Monday, November 28, 2005
It's finished. The monster that has taken over my life and kept me from reading more than two books this month (yes, let's blame it, shall we?) is done. I uploaded my file to the NaNoWriMo website this evening and was certified a winner with 50,339 words. And to think that just days ago I was ready to give up. But I didn't and just took a break, and then somehow performed the miracle of writing 10,000 words in two days, and I've finished two days early. Hooray. I have no idea at this point if any of it is any good, or if there are any huge, gaping plot holes, so neither will you for a while. It's going to sit, happily in my computer and wait for me to be ready to tackle reading it objectively. Then maybe you can read it. :)
Saturday, November 19, 2005
I haven't posted in forever, but I'm really not dead. I'm still working on my novel, which sometimes feels like death, but it's actually coming along nicely. I stopped posting the chapters so that I could switch around things if I needed to without any suprises being spoiled for any of you sweet enough to be reading it. I also am not reading much, and that really feels like death. I keep starting books and then forgetting about them, a byproduct (I think) of this crazy novel writing thing. I'm fiendishly behind on my book count, and if I'm going to make it to 100 by the end of December, I'm going to be binging in December. Actually, I just looked at it, and I'm only 6 books behind, which isn't so bad. Could be worse. I just find it difficult to read at the same time that I'm writing so intensively, because either it affects the voice I'm writing in, or I just get discouraged because my writing isn't as good as what I'm reading. I'm trying to avoid the first problem by focusing on books with very distinct voices that are completely different than the voice of my book. I'm rereading The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler, a book that has one of the most distinct voices I can think of. I'm enjoying it just as much this time through as I did the first, and any problems that I thought might have been present as I finished it last time are actually satisfactorily taken care of. Anyway, just wanted to let those of you still checking in know that death has not come to me, at least not yet.
Monday, November 07, 2005
Chapter 7 There were no more forays into the spirit world that night. Dexter brought out a phonograph, and there was an attempt at dancing, but most of the party was unsettled by the serious turn the evening had taken. As Cynthia and Louisa lured Michael and Patrick onto the dance floor, Betsy sat with Dexter and Angela. “I promise darling, it wasn’t us moving the table!” Angela protested. “I mean, of course it was at the beginning. But when I asked if it was all right that we were opening the house? And that business with Ivon and Shelly, who ever that is, that wasn’t us at all!” Dexter nodded. “It was just a bit of fun to begin with. The legs of the table are just off kilter, so you just push down the smallest amount.” “I know dears, I could tell. There had to be a reason the table kept tilting toward the two of you,” Betsy said. They looked at her, abashed. “Do you think anyone else could tell?” Angela asked. “Oh Angela dear, I don’t think it matters. No one thought it was real, not until the end. But why would Ivon tilt the table toward himself, and then get angry about it? That’s what I don’t understand.” No one had an answer to that question. Despite attempts from all present, energy waned, and before long, everyone drifted to their rooms. Hours passed, and Betsy lay on her bed, curtains closed around her. She’d left the curtain facing outside open, and in the moonlight she could read the clock on the ledge. 12:30. She was close to sleep when she heard a sound that made her get out of bed and peek through the curtains into the ballroom. Someone was trying to move quietly across the floor, but the boards were squeaking. Betsy could just make out a nightdress and bobbed hair as the figure knocked quietly on one of the doors across the room. The door opened, and in the light that spilled out, she saw Michael welcome Louisa into his room. The door closed, and the ballroom was dark and still once again. No matter, Betsy thought, what they do is their own concern. But she was keenly disappointed. She’d thought from Michael comments that he wasn’t interested in the two girls; that he’d seen through them. But if she’d learned anything, it was that people always give in if an opportunity presents itself. She sighed, and went back to bed. The next morning at breakfast, the incidents of the previous night seemed forgotten. Betsy looked around the table. Ivon seemed to be in a sour mood, but she was beginning to think that was normal for him. Angela and Dexter seemed well rested, and surprisingly, Michael and Louisa had neither the glow of excitement nor the guilty casualness of an illicit meeting. Patrick, sitting next to her, looked tired. “Did you not sleep well?” she asked courteously. “Does it show?” he asked, and ran his hand through his hair. “It’s this contract I’ve fouled up, I’m afraid. I was up all night poring over the papers, hoping there was a way to fix it. Personally,” he confided, “I don’t think it’s that important. The company is just fine without it, but Ivon’s insistent that it will be the making of us.” “Did you find a solution?” Betsy asked, and Patrick shook his head. “But don't worry about me," he assured her, "I’ll come up with something,” The party split into two groups after breakfast to explore the house. Betsy joined Angela, Patrick and Cynthia. Poor Cynthia, she thought. It was clear that she wanted to go with Michael, but had given him up to Louisa the moment she saw Ivon coming toward the group. They separated, and Angela led the way