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.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter Two

The war to end all wars in this land was a cataclysmic event. The demons were invading the peaceful existence of humans to such an extent that there was fear of the human species being wiped out.
Demons and humans had lived side by side for millennia, each occupying their own space and periodically encroaching the others' territory for power or assets. But the demons had decided that they needed more space and started to terrorise the humans to make them leave. Those who didn't leave were summarily killed. The demons slowly started to take over large tracts of land and areas became no-go areas for other beings.
It got to the point where the humans had nowhere left to go, and they dug their heels in and turned to fight. They called upon the Demon Hunters, a shadowy race from across the earth to help them to vanquish the demons once and for all.
The Demon Hunters rode in on horses of midnight black, their swords raised and their faces hidden behind black veils. Their horses were monstrous sights, with flowing manes and tails that flickered with stars and sparks. Their black hooves ground sparks from the roads and their eyes glinted with red lights. Two hundred Demon Hunters answered the call for help from the humans, and the ensuing battle was bloody and long.
With human and Demon Hunter standing side by side, the demons had the fight of their lives. In desperation, they shed all semblance of human form and revealed their true selves. Talons, horns, claws and teeth were all used to tear, shred and maim their enemies. Skin of every hue from purple to deep fiery red could be seen with scales and fur and even rotting flesh exposing organs. The legions of Satan were not to be easily beaten. They used the blackest of magic to try and overthrow the Demon Hunters. But the Hunters were experienced at defying demon magic. No matter what the demons tried, the Hunters were there at every turn. For each Hunter that fell, he took a hundred demons with him.
During the battle that raged for five long years, entire communities were decimated. Homes were burnt or razed to the ground. Children were stolen and murdered. Wives and daughters were taken for procreation. Men and boys were slaughtered where they stood.
Smyth was one of a community of towns on the outskirts of the battle. Demons would storm through, and houses were destroyed, but the blood and mayhem was mostly confined to the most valuable of property - cities. Entire cities were demolished and the people ran for the safety of the countryside. Mothers smuggled out their children and men stayed to try and protect their land.
Finally, the Hunters got the upper hand. A covert operation had revealed the head coven and the Hunters ravaged the most important demons in existence. Their swords of fire melted through demon beings, their empty husks falling to the floor. Blood and sweat mingled with the smell of sulphur and phosphorus as the battle raged between demons and Hunters. But the Hunters' persistence paid off and the demon coven was vanquished. When the head coven fell, there was an immediate effect on the battling demons. They began to falter; some retook human form before dying in immense pain. Some merely howled into flame and ceased to exist. Some continued to fight, although their power had been robbed from them. Humans and Hunters easily defeated the remainder of the demons.
Smyth and the surrounding towns were saved. Ashton, Cleveton and Littleton remained mostly untouched, although their people were decimated. Most of the young male population had gone to fight, and not many of them had returned. But the women and children worked hard to keep their towns and communities safe.
Once the Hunters left, life began to return to normal. The previously sceptical people went to church more, and money lost most of its allure. A large number of people moved to live in the countryside, like Brian and Beatrice Dennis, thinking that they would be safer away from the centres of commerce. The cities slowly died and soon the land reverted to principally agrarian life. Small villages and towns thrived with the increase in farming brought about by the exodus. Roads between them became safer and more travelled. Local towns brought in sheriffs to watch over them, elected by the people to protect the people. But essentially people watched each others' backs.
But some pessimists would always claim the demons were not totally defeated. There were tales of demons thriving in other lands; demons that could fly high in the sky and demons that infested the oceans.

