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!