Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Archive for November 2012

Savage Writing: Consumption

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I went off-task this week because it did nothing for me, though TB and “Tactical Basque” share the same initials I suppose.

__

Bleak, blue, the evening sky made a silhouette of the figure standing at the graveside. From the cemetery gates one would only have seen the black outlines of crows and slabs and crosses, and one solitary female figure.

Of course she was solitary. Charlotte pulled her cloak around her neck as the breeze ruffled her. The sixth person had died today, and Mrs Tennison, the fifth, now lay under a pile of newly turned dirt at the other side of the yard, as close to the church as possible. People stayed far away from where Claire was buried. They had stayed away from her even before the first boy dropped dead.

Charlotte rubbed her eyes. In this dim light, she could barely see the name on the newly erected headstone. Since coming here at sunset, she had read and re-read it until she knew it by heart; she had drawn her gaze countless times along each groove that made up a letter, and each letter that made up the name, and the date, and the epitaph. ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you.’ Instead of writing of their loss, their parents had carved a prayer for Claire’s soul above her forever.

Charlotte had had a very peculiar dream the previous night. She was on an endless plain, an empty landscape. Beneath her feet there was no ground, but instead wooden floorboards, shining from recent rain. The sky was pregnant with black-grey clouds, and above the horizon there was a sickly yellow-purple light – the colour of an old bruise – which cast a dull glow on the scene. In front of her was a round wooden table, also rain-slicked, with two wooden chairs. The one in front of her was empty. Seated on the opposite side of the table, facing her, was Claire.

She was eating an apple. She looked at her younger sister as if she was the biggest joke she had ever seen.

‘Come sit with me,’ Claire said. She looked as she had always done: dark eyes, too dark for her light brown hair and fair complexion; insolent smile.

‘I daren’t,’ Charlotte had replied.

The apple was gone, vanished. A low rumble from far away rippled across the heavy air. Claire leant forward, both elbows on the table.

‘That’s rude of you, Lottie. Aren’t you glad to see me? Here, have some milk, have some tea; I have everything I want. I didn’t think you’d be so indifferent to seeing me again. Two-and-twenty years together, and you forget me in mere weeks.’

A jug of milk, a pot of tea, two cups and a basket of fruit appeared on the table, on a white tablecloth. The patches of moisture on the wooden surface leaked through the fibres, staining damp circles onto the cloth, as if a giant had dropped tears on it.

Charlotte shook her head: no, I didn’t forget; no, I will not join you. Not like Mrs Tennison, or her son, or any of his friends.

‘Why are you so afraid?’ Claire asked, with a lop-sided grin. ‘Do you think I am a monster?’

Charlotte’s mouth was dry. Her dreams were typically theatrical, with little physical sensation; she watched everything that occurred in them without taking part. And yet, in this dream – though she did not know it was a dream – her mouth turned to coarse cloth, tongue and cheeks a cotton-dry desert. A shadow show played across her mind, where she imagined scenes that had been described to her in real, waking life. The boys laughing, drunk, stumbling into the graveyard. Shovels stolen from the nearby shed. Sweating and becoming gradually more sober as they disinterred the coffin. Kicking it open, and inside…what was inside?

A flash of lightning struck the floor nearby. Charlotte jumped but Claire did not flinch. Her eyes gleamed like a cat’s in that instant of white.

‘Sit with me, Lottie,’ Claire repeated, and through no decision of her own, Charlotte was in the chair, with a cup of tea in her hands. She threw the lukewarm liquid down her throat but it did not slake her thirst; it merely made the woollenness more sufferable.

‘I cared for you,’ Claire said, cheek on hand as she watched her drink. She popped two purple grapes past her lips. ‘And I hoped you cared for me, despite everything. I didn’t think that you would hold evil gossip against me, even now. I didn’t think that you would think ill of the dead.’

Charlotte could not speak, but her mind protested as loudly as it could: I did care. I was the one who held the cloth to your mouth when you exhaled blood. I was the one who brought you these baskets of fruit, and who lied that they were from friends. You had no friends.

‘Have some. They taste like love,’ Claire said. She reached over the tabletop, grape in hand, and tried to put it in her sister’s mouth. Charlotte jerked away.

‘I can’t!’ she gasped. ‘I can’t – they’re dead – they’re dead. They dug you out the ground, and they…they…died.’

Another flash of lightning, to Claire’s right hand side. Charlotte tried to take another gulp of tea but it was empty, and then the cups were gone, the fruit was gone, and the table was cleared. Claire rested her chin on her palms, and smiled.

‘Come follow me, sister? I’m lonely. I miss you. Share some fruit with me? Between family, between friends?’

‘I can’t,’ Charlotte sobbed. ‘I daren’t. I don’t want to go.’

Crunch. Claire was eating another apple. Her eyes sparkled as she looked at her shaking, wretched sister.

‘Then at least visit my body,’ Claire said. ‘I’m lonely. You haven’t seen where they buried me. Please come and see me. I love you.’