downstairs to the servant’s quarters. “I wanted to show you the call system I mentioned at dinner last night,” she said. They walked down the long hall, and Angela pointed to a chair, carved out of the wall. Above it hung a narrow box with a glass front. Bells hung from the bottom. “See darlings, the numbers are up here. When she would push a button in a room, the floor number would fall down here,” she pointed, “and the room number would come down here. And of course, the bells would ring.” They looked at the contraption as the bells suddenly began to ring. The numbers 1 and 7 dropped into the slots, then were sucked up again, only to be followed by 2 and 7, then 3 and 7. Then the bells were silent. Everyone backed against the wall, and stared. “It’s got to be a prank, someone must be playing a prank,” Cynthia said nervously. “Bloody fools, trying to frighten us”, Patrick added angrily. “No one knew we were coming down here, not even Dexter. I just decided to now,” said Angela, and looked at Betsy, eyes wide. Betsy thought. If it was a prank, which it had to be, they must have split up, one to a floor, and each picked the correct room, Aunt Virginia’s special rooms, as they were numbered seven. But if no one knew they would be there… that meant intricate planning for a prank they weren’t sure would have an audience. “I’m sure it was just a malfunction of the system,” Betsy explained. “It must be terribly old, I’m sure it acts up from time to time.” Patrick embraced this explanation, and between the two of them, they convinced the other two to disregard what had happened. The rest of the day was full of traipsing through the house, and even finding what seemed to be hidden stairs, but no there were further events that were out of the ordinary. Later at dinner, Angela explained that the tours of the house would begin the following day, and that they were all invited to take part in the first ever tour of The Mystery House. “I know you’ve just seen it darlings, but we’ve got honest to goodness tour guides who will tell the history of the house and lead everyone through, it’s too, too thrilling!” she said. The tour, she explained, would start at nine o’clock sharp, and they were to meet in front of the house. Breakfast would be served at eight to allow adequate time. “But before then, darlings, we’ve got more surprises to come. I thought we’d try the talking board and planchette writing tonight; the Sampson’s did it at their party and said it was the most fun!” She led the party into the sitting room attached to Cynthia’s room. It was small and cozy, with ample chairs and couches for everyone to sit comfortably. Everyone sat down, and Angela brought out the talking board, a rectangular piece of wood with letters and numbers inscribed upon it. She instructed those who wished to participate to put their fingers on the small, heart shaped planchette, and they proceeded to ask questions of the spirits. It was an Indian chief who answered them, and Betsy wondered privately what the spirit of an Indian chief was doing in Los Angeles. They found out a great many things, not least of which that Cynthia would be rich, that Patrick would meet someone named James, and that the tours would be a great success. The Indian chief also told them that Louisa would marry someone whose name began with M, and that Ivon would not come into a great deal of money. These last two revelations were met with laughter, and a scowl from Ivon. Finally Angela declared it was time to put aside the talking board and move on to planchette writing. She took the planchette from the talking board and slipping a pencil through the hole near its tip, explained. “You rest your hands like so, on the edges of the planchette. Once you feel yourself moved by the spirits, the planchette will move, and will write out a message for all of us. Who wants to begin?” Louisa jumped up. “I’ll do it!” she enthused, and Angela laughed. “All right,” she agreed. “If you really want to.” Louisa suddenly looked confused. “I don’t know why I did that, I don’t even know what to do,” she said. “It’s all right,” Angela said, and sat her down, placing her finger tips on the ends of the planchette. “Just clear your mind and let the spirits speak through your fingers,” she said. “Don’t worry darling, it’s just a game,” she added. Louisa sat, smiling self consciously. “Start by drawing some circles,” Cynthia suggested. “I’ve seen that work.” Louisa followed her suggestion, and her eyes seemed to go blank. Her head was steady, eyes staring out the window, and her hands began to move. Everyone leaned closer to watch her. The planchette was writing words on the paper, and Cynthia read them out loud as they became clear on the page. “This.. is… a … warning,” she read haltingly. Betsy watched Louisa, but her eyes still looked blankly out the window. If she was pretending, she was doing a marvelous job. She glanced down at the writing on the paper. It was unusually clear for someone not looking at the page they were writing on. Cynthia continued. “Someone… will…” She gasped as one word was repeated, more and more frantically, filling up the page. “Someone will die die die die die die die die…,” her voice rose. “Stop it Louisa, stop it!” she shrieked, and shook her friend, who still stared blankly as her hands continued to move. Betsy moved forward and slapped Louisa straight across the face. She blinked twice, and seemed to come out of her trance. She put her hand to her face, looked around at the party staring at her, and dissolved into tears. “What happened?” she sobbed. “What are you all looking at?” She looked down, saw the writing on the page, and looked up startled. “Where did that writing come from? I thought I was going to be first? What’s happening?” she demanded, tears streaming down her face. Betsy wondered the same thing.
