Saturday, 26 January 2013

Writers' Circle Post - January 2013

Zero

When it first began, there was no sense of panic. No rise of bile in our throats with each drum beat. We didn't flinch at each word that left her lips. Each syllable that condensed between her teeth was met with fresh wonder. To begin with.

...Eighty four, eighty three, eighty two...

She was six when her mother died. A violent death, the details of which we could not ascertain. The records had been burned. An accident, they said. Though no one could be certain, even now. Her father took to drink soon after. Cirrhosis claimed him within a year.

A bachelor uncle was forced to mind her. Most put out, he was, having been so suddenly burdened with such a child as she. Such scarlet eyes and furrowed brows and the smoulder of coals about her face. Such hollowed eyes, dark and haunted, like the space where eyes should be. Like the collapse of two identical stars. Like the sockets of a skull. But still, he made use of her. And she learnt how to be silent.

...Sixty one, sixty, fifty nine...

She came to us in April. Her uncle was gone. A short, sudden illness had claimed his heart. The ventricles blackened beyond repair, shrivelled and dead. Quite strange, really, that such damage could occur in so short a space of time. The cause was unknown. So the child was left alone once more. Like an amputated limb.

We spent most of our time out of doors that Spring. Although it was warm, the tulips opened late. Their petals were still coyly folded when she came to us. Curled at their soft edges, concealing their quivering stamens, with the false modesty of courtesans. The blossom from the trees in the street blew in through the window and settled on the piano in our study. The pink looked pleasing against the black and white. We wanted it to be a new start for her. We wanted to see her smile.

Despite all our encouragement, she wouldn't speak. An elective mute. The first time the house had seen a child in ten years, yet things had never been so quiet. Marie was barely twelve years old then, but her face was lined, like ancient cartography paper. And grey as if covered in dust.

There was nothing then. All Spring and through into Summer we felt her cold eyes on the backs of our necks. It was grief, we told each other: she is bereft. We must try to understand. Adoption is almost like having one's own child, except, that it isn't. Not really. A flesh-born infant is always more desirable than a foundling. We tried our best to love her just the same as we had loved our own child, all those years before. Just the same. If not more so. But she was not a perfect fit. The years and the damp of our eyes had warped the wood. Moonlight seeped in through the cracks.

She had been with us for six months when she began to chant. As I have said, we did not fear her. Not at the start. It is normal, the doctors stated, for victims of trauma like hers. They warned of cyphers, riddles, nonsense. Speaking in tongues. The words would come soon enough, the doctors said. We must be patient.

...Forty nine, forty eight, forty seven...

When the count down did not cease, we were afraid. Slowly, rhythmically, she issued the prophesy all her waking hours. The counting was unbroken by sleep. She dreamed of the numbers. A slow metronome. Time winding down. We consulted forgotten bibles; not yet completely cured of religion. We were still slaves to our upbringings. I suppose we all are.

We tried to silence her.

...thirty one, thirty, twenty nine...

I wanted to love her as my own. She was not born of my flesh, how could she be? I wanted to love her just the same. But she is so cold. She wants to punish me for what I did.

We could not grow accustomed to her, as people suggested we might. We hated her with each word that escaped, unbidden, from her lips. Like a leak. A heartbeat. The timer on a bomb.

...seventeen, sixteen, fifteen...

We do not know what will happen when she reaches the end of her puzzle. Maybe she will begin the count afresh? We do not discuss it. We don't talk much, these days. The air is thick with words, oppressive, like the heady scent of chlorine gas. We argue in hushed tones, locked behind bathroom doors, the panelling muffling her voice. We barely touch one another now. We used to be so strong. Now every utterance is forced and false. We are desperate for the end. We pray to God that it will never come.

...Three, two, one...

7 comments:

  1. I really like the sense of darkness and foreboding you build through the piece.

    Have you read any Lovecraft yet? I suggest:
    "Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" and "The Statement of Randolph Carter" as your tale puts me in mind of these.

    While the story leave me wanting more it does so in a way that satisfy me, at least in that it makes me understand my imagination is the end to the story. Does that make any sense what so ever?

    I suppose what I am saying is while I would adore to see the world expanded I like how it encourages me to interact and connect the dots. I got a greater sense of story satisfaction with this than some of your previous entries, perhaps this is down to more rewriting and editing?

    I like the timelessness. They could be a well to do couple from present or a Victorian couple, you keep it open. Actually I don't know if they had chlorine then? Anyway I think you did a good job of keeping it general enough for many many people to relate.

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  2. Your dog dies, your boiler breaks and the phone rings in some bad news. You indulge an idiot in a senseless argument or shock – horror, you find no time to submerge yourself into a story because you’re too busy plotting your own. These are the distractions and pitfalls fate sends us and they never let up. It takes something like this to pull us out of the chaos that is our lives:
    ‘When it first began, there was no sense of panic. No rise of bile in our throats with each drum beat.’
    Now, I like this so much because as an opening line a promise has been made to the reader that a) something dreadful has begun and built in its horror over sometime b)the event was the type that crept up on its victims.
    The rest of the paragraph doesn’t disappoint; the unqualified threat given the form of a girl. I began thinking about fairytales and how young girls are often the heroine and not the vilified menace. So, a great twist on an archetypal role commenced wrapping itself about my inner eye!

