As one of the writers for chainbooks.com, I thought it would be good today to post one of the starter chapters I wrote for the website. A unique idea of collaborative writing, those at chainbooks.com just completed the site and all are welcome to visit, and if you like a story, you can write the next chapter, contributing to the growth of the story. www.chainbooks.com
This is one of mine, titled “Devil in Disquise,” and can be found in the mystery section.
It was darker than she remembered. Walking through the dilapidated building, the young woman carefully maneuvered through
the crumbling walls of the old mansion.Was it her memory, or was it the nightmares? She could not seem to recall where they had
been playing that day. The day Alice Hinkle died was lost to her, and only snippets of a battered picture replayed
itself once the hours of the day faded.
Tiptoeing up the large staircase, she made her way to the second floor. This house always was a mystery, she mused. Someone else died here too. Sarah Ledford, the old spinster who lived by herself, incarcerated behind pulled curtains, murdered her lover when he tried to leave her. His existence forgotten until she passed away, the act hidden until the Sheriff discovered her decaying form lying next to his skeleton in the upstairs master bedroom.
This was why the house drew her when they were younger. It had an air of the unnatural, a substance of blackness which brought fear and excitement together within her. In a macabre way, it was enjoyable.
How did Alice Hinkle die? Her thoughts turned quickly to her childhood friend as she rounded the corner, her eyes darting to the partly open door at the end of the dim hallway.
Her body was found in the basement, twisted and grotesque, her small limbs mangled, lying in a pool of blood like a discarded ragdoll. It was the only thing she could remember of that day. Until recently, that memory was kept tucked away, shut in the back corners of her mind’s closet. She cut herself several months back the blood gushing from her arm must have triggered something in her subconscious. At least that was the explanation of her doctor, Amy Lowell.
“Your nightmares won’t end, until you go back home, and confront the house,” Dr. Lowell advised on her last visit.
“I’m not sure I want to go back. I think Alice was murdered,” she protested. “Isn’t there something else we can do, hypnosis or something?”
“Meg Pearson, you’ve repressed these memories for a very long time. Perhaps visiting your parents and reconnecting with them will help bring some peace to your troubled psyche. This episode in your past was very traumatic, and not meeting it head on will only continue the
nightmares. Find out what really happened that day. Talk to people involved. You may find your answers at home with your
family and friends.”
Meg sighed, but reluctantly nodded her understanding. Her youth had been troubled, her relationship with her parents strained. She did not even venture home to her father’s funeral several years ago. The choice to come back and visit her mother was a difficult decision, one she had not wanted to make.
Yet, here she was, home. Meg wanted to stop by the old mansion before heading to her mother’s house. The place still held sway over her, its darkness mingling with the haunted visions of her nightmares. There was something about the house; it spoke to her again, even after the many years which had escaped since their mutual acquaintance.
Her hand pushed on the aging wood of the bedroom door, the hinges protesting their use. She fought the cobwebs and entered the master
suite. Old Sarah Ledford’s furniture still remained, covered with a veil of dust and age. Gliding to the window, she peered beyond the
fraying fabric to the overgrown gardens below. Somehow her mind allowed a brief glimpse at a time past, before Alice had died. Dottie Henderson, Cybil Pruett, Alice and herself found a loose board on the outer fence and trespassed into a new kingdom of girl’s delight. No one
had been on the property in years, the ivy claiming parts of the brick walls, smashing through the barrier of the windows.
Birds had flown from the chimney, screaming their dislike at the visitors.
The next time they had come out, they brought Alice’s boyfriend, Don Ashton. Don’s father was the preacher in town. He complained the entire time they were there, making the adventure less enjoyable. Only after several trips and many promises, they were able to keep him quiet. It was so very long ago, that the rest of it was lost to the muddled cobwebs of memories which refused to untangle and allow her mind rest.
Sighing she knew she must leave. The dusk was settling, and the shadows of the lawn were creeping into the house. She did not want to be here in the dark. The dark still held terror for her. It was the time when her nightmares claimed her existence, and Alice’s corpse stared at her with such an accusing face, the bulging eyes screaming at her. Quickly she made her way down the stairs and out the door. Her car stood humming in the evening light, beckoning her to its safety.