A flash of lightning, and Charlotte had woken before she could promise or deny anything.

It was late in the cemetery. She had been here for hours, to make up for not visiting before. She hadn’t wanted to visit at all – especially after what happened.

The boys who dug up Claire’s corpse as a joke had come screaming back, saying that when one accidentally hit the body – ‘accidentally’ – a spray of blood came from her mouth and stained him. That boy died a week later, the others soon afterwards. She was a monster, they said. Claire’s vengeful spirit had returned to wander the village that scorned her, and she ate the souls of those who had hurt her. Stay indoors, don’t be outside after dark, and don’t go to her graveside, or she will get you.

Despite the gloom, Charlotte felt no fear. There was a slab of stone, and under the earth there was a dead body, dead like the pigs in the butcher’s window. She had never harmed her sister. Dreams were not real.

‘You are dead,’ she said to the stone, ‘and can do nothing. Good riddance to you, Claire.’

With that, the silhouette turned from the grave and walked away, and no-one alive could see the shadow of disease as it crept into her lungs and began its task of dragging her back to the grave.

_

I read so many things about improving my writing and how to write that I became too self-conscious to actually write anything, prompting a mini crisis. Luckily, a painting of a scene and a fascinating article conspired to wake my shivering writer’s mind to come up with this. I don’t think it’s very good, but if I only let myself write “perfect” things then I’ll never write anything. I suppose I’ve learned that I can’t be critical and creative at the same time; editing mode and writing mode must be kept completely separate!

And if all else fails, think of this: if EL James and Stephanie Myers can be  writers, then so can I!

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Written by G.J.

28/11/2012 at 11:47 pm

Incense

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So in mid-October the Leeds Savage Club recorded some of our work at South Leeds Community Radio, which was a barrel of laughs and included me nearly fainting from trying to do continuous witch cackling and coughing/dying sound effects in a boiling recording studio. After that, Pete heard that they were doing four-week long Storytelling Workshops so, being the jobless bum I am, I decided to go along to the Monday afternoon sessions. 

It…was hit-and-miss. Initially it wasn’t a writing workshop at all, but a memory sharing workshop where we said what memories certain stimuli reminded us of. The local playwright taking the course soon found that a few of us were interested in, y’know, WRITING, and then tried to mould the last sessions into focusing on that, which didn’t quite work. People dropped out and turned up late – as in, 30-45 mins late for a two hour session – and it all got very disorganised and irritating. I learnt a few things, but nothing I couldn’t have learnt better from Brandon Sanderson’s lectures online.

However, I did end up writing a small something from one of the tasks, which was memories brought up by the five senses. I based my piece on one little memory of aikido (including one of my favourite Sensei Holland anecdotes), so it ended up being quite fun to write. I could write about aikido for hours!

So here’s a small memory of the smell of Glasgow aikido courses. I’m not sure what I’ll be putting up on the blog during the week, since I’ve had a crisis of confidence in my writing recently and have been struggling really hard to turn my inner critic off and let myself write. We’ll see what happens.

__

The courses were five times a year, and always sneaked up on us. We would turn up for our normal Friday training, only to find a table in front of the sports hall and Frank asking for twenty quid and our membership books for the Scottish Aikido Federation. Each course took place over two days: the Friday evening and the Saturday afternoon. The Friday went by like a more serious and fast-paced normal session, whereas the Saturday took place in a different hall, and was the only time we ever trained during the day. Because of this, it was the Saturday practice that felt like the “real” course of the weekend.

Each aikido dojo – or rather, each hall that an aikido club transforms into a dojo – has a distinctive smell that lingers on your white suit the next day. Up in north Glasgow, in a small community centre in Summerston, our dojo had the smell of polished dust and fusty mats. The usual sports hall was booked by a dance class every Saturday, so for the courses we’d pile into the neighbouring room: thirty adults in a tiny hall in the midday heat, beating each other up to the muffled tunes of Shakira and Beyonce from next door. Particularly in summer, the heat would be overpowering and within minutes of the warm-up you’d be sweating, and while the smell of sweat was never noticeable, it lent a certain tinge to the usual scent of the tatami. But intruding upon this smell, lying over it like a feathery cloth, was the fragrance of the incense stick which Frank would light especially for those courses.

In a club of no-nonsense Glaswegians – with Sensei Holland the most dominant and no-nonsense of the lot – Frank was the quiet, sensitive one, the runt of the pack, who always gripped you with freezing cold hands even on those summer afternoons. He would light the incense and leave it by the photograph of O-Sensei, the founder of aikido. That smell was the sign of a special day of training, a mark of respect to the original master, and a reminder of the spiritual side of the martial art called ‘The way of harmonious spirit.’

This side of aikido was rarely acknowledged in our club: we had been told that once, Sensei Holland went to Russia, and the aikidoka there were in awe of the 6th Dan. One asked him: ‘Sensei, what is harmony?’ Sensei thought for a moment, and the Russian awaited his profound answer. Finally, Sensei replied:

‘Harmony is not getting hit.’

