(This blog will be featured as a part of the Academia farewell anthology, The Masks We Wore: you can read more about its authors and release here!)
If my math is correct, having recently counted- when Academia wrapped up blogging in 2018, it ended with almost 150 blog pieces under its moniker, most traditional articles on literary theory, with a handful of joint blogs and interviews. Academia spanned two host sites, a plethora of topics, and a lot of colorful discussion.
Academia was my baby from the beginning. My brainchild, and something I am so proud to have made.
In 2016, I started working for Inkitt as a Community Manager. One of my very first assignments on staff was to create a weekly project for a resident member, Joshua Grasso, who maintained a lot of popularity on the site. It was a hectic first week and the ideas about what Academia was were tossed about between several staff members before I finally settled on the idea of a weekly discussion board that culminated into a blog, inspired by my few English classes and their format.
Academia was mine from the beginning. Most of the staff at Inkitt didn’t want to handle it or didn’t know how to (its host was known among staff with terms like “difficult” and “high maintenance”), so eventually, all management, social media, and organization was mine to maintain. All of the blogging and forum regulation fell to Joshua, but I was often shadowing the general discussion and did all of the finishing edits for Academia’s blogs. For seven months, the original blogs for Inkwell ran like clockwork, until I quit my job (a very long story all on its own) and my project partner and I ended the blog.
It was not my original intention to continue Academia after Inkitt, but something about the project stood out beyond the limitations of the “assigned task” I was given in 2016. What was Academia, if not a collection of blogs and discussion? I could probably make that happen anywhere.
In 2017, I and Joshua Grasso relaunched Academia with a discussion on video games. My community of authors reknitted, and new people joined the fray, and it was like nothing had ever changed. I realized when Academia moved how genuinely special Academia was, and how proud I was to be a part of this project.
That part of the story is, of course, the simplest way to describe Academia I can muster. Back and forth, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convey what Academia meant to me, particularly as a retrospective sometime after the main blog finished. I am a different person, and by proxy, a different kind of student, than I was when I started Academia. I wasn’t even an English major yet when I was handed Academia, nor did I have a particular circle of English cohorts like I did in my final semesters of college. I was floating around community college, unmoored and discouraged from making many friends in my mostly petroleum-centered school. When I was handed Academia first, I was about to start my third English class ever, mostly out of entertainment because I had every intention of graduating with a degree in History. That English class was, interestingly, the 2nd worst class I ever took in college.
What changed my mind? Well, in a lot of ways, Academia did.
In 2016, knowing nothing about academic discussion, knowing less about the most literary nuances of English, I found something quite eye-opening about the week-to-week work of Academia. From the formulation of topics, all the way to the week’s blog: I loved them as much as any regular participant. I had a fear of seeming lacking in earnest, since I was paid to keep Academia alive at the time, but nothing made me quite so happy at the time as watching Academia flourish. When it was revived as an independent project in 2017, I leaped at the prospect of writing for Academia instead of just organizing. Academia’s role in my life taught great lessons in teamwork and organization, but more than anything, Academia gave me a door to a love of literature. Through its original discussions and blogs, I recognized a new way to read, a new way to analyze, a new way to approach the books I wrote. There were some many (poor) attempts I made at mirroring the experiences of the blog into my English major. I realized that the knowledge passed down from Academia might take me years to refine, parse, and truly master. Just like writing fiction, my relationship with academic writing and literary analysis needed time, work, and revision before I could call its form my own. I still felt Academia’s ripples as I entered my junior and senior level English classes, saw their influence in the ways I approached my online discussions and assignments. I realized that even though I built Academia for other people, it had changed me so deeply and personally.
Often, sharing a blog with Joshua meant that we stumbled on the same- or similar, themes from blog to blog. Reading through Academia’s blog now, even if you can’t tell who wrote a piece by their style, you can usually tell by the topics and subjects they gravitated after. Mine are always about a personal experience, an anecdote or unusual story that I had on my mind. I grabbed for the personal, the humanistic, and infinitesimal in literature, even if I didn’t realize that was my angle at the time. Because for myself, Academia was about the infinitesimal: the tiny ripples left from a book, a movie, a blog, a story shared over coffee, words jotted on a discarded napkin- and how those words always, always impact someone. Particularly in this global, interconnected culture that we currently occupy, we do not exist in a vacuum: we are not an island. The words we share have an impact.
I have learned this quite thoroughly, not only in my time with Academia, but in making this anthology. There are so many people who I know, deeply affected by Academia’s influence. I think that’s quite evident in the anthology and its stories, but (perhaps unintentionally) in the theme of the anthology itself: “the masks we wore.” The original goal in the theme, way back in 2018, was to let authors read into the topic however they wanted. This freedom has given the anthology itself a colorful, diverse collection of stories that embody, in their own way, what each author considers a “mask” and how they approach their mask in fiction.
I hope this coming anthology finds you well, whether you are a first-time reader of Academia, or returning for the last time. Thank you for a magical four years, a beautiful gift of discussion and insight, and all of the great times had in between.
Caitlin E Jones
The Undergrad Novelist: Junior (Almost Senior) Edition. I Wrote a Novel in College- Let’s Talk About That
If you have been following this blog for any amount of time, you should be familiar with my Undergrad Novelist project, which I started in 2015 (really-really! Undergrad Novelist turned four years old this year) as a means to discuss my experience in college while I drafted several novels, one of which (Chimehour- as usual) I began in 2013. This past year, I published and finished my beloved novel: it’s done well, and I’m almost done with college. Closing doors on both feels very final, now that I will be stepping away from this chapter in my life. In some sense, that’s why this edition of Undergrad Novelist isn’t a list of advice so much as it is the story on why I started this blog at all.
So, let's go back. It is 2013, I am 20 years old, art still charging on my fingertips, but not quite ready for use. I have piled books upon books for a project I do not quite have the shape of yet, so all I do is read, and research, and consume, and think endlessly- unprompted by much except for a sudden, driving desire to create something big and beautiful and unlike whatever it was I made before.
In some ways, Chimehour helped strike the match that led me to college. I had danced around the concept of attending university for a couple years (many of my high school buddies were already on their second year when I finally started), but finances had not been easy to come by, the job market was poor, and worst of all- my local university was in the lurch. I was told at 19 not to bother with a Humanities degree when my closest accessible school was this close to shutting down their English Department. Chancing my time and effort on a novel set a fire in my soul that writing alone didn’t quench. I loved research, I loved writing this way- I wanted more of it.
And I have thrived in university. I have graduated from one school and lived beautifully at Nicholls State, whose incredible English department has been supportive of my every endeavor. I publish in their literary magazine, I have presented at the university’s symposium on a professional scale, and now the academic summit on a state level. I have a whole world of potential just teeming with life, edging right beyond the doors of undergrad. I have not found a dead department and poor career choices in an English major, but the kind of magic that I unraveled in my first novel.
These days, I get asked a lot if I’m a Creative Writing major- I’m not. I did start a History major, but quietly veered into a Literary Studies degree by Junior year, minoring in History and (possibly) French if all pans out. I felt very early on that my college experience and creative fiction were not as compatible as I wanted. Besides, what could academia teach me about being creative that I did not already know?
As it turns out, a lot. And probably more the expected. I finished a novel in my Junior year of college: I’ve written several novellas since then too, the only thing slowing me down at this point being the sheer amount of papers and projects I have to create for the late stages of my undergraduate career.
So, if you can absolutely avoid it, don’t do what I did.
“Wait,” you might say. “Don’t write a book in college at all?”
Well, not if you can help it. If writing gets into your soul and you have to write a book during your college years, don’t deny yourself the chance to do it. But writing a book in college was the hardest thing I ever decided to do. It was a bigger goal than I ever intended on making it, and though I have no regrets about finishing Chimehour in my college years, I do have some reservations about how I did it and what my goals where- though these are, I suppose, reflections you reach after you finish your first book.
Writing a novel, and then another novel, in college was a challenge and I sacrificed so very much to simply make it happen. Some of that drive was built into the idea that was going to run out of time: that nebulous idea of time that you suffer from in your 20s, while some of your friends get great jobs and have kids and start careers. And there you are, sitting around in your pajamas in your childhood bedroom, planning out the latest phase of a novel. What are you doing? You’re gonna run out of time.