The drive through town caused a variety of emotions to surface. Things which she kept buried beneath tried to unlatch the door to her soul, but she refused them, placing an even bigger lock on the door. As she pulled into her mother’s driveway, she felt she must contain the urge to turn around in haste. After several seconds she finally opened the car door and slowly made her way up the sidewalk to the front porch.
It was not as she remembered. How long has it been since she was home? Fifteen years? Maybe, she did not want to remember. Before her finger touched the doorbell, the entrance flew open, and there stood her mother, Judy Pearson, looking tan and youthful, beautiful and happy.
“Meg, oh Meg! I am so glad you’ve decided to come for a visit. Come in dear, come in.” Ms. Pearson opened the door wider and motioned with her hand to the interior of the yellow frame house.
“Your flowers are lovely,” Meg stated simply, not knowing how to start a conversation that had waited for such a long time to be spoken.
“Well, it’s a hobby I’ve taken up since your father passed on, God rest his soul. Always thought they were a nuisance in his yard he used to say. He never liked anything pretty. If it was drab and ugly, it was for him.”
Meg tried to recall his preferences, but found she could only see his unsmiling face as he glared at her for spilling ice tea on the kitchen floor.
“You stupid girl, God didn’t give you much grace did he?” he shouted. Throwing a towel at her face, he pushed her to the floor. “Wipe it up,
before I take a belt to you!” A military man, Mr. Pearson demanded strict discipline in his regiment, as well as his home. Meg moved the scene from the frame of her mind’s eye, and locked it away again.
“Did you get my message?” she asked softly.
Judy Pearson looked at her daughter for a moment, her brow suddenly furrowed as she sat on the loveseat. “Sit down Meg,” she gently commanded, motioning to the overstuffed chair across from her.
Meg sat cautiously, the old fears of making too much trouble in her parents’ home returning. She lowered her eyes and stared at a small
stain on the carpet just beyond the tip of her shoes.
Her mother regarded her with a puzzled expression. “I don’t know quite how to take what you said. You’ve been seeing psychiatrist?”
Meg nodded, her eyes still studying the spot.
“What is going on with you?”
“I’ve been having nightmares about Alice.”
Judy Pearson turned white. Her eyes appeared to sink from her face, and her mouth hung open, like a gapping fish.
Meg thought she resembled Alice in her nightmares.
“My doctor thought if I came back home to talk to people about what happened that day, it may help me settle my mind.”
“God! What a terrible day!” Judy exclaimed her hands coming up to her face to hide her eyes. “I thought you would have been done and through with all that, Meg dear. I’m sorry…”
“Mom, I need help remembering. You know, maybe it’s all connected, Alice…Dad…”
Judy stood up abruptly, her fingers intertwining themselves over and over, as she quickly tried to find some chore to occupy herself with. “Alice’s death and your father are not connected, no matter how much you try to blame the two for your life and your choices.”
Meg felt the bite of her mother’s words. She swallowed hard, fighting back the scream which welled from the pit of her stomach. Anger was the hardest to contain in her closet, and this time she felt she may not have a firm grip on the lock. She stood up with force, knocking the stool by her feet over. Her mother turned quickly at the sound.
“I’m sorry,” Meg muttered, her anger quickly vanishing at the scowl. She bent and set the obstinate piece of furniture back on its legs. Her mother smiled.
“Let’s not fight dear. I haven’t seen you in forever, and I want us to become friends. Can we try again?”
Meg mustered a small smile and nodded her agreement. “Sure.”
“Good! Your old room is still available. Just like you left it.”
Taking Meg by the arm, Judy Pearson led her daughter down the hall. Flipping the light switch, she turned the doorknob on the last door at the end of the hall. “See baby doll, just like you left it.”
Stepping across the threshold, Meg felt transported back in time to 1993, and she was fifteen once again. Her ribbons, school books, posters, animals and other knickknacks had waited for her return, their placement within the four walls still in line with the General’s command of preciseness.
“You kept everything?” Meg asked in disbelief.
“I felt taking it down was removing you. While your father demanded it, it was one time I refused him. Felt good to disobey that man for once. He was such a difficult person,” she sighed.