That was Glaswegian aikido. That was Sensei Holland.

‘I don’t like that incense stuff,’ he said one Monday after a course. Normal practices usually included a time where Sensei would sit us down and impart his wisdom to us, whether that was wisdom was about a technique, or our individual temperaments as trainees, or that time he tricked a burglar into thinking he was a harmless old man and then beat the crap out of him. This session, Frank was absent. ‘I don’t like the smell of it,’ Sensei said, ‘but I let Frank do it for the courses because he likes it.’

Frank would have stopped lighting the incense at the first hint of disapproval from Sensei, because everyone respected Sensei in his dojo – and yet Sensei said nothing, because he didn’t want to disturb one of his students. That mutual respect and mutual consideration, both up and down the hierarchy, was admirable, was very Japanese – and made change impossible. And so, Frank lit the incense at every course, and the smell of it mixing with the dusty mats and the old community centre walls remains the scent of Saturday afternoon aikido in my memories today.

Written by G.J.

18/11/2012 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Musings

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Savage Writing: Description

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This week the writing group was joined by the sketching group, so the task was to make a short description of an object, setting or situation for the sketchers to draw, while we wrote on drawings they had brought in. I left what I wrote on the table (it was pretty rubbish and silly anyway), but I still have the description I made.

 

It’s a modest attic room, under the eaves. There’s barely enough height for a grown man to stand, even in the centre of the room where the eaves meet. A skylight is on the left side of the roof, facing east; the sunlight streams through it every morning until it reaches the tiny camp bed on the opposite side of the room. A thin duvet and green coverlet lie in an intermingled heap on the bed, and the pillow has fallen onto the floor. There isn’t enough wall space for a bookshelf, so instead piles of books are clustered on the floor, towers of old inherited hardbacks amongst scattered new paperbacks whose covers are too flimsy and shiny to stay piled on top of each other for long. Hiding behind these piles are a few toys: an orange cat with pristine fur, and a doll with felt-tip pen make-up stained on her face. In a corner there is a bulging bag filled with older, abandoned toys; it is sagging because the toys keep being taken out, played with , and hastily shoved back in. Underneath the skylight is a small telescope covered in a film of dust. On the floor by its feet, a large colour book on constellations lies unopened, catching the sunlight on its glossy blue cover.

 

Barely anyone drew anything from the scene, ha ha. Not my fault that Matt came up with a shape-shifting killer octopus and Heather’s idea was a galaxy contained within a filing cabinet.

Written by G.J.

15/11/2012 at 2:33 pm

Riverboats Part 14: Sail Away

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Christian thanked me for what I had done. He was the one who was officially recognised for stopping the boat feud, and as such he was promoted and received a large bonus, but everyone at the station and round the docks knew that it was the two of us who had done it, and knew that it would never have happened at all if not for me. I didn’t mind. He offered to always help me if I was in need, but he needn’t have even thanked me, let alone offered that. I already had what I wanted, after all.

My return to the Endeavour was full of joy, in comparison to how I had left. Helena and Mary swamped me, and Frances nearly bowled me over once they were done hugging me. Isabel hung back, and merely smiled at me; I knew I would feel her happiness later. It was good to see her smile like that. It reaffirmed that I had done the right thing by her.

‘Ooh, we missed you, chick!’ Mary said. ‘With you gone, then Harriet gone, it’s been a lonely old boat, this.’

‘How is Harriet?’ I asked.

‘Good,’ Helena said. ‘She’s happy to be home.’

I knew how she felt.

‘Not long now, and we’ll be a full boat again,’ Isabel said.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked, and everyone’s smiles grew even wider. Mary quickly disappeared to another room, then reappeared with a sheet of paper in her hand: a letter. She held it out to me with a triumphant grin:

FAMILY SAFE. I’M COMING BACK – JANE

Jane! It felt like an age since I had seen her. How she would laugh at me and all I had done! And how good it would be to have her back. We would be complete again.

‘I’m so happy,’ I said to them all, as I relished having them around me again. ‘I’m so happy.’

*

That night, Isabel said she had had a letter from her aunt, which was also signed by Mr Cooper. All hostilities between the families were to cease, and they were to operate as friendly rivals. If anything more happened, they would be taken to the police at once. I smiled and let her tell me, though I had received a similar letter myself while still at my parent’s house. Mrs Hunter and Mr Cooper, it said, thanked me for my role in stopping the feud between the families. They had discussed the matter between themselves, and both assured me that such a situation would never come round again. Mr Cooper had also sent me a sum of money; I left it with my parents, in recompense for the constant worry I gave them.

‘You hurt all of us, Edie,’ she said. ‘But it was necessary. It is like…like setting a bone. It needed to be righted.’

