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Old 12-05-2007, 08:41 AM   #1
Home Sweet Abandonia
wendymaree's Avatar

Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 963

I've written a novel called Winter Roses and I'll be posting some chapters here over the next few weeks. It's a gothic romance. Criticism welcome. Chapter One below.


The old wooden and glass doors slowly rumbled apart, and a woman of thirty-five appeared in the opening. Under one arm were tucked two coffee-table sized books. Daylight sparkled across the cover of the uppermost, making the winged sprites, unicorns, a spindly-limbed elf and nymphs with flower-decked hair appear even more magical. The silvery embossed title, Fantastic People, loomed over them all . With her free hand the lady fiddled with a key in the lock until she was sure the doors of the Sycamore Public Library were bound together. Then she turned and gazed at the grey, cold world around her. The icy winters in Sycamore were dismal affairs, neither conducive to man, creature or plant.

Jennie was seemingly untarnished by the harshness of the climate, and her expression reflected a child-like sweetness. Even screwing up her nose at the uninspiring vista made her smile. However the long moments she spent staring up at the brooding sky, then the distracted way she walked down the steps, indicated that her inner life was richer than her outer one. Her bulky, mismatched clothing and accessories, as well as the absence of make-up, also indicated that she was neither concerned about outward appearances nor the stigma of opportunity shops. The shapeless tan beret pulled down over a wispy, untidy fringe crowned her efforts to look dowdy and uncared for.

Beside the library steps was one of winter's victims -- a small apple tree with finger-fine branches that appeared as frost-bitten and bare as the surroundings. Jennie smiled fondly as she passed. The tree was like a dear friend whose moods she understood and whose presence she appreciated.

The wet, shiny road and pavements were strangely deserted for a peak hour. Not even the winter wind whipped and whistled down the street. Overhead, the darkening, purplish sky cast an eerie, brooding atmosphere, adding a surreal element to Jennie's predictable life. In the unnatural calm that overshadowed the small town, there seemed to be something brewing, something that sent Jennie's rich imagination into overdrive.

The promise of the unexpected that lingered on the crisp, cold air and pervaded the surreal sky made her feel restless. A nearby bus stop didn't entice as she decided to use up her surplus energy by taking the scenic route home. She was glad she'd worn her clodhopper shoes as the road and pavements were slippery and sloshy from the drizzling rain. Her trademark beret might prove somewhat useful if she were rained on during the trek

Upon reaching the other side of the road, Jennie slowed her pace and walked into the chilly shadow cast by the high bluestone walls enclosing the old cemetery. From past exploration she knew that a path began at the main gates, then snaked through the grounds to the exit gate which was only a street from where she lived. Although the cemetery was no longer used (a new cemetery had opened outside of town), the grounds possessed a certain Gothic charm. The township wasn't exactly proud of its neglected overgrown state, but the historical value was more boast-worthy. Some of the headstones were dated almost two hundred years ago, and a famous bush poet was buried in one of the more humble graves near the swampy end.

After pulling out a small torch from her shoulder bag, she pushed open the rusty gates between the weathered bluestone walls and entered.

This is a place where elves and fairies could easily hide, Jennie thought as she stepped onto the crunchy gravel pathway that ran between lush bushes and plants that were strangely untouched by winter's deathly presence. How ironic that in this place of death and decay, life was more abundant than anywhere else. Dwarfing nearly everything around her was a stone archway that spanned the beginning of the path. Even a giant could pass beneath it. Embossed stone letters had once curved around the top of the archway, but the elements had worn them down until they were indecipherable. As she passed beneath the crumbling stonework and the yellowing leaves of the climber winding around it, Jennie pretended she was entering another world where nature was personified in the enchanting form of fairy folk and powerful elementals such as the Titans from Greek mythology. It wasn't just what she saw that made this pretence possible; there was an energy, a sparkle, that suggested the presence of something marvellous. As she didn't remember experiencing this much vitality on previous visits, Jennie wondered if it was a trick of the light cast by the rich sky making the colours seem more vibrant.

As she followed the gravel pathway, she was surprised how lushly overgrown the grounds had become. The dilapidated and overgrown state of the graves proved that nature would always win over the temporary human world. Many of the weather-stained gravestones had large cracks, and some had completely caved in. Dandelions and grassy weeds protruded irreverently from the gaping black holes in the cement and marble. Earth-covered graves had been transformed into receptacles of life by small green shrubs bejewelled with raindrops and lacy strands of spider web. Growing in the aisles between the graves were clumps of snowdrops and other winter flowers that also appeared strangely luminous in the twilight.

Admiring the haunting beauty of her surroundings, Jennie congratulated herself on the inspired decision to take a shortcut home. She also congratulated herself on overcoming any fears as she was squeamish of ghosts and things that clanked in the night.