It was never really the human limitations of time that alarmed me, but the fear that I would fall behind somehow. This isn’t a new fear: I always felt the pull of falling behind as a homeschooled child, wondering if my peers had some edge that I didn’t (a clue: no). Perhaps if I wrote a book, it would prove I could play as hard as other people. If I studied, and wrote, and did everything absolutely perfect, maybe then it would show through that I was some free-range wild child.
In writing Chimehour, I hoped at least to prove myself just as capable as any college aged-person- probably more than capable, and in the process on doing that, I forgot something so pivotal to my writing, the only piece of advice I will offer for this reflection on my Junior year of college.
In the past five years, while I toiled and fussed and sobbed over a novel, I have also tried to slowly, surely write other things. I have dabbled more and more in short fiction (which I’m discovering I don’t suck at) and more in sharing my poetry (which I might just be good at). I have blogged with Academia and through my own personal space here for what is now four years, and each new piece, I have sharpened my skills with knife-like precision. I felt my writing getting better, but that strength was outside of my novel work.
That’s not to say that my novel is bad: not at all. But in the five years I spent polishing it, I ignored and underplayed much of the work I had done all of this time. I wrote Chimehour at the age of 20 and have grown so much from it since. It just took awhile for me to see that.
It’s been a little over six months since I finished my novel, and my current impression of my work is one of distance. I am so very proud of my novel, I am so proud of the things I did while I wrote my novel, but the world did not end and begin with Chimehour. My writing has only gotten stronger, and who knows what might happen once I finish undergrad. I have scores of books, just waiting to come forward now.
But please, be brave and do what I feared doing. Finish your works but know that a single project is not the end of the world. You can always, always, always write more words.
This has been the Undergrad Novelist: see you for our last edition in 2020.
Scene 6 - Rose and Willow
Chapter: 26 (1st and 2nd Draft)
Characters: Stanley Brigham, Willow, Rosalind Cammish, Vincent.
Editing Notes: This was one of the most tragic loses I had to deal to the manuscript, and not because anything was particularly wrong with the scene at hand. Before the final draft was completed, there was a conceptual form of Point A (the invitation from Cecilia for high tea) and Point B (Stanley and Willow are separated), and this was one of the earlier attempts at this transition. I always wanted Rose to have a few more scenes in Chimehour: she's a fun character to write and often more important to the plot than I realized. Her scenes early and late in the book were largely left untouched, but I always wanted to have her cross paths with Willow in the first book, so I held onto this scene for a great length of time, simply because I liked what it offered in the way of character development. But when final revisions came to call and I began to submit to agents, these scenes became harder and hard to justify outside of "fluff" and especially after I rewrote the confrontation that drove Stanley and Willow apart.
Still, I enjoy this scene very much. I hope to one day rework it into the sequels. And as always, SPOILERS for the first novel.
The bustle of his street faded into Piccadilly Circus and Coventry. Willow sat next to him, looking outside the window eagerly. She said little aside from the occasional landmark question, but soon took notice of Stanley quiet behavior. His fingers ground at the edges of his exposed curls. She smiled at him, hoping to ease his nerves.
The Hippodrome soon appeared out from the city like a gem. Its grand, gold and red exterior towered over the street traffic. Rings of electric light circled the top in a dull twinkle. Willow's eyes widened as she took the rich building in.
“Vincent lives here?” she said, pressing her nose against the cab glass.
“He has the nicest house between us,” Stanley said, humor taking him. “He should be in tonight. Fridays are the busiest.”
“And you know where he'll be in this... castle?” she asked.
“No,” he admitted. “But I know someone who will.”
They soon pulled to a curb, Stanley scrambled out and hurried Willow to the steps of the theatre. They made quick work of the lobby and all its grandeur. Willow's fingers curled around the crook of Stanley's arm. She took in every glinting detail and brightly-dressed worker as they passed from the entrance into the dim backstage passages.
It wasn’t long before Stanley stopped them in front of an old dressing room door. The name, ‘Rose Cammish’, was etched into the wood.
He breathed out, knocking without a thought. “Miss Cammish?”
“Coming, coming...” a voice chimed from inside.
The door creaked open, revealing a short woman dressed in a silk robe. Her blonde hair was bound in curlers. Only half of her face was painted in makeup, revealing a spray of freckles along her button nose. She grinned wide as soon as saw them.
“Stanley! It's been some weeks!” she said. “Almost thought you'd abandoned us for better company, luv.”
“Perish the thought,” Stanley said, pulling off his hat. He turned to Willow. Miss Cammish glanced over the Stanley's shoulder, locating the girl in turn. “Willow, this is Vincent's mother. She works here.”
“It's a pleasure, ma'am,” Willow said, nodding.
“I'm very sure, dear. My, so, you're the Irish fiancée I keep hearing about?” Miss Cammish asked.
Stanley and Willow both systematically flushed.
“Ah- no, no,” he said, fumbling for the right words as he bent the edges of his cap back. “Willow was displaced by the Outbreak; we met her in Brussels. She is a resident of my household until she can reunite with her family. Vincent may have mentioned it...”
“Ooooh,” Miss Cammish replied, her tone not unlike her son's. “No, Vincey’s told me nothing of what happened in Brussels. I've been so busy, what-with the new recruits in. I'm trying to train this boy right now. Theatre family type, bless him- from the Chaplins? And it's-”
“Miss Cammish, I actually came to see if Vincent was in,” Stanley said, trying to keep the subject focused.
“…Vincey?” Willow muttered low.
“Oh! Oh, yes... He's around here somewhere. Goodness knows he needed to work. That boy has cooped himself up in his room all week,” she groaned, grabbing her forehead and disturbing her curlers. “Perhaps a visit will do him good.”
Stanley nodded. “I'd imagine... I am afraid I can't stay long though, Miss Cammish- I have a previous engagement. But Miss Willow here intends to talk with him, if you could just point her in the right direction.”
“Oh, really?” Miss Cammish's eyes widened slightly. Her mouth turned to a half-smile. “Well, I'm sure I can help out. He's never terribly far off-” She turned to Willow, stepping closer. “And you can wait with me until he comes 'round. Talk lady to lady, eh?”
“I suppose...” Willow said, looking from the woman to Stanley.
He flashed a reassuring smile at her. “Wonderful. I'll be around later then. Good luck, Willow.”
Willow nodded back at him, silent as she crossed her arms.
“You do that, dear,” Miss Cammish said cheerfully, clipping a hand around Willow's shoulder. “And don't’ forget to come back. Elsewise I might end up taking in the poor thing in myself.”
Willow gulped on impulse. But Stanley had already vanished back into the darkness of the theatre.
Willow had never been more awkward than she was then, curled up on the sofa in Miss Cammish’s dressing room. She tangled her fingers together as she watched the woman settle in before a once-lavish yellow vanity.
“So rare to have someone else with them boys,” Miss Cammish said, pulling her curlers loose. Each piece of hair came down in a corkscrew. “Never mind a young lady- though I suppose it isn't terribly strange. There was that Abbey Charlotte girl once. Fickle little creature- a bit frumpy too, if I were being frank...”
She trailed off. Willow could only wonder what she was talking about.
“...Well, they've been nothing but kind since we met, ma'am,” Willow started, drumming her fingers into her lap and soothing her dress. “We get along wonderfully.”
“Please call me Rose, dear. I'm no one's 'ma'am'...” Miss Cammish said, absent-minded as she primped her hair into place. “And I would expect nothing less from them. Those boys are such treasures. Growin' up to be right, proper gentlemen, I think. Don't you?”
Willow wasn't quite sure how to answer the strange question.
“Ah, Vincey though,” Rose said. “I worry he's a bit too like his father. He doesn't seem to settle. But you never know- could change.”
“...Where is Vincent’s da?” Willow bit her lip at once, wishing she could summon her words back.
A strange expression came about Miss Cammish's face, but her smile never faltered in her reflection. “Not here, thank goodness. Otherwise he might be just like the barmy bastard- Oh, and pardon my French.”