‘I only did it for myself,’ I said. She denied it, but it was true. I couldn’t have lived if Isabel or Laneham had died, and it pained me how much the feud had hurt everyone around me. I did it to heal myself, but apparently everyone told me it was selfless. I let them say that, since they wouldn’t listen otherwise.

*

The next day we had a surprise visit from Harriet. She came with her son, a boy of four with her blue eyes and angelic blonde hair. He ran around the boat and tried to pull everything apart until Mary took him in hand and sat him down with some knitting needles and a half-finished scarf she was making for her own children, back up north.

‘I forgot how tiring he is,’ Harriet laughed. I don’t think I had ever heard her laugh like that. ‘Sometimes I think how much easier it was back here, and want to run away again! But, he misses me too much – don’t you, James?’

The boy nodded at his name and returned to the puzzle of tearing apart the knitted wool.

‘Aye, and you’d miss him too, as you always did,’ Mary said. ‘Maybe I should head home one of these days, and see my own. But you girls feel more like home to me than any old man-filled hovel up in Barnsley.’

I showed James how to make one knit in the scarf, and he was fascinated and insisted I do it again, and again, and I said I would teach him and everyone else objected, though he demanded it. I laughed. I laughed a lot in those first few days.

Harriet promised she would come visit us when we came by, and we set sail once she was gone. I sat on deck, watching the docks retreat as I had done thousands of times, so glad to feel the rock under my feet once more. I had thought I was free on land, but I had realised that the place was too big for me, too wild, too open. Back on a boat, constantly shuffling along a familiar path: that was what felt right to me.

Isabel came and stood by me. She had been rather quiet since my return: no touch, no kiss.

‘You seemed to like Harriet’s son being here,’ she said, as we looked out together. I knew instantly what she meant. She turned to me: no searing gaze, just the gentle, melancholic look of heartbreak. I could barely stand to see it, but I knew I must.

‘You’ll go back to him, won’t you? You won’t stay with me. You’ll always go back to him.’

I couldn’t reply to her, couldn’t bring myself to break her further. I could end a feud. I could wrestle a loaded gun out of someone’s hand. I could walk through the streets at night and throw myself into a fray, without hesitation. But I could not make the world see our love as correct, and I could not have a family with her. I wanted them both, but I was pushed one way: I had always been pushed one way.

She knew what my silence meant. I struggled with myself, to say something to make it better – if I possibly could.

‘You should forget about me,’ I finally said. ‘There are hundreds of people out there who would adore you, and who would stay with you forever. Anyone else would treat you better than me.’

‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ll never marry, and I’ll never love anyone in a hundred years as much as I love you.’

I hoped she would change her mind, for her own sake. I had made her change her mind before. But truthfully, selfishly, I didn’t want to lose her yet. I slipped my arm around her side, and rested my head against her arm.

‘I feel so empty now,’ she said, softening at my touch. ‘I don’t have revenge to hold me up any more, and I don’t have ending the feud either. When you go…I’ll have nothing left to live on.’

‘I’m not going yet,’ I said. ‘I’ll stay by you as long as I can.’

She met my gaze, and smiled to herself, bolstered by my words. She found my hand, and brought it to her lips, kissing it as if she was my prince.

‘I will fight for you, you know,’ she said. ‘I won’t give in to him so easily.’

‘As long as you don’t have guns pointed at each other, I don’t mind,’ I said, ruefully.

‘When are you planning to leave me?’ she asked.

I kissed her. I was seventeen. I had years left to give, and to do more; I was in no rush.

‘Not any time soon,’ I replied.

***

Written by G.J.

08/11/2012 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Riverboats

Tagged with , , , ,

Riverboats Part 13: Satisfaction

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The carriages were gone when I returned to the police station. I imagined they had left in a flurry as soon as Mrs Hunter was gone, men shouting and horses snorting. The image of arrest and triumphant return soothed me as I waited for them, but as the hours dragged by and the light through the window turned to gold and then to darker blue, my thoughts turned anxious. By nightfal they had still not returned.

Laneham came to the station, alone, and found me sitting in the hallway, head in my hands, far more worried than I had the right to be.

‘Is quiet, he signed. Are they not back?

No.

He picked up my hands from where they had fallen onto my lap, and gently tugged at me to stand.

‘I need to wait,’ I said, snatching them back. ‘I need to be here, if something’s gone wrong, I need to answer to it, I need to help…’

On that last word, I looked at him. He was a grown man, and he looked as solemn and concerned as a grown man would upon hearing bad news, but in that moment what I saw was a skinny young boy with ill-fitting clothes and perpetual trembling from fear. I had to answer to him, didn’t I?

‘I don’t understand,’ I said, to him and myself. I spoke softly, but still my voice sounded like a wailing child. ‘Mrs Hunter said she would tell them the right place – she looked as if she was really going to help us…and she wouldn’t have betrayed her word. Why would they still be out is she told them the right place?’

Laneham knelt in front of me.

If he had any warning, he would run.

