Thursday, October 18, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Seventeen

Pastor Michael settled Sarah into the gig, with Beatrice and Brian. He looked over as Mike and James Jenkins arrived with their horses.
'So, I'll travel with Sarah and the Dennises. You two ride as outriders.'
Mike and James nodded silently, their lips bitten with nervous tension. They swung up into their saddles and reined their nervous horses into formation with the gig. Brian took up the reins and Michael settled himself next to Sarah, holding her hands tightly. His crucifix gleamed by the light of the vicarage carriage lamp.
'All ready?' yelled Brian. At the group 'aye' he cracked the reins and the gig set off with a sudden lurch. They pelted down the little road towards the centre of town, the outriders easily keeping pace with the two gig horses.
As they swung past the town gardens, there was a loud crack and a flash of light. Before anyone could do anything a figure appeared in the gig, clad in a flowing black coat.
His eyes gleamed red as he looked at Michael.
'You know I can't let you do this, don't you?' he asked, almost reasonably.
Michael gripped his crucifix.
'And you know we have to, don't you?' he growled back at the spectre.
There was the sound of unearthly laughter as the shadowy man leaned forward and took the crucifix from the Pastor.
'Huh! Piece of tin jewellery!' he cried dismissively and ripped the small cross from the pastor's neck. Pastor Michael was horrified to see his crucifix have no effect on the demon, he had been hoping it might buy them some time - or at least keep the evil one at bay for a while.
The demon studied the small metal cross for a moment and then flung it away. He grabbed for Sarah.
'Never! You'll never get the three!' he screamed above the howling wind.
Just as suddenly, Philip recoiled. His face turned deep red and he screamed, as if in pain. Michael looked around and saw Beatrice brandishing something.
'Tin, eh?' she cried. 'Try this!'
The gleam of silver was reflected deep in his red eyes, and it almost seemed at though there was a trickle of blood from them.
Beatrice kept the trinket held high between her and the demon as she pulled Sarah out of his grasp and pushed her down on the floor. Michael immediately covered Sarah with his own body. Philip gasped then tried to reach for Beatrice's outstretched hand.
From out of nowhere came an awful cracking sound, and as Beatrice felt the burning sensation of the demon's fingers brush hers, there was a scream and a furious yelling. Mike and James Jenkins had unsheathed their whips and were laying into Philip as hard as they could. Their horses cantered dangerously close to the carriage, but it was necessary as they were needed to distract the demon before he hurt Beatrice or stole Sarah. Withers beaded with sweat rubbed against the side of the carriage as Mike and James ignored the pain from their crushed calves and continued to flail on Philip from both sides.
A lucky shot from James got the demon straight across the face, drawing blood and breaking his nose. The demon roared in pain and, to the horror of the other combatants, began to shed his human persona.
'Stop him!' yelled Brian, still urging the horses onto the farm.
'I can't' shrieked Beatrice.
The demon spiralled upwards and then flew at Mike, sulphurous tendrils emanating from every part of him. Mike ducked low in his saddle, but it wasn't enough.
As he swooped over, the demon plucked Mike out of his saddle and dragged him up into the air with him.
'No!' screamed James. 'Let him go!'
The demon laughed maniacally and then proceeded to rent Mike to pieces. The absolute strength of the demon proved to be unstoppable, although Mike tried valiantly to fight back. When his head was wrenched from his body, the demon lost interest and dropped the corpse to the ground. He turned, his eyes burning with intense fire and glared at James.
'Come on!' James screamed. 'You want to attack an old man - come and get a young one!' and he brandished his whip at the demon. Philip laughed uproariously, as though James had made an exceptionally funny joke. When he recovered his composure, he threw a hand out towards James on his horse. A bolt of pure energy flew from his hand and jetted towards James. James saw the bolt just in time and threw himself sideways. The bolt hit his horse and the poor animal was stone dead in a matter of heartbeats. As his horse fell, James launched himself at the gig and managed to grab one of the harness traces. He hauled himself up and swung his leg over one of the carriage horses, urging it on to even more speed.
As if looking for the holy grail, Brian peered into the gloom and could just make out the farm. It seemed dark, but there was a light flickering. The girls were still there.
The demon was still furiously buzzing the gig with energy bolts and fireballs. Brian kept the horses galloping straight on while keeping his head down. Michael was still covering Sarah and Beatrice sat up continuing to brandish her silver crucifix, ignoring the pains in her arms and the sight of her old friend being rent in two.
The demon was howling in frustration, as long as that damned silver jewellery was there, he had no chance of getting Sarah out of the gig.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Sixteen

Brian and Beatrice had left the house with James in the gig provided by Mike Jenkins. Edward, the boy, had stayed to keep the girls company, as instructed. He was expecting there to be more people at the farmhouse, as he knew the Dennis family had five daughters, not to mention the other two labourers. Gloria explained that Natalie was at the house of the family of her beau for the evening, and the other girls, Ann, Maisie and Alexandra, were at the house of an old school friend in Ashton, and would be staying overnight. Edward was relieved. The thought of the burden of responsibility for six young women had weighed heavily on his shoulders as he had dashed to the farm. The knowledge that he only had two to protect, and that the labourers were only a stone's throw away, strengthened his resolve.
Gloria and Lucy were feeding the household animals, with the help of Edward. The other two men were feeding and bedding down the outside animals.
The two dogs and the three cats sat patiently waiting for their meal, apart from the young puppy who wound himself around Lucy's legs. She and the puppy had bonded from her arrival and he was often to be seen accompanying the girls on their walks across the fields. In the evenings he usually laid by Lucy's feet, more often than not with his chin resting on her foot or her knee, depending on her pursuit. If she was sewing, then he settled on her foot; if she was just chatting then he would lay his chin on her knee and stare longingly at her, hoping for a stroke.
Lucy liked all the animals, but she loved the puppy. He was a great help in her healing process. So much so that when she asked to name him the Dennis family were content for him to be named Charlie. Little Charlie, as he came to be known, was Lucy's constant companion, seeming to know, in that animal sixth sense, that she needed some comfort she couldn't get from humans; an unconditional love.
As the food went down on the floor and Little Charlie bounded over to find his bowl, there was a loud cracking noise. The girls looked at one another, and Edward got up hastily from the table.
'Stay here,' he commanded. 'And stay together.'
And with that he picked up a poker from the range, left the kitchen and went into the main house. The door swung shut behind him. In a split second, the yard door blew open and Gloria rushed to shut it. Her outstretched hand froze as a familiar figure walked into the yard, eerily lit by the carriage lantern over the stable.
'Ph..Ph..Philip,' she stammered. Lucy appeared at her shoulder and squinted out into the dark of the yard.
'Philip!' she exclaimed.
Gloria and Lucy looked at one another, and then both turned to look at the ghostly figure.
'Hello girls,' boomed a voice that filled the yard. 'I see you have met. Mrs Mantell meets Mrs Mantell.'
He strode out of the gloom and waited by the door for Gloria to move aside. She did so without a murmur, still looking at Lucy. Philip marched into the kitchen and sat on the edge of the table, his coat swathed around him. His face looked darker and more handsome than ever.
Lucy looked out into the yard, and then threw a glance at the kitchen door.
'Oh,' laughed Philip. 'They won't come.'
Gloria pushed her way in front of him.
'What have you done?'
'Well, the two luggoons in the barn? They won't bother you again, or me for that matter! And the child sent to protect you? Well, you can holler and scream all you want, but he can neither hear you or reach you!'
Lucy ran to the kitchen door and tugged on the handle. The door was stuck fast. She yelled as loud as she could muster, but there was no answering cry from the other side of the door. Edward was certainly not able to help.
As the girls clustered together, Little Charlie had been trying to get up the nerve to protect his new human friend, starting with some very threatening growling. Upon hearing Lucy yell, he lunged at Philip, teeth bared. Philip raised one hand, as if to ward off the blow. Charlie stopped in mid-lunge and was catapulted backwards and hit the wall, sliding down to the floor, concussed and very confused. Lucy rushed over to see to her canine friend, while Gloria approached Philip.
'Who are you?' she demanded. She looked into his eyes as if trying to read his very soul. His dark eyes burned with intensity - and something else she couldn't quite read.
'You'll find out,' he sneered. 'Actually, you'll find out sooner than you think!'
He raised a hand and the older dog fell over, frothing at the mouth. The cats were stricken and rushed to cluster and hide behind the range. The older dog heaved and struggled to breathe.
'Stop!' cried Lucy, who was still sitting with Little Charlie and watching the other dog suffer. She made to go to the dog, but as suddenly as it came on, the fit passed and the old dog got up shaking his grizzled muzzle in a confused fashion.
'Do you see yet, dear wives,' coaxed Philip. 'What I can do?'
Gloria and Lucy looked fearful. What on earth was this creature in their kitchen; this creature they had both so innocently married?
'I have to go and sort out the rest of this sweet family,' Philip said suddenly, rising from his temporary seat on the table. The cats hissed and the dogs growled. The yard door flew open and Philip strode out into the darkness, his coat swirling around his calves. He turned and frowned. In an instant all the lights in the house and yard blinked out, leaving the girls in complete darkness.
Lucy and Gloria huddled together, feeling the sensation of silk as the cats rushed past them into the black night and to freedom. Little Charlie was shaking his head, but seemed unharmed. The old dog was resolutely eating again, as though the temporary interruption was past.
'Bye, girls,' came a sibilant whisper and then they had the uncanny sensation they were alone. No footfalls dictated Philip's departure, but they were absolutely sure in the knowledge that he had gone.
Lucy groped around for the lantern and opened the range to light a spill, while Gloria tried the kitchen door again. This time it opened freely to reveal Edward in the hallway. He looked disconcerted.
'Have all the lights gone out? How is that possible?' he asked as he walked into the kitchen.
'Edward!' Gloria tugged on his sleeve. 'Did you hear Lucy call out?'
Edward shook his head. 'Nope. I just went out to see what made that banging noise, the lights went out and you opened the door. How on earth did the lights go out?' he mused peering up into the light mantles.
Lucy and Gloria looked worriedly at each other.
'You wouldn't believe us if we told you,' said Lucy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Fifteen