Willow just nodded.
“But...” Miss Cammish held the last letter as she stood, her grin cracking the caked makeup around her lips. She strode over to her guest with passionless calm, seating herself next to the girl. “Given your interest in my son, I suppose it makes sense for you to be a bit curious about family.”
“I'm... sorry?” Willow asked.
“Oh, but come to think of it, you are from Ireland. Courtship might be difficult, considering the distance...” Miss Cammish sighed, not bothering to clarify. “Will you be going back soon?”
The dressing room door creaked open again. In stepped Vincent, his face smudged in soot and a book tucked under his arm.
“Alright, Mum,” he muttered, wiping his face down with a sleeve. “The lift to working. Again. I'll be taking a break until-”
He stopped as he locked gazes with Willow. She waved. His jaw dropped.
“And why are you here?” Vincent asked, stepping inside slowly.
Willow opened her mouth to respond, but Miss Cammish overtook the conversation as she hurried to her son.
“Vincey, you should've told me!” she said, a bounce in her words. “Cooping yourself up all week after the trip- why didn't you say you met such a nice girl? You're not ignoring her, are you?”
“What?” Vincent laughed, stepping back. “No, Mum. She’s not-”
“Now, luv,” Miss Cammish said, grabbing his face. “You shouldn’t be wanton. This girl came all the way here just to see you.”
Vincent glanced over his mother's shoulder, meeting Willow's awkward gaze once again.
“Stanley sent me to check in on you,” she said as she stood. “We found out more about Halward. We've been looking for him all this time...”
Vincent gasped and shushed her, waving the book out. Willow watched it flutter, something striking her about it. That looks familiar...
“Oh, who's Halward?” Rose asked, perking up. “One of those family members you're looking for, dearie?”
Vincent simply huffed a sigh, clamping the book against his chest.
“I suppose you could say that...” Willow muttered. She leaned in, observing every old line and weathered wrinkle in the book's cover.
Very familiar. Almost like- Her memory flashed then. Her eyes widened violently.
“...Vincent, isn't that-”
“The- the book I borrowed from the school library and showed you?” he finished, attempting a laugh as he hid the book back under his arm. “Why, yes!”
Willow wrinkled her nose and looked up. “No it's not. I swear that's from-”
“Ah, but Willow-” He scrambled over to her, gripping her by the shoulder. “I know what you want to say, really. Might we- might we... continue this elsewhere, in private perhaps?”
“Huh?” she raised both eyebrows at him.
“The answer is yes,” he said, guiding her toward the door. “Yes, we should. If you'll excuse us, Mum-” he looked back at his mother, smiling sweet. “We won't bother you from work any longer.”
“That's fine, luv,” Miss Cammish said, grinning far too wide as she waved them off. “Take your time! I'll call for you if something comes up!”
Vincent gave her a nod as he pulled Willow into the hall, shutting the door behind them. He let go of her quick, falling back against the wall.
“Wonderful, I won’t hear the end of this now…” Vincent grumbled, massaging the bridge of his nose. More smears appeared from his fingertips.
“You have Awen's book,” she said plainly.
He blinked at her before giving way to a sigh. “I do.”
“...Does Awen know?” she asked, folding her hands behind her back.
“I don't think I'd be out here if they did,” he replied.
She paused, digging her thumb into her chin. “...Does Stanley know?”
“It'd be even less of a secret then.”
“'It'?” she asked, tilting her head.
Vincent met her gaze, his expression faltering into a warmer smile. “…I’ve started a project. To help- I could show you, actually!”
He placed a finger to his nose then. “But you can't tell Stanley yet, am I clear?”
They exchanged a long, silent stare. Vincent's face grew more wary with each second.
“...You're going to tell him regardless of what I say,” he said.
Willow shrugged, flashing him an honest smile.
“Bloody hell, you two...” he sighed, a smirk taking him as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, come on then!”
Vincent waved for her to follow as he took off into the theatre. Willow grinned as she bounded after him.
Scenes 4 and 5 -The Attack on Monto
Chapter: 18 (1st and 2nd Draft)
Characters: Stanley, Vincent, Willow, Shannagh, Greyson, Flann, Rooney, Helen, and Halward
These two scenes were removed from the draft around the same time, so I reckon they should be shared together, since they both embody some of the hardest writing in the book's lifespan. The ending of the so-called "Second Act" in Chimehour changed out several times, but always came with three main points: Monto was compromised, Halward escaped, and everyone returned to London. Getting to that point in the story was, however, easier said than done. Early-early versions of this section had Halward attacking Stanley, Revenant attacking the bar, and any manner of conflict I could manage and use to move the plot forward. These two scenes are the closest the early draft came to the final scene, but the differences feel extremely stark now. I really cut my teeth on revision with these scenes, because they forced me to strip away the roughest parts of the book and reimagine the context in which the story might happen. Between first and last draft btw, these scenes were rewritten about four times in full.
It's probably most notable that the characterization on Halward feels thematically different from Halward in the book; his character went through a lot of revision (probably the most, aside from Cecilia) and so his scenes from previous drafts read with comical villainy now. There are also hints to a dropped plot thread that will appear in Beglamour, but SPOILER WARNING all the same: these scenes contain several big reveals from Chimehour.
Soon after, Monto appeared through the carriage windows, and a bomb had gone off in its streets.
The roads that had once breathed with motley patronage now stood silent, littered in toppled stalls and upturned trash. Businesses were locked, windows were shuttered, and not a living soul could be seen. The same could not be said of the Revenant. They speckled the area, draped in fresh blood and rain. The occasional changed half-man and dead-eyed beast was enough tell that Monto's residents had not escaped unscathed.
And the voices. How they called. How they sang. Stanley could hear them pounding like war drums, their cries and wails dragging him to the brink with their sorrow. The headache returned in full force, complete with a wave of sickness.
“What’s happened out here?” Vincent said. He caught sight of a blood spattered walkway that he had crossed mere days ago. “I thought they couldn't get past that barrier?”
“I thought this as well,” Shannagh said. “It appears we have a problem...”
The Pumpkin Drum loomed off the nearby street, twisted and strange under the cloudy light. The swinging doors were taut over a board.
The carriage pulled to stop. Greyson led the way to the door as everyone hurried out. Mallord followed him, his robes now spattered in blood.
“Do tell me,” Shannagh huffed as she caught up with the Druids, “that this breech is the fault of my magic. And you didn't forget to patch the Veil.”
Greyson sneered off the corner of his mouth. “It has been a very trying day, Shannagh...”
“Ah, you did forget.”
Greyson ignored her jeering, knocking on the board across the tavern door. “Awen officials- open up!”
He held his hand back and waited. When no response came, he knocked again. Still nothing.
“…They've all run off, no doubt,” Greyson sighed, stepping away. “We've wasted our time.”
“Somehow, I doubt that,” Stanley said, shaking his head as he stepped up. “If I may?”
“Oh, by all means,” Greyson moved aside, condescension in his voice.
Stanley ignored this and rapped at the blocked door. “Flann,” he said. “Flann, it's us! We're back!”
More silence. This did nothing to hamper Stanley, and he knocked harder.
“Flann,” he said, keeping his voice level. “I know you're there. We have an agreement, remember? You still have that charm of mine- you can't just leave us.”
Shannagh gawked at this, but silence prevailed behind the door.
Stanley huffed and lifted his hand to knock again. But a faint, carnal growl from behind drew his attention. He didn't need the voices to tell him what he would find when he looked over his shoulder.
The Revenant girl had been young. Her curls were mangled. Her peach gown was dredged in blackened blood. Her bare toes curled as she crept forward, panting in anticipation and licking the dry cracks along her mouth.
Everyone took a step back, very aware that there was little standing between them and the creature. Vincent gripped around his coat, fingers curling around the book in his pocket.
“Your Excellence, please stay back...” Greyson said as he raised his marked hand in defense.
Willow went to do the same, but Shannagh held a hand to her, taking to Greyson's side. Her fingers emerged in gold; her eyes glittered. Mallord shuffled up turn, his hands lacking any sort of power, but his eyes set with determination.
