Wither the Winter Winds - Prologue
“When the preacher comes ‘round, we all fall down” she giggled, eyes focused firmly on the trees.
“Whatchu say darlin’?” asked her brother, rising from his chair. The look on his face read equal parts concerned and disgruntled. It wasn’t often that his sister spoke, rarer still that she laughed, and to hear both was never a good omen. Still, he’d been daydreaming, and she knew that closed eyes meant closed mouths.
“There’s a preacher man comin’” she said as she turned to look at him, “and he’s gonna make everyone fall down into the dirt. Everyone last one.”
Her eyes were like his in many ways, watery orbs of brown that reflected everything they saw. The difference was that while the brother had eyes dulled by a relentless cynicism, the sister’s sparkled with the ceaseless hope of a child. In other words, her madness was plain to see. It had always been that way, and would doubtless never change.
“Tell me what you see Winnie. It’s important that you share.”
She giggled again, a musical noise that usually filled her brother with untold joy.
“Someone’s at the door.”
Pinching the bridge of his nose, her brother knelt at her chair.
“Winnie, honey, you gotta let me know what you see.”
A pale hand reached out and caressed his face, the soft skin unaffected by the harshness it found there. There was a chance for clarity, thin as baby hair though it was. All it took was the right questions, and the patience of a thousand saints.
“Someone wants to come in, Rye. Someone wants to knock knock knock the door. Y’gotta knock the door to get into the house. ‘sonly polite to knock.”
Rye did not possess the patience of a thousand saints. One, perhaps, but that saint had probably never dealt with a girl like Winnie. Sighing under his breath, Rye placed his own hand on hers and tried again.
“Winnie, I needs to know who’s comin’. Who wants ta knock our door?”
For the briefest of moments, Winnie’s eyes flashed with sober rationality before it went the way of all things.
“I don’t know his name Rye, and his face ain’t clear.”
Softly, the giggle began to rise.
“’sides, there’s another door that needs knockin’, and it needs knockin’ right quick.”
Rye felt the ghost of a smile as his sister shifted in her seat and slowly raised her skirt.
“Winnie, y’gotta tell me what you know.”
As he watched her legs spread, it was clear that there would be no answers tonight.
“Ain’t you gonna knock Rye? Ya can’t come in unless you knock.”
And in that moment, Rye Sawyer forgot about preachers and doors.
Currently Untitled Female Led Genre Piece
The fog was thick enough to choke on. Faint blurs of light bloomed from the gas lamps dotted along the empty street. Rich echoes sounded out as the carriage trundled along its route. In the distance machinery sang out; pistons clacking as steam hissed and whistled. Truly the old world was behind them now. The city was the future, the heart of enterprise and progression.
Marjorie squirmed in her seat. The journey had been long and everything ached, even her hair. Especially her hair. Before leaving she had tied it back into a very practical bun and covered it with a simple cotton bonnet. Now, eight days later, her scalp felt raw and bruised. Glancing around the cramped carriage she paused and then removed the bonnet. Mother was asleep, propped up in the corner. Her parted lips looked dry and in desperate need of a balm. A small puddle of saliva had pooled on her breast. Marjorie chuckled at this. If only Mother knew she thought as she set her hair free. It cascaded over her shoulders as best it could, the accumulated filth of travel had made it stringy and lank. She sighed, what a state she must look with her greasy hair and travelling clothes. The corset Mother insisted she wear had been cutting into her the entire time but not once had she dared complain.
"You were unfortunate enough to be given the figure of a fishwife" Mother had once told her. "The Lord clearly took offence to your questions."
The Lord was a matter of contention between Mother and Marjorie. A precocious child, she had first questioned Mother’s blind devotion before she could dress herself. Over the years this lack of faith had led to a number of scoldings, most often with the switch-belt Mother wore constantly.
As the years ticked by Marjorie learned that a silent tongue led to a happy bottom. A simple rule that never failed and allowed her to sit in relative comfort.
But now that Mother was away she could do something to alleviate the discomfort somewhat. Reaching down into her booth Marjorie retrieved Uncle David’s pocket knife. It had been a gift the evening before they departed.
