EXCERPT OF UNNAMED SOMETHING ELLE IS WORKING ON:
Prologue: September 1939
London Weather - 1939 Rather Dull. A Dry Spring and Wet Late Autumn.
“Too soon.” The old man breathed past, dry chapped lips, the words barely pushing across them. His tongue felt overly large and desiccated in his mouth, maybe the words hadn’t made it after all. No one in the sick room heard him, it seemed. Or if they had no one stopped to listen, to reassure him that it wasn’t too soon. That everything was in place and taken care of.
He tried again, his ravaged body struggling with effort, his thin chest barely rising. It filled painfully and slowly before he had enough to force out the air for words, “She is too young, it’s too soon.” Again, nothing. The young nurse wearing her starched white apron and peaked cap – making her appear spectral in the dim light of the room the irony not lost as Arthur was the one losing his corporeal form– murmured something Arthur could not hear to someone he could not see. Yes, he knew his name was Arthur, he may be losing his body but his mind was sharp and by god, it was too soon.
Outside the window storm clouds gathered. Arthur didn’t have to see them to know they were there, they’d been gathering for days, pressing against him making it harder to breath. He’d felt them for months. Arthur had felt the clouds coming and still he wasn’t prepared, none of them were equipped and now, far to soon, the treacherous body he inhabited was failing him. He needed to see the girl.
Raindrops began falling, coming in from an angle to crash against the fragile shuttering window panes – demanding to be let in, to be answered. Were they crying for him, Arthur wondered? Or for the miasma of malevolence that was crawling out of the very earth that supported them all. Creeping, dragging, lurching determined to slowly suffocate everything in its path.
Arthur had done what he could. Recorded the only way he knew how – without giving himself away – what he knew. The tricks, the tales, the solutions. He’d tried to prepare the girl. Rather, he’d planned to prepare the girl child but human biology had snatched time from him, tossing it aside so it floated just out of his grasp. An errant playbill dancing and taunting on a breeze just out of reach, Arthur dashing along after but ever unable to grab it and rein it in.
The young nurse appeared in his vision. He wished she would stop fussing, he was dying not ensnared by otherworldly magic or, heavens, possessed by a malignant spirit. He chuckled, the sound was rasping and grotesque even to his own ears. He supposed that telling the young lady about spirits would cause her to fuss and twitch his covers even more frequently. Perhaps he’d even receive a patronizing lecture.
He sensed the bindings which had kept him tethered for so long to this earth loosen further. Each day, each passing hour and minute found him lighter and less connected to the land he had been appointed guardian of so many years ago.
“Bring me the girl.” He whispered against the night and the falling rain. “I need the girl.”
“Mr. Arthur? Did you ask for water? Are you too cold? This rain is fierce, I heard the man on the wireless say it rained 16mm just yesterday.”
No, goddammit, he wasn’t cold or thirsty, he doubted he ever would be again, but he needed to see the girl. She was the ill-formed key to his plans, formless clay. A future he had not had time to plan for, he needed to see her before he was swallowed by the ether. The rain continued, pounding and lashing against house. Trying to come inside, maybe beckoning Arthur outside.
Wet landed on his cheek, the droplet ticked as it carved a delicate path across his ravaged countenance and into his ear. Arthur tried to lift a hand to see what it was. To confirm his suspicion that the outside had in fact finally made its way inside. He couldn’t sense the young nurse, perhaps she’d gone to fetch him that bloody glass of water he did not want. Or need.
The trickle became a deluge. The end was now, Arthur recognized. There would be no time to see the girl child one last time. There was no time for anything anymore, he had failed, wasted too much time on trivial pursuits without understanding that his end would not be one he could see coming or plan for. He could see many things, had recorded them hidden in plain sight. But he had not seen this. Ah but the river beckoned now, it’s siren song too strong to ignore.
Arthur slipped away while the silly nurse was fetching him something for his parched throat. The river opened, accepting him back from where he’d come. Swallowing him whole, cradling him in its all-encompassing arms. He’d forgotten how it felt to be held like this, to be caressed and loved – to feel as one.
“I came for you, I said I would.”
“You did,” Arthur replied as he was swept away in the current, “you came.”