The wind whistled around the little vicarage as Michael and Sarah arrived. The storm clouds were lowering ominously and the temperature had dropped a significant few degrees. Michael ushered Sarah into the house and slammed the door.
'Maggie?' he cried. 'Maggie, are you here?'
His housekeeper leant over the small stair banister rail.
'Hello sir, tis turning into a wicked night' she commented.
'Maggie! Make up the spare room for this young lady please. Then knock her up something to eat. Warming and nourishing please. And stay with her. I'll be back shortly.'
'Yes sir' Maggie was used to short notice visitors. 'Where will you be, sir?'
'I'm running down to the hotel to speak to Mike. I'll tell him you're held up here for a while. I'll be back directly.'
Maggie nodded and came downstairs in a rush.
'Come on then, miss. Let's get you settled in.' and with that she took Sarah's little bag and led the way upstairs.
Michael waited a moment and, seeing the women getting on, he went back out into the lowering evening.
The storm was gathering pace. The darkening sky was almost purple and the clouds were thickening. There was an occasional rattle as the wind started to pick up. Michael sprinted the half mile to the hotel where he demanded to see Mike Jenkins. Mike came from the back rooms, rubbing his hands on a towel.
'Mike,' gasped Michael. 'I need a favour. Can you send a message over to the Dennis farm? Ask Brian and Beatrice to come to the vicarage. Oh, and James should come too - but only if the other lads are around to keep an eye on the girls!'
Mike looked nonplussed at the pastor. But it was unusual for Michael to ask for things for no reason. Obviously the out of breath pastor had something important to tell.
'Course,' he said and bellowed into the back for one of his handymen. He passed on the message and told the boy to take a horse and cart. He also instructed the boy to let Brian and company have the horse and cart, and he was to stay and look after the girls.
'Two birds with one stone,' he grinned at Michael. 'Can I be of any more help?'
'Can you come to the vicarage?' asked Michael. 'I think you're going to want to hear this too.'
'I'll be over shortly,' said Mike. 'Just give me half an hour to sort myself out.'
With that, Pastor Michael headed back out into the burgeoning storm, clasping his soutane around himself and ran back to the vicarage.
'Tea, Maggie!' he shouted over the rising sound of the storm. 'Strong and hot, please. And make a fresh pot, we have visitors coming over! It's going to be a long night!'

Brian and Beatrice sat together on the settle in the vicarage study, holding hands and looking scared. James and Mike Jenkins stood leaning on the mantelpiece as Pastor Michael ushered in Sarah. He made her comfortable in a deep cosy chair and poured her a strong cup of tea. As she drank, the cup rattled in the saucer.
Outside, the wind was becoming so loud that everyone had to shout. The sky was now inky black and the rain was falling in lumps. Michael had drawn the curtains, but everyone could hear the storm starting to rage.
'Everyone, this is Sarah.' Michael began. The assembled group all smiled wecomingly and encouragingly at the young girl. She coloured slightly.
'Sarah has recently had her baby taken.'
There was a second's silence and then everyone started talking at once. As the volume level rose, Michael raised his hand and they all subsided.
'I have been doing some research and I think I know what is going on.'
'Do you know how to stop it?' whispered Beatrice. 'These poor girls. Three of them. How many more are to suffer?'
Michael took a deep breath. He walked over to his bookcase and took down the old book. He opened it to the correct page and read aloud the extract he had found the previous day.
The words echoed around the room, seeming to push back the storm.
The most powerful of all life-giving properties is that of the blood from a demon's own child. This makes the procreation of children a vital part of the demon theology. However, the child has to be half human and it must not be conceived through violence. Demons believe violent conception lessens the effect of the blood. The child must also be nurtured by its mother for a set period before it is suitable for sacrifice.
Brian and Mike went white as they realised the implications. Beatrice fought the urge to faint, and James looked helplessly on.
'Sarah, my dear,' Michael turned to the young girl. 'What was your husband's name?'
'Philip.' Said Sarah with a puzzled tone. 'Philip Mantell.'
Beatrice fainted as Brian leaped out of his seat.
'The bastard!' he screamed, beating the will of the storm as his words came out. 'I'll kill him! The evil, lying, sneaky bastard!'
Pastor Michael went to Beatrice, while keeping a wary eye on Brian. This was the easy bit. Luckily his audience had come to the same conclusions he had.
'Brian,' he said gently. The storm seemed to abate enough so that the Pastor's gentle voice did not need to be raised.
'I believe Philip is a demon. Not only that, but I believe he is a demon that is seeking eternal life. He is ruthlessly marrying women, impregnating them and then stealing the babies.'
That was too much for Sarah, who also fell forward into a bumping faint. Michael rushed to her side at the same time as James stepped forward and the two men revived her. She sat, white-faced, as Michael continued,
'It goes without saying that we must stop him,' but Michael was immediately interrupted by five voices clamouring how.
'The secret is in the triumvirate,' he said, turning the pages of the book. 'Listen; The demon is the most powerful of all the creatures from other-worlds. It is almost impossible to kill demons without first weakening its power. The triumvirate is still the most potent way to weaken a demon. The Power of Three is a magical essence that will reduce the demon to its weakest and enable victory. We need to create a triumvirate. And I think I know how.'
Mike and Brian looked at each other. Beatrice blanched.
'Sarah,' she stammered.
'Sarah is our key,' nodded Michael. He looked at the terrified girl. 'Sarah, my dear girl, I am so sorry. You are the third girl. Your baby was the third taken. You complete the triumvirate.'
This was all too much for Sarah, her face turned the colour of chalk and she leapt up and rushed from the room. The men and Beatrice heard her stumble into the hallway and into the arms of Maggie.
'Feeling a bit sick, love?' asked the kindly maid, and was answered with sounds of retching. 'Not to worry, I'll have that cleaned in an instant. Let me take you upstairs.'
'No!' roared Michael. 'Bring her back in. We have no time. We must make plans!'
Maggie entered the room, supporting Sarah.
'But sir, the girl is proper poorly. She's just thrown up on your hallway rug!'
'Vomiting is to be but a part of this night,' said Michael harshly. 'Please sit down, ladies.'
Brian stood to make room for Sarah and Maggie to sit by Beatrice, Sarah in the middle flanked by the two middle-aged women. Each woman took a frozen hand and held it tight.
Michael took a deep breath. What he was about to ask these people, these friends, was something no man should ever have to ask.
'As I was saying, we have to create the triumvirate. But we already have one. Gloria and Lucy are two. Sarah is the third.'
He put his hand up to still the voices already rising in dismay.
'We can call Philip. We can use the triumvirate to get his attention.' He went on remorselessly. 'You hear that storm? That is no freak of nature. He knows the three girls are close. He can feel his power weakening. We must get them in the same place. He will attempt to stop us, and that is how we get him. We bait him.'
There was an agonised sigh from the room.
'Bait him?' asked Brian disbelievingly. 'Bait him with my daughter and these poor girls?'
Beatrice stood up.
'Pastor, you had better explain yourself. I am not offering up my daughter or any other woman as a sacrifice to a demon!'

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Fourteen

Sarah sat in her tiny house, the small blanket crushed in her hands. It had been two days since Matthew disappeared and she hadn't seen her husband either. She was devastated. She was also completely alone. She knew no one in Littleton, having moved here from several hundred miles away with her new husband. She had no one to turn to and no one called to see how she was.
The house was completely silent. She hadn't slept for two days and had spent most of the time tramping the streets of Littleton looking for her husband and her son. No one had seen or heard anything, but then very few people knew Sarah and her small family. She had even stopped at the local church and spoke to the Pastor. He was sympathetic and supportive, but couldn't help with actual information.
A sudden knocking at the door broke the painful silence. Sarah jumped and then rushed to open the door.
It wasn't her husband or someone returning her baby, but a pastor. He was a young sweet-faced pastor with friendly eyes and an out-stretched hand. As if in a daze, Sarah took his hand, it was warm, strong and comforting.
'My name is Pastor Michael,' said the stranger, guiding Sarah back into the little house and shutting the door.
'My name is Sarah,' she whispered as she showed him the way into the parlour.
'I was visiting my friend Pastor John. I don't know if you know him?' Michael glanced at Sarah who numbly shook her head. 'Well, he's the pastor you met yesterday and he told me a terrible tale of baby stealing. Was it you he was talking about?'
Sarah burst into tears. She had not cried one teardrop since finding Matthew gone, but now this nice man was here and seemed to care, she finally allowed herself to give way. Pastor Michael held her hand and waited patiently for the storm to abate. Eventually, the grief-stricken weeping gave way to hitches and sniffs. And between gasping sobs, Sarah told Pastor Michael how Matthew had gone from his crib, and to add to her pain she hadn't seen her husband in two days either. Pastor Michael listened carefully and mulled over what she told him.
'Do you need to stay here?' he asked gently. 'Do you have family in the area?'
'No,' she replied hoarsely. 'I had nothing here except my son and my husband.'
'Why don't you come back to my town with me? It's not too far away, and there'll be company and comfort there for you. I can start helping to search for your baby - Pastors know a lot of people' he winked.
Sarah considered. She had not heard a murmur from anyone in two days, even Pastor John has not called around. Despite all her questioning no one had seen or heard anything - or if they did they weren't telling. Perhaps it would help to have this Pastor on side, and she could certainly do with some decent company, and some sympathy.
'I'll come to your town,' she decided. 'I'll pack a few things and be ready when you are.'
'Good,' said Pastor Michael. 'I need to go and talk to John; we'll make sure your little house is safe. Then I'll come back for you with my gig.'
Michael left. The house was silent once more. But Sarah now had a mission. To go to Smyth with this understanding priest and let him help her find her child. She packed a few things and walked into the parlour. She picked up Matthew's blanket and held it close to her face, feeling the softness and smelling the baby smell that still lingered. She folded it and put it in her case.

