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!


  1. Sounds like everyone's got mysteries! I like both female leads. By their intellect and personalities, it feels like they could either become fast friends or cat-and-cunning-mouse enemies.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'm glad the characters are interesting so far. I know it's still early, but I think, even from the get-go, you know if you're going to like a character or not.