‘It can’t all have been for nothing!’ I whispered. ‘And if they couldn’t find him, they would be back by now…’

Unless there was a huge fight. Unless shots were fired and officers were killed.

He can’t run far, Laneham signed, his gestures a welcome interruption to such morbid thoughts. They must be searching still.

I breathed. It was possible. My shoulders dropped.

But –

No, my hands were shaking too much to sign. I returned to speech.

‘It’s a long time they’ve been searching.’

He frowned, and looked out the window. The same darkly determined look he used to wear whenever Archibald Hunter, or anyone involved with the feud was mentioned, the same look he had when Clark used to insult me. I would never have thought him capable of it, once, but I knew now: that was the look of impending violence.

It is late and you should go home, he signed, turning back to me. I shook my head. I couldn’t bear the thought of what might happen if I left.

Edie, he insisted with a condescending expression, you’re no use here. You should rest. I’ll walk you home.

He held out a hand to me and I realised he was right: my eyes hurt, my back was sore, all my muscles were worn out from the stress of the day. I was not fit for help, even if I was needed. I took his hand and I was glad to lean on him as we left the station. We said nothing during the walk to my home; I had nothing to say, and I was only happy to feel his arm pressed close to me, and the comfort it gave after a hard day. We reached my parent’s tiny house, and I was reluctant to let go of him.

Thank you, I signed. He stroked my cheek.

It’s nothing, he signed.

Weeks away from being close with Isabel; even longer without him. I was so tired and worried that, if not for that look back in the station, I would have said I’d marry him if he had asked at that moment.

‘Are you going away tomorrow?’

Yes, unless something more important rises.

‘Then I’ll visit in the morning, once I’ve found out what’s happened. If–’

I was going to tell him that if I didn’t show, then he could assume that something important had happened and should come to the station – but at that moment, the door beside us opened, and my mother stood there. Her eyes widened when she saw Laneham.

‘Oh!’

She blinked and cleared her throat before speaking more.

‘I – I was wondering who Edie could be talking to…’

My father asked what was going on, and appeared beside her. His face fell, and he nodded at Laneham. No-one spoke; my parents stared at this handsome young man who had once been the hope of their family, a man whom they had said was dead, rather than admit that he had gone to their enemy. Laneham stood, and took their stares without any look of reproach. Only I could see the sorrow in his eyes as he looked at his former parents – not his only former caregivers, I remembered now. The dapper and mournful man I had met earlier that day had done far more for Laneham than we ever had.

‘Thank you for walking me home,’ I said. I wanted him away from them, away from that painful recollection.

Laneham turned away from my parents, kissed my cheek, and left without another sign or look. I wanted to watch him walk away, but my mother hustled me inside.

‘My,’ she said once she shut the door. ‘He’s turned out fine, hasn’t he?’

‘Turned out cheeky, more like,’ my father said, ‘doing that at my doorstep. Do you never get tired of being trouble, girl?’

I left them without acknowledging their words. It would never be right, what had happened. We could never return to how things were, how we had planned them, how we thought they ought to be. But I knew that in time, and with work, we could move forward. My parents would accept Laneham again; he and Isabel would acknowledge each other beyond being enemies; the boats would sail on through the ports, with only teasing shouts between those passing, in place of gunshots. It would happen…but only after the end, and the end had not come yet. I laid in bed, knowing that the police were still rummaging through the dens in town, and knowing that the one man who could unravel everything was still hidden away in the darkness, safe.

*

I knew the banging at the door must be meant for me, so I rushed to answer it before my parents could rise. I was still half-asleep when I opened the door, my bleary eyes working hard to recognise the man with the lamp at his face.

‘Miss Heinlein,’ he said, ‘it’s urgent.’

Finally, the name of the face came to me: Edward, Edward Miller – Helena’s old flame. I was utterly confused as to why he’d be there.

‘What? What’s wrong?’

‘Laneham and Clark, they’re going after Archibald Hunter – they’ve gone off just now.’

‘What? That’s not possible – they don’t know where he is.’ They hadn’t heard what Mrs Hunter had told the police, so they couldn’t have any idea.

‘There’s policemen all over East Dulwich today, and no-one knew why. The pair of them came to talk to us in the pub and seemed interested – I thought they looked like they knew something. Then Clark asked me if one of the Baileys’ old men still owned a pub there, and I said yes so he asked which one and how to get there. I’m sorry, I didn’t realise what they meant until I saw them talking to each other with their hands, and they made that sign for “Hunter” a lot…’

‘You don’t know that sign,’ I said, more peeved than I should have been at such an idea.

‘I do, it’s the one they use all the time–’

He touched his two index fingers and thumbs together in the shape of an arrowhead. Hunter.

‘Anyway, they left and then Marc McBain came in and said the police were looking for Archibald Hunter and I realised what I’d done – they think he’s in the Palmerston and have gone after him. I don’t want this to blow up again, and I know you don’t – and Laneham won’t listen to someone like me, but he’ll listen to you, Miss Heinlein. Please, you have to stop them!’