2018 – Gray’s Bluff, WA
The old house released a bone-deep sigh one it had seemingly held for eons. It listened closely to the ominous creak of warped hardwood flooring, to out-of-square doorways trying to fit themselves back into a puzzle vaguely remembering that once they had been true and strong, to the fragile windowpanes struggling to keep the wind and the rain at bay. It cataloged its losses, worried when it was unable to recall them all with clarity. There were too many to count, and now she was gone. Not even her spirit remained. She’d battled, fought to stay, but her spirit had already been old and weak when her body turned to ash.
The rain continued to fall, as it had for time immeasurable, pounding on the roof and sneaking in through weak spots further dampening the upper floors, hiding in attic crevices, lurking behind plaster walls. The downpour was cold and relentless. It was filled with grief, anger, loss and it hung over Gray’s Bluff refusing to budge.
The house tentatively reached out – again feeling nothing, a void where light once stood guard. No spark, no warmth, no strength. This wouldn’t do. Too close, it sensed the creep of the dark. Much longer and it would be too late, for it, for Gray’s Bluff, for all that had been fought and won with hard scrabbled deaths and harder lives. Using vestigial remains of energy it pushed further out, searching and seeking, needing and wanting, hungry and thirsty. Desperate.
Unwieldy etheric tendrils tumbled and twisted almost futilely, pushed outward from the house, searching. They had never pushed this far, or this hard before. Something warm brushed against its awareness, unexpected and unknown. Tendrils recoiled, changed directions focusing on this unexpected gift. It was gentle, it hesitated to touch. It didn’t know what it was but this warmth was the first it had felt in a very long time.
Chapter One: Early Spring 2018
Bran wrinkled his nose frowning suspiciously through his windshield at the ramshackle house. It stared back, equally suspicious of him, from across a grizzled lumpy almost colorless lawn. Bran’s home for the foreseeable future – all because of one damn book. He’d put off moving for too long, hoping a different solution might arise. Nothing had typical Vaughn luck. And the only place he could afford in Gray’s Bluff looked to be one rusty nail and a swift kick in the ass from falling down.
It wasn’t a castle but somehow the house managed to look slightly better than what his imagination had dreamt up. Offhand comments like ‘it’s been vacant for a while’ and ‘very elderly previous owner’ by the property manager had had Bran’s antennae twitching. So far at least the house wasn’t an homage to horror – more hoarder, less possessed dead people. Which was good, dead people made him uncomfortable. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.
The ancient house’s exterior paint had faded over the years to a dull uneven grey although Bran spotted places where the scalloped trim had once been a vibrant yellow. More importantly than esthetics, there was a six month discount on rent for the just-beginning remodel. The property manager or owner he didn’t remember which, who’d seemed a little bewildered by Bran’s call, had apologetically admitted it needed major work but yes, he had a room available. Bran could hardly complain. He squinted at it un-focusing his eyes allowing hidden forms and patterns to emerge, yeah, it’d been pretty once.
The porch was a glorious wrap-around, which would have been a plus had it not been stuffed to the gills with old furniture, broken down cardboard boxes, mangled appliances, what looked like bird cages or small animal carriers. He’d have to talk to the property manager about the debris. For one thing, it was a fire hazard, for another, well, Bran just didn’t like it.
He might as well get this over with. Grumbling Bran extracted himself from his car, locking it before he tromped up to the front door the last thing he needed was to have his worldly belongings disappear.
Several knocks on the front door brought no response. The door itself was gorgeous and original to the structure, dating back to the late 1800s Bran calculated. Two panels of delicate frosted glass extended from the top of the door to midway down allowing Bran to get a double dose himself in the reflection, regrettably. Drab dark hair, messy because he rarely remembered to look in a mirror, and no doubt too long. A body on the skinny side of sexy. Bran felt he looked a bit like Frodo Baggins after he and Sam had climbed Mt. Doom.
A glance at his cell phone screen confirmed he was on time. He knocked again, nothing. The house exuded an air of complete inner silence. Quieting his own inner turmoil Bran listened closely trying to identify a something or someone on the other side of the door. All he could feel was a deep sense of loneliness, disrepair and something faltering he couldn’t label. It twitched away before he could decipher its intent.
Not only this house, but the entire street had been hit with hard times. The surrounding houses were probably rentals given the state of the lawns and general air of abandonment. Along the block where Bran stood was there were several equally tattered Victorians and a couple Tudors nestled amongst an infestation of mid-century single level brick homes. The neighborhood had an identity issue. The homes were in various states of disrepair or abandonment and no neighbors seemed to care that a stranger was standing on the porch across the street or next door.