Chapter 6 Dinner started promptly at five. Servants dressed in formal attire streamed from the kitchen, and Betsy wondered how they’d gotten to the third floor without being seen. She turned to Angela, sitting on her right at the head of the table, and asked. “There’s a set of stairs that come from the ballroom downstairs to just outside the kitchen,” Angela explained. “Isn’t it clever?” It was uncanny, Betsy thought, that so many people could move through the house unnoticed. How could you ever know where anyone was? A thought struck her. “Angela dear, how did Aunt Virginia call for her servants if she needed something? In a house like this, how would they ever find her?” Louisa nodded, “If you were to ring a bell, no one would hear it!” Angela smiled. “Aunt Virginia was a smart old thing. She invented a system. See that button on the wall?” She pointed to a small, white dot. “It’s connected to a box down in the servants’ quarters. There’s one in every room. When you push it, a card drops into a box with the floor number, one, two, or three, and the room number. I don’t know if there was a map, or if they all knew which room was which, put someone was always at the post, and when the cards dropped, a bell rang, and off the servant would go, right to Aunt Virginia.” “How clever,” murmured Cynthia, batting her eyes at Michael, who was seated across the table. Louisa, seated next to him, put her hand on his arm. “Michael, we’re all dying to know, please tell us something about yourself. Is it true you’re from New York?” “It is,” he said, but did not elaborate. “Doesn’t your family miss you?” Cynthia asked. Michael smiled, and Betsy saw Louisa’s eyes flash. How she thought to dominate a conversation at a table of eight, Betsy couldn’t imagine. “My parents passed on some years ago. I had a sister, who I miss very much, and I have a brother who lives south of here.” Betsy wondered at his phrasing about his sister, but Cynthia and Louisa had grabbed onto the piece of information that interested them. “You have a brother?” they asked simultaneously, and Betsy wondered if they knew how obvious they were. Michael looked uncomfortable, so Betsy spoke up. “Patrick,” she said, feigning forgetfulness, “what was it you said your company does?” “We arrange for products to be sent to other countries,” he explained. “If a manufacturer of ladies handbags wanted to sell them in Europe, for example, we would draw up the contracts, arrange for ships to take the bags across the ocean, and distribute them to shops there. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s basically what we do.” “Handbags yes,” Ivon added snidely. “But if someone wanted to sell cars in Europe, we’d muck up the contracts, find the wrong ships, and generally rubbish the whole process. No wait, that’s just what you would do,” he said, looking pointedly at Patrick. Everyone was silent. Patrick was red faced, and Ivon looked at him angrily. Michael and Dexter looked disgusted at the ungentlemanly outburst, and Louisa and Cynthia giggled nervously. Betsy sat back in shock, and glanced at Angela, who looked at her pleadingly. Then she said, “Did I mention that Betsy’s a private investigator?” The table relaxed, distracted from the unpleasantness. Patrick smiled gratefully at Angela. “Well,” Betsy explained, “I work for a private investigator. People come to him with cases, and he sends me out to take photographs.” “Photographs of what?” Louisa asked. “If a woman thinks her husband is having a fling, I follow him and find out. If he takes his secretary to dinner, or somewhere else, I take photographs of them. If he doesn’t, I take photographs of that too. Clients like to have proof they can see, not just someone’s word for it.” Michael looked at her thoughtfully. “How many times have you caught someone not having a fling?” he asked. “Never,” she answered. “That’s just too ghastly!” Angela said. “Imagine all those women, betrayed by their husbands. You’d like to think at least one would be happily wrong.” Betsy nodded. That was the hardest part of her job. More than the cold and the late hours, the aspect that got to her the most was the loss of faith in human goodness. “That’s no kind of a job for a woman,” Ivon said, and Betsy turned to him, trying to contain her anger. “Actually,” she said, seething, but keeping her voice steady, “it’s the perfect job for a woman. If you were walking down the street and a man started following you, would you notice?” Ivon nodded reluctantly, “I’d like to think I would.” “And if you were meeting someone illicitly, and some man was following you, what would you think?” Ivon didn’t answer, and Michael chimed in, looking fascinated. “That someone found out,” he said. “Exactly. You might call off your meeting, not meet for a while. Start spending more nights at home. But if a woman was following