I nodded, though I could barely believe what I was hearing.

‘Thank you for telling me – I’ll go as fast as I can, if you can tell me how.’

I rushed to put on my boots and coat as he told me the way to go. I ignored a call from my mother as I ran out, slammed the door behind me and followed Edward to the church street, which would lean on to the road to Dulwich.

‘I can make it from here,’ I said. ‘You need to go to the station and see if there’s anyone there who can help, or who can send a message to Christian McNeil.’

‘I can’t let you walk through town by yourself at night!’ he said, appalled.

‘I need more help than you!’ I said, rather unkindly because of my panic. ‘Please, Edward, be quick and you’ll find me again before I get there – I promise I won’t get lost!’

He did not look as if he would do what I said, so I started running and the next time I looked back at him, he was running the other way, to the station.

The shock kept me running for a while, barely seeing where I was going except to check the street names. Archibald Hunter had run from his old hiding hole – fine. He had hidden in a place which was owned by a family related to the Hunters – fine. Laneham and Clark had realised this – fine. But to go after him themselves? To not tell anyone their intentions? It only meant one thing: they still wanted his blood. After all this time, they were still determined to have vengeance, despite everything they had done to help me, help everyone. After the shock, came the fury: how dare they? How dare they think that revenge was for them and not for anyone else? How dare they betray me and everything I had done to stop these murders? All my hard work, all the heartbreak of Isabel and Harriet and even Mr Hunter himself – how DARE they?

And, I thought as the rage subsided and the despair swept into its stead, how dare Laneham throw his life away like this, after everything he had said to me? How could he risk himself on something so stupid, when I was still here?

I slowed down, out of breath and out of power, and I realised I was alone, in a dark and unfamiliar street, in a dark and unfamiliar part of town. I wanted to cry, I wanted to stop, I wanted to turn back, but that would be giving up, and even if I gave up, I would still not be home for a long time yet.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid as I walked down those alien streets. Every rattle and shout and slam made me jump, afraid for my life. I kept my head down and tried to keep to the shadows whenever I passed a person, wary of what they were doing. I tried to keep hidden from the drunken men outside the rowdy public houses. I saw women of the night on the corners for the first time in my life, who eyed me with scorn as I passed them as mousily as I could. A dog jumped out from behind a gate a scared me, and soon afterwards a beggar tried to speak to me, tried to grab my arm – I didn’t even hear what he was asking me for – and that’s when I ran again. Once I turned down the next street, and the empty one after that, I felt slightly safer, but I was still on edge and it took a long time for my breathing to return to normal. Mostly, though, despite this, the night was cold and the roads quiet, and until I came into East Dulwich, I had little to occupy me but my heated, unquiet thoughts.

There were lights in the distance, shaking slightly – hand-held lamps. I sped up my walking, knowing that the Palmerston was a little ahead and round the next corner – and that’s when the shot ran out. I sprinted round the corner, and saw five carriages surrounding the hotel, men spread outside the doors, all looking at the front door in anticipation, guns drawn. Huddled next to a carriage were an old man and two women – the man complaining bitterly. I ran up to the nearest man.

‘What’s happened? Who fired?’

‘Young lady, this is a police matter – you should be at home,’ the man said, not looking at me. I recognised him.

‘Morris, is Mr McNeil here?’

‘Wha – Miss Heinlein? Get down!’ He motioned to behind him. ‘Mr McNeil’s inside, the shot came from there. Mr Hunter’s armed – what are you doing here, anyway? Get back or you’ll get hurt!’

‘But Laneham and Clark–!’

‘They’re inside too,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry we won’t let any–HEY!’

I jumped out from behind him and he had to push me back.

‘Stay where you are or I’ll put you in cuffs! It’s dangerous in there!’

‘But…’

I couldn’t voice my objections. If the police tried to stop them, then they could all end up dead: Chrisian, Clark and Laneham. Another shot rang out, piercing my already-shot nerves, and dread flooded my stomach. Shouts were coming from the building. Yells. Someone sounded as if they were in pain. I sank into a crouch behind Morris, and I hugged my legs. The yelling continued. Oh God, it was over! They were dead – they were all dead!

The shouting increased until I could tell they were out the house. Morris shouted:

‘Hands down!’

I opened my eyes again. Morris moved, and brushed his leg against me behind him.

‘Miss Heinlein – you can look now, it’s safe. They’ve got him.’

I jumped up and looked: in front of the pub doors, there was a large imposing man, with the same dark hair as Mrs Hunter, and he was shouting obscenities at the top of his voice. Clasped around him, pinning his arms and with one arm around his neck, were Laneham and Clark. Behind them, wiping his brow and smiling, came Christian McNeil.

‘Right, boys, let’s get him in.’

Two policemen joined Clark and Laneham, and with their help, Christian wrestled the struggling man’s arms to behind him, and put his wrists in shackles.