“Magic doesn't work on the dead,” Shannagh said quietly.
“I remember that,” Greyson said. “What else would you have me do?”
Magic doesn't work on them? Stanley tried to mask his surprise and failed. He gritted his teeth and gave the door another bang.
The Revenant growled in response, teeth bared as she barreled upon them.
The boards then creaked away, streaking unnatural light onto the street as the tavern door reopened.
Flann placed the board back before tromping out. He pushed between Stanley and Vincent, yanking his pistol from his belt. He took a shot, the bullet striking the Revenant between the eyes. Stanley cringed as her high, raking scream filled his ears. The creature fell like an unmanned marionette.
Flann's chest rose in an awful heave. He waited a few moments before wheeling around to his new company.
“Your Excellence,” he said, gesturing to Shannagh. She smiled back.
“And you-” He pointed his pistol at Greyson and Mallord. “You're the Druid bastards that tore apart my bar, yeah?”
Greyson gave a nod, measuring his expression well. “Correct, Mr. Ceannard. Rest assured reparations for the damage will be in the post within the week.”
“Uh-huh…” Flann said, his tone sharp. “You're lucky I don't leave you and your pals out here.”
“I gather that, Mr. Ceannard,” Greyson said.
“Actually, they had reason,” Shannagh began, raising a hand in peace as she approached Flann. “Is Barnabas Halward still under your guard, or have you- ah... disposed of him?”
“Who?” Flann shrugged.
“Look who it is!”
Stanley turned to street, but the paled, two-headed boar man lunged out of the street before he could utter any warning. Flann turned a second too late and the creature sank a set of teeth into the dullahan's lifted arm.
“Mr. Flann!” Willow screamed.
“The dullahan no-fun,” said the second voice of the creature. “These voices have the right idea...”
Flann recoiled as the creature twisted its jaw, trying to pull him down. Flann then wrenched his arm, sending his freed fist into the creature's face. The force drove it to the ground, its jaws unhinging from Flann. The dullahan shook himself before cocking the pistol and shooting the boar man in the right face. Only one death cry echoed as its left side crumpled limp.
“Bloody beast…” Flann sighed. He turned to Shannagh once more. “Now, who in the blazes is this Barnabas Halward?”
“Your Druid,” Shannagh said.
“Ah- that narrows it down for me,” he said, heavy in sarcasm.
“The one who destroyed the Veil,” she sighed with humor.
“Better. Thank you, my lady.”
“So,” Flann said, leaning into the bar as the subject changed to Shannagh’s stories. “Her Excellence said this happened before?”
“Right,” Stanley replied. He stepped back from the newly boarded up window and massaged his hand. “You wouldn't know anything more about that, would you?”
“One instance of the dead or another- I've seen a lot of 'em,” he said. “And I don't remember anything of the sort during the last century.”
“You don't? I do,” Rooney piped up, still fuming into his drink.
“You do?” Stanley said, gawking.
“I do,” he snipped. “Derry in '46?”
Stanley nodded warily.
The leprechaun nodded, taking another swig off his drink. “I was nearer to the area; looting human houses. The Famine was at its height, so the spoils were good...” He saw the looks he was receiving, and cleared his throat, deviating from the topic of criminal activity. “I got wind of it early then. A right ugly rumor. Humans dying and coming back even hungrier. Awen cleared the air, but many of the older types held to the tale. Blamed the whole famine on The Morrigan after that; said she was the only one who could do such things..”
Willow fell back into the wall, sighing. No one saw her roll her eyes. And likewise, no one heard the stairs creak behind her.
“And this Halward was involved in that incident as well.” Flann said.
“On the opposite end of things then,” Stanley said. “He studied the curse with Awen’s help. Shannagh claimed that they never found the caster behind that incident.”
Flann froze, then leaned further into the bar. “...Well, that complicates things, doesn't it?”
“How so?” Stanley asked.
The stairway ached again, unheard.
“Well,” the dullahan said. “He knew a thing or two about this curse, yet he got bitten by one of those creatures. He was hunting the caster before this, and they got away. Doesn’t that place suspicion on whoever unleashed this magic las-”
A gunshot peeled through the conversation. The sound ricocheted off cobble; Helen's scream followed it.
They all froze. Stanley stopped, nearly dropping the hammer as he looked toward the sound.
Flann scoffed aloud, straightening his sleeve tight and swinging himself over the bar. “Bloody Druid...”
“Mr. Flann?” Willow curled her arm around her back.
He didn't respond hurried across the tavern. Rooney jumped down from his seat, joining him in turn.
“He'd better hope I don't find him this time,” Flann mumbled, his mood growing darker with each step. Rooney gave a shiver as they vanished into into hallway.
Willow curled back, her eyes following their path. “Should we... follow?”
She looked back toward Stanley; his eyes were dark-ringed under the shade of his hair. Vincent watched him off his shoulder, seemingly glaring over the fact that he was the only one working.
“I...” He trailed as he looked back to the boards, brushing his curls back. “It's probably best it we stay back. I'm sure Flann has a handle on things.”
“But Miss Helen...” Willow glanced back. A shiver ran across her skin. So consumed by this, she failed to notice the stairway door slip open, crack by crack.
“I know, but-” Stanley turned back to her, and his eyes shot open. Two hands had slipped through the stairway door.
Willow's name had barely left him when one hand coiled around her arm. Another clamped over her mouth before she could protest. They yanked her into the stairway, the door clicking back behind her.
“Willow!” Stanley dropped the hammer, practically slamming himself against the closed door. He twisted the doorknob; it jammed in his grip. He made a wild guess as to why it didn't work.
Willow fought against the Druid's grip, attempting a scream that ended muffled. She wished she had been surprised when Halward pulled her against himself, his clothes now stained with blood and grit.
“There we are...” he cooed, his voice graveled. “I knew that fool boy would abandon you soon enough.”
Stanley obviously fought with the door outside, contrary to the Druid's words. Willow paled as she met her attacker's gaze. His terribly clouded indigo eyes burned with exhaustion and death. He intended nothing but death.
Let go, she thought. Her fingers curled around his hand, trying to free her mouth. Without her voice, she had no magic.
“Vince!” Stanley's voice shook. “Bring me a hammer. Now.”
Halward chuckled, almost to himself. He released Willow's arm, only to secure his grip around her middle. He lifted her as though she were feather-light. “Shall we?”
We shall not, she thought. But he still dragged her up the steps.
She attempted another muffled cry as she fought, digging her short nails into his flesh and kicking back at him. But his grip was rooted and sturdy, impossible to escape once more. The rich rot that surrounded him left her sick, but the concept of his escape made her sicker. Her options began growing thin.
He had gotten to the top step when she wiggled her mouth free, sinking her teeth into his marked palm. She tasted blood, dirt, and sweat. Then came the flash. The images.
Greyson passing a scroll into her hands.
A Revenant charging.
A woman, her red tresses melding to the wind.
The high hills ablaze in battle.
A small, dark-haired child with eyes like amber.
Then Halward let go, spitting a curse as he protected his hand.
“Taine,” she whispered. Her fingers lit in black as she pulled away. But her foot caught on the steps, clumsy without ground. She fell, given no time to wonder about the images as she rolled down the steps and met the door with harsh force. She collapsed at the bottom step, breathing fast in hopes to clear the blood rush.
“Willow.” Stanley's voice entered her head through a ringing.
“Stanley...” she whimpered out, the glow fading from her hands again. Her body screamed with bruises as she leaned against the door.
Her hand gripped tight on the doorknob; it wouldn't open. “The door-”
“We're trying to opening it now, I promise,” he said, his voice steeling through his panic. “Just hold on for a moment mor-”
A torrid of creaking steps broke the conversation cruelly.
Willow gasped through her nose. She could already smell the blood on Halward’s clothes.
“Dear Seileach,” he hissed, threats dripping from the archaic word. “Feeling bold, I see.”
She curled back to the door, sneering at him. “Seems we're both feeling bold,” she said, fear catching her words with ease. “How dare you corner me- drag me here. Throw about my True Name! Can't you just leave me be?”
