Cracks

The cracks on the old window spiderwebbed, elegant little fingers reaching across the glass and forming beautiful, twisted patterns.

It had been on a wet Wednesday, walking home from school down a rarely-used street, that Lil had noticed it, and now she ran a hand across it, slightly open-mouthed. What could have caused it – a stray ball, an enraged fist?

None of these things, in fact.

Daniel gasped for air as he was slammed back against the window, praying his heavy coat had softened the blow. If he fell through some poor soul’s window…

He looked down at the hands gripping his collar, the knuckles only slightly whiter than his own face, and swallowed. “Gentlemen…” he began, with a nervous lick of his lips.

The response was a rough laugh close to his ear, and he smelled fetid breath. “Many things, we are, but gentlemen?” Daniel heard a mutter of something that sounded very much like “Pull the other one” from another of them, and then he was wrenched from the window, nearly losing his footing. He looked back at the window – there was only a small crack, a jagged line, not nearly as bad as the damage could have been.

He was brought back to that same foul-smelling mouth, now wearing a black-toothed smile. “Please…” he tried one last time, his eyes wide and pleading. “I only maintain his books.”

That same scummy laugh, and then the leader replied, obviously enjoying himself, “You have debts you owe. Begging for your life won’t pay ’em.”

Daniel halted abruptly, his struggling stopping, and his voice became very, very quiet. “I know,” he said, eventually. “I was begging for yours.”

Another scraping laugh, and then one of them reached out a foot in what would have been a hard, very painful kick – except it didn’t connect with clothed flesh. No, instead there was something… else.

Funny all the things a greatcoat could hide, Daniel mused, even through the pain.

A sudden cry of alarm rose, most of them stepping back, and Daniel took his opportunity, pushing his greatcoat aside and drawing with a steady, practised hand.

They should have stopped to wonder why an accountant had such scarred hands, such excellent posture.

The blade was simple, nothing fussy – only leather wrapped around the hilt, no decoration, made for stabbing rather than finesse – but sharp and obviously well-maintained. Even in the darkness of a winter’s night, it gleamed as it briefly caught the light of a nearby gas lamp.

Many turned and ran. One or two hung back, waiting for events to unfold. Only the leader stepped forward, grinning like a man with a deathwish.

Well, at that moment, Daniel was very happy to oblige.

The man was big, very big, in a way Daniel had never been even at his peak; but he hadn’t let himself go too badly to seed, and the element of surprise and a pair of swift feet were enough to switch their positions. Suddenly, it was the thug who hit the glass with a resounding crack, and it was Daniel’s blade at his throat, Daniel watching him without compassion. Strength would barely matter here – if the man moved an inch, it would be very, very unfortunate for his throat. “My debts are paid,” Daniel stated firmly. “I think, my good man, that you should run along and tell Mr. Farson, don’t you?”

A moment where their eyes met, and it could have gone in either direction, then Farson’s “hired help” nodded. Daniel stepped back, consciously not sheathing the blade – he let it rest in his hand, at his side, deceptively casually. He breathed a sigh of relief when the other man walked (not quite a run; too proud for that, Daniel supposed) swiftly from the scene.

Daniel managed to sheathe the sword before he bent over, holding a trembling hand to his back, his eyes watering. He had to steady himself by putting a hand to the window, and he noticed belatedly that the glass was rough under his fingers.

He looked up to see a brutal, scrawled web of cracks where the thug had hit the window, and was unsure whether to feel guilty or very, very pleased. Straightening after a long moment, breathing heavily and wiping blood from his mouth, he began the long, limping walk home.

Amelia looked up as he entered the door, and he could determine only too well from her wide eyes and the sudden tremble in her hands what he looked like. Then her eyes turned hard, and she marched up to him, pulling the coat aside and glaring at the sword. “You shouldn’t be carrying it,” she told him curtly, and he nodded, distantly wondering whether there was blood on his moustache.

She was right, of course. Those days were over, and it wasn’t exactly an ordinary thing to have on one’s person. He opened his mouth to try and explain, but before a word came out of his mouth she had his coat off, hanging it by the door, and was unfastening the sword from his hip with familiar ease. She pushed him into an armchair, and he complied, sinking into it with a sigh and watching the fire.

That was, until she came into his view, her eyes shining far, far too brightly in the firelight. “You knew Farson’s books were corrupt as rot. You knew and yet you worked for him… bought from him this house…” She gestured around them, the motion despairing. “You knew this would happen. He had to be seeking payment, and yet…”

He took it upon himself to say… something, then, and his reply was quiet. “No longer. Some of his men… visited me, tonight. I had been expecting it…” He waved a hand at the sword. “Not unprepared, no, yet surprised.”

She looked at the blade and then to him, the question phrased in her eyes.