‘Hey Chris, look what I found!’ Morris called out, as the men tried to move the prisoner towards a carriage. Laneham, Clark, and Christian all looked at me with surprise; Christian recovered from his shock first.

‘Miss Heinlein! We did it! Look at what your fine work has brought us – Mr Archibald Hunter himself!’

The prisoner looked at me as well, and scowled. He seemed perplexed as to how this girl could have possibly helped to capture him, and for that, the rest of the policemen laughed. They threw him in a carriage, and the owner and his family as well – the old man glared at me and muttered as he went past. Christian came over to me.

‘I’ll be taking him in myself, and it’ll probably take a long time to sort everything out. Wooh, it’s been a strange day! You should go to bed, Edie. There’s nothing else you can do for us.’

I didn’t know what to say. I was still confused as to what had happened.

‘Feel free to take a lift home though – Perry got word of what was happening, so he sent extra carriages. There should be space enough for you all.’

He beamed at me.

‘Don’t look so shocked, Miss Heinlein! We did it! It’s all over!’

I managed to give him a shaky smile.

‘Thanks.’

He told me to take care, and that he would see me tomorrow at the station, and then he got in the carriage with Archibald Hunter. I walked over to Laneham and Clark, and we watched until the carriage drove away and out of sight.

‘It’s a good thing we told the police,’ Clark said, once it was gone. ‘He put up one hell of a struggle – shot the wall twice as well. We couldn’t have done it without them.’

Laneham looked at me, grey questioning eyes, still surprised to see me.

‘I thought you were going to kill him,’ I confessed. ‘Edward told me you’d come here, and realised why – and I thought you wanted to kill him, before the police could get him.’

‘And get ourselves arrested, after all that we’ve done?’ Clark snorted. ‘Of course not.’

‘You didn’t tell anyone why you were going here.’

‘We didn’t trust anyone else to come here, for the same reason you didn’t trust us,’ he continued.

Why are you here, Edie? Laneham said, eyes still on me.

I…I came to stop you. I thought you would listen to me.

Clark turned away and smirked to himself, but Laneham looked worried.

You would have run into a fight? And how did you get here?

I…

I dropped my hands for a moment before telling him, because I suddenly felt foolish – all my fear, in the face of the truth, looked stupid.

I ran here from home.

He stared at me, dumfounded, for a moment, before pulling me into his embrace, holding me tight, as if to make up for the dangers I had faced before.

‘I’m sorry,’ I muttered into his shoulder. ‘But he’s the one that ruined everything for us, as well as hurting your family…I thought that, even after all this, you still wanted the satisfaction of killing him.’

Laneham pulled away and signed:

Catching him is all the satisfaction I need.

I burst out laughing; I had to wipe away the tears, but I laughed nonetheless. I had never felt such a keen relief as I felt at that moment. Laneham took me in his arms again, and only a pointed word from Clark – that we should get in a carriage and go home – was enough to separate us. As we travelled back to the docks, I leant against the back of the box and thought over what had just occurred, and everything else that had happened since the day I left the Endeavour.

‘It’s over,’ I said. Laneham squeezed my hand and smiled, but I had to say it again:

‘It’s all over.’

I couldn’t believe it. I had done it. I had faced two warring sides, and the two people I loved the most had sworn to kill each other, and I had stopped it.

I had won.

 

Written by G.J.

08/11/2012 at 9:48 pm

Posted in Riverboats

Tagged with , , , ,

Savage Writing: What She’s Best At

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Halloween task was “Love Hurts.” Accidentally brought the unedited version to the meet, which really annoyed me.

___

They say that what you are best at doing is whatever you do regularly. In that case, Shana was best at painting other people’s faces, breathing softly, and playing spider solitaire on her phone during filming. And early mornings. Most film sets required 4am starts, and she was very good at being the first to the trailer, requisite cup of coffee half-finished by the time the actors trailed in. She liked that moment when, half-asleep, she would look over her spread palette of tones, and her cleanly washed brushes standing in order of thickness, everything neat and orderly before the chaos began. She couldn’t say she liked the early mornings, but she loved that moment before the start.

There were no early mornings for this shoot. It was a vampire film, so most of the filming was inside, or at night. ‘We’re returning to the original notion of vampires,’ director Katherine had said to a press officer one day, within Shana’s earshot. ‘Deadly sunlight and stakes through the heart. No wussy sun-loving vampires, no sexy teens – though, of course, it will be sexy. Vampires are always sexy in some way, aren’t they?’

Of course it would be sexy, with Him in the title role. The villain vampire was played by an actor that Shana had never worked on before. She had seen him in an American TV series, and had assumed he was American too, but on his first day he stepped into the trailer and opened his mouth and a Southern Irish accent came out instead. Her heart melted instantly. Not that he sounded that way once he left her trailer: for this role, he put on an English accent, of course – who ever heard of an Irish vampire?