He let his broken laugh fill the air as he traversed the steps. “You still don't understand. I am not here to hurt you; I want to save you, lovie...”
“Forgive me if I don't believe you,” she replied, her voice shaking. “I don't even believe you believe you.”
He laughed again, digging his hands in his pockets. “True enough... I don't know what to believe anymore... Not since Mae began this little game.”
“Mae,” she said, breathing heavy. “Mae, Mae, Mae… Who is Mae? You? Your beloved? Who?”
“Beloved,” he repeated with a sigh. “No, Mae promised herself to no one and nothing… such was her charm,” he lulled on. “I suppose if I had known the truth of that, I could have kept you from this cursed fate... I'm so sorry, Seileach.”
Willow felt ice run through her veins, and grabbed for the doorknob again. It was taut in her grip, so she knew Stanley held the other side.
The boys were leaned in on the door. Vincent had end of the hammer jammed into the door hinge, attempting to pry it loose. But even he knew that magic kept them out.
At last, he unhooked the hammer with a grunt. “It's not working, mate.”
“I gathered that,” Stanley said, kneeling close and burying his forehead against the door.
He could hear the winding conversation that Willow kept. Her voice came soft; fearful. Her grip shook the doorknob. Her shadow cast under the door. Stanley crept his hand under the door, inching his fingers as close as he could.
“There must be something else we can do,” Vincent said, falling back into the frame. He beat at his palm with the handle of the hammer.
“Something...” Stanley repeated under his breath. …Wait a tick.
“Something.” He shot upright, his hand clutching for his breast pocket. The clover still seethed with warmth.
“Willow,” he whispered, a cheek to the door. “Take my hand.”
“Huh?” Her reply came confused.
“From under the door,” he continued. “There should be enough space. I can get us out of here. I have that spell-”
“Stanley, that won’t work from here,” she said.
“Shannagh said otherwise. We'll have to trust that. You hand, please.”
Willow raised an eyebrow back to the door. “But- if she's wrong. You could end up hurt. Or worse.”
“If only...” Halward chimed in.
She looked with a start; the Druid had climbed down the last of the steps.
“You leave him alone,” she growled, slipping a hand behind her back. The crack under the door fell below her grip. “This is between us, Barnabas Halward. No one else.”
He met her eyes as he stopped.
“…You remember,” he said, eyebrows arched.
“Remembered what?” she asked plaintively. She could feel the heat from Stanley's fingers now.
“But why do you call me that?” Halward said, not responding. A smile spread across his face, stretching the torn flesh. “Though, I suppose she would’ve told you that one. Less of a fuss to be made...”
She furrowed her brow. Something in his murky gaze was heartbreaking.
“That's... your name, yes?” she asked.
He closed the space between them, chuckling soft as he pressed a hand against the door. “Hmm… that might’ve been yours once too.”
She gaped, looking up at him with wider eyes then. He remained silent, and that frightened her much better than his lunacy had.
“...What?” Willow pressed herself back against the door, numb and blank. Blank of thought. Blank of feeling. “What are you… talking about?”
“What am I- Seileach,” he said, quieting his voice into something more normal. “You do know who am, yes? You know your own fath-”
“Stop it.” She stood again, facing him straight. “…How cruel! Can you lie for nothing else, you horrible old man?”
“I’m no man’s liar,” he said, eyes darkening. “Even now. Even as to you as you are. You’re still my-”
“Taine!” She jolted up, aiming a black-engulfed hand at Halward's head.
Halward's eyes grew wilder. He struck his marked hand out, gripping it into hers. The black glow fizzled under the crush.
She cringed, pulling back. “Let me-”
Halward cut her short, grabbing her by the throat and pinning her to the door. Her ears rang high as she shrugged for air. She was sure she could hear the boys yelling for her from the door. There was a creeping, needle-like sting at once. Cold snaked from his marked hand, around her palm and into her wrist. Her fingers went numb, and the pain kept moving through her nerves.
“Lovie...” he said, that wicked smile twisting away at his face. “How blind she has left you. Such poison she instilled. Mae has spoken truth into your naivety- trying to change you... But not I. Never.”
“Liar,” Willow curled her free hand against his grip, choking after air. She noticed a layer of indigo wrapping around her arm, encasing her pale skin in a shell.
“Never,” he repeated. “Never to you, lovie... You're all I have left. All that's good. I won’t let her ruin that…”
“Stop...” The magic moved over her joints, locking them up.
Halward only deepened his grin.
Willow looked back up at him, shaking. She noticed cold blue of his eyes, deadened and remorseless. This man who claimed himself blood. Who called himself father. The thought filled her against the cold. Not with fear or sadness. But anger. Honest, burning anger.
Numbness had set in, and so she didn't think. She didn't even really act on her own. Her clutched fingers simply shook before reigniting into a black flame. Halward jolted away, protecting his hand once again. She wasted no time as she grabbed him by the coat, jamming her knee between the Druid's legs.
Halward was unable to muster any particular noise as he buckled. His grip loosened away as he fell to the floor, cringing into a ball.
Willow slid to the ground, coughing as she let the air clear her head. She fell back, slipping her fingers under the door again.
“Huh... so that does work,” she muttered. She reminded herself to thank Vincent later.
“Willow,” Stanley's voice came through the faded ringing, panicked.
With a clearing of her throat, she spoke up. “I got him, but I don't know for how long...”
Stanley's hand finally wrapped around Willow's fingertips, pulling them close.
“We're out of here then,” he replied, leaning to the door as close as possible. “Vince.”
Vincent placed a hand on his friend's shoulder after straightening the inside of his coat one last time.
Stanley slipped his hand into his pocket and cleared his mind. He emptied of all things except his destination and the pleading hope to get away.
And behind the door, he never saw Halward, enraged as he crawled onto his stomach. Willow clutched tighter to Stanley as he Druid’s fingers reached after her again. His hand was almost curled around her ankle when a bright, swallowing light engulfed them, blinding all in its flash.
Scene 3 - Isabelle's Tea Party
Chapter: 9 (2nd Draft)
Characters: Isabelle, Agnes, Donald, and Benson
Editing Notes: This scene was hard to cut out- not because it was super significant to the plot (I think reading it now reveals it to be a bit filler-y), but mostly because I had a genuine soft spot for this scene. Isabelle Brigham is a minor character throughout the series, so her lone scenes are very rare and her dynamic with the family is usually seen from Stanley's POV. I had a great time giving her a little bit of space to herself and sharing her world, her friends- but sadly, this longer scene never found a natural spot with the pacing of the final book. There are functional remains of this scene that can be found in Isabelle's later scene with Willow.
As a side note, Donald and Agnes Fowler are Rudolph's younger children by way of marriage with Hattie. A lot of their presence is alluded to in the final draft, but I have written several scenes with them that were causalities of an overcrowded plotline. Perhaps one day, Isabelle Brigham will get to tell her own story too!
“Alright then!” Isabelle clapped her hands, gaining her guests' attention. She stood in her seat, ruffling out her bright yellow dress. “Let us see who decided to join me in today's most glorious garden party!”
“Izzie,” someone whispered through a lisp. “It's not a garden party if we're inside.”
“Agnes, shush.” Isabelle shot a glare over the rabbit-themed porcelain tea set that had been organized over her bedroom table. The plates were marked with gold trim and painted daisy chains, their centers filled with fresh jelly cookies and scones. The little teapot sat warm, dewy over the drawn silhouette of a rabbit’s head. The spout still steamed with its contents.
Sure she wouldn't be interrupted again, Isabelle cleared her throat authoritatively. “Now, where was I? Oh yes!” She clapped hands again. “Now, today we have Mr. Rivins...” She gestured to a large, stuffed toy frog that sat at her side. Stanley's bowler hat hung limp on its head.
“Lady Alice of Lancashire...” She turned to her favored glass doll, with dark auburn curls and fixed blue eyes.
Isabelle sighed then, a sneer on her mouth. “Miss Agnes...”
Agnes Fowler, her correcter, smiled at her introduction, revealing the funny gaps in her baby teeth. She was a small girl with mousy hair and manic curls.
Donald Fowler sat nearer to his sister, all ruffled brown hair and awkward limbs. He flushed as Isabelle looked his way.
