear and clean.”
Stephanie stepped into the large, open dining room. A long dark table sat in the centre with eight, high-backed chairs surrounding it. A long, laced cloth ran the length of the table with an empty, glass vase in the centre.
“Mrs. Callowell sits here,” she said, gesturing to a chair in the middle of the opposite side. “Set the table for one and remember where she sits.”
Stephanie nodded.
A grander door than the one they’d passed through lay in the far wall. It connected with the foyer. Maggie closed the door behind them, once Stephanie was through.
“Is the missus particular about keeping the doors closed?” Stephanie asked, shyly.
“Closed and locked in some cases. But you don’t have to worry about the locked ones. There aren’t many and you’ll never have to use ‘em.”
Stephanie followed Maggie up one side of the rounded staircase. “The house is large so you have to work fast to get your work done. That bein’ said,” she turned on Stephanie, “she don’t like lazy work either. Make sure a room’s clean before you leave it. Hear?”
Stephanie nodded quickly.
“Good.” She turned and continued up the stairs. “There used to be more maids but’ll have to do it yourself.”
“What happened to the other maids?”
“They left. While ago.”
“Did the gardener leave too?”
Maggie stopped and turned to face her, her eyes seemed to re-evaluate her a moment. She turned away again, continuing up the stairs. “Aye. Most the staff’s gone now.” They reached the top of the stairs and gestured to the right. This is the South wing of the house,” she continued quickly, before Stephanie had a chance to question her further. The hallway was wide with paintings and portraits lining the walls and a large, open window at the end. They walked to the very end. “There are five bedrooms and two bathrooms. Clean the missus' first,” Maggie said, gesturing to the last door. “No one’s stayed in the others for months, so they don’t take much cleaning.” Maggie turned on her heel and started back down the hall.
Stephanie scurried after her, keeping close and her voice low. “And what about the North wing?”
Maggie stopped suddenly. The seriousness in her gaze made Stephanie instantly regret the question.
“The North wing is strictly off limits.” Maggie took a step towards her.
Stephanie swallowed hard, cowering under the intensity radiating from Maggie’s face. She nodded, clasping her hands tightly behind her.
Maggie sighed. “I’m sorry,” she chuckled. “I don’t want to frighten you, but Mrs. Callowell is very private and very particular.” Maggie put a hand on Stephanie’s shoulder. “Hate to see you get the boot for something silly like satisfying your curiousity, huh?”
Stephanie forced a smile she didn't feel.
They descended the staircase and Maggie gestured to the right. “You’ve already seen the salon,” she said without breaking stride. They turned sharply and continued down the long hallway lying between either arm of the staircase. They came to a round antechamber. A small stone table drew the eye the centre of the room. Its smooth marble surface was empty.
The rounded walls offered three doors. The one in the centre covered in bright green fabric. It would be the door to go back to the kitchen. Maggie pointed to the left, “Here’s the study."
Stephanie's heart skipped a beat. A study should have books. The Burbanks never had books in the house.
"It’s kept locked at all times. You don’t have to bother yourself with it.”
Stephanie’s shoulders slumped again and she nodded. “And that room?” she asked, pointing to the right.
“That’s another sitting room. Smaller, but it isn’t locked.” Maggie started crossing the room again, reaching for the far door. “And this door leads back to the kitchen. But we servants use the other door.”
Stephanie followed Maggie as they retraced their steps back through the dining room, into the kitchen. Maggie walked across the kitchen, to the cloth covered bowl. The dough created a round peak, pushing against the cloth. She lifted the cloth and nodded.
“Does she spend a lot of time in the study?” Stephanie asked.
Maggie looked up at her. “Much as she can."
Stephanie walked up to stand beside Maggie, as she flipped and kneaded the dough.
Maggie stopped, mid-knead, glancing at Stephanie from the corner of her eye. “Dinner isn’t served ‘till six. Your time’s your own.” She went back to working her dough.
“I sometimes helped the women in the kitchen with the Burbanks. When I had some time.”
“You’ll see soon enough how little time you have to relax in this house. You should enjoy it while you can,” Maggie said, shortly.
“Oh,” she said, a little deflated. “I’m sorry, I’ll go.”
Maggie sighed. “Here,” she said, handing her a bunch of carrots. “You can start with these.” A simple, slight smile threatened the hard woman’s stern facade.