you,” Michael jumped in, “I’d just assume she was on her way home.” “And if you saw her again?” “I’d think it a coincidence. You’re right; it is a perfect job for a woman. No one would peg you as a spy,” he said, and everyone laughed but Ivon, who looked sullen. “And do you peek in at windows and climb trees?” he asked. She nodded, blushing and not sure why. “We’ve got our own Mata Hari!” he said, and the party laughed again. Desert was served and finished, and the party moved to the ballroom, where a small table stood in the center of the room. It was surrounded by four chairs, and additional chairs sat not far away. The three fireplaces had been lit, and their mantles were covered in candles of varying lengths. Betsy noted that each candelabrum held seven candles. Angela instructed them to take a seat, and moving closer to Betsy, suggested she take one of the chairs away from the table. “I know you’ll just want to watch,” she said quietly, and Betsy smiled in gratitude. Louisa and Cynthia moved directly to the table, as did Patrick. Angela took one of the chairs, and explained, “Tonight we’re going to attempt to reach the spirits by having them tip this table. We’ll sit around it, like so, and place both of our hands palm down on the top.” Everyone at the table did so, and the rest of the party looked on, interested. “Dexter darling, do you mind turning down the lights?” she asked sweetly, and he did. The room was filled with the glow of the candles, which reflected oddly in the glass windows. “Now. We call on the spirits that have passed on before us,” Angela’s voice became sonorous, and Louisa giggled. Angela turned to her sharply, and in her regular voice, chided her. “Louisa darling, be serious, or someone else will take your place at the table.” Louisa looked adequately contrite, and Angela continued. “Oh spirits, speak to us. We wish to hear you. Are you there?” The table tilted slightly, and Cynthia squeaked. “Did you see that?” she asked. “Of course, darling, we’re all here,” Angela said, but Betsy could tell she was excited. She spoke to the spirits. “Oh spirit, tell us who you are. Spell for us your name. We’ll call out letters, and you tilt the table when we say the right one, so that we can know who you are.” The table tilted, and everyone gasped. Angela began excitedly to call out letters. She was near the end of the alphabet, when the table tilted sharply. “V!” cried Angela. “Aunt Virginia, is that you darling?” The table tilted again. “Are you happy, in heaven?” The table tilted. Michael looked over at Betsy and rolled his eyes. “A load of poppycock, this,” he said. “No doubt someone’s pushing down on the table. Notice how it always tips toward Angela?” Betsy had noticed. “She’s just trying to give everyone a fright,” she said, defensively. Michael put up his hands. “I say let her. Those girls could use a bit of a fright,” he said, and Betsy looked at him, surprised. Angela continued. “Thank you for the house, darling, it’s magnificent. Do you mind awfully that we’re letting people in for tours?” The table tilted sharply, this time away from Angela, and she gasped. Her voice trembled. “Aunt Virginia? You do mind? You don’t want us to let people in?” But the table stood still. Angela tried to regain her composure, to call back the spirit of Aunt Virginia, but the table stood quietly. Dexter rose. “Perhaps we need a change of participants,” he said, and moved toward the table. Patrick stood, and Dexter took his place. “Aunt Virginia probably got tired,” he suggested. “Let’s try for someone else.” Angela smiled and started her intonations again. In quick succession they were visited by Cynthia’s late uncle Peter, Louisa’s childhood friend Beatrice, and Dexter’s grandmother Ada. All professed to be happy in their current states, and were able to confirm memories when asked. The members of the group laughed, shivered, and accused each other of tilting the table. Betsy watched, detached from the merriment. She noticed how the table never gave more than one letter; as soon as the first one was revealed someone jumped in with a name, which, of course, was confirmed as the name of the spirit. And no independent information was given from the spirits, they only confirmed that yes, they remembered the trips out to the lake. She was pondering how easy it is to trick people when they want to be tricked, when Michael stood. “Do we get a chance?” he asked, and turning to Ivon, encouraged, “Come along now, it’s our turn.” He turned to face Betsy, but she shook her head. He nodded, and turned to the table. “Angela, as you’re our contact with the other side, you must stay. Would anyone care to give us their chairs in pursuit of contact with the other side?” Cynthia and Louisa jumped up, eager to grant his request. Instantly they seemed to realize that they’d missed an opportunity