“No,” he sighed, “no blood was spilled. It was… closer than I would have liked, however. I doubt they will be bothering us again.” He closed his eyes, exhaling heavily before he could open them again. “Forgive me.”

She glanced upwards, as if she could see the children where they were sleeping, and then at him, levelly and clearly, the fire and the war reflected in her gaze. She took the chair opposite, resumed her knitting, and then replied quietly, “Always.”

Just a little scene that entered my head (unremarkably, from a crack made by a football close to where I live – no exciting story there). This also fits into the fictional universe of Something Wicked, if you want it to, but it’s a completely separate story.

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Big status post: All quiet on the WordPress front… or, not dead. Honestly.

  • There will be more from Melinda, List and Mary – they’re just too much fun, and get too much of a good response, to stop writing – and the mystery/saga of Miss L. Barber, parts 1 and 1.5 will be continued.
  • I think I will be laying Still Life to rest, at least for now: though a labour of love, I’ve sort of lost the drive to continue it and want to make room for a slightly newer project in the works. It feels a little too young-adult-specific  to fit in with the stuff I’m currently working on. Violet, Seth and Sofia will get a proper send-off, and it will be soon.
  • Something Wicked, the story that has always been least prioritised on the list and most sporadically updated, will continue, at its own odd, slightly-too-leisurely pace. I like Arthur too much to abandon him.

I have been writing, there hasn’t been a block – it’s simply that it’s either not been good enough to post (I felt, and the WordPress is for the better stuff, not for posting word diarrhoea) or been too far ahead in a story to post without spoiling readers for good, fun future plot.

For those who are new and/or wondering what the hell I’m talking about, this page may be handy.

Character profiles

I’ve written some reasonably detailed character bios for pretty much everyone from Past Lives, Still Life, and Something Wicked.

If you read any of the stories on this site, you may be interested – there are things such as List’s terrible singing and Seth’s card-shuffling – so take a look at the Characters page. There’s also a link at the top bar, for easy finding. Enjoy!

Something Wicked: Chapter Two

And the word is… finally! This story had been giving me a terrible case of writer’s block, but it seems to have retreated, so here’s chapter two. Chapter one can be found by clicking on the “Something Wicked” category. Anyway, simply put, this is a tribute to Victoriana, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Lovecraftian horror. All stereotypes are intentional. Enjoy.

Two

{In which we meet the young woman running for her life, and there is a beast.}

On reflection, Anne decided, coming here had been a terrible idea. She should never have succumbed to temptation.

The beast behind her seemed to agree, but – of course, she thought bitterly – said nothing, made no sound of any kind. It was silent.

That was the thing, she observed as she ran desperately down Berginion Street, terrified of tripping in the dim gaslight; it always was. She had managed to hide, a brief respite, but then it had caught her scent once more; it had been tailing her impossibly fast and in silence, constant silence, for several minutes now, and she was exhausted. Every breath was a labour, dragging itself burning and harsh from her lungs, and her steps were less frequent now – her legs were beginning to fail her, and would absolutely if she didn’t find rest. She cursed her skirts through clenched teeth, running onwards.

She only halted when she collided with an immaculately polished set of silver buttons.

There was a winded, inelegant “oof!” which she eventually realised had been another’s as well as hers; she looked up to discover that the buttons had a wearer, an astonished-looking fellow who couldn’t be more than twenty.

“Pardon me – ” he began hastily, but she shook her head and raised a finger to her lips, glancing fearfully behind her. All she saw was murky, rained-upon street, and the air seemed to have inexplicably… lightened, somehow.

Well, not inexplicably; her pursuer seemed to have gone, if only for now. The palpable change in the street around her told her so.

She looked back to the man – the officer – in front of her, smiling brightly at him.

He simply gazed at her, wide-eyed, still seeming baffled by this sudden development; it took him a few moments to open his mouth, and when he did, it was only to let out a hesitant “er”, the sole sound in the street.

She offered a hand, and he stared at it, still unspeaking. No, ladies simply didn’t shake hands with men, but she had narrowly escaped being devoured by an ageless monster; there was no time for etiquette.

He gingerly took her hand, shaking it, and then looked to her face. He met her eye. “Arthur,” he declared, with the smallest hint of a smile, before quickly adding, “Moorham. Constable Arthur Moorham.”

“Anne,” she replied, reclaiming her hand as gently as she was able to.

A pause; he watched her with a furrowed brow, and he phrased the question in concerned tones. “You seem… shaken. Is anything bothering you?”

He hadn’t seen what was chasing her, and there was no way to explain – no way to explain easily, at any rate. Her smile faltered. “I…” She swallowed. “Is there anywhere I can find a good cup of tea?”

A whole smile this time, small but most definitely there, and he said casually, “Mine are widely known for their quality. I spend enough time making them for my superiors.”