“And last but not least, the esteemed Benson!” Isabelle clapped; the other children followed in kind.
Benson kneeled at the table’s edge. He wore his usual dark attire, matched sorely with the bright orange hat that Isabelle had picked from her mother's dresser. He smiled, lifting the tiny teacup in cheers to the hostess.
Isabelle nodded back, and folding her skirts, sat down again.
“So,” she chirped. “Who wants to start the small talk?”
Donald breathed in, opening his mouth to speak. But Agnes ignored them, craning herself over the table and reaching for a plate of jelly cookies. Isabelle acted quick, smacking her hand away.
“Not yet,” she said bluntly.
Agnes pouted. “What for?”
“Because I said so,” Isabelle answered. “Small talk first.”
“But small talk makes a waste of sweets, Izzie.” She settled back into her seat.
“Small talk, Agnes. Not back talk.” Isabelle grabbed a cookie and took a defiant bite from it.
The doorbell suddenly chimed. Everyone looked up, including Benson, who was quick to remove his hat.
“If everyone will excuse me, I am needed in the foyer.” He placed it on the floor to mark his place, bowing as he rose to his feet. He then glanced at Isabelle, furrowing his brow. “Please be gracious to your guests while I'm away, young miss.”
He left with a smile. Isabelle waited until he was properly out of the room before she stuck her tongue out in his direction.
Benson ventured down the steps and through the foyer, straightening his work coat and slicking his gray hair.
Probably the postman. Another election promoter. Or the grocer perhaps- Lord knows that fool is late again. He opened the front door slow, letting his thought give way to warm smile.
And every guess he had made turned out wrong. On the front porch stood a young woman, striking in her pinstriped navy gown. A small envelop sat in her hands. Tendrils of dark hair twisted out from under her hat, framing her face nicely as she returned his greeting smile.
“May I help you, miss?” he asked.
“Yes, actually,” she said quickly. “I fear I must ask; this is the Brigham household, yes?”
“That is correct, miss,” he said with a nod. “Though I am afraid that the master is out for morning service.”
“Oh,” she said, surprise taking her slowly. She recovered with remarkable speed, grinning again. “Well, I’m Cecilia Prenderghast, as you may know…”
Benson nodded, recalling the name well.
“I came on business, actually,” she continued, looking down at the envelop. “Would… Mr. Brigham's son happen to be in though?”
“The young master left several days ago,” he said.
“Left?” Cecilia's eyes widened ever so slightly.
“To Belgium. He will return in a day's time.”
“Hm...” Cecilia looked at the envelop again, questions running along her face. She shook herself of them, returning to her smile.
“You are welcome to wait for Mr. Brigham though, my lady,” Benson interjected. “Miss Isabelle and I are just beginning our Sunday tea party.”
“Oh...” Cecilia blinked, unsure how to respond to the strange question. “Um- no, it's quite alright. I only came to deliver this on my family's behalf.”
As promised, the second of the deleted Chimehour scenes for your reading pleasure!
Scene 2 - Willow and The Book
Editing Notes: I went back and forth on this scene for so long, it actually almost made it into the final book. But alas- I could not find a way to revise it that didn't make the perspective awkward. Originally, it was written in Helen's POV and then in a named POV for Willow, but so much of the information from the scene ended up in other scenes that it made this section needless.
Still, I enjoyed writing this POV for The Pumpkin Drum and giving Willow's thought process for an early scene. It offered depth that I weaved in later! And as always, SPOILERS AHEAD: there are hints to later plot lines and a scene in Chapter 11-12 that are substantial, so reader be warned.
Dear reader, my research has thus far concluded. I pray you take this book and heed its words as you wander life's path. My recountings are those of the most extreme, given my contact with the Holy Angel (He His Most Noble). This is my blessing and my damning. I pray also that you may never suffer my fate. That you may live your lives away from the terrible, wonderful, fair curiosities that lurk in Merlin's Domain.
The white-haired girl raised an eyebrow as she scanned the last paragraph over, twice just to be sure she had read correctly.
How dramatic, she thought, feathering the pages back on the little green book. I wonder what sort of fae this poor man knows? They sound awful.
She fell back on the rug, mind swirling with all of her new information.
Learning about curses had been a tricky business. And as the leprechaun had said, there wasn't much to say for breaking them other than a handful of stories. Tales of eternal sleep, daring rescue, and the aforementioned 'true love's kiss'.
The latter sounded more like guessing than an actual fix. But the little green book had left her with limited options. Holy relics weren't worth the risk of leaving, and no one here knew her actual name, much less her True one.
This was her hope, however small and strange. She could almost hear her mother's voice echo…
“Sometimes a sliver of hope is all you want, a leanbh.” She could see her mother, boots crushing the wooded path as they walked together in cool, afternoon light. She'd sigh before picking up into the second half. “You'll sooner fight for something that you've seen so rarely.”
Ma. She braced the book against her chest and shuddered. She should have never left the Veil on Bealtaine. There would be no hiding, no frightening headless men, no curse. And certainly no need to wonder what had become of her mother since they had been separated by that awful dog of a man.
She sighed herself calm. She had the answers she needed for now; she had her sliver.
She kept a steady march as she slipped back into the halls, the little green book in hand. Sunset had given way to moonrise, much to her astonishment. She walked through the gas-lamp glow, listening to the noise that drifted through the floorboards; the laughter, and shouting, and clinking of glass.
Let’s check there first.
Down the stairs she climbed, taking her place against the frame as she peered inside the doorway.
The chaos was a familiar friend. The gatherings of drunks and tables of gamblers, flanked by buxom women and the occasional lurking pick-pocket. The plowing scent of ale. The thrum of a fiddle. The stream of colorful Gaelic that her own mother might blush over. That would be something too, considering her mother was quite the artistic soul with swearing.
She let her gaze wander the crowds until she spotted the leprechaun amongst them.
He crawled up the side of a chair, hoisting himself next to the bar with a swing. The owner turned to him from another customer, seemingly sighing, though she couldn't quite tell. It took her a moment to recognize the second customer as the blond boy.
The one who gave me breakfast, she remembered with a nod.
He was grinning as usual, warm and sunny despite his surroundings. Or perhaps due to them. Again, she could not tell. She searched again, but his friend didn't seem to be with him.
She set her lips thin, looking back to the boy.
He might work, she thought. He had offered, after all.
But as time went on- and the three men weaved into heavy conversation, the idea became less appealing. Her research had pointed her elsewhere, after all. And she didn't need an audience for this magic.
I'll check the room instead. And she made her way up the stairway.
Letting her memory act as guide, she retraced her steps from the evening before. Recalling her search for an unlocked door to hide behind, hoping to partake in her latest meal.
That same door was unlocked when she found it again.
She jarred it open, the book pressed close to her chest as she looked inside.
Night enveloped the little bedroom, leaving just enough light from the window to silhouette of the other boy. Asleep in the center of the bed, blankets forgotten as he bundled in his half-buttoned coat. His glasses clung to the edge of his nose. His dark curls were invisible against the void of nighttime.
Names escaped her again, but she knew it was him. The curious, quiet creature with cornflower blue eyes. The one who had disturbed her and helped reunite her with her stalker. She sighed. He meant well, she assumed. He had helped her when she became sick and defended her against said stalker, as well as that troublesome patron.
He suited her findings rather well.
She furrowed her brow, considering her choices on waking him. He might not understand what she was trying. No matter how well he meant, he still couldn’t hear her.
But her time wore shorter every second she didn't have her magic.
She pushed the door open, sending an ache of noise into the calm. The boy shifted in his sleep, moaning incoherently. She froze.
“For the last time, Vince…” he mumbled, his fingers just missing his frames. “There’s… no ghost…”
The girl twisted her expression about. The silence settled back a second later.
I wonder if these sort of things work the other way around. She gave one last glance down the hall, pressing the book close again as she stepped inside.