"There are all sorts of bastards in the city" he had said, his soft brown eyes twinkling in the light of the dining room.
"It might not kill a man but it’ll give him the worst shaving scar you ever saw."
He chuckled at that, his throaty chuckle, the one that made Mother pull that face.
The knife itself was unimpressive, a scratched wooden handle and a rusty, notched blade that had seen the innards of one too many squirrels. No, the knife was not the real gift. It was the freedom, the independence, the trust. Uncle David had always been her favourite relative.
It was a spring-loaded blade but age had made the action less than rapid. With a practised deftness she cut through the cords of her corset. Breathing deeply for the first time in far too long Marjorie prepared herself for a month of small portions and disgusted lectures. It was a small price to pay for comfort. Liberated, Marjorie settled down for a decent night’s sleep.
When she awoke it was to the sound of panicked voices. Mother wasn’t breathing.
Marjorie waited. The minutes passed slowly, seconds trickled together and more than once she cursed Mother for making her leave the chronometer at home.
“A lady never needs to know the time” Mother had announced before they left “because she has no business to attend to.”
It was a lecture Marjorie had sat through many times before. To Mother it was the duty of a gentleman to keep time. A lady would need to know for an appointment. How would she serve refreshments otherwise?
The scandalous chronometer in question was a beautiful thing; gold plated copper hands on an ivory face laid to rest in a mahogany case. The finish was marble smooth and it ticked in the most delightful manner, every second marked as the fine cogs whirred behind off-white rhino horn. Rather unusually it had straps and was attached to the wrist. The straps themselves were leather and had a rich scent that conjured warmth and comfort Marjorie could not explain.
Yes, the chronometer would have been very useful. Without it Marjorie felt helpless, childlike. It had been a long time since they had entered the hospital, Mother on a gurney and Marjorie four paces behind. When the doctor arrived at the carriage she had offered her an opiate, to calm her hysteria. Politely she had declined; there was no hysteria to be found. All she felt was a profound dread that filled every fibre of her being. If Mother died she would be alone, here in this foreign city. The more she thought about this the less dread she felt. To be alone in the city, if only for a day, would be glorious; the freedom to go as she pleased, to be able see whatever she desired.
It was too much to ask, too much of a fancy to ever happen. And even if Mother didn’t pull through, there was still the appointment.
The reason for this journey had been hidden safely at the back of Marjorie’s skull. In eight days she had not dwelled on it once. To do so would surely drive her mad.
Not the good kind of marriage, not the one that one could find in fairy tales with handsome princes and beautiful princesses. Marjorie was to wed the second born son of an old acquaintance of Mother; Gregory Swofford, the third.
The Swoffords were a family of reasonable means for whom Father had been a clerk, before the incident. After that there had been no contact until a month prior. A telegram, an extravagance as far as Mother was concerned, had arrived announcing that Old Swofford’s son was of marrying age and that, given the circumstances of the incident, it would bring the family Swofford no small amount of joy to offer Marjorie the position of wife.
As she sat there, ruminating on this proposal, a small melancholy man appeared in front of her, hat in hands.
“Miss Marjorie Longsford?” he asked in a voice that complimented his appearance.
Answering a question with a question was verboten, but given the circumstance Mother was hardly likely to switch her.
“I’m afraid here had been a terrible development. Would you come this way please?”
So she did, carrying a boulder in her stomach.
A house is a building, like a bank or a shop. It is a construct of bricks and mortar, sweat and exertion. A house will keep you alive without ever being alive itself. A house will never love you and you will never truly love a house. Only a home can love you and only a home can be loved in return. No one misses a house, not on any real sentimental level, and a house will never miss those inside it. A home will. A home is loyal, a home is devoted.
You only find ghosts in homes.
In order to linger at the curtain of mortality you must connect with a location, with your home. A home can be anywhere; an alley, an apartment, a prison cell. The longer you stay, the closer you get. The closer you are, the more likely it is that you can stay behind. There are many reasons one may linger, each of them unique to the individual. Some choose to stay, to retain their mind. For once you push through the veil you may never return. And the other side is oh so cold.