Brian was a big man, good with his hands, who yearned to live off the land rather than exist in the built up areas of towns. As a new young husband Brian relocated himself and his young wife in the depths of the countryside away from all the dangers and where they could raise a family in peace. Brian's wife would have followed him to the ends of the Earth, and was truly enraptured of the small house in the valley. Her name was Beatrice, and she bore Brian five daughters amid the meadows and bluebells. The girls grew up without any sense of impending battle, free and unspoilt. Natalie was the eldest, blonde and outgoing. Next came twins Alexandra and Maisie, both dark like their father and quietly intelligent. After the twins came Ann, a caring motherly sort, dark, but with her mother's natural nurturing instinct. Last, but not least, came Gloria. So named because her birth nearly killed her and her mother. The rush of emotion at a healthy baby and recuperating wife caused Brian to yell 'Gloria' from the rooftops. Gloria was unlike the other girls - or even her parents. She was reserved and shy as a child, rather plain and didn't excel in any pursuits, but was gentle and loving to a fault. Brian was often heard to say that the pixies had left Gloria as a gift. As she grew, the plain jane turned into a beautiful rose who remained loving and gentle to everyone around her, and, in the words of her father, turned out the most bonny of all his girls. The girls thrived in their little house in the valley, grew strong and healthy in the fields and bonded strongly together under the threat of war.
Gloria was seven when war broke out. It was not so much declared as dived into from many angles. It seemed as if all at once the world was on fire, and it lasted a nightmare five years. In this time all the major centres of world were decimated, new capitals were named - then destroyed.
Peace was never declared. Everything just stopped.
Pieces of broken lives were put together, small towns and villages sprang up away from the devastation of the cities.
Now the Dennis' lived in the same little cottage in the valley, surrounded by meadows and bluebells. The nearby hamlet of Smyth was the new marital home of Gloria and Philip Mantell. Their little house was on the outskirts of the town, within easy reach of both the centre and the wide open expanses of the fields. With a small parlour and kitchen, the lower floor was cosy and warm. Upstairs was one large room, the main bedroom, decorated by Gloria in myriad shades of green. It looked cool and refreshing. Another small room had been marked down by Philip and Gloria for the nursery, in the first flush of their marriage.
Before anyone knew it, it was November. The cold and lonely nights came creeping in like a thief. The bare trees seemed to mourn the passing of summer, and the bare earth held tight to any promise of Spring.
The glass of the window in the little house made Gloria's nose even colder. She shrugged her shawl tighter around her shoulders and wrapped her arms around her slightly bulging stomach. Four months married and four months pregnant, she would start showing any day now. Luckily the long dresses and work aprons would hide the evidence of Philip's depravity from the world. However, the marks on her face would remain a public reminder of his violence for a long time to come. The beautiful blonde girl was a shadow of her former self, still sporting purple and yellow bruises on her face and faint marks on her neck. Her hands were scratched and rubbed raw.

Philip was long gone now. Not a nice person, but a dark man with a terrible secret. The handsome man was just around long enough to charm the daughter of Brian Dennis, marry her, abuse her and leave her with child. In fact, the violence had started on the night of their wedding, when Gloria suddenly came to the realisation that there were evil people in the world, and she had unwittingly married one. No matter how Gloria tried to appease him, each evening he would drink hugely and then extract his frustration on his new young wife. With no explanations or apologies Gloria lived her life in daily terror of the evenings to come. Memories of the tortuous nights still haunting her, Gloria turned away from the window and surveyed the luggage waiting by the door. So much for the little dream house in Smyth, close to the church and school. Lovely though her little house was, she was going home. She was going back to the bosom of her family, with a deserted baby growing inside her.
The knocking was loud on the door, suddenly echoing in the empty house. Brian Dennis walked in, his face full of barely concealed emotions, and wrapped his arms around his daughter without a word. After a long hug full of unspoken emotion, he quietly picked up her bags and walked out. Gloria followed him without a backward glance.

(c) cq 2005

Friday, September 21, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Chapter One