Pastor Michael sipped the hot refreshing cup of tea in the sunny study of Pastor John.
'Do you think they are back?' John asked.
'It's certainly an explanation for the abductions,' replied Michael thoughtfully. 'But surely, if Philip was a demon, there would have been clues? As far as I know, he was a clean-living, decent young man.'
'But there is definitely something black afoot,' John said with a solemn expression. 'Do you still keep in touch with the Hunters? Perhaps they can help?'
'No,' Michael shook his head and put the empty cup down. 'The Hunters have moved on. They are needed elsewhere. Just because we vanquished the demons does not mean they cease to exist - which is where my train of thought started!'
'What are you going to do now?' John was intrigued. Despite mentoring Michael for many years, he had claimed to stay well away from all things demonic; preferring to leave that to the younger clerics.
'Well, the book talks of a triumvirate being the weakness. I told you about Gloria and Lucy - perhaps Sarah will complete the triumvirate and force the demon to make itself known.'
'And if it doesn't?' John asked the question that Michael had been avoiding.
'Then at the very least, those three poor girls will have company and friends to help out.'
'Very noble,' smiled John. 'And while we're on the subject of women - any sign of a wife on the horizon for you?'
Michael sniggered embarrassedly. 'No, my flock keeps me very busy. And I don't need a wife - I have a more than competent housekeeper!'
The two men chuckled over the joke and eventually Michael rose to leave.
'Michael,' said John tentatively. 'I love you like my own son. Don't do anything foolish, and if you need help, I'll be there - just call.'
Overcome with emotion Michael hugged his old friend close, kissed the top of his bald pate and then shrugged on his coat.
Leaving the comfort of the vicarage, he picked up his gig and went to meet Sarah as he had promised.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Thirteen

Lucy and Maisie approached the house. As they walked up the path, the door was opened and another girl stood silently in the doorway.
'Gloria,' said Maisie, hastening ahead. 'This is Lucy. I met her at the church. Pastor Michael thought you might like to meet her.'
Gloria looked solemnly at the stranger. Blonde looked at blonde. Their eyes met, blue on blue and there was electricity in the air.
'Hello, Gloria,' said the strange girl, Lucy. She was tired and dirty, but she smiled bravely.
Gloria held out her hand and Lucy took it. The two girls walked into the house together and went straight into the parlour, shutting the door. Maisie went to the kitchen and put the kettle on, explaining to her mother that they had a visitor and she was with Gloria.
'Nice cup of tea will set them both right,' said Beatrice, when Maisie had finished telling her about Lucy. 'God love us, someone out there stealing babies - it's horrible!'
Lucy and Gloria were sitting close together, their blonde heads almost touching when Maisie arrived with a pot of tea and cups on a tray. The girls looked up, blue eyes tear-filled.
'She was just telling me about Stephen,' whispered Lucy.
'Lucy told me about Charlie,' whispered Gloria. They sat, hand in hand, looking at Maisie, who was starting feel a little teary herself. She pulled herself together.
'Here's a nice cup of tea for you both. Lucy, I thought I would make you up a bed in Gloria's room - how does that sound?'
'That would be nice, thank you,' replied Lucy, still keeping a firm hold on Gloria's hand.
Maisie walked back to the kitchen still stunned. Her mother was peeling potatoes and Maisie picked up a knife to help.
'You're never going to guess what I've just seen, Ma,' she said as the peel came away from the white potato. 'Gloria is talking.'
Beatrice looked at Maisie in astonishment.
'She's not!' she stammered. 'How wonderful!'
So confused was the dear mother that the peelings went into the potato pot. Both women laughed and set about fishing them out.

Meanwhile the two young girls sat in the parlour and talked long into the night. That night Gloria didn't take her medicine, and she didn't sleepwalk either. Lucy slept in a put-you-up on the floor of Gloria's room, but some way through the night she got up and quietly crept into Gloria's bed, lying with one arm around her new friend. Gloria felt the movement and turned, put her arm around Lucy and they slept like children, entwined, right through the night.

No one could explain it. The initial spark of electricity between the two bereaved young mothers seemed to have fused them together. Not only were they never apart from that moment on, but they were stronger. Gloria and Lucy became one functioning unit, speaking for each other and working side by side.
Slowly Gloria started to get her colour back. She and Lucy bathed together, Lucy washed Gloria's beautiful blonde hair and brushed it to shining dryness in the afternoon sunshine. Lucy prompted Gloria to eat, and gradually Gloria started to enjoy her meals again. When they were both stronger, they worked out in the fields with Brian, the girls and the labourers, and they both filled out and benefited from the fresh air and exercise.

James Jenkins watched the girls as they worked side by side. He was a young lad of eighteen, working the farm in preference to staffing his father's hotel in town. Tall and blond with an easy grin, James was the strong silent type and completely devoted to the Dennis family. Each of the girls held a special place in his heart, but he had yearned for Gloria since they were children together. He watched her grow, meet the stranger Mantell, fall in love and marry. He was at the church the day Gloria and Philip exchanged vows, and he raised a glass of ale to them that evening. Never once, in all their years together, did James ever give Gloria the slightest hint of his feelings. Once she met Mantell there was no right time anyway, it would have been totally improper of him to approach a betrothed or married woman. Since the marriage collapsed and Stephen's disappearance, James was equally reticent, reasoning that the poor girl had enough on her plate without one of the farm workers throwing himself at her.
Now, as he worked he marvelled at the change in Gloria since the new girl, Lucy had arrived. She had some life back in her. Brian and Beatrice said she was talking again, albeit briefly, and she was getting some of her old energy back. But Gloria now went nowhere without Lucy and Lucy was equally tied to Gloria. Nobody understood the special bond between the two girls. They had both lost babies, granted, but they met as complete strangers and bonded in an instant of electricity. Instead of crying together in corners, they were preparing to take on the world - but always together, Lucy and Gloria came as a package now.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Twelve

In a small house in the poorer area of Littleton lived Sarah, her husband and her baby son. Sarah was a petite blonde with a startlingly pretty face, and deep hazel eyes. She was small and slim and carried herself with an aura of dignity that many better-bred women couldn't manage. Her son was named Matthew and he was the spitting image of his father. His hair was darkening now and his eyes gently turning from blue to dark brown.
The little house only boasted two rooms, a parlour-come-kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. But Sarah was an inventive and imaginative woman and the little house was as homely as she could make it. She had hand sewn all the curtains and cushions, even the bedding was handstitched. She had painted the walls and hung gay pictures to brighten up the little rooms. She had found old unwanted ornaments and polished them to a brilliant shine, placing them by the fireplace so they caught every warm flicker from the fire. Money was tight, she understood that, but Sarah came from a poor family and was well-versed in making every penny do the job of two.
She brushed her hair from her face and scrubbed the clothes. She was doing the laundry in the tiny back yard. They had no complaints, at least their yard was private - so many of these houses had shared yards, even shared privies. Sarah and her husband had managed to secure a house with its own yard and a small private privy. Her hands were red and swollen from the laundry and the vicious detergent. Her face sweated with the effort and her breaths were shallow and difficult. But this was the last item. She had washed the clothes and, feeling a sense of energy, had decided to clean the contents of her linen closet. In these little slum houses, nothing stayed clean for long, not even clothes carefully stored away in chests and closets. Eventually the fabric would start smelling stale, and her husband had complained a couple of times that his clean bed smelt like something had died in there.
Sarah straightened up, wringing out the last sheet. It would be so nice when this was all done, she thought. She ran the sheet through the mangle and strung it up on the homemade washing line she had constructed. The yard was filled with billowing white linen, drying in the warm April sunshine.
A cry came from the house. Matthew had woken ready for his feed. Sometimes it seemed the child was conscientiously aware of when would be a good time to cry. He never cried when his mama was busy, and he never, ever cried around his father. Only a few weeks old and the baby had learned selective attention seeking.
Sarah picked him up and held him close. The little man immediately started nuzzling for food. Sarah smiled and settled herself in the chair, freeing up her breast to her hungry son. While he drank, she played with his soft curly hair and admired his long dark eyelashes, which lay on his creamy cheeks. She had certainly created a beautiful child, however, it was easy to see where his good looks had come from. His father had the same curly brown hair and long, long dark eyelashes that contrasted with his creamy coloured complexion. Her blonde hair and hazel eyes were not to be continued on in this child, she mused, but perhaps the next one might be like me? Perhaps the next might be a girl? I'd like a girl, she thought as Matthew pulled steadily at her breast. Pretty dresses and ribbons for her hair. Sarah floated away on dreams of her future daughter.
A small wail interrupted her thoughts, as Matthew informed her that he had had enough to drink. He belched loudly and milkily, and then gazed at his mother with his huge eyes. She smiled fondly at him and he chuckled. Matthew was such a gentle baby, he rarely cried, he never screamed and he smiled at her constantly. Once full of milk he would gaze around for a while before quickly going back to sleep. Sarah was looking forward to the days when he was older, and taking interest in things around him. She couldn't wait to start showing him trees and animals and reading him little books. The countryside was only a short walk out of town and she had plans to take him out to the fields at least twice a week for fresh air and, later, exercise.
Matthew's eyes slowly closed, still trying to gaze around against the odds. He smiled gently in his sleep and Sarah knew that meant he would need a nappy change when he woke up. She put the sleeping child back in his basket. Space was at a premium in the little house, so her husband had managed to acquire a small basket, just the right size for Matthew. It even came with little sheets and a warm woollen blanket. Matthew snuggled into his blanket and small milky snores came quickly.
Sarah looked around her little house. It wasn't much, admittedly, but with her husband working away so much of the time, it was big enough for her and the baby. The single room downstairs was actually longer than it appeared outside and meant there was room for a little sitting room cum parlour, and also a kitchen area at the opposite end with a small table for dining. Upstairs, the bedroom was the same deceptively large size, so Sarah and her husband curtained off the back end and created a small nursery and their 'room' was the rest of the space at the front of the house. Being quick and dextrous with her hands, Sarah had fashioned quilts and curtains for the house from offcuts offered by the local haberdasher. The result was a room filled with a hundred colours and a dozen patterns - but somehow all managing to co-ordinate to create a colourful creation.
The little yard was neatly paved, a bonus as some were still bare earth. The privy was in the far corner of the yard, denoted by the cut-out in the door. Luckily, the privies in this street all drained away into the new town sewer system, so the days when Sarah would have had the job of cleaning out the privy were long gone. Other than the privy, the yard was completely empty, save for the washing line Sarah had managed to string back and forth between the roof of the privy and the back wall of the house. The yard was swept daily and it was spotless. Once a month Sarah even washed down the paving, so proud she was of her own yard. The windows in the house were clean and gleamed in the sunshine.
With Matthew asleep and a short while on her hands before starting dinner, Sarah pulled a chair into her yard, sniffed the smell of damp clean laundry and settled herself in the sunniest spot. She had no books and no music, but Sarah didn't need such things. She had perfected the art of removing her mind elsewhere, leaving the toils and worries and going to a magical place where her house had a garden and an inside water closet - and a proper parlour. Each day, in her mind, she visited her 'other house' and spent some time there, thinking up new colour schemes or mentally moving furniture to get the best aspects of the room.
She awoke with a start and looked at the sky. The sun had passed its zenith and was starting to fall towards the horizon. Time to start dinner. In the market that morning, Sarah had managed to pick up some pork chops and intended to cook those with some fried potato for her husband who was due home at dusk. Matthew, thankfully, slept on in his basket, but Sarah knew she would have to wake him before his father came home, in order he might spend time with his son, before he went to bed for the night. This was a routine that her husband was most insistent on, that he have half an hour getting to know the child and spend some quality time with his boy.
As good as his word, her husband walked through the door as the sun was setting over the horizon. The house smelled pungently of pork and fried potato, and Matthew lay in his crib banging a wooden spoon. Sarah had had a quick wash and was neat and tidy to serve her husband his dinner. While he spent five minutes with Matthew, she dished up the meal.
At the other end of the room, her husband peered over the crib, making noises at Matthew, who was chuckling back. What Sarah didn't see was the surreptitious nips from the hipflask, under cover of the crib. Several slugs later, he straightened up and strode over to his dinner.
'How is Matthew today?' he asked, chewing on a mouthful of potato.
'He is fine, better than fine!' Sarah replied with unhidden pride. 'He is so healthy, and hardly ever cries. He's eating well too!'
'That's good,' said her husband as he carved up his chop. 'Let me finish here and we'll have a nice peaceful evening in the parlour with our baby son.'
Sarah shuddered slightly as she started to clear up the kitchen. She was hoping he would be tired and fractious, but it would appear her husband would be in fine form for his usual 'fun and games'.
'Oh, I forgot to say,' he declared, waving the chop bone. 'I will be away late tomorrow, probably overnight. Don't wait dinner for me.'
'Yes, my dear,' said Sarah obediently, her heart lifting. An evening with just her and Matthew. All night with the bed to herself? No grabbing or kicking. She smiled slightly as she wiped down the range.
'You seem happy with my plans,' her husband commented. 'I've finished eating, let us go and relax in the parlour.'
Sarah put the cloth in the sink, gritted her teeth and followed her husband into the parlour end of the room.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Eleven