Due to popular demand with the book's release in October, I have decided to start a 2019 blog series about what didn't make it into Chimehour. If you have ever written a book and especially if you have revised one, you know that a lot more can end up on the cutting room floor than in a book. Ans if you have followed this blog for awhile, you know that Chimehour went through more than a few revisions before it was released. Not everything I cut was due to quality; some things were good, but they weren't part of the final draft. So that's what this blog is gonna be all about: the process, the revisions I made, why I decided to change the scene, and what the original scene looked like! Please note I have left the original writing intact, outside of obvious typos and misspellings.
Scene 1 - Willow's Introduction/Dream Sequence (Draft: 1st and 2nd)
Characters: Stanley, Vincent, and Willow
Editing Notes: This scene and its now finished Chapter 8 only have a handful of lines in common. This opening sequence was an early casualty of Chimehour's final revisions, though I tried desperately to keep this dream sequence in the story- in fact, you can still see hints of its content and descriptions spread around the book. Ultimately, this scene got slashed mostly due to that sequence because its overarching goal (let's talk about Stanley's anxieties) could be accomplished in more subtle ways. Plus this scene genuinely worked better from Vincent's perspective!
Willow's introduction would go through two more rewrites before the finished version came about- but this version was what I held to for a long time before I decided to strengthen Willow's character from her introduction on. What lies here is a 2D model of that scene though.
It was somewhere past midnight when Stanley first caught himself in restless sleep. The boggled visions where voices echoed, blood pooled, and dark liquid filled his lungs. It couldn't kill him, but he didn't see the way out this time. Rattled by the hellish half-dreams, he awoke dizzy and blind, rolling to his side. Used to his mattress back home, he overestimated the space he had and quickly found himself tumbling straight off the edge. He rushed to catch himself; his numb palms met with wet cobblestone.
Stanley hit his head as he landed. He yelped, reaching to protect his face. His fingers clambered into his glasses.
I forgot to take them off again, he thought, rubbing the back of his skull.
He sat up, feeling the cold soak into his traveling clothes. This was confusing; he recalled changing earlier, for whatever earlier meant now.
He looked up at his surroundings. Townhouses and street lamps appeared as far he could see, veiled behind a thick, green fog.
Stanley recognized his neighborhood almost immediately.
When... Last he remembered, he had been in Dublin.
He stood, holding his temple. He could see the front gates of his home. The well-tended roses that his mother grew near the porch. The marks in the gate where he and Isabelle had tried to etch their names years before.
He took a step forward, an onset of happiness settling within him.
But something pulled at his mind. Something dark. Something odd. And that something held Stanley away.
A sharp noise disrupted the quiet. A squishing, sloshing sound, like boots in the mud.
Stanley wheeled back, finding the direction in which the sound echoed from. Before him stretched Albemarle Street, now wider and more ominous than usual.
“Erm... hello?” he called out, unease filling the pit of his stomach.
A slumped shape appeared through the sick fog. The sound now formed in rhythmic repetition. Footsteps.
Then the moan. That familiar, cutting moan.
No... Stanley thought, his eyes dissolving to pinpricks.
A pair of bloodied hands shot through the fog, breaking it into wisps. Their owner dragged himself through the clearing. His fine clothes were spattered with the remains of his own innards, leaking off the gap in his chest. His black hair a mangled, dirty mess. Stanley knew him even before the voice appeared.
“There you are, son. I had wondered...”
“Father,” Stanley rasped. He edged away, shock making his body heavy.
That which was once Mr. Brigham tottered forward like a disorganized animal, splashing more of his own blood onto the ground. More footsteps could be heard. First one. Two. Then more...
The groans, moans, and broken shrieks of the dead emerged from the murk. Their voices were a mangled mass, unintelligible from one to the other. They overwhelmed each other, and Stanley in turn. His head ached with so much noise. Too much noise. They appeared as shadows. The faces of neighbors, schoolmates, past friends, and family.
Stanley’s heart drowned in horror as his mother's ragged form emerged from the crowd, her mouth and fingers dripping blood onto her dress. Isabelle appeared next, dark circles around her eyes and a large bite taken out of her shoulder. They all soon filled the street, creating a wall of dead.
No, not here, he thought, stepping backwards. This can't happen here.
He shot through the fog, into the other half of the street. There was silence as he scrambled forward.
A cracked scream then broke through, him freeze. With a shudder, he turned toward the sound.
Terror refreshed its grip as Vincent appeared out of the shadows, his eyes dark and confused. His hands were at his chest, protecting a bloodied bite mark.
“Stanley...” he choked. “Help.”
No sooner then he spoke, a thin pair of hands wrapped around his neck. Stanley's eyes doubled as something that looked awfully like Cecilia appeared over Vincent's shoulder. Her pale eyes flashed before she took a vicious bite out of him. He wrenched, howling as the infection began to take its toll.
“Vince, no!” Stanley screamed, rushing to his friend's side and trying to pry him from Cecilia's grip.
Cecilia looked up, her mouth stained in the boy's blood. She hissed inhumanly and dropped Vincent's corpse, letting him crumple to the ground.
Stanley stumbled back, fighting a whimper. Vincent’s dead eyes stared up at him, glossed and half-open.
But the grasp of cold hands broke his trance.
Stanley looked, quickly met with the unfortunate reality that he had been surrounded by the creatures. Their fingers wrapped around his clothes, yanking him to the ground with little effort.
“Let go! Get away!” He pushed away bony fingers and kicked at heads full of hungry teeth.
Anger and adrenaline filled him, but his body was still treading slow. Far too slow to save him.
His eyes widened as Vincent rose amongst the hunched crowd, reawakened. His fixed eyes grew wild. He growled and dived forward, sinking his teeth around Stanley's pinned leg.
Stanley screamed; the pain dug deep as the poison filled his bloodstream. He attempted to pull his leg away from Vincent and punched another creature. He shook himself free from the creatures' prying hands, but more awaited him. They pulled him back down, and he couldn’t manage the fight again. The curse was taking its toll.
He caught sight of it then. A shadow in the masses, tall and slight.
It spirited through the Revenant, craning over Stanley's pinned form like a praying mantis, its digging fingers around his throat.
His eyes grew wide; Maggie MacNamura towered over him. Oddly unchanged and wearing her usual grin.
“Poor dear,” she said as she looked down on the boy, running a hand along his cheek. “In over your head again… Don’t you fret. I’ll make it better.”
Her face suddenly twisted into a wide, hardly-human smile.
She unhinged her jaw, swooped down like the Revenant before her. Darkness enveloped Stanley's world, giving to a blessed end to the awful clawing and screams. If just for a moment.
“Stanley...” The voice appeared, lost in a newly growing gray light.
Stanley assumed himself drowning again. Good.
Someone wasn't giving him peace.
Squinting, Stanley let the gray break into a pale yellow. He flinched, left only with the unfamiliar feeling of the scratchy pillows and blankets. The tang of something sweet lurked in the air, strong enough to leave the onset of a headache.
This wasn't his bed, but then it wasn't a wet road in London either. And he certainly wasn't being eaten alive. He blinked, revealing a pale room and a kerosene glow. He noticed thick layers of sweat on his palms and his forehead.
As his eyes refocused, he caught sight of a nervous-looking Vincent standing over his side of the bed, dressed in a gray nightshirt.
“Oh, glorious! You're awake.” he whispered, rubbing his hands together. “I'm quite sure there is a ghost in this room, and you need to tell it to leave.”
“Uh- Wha...” Stanley groaned, rolling onto his back.
“A ghost,” Vincent repeated, nervousness leaking into his tone. “I heard it rummaging around the wardrobe.”
“...What time is it?” Stanley said, rubbing his face awake. He looked over at the clock. With his vision blurry, he merely guessed that the hands rested somewhere near 3:30.
So that was a dream, he thought, pulling himself up.
“Are you listening?” Vincent said.
Stanley scrambled for his glasses, grabbing them off the nightstand and shoving them over his nose. He held the crook with one finger, looking to Vincent with exhaustion.
“Vince, even if there is a ghost in here, what do you wish me to do?” he mumbled. “They don't do everything I say just because I can see them.”
“Oh, but-” Vincent sputtered. “Just go look.”
The wardrobe suddenly creaked. A crunching emanated from the closed doors, noisy and surprising in the previous quiet.