Sixteen year old Gloria looked down and smoothed her white apron over her long dress. It was a hot day in June and aprons got so crumpled whilst doing one's chores. Her long blond hair was sticky and her blue eyes watered in the hot sun. But, she mused, the cows are milked, the chickens are fed and the bread is proving in the larder. Eleven o'clock in the morning and she was free to wander across the fields before returning home.
She looked across the valley at the church tower. The spire of the little church where she would be marrying Philip on Sunday glowed in the morning sunlight. Her new wedding gown hung delicately on the back of her bedroom door, a sweet concoction of white silk and lace. Her veil was carefully stored in a large box, but on demand would froth into life and frame her pretty face. Her blue eyes lit up at the prospect, not only of being a bride - but the sensation of being the centre of attention. That was the only problem of being the youngest of five girls, she always moaned, it seemed like she didn't exist. But this would be her moment, her crowning glory. Her elder sisters would have to take a back seat as she took centre stage and said her vows. To honour and obey - the old vows were the best.
Her mother called, her voice drifting over as if from a long way away, and startled Gloria back into the real world. She reluctantly turned and slowly walked back towards the farmhouse that had been her home since she was born. But not for long; on Sunday she would cross the threshold of her own house, one where she would rule and would raise her own family with Philip at the head. Her future married home was a little house on the outskirts of Smyth, handy for the market and also, of course, for the church and school. No tramping across fields for her children, as she and her sisters had done in through their childhood.
But enough dreaming, she chastised herself. There were cushions to embroider and napkins to hem; the last additions to her bottom drawer. There was a phrase from times gone by, bottom drawer. Much like honour and obey it was a phrase redolent of the old times. Shaking the loose blonde hair out of her eyes and the dreams out of her mind, Gloria started to run across the field She let herself in the back gate and trotted up the path which led to the kitchen door.
The range was lit, on its lowest setting as the day was so warm, but ready to burst into fiery life at a command to feed the family. A cat snoozed lazily on a rocking chair and a large floppy dog stretched out in front of the range, absolutely exhausted from a morning spent rabbiting. Beatrice Dennis was peeling carrots and a mound of potatoes was already prepared for the meal. What with her husband Brian, five sturdy daughters and three beefy labourers to feed, it was a godsend that Beatrice really enjoyed cooking large delicious meals. Already Gloria could smell interesting aromas emanating from the bottom shelf of the range as something tasty quietly simmered away to itself.
'Come, Gloria' said her mother. 'Help me prepare lunch for your father. He and the boys will be in shortly and I've still to boil these vegetables.'
Gloria sighed and picked up the huge saucepan and, after filling it with water, placed it on the range and cranked up the fire to get the water boiling.

The hot weather held until Sunday, although the blue skies were starting to lower slightly and the air had become sticky and intense, a sure sign that a storm was on the way. It was ten o'clock and Gloria was slipping her wedding dress over her head. It was so beautiful, such fine stitching. Every time she looked it took her breath away, it was hard to believe that this was her dress, her ticket to freedom. In just two hours she would be Mrs Mantell, Mrs Philip Mantell. Gloria Dennis would be no more. Mrs Philip Mantell, much loved wife of Philip Mantell.
Philip was a tall dark man, with brooding brows and an aura of danger. He travelled where the work was, and one day he found himself in Smyth. Whilst visiting the local market he bumped into a slim blonde girl, basket over one arm, who was looking at the flower stall.
'I do beg your pardon,' he said politely with a smile.
'My fault entirely,' Gloria chuckled. 'I was so engrossed in these beautiful flowers.'
'There is no flower that matches your beauty,' Philip replied chivalrously.
Gloria coloured slightly and bowed her head. Once they had been properly introduced, the courtship flew along and it was only a matter of a couple of months before Philip proposed and Gloria accepted him, thrilled.
Philip was still travelling with the work, so he was away for long periods of time, leaving Gloria and her family free rein to organise the wedding. Philip came back routinely and handed Brian money to help out. He admired the planned flowers, helped pick out a colour scheme and had his say on the design of the cake.
Gloria stood motionless in her new wedding dress, admiring in the full length mirror where it clung to every slender curve of her young body. Her oval face was bathed in the light of her love. Her big blue eyes looked dreamy and she looked radiantly happy. As her veil was gently lowered onto her shiny blonde hair, fluffed into a bouffant style by her older sister Ann, she looked out of the window. She could just see the church from here, a lonely dreamy spire standing among huge trees. Philip would be standing by the altar now, an expectant smile on his face, a new suit and rubbing nervous hands. Gloria quietly slipped off her engagement ring and placed it on her right hand in preparation. It was a simple ring, not expensive or showy, just a public show of their commitment to each other.
Life in Smyth had been difficult since the war. Men, women and children had been ripped from their families; the war had been no respecter of age or worth. Only four years since the harshest war in history. Existence changed beyond recognition and the Earth was reborn from under a cloud. But, as the saying went, life went on - babies were born, graves were dug. The people of Smyth carried the scars of the war, even though the hamlet didn't.
Gloria stood at the altar. Her bouquet was lily of the valley and sweet smelling pink and deep red roses. Her veil modestly hid the sweet contours of her face, but still, she looked elegant and beautiful. She passed the bouquet to Ann and took Philip's hand.
She smiled at him.
He smiled at her.
Pastor Michael smiled at the beautiful young couple in front of him.
'Brethren,' the vicar began in his clear majestic voice. 'We are gathered here, in this church to celebrate the marriage of our beloved Gloria and Philip today, the seventh day of June, in the year of our Lord 1864.'