Pastor Michael sat in his study, his forehead furrowed in a deep frown. The arrival of Lucy had disturbed him very much, especially in light of the Dennis case. Something here didn't add up, or alternatively, it did add up and Michael didn't like the result. He was curious as to why two young babies had vanished in as many months, in such a small area. Child-stealing was rare these days, although it was prevalent during the War.
The War. Maybe that was the key. Pastor Michael had been very heavily involved in the support of the humans and also the Demon Hunters. He had run messages and held meetings to support the Demon Hunters. In fact, he was one of the original group who contacted the Hunters and requested their help. Pastor Michael knew more about demons than any human man should know.
He cast his eyes across the expanse of bookshelves, searching out a specific title. Finding the book, he pulled it down and opened it to a large colour plate. The picture showed an image of the eternal battle between human and demon. The demon was enormous, without its human form, and sulphurous smoke eddied around it. Large horns protruded from its devilish forehead and its red eyes glinted dangerously. Its hands were enormous with skin of almost a purple hue, which was reflected in his face, and long black claws. The face was a frightening sight. It had the required number of holes; mouth, nose, and eyes, but with the purple skin and horns, not to mention full beard, the demon's face was definitely non-human. It had the human child by the neck, dangling him a good three feet above the ground, and it was clear from the artwork that the child was being garrotted by the beast's hand. It only took one hand to lift the child, the other monstrous claw was digging into the victim's chest, clearly with an intent to disembowel. The picture was entitled 'Demon Meal' and the following article explained the background to the astonishing picture.

'The demon is predominantly and dominantly male. Most demons can take human form whenever they desire, adopting it and shedding it at will. It is recorded that demons live amongst humans for many years without being discovered.
However invulnerable demons may appear they do have weaknesses. Most demons cannot take alcohol or other recreational drugs. Some react with intense violence, some shed their human form involuntarily, and some expire.
Another weakness is the demon's addiction to fresh blood. Particularly when taken in conjunction with a desire to conquer eternal life. The Fountain of Youth, referred to many times in human literature, is considered very real in demonic circles and many demons feel they can gain eternal life from the consumption of the blood of children, particularly babies. The picture (overleaf) illustrates the desire of a demon for the blood of a child, and it excites them to such a degree that they shed human form before killing and drinking the blood. Killing is left to the last minute as demons believe the blood should be warm and still pumping when it is drunk.

Pastor Michael read on, although his blood was chilling with every brutal word. But he knew, almost instinctively, that this was where he was going to find the answer to the unasked question.

The most powerful of all life-giving properties is that of the blood from a demon's own child. This makes the procreation of children a vital part of the demon theology. However, the child has to be half human and it must not be conceived through violence. Demons believe violent conception lessens the effect of the blood. The child must also be nurtured by its mother for a set period before it is suitable for sacrifice.

Michael looked up from the book, his face ashen. Was it possible, he theorised, that there was a demon in their midst? He turned to a later chapter of the book, trying to find the answer to a question that was niggling at the back of his mind.

The demon is the most powerful of all the creatures from other-worlds. It is almost impossible to kill demons without first weakening its power. The triumvirate is still the most potent way to weaken a demon. The Power of Three is a magical essence that will reduce the demon to its weakest and enable victory.

Michael paused. The Power of Three. He considered the implications of the statement carefully. If there was a demon abroad, how would they create the Power of Three? It had to be a trio that had some meaning in the demon's existence. In order to create the Power of Three, one had to see into the life of a demon. Had Michael seen the demon? Had he touched or sensed the demon? Could he, a mere pastor, see into the life of a demon and create the Power of Three?
Michael began making plans to travel. Lucy and Gloria were safe at the farm, and he had some questions that needed answers. The only place he was going to get answers was from his old friend and mentor, Pastor John.

Monday, October 01, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Ten

Lucy rinsed her hands under the tap and rubbed them dry on the worn old towel. Charlie had been asleep for an hour or more, so she had a little more time to herself. She picked up her trug and went out into the warm spring morning, tramping across the garden towards her precious vegetable beds. The cold weather had passed and spring was here proper. A warm sun shone across the fields, making the grass shine and the new leaves on the trees glitter. She picked a fine selection of vegetables. A nice thick vegetable soup for dinner tonight. Her husband had said it was possible he might not be home that night, and he definitely wouldn't have time to visit the butcher, so Lucy decided to make a juicy vegetable broth and some warm fresh bread.
She re-entered the kitchen and put the trug by the sink, drawing cool fresh water to wash the vegetables. She crooked an ear, but there was not a murmur from the parlour. Charlie slept on.
An hour later, all the vegetables were prepared, the bread was proving in the larder and Lucy decided it was time to make sure Charlie woke for his feed. She walked into the parlour.
'Little man?' she cooed. 'Lunch time!'
'Charlie?' she said louder walking over to the basket. 'Mummy's here!'
She pulled back the covers to discover Charlie was missing.

Ten minutes later, Lucy was still sitting where she had fallen onto the settle. She stared into space. She shook herself gently.
'Don't be daft' she admonished herself. 'Babies don't disappear.'
She searched the parlour thoroughly and then went upstairs. Charlie's little colourful nursery was empty and silent, but she searched it anyway. Then she went to their room. She turned the room upside down, beginning to fever in her search. She even looked under the bed, as if Charlie could magically spirit himself upstairs and under a bed.
She walked out of the house, calling loudly for her baby.
Silence greeted her. The animals were peaceful in their fields and there was not a soul for miles.
Charlie had gone.
Someone had taken Charlie.
Someone would pay.