A trip through the side yard revealed nothing only a visual of several windows where a previous occupant had used sheets to keep out the light and a large backyard that looked like something out of an apocalyptic drama. Scrap metal, the remnants of old appliances or optimistically, sculpture, was littered across the space. Much of the backyard was a mystery, blackberries had begun a hostile takeover, engulfing everything in their path without regard, the mounds were anonymous perhaps hiding a multitude of discarded appliances. Perhaps not. Bran shivered.
Something wet hit his cheek he lifted a hand to his face, the way his life went it could very well be bird shit. His hand came away merely wet. The gloomy gray clouds had finally quit fooling around and a light rain began to fall. Bran fled back to the protection of the porch. It was a depressing but not unusual fact, that not getting shit on was often a highlight of his day.
Back at the front door, he pounded harder, even though he was certain no one was home to answer. Fuck his life. He turned to leave when a muffled cursing drifted to his ears from the other side of the house. Bran hadn’t tried that direction. The neighbor’s property line was so close that occupants of either home had probably chatted through open windows without raising their voices. He hadn’t wanted to attempt bushwhacking through the blackberries, which were heaviest along the side of the house.
Leaving the shelter of the porch Bran peeked around the corner of the house. A bulky figure materialized from an enormous, ancient by the looks of things, tangle of brambles. The figure swore while trying to release enormous lengthy blackberry talons snagged to his clothing, sharp grasping claws determined to imprison the man. He would loosen one and another would swoop in to impale him in a different spot. God damn blackberries.
The stranger wasn’t going to escape their trickery on his own, “Stand still let me help.”
Dark eyes snapped to Bran’s stopping him in his tracks, rain began to pelt down harder but Bran barely registered it thrumming against his scalp and shoulders. The man’s eyes were dark blue, almost violet. He had dark blonde hair Bran thought, although it was hard to tell because his head was mostly covered by the extremely damp hood of a dingy blue sweatshirt. The sweatshirt had a logo printed on it but it was so faded Bran couldn’t read it. And, heedless of the weather, the man was wearing khaki cargo shorts which had seen better days, and a worn pair of sneakers.
Shaking his head at himself Bran forced himself to move forward, this was not the time to lose focus. “Stand still, I’ll pull the brambles aside so you can escape.”
It took a bit but Bran managed to free the stranger from the grasp of the wicked brambles impaling his own fingers a few times in the process. He wiped a swell of blood from his thumb onto his pants. Bran hated those things, almost as much as crows – but you had to be patient or you’d end up tangled even worse. He wasn’t going to complain about helping the stranger, this was the longest (and closest) he had been next to another man in too many months. A sharp twinge sunk into Bran’s thigh much like when a cat is giving warning by digging its claws in only a little – a reminder that violence was always an option. Looking down he saw a wicked frond had begun its siege, he swatted it away and stepped back from temptation.
“Look, I’m sorry to free you from the offending shrubbery (the shrubbery would feel the hot burn of gasoline in its future if Bran had anything to say about it) and dash, but I was supposed to meet someone here about a room but now I have to meet a friend who is not understanding about being late.” The rain was now falling relentlessly, a deluge, soaking him to the skin through his thin cotton jacket and cheap leather loafers. “Can you pass along a message for me? Or better yet, my phone number – give me your cell. I don’t know why I didn’t do this before.” He muttered, holding his hand out for the guy’s phone.
With a bemused expression on his face and the quirk of an eyebrow, the guy fished in the side pocket of his cargos, pulled out an ancient flip phone and handed it to Bran. The phone wasn’t even password protected. Bran rolled his eyes at the man’s ignorance punched his cell phone number into the phone and hit send, when his phone began vibrating in his back pocket he ended the call.
“There. You have my number. If you see the property manager around would you pass it along? I really can’t wait any longer.” He waited for the guy to nod before dashing back to his car. Once out of the rain Bran looked up an address on his phone. He tried to ignore the rain which was hammering against the roof of his car demanding entrance. Fuck off, Bran thought to himself.
The ancient, battered Golf started like a champ. Bran glanced one last time out the passenger side window at the guy. He was standing where Bran had left him with a puzzled expression on his face. Bran hoped he was smart enough to get himself out of the rain, or at least shut his mouth.