The path wound around the broad trunk of a white ghost gum and then disappeared beyond a mighty warrior angel armed with a sword pointing towards the sky. Jennie admired the strong-looking wings that still showed traces of gold leaf and that almost reached down to the pedestal.. When she reached the front of the statue, she admired the devout expression on the pale and noble face as it stared up into the heavens. Time and weather had hardly touched the life-like statues that had 'peopled' the grounds for longer than she could remember. Standing on high pedestals, and looking down benevolently on the earthly ones, were ever-smiling cherubic angels, and an exquisite Saint Therese holding a posy of rosebuds, and a bearded and handsome Saint Francis of Assisi garbed in a long marble tunic.

Although there was still a trace of light in the western part of the sky, the shades of night had begun to reclaim the grounds. The lush and colourful world of the fairies and Titans was becoming more of a gloomy and fearsome Hades. Jennie switched on the torch and shone it up into the overhead branches of a willow. Was there something in the shadows? Her heart rate accelerated as she shone the light over the long swaying branches, but the shadows remained. She felt a similar panicky reaction as she passed the next willow. The hanging branches could have hidden anything.

As she was approaching the centre of the cemetery, Jennie began to feel uneasy. If she lost her nerve, it was too far to run back to the main entrance, and the exit gate was another fifteen minutes if she walked but maybe ten if she ran.

A sumptuous wattle tree, soft and golden in the torchlight, came into view. Where the tree overlapped the path, the lower branches had been lopped to allow passage. As she walked beneath the wattle, she felt a cold, tickling sensation on the back of her neck and something touching her hair. Stifling a scream, she held up the torch. Nothing was in the overhead branches except golden wattle. In a soft voice, Jennie said a prayer she believed protected her and drove away fear. "I plead the Holy Blood of Jesus Christ."
And immediately she felt calmed and strengthened.

However as darkness folded about her like the wings of a gigantic raven,
she grew uneasy once more. Several rows of headstones emerged resembling grizzled and streaky teeth. She took a deep breath and tried to make them seem less spooky by telling herself they resembled those in comic books or cheesy horror films. In fact, all the scene needed was the spooky music.

She had barely finished thinking this when music began to play. Just a single instrument to begin, and then the sound swelled as more joined in. But it wasn't the melodramatic groaning of an organ or the eerie tinkling of a harpsichord, rather modern music with a modern beat consisting of acoustic guitars, mandolins, castanets and tambourines.

The music grew louder as Jenny whirled around to see if someone was nearby with a portable stereo. She took a deep breath which helped suppress the scream threatening to undo her self-control and repeated the prayer.. As her terror scaled down a notch, the beauty and power of the ghostly music captivated her. The melody with its slow, heavy beat had a melancholy and lingering sensuality that was enthralling.

Jennie soon realised this music had too much power to be the kind played through a portable radio. This music was being played live. Tentatively, she left the path and shone the torch behind the first row of headstones. Plenty of darkness surrounded the edge of the beam, but the light exposed nothing more substantial. She crossed the path again and looked behind a marble angel on the opposite side and then behind a family-sized grave surrounded by an ornate and rusty iron fence.

Jennie shivered, though not from cold. Visions and unexplainable events normally didn't happen to her. Well, there was the incident ten years ago when she thought she saw something faint and ethereal that could have nature spirits, but this was an isolated event.

With all senses on full alert, she continued warily down the path. From what she'd read on the supernatural, ghostly visions and sounds had no power to do harm, unless those being haunted panicked and inadvertently did harm to themselves. It was the old battle of mind over matter, Jennie told herself, and she was determined to win the fight.

Then the singing started. A man's voice seemed to follow wherever she went. It was a beautiful voice: rich and deep, tuneful and powerfully expressive. Jennie began realizing that the music wasn't coming from a single source, either, as depending where she was, some instruments sounded louder and closer than the others.

Jennie's heart pounded against her chest and panic tickled around her throat, but she willed herself to keep calm and maintain rationality. Meanwhile, the man sang of being just a shell full a sand, and of hiding behind lies, and of there being too much pain, too many tears, sweat and blood. Despite the cold, Jennie was now sweating, herself, as she dashed down the winding path. And still the Voice followed closely behind. It was almost as if he was singing just for her. He sounded so close now that she swung the torch around, half-hoping, half-dreading to see who the owner might be.

The torchlight fell upon a family-sized grave that was covered with an explosion of red roses. The creeping briars and their rich, jewel-like flowers almost hid the snowy marble gravestone from sight. The vibrancy of the roses added a warm, velvet glow against the cemetery's inky backdrop. The perfume they exuded was rich and wild but with a hint of decay. This explosion of roses in the abandoned cemetery during winter was as surreal as the sound of the ghostly singer.