Lucy walked stiffly into Smyth. It was a long hike from her little house, but she had determinedly walked without stopping. She entered the Town Square and decided to rest her feet in the pretty gardens. On one side was a large hotel, Jenkins Hotel, and across the way was a picturesque little road with a signpost that declared 'Church'. As she rubbed her sore feet, sitting on the warm grass amidst all the flowers, she decided to pay a visit to the church. After all, she reasoned, the church is the centre of a community.
Aware she was unknown in Smyth, she put her head down and took five minutes to gather her thoughts before struggling to her feet and setting off down the pretty little road that led to the church.
The pastor was dusting the plain altar as Lucy walked slowly into the church. He heard the light tiptap of her boots on the stone floor and turned to see who needed the Lord.
He saw a young blonde girl, skirts muddy and face smudged. Streaks of long-dried tears lay on her cheeks under her blue eyes and her hands were shaking. She looked more than her years, and staggered slightly as she walked towards him.
The pastor rushed over and gave the girl his arm. She leant on it, as though twenty times her age, and the pastor gently led her into the vestry.
As he brewed a cup of tea on his little stove he began to speak, in a gentle, rhythmic way, not demanding any answers.
'My name is Pastor Michael. Named for the saint, don't you know? Saint Michael was a fine chap, led the army of the Lord against Lucifer. I always feel my namesake had a much more productive religious life than I am managing.' He stirred the tea in the pot, still chattering. 'I have been here for three years now. Apart from births, deaths and marriages, this is one very self-sufficient community, faith-wise.'
He noticed she stiffened when he mentioned birth, death and marriages.
'So, my dear girl,' as he passed her a steaming mug of tea. 'What is your name?'
Lucy took the cup and the hot fumes seemed to revive her.
'My name is Lucy. Can you help me?'
The pastor settled himself on the bench next to her. He took the mug from her hand and gently took her cold hands in his. His eyes searched her face.
'Anything I can do, Lucy. The Lord and I are completely at your service.'
Lucy finally looked him in the face. Pastor Michael was a sturdy young priest with a homely square face, reliable looking. His thick hair curled on his collar and he had warm friendly eyes. His soft brown eyes seemed to look into Lucy's heart and she felt the warmth of his hands creep into her heart. She sensed intuitively that here was a man she could trust.
'My baby is gone.' She said simply. Pastor Michael looked horrified. At his gentle urging she told him the whole story.
'Where is your husband?' he asked
'Travelling today, Pastor. He said he might be away tonight. I don't know where he travels with his work.'
Pastor Michael felt a sinking sensation. This sounded like the Dennis family. Two babies in one town in the space of only a couple of months? Just disappearing off the face of the earth without a trace?
As if he conjured her up, there was a small tap at the door and Maisie Dennis put her head around.
'Pastor? Are you there?' she called. Seeing Michael was busy she stammered 'sorry, Pastor. I'll wait out here. I was just here about the flowers for Sunday.' With that she gently withdrew and quietly shut the door.
Pastor Michael opened the door and motioned quietly to Maisie.
'Maisie, come in here, child,' he said in a low voice. 'We need you. This is Lucy. Her baby has disappeared - just like Stephen.'
Maisie walked slowly into the vestry watching the young girl cautiously.
'Lucy, this is Maisie Dennis,' Michael introduced the girls. 'Her sister's baby disappeared too. You two should talk.'
'Your baby is gone too?' Maisie asked disbelievingly. 'My sister's baby vanished about six weeks ago.'
Lucy looked up at the new arrival. Maisie was tall and dark, as dark as Lucy herself was blonde. She had a friendly face and looked bright, although a cloud had passed across her complexion when Michael told her the news.
'Maisie?' asked Pastor Michael, sensing a helping hand. 'Can you take Lucy to get something to eat? Poor girl must be starved, and I must finish cleaning the church.'
Maisie agreed and she led the little blonde girl out of the quiet cool church into the warm spring day.
'So, we'll find the hotel and have something to eat,' she said, tucking Lucy's arm into the crook of her own and setting a strolling pace down the little road. 'And you can tell me all about it.'

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Nine

The door rattled in its jamb and Gloria turned her soulless eyes toward the noise. Maisie walked into the room with a vase of flowers.
'Aren't these lovely, Glo?' she asked, setting the pretty vase on the coffee table. 'They came from Mrs Jones' garden, her boy brought them over this morning. My! How they do cheer up a room!'
Gloria looked at the flowers in the vase, but only saw greys and blacks. She couldn't see the beautiful petals, the vibrant colours and the dark green of the leaves.
She looked again towards the door.
'You know,' Maisie continued on as if holding a conversation. 'Daddy is back in town today. Mr Jenkins at the hotel says Philip has checked out. Daddy is looking for him.'
A slight shadow crossed Gloria's face. Philip? Gone? But she needed him.

Brian Dennis stood in the foyer of the hotel with Mike Jenkins. He was looking at a copy of Philip's bill.
'And he just upped and left, you say?' asked Brian.
'Yes, he gave us about ten minutes notice. We were completing his bill as he carried his bags outside,' said Mike.
'But Mike, he said nothing to us, nothing to Gloria,' persisted Brian. 'Do you have any idea where he went?'
'No, my friend,' replied Jenkins. 'He paid his bill in cash and said goodbye. Said he was moving on to find work.'
'I don't know what Gloria is going to do.' Brian was concerned. 'After all they had been through, it seemed Philip had turned a corner and they might make a go of their marriage.'
'He sure was over at your place regular,' mused Mike. 'His room never needed cleaning and the cleaning girl swears his bed was so tidy she joked he never slept in it!'
'Well, he's always been a tidy man - but a spotless bed? Are you sure he was sleeping there at night?'
'We did have our doubts,' said Jenkins. 'But with Gloria and all, we didn't like to ask. Didn't mention it outside the hotel neither, and swore young Maggie to secrecy. Your girl's got enough on her plate without added gossip from the town. Of course, James knows.'
'Mighty grateful, Mike' said Brian, looking at the bill again. 'You sure he didn't say where he was going? Or if he'd be back?'
'Not a word,' said Jenkins. 'Just upped and off. Gone in about thirty minutes all told. I saw him walking towards the wagon stop, but didn't see which way he went from the corner.'
Brian looked down from the hotel entrance. The hotel was right in the centre of town, looking over the town gardens. The town spread out from the hotel and from the doorway he could see all four roads disappearing into the distance. To his left was the road out of town to his house. Straight across was the road to the church. To the right two roads snaked off into the more built up areas, one leading to the wagon stop. But that road had a nasty corner, and one watched people slip around it and they were gone from sight.
'Cheers, Mike,' he said, handing back the bill. 'I'll have a mosey into town and see if anyone saw anything.'
With that, Brian set off down the road towards the wagon stop. Turning the corner he saw the grocery shop and the haberdashers. He went into each shop and asked the same question.
'Have you seen Philip Mantell today?'
The answer from both harried shopkeepers was no. Brian stood at the wagon stop, and pondered. Whilst he considered his next move the conductor jumped down from the wagon currently awaiting passengers.
'Help you, Sir?' he asked brightly.
'How many wagons have gone from here this morning?' asked Brian.
'Four, Sir,' replied the conductor. 'One to Cleveton, one to Ashton, and two to Littleton.'
'Four.....' mused Brian. He looked up. 'Where is your wagon going?'
'Cleveton, Sir.'
'How long do I have before you go?'
'About twenty minutes, Sir. I was just about to get my lunch from the grocer. The driver should be back in about ten minutes.'
'I'll be back,' yelled Brian as he sprinted down the street back towards the hotel.
Mike Jenkins agreed to run a message to the Dennis farm, and also lent Brian enough money for his plan. Brian sat back in the rocking wagon, watching the scenery flow past. Finally, he was doing something. The helpless feeling of this morning had been replaced with a feeling of intention and anticipation.
Brian was going to find Philip. And he was going to bring him home.

The message arrived at the Dennis farm in the shape of Mike Jenkins himself. Mike was a good friend of Brian's and he was close to Beatrice and the girls. His son James, having eschewed the life of a hotelier, worked as one of the Dennis labourers. The family looked at Mike nonplussed as he delivered the message. James stood silently at the kitchen door, wary of intruding, yet needing to show this close-knit family his support.
'Brian's gone? After Philip?' spluttered Beatrice. 'Does he know where he's gone?'
'ah, no,' said Mike 'But he knows that only four wagons left Smyth this morning. One to Ashton, one to Cleveton and two to Littleton. He reckons he can cover all three towns in one day and be back here by suppertime.'
'If you don't think he slept at the hotel,' pursued Ann. 'And he didn't sleep here - where did he sleep for the last three weeks?'
'Now that, as they say, is the golden question,' answered Mike exchanging a quick look with his son James. He was pretty certain Philip had not slept at the hotel, merely keeping his room as a bolthole. He was at the Dennis farm most of the day, then returned, changed and went out in the evening. Originally, the Jenkins' thought he returned late at night, but Maggie seemed insistent that the bed was unused.
Brian returned home late that night. He had no news. No one in Ashton or Cleveton has seen anyone resembling Philip, and Littleton was a very large town where no one paid any attention to anyone other than themselves. He had tramped up and down the streets of Littleton for two hours, visiting shops and stopping passers-by. He had even visited the sheriff's office and left a description of Philip with the officers.
They had reached an impasse. Stephen was still missing, Gloria was in deep depression and now Philip had disappeared.
As Brian was so fond of saying 'when you can go no further down, the only way is up'.
But 'up' seemed an unlikely and bleak prospect to the Dennis family as they prepared for bed that night. Gloria was given her medication and Ann decided to stay at her side through the night.
Brian and Beatrice retired to their room, filled with concern over what the next few days might bring them.
In the bunkhouse, James Jenkins lay in the dark, staring at the ceiling. He was aching for the family, having known Gloria since they were children playing together. He quietly swore that whatever happened in the Dennis family he, James Jenkins, would be there to support and comfort them.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Eight