She let out a small laugh; it was a weak joke, but better than none, as was any hint of generosity. She was surprised when he didn’t show her to the station, and it must have been written upon her face; “Raylesleigh,” he said shortly by way of explanation, which didn’t help her befuddlement at all. He gestured further up the street from where they were standing. “My home has an acceptable kettle, but if there is a problem…?” His eyes and voice were nervous, the worry behind them clear. He intended nothing disreputable for either of them, and seemed to be trying desperately to communicate that.

She made up her mind, already fairly confident in his character. “Not at all,” she replied, and began to follow him, her curiosity piqued.

Something Wicked: Chapter One

One

{In which there is a mystery, and a young man attempts to escape his mother.}

The night on Berginion Street was a quiet one, few sounds except the patter of rain breaking the silence. The occasional footstep could also be heard.

The owner of a set of these footsteps, one Arthur Moorham, trudged dejectedly along the pavement. His mother’s words rang in his ears, her usual screeching tones rattling around his brain.

“You could have been a doctor!”

“I sincerely doubt…”

“A… a… an officer!”

“Not ex – exactly.”

He had attempted to reason with her, of course.

“Mother, it isn’t the worst job….”

“Your aims are below your means, boy!”

He briefly raised his eyes heavenwards. Boy. He was technically a man by now, of eighteen-and-three-quarters, and his mother always seemed to be telling him that he should find his place.

Perhaps he had. He had certainly told her so, and her reaction had been one of scorn. “With the police? Pah!”

He pulled his helmet lower over his brow, lip twisting slightly at the thought of reporting to Raylesleigh.

Detective Inspector Raylesleigh was a moustached, rather loud man, with a liking for vintage whiskey and a rather unfortunate tendency, when in conversation, to spit on people rather than speak to them. He also insisted that the current generation were a good-for-nothing, molly-coddled bunch of boys, something which irritated Arthur both greatly and frequently.

Arthur let out a barely audible sigh, the station now in sight, and headed towards the sanctuary within its lit windows. Behind him, a young woman stumbled through the pouring rain, running for her life.

He walked on.

Raylesleigh was leaning back in his chair, feet on his desk and pipe in his mouth. His moustache twitched slightly as he smoked, wisps from the tobacco curling and fading in the air.

He looked up as he heard Arthur quietly close the door. “Well, boy?” he asked, not bothering to sit up and look at his younger colleague.

Arthur exhaled tightly at the man’s dismissive address, hastily removing his helmet and tucking it under an arm; he brushed away a few damp locks of hair still sticking to his forehead and attempted to correct his posture, still staring at the floor.”Nothing, sir.”

Now Raylesleigh did sit up, fixing Arthur with a basilisk glare, and the younger officer instinctively took a step back. “Seven disappearances. Seven have been reported in the last fortnight, and you have found nothing of any use?”

“Nothing, sir,” Arthur repeated quietly, then added, “No-one has witnessed them, their families could think of no reason why they would…” He swallowed.

It was rare for an investigation to be conducted into missing persons, but seven disappearances, all within two streets of each other, none with any apparent reason? All but two of those gone had been happily married, without financial troubles or a cloudy demeanour. All this… it seemed nothing short of suspicious.Unfortunately, he also had a feeling that Raylesleigh’s devotion to the case had little to do with concern for those lost; perhaps, instead, more to do with the generous amount of money one of the women from the better-off families had slipped him, with a plea to return their boy.

He wondered whether he should report it, but was sure it would do little good, and if it hastened the search…

Somewhere in his mind, he noticed that Raylesleigh continued to berate him, the officer exclaiming, “There are times I think myself surrounded by incompetence!” The man paused for a moment before adding helpfully, “Ineptitude and stupidity also.” He sat back, returning his attention to a newspaper on his desk.

Arthur stood before him, slightly mystified. After a few seconds of directing a questioning look at the front page of The Times, he cautiously cleared his throat.

Raylesleigh took a hand from the newspaper, causing it to sag down onto his chest, and imperiously waved him out.

Arthur obeyed, exiting the office with a hung head, and stepped back into the downpour; with the decision that an early night and a cup of tea might be in order, he began to make his way to his mother’s house.

A few feet away, in a dark, rain-soaked alley, seven disappearances quietly became eight.

Something Wicked

So… I decided that there were a serious lack of Victorian policeman-vs.-monster epics in my life, and had an idea. (I suspect it’s a combination of exam stress finally making me lose my tenuous grip on sanity, my recent interest in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and a Sherlock Holmes overdose.) This is written as a tribute to a genre, really, and I think it shows (all stereotypes are intentional, because I’m delighting in them – right down to the shrieking harpy of a mother, the moustached veteran, the cups of tea, and the… er, rain).

Arthur Moorham is simply trying to earn a living and impress his superior officer. However, an odd woman seems to be following him, and there might just be something very nasty underneath the police station…

Something Wicked will be posted here chapter by chapter as it’s written, so feel free to take a look.