Read chapters 1-6 of The Zi'veyn, first of The Devoted trilogy, for free right here!
I'm also on Patreon!

Friday 19 November 2021

New Project Underway

      After completing The Devoted trilogy early this year, I'd already had my next book in mind for almost two years, so it hasn't been difficult to work out my next project!

     I began truly planning Sylvia (working title) in August, finished up around the end of September, then began work on origin stories to get to know the characters and their pasts. These have been shared on my Patreon. Then, on October 29th, I began work on the book itself.

     So far, I'm quite happy, and once the first five chapters have been written and edited, I'll be handing them over to my patrons to beta-read to help me get my eye back in. Otherwise, I'll be sharing more information on the story in the coming months.

     I will still be working on one unrelated short story a month, but life has recently taken a few big (but good!) turns, and I'm not sure what time is going to be like for a while. I'm going to have to work on my time management and practice being kind to myself (if I'm not working, I'm wasting time, and that's a good mindset if you want your brain to dribble out of your ears). But a balance can and will be struck,

     I'll be sharing snippets on my Patreon as I write, accessible by all tiers, and I'll have something new to announce some time after Christmas, too!

Monday 8 November 2021

The Door

Estimated read time: 17 minutes

      It took a long time for the old house in the overgrown forest to sell. It was pretty enough, but a fixer-upper, and that had always put people off. But someone brave had eventually seen it, seen what it could become, and took the plunge. Once the greenery was tamed and the walls and balconies repaired, it was beautiful. They had created something wonderful, something small, rustic and scenic, where people could get off the road and stay for a night or two without bedding down in their wagons or under trees. A 'motel', they'd called it, rather than 'inn', and that word alone drew people in.
     But it hadn't worked. The wrong partners, the wrong labourers; the wrong decisions. It was doomed from the start. Mismanaged. Dirty. Unstable. There were skeletons of all kinds where people couldn't see them. And it changed hands frequently; sometimes to those of someone bold, who could see what the first person had. But it never worked out. The house had always had bad energy; people always gave up and left. And it always drew unsavoury tenants. Or people who were hurting. Or people who were desperate and had nowhere else to go.
     Little Annie, daughter of one of its many owners, decided long ago that it was because of the Door. It only opened from one side, was visible from neither, and stood somewhere in the westmost room of the bottom floor. That door, she'd decided, was cursed. Bad things always got through. So did the cold, like a never-ending draft. A wintry cold - the kind that should've meant snow or ice outside, but lied. She hated that, always had; if it was cold, there should be snow. What was the point if you couldn't build snowmen or have snowball fights? Where was the fun? What was the point in anything if there wasn't any fun?
     That was the only reason she and her brother had investigated the door, but the fun had quickly run out, if it had even started. And, as long ago as that was, she still didn't really understand it. But she felt like she wasn't supposed to.
     So, she sought fun elsewhere, though the kind that came to this 'motel' wasn't the normal kind. Yule was nowhere to be seen. Nor Beltane, nor Lughnasadh, nor Samhain. But music was; people heading to festivals. So were games of chase, people running from or looking for other people, and treasure hunts - all kinds was stashed and hidden away in nooks and crannies. And there was a lot of wrestling, especially when doors were locked.
     So when the right kind of fun came around, Annie always liked to get involved, and dragged her big brother along in the process.