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven

Lucy studied her baby son. His blue eyes were slowly darkening to brown and his hair was growing, a fine dark head of hair. At eight weeks old he was filling out nicely and his fretful behaviour had calmed down. Now he eagerly sought her breast, keen for the milky goodness. Now when he slept, there was no small frown on his little face and he didn't wake screaming. He still had the odd crying jag, but nothing to concern his parents these days. Now Charlie was calmer, Lucy had more time to herself. She and Charlie had got into a proper feeding routine and with the housework organised, Lucy was able to nap gently while Charlie slept. The relief of being able to sleep. Of course, it wasn't her husband's fault he had to work away. A man had to go where the work was, but it always seemed a shame he was away so much. He left early in the morning before either she or Charlie were awake, and returned tired and hungry in the evenings. Lucy felt awful that he was doing these long days to provide for her and the child. But whenever she suggested expanding the farm and living off the land, he dismissed the idea. He was also not keen on moving nearer town, claiming the housing prices were exorbitant and they couldn't afford the rent now they had a baby to provide for.
'How's my little man?' cooed Lucy. Charlie looked up and gurgled at her. He was warm, comfortable, dry and full of milk. He was one contented baby. Lucy carried him into the kitchen and put him in his basket while she got on with her household chores. As she was dishing up the dinner, she heard her husband's wagon pull in.
'Ha!' she said to Charlie with a wagging finger. 'Daddy's home now. All's right with the world!'
Charlie gurgled and giggled in reply. As her husband came through the door, Lucy wiped her hands on her apron and went to meet him. As they embraced he looked over at the basket.
'How's my boy today, then?' he asked with a big smile.
'Oh, he's had a really good day.' Lucy hastened to answer. 'See? His eyes are darkening. They'll be big and brown like yours when he's older. And he has dark hair too. All Daddy and no Mummy!'
'Well, he is a Daddy's Boy,' replied her husband. With a quick chuck under the chin he turned from his son and contemplated his young wife.
'Dinner?' he asked.
'You just caught me serving up. You go and wash up and it'll be on the table when you get back down.'
Lucy got to work as her husband wearily climbed the stairs. She had already put warm water ready for him in the pretty bedroom and he sluiced himself down. Then he dried and put on a fresh shirt. He looked in the small mirror as he combed his damp hair neatly. When he was all finished and pleased with his appearance, he rooted in his pocket and pulled out a small hipflask. He took a brief swig, then a deeper draft before starting downstairs to his family.
Dinner was delicious, as always. It comprised fresh vegetables from the garden and juicy meat that had been swapped for one of the young piglets at the butchers. Lucy had even had the energy to make apple pie, with apples from the wild apple trees in the garden, which she served with creamy milk from their cows.
'That's the stuff!' her husband exclaimed as he pushed his chair back and pulled out a cigar. Lucy went round the table with a spill and helped him light the cigar.
'I'll clear up in here,' she said cheerfully. 'Can you take Charlie into the parlour? He'll sleep for another couple of hours.'
Her husband grunted and picked up the basket, holding his cigar carefully in the other hand. He walked through to the parlour, listening to Lucy clatter the dishes and run the water into the sink.
Having put the baby down a safe distance from the fire, Lucy's husband looked towards the parlour door. There was still the gay clatter of crockery, and, keeping his eyes on the door, he quietly pulled out the hipflask and took another deep slug. And another. And another.
Still Lucy was occupied in the kitchen, while her husband quietly opened a large cupboard and reached into the back. He straightened up with a bottle in his hands, which he then proceeded to fill his hipflask from. He quietly stoppered the bottle and put it back, right at the back of the cupboard away from prying eyes. He took one last swig from the hipflask and then put it back in his trouser pocket. As he finished this routine, he heard Lucy's footsteps tripping down the hallway. He sat down quickly in the chair and opened his book.
'Is he still quiet?' his young wife asked as she entered the room.
'Yep, not a peep,' her husband answered blithely. 'Now, my dear, what are we going to do tonight?'
'I have some chemises to sew up for Charlie, and you need buttons on your other trousers.' Lucy replied picking up her sewing basket.
Her husband grabbed her by the hand and pulled her to him.
'Put that down and come here!' he commanded. 'I've been working hard all day and there's only one thing I want!'
Lucy suddenly looked scared. She smelt the whiskey fumes and knew what had happened. It had been a while since her husband had been properly drunk and he had always been a violent drunk. She tensed herself and shut her eyes, allowing him to pull her onto his chest. He gripped her arms tightly and pushed her to her knees. Trembling, she unbuttoned his trousers. He was getting excited now, and moved his hands so they circled her throat. Lucy made not a single sound as she serviced her drunken husband and her baby slept nearby in oblivion to the violence.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Seven

Preface here.
Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three here.
Chapter Four here.
Chapter Five here.
Chapter Six here.

Gloria stared out of the window. Behind her, Philip bustled around the room. He put cushions straight and turned the fire over, putting a fresh log on.
'Gloria?' he said hesitantly.
She turned. Her previously vibrant and beautiful face was waxen and her blue eyes dead. She had been like this since her baby son disappeared two weeks before. Her long blonde hair was untidy, despite her mother and sisters' attempts to neaten it. Her clothes hung on a slim frame, due to not eating a square meal for a fortnight. Her breasts, so recently plump and full of milk, were starting to dry up and hung as lifelessly as her arms at her side.
'Come here, my dear' said Philip and took her hand gently. Her skin felt like gossamer. He thought that if he held it too tight it might rip under his fingers. The thin girl allowed him to guide her to the settle, where he delicately pressed her into the seat and encouraged her to lean into the soft cushions.
'How are you today?' he asked in a matter of fact way as he arranged her skirts and found her book, placing it in her lap. Gloria was silent. This was no surprise, she had not spoken since the scream she gave when she discovered the empty basket.
'I'm going to the market today,' Philip persisted. 'I will ask around again if anyone knows anything. Someone must have seen something out of the ordinary. Babies don't just - disappear.'
But the truth was Stephen had done just that. While his family was otherwise occupied and his exhausted mother slept, Stephen had been spirited away out of his bassinet and was not seen again. No one saw anyone unusual at the farm.
Of course, the first place Brian Dennis went on his quest to find his grandson was the hotel where Philip Mantell was staying - sure that the baby's father had snatched him. But Philip was there, writing his diary, and there was no sign of the baby. The room was spotless and Philip permitted Brian to search thoroughly without a word of complaint. No one at the hotel had seen Philip with a baby and there were no unexplained noises and Philip followed his normal daily routine. It was fairly obvious he didn't have Stephen.

Once Philip was discounted the search was widened. Every person in Smyth turned out to help look for the baby. Houses were searched through again and again. Neighbours watched each other at market and on the street, trying to see if one of their own was letting drop clues of misdeeds. As time went on, the Dennis family despaired of ever seeing the little boy again and Gloria remained in a deep unrelenting depression. But Brian still went out daily, scouring the town and the countryside for his grandson. He ate rarely and walked dozens of miles every day, coming home merely to sleep off his exhaustion and start again the next day. Beatrice, the girls and the labourers kept the farm ticking over and Philip was in charge of Gloria. The estranged young couple had mended quite a few fences in the weeks before Stephen's birth and during their weekly visits after he was born. Gloria felt that maybe she had misjudged her penitent husband - he was so caring and considerate. Perhaps it was the idea of marriage that had sent him into a self-destruct cycle taking her with him. He was so - different - since he had returned to Smyth. And there was no evidence of the alcohol-fuelled rages she had seen during their brief time as man and wife.
But still, she didn't speak. Her huge sad eyes followed everything that happened, lighting up only when her father returned each evening only to dim again when she saw his empty arms. She was helped to the table for each meal only to push her meagre serving around the plate before putting her cutlery down. The doctor had been over to see her daily in the first week, and had left a small prescription. Beatrice only used it sparingly, usually at night, as she felt that grieving was a process her beloved daughter had to go through naturally.
Night-time was a different matter. Gloria had started sleepwalking soon after Stephen had disappeared. The family discussed this new event and concluded Gloria was searching for her lost baby in her dreams. Her sleepwalking took her across the yard and into the fields, causing her family more heartbreak whenever they found her missing from her bed. She was usually found wandering the fields and lanes in her nightgown with bare feet and freezing cold. They gently steered her back to bed and helped her to snuggle down under warmed blankets, rubbing her frozen hands and feet in an effort to make her comfortable and ease deeper sleep. They tried locking the doors, but she always found a way out of the house. They had gone through a brief period of having someone at her bedside, but the night that Natalie fell asleep and Gloria was discovered on the outskirts of Smyth showed that the family was too exhausted. That was why Beatrice saved the medicine for the night hours, reasonably thinking that Gloria and the rest of the family needed sleep at this difficult time. The medicine calmed Gloria and helped her to sleep dreamless sleep which, in turn, cut down on the sleepwalking incidents. Although, even with the potions, the poor girl still wandered occasionally, her unbounded grief overpowering the tranquilliser.

Philip moved Gloria's cold hand so it rested on her book. The fire crackled in the grate, beating back the chilly spring day. The wind battered at the windows and a small frown played upon Gloria's brow, as if she was concerned about her child out there in the cold April day. The arrival of the early spring flowers had gone unnoticed this year. This was the first year that Gloria had not rushed out to run her fingers through the wild daffodils and crocuses that bravely pushed through the cold earth every spring. The first year that the kitchen was not decorated with a vase of handpicked colourful flowers to welcome spring and the coming warmer weather. The first year that Gloria didn't skip around the house singing to herself. The first year that the Dennis women didn't spring-clean the house at all. With searching, animal husbandry and Gloria, there was just no time for any serious housecleaning, other than the day to day housework. The rugs remained unbeaten and the windows unwashed this spring. The stove remained merely clean and the kitchen floor was tidy, if a little dirty. No one in the family noticed that the cleaning hadn't been done and if visitors thought the house a little unkempt then that was totally understandable under the circumstances. Not that there were a lot of visitors. Gloria, Brian and Philip had made it clear that visitors and well wishers were not welcome unless they came bearing news.

But no news came.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Six

Preface here.
Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three here.
Chapter Four here.
Chapter Five here.

Lucy sat in the corner of the little room, breastfeeding Charlie. The little baby fitfully pulled and tugged at the breast, causing Lucy to sigh deeply. He was so difficult to feed. He had been fretful since he arrived and it took ages for him to settle at her breast. But she soldiered on, knowing how important it was that he get mother's milk for his first six months. Finally Charlie settled at her breast, pulling with a gentle rhythm. Lucy relaxed, and wriggled herself into her chair in an attempt to make herself comfortable.
Lucy was a young mother, barely seventeen when Charlie was born. She was a delicate child, with a slender frame that, when she was pregnant, one could wonder how she carried the extra weight of her child. Since the birth, she had quickly lost weight again and now was slender to the point of skinny. Her elfin face was pointed and beautiful, with high cheekbones and a generous mouth. Her pretty face was framed with hair the colour of ripe corn. Her blue eyes sparkled when she looked at her baby son. He was compensation enough for all the hardship she faced.
She lived in a small house on the edge of a wood, about twenty miles from Smyth. It would have been hard without her husband to do errands and run around after her while she was pregnant. They had a small number of cows and chickens, which helped with the daily meals and also a sow about to farrow. It was so clever of her husband to organise having the sow impregnated. He joked that it was her swollen belly that gave him the idea. Now the pig was about due and they were looking forward to several piglets and, in the fullness of time, their own pork.