Jennie continued running down the path but couldn't resist a last look over her shoulder at the rich, red display. Then she turned and flashed the torch ahead. A man suddenly loomed out of the darkness. As his appearance coincided with a dramatic moment in the music, Jennie — well beyond the limits of her courage — screamed loudly. Then she recognised who it was, or, rather, what it was. The statue of the Christ was the largest and the most marvellous of all the statues throughout the cemetery. The tall figure was garbed in a maroon cloak that tumbled from his shoulders to his feet. Jennie had reached up to touch the hem of that cloak on previous visits as it appeared so real. Unlike the many unrealistic paintings portraying Jesus with blond, wavy hair and movie star features, this statue portrayed a man with black hair and eyes, a thin face, and a long hooked nose. It wasn't a handsome face, but the eyes that seemed to pierce the soul and the calm, compassionate expression made it an unforgettable one. The arms were extended as if inviting anyone willing into their embrace. The perfect hands and feet bore the marks of the crucifixion.

The music now seemed out of place. While the melody held a haunting sadness and the lyrics were of pain and emptiness, the expression on the Christ told of peace and love. And, yet, the song played rudely on.

Jennie kept running until she was inside her front gate. She opened her already unlocked door, slammed it shut and then deadlocked it — something she never needed to do in sleepy Sycamore. She tripped over a boot lying in the hallway where the light bulb didn't work as she hurried towards the comfort of the lounge room. When she flicked on the lounge room light, normality rose from the darkness to greet her.

"Un-be-lievable!" she exclaimed, then burst out laughing. But this quickly dissipated as she began puzzling over the night's events.

During her journey home, she had stepped into an episode of The Twilight Zone, complete with its own haunting theme. She couldn't wait to tell the girls at work and hear what they thought. They wouldn't believe her, of course. They already thought her a little bizarre, although Jennie wasn't sure why. On second thoughts, maybe the evening's events were better kept to herself. Damn! She had to tell someone. Perhaps her mother...? Unfortunately, her mother had as little appreciation for the unusual as everyone else in Sycamore.

There came a soft thud from the next room. Jennie looked toward the open doorway and waited expectantly. A grey and white cat slinked into the lounge room and rubbed her soft fur against Jennie's legs.

"Are you hungry, Honey?" she asked the cat. "Fancy a bowl of warm milk? I might have a glass, too," she muttered.

She tossed her bag onto the green vinyl couch and switched on the electric heater. While absent-mindedly stroking Honey's back beside the glimmering heater, Jennie again followed the gravel pathway that wound through the cemetery. Beginning at the weathered archway, she pictured the surreal world of the lush, over-grown cemetery and, once again, heard the dolorous melody and the darkly seductive voice sing and moan to the strumming of guitars and plucking of mandolins; and, finally, she was confronted with a display of ravishing roses that belonged more to an over-ripe summer garden than an abandoned winter cemetery.

Of course, weird things did happen, even in this era that had left the fanciful and miraculous behind, but why had so many strange things happened to her – and why tonight? Jennie would have given anything to know who the owner of The Voice might be. Of one thing she was certain: the sound of his passionate, sensual singing would haunt her forever.

She straightened and looked in the frosted mirror hanging between a Star Wars poster and another poster featuring the fairy art of Cicely Mary Barker. The reflection showed her looking pale and bedraggled as her hair had partly escaped the ponytail and hung in limp strands about her face.

Although she unconsciously arranged her features to appear at their most attractive, she considered that pretty she definitely was not. Her skin was blotchy, and the slightest exposure to sun and the least embarrassing thing would result in her cheeks and nose lighting up. If that wasn't bad enough, her elongated face and pointed chin made her appear rather witchy.

Mustn't give up the day job, she thought. Oh, well, she consoled herself, I'd rather be thoughtful and kind than a vacuous supermodel. She frowned at that. Supermodels were actually very smart. They had to be to get to where they were in that competitive business.

Honey, protesting about the lack of service, brought her back to the present moment. Jennie bent down again to rub under the cat's chin, and then glanced towards the lounge room window. The large, aluminium-framed window looked down over the spacious backyard where an old shed, a few spindly gums, some bushy pittosporums, long grass and a tangle of morning glory ivy still had plenty of room to expand. Obscuring part of the window, leafy layers of ivy were dappled with the lounge room's light.

On the other side of the window, a large darkling creature, darker than the night itself, sailed past the ivy and disappeared beyond viewing range.

Are there owls around here? Jennie could have easily drifted off into an imaginary scene involving black-winged birds swooping through the night, but Honey, obviously growing desperate, clawed at her leg and miaowed loudly for some of that promised milk.

Jennie hurried towards the kitchen to do the bidding of her best friend.
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