Stanley blinked, letting his glasses drop back. The same calm could not be said of Vincent, who had pushed himself against the wall.
Stanley sighed in amusement. “I thought you liked all these happenings and creatures?”
“Not like this,” Vincent whispered, eying the wardrobe. “This thing is flouting about with my unmentionables!”
Stanley shook his head. He kicked off the blankets, grabbing the lamp off the nightstand as he stepped down.
“Very well, I will talk to it.”
He wore a sleepy smile as walked over to the wardrobe, the floor aching under each step. He placed the lamp by his bare feet and grabbed the handles on either door.
“I will tell you though,” he chimed, looking over his shoulder. “It is probably just a mouse. And I can't talk to those…” He smirked and gave each door a pull, forcing the wardrobe open.
“Frankly, I would prefer a ghost in my unmentionables before to a... a...”
Stanley's voice trailed off. His jaw dropped.
Amongst the hanging forms of their coats, the still-packed bags, and collections of dust bunnies, a lone girl huddled in the corner. Cloaked in a sooty dress, its frayed sleeves falling short of her forearm. Her hair shone in a dull gray, falling around her in a tangled weave. She paid no mind to the doors, her focus drawn to the object in her hands, which she bit into fervently.
Stanley quieted himself, grabbing the lamp and lifting it to his head. The girl’s hair caught light. Its shade was closer to pearl, and not quite as pale as her skin. She stuffed the last the now recognizable pastry into her mouth and licked her fingers of any remaining crumbs.
Spirits don't eat, he thought, unable to gather much else in his busied mind.
She looked back then. Stanley met her eyes without thinking. He tensed, taken by the vivid lavender color in her pupils. They shone like stained glass as they widened in horror. She fell to the back of wardrobe with a violent gasp, hunching like a cornered rat. Her hand flailed to her side, grabbing for something in the dark.
“Oh, what's going on in there now?” Vincent called back.
Stanley looked over his shoulder again, wide-eyed.
“There's a... girl in our wardrobe,” he said plainly as he could.
Before Stanley could respond, a sharp blow landed in the center of his chest. He yelped as his head slammed into the bedpost. His vision turned to a glaze as he slid to the floor, clutching his crown.
The girl was upon him a second later. He jolted as a small knife came within inches of his face. It shook in her grip.
“Um- hold on now...” he said, speaking on impulse as he backed into the bed.
His pulse racing, he chanced a better look at her face. A grimace contorted her shadowed features, hiding her elegant eyes again.
She glanced back at him, and her expression shifted. Stanley almost read it as calm. Some clarity in her panic. He wasn't sure if it was real or an illusion created by his drowsiness. But she stepped away, folding the knife behind her back.
With a sigh that seemed apologetic, she ran for open bedroom door, darting out.
“So... that definitely wasn't a ghost?” Vincent managed a smile.
Stanley stood sharply, feeling no need to dignify his question with a response. Without another thought, he yanked his suitcase free of the open wardrobe and flung it open, digging for his clothes.
“And what are you doing?” Vincent asked.
“What else? I'm going after her,” he said as he pulled on a pair of trousers under his night shirt.
Vincent moaned. “What was she doing in there anyhow?”
Stanley pulled his nightshirt over his head, letting it fall to the ground. “Eating, and hiding from the looks of it. Something wasn’t right.”
“Oh, can't we just leave it for when the sun's out?” Vincent sat down on the bed.
“She drew a knife on me.” Stanley said.
“Call me mad, but when a lady points a weapon your way, you should leave her be.”
Stanley ignored this comment, looking back at him.“You're the one who woke me up about this.”
He yawned, unaffected. “Yes, and you handled it very well. But I have not slept yet, so...”
Stanley pulled on an unbuttoned dress shirt, taking humor in Vincent's lack of encouragement. “You can stay, if you prefer. I'm not.”
“Very well then. You try not to have too much fun...” And he promptly collapsed onto the bed in an unceremonious fashion.
This blog isn't normally a space I share my reviews, but I was very excited to roll out a favorite of mine, following the re-release of Joshua Grasso's Thieves of The Middle Dark! This book's journey was one of my favorites to follow, having read some of its earlier chapters as they were being written. And the final novel? Goodness, it's such a delight!
I may be speaking too early in an author’s career, but The Dark Backward is my favorite of Grasso’s books thus far! As clever as The Winged Turban, but just as thrilling as The Astrologer’s Portrait, this novel combines the best elements of previous stories and blends them into a dynamic adventure with Hildigrim Blackbeard!
Speaking of Hildigrim, if you’re already familiar with Grasso’s books, this character will prove to be a friendly face, creating both order and disorder wherever he goes. This time though, he clashes worlds with a snarky thief named Magda, who joins him to recover Fabrizio Yatushenko’s lost manuscripts. Magda makes the perfect foil for Hildigrim, working with him and challenging him all at once. He offers her the same character development while training her to be his apprentice, making their dynamic a complex, well developed center-point for the novel that drives much of the narrative.
But that’s not to say the other characters don’t bring magic to the novel! We see more familiar faces with the return of Mary and Leopold, the now grown-up leads of The Count of Living Death. They and their daughter, Lena, are swept into the new adventure, complete with another foe trapped within a seemingly innocent container (poor folks just can’t catch a break). Their own character and relationship development was so genuine, adding in the tremors of marriage and parenting into the story. They were always so real in their first story, and here... they became human.
We’re also introduced to Larek, an astrologer and magician who allies himself with Magda; their interactions and eventual romantic arc was not only very sweet, but incredibly natural amongst all of the schemes and danger. I don’t want to completely spoil the villains in this book, but I will say they were some of my favorites of this series, and will rightfully make you love to hate them.
I’ve praised Grasso’s writing before, so I won’t repeat myself too much. It’s the usual flavor of wry, poetic, and breezy, very akin to Douglas Adams with just a dash of Robert Louis Stevenson. One of the biggest things that caught my attention about The Dark Backward’s writing was its attention to atmosphere, each scene almost breathing with life and character. It draws much of this energy into something both adventurous and emotionally evocative. It’s a thrilling time, and it’s one with a great deal of heart.
5/5. Great for fans of Dave Barry and Leigh Bardugo. Or generally anyone looking for a great adventure about an eccentric magician and his thief apprentice!
You can find Thieves of The Middle-Dark on Amazon as an e-book. A dramatic reading of the first chapter can also be found here, which acts as a lovely preview!
It's been awhile since I updated this blog, but here we are anyway! It's been a great opening month for Chimehour, sales steady and new readers on the horizon! A lot has happened in the last month too, so I want to give a few quick summaries on my latest updates!
I have been slow to share it here, but my cover artist, BoredBarista, has been putting together some amazing character commissions for the main cast of Chimehour, all of which can now be found on the gallery of The Faire Curiosities page here. Nicole put her heart and soul into each of the character designs, in addition to bringing so much life into the covers for Spectre and Chimehour! The previews of all five pictures can be seen above, and I cannot wait to work with Nicole again! Currently she has opened her doors for commissions, and can be found most easily through her Facebook page.
The Heretic's Dead Man:
If you have stayed familiar with my work for awhile now, you know that my series at present includes several short stories and novellas that tie into the main four books! And I have a new novella ready to go soon- hooray! Fans of the series will recognize Flann and Helen from Chimehour, set 300 years before the main events of the series. It's been an absolute delight to write them again in a new perspective, and I hope to have the new novella out in time for Christmas!
What Comes Next?
You know me, I am always busy with something else on my plate! And so I have been onward into new projects: I have returned to working on Beglamour and Endevour, the second and third books to follow Chimehour. They are in need of a lot of TLC, but I can focus on them better now that the first book is a completed product. I also plan to do a series of blogs with a few deleted scenes from Chimehour starting at the beginning of the year. There will be some new announcements regarding anthologies and a few new short stories coming into the new year as well. I will be picking up on my Senior Year in college after a semester off, so I will be back to my usual level of busy between that and work, but I have returned to most of my normal writer energy and don't want to waste a second of it!
Caitlin Jones is an author, film editor, and lover of all things Victorian and fantastic. Please check in for information on her upcoming series.