Stephanie burst through the servant’s entrance to the kitchen, grasping the empty silver tray. Her lip trembled as if it had a life of its own.
“My goodness, Stephi,” Maggie exclaimed. “What’s happened?”
She stuttered and burst into tears. Leaving aside her sauce, Maggie went to her. “There, there,” she said, patting the young woman’s back as she engulfed her in her large, soft arms. “Now, tell me what’s wrong, hm?” She lifted Stephanie’s head up and patted her tears dry with a corner of her apron.
Her eyes glistened with tears as she trembled. “I forgot the serving spoon,” she practically yelled. “I was thinking so hard about not tripping, and which side to stand on and spoons and cloths that I completely forgot the serving spoon.”
“That’s not so bad-”
“I left the soup on the table,” Stephanie blurted out.
“I wasn’t thinking. I just set it down. You should have seen the way she looked at me when I put it on the table.”
“Still, it’s not so-”
“When I came back, I was so flustered that...” Stephanie stopped to bite her lip.
“What?” Maggie asked, cautiously.
“I called her Mrs. Carrowell.”
Despite biting her lip, Maggie let out a small laugh. Stephanie’s eyes grey wide and desperate at the slip. “You certainly know how to make an impression,” Maggie said, laughing and breaking her stony exterior.
“It’s not funny,” she cried, hiccupping.
Maggie patted her on the shoulder and turned back to her sauce, waving her hand as she chuckled. “Don’t worry yourself. Mrs. Callowell is particular but she’s not a tyrant.”
Stephanie set the tray on the table. “I’ll bet she’s already regretting taking me on.”
Maggie turned, pointing to the tray. “That goes in the cabinet in the other room. And phooey; she’s not regretting anything!”

Stephanie huffed, dragging the tray off the table and sulking towards the door. Maybe Maggie is right, she thought, wiping her eyes. After all, Stephanie did have a tendency to overreact. She took a deep breath and replaced the tray. Overreaction or not, it was going to be a long evening.

So that's it for this chapter. What do you think is happening in the North Wing of the house? And where have all the previous servants gone? A better question might be why?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Help(less) Chapter One

In Chapter One, we meet our heroine, Stephanie. This is where the book started for me. I had an image of a young woman sitting, waiting in a large salon. She's in desperate need of a job, but her mind is constantly turning back to a gold locket she has hidden away in her bag. That's all I had when I began filling up the blank white screen. 
Before writing Help(less), I had the idea of writing a story where the weird spooky stuff has already begun. In most horror, you see the peaceful, ideal, happy home which slowly begins to crumble as conflicts (and spirits) are introduced. What we have here is the herione immediately being thrown into a stressful situation, where the house and it's occupants are already under siege by some malevolent force.
I hope you like it :)

Chapter One

Stephanie Kitling sat in the salon, waiting for her prospective employer. Her drab, hand-made clothes stood in stark contrast to the rich surroundings of the room. After years in the silent service trade, she was used to fading into the background. If she were wearing the customary maid’s uniform, she would have been invisible. And much more comfortable.
She scratched, nervously, at the rough fabric of her cloth bag. It contained all her possessions. A few books, a change of clothes and her mother’s locket. She planned to purchase paper, a pen, and inkwell with her first pay check. That dream had been waiting a long time.
The salon doors slid open. A woman emerged from between them, pushing either side open with grace and power. She was tall and slender, with her dark hair pulled back, neatly away from her face. Her presence was commanding and severe.
“Miss Kitling, I presume?” the woman said, bisecting the room, towards Stephanie. She walked like a statue, her hands clasped in front.
Stephanie gulped and nodded. She fumbled with her bag as she rose. Never having been to an interview, she didn’t know whether she should curtsey or not. Doing nothing was certainly rude, and rich people were so fussy. She set her bag down and nodded her head forwards, demurely.
The woman looked neither pleased nor disappointed, merely gesturing for her to take a seat again. “I understand you spent five years working for the Burbanks, is that correct?”
She nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
The woman looked at her intensely. “And what, might I ask, did you do for them?”
Stephanie fiddled with her hands in her lap. “Well…I cleaned, I cooked for the family, I was a nanny to the children.”
“It seems Mr. Burbank regarded you quite well.”
Stephanie chewed her lip. Strangely, she felt almost vulnerable without her bag. Without looking away, she reached down and snatched it up. Clutching the handle, she answered, “That’s very kind.”
“Might I ask why you left?”
Her pulse quickened. She prayed it didn’t show on her face. Her mind went to the gold locket sitting, wrapped in the bottom of her bag. She wished she’d worn it. Not to be seen of course, that would raise questions. What is a poor maid doing with an expensive gold locket? Tucked under the neckline of her dress though, so that she could feel it against her skin. But knowing that it was there, and it was hers, was enough. “The children were grown. They didn’t require my services any longer,” she said, hoping that the much rehearsed response rang true.
“Very well. This position will not require so much of you as in the Burbank Estate. I have no children, and I already employ a cook. I need only a maid. The position pays twenty dollars a week, room and board included. Is that satisfactory?”
Stephanie nodded, clutching the wooden handle of her bag. It was more than satisfactory. Twenty dollars a week was substantially more than she’d ever gotten working for the Burbanks. How come I’m the only one here in regards to the job? Surely many maids would thank their lucky stars for a chance at such conditions.
A sudden crash from the ceiling made Stephanie jump. A booming, male voice rang out, loud and desperate. She couldn’t make out what he said. Another crash resounded through the room and heavy footsteps raced over the ceiling. Stephanie looked to the woman, covering her mouth in shock.
The woman simply closed her eyes, patiently waiting. “My husband,” she said, opening her eyes again. “He is...unwell. I hope that will not be a problem.”
She shook her head.
“Good. He has a private nurse, so you’ll have no cause to disturb him. His nurse cleans his room and his linens. In fact, you’ll not need to enter the North wing of manor at all. For any reason.”
Stephanie nodded, understanding. Dignity in sickness was dependent on privacy. She knew that well.
“Very well, I’m Mrs. Callowell. Follow me.”
Stephanie followed her, in short, meek steps, to the door. Mrs. Callowell drew the doors open. It was strange, Stephanie didn’t recall Mrs. Callowell closing them when she entered.