As Charlie suckled Lucy looked around the room. It was a cosy room, designed by herself. Warm red curtains hung at the windows and there were comfortable chairs and a settle in front of the large open fire. They had opened up the fireplace, reasoning that a large fire was romantic. Not only that, it was a godsend on wet washing days, when Lucy could hang the clothes in front of a roaring fire and they would dry in half the time. From the fireplace it was a mere step to the desk and chair her husband regularly sat at to do the accounts and write his journal. That was all there was, apart from Lucy's rocking chair - provided by a caring neighbour. It was perfect for nursing Charlie and tucked away nicely in the corner so as not to overpower the little room. Soft dark red cushions adorned the chair and helped Lucy to get comfy while giving Charlie his six feeds a day. This was the main room of the house. Behind this room was the small kitchen that doubled as a dining room for the young couple. Upstairs there was one decent sized bedroom, decorated in cool blue with a large bed and simple wooden wardrobe and dressing table, and a small nursery in bright blues and yellows. Lucy had done all the decorating herself while pregnant. Her husband jokingly told her she was nesting, she thought it maybe not quite such a joke. She had not had anything else to fill her day, other than the farm chores, so she relished the opportunity to paint and sew in order to create a wonderful existence for her new baby. While waiting for her baby to make his appearance she had stitched blankets and cushion covers. She had knitted cardigans, hemmed nappies and hooked a little blue rug for the floor. Being alone in the house so often, with her husband travelling, she had found the craft work helped to keep her busy and focused.
Charlie was six weeks old now. He was a strong boy and looked just like his father. Lucy was so proud of her child; she longed to show him off. But being so divorced from the main town with a small child she rarely saw anyone. Even the neighbours were wary of coming over since her husband had snapped at one inquiring farmer's wife. However, Lucy was a simple person and she was content to care for her child in the peace of her own home. Her husband provided everything they needed and she wanted for nothing for the baby.
Charlie stopped nursing and stared up at his mother. His little face crumpled and he began to whimper.
'You know,' Lucy said gently as she rocked the fretful child. 'For such a big healthy boy, you sure are a whiney child.'
Charlie sniffled a sob and his eyes started to close. His mouth puckered slightly and little milky bubbles formed on his lips. His hand, curled in frustration, uncurled and fell to his side as Charlie fell asleep. Lucy rocked him for a while longer until she was sure he was fully asleep, then she laid him gently in his crib. When he was asleep was the time to do her chores, as he took all her time whilst awake. It would've been better if her husband were at home more often, but his work took him away so much that it left her to run the house and smallholding virtually single-handedly while raising their child. Of course, in her darker moments, Lucy was grateful that her husband was absent so much of the time. Life was certainly more peaceful and easy when her cruelly demanding husband wasn't in the house.
While Charlie slept, Lucy swept the floors and shook out the rugs. The vegetables were pulled from the beds and cleaned ready for cooking. The animals were fed, including the cat with kittens and the dog. While feeding the household animals, Lucy heard Charlie whimper. As ever, she rushed to his side, fearful he might wake and start a non-stop crying jag. Even his mother was no comfort when Charlie began a screaming fit. Lucy dreaded that he would start crying hysterically. Luckily they lived at least a mile from their nearest neighbour and no one heard Charlie cry. But then, no one heard Lucy cry either.
Her husband thought that maybe Charlie was not altogether right in the head. It was nothing physical, they had had the doctor out and he declared the baby fit and thriving. Her husband told Lucy that the human brain was a complicated organ and the littlest problems could surface as behavioural traits. He comforted her that either Charlie would settle eventually, or his parents would hit upon exactly what the boy was crying for. In the meantime, Lucy tried everything. Holding him, not holding him. Sunshine, shade. Cool, warm. Food, dry clothes. Although the variety kept him distracted for small periods, nothing seemed to ease the baby's angst during these crying spats.
Charlie whimpered gently and rocked in his sleep. His little fist curled and uncurled. His forehead creased, then smoothed out, then creased again. Lucy wondered what he was thinking about.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Five

Preface here.
Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three here.
Chapter Four here.

Philip sat at the desk in hotel room, writing a letter.

My dear Robert, I am pleased to report that Stephen is now two weeks old and doing marvellously well. He is healthy and growing fine. His mother's milk is making him strong and he is starting to look like me. What a fine thing being a father is.

He paused, looking at the small hipflask on the top of the desk.

I have not taken a drink since being here. Well, truth be told, I have taken the occasional nip, but always well in advance of any meeting, followed by a thorough wash! Perhaps young Stephen will be the key that sets me free from the chains of the whiskey bottle.
His mother and I are meeting weekly at the moment, and the meetings are civil, if a little strained. But I do think that she is beginning to trust me. Only yesterday she asked if I wished to hold Stephen. As I took him he woke and looked up at me with eyes so blue they were almost luminous.

Philip paused again. Was there anything to add to the letter at this juncture? Not really, he concluded, the time isn't right yet.

I intend to remain here for another couple of weeks, and get Stephen's mother to trust me more. Nothing can be done without trust. Yours ever, Philip.

He sealed up the letter, addressed it and walked over to the post office with it. He thought, wisely perhaps, that leaving it at the hotel desk would be asking for prying eyes to dip into his business.
Returning to his room, Philip started to neaten his dress. He polished his boots and put his jacket on. Casting one last look around his spotless room, he caught sight of the small hipflask on the desk. He smiled briefly, a dark smile on his handsome face, and tucked it away at the back of the drawer. Once he was content that his room was an anonymous as he could make it, he set off for the Dennis farm.

Gloria was feeding Stephen, a job that necessitated her being alone. The girls were out feeding the stock with their father and her mother had gone to market for the morning. Beatrice was hoping to pick up some nice cotton and make clothes for Stephen. Soon he would be out of swaddling and in shirts and vests. Beatrice had embraced the position of grandmother and, together with Brian as a proud grandfather, they had moved heaven and earth to ensure that Gloria and Stephen had the best opportunity to bond in a peaceful harmonious environment.
Gloria smiled down at her son as he slowly drifted off to sleep, her nipple still in his mouth. She gently nudged him away and pulled her dress together. The little baby lay in her arms, his mouth making small milky bubbles and he murmured in his sleep, a sweet baby noise that always accompanied his post-dinner naps.
She gently laid him in his basket, taking care not to wake him. Her mother had always taught her to sleep when baby slept, so she curled up next to the basket. She was reluctant to sleep, as she was alone with the child.
What's wrong? She asked herself dreamily. Philip has been here every week for the month since Stephen was born and nothing untoward has happened. If anything, his impeccable behaviour had induced in Gloria a feeling of relief that Philip was going to live up to his side of the bargain. He had not touched Stephen until she offered him. Then Philip had held the baby briefly, watching him with fatherly wonder, before handing him back.
The thoughts rolling through Gloria's head were comforting and without realising it she drifted off to sleep, one hand resting on the side of basket where her son slept deeply.
Brian finished sorting the livestock feed and watched his elder four daughters distribute it to the animals. He was so proud of his girls, but none more than little Gloria. Such a difficult start to what turned out to be a tortuous married life, yet she took control of her life and that of her son. She made wise conditions with her estranged husband, ensuring her and her baby's safety - yet making sure that Philip was given the opportunity to bond with his son.
Brian rinsed out the buckets and hung them up to dry as usual. Then he started across the yard to the house. Stopping in the kitchen to wash his hands and remove his yard boots, he glanced out of the window and noticed the wagon was gone. Beatrice must have gone to market already. Brian had given her extra money this week to buy material to sew up clothes for the little baby. He walked through the hall to the parlour in his stocking feet and opened the door gently. His Gloria was curled up in her chair, nestled into the corner with her hand laid carefully on the rim of the bassinet. Her blonde hair spilled over the back of the chair, her face relaxed and all worry gone in the comfort of sleep. Brian tiptoed quietly over to the baby's basket and peered in. Amid the rumpled sheets and blankets he could not discern the shape of Stephen. He pulled aside the little sheets to see the child better.
'Gloria! Wake up!'
Gloria woke up with a start, her face suffused with a flush. She looked up at her father's panicked face and then turned to see the empty basket.

Brian held the sheets in his hand and there was no doubt - Stephen was missing.

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Four

Preface here.
Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Chapter Three here.