Some have no choice in the matter. A betrayal here, a human sacrifice there, people get trapped post-partum. There a few, a lucky few, that will find their release. It can be accidental or through the actions of a well-intentioned mortal. Evelyn was not lucky.
The story of Evelyn Shaw’s life is a small, sad affair. Born to a poor family in a time where class meant everything, Evelyn was destined for mediocrity. If she was lucky a builder’s apprentice would agree to take her on, to marry her and utilise her organs as a baby factory. This life, followed by a young death, was the most a young girl like Evelyn could hope for.
But the world will have its mischief, and dreams will be dashed. At the tender age of just 19, young Evelyn was forced to venture to the next town over. It was a cold Saturday in December and she was to purchase a turnip. The town in question was a 3 mile walk away and involved navigating a number of very precarious lanes. It was on one of these lanes that the final hour of Evelyn Shaw’s life began.
The day, thus far, had been uneventful. She had trudged through the snow, armpits warming her hands, desperately wishing she were dry. When willpower proved to be less than effective she swore, softly, and then blushed at the word that had escaped her lips. The halfway marker was just around the next corner.
When Evelyn had arrived at the market some hours earlier she had been dismayed to discover that the last turnip had recently been sold to a rather rotund gentleman with a prominent limp. The blood pounded in her ears as Evelyn began to flit around town, her clothes weightless in all the panic. By the time she had finished searching the sky has turned a cold grey and the light was fading rapidly.
Evelyn took off as fast as society, and the wet mass around her legs, would allow. Her mind was focused on the beating she was going to receive upon returning home. Gout or no, her father would be reaching for the switch before she could remove her bonnet. Because she was distracted, because she was preparing the beast position to sleep in with a tanned hide, Evelyn didn’t see the dark shape that lurked in the hedges. She didn’t see the imminent danger. The first Evelyn knew of Samuel Norrington was his thick, tobacco-stained fingers wrapped around her mouth. In that moment everything stopped and Evelyn began to pray to the God her parents had beaten into her.
She was ignored.
It took them six days to find what was left of Evelyn. She had been dead less than half a day. No one knew where her fingers ended up. No one but Norrington and his friends. Each of them sworn to secrecy, under pain of a violent death, no one spoke of Evelyn, no one even thought of her unless it was a lonely, winter night, the sort where the snow is deep and the children are dreaming.
This was the fate of Evelyn Shaw.
Pebble - Part 2
The air shimmered as the heat of the day rose steadily. She wandered down streets and alleys, cutting through quiet suburbs and across silent fields. She had no real destination, no real goal. Her feet led her, there was no attempt to steer or take control. This was true freedom. People passed by, smiling faces, happy families enjoying this glorious day for what it was.
There was nothing that could ruin this day. Nothing at all. It was too perfect for any of that nonsense.
There had been a single moment, a solitary collection of minutes, that had threatened to turn the day sour. She had been following a thin path through a small pleasant park, a canopy of trees creating a dark tunnel of soothingly cool air, when a tribe of girls she knew from school appeared.
There were three of them, inseparable and almost indistinguishable. They walked in a line, the queen bee flanked by her cohorts. Stunningly, spectacularly pretty, she ruled the school with her razor wit and perfect hair. Everyone knew the intimate details of her life, every second document by gossips and admirers. Her name was Claire and she was determined to ruin this day.
Her clear blue eyes shone as she spotted her target. Dizzy Lizzy, the walking sideshow. It was bad enough that she refused to wear make-up but the fact that she was so tall and skinny? That was an unforgivable offence. No one was skinnier than Claire Meyer. No one. Not without facing the consequences. The oblivious, dreamy way she talked and moved made it even worse. Did she not care how she looked? How dare she be so confident, so self-assured. She had to be stopped.
The trio surrounded her before she realised what was happening. Claire took centre stage as her minions, Laura and Sophie took flanking positions. Tension bubbled in Elizabeth’s stomach.
That was her name, Elizabeth. Her father loved history and had named his children after his favourite dynasty. Mary, Edward and Elizabeth. It made sense, he was a Henry after all. But this was not the time to ruminate on names. Conflict was in the air, thickening it. “Dizzy Lizzy, as I live and breathe” The word oozed from Claire’s perfectly formed mouth.