“This will be your room,” Mrs. Callowell said, opening a door in the narrow, dim hallway. She stood aside to let Stephanie pass.
The room was small and dark. A chill clung to the air. It was nothing she wasn’t accustomed to though. Stephanie walked to the window by the end of the bed. Pulling back the heavy, canvas curtains, she looked out into the gardens behind the house. The garden’s previous glory hung behind a veil of neglect. Once clean hedges were now overgrown, with stray branches sticking out like skeletal limbs. Bright red and purple flowers lay on a bed, intermingled with weeds and tall thistles. It was Stephanie’s favourite plant, but she remembered how Mrs. Burbank loathed them.
Weeds, Stephanie, she’d said. Not unpretty, but certainly out of place and unwanted. Much like you. A path led to an unkempt maze roughly one hundred metres from the garden. Lacking refinement made the garden all the more beautiful.
Mrs. Callowell cleared her throat from the door. Stephanie spun around, embarrassed that she’d let her mind wander so quickly.
“I presume, the room is acceptable?”
“Yes, ma’am,” she said, looking down at her feet.
“There are uniforms in the wardrobe. The last maid was about your height, although, not quite as thin. You can take them in if you wish.”
Stephanie nodded. Adjusting clothes was nothing new to Stephanie. Her short stature and boyish frame was not typical.
“Very well.” Mrs. Callowell reached into her front pocket for her watch. “It is thirty-seven minutes past four o´clock. If you wish, you can take some time to unpack and get settled. When you are ready, see Mrs. Downy in the kitchen. She will inform you of your responsibilites. Dinner is served promptly at six o´clock.”

The door closed quietly but firmly behind her. Stephanie breathed a heavy sigh and placed her cloth bag on the bed. Despite what the missus had said, she would leave her personal things until later.

Eloise Callowell stepped into the kitchen. Mrs. Downy had her back to her, kneading dough on the table. Mrs. Downy turned, wiping her hands on her apron.
When Mrs. Downy had first started working for her, she was a considerably sized woman with vibrant, red hair. Eloise was struck by how her uniform hung limply over her stomach and arms. Her formerly vibrant hair was dull and peppered with streaks of grey. Eloise reminded herself that a new cook’s uniform maybe in order.
“She’s a tad mousey, if you ask me,” Mrs. Downy said.
Eloise raised an eyebrow.
“Not that you did.”
“She will do. She has experience, so she should need little training. You are in charge of her. Make sure she understands the rules and habits of the house.”
Mrs. Downy nodded, her face stern and comprehending.
“I don’t think she will have so many questions as the last—”, she paused, looking for another word. But the moment quickly passed, and she left it alone.
Mrs. Downy nodded again. She didn’t need her to finish the sentence.
Eloise cleared her throat. “Very well. I will be in the study.”

What they referred to as the study was really a library. Originally, only a room for entertainment purposes, it was currently where Eloise spent most of her time. Stacks of books and stray papers sat on the various surfaces of the room. Her reading table was cluttered with several new stains of black ink pock-marking the surface.
Eloise entered and locked the door. Her key ring seemed to grow heavier by the day. She sat down behind the desk. The smallest key belonged to the lock on the desk. Her husband had never bothered with it, but she found it quite useful.
From inside the locked drawer, she pulled her brown, leather book. She breathed it in, smelling its rich blend of pulp, ink and leather. She’d only filled half the pages, but already it was thick with use.
Eloise opened the book where a red ribbon marked the last page. “He is growing more lucid by the day,” she wrote, under the day’s date. “I’ve told Charles to increase his dose but I’m not sure that’s the best course of action. I’ve hired a new maid, so I suppose it’s the only option. At least until she is more settled. She mustn’t be frightened away by the realities of this house too soon.”