It was a chilly Spring morning in early March when Gloria woke feeling that perhaps today was the day her baby was to greet the world. Waking her family quickly, they all tumbled out of the house and into the wagon to take her into town. She was wearing a pretty pink gown with lace at the neck, fashioned by her darling Ann, especially made for this day of days.
Stephen Mantell was born only six hours later, a healthy beautiful baby boy.
Ten minutes after Stephen was born, Philip Mantell stood outside the hospital with a thoughtful look on his face, paying a small fee to the errand boy who had passed on the news.
When coming outside for a well-deserved cigar, Brian saw Philip. Swallowing his disgust he walked slowly over to his son-in-law. Philip looked rather nervous, thought Brian. Mind you, he had complied with all Gloria's conditions without a murmur over the past three weeks. All visits had been conducted on neutral territory with various members of her family as chaperones. Philip had been sober and courteous, even asking after Gloria's sisters and the farm labourers.
'Have you come to see the boy?' asked Brian tensely.
'Yes, and my wife,' replied Philip in as positive tone as he could muster.
'Well then,' said Brian. 'You may as well come back in with me. But first,' he paused and put his hand in his pocket 'to celebrate your son's arrival.'
He passed the second cigar to Philip and proffered his matchbook. Philip lit his cigar and drew deeply. He was going to need strength for what he was about to do - and alcohol was out of the question. The cigar was eagerly accepted. The whole ceremony of lighting the cigars and puffing on the flavoursome smoke took the spotlight from Philip and the tense conversation. Each man stood thoughtfully smoking, physically close yet miles apart.
'You ready?' asked Brian, mashing his cigar butt under his boot heel.
'To see my son? Always,' joked Philip, but a tone in his voice made Brian cast a sideways glance.
'The visiting conditions still apply,' he warned. 'Gloria was most insistent. You will never be alone with her or the child. She doesn't trust you.'
'That is sadly understandable,' replied Philip. 'Although, I do hope to change her opinion of me in the future.'
'That's as may be,' grunted Brian. 'But for now - you will be chaperoned around my family.'
With that he strode back into the hospital with Philip at his heels and entered Gloria's room. Gloria lay in bed, surrounded by female members of her family, her small son at her side, swaddled gently in blankets. A small purple face peered out inquisitively and little fingers flexed, where one small hand had fought free of the swaddling. Watery blue eyes gazed unfocused as Philip bent over the small baby.
'He's beautiful,' he said with a tinge of awe in his voice. 'Absolutely perfect.'
Gloria smiled tiredly and lifted the child.
'Mother, please hold him for Philip. He has a right to see his son.'
Beatrice took the baby and held his towards Philip. Philip studied the infant carefully and then looked at Gloria with a smile.
'Ten fingers, ten toes?' he asked with an attempt at light-heartedness. The usual joky query sounded almost dull from his lips, as though he had carefully rehearsed what to say to his wife after her confinement.
Gloria nodded, attempting to keep a tone of normality in her voice.
'Ten fingers, ten toes,' she said. 'All as gorgeous as he is.'
Philip smiled. He stroked the child's face and then turned to take his leave. The room was silent, as if statues, waiting to see what Philip Mantell would do.
'I will await your message as usual,' he said gruffly and smartly took his leave.
'Well, I never,' said Beatrice, laying the baby back in his mother's arms. 'I thought he was going to try something on. He's been that good and quiet the last three weeks that I was sure he was scheming!'
Gloria and Brian nodded, and Ann shook her head gently where she sat by the bed. They were, indeed, all surprised that Philip had not tried to take - or even hold - the baby and no mention of changing the visiting conditions were made. Although Gloria was relieved, Brian couldn't help feeling that Philip Mantell was still up to something. He had no idea what, but he got the nasty feeling whatever it was wouldn't be nice.
But Gloria was tired, and Brian had no intention of upsetting his daughter or the rest of his family needlessly. However, as Brian looked at his daughter gently slipping off to sleep and his grandson already sleeping peacefully, his lips pursing gently, he swore to himself that Philip Mantell would never be in a position to hurt either of them - ever again.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Three

Preface here.
Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.

Gloria was suffocating, her hands to her throat, trying to ease the constriction. Her loins burned like fire and her face stung. She opened her eyes to see her husband Philip leaning over her, his alcohol-sodden breath assaulting her senses. His eyes burned with desire fuelled by alcohol and she felt him ripping her clothes, thrusting hands into her underclothes, muttering obscenities and, with his spare hand, clutching her around the throat. She managed to pull the fingers from her throat and screamed....
She woke to see the weak winter sun breaking gently through the window, making long lines of light across the small bedroom. Her body shook in reaction to her nightmare and sweat rolled from her skin. She sat up and looked over at her sisters' beds. They were groggily stirring - woken, no doubt, by her screams. Before she could speak the door opened and her parents rushed in, full of concern at their youngest daughter's distress.
'Calm yourselves. Twas merely a nightmare of times worse than this' Gloria said lamely as her family clustered around her bed.
Her father scowled grimly.
'If I ever find that man, he will not live a second after I see him!' he swore. Beatrice attempted to calm him, but Brian shook her off and stomped out of the room. The women heard him stamp downstairs and the back door slam as he stalked out to check on the animals.
'Gloria, are you ok, love?' asked Ann, ever caring and considerate, her big brown eyes full of worry.
'I'm fine - apart from feeling guilty about waking you with such a shock! I think I'll go for a walk to clear my head.'
The girls and their mother watched worriedly as Gloria slowly got up and took her towel to the water pump, as if all the cares of the world were on her shoulders.
Whilst washing, Gloria rubbed her hand over her belly, relishing the feel of new life burgeoning within. She didn't blame the child; it was not the child's fault it was spawned from violence.
'My lovely wee child' she murmured, stroking her stomach. 'I promise to love you more than any mother and cherish you more than any father'.
She rinsed out her hair and stood, rubbing it with the towel, looking out across the yard to the fields. What better place to raise a child? Open spaces, loving family and a life of freedom.
As time passed, Gloria filled out and her baby kicked healthily. Barely three weeks before she was due to give birth there was a knock at the door. Wiping her hands on her apron, Gloria opened the door. There stood Philip Mantell, with a bouquet of flowers.
Speechless, Gloria stood aside as her father walked in from the kitchen asking who was at the door.
'Mr Dennis' said Philip. 'You probably want to kick my backside out, but I have been waiting until I was sorted out in my head before coming to beg Gloria's forgiveness.'
'Mantell' muttered Brian. 'I still want to kick your........'
'Father, please!' interjected Gloria. 'I'll talk to Philip, and then he'll leave - is that all right?'
Still muttering, Brian stood aside and Philip walked into the house. Brian stalked out to the kitchen saying 'I'll be just out here, my dear.'
Gloria looked Philip up and down. Admittedly, he looked better, his eyes were clear, his skin was healthily tanned and he looked more - well, more muscular. Gloria blushed slightly as Philip stepped towards her with the flowers.
'For you, wife,' he said with convincing endearment. 'Remember where we met? At the flower stall in the market. Flowers always enhanced your beauty.'
Gloria stood uncertain, then gently took the beautiful bouquet of white roses and yellow lilies. Such wondrous flowers were very expensive since the war, Philip had obviously gone to one of the upmarket florists and spent quite a bit of money on this one gesture. She inhaled the fragrance deeply and looked up.
'Please sit down, Philip,' she said gracefully. 'We must talk.'
When they were both seated, Gloria with the bouquet in her lap covering her bump, Philip licked his lips and looked tentatively at his pregnant wife.
'How is the child doing?' he asked solicitously.
'Fine,' she replied with a small smile. 'Due in about three weeks. The doctor says both of us are doing well. I'm booked in at the hospital in about two weeks for a last minute checkup.'
'I have such a difficult question to ask,' stammered Philip.
Gloria looked at him with a small frown.
'May I........I mean....would you,' Philip stammered. 'May I stay locally until the baby is born? I mean, it is my son or daughter and I am entitled.'
Gloria sat stock-still. It had never occurred to her that Philip would return to claim fathership of her baby. For the last four months she had concentrated on the idea of being a single mother, with the support of the Dennis family. She had not heard a word from Philip since he left the house. The day that Gloria stood her ground was the day that Philip had packed a bag and stormed out of the house. He had beat her badly, savagely, and she still had the strength of will to stand in front of him, bruised and bloodied and look him in the eyes. That was the day Philip realised Gloria would not be cowed by his strength or powerful character.
The arrival of Philip today had been a shock for Gloria, needless to say, but his request had her completely off-guard.
She thought for a moment and then looked him in the eyes.
'You do know, I hate the very flesh of you, don't you?' she asked quietly, with great restraint.
'Tis understandable,' he replied. 'I was not the best of husbands. The alcohol was a curse.'
Gloria was even more shocked. Where had Philip got such sensible perceptions from? Where had he been for the last four months? Then she shook her head; it didn't matter.
'You may stay in Smyth,' she said thoughtfully. 'You may not come here any more. You will stay in Smyth and I will come and visit you, with a chaperone - needless to say.'
She ignored the dumbstruck look on his face and continued 'you may not come to the hospital. A message will be sent when our child is born. You may visit when I am well again - but you will never be alone with the child or me. Do you understand?'
'I do,' said Philip. 'Although I think them harsh, I understand your conditions. I will take a room at the hotel in town and will wait for your messages. But, you must realise' he ploughed on. 'that I will be abroad around town, seeing you and your neighbours. People will talk.'
'Let them,' retorted Gloria spiritedly. 'They talked enough four months ago when you left me battered and pregnant and disappeared!'
Philip sat quietly. Gloria sat opposite him and waited for him to speak, worried at the outburst her comment might provoke. She could sense her father at the kitchen door, waiting for her estranged husband to take a wrong step in this delicate negotiation.
'I apologise,' came the stiff response. 'I am aware how much my drinking affected our life, and that is one of the reasons I came to see you. As well as the need to see my wife and child.'
Gloria flinched from the word 'wife' as though it were a physical slap.
'Very well,' she said, as if in conclusion. 'Please be on your way now, and I will send you a message when I am ready to see you again.'
Philip slowly got up and moved to touch Gloria. She pulled back, relaxing slightly as she realised he was moving towards her belly. He laid his hand on the mound and stroked it.
'See you soon, my child,' he murmured. Turning on his heel he strode out of the house, leaving the door ajar and a stunned Gloria sitting in the parlour with her bouquet of flowers, bathed in the delicious scent and watching her tall proud husband march down the path without a backward glance.
Her father came in.
'Are you all right, daughter?' he asked gently.
'Yes, father. He did apologise, and he is meeting all my conditions. I don't need to see him if I don't want to.'
'..and the child?' her father pressed. Gloria turned to look at her father with a steely look in her eyes.
'Philip Mantell will never hold my baby!' she flashed, the strain of the previous half hour finally taking its toll. Brian touched her arm gently.
'Yes, darling. As long as I have breath, he will not get his hands on the baby,' he agreed.