(c) cq 2005

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

nanowrimo 2005 - Preface

The house was peaceful, the trees gently swaying the in the breeze outside.
It was a most unprepossessing house, small and not in the slightest bit pretentious, considering whom lived there.
The path meandered up to the door through a quaint front garden, complete with out of control rose bushes entwining everything and drooping under the weight of heavy red and gold blooms. The door was a plain wood with a simple brass doorknocker and a single word engraved on the brass plate.
The little house only boasted four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs. But that was all that was needed for the single occupant. Downstairs was the parlour and the kitchen. The parlour was a warm cosy room, with minimal decoration, but with a roaring fire and the dark wood furniture it could become a haven from the world outside. Bookshelves ranged along the walls, groaning under the weight of books and threatening to topple over. Old books, new books, really old books; they were all there. Through a small wooden door was the kitchen. A spartan room that shrieked 'bachelor with maid', which, of course, he was. There were no cooking pots or any evidence the range was used, other than boiling the kettle and warming the room. The larder looked virtually empty except for some cheese and cold meats. The only indulgence appeared to be the bottles of wine stacked in the larder, mostly dusty and very old.
The upstairs has the same spartan look, a look of necessity. The master bedroom had a big comfortable bed, but it looked like it had never been slept in. There were a couple of rugs on the floor and a chair, and that was the sum total of the furniture - except for the books. More books, stacked against the walls, some on bookshelves, some just piled up. The little window gleamed and looked out over the front garden overgrown with roses.
The smaller room was ostensibly a second bedroom. But this little room bore not a shred of bedroom furniture. Instead there was a desk, covered in papers and books. Pictures were pinned on the walls of monsters evil and foul. There was a large poster of a pentacle on the longest wall, and it was surrounded by words in a script unknown. On the other side of the room from the desk was a settle, of the type normally found in parlours. This was draped in rugs and furs and was surrounded by papers and books, seemingly dropped randomly. The little window looked out over the rear of the house and stables could be seen at the back of the yard. It was a larger stable than usual, but only held one loosebox. The stable door was huge, barred with enormous brass hinges and the upper half was pinned back. Inside, just visible in the inky blackness, was a huge horse, black as pitch.
There was no evidence of anyone living in the house. The grate in the parlour was spotless and the range blackleaded to a shiny finish. The floors were swept clean and all the windows gleamed in the sunlight. There were no boots by the door, nor coal or logs by the fire. In the small hallway there were neither coats nor hats. In the bedrooms upstairs, there were no clothes, nor any storage for clothes. The house looked completely deserted.
In the parlour there was one wall with a bookcase that was very dusty. Off all the books in the house, these were the only dusty ones. At the end of one of the shelves was a copy of 'Demons - Myth or Magic?'. This book was the only one on the whole bookcase that wasn't dusty. A hand landed on the book and pulled it from the shelf. Suddenly the entire bookcase swung open and revealed a narrow passageway. Some paces further on there was another small door and, behind it, stairs leading underground.
The room underground was infinitely more untidy than the house upstairs. A cape was flung casually on a chair and there were more books. But these books were scattered all over the room. Some had noted in the margins and some had pages removed. Papers, pen and ink were on the little desk, and the desk almost sagged under the piles of books and papers.
Boots stood by the door, but only one pair. And a jacket was thrown on top of the boots.
Sitting at the table, hunched over his work was an enormous man. This mountain of a man was busy writing, taking notes and referring to a stack of musty books. His eyes were jet black and he had huge shadows under them, showing long hours working on his project. His black hair fell untidily to his massively broad shoulders and he frequently pushed stray locks out of his eyes. He dwarfed the chair, his long legs telescoped under the desk. Every now and then he would stretch, pulling his legs out from under the desk and pushing them to the extraordinary limit of their length. Standing up this behemoth stood six foot ten inches in his stocking feet, so he touched seven feet in his boots. He was muscular with the height, giving an overwhelming concept of presence. He stood up from the untidy desk and stretched his arms upwards. Biceps and triceps wrestled under his shirtsleeves, and pectoral muscles threatened to break through the silken fabric. When his hands brushed the ceiling, the giant bent down and touched his toes. For a big man, he was incredibly supple. His face wasn't young though, he had the experience of years in every line and every wrinkle. He slowly strode over to a jug and poured a glass of water, and drank it greedily. Then he poured some into his hands, rubbed his face and ran his fingers through his hair.
Then, with a weary sigh, the hard-worker went back to his desk.
The brass plate on the front door read 'Elshin'.