    What violent death took the girl’s mother? What role – if any – did her father have to play? Ha, those mysteries are well placed in the story since the mythos of the girl ought to throw up answers rather than questions. In my mind that’s how you make something scary…the lack of details give a barely seen monster its true fangs: the deepest bites should always be in the readers imagination. Long before the actual physical violence begins, get those people who’ve turned off the telly to read between the lines. Assault the minds that have gathered around your piece with words with barbed intentions, prose that communicates as your own incisive folklore. Yes, the tale is so rich and crisp that it feels like a story written hundreds of years ago. This is the kind of narrative that is designed to play upon the irrational fears we have of children, the demonising parts of the collective psyche that often rears its head in twenty first century West Africa.

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  3. There is a very real possibility that the child is simply autistic and is in the care of people too superstitious to cope. I prefer the child being an evil-Satan-doomsday-clock-made-flesh.

    I’d love for the implication of the child being brought up in a small township. It isn’t really there is it? It’s just my fascination with a small town ostracising a strange innocent, a pet subject of mine encroaching upon your tale. That’s a prism I’ve decided to view it through…consider that slant for my contribution to the tales betterment.

    The next line is damn good:

    ‘A bachelor uncle was forced to mind her. Most put out, he was, having been so suddenly burdened with such a child as she.’

    DO the foster parents consider the child so evil, such an emotional load that should she relate any abuse by the hands of her uncle, well…perhaps such maltreatment is justified?

    ‘But still, he made use of her. And she learnt how to be silent.’

    Seems like he beat her into silence. Fear again, controlling perception not only of the child but also on how society (in this case her guardians) is warranted in her upbringing.
    The child being left alone again only forces the locked in the attic scenario that movies, books and sensationalist news constantly grants us.

    ‘So the child was left alone once more. Like an amputated limb.’
    There are numerous ways in which the child’s oddity is compared to undesirable images. This one motif of physical disrepair works because not only is an amputated limb useless, it’s not something you keep. You bury the severed limb. You discard an amputees leg. However, like a ghost limb, the body can’t quite forget what was once there. The child is a phantom that the family, for all its judgemental methodology cannot skilfully jettison.

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  4. I’ve forgotten all about contacting Sim for a catch up on his Geek night because I must must must pour praise over the lines:
    ‘The blossom from the trees in the street blew in through the window and settled on the piano in our study. The pink looked pleasing against the black and white. We wanted it to be a new start for her. We wanted to see her smile.’

    Such a vain and self-promoting lot. Without much recourse to action they suggest that even the earth has fallen in line with their effort to welcome Marie. Fantastic and flawless writing here from Leanne!
    ‘Adoption is almost like having one's own child, except, that it isn't. Not really. A flesh-born infant is always more desirable than a foundling. We tried our best to love her just the same as we had loved our own child, all those years before.’

    For a moment I want to believe that Marie’s new carers have tried to understand her. Perhaps they doth protest too much? Maybe they were always prejudiced against Marie, for she was adopted as a replacement part of the family unit, not a new person but a limb to offset the loss of an old one. Great writing, and here is my fav part:
    ‘The years and the damp of our eyes had warped the wood. Moonlight seeped in through the cracks.’

    ‘We consulted forgotten bibles; not yet completely cured of religion. We were still slaves to our upbringings.’

    Consider changing the line to cured of the old religion. Did we talk of the Village last Saturday? Is this place where Marie lives a similar setting? Has my wish for the foster parents to be people so bemused by autism that they react to Marie’s history as though she were a demon? I hope so. The doctors that try to rationalise Marie’s affliction should then advise some straying into the old books then as a setting like this would allow for medicine and spiritualism to helix. Just another suggestion. What do you think?

    I want to know how many numbers she counts a day. The time it would take to finish shouldn’t be that long, right? I think I could be mistaken, but I take it the logic is that as we read we are witnessing the last few moments before she reaches…you know.

    ‘We hated her with each word that escaped, unbidden, from her lips. Like a leak. A heartbeat. The timer on a bomb.’

    I couldn’t hate a heartbeat. Oh and try ‘the cocking of a gun’ instead of ‘The timer on a bomb.’ Actually no, the time relates close to numbers. Numbers leading down to…

    Well, you know.

    Well done Leanne! Now please people, don’t be dickheads and read this work without leaving a comment. Forget checking your FB Homefeed for a second. Do you really need to see another picture of someone’s dinner/holiday snap/pet-cat-sprawling-spread-eagled-with-a-witty caption…again?

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  5. No matter how trivial or how nightmarish your day has been, take a moment out to comment on the story above. Took me right out of the last session fundraising in Stratford I can tell you.

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  6. I like this count-down suspense thiller thing you have here. ...Im not sure if its a possesed kid of just some freaked out foster parents. ^_^
    The countdown gives it a sense of urgency and the expectation that the number counting is in someway relevent, but is it? as the end leaves us with no clue I'm going with 'the parents/narator were just freaking out'

    ^_^

    This piece conjours up images of The Omen, Carrie The Shinning and the odd Hitcock scene though I dont think there were any refferences to theme the general feeling is/was the same.

    Good stuff

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  7. Thank you all for your comments, you're very sweet to pick up on the confusion over whether the problems lies with a demonic child or foster parents with over-active imaginations. I usually like to leave a story on a cliffhanger, do you think that this works in this case? Or does the extended build up mean that you're left frustrated by the ending? Do you think there should be more build up? And is there too much exposition surrounding the child's past?

    I haven't yet been able to read Lovecraft, and I've never seen (or read) The Omen, Carrie, or The Shining. Often though, I think these iconic stories filter down to us through pop culture references, and I'm sure that'd the case here. Do you think the story borrows too heavily from these other horror classics, and if so, do you have any ideas as to how I could make it more original?

    Thanks guys! -x-

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