So, in honour of it being Friday, here’s the first chapter of my NaNo project. It’s labouring under the title ‘Emmeline and the Ice-God’ right now, but make no mistake: that cannot last. It is a mere placeholder for a title so brilliant it will turn the brains of all who read it into lumps of solid gold – but that title has yet to reveal itself to me, alas.
Also, I beg your indulgence. This is a first draft, and it’s an idea which I haven’t fully plotted out yet, and so bubbles – like those in freshly hung wallpaper – are inevitable. Be kind.
*Batman not included
Emmeline and the Ice-God
From an early age, Emmeline Widget had been certain her parents were trying to kill her. Oh, they weren’t blatant about it, of course – there was none of this ‘surprise! Here’s a dagger in your breakfast!’ carry-on – but the signs were there, all the same. For a start, they insisted on living in a crumbly old house with a multitude of staircases – hidden and otherwise – all of which had at least one trick step which led, pretty quickly and rather painfully, to the cold stone basement floors and floors below. As well as that, there were an indeterminate number of rooms, and sometimes Emmeline even felt sure extra ones appeared out of thin air merely to be troublesome. She’d lost count of the amount of times she’d dodged falling picture frames, each of them heavy enough to crush her flat, or hopped out of the path of toppling suits of armour big enough to fit a giant. Because of all this, she never went anywhere inside her house – not even to the bathroom, not even for a pee – without a flashlight, a ball of twine and a short, stout stick.
Outside wasn’t much better. The garden was overgrown to the point that entire buildings – the summerhouse, the boat house, and the greenhouse – were lost forever amid the foliage, and a roaring river ran right at the end of their garden, sweeping past with all the imperiousness of a diamond-encrusted duchess. Emmeline lived in fear of falling in, so much so that she never ventured outside without a long-bladed knife (for taming the trees), a flare-gun and an inflatable life preserver (really a large hot water bottle, but let’s not nit-pick.)
Because of all this, Emmeline spent a lot of time in her room, reading. Wouldn’t you? I know I would. She had a lot of reading to do, too – her parents had never bothered to engage a governess for her, you see, and so she’d never been to school. She’d reminded them once, when she was about six, that she was entirely lacking in the education department, and they’d promised her the best teachers money could buy, but Emmeline was still waiting. So, she read whatever she pleased. She’d devoured H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells by her third birthday, and had moved on to digest Dickens and Hawthorne and Austen and all the Brontes by four; by five, she’d decided she needed a rest from all the heavy stuff and had read nothing but books about sparkly-hooved unicorn princesses for an entire year, despite the fact that they bored her silly. Now, at nine and two-thirds, she was coming to realise that the only way to read the book she most wanted to read would be to write it herself, which meant that wherever she ventured – Outside or In – she carried her journal with her, too. Thick and bound in leather, with a gold lock, Emmeline would rather have gone without socks than to be separated from it.
All of these necessities, of course, meant that she was never without her large and rather bulky satchel, either, but she never let that stand in her way.
And it probably hasn’t escaped your attention – for you’re one of those readers who never misses a trick, I can tell already – that Emmeline didn’t have very many friends. There was the household staff, including Watt (the butler) and Mrs Mitchell the cook, but of course they didn’t really count, because they were always telling her what to do and where to go and not to put her dirty feet on that clean floor, thank you very much. Her parents were forever at work, or away, or off at conferences, or entertaining – which Emmeline hated, because sometimes she’d be called upon to wear an actual dress and smile and pretend to be something her mother called ‘light-hearted’, which she could never understand – and so she spent a lot of time on her own. This suited her fine.
One day, then, when Emmeline came down to breakfast and found that her parents weren’t there, she didn’t even blink an eye. She hauled her satchel up onto the chair next to her and rummaged through it for her book, glad to have a few moments of quiet reading time before her mother started finding fault with her again.
She was so engrossed in the story that she didn’t even look up when Watt slunk into the room bearing a small silver platter in his neatly gloved hands, upon which a small white envelope was sitting. He bent at the waist, also neatly (because when you’re a butler, everything you do is neat) and left it down in front of Emmeline, who finished reading right to the end of the chapter before she looked up and noticed that she had received a piece of Very Important Correspondence.
‘What on earth is this?’ she asked the now-empty room. All the answer she got was the gentle pock-pock-pock of the clock as it ticked away the seconds.
She fished around in her satchel for her bookmark, and carefully placed it between the leaves of her book. Carefully, she closed the book and slid it gently into the satchel again, where it glared up at her reproachfully until she flipped the satchel closed.
‘I promise I’ll be back to finish you later,’ she reassured it. ‘Once I figure out who could possibly want to write to me.’ She frowned at the small white envelope, still lying on its silver platter, which was very clearly addressed to Miss Emmeline Widget. Private and Confidential, it added, for good measure.
Just because it happened to be addressed to her, though, didn’t mean she should be so silly as to actually open it.
But, said another little voice in her head, it’s the first time in all my life that anything has ever been delivered, just for me…
In the silence of the large, empty room, Emmeline flipped open her satchel again. From its depths, she produced a tiny, stoppered bottle, within which a viciously blue liquid was just about contained. She carefully tipped the bottle until one solitary drop hung on its lip, and then – very very carefully – she let the drop fall onto the envelope.
‘Hmm,’ she said, raising an eyebrow. ‘That’s odd.’
The liquid didn’t smoke, or fizz, or explode in a cloud of sparkle, or indeed do anything at all. It just sat there, like a splodge of ink, partially obscuring her name. Now, the letter appeared to be addressed to someone named Emme Idget, which, Emmeline felt, wasn’t a much better name than her own.
‘If you’re not poisoned,’ reasoned Emmeline, quickly putting away the bottle (for its fumes could cause dizziness in enclosed spaces, like breakfast rooms), ‘then what are you?’
In the side pocket of her satchel, Emmeline always carried a pair of thick gloves. She put these on, and then she picked up – with some difficulty, it has to be pointed out – her small butterknife. With this knife, she carefully slit the letter open, keeping it at all times away from her face.
A thick sheet of creamy paper slid out of the envelope and onto the silver platter, followed by a stiff piece of card bearing gold embossed writing. Emmeline, who’d been holding her breath in case the act of opening the envelope had released some sort of brain-shredding gas, spluttered as the first line of the letter caught her eye. As quickly as she could, given that she was wearing gloves more suited to cutting down brambles than reading letters, she put aside the piece of card and grabbed the letter, trying to be sure her eyes hadn’t been adversely affected by any sort of poison or concoction, and she’d read what she thought she’d read.
Here is what the first line of the letter said:
Dearest Emmeline, it began. If you are reading this note, then in all likelihood, you are now an orphan.
*cloak flourish* To Be Continued…