     Annie's voice strained as she reached to hang her length of string from an old nail near the ceiling. She didn't quite hook it, but that was okay. It stayed where it was anyway, just like the torn confetti she'd scattered through the air. They'd all stay exactly where she'd put them until they were taken down again. Everything in the old birthday box was like that; over-used but determined, happy to be a part of any celebration.
     "Is this all right?" Peter asked from across the room where he'd tied his length of the bunting. The question came with the usual bleak shadow in his voice. Every party always seemed to make him sad. "Pity", was all he'd say about it, and when Annie asked "what was", he just shook his head and told her not to worry. "It's not our problem."
     His glumness barely grazed her anymore. He was a barrel of fun otherwise. Everyone had their thing, and this was his.
     "Yes," she replied, peering backwards along the length of ribbons, "perfect!"
     "Why are we bothering?" He asked as he helped her down from the stack of boxes. "They won't see any of this."
     "Because," she replied simply, "it might help them if it goes wrong."
     He didn't reply beyond a grunt. For all his complaints, he always helped anyway.
     Annie stepped back and admired their work. Hands on her hips, she gave it a single, satisfied nod, then turned and repaid her brother with a hug. "I wish we had a cake, though."
     "I know, but there wouldn't be any point."
     The door latch moved again, silencing her protest, and the pair of them scrambled away to hide atop the wardrobe, even though Peter was almost as big. There, they watched the woman come back inside, beaming excitedly while another followed. Annie grinned as a smile spread across her face. "Funny sort of party, though," she whispered to her brother. "Just two people..."
     "Normal for this place."
     She squeezed his hand and grinned, wriggling happily beside him.

     "Decorating a room in an inn? Elisabeth, it's too much work for--"
     "Your birthday? I disagree." The first lady slipped into the other's arms and kissed her. "It might just be a quick stop-over, but it's worth it. Birthdays only come once a year!"
     "Yeah, every year."
     "Ugh, Rosemary--"
     "I'm kidding!" Rosemary kissed her again. "I love it." Then she let her go, closed the door, and began dividing bread, cheese and dried meat while Elisabeth lit candles from the fireplace. "I thought we'd stop at Rangeroak tomorrow - there's a huge field of white pumpkins I thought you'd like to see."
     'White pumpkins?' Annie mouthed to her brother, but he could only shrug.
     They watched the pair and waited for the party to start, but instead they both just sat down with their dinner and talked together beside the fire. So they waited. And they waited. And waited. Once it had gone black outside, boredom finally lured Annie to sleep. A clatter and screaming laugh in a room nearby jolted her back.
     Peter's hand rested softly on her shoulder before she could fall, and she found the two women right where she'd left them, bundled in a blanket and looking towards the window. It was a long few minutes before the tension left their shoulders.
     "This place is a shame," Rosemary murmured as she settled back against the other. "Maybe we should buy it, do it up. Do it justice. All it takes is the right pair of hands."
     "We have enough on our plate," Elisabeth replied, placing her hand gently on Rosemary's belly. "Can't be taking on anything else right now. Ooh, speaking of which..." She disentangled herself from the blanket and headed for the door. "I have something for you."
     "A gift? Elisabeth, we can't afford that!"
     "Oh hush, it's your birthday. And besides," a rush of cold air flooded in as she opened the door, sending Rosemary deeper into the wool, "it didn't cost me anything."
     "Oh. Then I'm not sure I want it."
     She rolled her eyes, took her coat and stepped out into the dark. "Gods save us if this baby has your sense of humour."
     "Then it will have a very happy life," Rosemary grinned while the latch clicked shut, then rose and left for the wash room.
     And Annie, with a weary puff, finally clambered down from the top of the wardrobe.

