Pick and mix (part 1) sian ink

I was going through my files, and I have a few stories (most incomplete), practice pieces, that have been lingering on my computer. I can’t think of where to put them, so I thought I’d settle them down here. They’re quite long, so I’ll dish them out in palatable chunks…see if anyone finds them tasty. If they are, then I might carry on with them. At the very least, I hope they entertain…or be a prod to get me back into them.

Her voice was cracked and roughened with age—it was barely a rasp—but somehow it filled the tearoom, smothering all sound, save for my own thumping heart. The emotion pouring out behind the words was enough to silence the grate of cup against saucer and the clink of cutlery, and for a moment, her voice was the roar of a gale in my ear.

Soon, the gay chatter and clatter returned, but just as shutting a door does not end the storm, so this return to normality did not soothe my mind.

Her green eyes, still so keen despite her years, were fixed upon me, and there wasn’t despair or hope in that gaze, but a determination. She wasn’t pleading with me, she was demanding an answer. I doubted her story as it stood would be suitable to catch the public imagination, but she was paying rather well for the services of a ghost writer, and the money would fill my pocket as nicely as another’s.

My gaze drifted to the three, black, leather notebooks on the table. The leather was worn and the spines heavily creased; numerous markers stuck out like bunting, and I could see that the yellowed pages within were dog-eared and well-thumbed. This wasn’t an old woman’s idle fancy; it was a life’s work. I had nothing to lose and a handsome bonus to win. Joyce was away for the month, seeing friends in Europe, and my play was into its third season, so I had the space and time to tackle the task potentially being discharged to me.

So it was that later, after seeing the elderly widow back to her hotel, I sat nursing a Dalwhinnie at home, staring at the three books resting on the low table. There was the familiar thrill of something new, the tension stirring beneath the skin, the burn of something requiring quenching. I hadn’t realised how I’d longed for this and how long I’d denied missing this.

It was late when I slowly, thoughtfully, slid the book back onto the table. I glanced at the others, but my discomforted gaze slipped from the black covers. My stomach churned, and the delight that had buoyed me evaporated in the crucible of my reading, leaving a heavy foul residue in my soul. I shuddered and rose to pour another drink. I needed the warmth.

The widow had provided details about the books, and I knew—or thought I did—what it entailed. But to read it! I took another deep swallow. And those notes in the margins!—strange glyphs, looping and curling along the edges of the pages as if sealing, trapping, the hideous words upon the page. As a macabre tale, the story was without equal…but the idea…the possibility that it was based on fact. No! Even if she had looked me in the eye and assured me truth were penned on those age-yellowed pages, it just couldn’t be.

The drink was blurring the edges, and my mind became more amenable, maybe for safety’s sake, to the idea of it being a horror story, one to dazzle the rather bored audiences of late. I knew they craved something to challenge their sense of safety—for the one hundred minutes within a gloomy theatre, at least. The widow had given me leave to take what I wanted from the books; all she wanted was the work tidied and…and there was something else, but I failed to condense the sensation into something I could grasp.

The clock upon the mantle ticked away, almost declaring each wasted second, but I wouldn’t rush—even when softened by drink—into this. It was too…big. If I were to delve into the strange and complicated story of Jakob Vanderhoos, then I wanted to make sure I could find my way out. Frustrated with the consistent tick, I went to gather the books, but I hesitated, my fingertips barely brushing the dark cover. I would sleep and consider my plan in the morning, as haste would no doubt be the ruin of me.

I slept without interruption, which surprised me, as I had expected a night of nightmares and bouts of sleeplessness, but still and despite this, I was not rested. I felt as though some weight tugged at my mind and limbs. The weather seemed to complement my mood: dark grey sky and a chill strong wind. From my window, I saw every attempt to keep me in my home, but I knew I had to seek advice. My unease had grown, and my hand trembled as I lifted my cup. I was caught on the edge of something vast: either literary or terrifying.

The ride lasted most of the morning, and I was feeling miserable when I alighted from the train onto a dismal and empty platform. Rain dripped from the eaves of the waiting room, and thin rivers gurgled across the smooth stone. I hadn’t contacted my aunt that I would be visiting, which more than anything highlighted how erratic my thoughts had become. As such, no cab waited for me, so I trekked to the village, dancing around puddles and wincing as rain slipped down my collar. Luckily, the village wasn’t too far from the station, and after twenty minutes, I entered the outskirts, greeted by merry cottages and neatly walled gardens, and of course, the pub.

The sight of the whitewashed building cheered me, and it was with a lighter heart that I dropped my case and smiled at the receptionist. Within half an hour, I was in my room, a crackling fire warming me and a pot of tea to dispel the chill that had settled in my bones. I had sent one of the local boys with a note to my aunt, and I was feeling content. I knew my aunt kept a busy schedule—her kind of mind needed constant stimulation—and so didn’t expect an answer before dinner.

Across from us, a young couple sat, eating their finger sandwiches and sipping tea, but I could see my aunt watching them with an almost pitying gaze. Could she see their future in the way they sat and deduce their unhappy end? A chill skittered down my spine. What would it be like to have the kind of mind that could piece together tiny fragments of someone’s life and complete it, laying it bare and naked for intense scrutiny? I couldn’t fathom it, but it made me conscious of what Aunt Jane thought of me. I watched her sip her tea and realised the fragility of secrets.