Meg picked up one of her old teddy bears. Its familiar feel softened the harshness of the rest of her mother’s house. “I need to get my bags out of the car,” she said, as she quickly put the toy back into its place. Old habits die hard she thought, as she carefully arranged his body to stay in line with the others on the shelf.
Outside, she stood for a minute, looking at the other houses on the street. Trees had grown taller, the paint more worn than she recalled, but all in all, they had not changed in the past fifteen years. Across the street, Mrs. Taylor was watering her rose bushes. Seeing Meg, she raised her hand in a brief wave.
“Meg Pearson is that you?” she cried in delight.
Smiling, Meg crossed the street. Mrs. Taylor was the only kind person she remembered from her childhood. Teaching history at the local school, Mrs. Taylor had taken Meg under her wing during some difficult times with her father. Meg never forgot the sincere understanding and affection the woman had shown her. She had a son who was six years older than Meg, Steven. Steven had graduated high school before Alice’s death, and was in college during the whole affair. Meg only remembered him briefly, when he came to their door with a basket of fruit his mother sent over. Steven stood awkwardly with the gift, his eyes never leaving her face. Thrusting it towards her, he murmured how sorry he was about her friend. After he turned to walk back across the street, Meg could only stand and watch him go. For a small moment, she felt some connection to this boy who looked at her directly, with a gaze that seemed to know who she was without even asking, but it was lost as soon as he slammed his door shut.
“Meg, you have grown into a fine young woman. How are doing dear?” Mrs. Taylor inquired kindly.
“I am fine, thank you.”
“It’s been far too long since I’ve seen you. Are you living in the big city? Did you get a dream job after leaving us?”
“I went to college, but I don’t know if I have yet to find that dream job,” she laughed lightly.
“Oh to be young again! I would give anything to be single and living in a big city. So much art, music and life. You must come for a visit before
you go back, and have some tea with me. I want to catch up on what’s been happening with you. Steven calls, but doesn’t visit as much as he
used too. I enjoy having youthful people around, keeps me young.”
Meg nodded, “I’ll try to swing by in the next couple of days.”
“That would be fabulous. When I told Steven I heard you were coming, he said he wanted to perhaps come for a visit also.”
Meg’s heart skipped a beat. “He did?”
“Personally, I think he’s had a thing for you. You know it was his idea to make a fruit basket for you after we heard about Alice’s death. He sat up several nights in a row staring at your house. I’ve never seen him that concerned before.”
Meg grew quiet. Her memories never incorporated Steven until the day he appeared at her door with the basket. Had she known him before that? Fragments of conversations hung in the particularly dark aspects of her mind’s closet, but they were incoherent. The youthful voices were limited to the shrill scream of Dottie and Cybil, and the quiet specter of Alice. She could not bring forth any recollection of Steven except for that one day.
“I never knew that,” she calmly stated.
“Well anyway, he never married. I figured it was because he was waiting for someone like you maybe.” Mrs. Taylor smiled hesitantly.
“I’ll see you later. I’ve got to finish unpacking.” Meg waved and crossed the narrow street. She felt uncomfortable at Mrs. Taylor’s words and wanted to end the conversation.
Gathering the things from her car, she entered her mother’s home and went to the bedroom at the end of the hall. In her sanctuary, she placed her belongings with those of her past. The present items of her life seemed underscored compared to them, as if those of her past wer expressing
such indignation that she brought such nonsense into their room.
“Mind your manners,” she commanded gently to her teddy bear, feeling as though she was the intruder.
Unpacking her clothes, she found room for them in her youthful bureau. Opening the top drawer, she noticed a slip of paper sticking out from the top of the space. It did not give easily, the tape which trapped it to the interior wood sticky with age. It was an old note from school. Dirty and yellow, the paper was fragile, as it appeared to have been opened and closed repeatedly. Read and re-read, she assumed. Looking at the small square, she tried to visualize what the content must be. It must have been important for her to take the time to hide it.
Sitting on the bed, she stared at it. It was daring her to open it, the lettering hidden beneath the creases calling to her, wanting freedom from the cell of the unknown. She carefully erased the folds, and held it up. The pencil marks were fading, but not so gone that she could not make out their message. What she read, alarmed her, and fear tuned itself within her heart. The ghost of Alice found its way home.