The first day he sat down in her chair, she couldn’t stop looking at him – and not because she was checking whether she had spread the colour evenly. He had short, messy black hair, laughter lines, and his good looks were modest by film standards. She had been up in the faces of far handsomer men; she’d rubbed foundation over the mugs of heart throbs and teen idols and aging legends. What was it about this one, then – this man who played villains and schemers, who was lovingly hated by the public – that so fascinated her?

They were on location in a half-ruined stately home in Sussex. Location filming first, while the weather was still good enough, and then set filming over winter, post-production spring and summer, ready for Halloween next year. She would have done two other films by then. Usually she avoided seeing her work in the cinema – the magic didn’t work as well, since she’d been behind scenes – but she decided immediately that nothing would stop her from seeing this one.

‘White again?’ he laughed on the second day of filming. ‘I imagine you’ll get sick of making me look like a ghost by the end of the week.’

She smiled as best she could but it felt embarrassingly strained. She was good at painting other people’s faces – shading in their contours, erasing the bags under the eyes and emerging spots and visible veins – but with him she had to struggle to keep her hand steady. She was good at breathing softly on them, imagining that she was a gentle breeze, a barely corporeal form, but with him she found herself quietly gasping for air as her oxygen intake couldn’t keep pace with her pounding heart. She was good at sitting quietly outside the trailer, pretending to play on her phone, when really she was straining her eyes past the rigs and cameras and assistants to his form (lit upon the stairs of the home, brooding at the window, hiding behind crumbling pillars). She resented having to go back inside and work on an extra, or the lead actress, or anyone else involved. He was the talent, the lead, the star – who else mattered?

‘More blue,’ director Katherine said on the third day. Shana was tired – she had been up until midnight for the last of the filming the night before, and had not been able to sleep afterwards for strange thoughts. ‘Blue around the forehead, like veins. And more red around the lips, like a hint of blood. I want him to look like porcelain for today’s close-ups.’

‘You want me to look like a china doll?’ he quipped, and director said yes and left them. He smiled at Shana and her legs felt funny.

‘You heard her,’ he said. ‘Like a porcelain dolly!’

It took more makeup on a person’s face to make them look pale, and washed-up, and veiny-skinned than it did to make them look natural. More time hovering around his features, her body close to his, still trying not to breathe on him. He could probably see down her top if he cared to look. She wouldn’t mind. She wouldn’t mind that at all.

Fourth day’s filming he had a thrilling rendezvous with the lead actress, and director Katherine called her out. ‘Breathe more,’ she said. ‘I want some heaving bosoms! You’ve just had a terrifying encounter!’

Shana could have done it better; she knew exactly what was needed. But she could never be an actress. It wasn’t her lack of beauty so much as her lack of personality. She stayed in the background, blending into the walls as if she was barely there. It surprised her, when she first started working in film, how easily she could disappear even as she rubbed at a person’s face; they rarely tried to talk to her, instead talking to whichever co-star or crew was nearby. She liked that, she liked to vanish, but when she worked on him, her body was always heavy, and trembling, and she was all too present and human.

Final day. More red on the lips, and an artful drip of fake blood from the corner of his mouth. Tonight, he would leave, and she would be gone too, on to her next piece of work until the set filming in two week’s time. She cleared her throat and – for the first time – initiated conversation.

‘Where are you going until set filming starts?’ she asked.

‘Back home,’ he said. ‘I can’t wait. It’s been months since I’ve seen all my family.’

‘That must be nice,’ she said, voice failing her and disappearing into a whisper. A surge of jealousy ran through her, as she thought of his wife and daughters – she’d learnt about them online – running up to him, calling his name, and of him smiling and laying kisses on their cheeks.

‘Well,’ he said as he went off to film. ‘I’ll be off after this, so see you in two weeks!’

She sat outside the trailer and didn’t even pretend to play spider solitaire. She cursed every camera and person in between her eyes and him. A climactic scene: laughing madly, the vampire caught the young woman and she – helpless under his charm – could not resist as he sank his teeth into her bare neck. Shana squeezed her knees together. Vampires are always sexy, aren’t they?

Filming was done. Director Katherine said they could get off early, and everyone was happy. Shana rushed inside. She snapped shut her palette, and swept the dirty brushes into their case, though she knew that they would clog and be ruined. She grabbed everything she had, anything she cared about, and – with her materials clattering in her duffel bag – ran to the car park. She slunk into the front seat of her car, keeping her head low, and she waited.

The actor came out ten minutes later, talking to the actress. They said goodbye with a friendly peck on the cheek – she hated her, she hated that woman so much – and he finally went to his car. Shana knew she could manage it, whatever she was planning; she was the best at being unnoticed. Turning the key and grabbing the wheel, she watched as he drove out of his space and turned to exit the car park, and she – breathing deeply for the first time in days – slowly pulled out, and followed.

___

The others wanted to hear what happens next, which is a good sign. I’ll leave it to your imagination!

So we can agree that this guy is hot, yeah? 😛

Written by G.J.

01/11/2012 at 12:37 pm