Tag Archives: orphaned child

NaNo, NaNo, NaNo, NaNo, Batman!*

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

Image: agefotostock.com

Image: agefotostock.com

Emmeline and the Ice-God

1

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.

She had.

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…


Wednesday Write-In #50

This week’s words were:

recycled  ::  hindsight  ::  manic  ::  pair  ::  button up

Image: askmen.com

Queen, Mother

Looking back, my mother’s struggle becomes very clear. I always knew when she was going through a bad time; I just didn’t know what to call it, then. The first sign was her lips – when they disappeared, I knew it was time to batten down the hatches. Then her eyes would start to bulge, and she may as well have had her thoughts – zip, zip, zip, zip, zipzipzipzipzipzizizizizip – projected onto her forehead for me to see, a jumble of colours and shapes and sounds that had meaning only for her. All I was sure of was that her mind was somewhere else, somewhere that loved her, in its own way, and liked to keep hold of her just as much as I did.

It was just the two of us. Sisters-in-arms, Mum liked to call us. Dad was long gone. I could never imagine his face in colour because all we had of him was a single black and white exposure which sat in a frame on the hall table, but at least he was smiling in it. He had teeth and hair and perfectly crinkled crows’ feet, just like an old-time movie star. I used to stare at him for hours, wondering how someone who looked like him could have made someone who looked like me.

She woke me up early, that morning, so early the sky was the colour of metal and the birds were still asleep. Come on, she said. Let’s do something wonderful. My eyes stung as I slid out of bed and followed her to her room. She’d taken out every stitch of clothing she owned and laid it neatly on her bed, the floor, the top of her chest of drawers… everything was folded, and perfect, and precise. I helped her pack it all away into her rolling suitcase and as many plastic bags as we thought we could carry, and off we went to donate it, every bit, to the war effort.

We’d been trudging for an hour, my arms almost dislocated from their sockets, before I thought to ask her what war? And what could they possibly want with my mother’s old underwear?

Her legs were so long, and her stride so elegant. She walked like a queen – I shall always remember that! – her suitcase behind her like a lady-in-waiting. She was so fast, and when she talked to herself, she never remembered to talk to me. I struggled after her, listening for the clopclopclop of her shoes, doing my best to carry heavy bags of coats and dresses and nightgowns, all of them bearing her scent. I remember her tall and slender back, disappearing. Distantly, absently, I heard the squeal of brakes, but by the time I caught up, there was a small crowd gathered, and they wouldn’t let me near.

The woman who came back home with me to collect my things was very kind. She explained how I couldn’t live here any more, but that soon I’d have a new home and family, and they’d love me very much. She wouldn’t answer when I asked her how mother would find me; she just folded her lips around one another like she was sealing an envelope, and concentrated on getting me into my coat. We were in such a hurry that I almost walked by Dad without remembering to bring him. Wait! I said, stretching back to grab him. My father! The lady took the photo from me and looked at it. Your father? But that’s… Then, her face unravelled, and she smiled down at me as she handed back the tiny frame. Come along, darling, she said. Bring Daddy, and then let’s go.

I left the photograph lying face down on the hall table as we closed the door on an empty house, my mother’s perfume still hanging in the air.

Image credit: askmen.com