Joining in the fun with Christmas with the Crooked Cats, here’s my offering! I was supposed to write a short story but time ran out, instead I’ll share the prologue and the first few paragraphs of Chapter 1 of my Work In Progress with you (unedited and very much subject to change!) It’s called Eve and is a spin-off from the Psychic Surveys series, centring around individual cases. The spin-offs will be novellas in length and very dark. Eve is based on a true story, a tragedy that took place in a mining town in America but which I’ve relocated to the UK. Although the opening scene takes place in 1899 on Christmas Eve (a few days before the eve of a new millennium too), the action from Chapter 1 shifts to more recent times, 1999. One hundred years on, the town is still suffering the aftermath of that long ago night, the ghostly aftermath that is and Theo, a character from Psychic Surveys has been called in to investigate, bringing along with her fellow psychic, Ness.
Here we go…
Christmas: a time of magic, a time of mystery. The season of peace and good will to all men. A time to forget past grudges – if only for a short while – to come together, to be as one with your family, your friends, your neighbours. And Christmas Eve, the most exciting day of all – a day filled to the brim with anticipation, wondering if every happiness will be fulfilled; every desire met. A time of appreciation and deep thankfulness, when the child in each of us comes to the fore and the world seems much lighter suddenly, an exciting place to be.
In the North Yorkshire market town of Thorpe Morton – barren of late, it’s surrounding mining villages stricken by poverty and lost hope – hope had returned. Everyone had gathered together, dressed in their finest attire, the women in dresses kept usually for Sunday service, the men in their trousers and jackets. In the market hall a party was in progress. Outside, a layer of fresh snow had fallen, covering the ground entirely. Inside, so many bodies pressed together created cosy warmth. Men, women, children, grandparents, none had stayed at home. Courtesy of a ceilidh band, music rang out, merry jigs that people danced to, arm in arm, round and round, laughter transforming careworn faces. In-between them children darted, engaged in games of tag, sticky hands out stretched before them. Chairs that lined the walls were fully occupied, tables too, toes tapping rhythmically against bare floorboards. In the lamplight, cheap and gaudy decorations looked neither cheap nor gaudy but beautiful, like bright stars in an ebony sky. St Nicholas was expected; in his sack there might even be presents – one for each family. Any minute now, any minute he’d be here.
“Fire!” The shout came from below. “There’s a fire!”
Only a few people heard but those that did stopped. Others soon joined them. Smiling ceased, the twirling too; fiddles and accordion ground to a halt.
“For God’s sake, save yourselves!”
People turned to look at each other, eyebrows furrowed in confusion and then, one by one, like a wave almost, expressions changed.
In the now expectant silence, the cry was loud and clear.
“The building, it’s burning!”
Footsteps, tentative at first, started rushing, moving forward; stampeding.
And as they did, all hell broke loose.
“Bloody hell, it’s cold,” Theo complained, getting out of her car and pulling her coat tight around her. Considering the bulk of her frame and that each and every stitch of her padded jacket was already doing its duty, this was no mean feat.
“It’s the north, it’s England, it’s mid-December, what do you expect?”
Theo turned to look at her solemn-faced friend.
“I expected nothing less,” she replied, peevishly so, she had to admit. But when Ness would get a sense of humour was anyone’s guess. From the minute they’d left Lewes, she’d sat in the passenger seat, staring out of the window, hardly bothering to converse. A quiet lady, and one whom she’d only recently met, their psychic ability bonded them. It was rare to encounter someone as ‘gifted’ as herself, if ‘gift’ it could be called. Sometimes she thought so, sometimes she didn’t. Ness, she guessed, erred on the side of the ‘didn’t’. But what her experiences were, Theo didn’t know. And Ness, it seemed, wasn’t telling. She was a closed book, as closed as Theo was open.
Trudging from the car to the guesthouse, Theo baulked at the name.
“Sunny Side, it adds insult to injury doesn’t it?”
“How so?” Ness asked.
Was she deliberately being facetious? “The weather,” she pointed out, again.
“Have you holidayed here in the summer?”
“It might be less of a misnomer then.”
Theo remained undeterred. “Even so, in the depths of winter they should consider another handle, something more apt. Bleak Side I’m thinking.” Pushing her way past Ness, she added, “Come on, let’s get inside, before we join the spirit world too, as frozen popsicles no less. There’s snow forecast for this region tonight. I refused to believe it when we left Lewes; it was so clement down there. But I believe it now, with every fibre of my being. You can almost smell it approaching.”
Sunny Side was typical of guesthouses in the area. Rustic but not entirely without charm. As much as she would have liked to book the nearby – and far more imaginatively named – Ox Pasture Hall, more of a country manor than a hotel, set in seventeen acres of ‘enchanting’ garden according to the blurb, Theo had had to make do with this one. Although she’d been asked to come along and investigate ‘unusual activity’, it was not for monetary gain, rather it was for altruistic reasons, and, of course, to gain further understanding of the psychic world. All manner of phenomena occurred hereabouts apparently, including voices heard in empty rooms, sensations of being watched and cold spots appearing randomly. Just recently it had become more intense. Lightbulbs had burst overhead, objects hurled across rooms and doors slammed as if in temper. Nightmares too, they plagued everyone, especially the children, so many woke screaming.
“Sounds interesting,” Ness had said, when Theo had discussed it with her one evening in their local pub. “Who asked you?”
A friend of a friend, Theo had explained – it seemed every friend she knew in turn knew a friend with ‘problems’. Spirits, they plagued the natural world. This friend of a friend, a resident of Thorpe Morton, a town located in a direct line inland from the coast at Scarborough, seemed to be in particularly dire need.