So, there you have it. The first real chapter. Like I said, I wanted to throw the herione into a bit of a nasty situation, instead of letting it develop slowly. What do you think of our Stephanie? How does she compare to the other female lead, Eloise? Let me know what you think!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Help(less) Prologue

I'm going to give this "writing live" thing a shot. Help(less) is a book that has already been written, at least as far as the first draft. I'm now in the process of re-reading and editing. As I finish a chapter or scene, I will upload it to my blog, so readers can check it out. When the book is finished, I'll publish it on Amazon. Really, it's more like editing live, but you, my lovely readers, will still get chapter by chapter of my next book.
I've always wanted to try my hand at Gothic Horror. I love the atmosphere, the slow build, the mystery. This particular tale started with an image in my head, as so many stories do. A young woman, thin and slouched over, trying to make herself as small as possible in an enormous room. She clutches a golden locket and waits.
But that's the next chapter.
This is the prologue. I know a lot of people complain about prologues, but I don't really know why. And I think this only is particularly exciting. It's short too, just a little snippit!
I hope you enjoy!


Eloise held up the syringe and flicked the side. Her fingernail clinked against the hard glass tube. Gently, she pressed the plunger into the barrel, squeezing the air bubbles out. When the clear serum squirted from the tip, she nodded. “Ready.”
She stepped towards the bed where Victor straddled her father, kneeling on his arms and pressing down on his mouth. Eloise thought he might snap his neck from the pressure he put on the older man’s face. "Take care, Victor."
Her father’s eyes were wide and red; whether with hate or fear, she didn’t know. Probably both. He forced strong streams of breath out his nose, across Victor’s hands, in the moments when he was actually quiet. He began struggling and screaming through Victor’s hands as she approached him, syringe in hand. He tried to thrash, tried to free himself from Victor’s hold, but it was impossible. He was weak from months of malnourishment and thirty years older than Victor, who wasn’t a young man himself.
She leaned over his squirming, withered form. “I’ve waited for this so long,” she said, stroking back white wisps of hair. She took a deep breath and added her knee to the weight on his arm so he couldn’t wrench free and leave a needle wound. Evidence was the last thing they needed. As stupid and easily bought as local sheriff was, she didn't think he'd overlook this. Not this time.
More gently than she would have thought herself capable, she nestled the needle tip into a throbbing blue vein. “Goodbye, Father,” she said and pressed the plunger through the barrel.
A tear fell from the corner of his eye, as his body went slack, leaving a trail along his papery skin.
“All right, Victor,” she said, putting a hand on his shoulder. He looked up as though surprised to see her and looked back down at Fredrick’s unconscious form. He nodded and climbed off him.
“Is everything prepared?”
He looked between her and Fredrick. “But...isn’t there some other way?”
She sighed. This wasn't the first time he'd tried to sway her mind. “You know there’s not. We need to hurry.”
He didn’t respond. Instead, he stood staring, rhythmically clenching and releasing his hands.
“Victor,” she repeated, drawing his attention. “Is the boat ready?”
He nodded.
“Good. Grab his feet. The sun’s almost up, and we don’t need anyone catching sight of us.”

That's it for now. Like I said, just a little snippet, something to whet your appetite. So, what do you think of prologues? Are you pro or anti-prologue? Let me know in the comments section!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Tale of the Little Lost Girl