     "This," she sighed, straightening her dress and putting her little fists on her hips, "is unbelievably boring. These adults are the most useless at parties." She turned and peered up towards her bleary-eyed brother. "Come down, let's lea--"
     "Who are you?"
     Annie's voice caught with a squeak in her throat as the pair of them snapped wide-eyed towards the wash room, where Rosemary stood in a panic in the doorway, staring back at Annie.
     "And what are you doing in here?!"
     Annie blinked slowly. "You..." Then she cleared her throat, straightened, and turned to face her directly. "I'm helping."
     "Helping?" She stared on. "With what? And how did you get in?!"
     "Through the door..."
     "A while ago..."
     The woman moved into the room, looking warily from her, to the door, then the rest of the room. "I didn't...see you before..."
     "Of course you didn't. Because I was hiding." She pointed towards the top of the wardrobe. "Up there."
     She followed her finger. "How could you get up there?"
     "I climbed on the boxes."
     "...What boxes?"
     "Well they're not here..."
     "Not here? All of a sudden?" Her eyes sank back down and stared at her for a long while, thought moving rapidly across her face. But she didn't seem to land on anything she was happy with.
     Annie waited, hands held politely behind her back, but she clearly wasn't going to continue. "You look worried."
     "And you look pale. Are you all right?"
     "Oh," the giggle bubbled out, brushing a peculiar smile over the woman's lips, "I'm fine, thank you very much for asking."
     Then her dark eyebrows narrowed. "But?"
     "...Weeeell..." She sucked air in between her teeth. "I'm a bit...stuck."
     "Mhm. We both are."
     Peter then obediently stepped forwards. The woman flinched back in surprise. It seemed she hadn't spotted him yet, waiting behind the wardrobe.
     "Oh," she sighed, collecting herself. "Well," then she turned and moved towards the door. She'd barely touched the handle when Annie giggled again.
     "Not stuck in this room!"
     "Stuck in this place."
     "This place?" She asked. "You mean the building? You're not allowed out? Are your parents the owners?"
     "Annie," Peter said firmly, "stop."
     "Annie," the woman said carefully, judging the charge in the young man's stare, "is that your name?"
     "Yep! And this is Peter, my big brother. We go everywhere together!"
     The same smile flickered back across her face, and her hand moved to her tummy. "That's nice."
     "It is, isn't it?" Annie beamed. "I annoy him, but he likes me really. And when I got stuck here, he came after me!"
     Then a frown pushed aside the woman's smile, but before her next question could leap from her lips, a voice rose from outside. She sent the both of them a deliberate look. "Wait. Here." Then she turned, opened the door and stepped outside.
     Peter took Annie quickly by the shoulder. "What are you doing?" His voice was dangerously low.
     But his tone didn't touch her. "She," she snatched herself back, "could help us. She can see--"
     Rosemary came back inside, grabbed a set of keys from a table and tossed them down from the balcony. Then she returned to them. "You shouldn't be here."
     "I know," Peter replied witheringly, "but she doesn't listen. We're sorry, we'll leave."
     "No," she sighed, stopping him from steering her away with a gesture, "it's all right. Look, I'll take you to your parents. It's too late to be wandering around alo--"
     "We appreciate that," Annie replied carefully, slipping again from her brother's grip, "but maybe you can help us another way."
     "Oh? And how would that be?"
     Annie gave her a straight look. It stunned her for a moment. "Get us out."
     "Uh...n-no--well I can't - but I can inform the guard in the next village if that's what you need..."
     Annie's sudden giggle seemed to stall her again. "Oh, no, nothing like that! No, we just need you to open the door."
     The woman sighed and crouched down in front of her. "Look, I'm sorry, Annie, Peter, but I can't help you run away--"
     "We're not running away," she groaned, "we're trapped."
     "I don't see the difference."
     "Then I'll explain, it's very simple. It's not a door to outside. It's just a door, on the bottom floor, in the westmost room. You just need to open it."
     "...Just open a door?" She cocked a dark, sceptical eyebrow again. "And then what will you do?"
     "Be free."
     "Ignore her, Miss," Peter told her. "It's nonsense. Annie, we're stuck here, just leave her be."
     "If we're stuck here," she spun back to him, "then she can always just try. If it doesn't work, fine. But she needs to try."
     "What's on the other side of this door? It's not a back door to the forest, is it?"
     "No," she replied, returning to her, hands held politely behind her back, "it doesn't go outside. I said that."
     But the woman just looked at them with the same hook in her eyebrow. She seemed to be staring through them, because her eyes didn't follow as Annie stepped past her and walked through the door.
     "It won't take long, I promise. We'll show you the room. Then you can decide what to do - just, don't go through it yourself."
     "Peter, you have to come along. We can't miss our chance And I don't want to be without you..."
     He sighed heavily and followed while Rosemary hurried to block the door. She was too late.
     "Annie--Annie, Peter, wait--ugh." She cursed and followed them, snatching a candle and her coat from the peg.

     Rosemary wrapped herself tightly as she moved along the rickety balcony, shielding the candlelight while the wind tried to blow it out. Shadows danced maniacally across the walls. She called to her partner while she went, claiming to be speaking to the owner about something.
     "Take your time," Elisabeth called back, "I can't seem to find it..."
     "Why doesn't that surprise me?" She muttered with a smile. Then she descended the stairs after the children and stepped back inside.
     The corridor was dark and immediately so much colder, but the children were already out of sight, so she didn't spare it a thought, hurrying along instead. The candlelight reached them at last, standing outside an end room with the words 'no entry' hung on the door.
     Annie turned her a smile. "It's in here."
     "And you just need me to open it?"
     "Yes, please."
     She could feel her heart racing. Something was wrong. Even so, she opened the door. Somehow, it was even darker and colder beyond.
     She hesitated while the children rushed in. Something was seizing her, something with long fingers closing slowly around her throat. She'd felt fear like this only twice before in her life.
     She moved before it could overwhelm her, just as she wished she had before, and her meagre light spilled over everything. It was a tiny storage room, filled with crates, barrels and sacks. It smelled of oats and mould.
     She couldn't see a door, though.
     "See?" Peter sighed. "I told you. No point."
     But Annie didn't say a word. The shadow as hope left her eyes was enough.
     Rosemary smiled sadly, but just as she was about to reach for the girl's hand and lead them out, she heard the ring of a bell. Muffled.
     She frowned and looked closer at the wall. There was something on the other side... "The door's hidden?"
     "Yes!" Light flashed back into the girl's eyes. "But it is here, you have to find it!"
     Peter said nothing from her side. She found him suddenly staring, watching the situation cautiously. That set a small, dubious fire in her heart.
     Rosemary set the candle down and began pressing along the wall. It didn't take long for footsteps to sound in the hallway behind them.
     "Hurry!" Annie whispered.
     She pressed harder, moving up and down, her fire flaring hotter.
     The footsteps outside grew louder.
     "They're going to stop you! You have to open the door!"
     She could hear Peter murmuring 'please find it, please find it, please find it' behind her.
     And the footsteps were still getting closer.
     She gritted her teeth. The bell was still ringing. This was the right wall. The door was hidden. She moved along.
     The footsteps were right on top of them when something finally shifted.
     The hidden door swung open, and the children ran in without a word.
     "Why is this door open?" A voice came from the hallway. "Hey! Who's there?"
     Rosemary cursed and rushed through, crashed into the children on the other side and pulled the door shut quickly behind her.

     The room flashes awake. A dull, grey light.
     Vast. Endless. A cathedral of pillars and broken white columns.
     A hum felt, not heard. Annie is crying. Peter is comforting her.
     Rosemary turns around. The door is gone. The wall is gone. It's just more. More.
     The fire in her heart flares again. It leaps again, and sinks like lead. "...Where are we?"
     But Annie is still crying, kneeling over something.
     Rosemary inches closer.
     Two skeletons lay on the floor.
     Her throat closes up. Something roots her feet. Her stomach twists in knots. "W-what is--" The words stick.
     Her eyes drag away. A paper lantern, unlit and full of holes, drifts by. A string of bunting hangs, hooked to nothing. Birthday decorations. All bleached grey.
     She spins around, lead feet striking hard ground but making only half a sound. "Where's the door? Annie?! Where is it?!"
     The girl looks back up from the skeleton. It's small, Rosemary notices, and wears the same yellow ribbon she does. Her voice is ragged with hiccups. "I told y-you...not t-to...step th-through..."

This story is not to be copied or reproduced without my written permission. 
Copyright © 2021 Kim Wedlock