I've always enjoyed writing shorter pieces. Flash fiction, short stories and the like. But I've never really known what to do with them. I've published one short story and then a collection of even shorter stories, but I think I prefer to publish longer works. For now, I'm going to publish them here first and see what you all think.
So, here is the first one.  Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this one....
The Tale of the Little Lost Girl
Catherine stirred in bed. Her eyes slipped open.
She groaned. Not again. Third night in a row. Too frustrated and tired to be gentle, she dug her elbow into Mark's back. "Get up. Your kid wants you."
He didn't move. "Mark?" He was usually such a light sleeper. Usually the sound of his daughter's voice woke him from a dead sleep. Catherine pushed her herself onto her elbows, glaring at the lump beside her. "Mark!"
She scoffed, throwing the blankets off. "Fine! I'll do it myself." If I ever get my hands on those little shits…
Maybe this was a mistake, she thought. Not about checking on Maddie. She'd give anything to just have that kid quiet the hell down. It was moving in together that she doubted. Catherine had thought she was ready. That she could handle the commitment. That a little stability would do her good. But what could she do now? They'd bought the house together. He'd gone into debt. She'd spent most of her savings.
Dragging her feet across the smooth, chilly hardwood floor, she passed the few photos and paintings they'd had enough time to hang on the walls. The photos were mostly his. Father and daughter smiling happily. The paintings were all hers. The pieces she hadn't been able to sell or just loved too much to try.
Catherine came to Maddie's room and reached for the handle. She paused momentarily, taking another sour-faced look at the mysterious painting that had started it all.
The Little Lost Girl.
That's what they called it, but there was no name for it. Not technically. No one knew who painted it or even where it came from. A little blonde girl in a short, light blue dress. Blonde, tight ringlets. She stood far enough into the background that nothing else was distinguishable. The rest of the painting was black with shades of grey that gave the feeling that the little girl was in a darkened hallway or tunnel. Or void.
For Catherine, it had been the selling point of the house. She would have preferred buying the painting, but it was inexplicably attached to the house. The owner wouldn't sell it without the house.
Maddie had hated the painting from the moment they moved in. Now, thanks to what those snot-nosed brats had whispered to her on the playground, she was downright terrified of it. After three nights of this bullshit, Catherine's feelings for the painting weren't particularly warm either.
"She's not always so far," Maddie had reported three days ago, referring to the painting. "She doesn't stay put."
"They're just trying to scare you," Catherine had scolded her.
Every small town had its story. A town eccentric, a creepy house, a local legend. The painting was this town's story. The one everyone knew and never tired of talking about. The little lost girl. Both Catherine and Mark had gotten looks from people when they said where they'd moved. That house? they asked. Does she really move? But have you looked? I mean really looked?
Well, Catherine had. For hours. And what she'd seen…it didn't mean anything. An effect of light and shadow. Like the Mona Lisa's eyes following you around the room.
She sighed, sparing one last look towards the picture before turning the knob. She did a quick double take. For a moment it seemed like the little girl stood in the foreground. But when Catherine looked again, she was right where she was supposed to be. She rolled her eyes. Just a trick of the light.
"Okay, Maddie—" Catherine started before stopping short. The room was still. Completely quiet. "Maddie?"
Her bed sat under the window. Gauzy white curtains hung down. Moonlight seeped through. Maddie was tangled in her cover, her hair a dark mess over her face and pillow. She was out cold and had been for awhile. A chill crept over Catherine's skin. There was no way that Maddie had been awake and calling for her father only a few short minutes ago.
Catherine backed out of the room. Your imagination. You didn't hear anything. That happened sometimes in a deep sleep. You heard things. Saw things. She closed the door gently. The soft click was the only sound to disturb the quiet air. She didn't know why, but she looked again.
The painting.
The little lost girl.
She was gone.
She isn't lost. The words came back to Catherine in that moment. It had been a strange thing for Maddie to say. Out of the blue during dinner. She isn't lost. They put her there. Because she was bad.
Catherine's fingers grazed the place on the canvas where the little girl had been. Where she'd always been. It was empty now. Just as black and bare as the rest of the painting.
Just your imagination, she repeated. A culmination of three days of little sleep and the stress of moving. Perhaps she was still half dreaming as well. That happened sometimes. Just your imagin
"Mommy?" The voice was soft and cheery. Too cheery for the dead of night.
Catherine's heart leapt into her throat at the sound. She spun around.
Limp, stringy ringlets hung about her shoulders, any bounce and charm long faded. Hollow eyes. She cocked her head to the side. Her eyes wide. Almost innocence. "Where did you go, Mommy?"
Catherine shook her head. Her mouth hung open like a fish, but no sound came.
She's not lost.
The little girl stepped towards Catherine. "I didn't know where you were." A smile graced her face, pulling her lips back.
Catherine stepped back, pressing herself against the wall, against the painting.
The little girl took another step, reaching out her hand. "I missed you."
Catherine found her voice and screamed. But she was falling backwards, back into nothingness. A darkness so deep that it swallowed the sound as quickly as she unleashed it.
She kept falling.
Somewhere above, the little girl crawled in after her.

As a huge Are you Afraid of the Dark? fan, I've always wanted to say that! It's so dramatic and chilling....sqeeee!
So, what do you think of my flash fiction? In general, I tend to use slightly unlikable characters (can a character even be slightly unlikable? Or is it an absolute thing?). I think they're more interesting, but I know that some people disagree. What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!