to stay close to him, but could find no way to sit back down. They walked sullenly to the chairs where Betsy and Patrick sat. Angela began again. “Oh spirits, please tell us, is someone here?” The table immediately rocked sharply toward Dexter. Everyone gasped as the table moved far more violently than it had before. “Tell us your name, oh spirit,” Angela intoned nervously. The table rocked again, this time toward Angela, and she looked genuinely bewildered. She may have been tilting the table before, Betsy thought, but she certainly wasn’t now. She began to chant the letters of the alphabet, and the table sat still until she reached the letter S. Then it tilted violently toward Ivon. “S?” Angela asked, and the table again, tipped sharply. She looked around the table. “Anyone with an S, darlings?” No one answered. She started again at the beginning of the alphabet, and was stopped at the letter H when the table again rocked sharply at Ivon. The alphabet began again, with the table indicating the letter E. Ivon was looking pale, Betsy thought. “S, H , E?” Angela asked. “Does anyone know a name that starts with S, H, E?” Everyone shook their heads, including, Betsy noted, Ivon. “Then we’ll keep going?” Angela said, and it was a question more than a statement. She started again at A, and got to L before the table rocked twice toward Ivon. His eyes widened. “Is that two L’s?” Angela asked, confused. The table tilted. The alphabet began anew, and the table sat uncannily still. Angela had almost exhausted the letters when she said the letter Y. The table seemed to move up and off the floor as it rocked toward Ivon. He jumped from his chair, furious, and stormed from the room. Moments later they heard the door to his room slam violently. They stared at each other in amazement, and Louisa asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Who is Shelly?”
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Chapter 5 The color had returned to Cynthia’s face, but she sipped her water slowly, allowing Louisa-- and more importantly, Betsy thought-- Michael, to fuss over her. Angela turned to Betsy with a knowing look. “Well she certainly set her trap quickly, didn’t she darling?” “Louisa’s not a bit happy about it either, did you see her face?” Dexter stood between them, perplexed. “What are you two talking about?” he asked. Angela looked up at him, surprised. “Why Cynthia, of course, darling. You saw how she swooned so Michael could catch her, and look at her now; playing the frightened mouse that must be protected.” “But you said the bell had frightened her. Why would she pretend?” Betsy looked at him fondly. He was so honest and good, she thought, pretense in any form just went right over his head. “She was frightened,” she explained, “but was almost completely recovered by the time we ran into you in the hall. Then she saw Michael, and well dear, let’s just say she saw an opportunity.” He still looked confused. Angela laughed and put her arms around him. “Oh darling, you’re so lucky I snapped you up before some scheming girl came and tricked you right away. Cynthia and Louisa are both desperately interested in Michael. He’s the talk of those in the know, and everyone wants to be the one to find out more about him. Of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s good looking, though of course, darling, not as good looking as you.” A clock in the entry way rang three, and Angela commented, “I wonder where Patrick and Ivon are? They should be here by now. I hope nothing happened to their car. The road is a bit tricky.” She turned to Michael. “Darling, do let me introduce you to everyone. You’ve already somewhat met Cynthia, and this is Louisa.” He nodded, smiling, at Cynthia, and turned and took Louisa’s hand. “Louisa,” he repeated, and nodded his head. “You’ve met Dexter of course, and this is my oldest and best friend in the whole world, Betsy Malone.” Michael stood and stepped toward Betsy, arm outstretched. He took her hand in his, and his blue eyes looked directly into hers. “Betsy. It’s a pleasure.” Betsy felt face turn red, and was angry at herself. Angela continued. “Betsy’s a private investigator, darling, isn’t it fascinating?” Michael looked at her with new interest, and Betsy started to protest, when they heard a loud knock on the front door. Dexter went to answer it, and the others followed him casually. Cynthia and Louisa walked on either side of Michael, and plied him with questions about his trip to the house. Angela and Betsy walked together behind. “Why did you say that?” Betsy asked in a hushed voice so the trio in front of them wouldn’t hear. “Why did I say what, darling?” Angela said with genuine surprise. “That I was a private investigator!” “But you are, darling. It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Angela said matter of factly, and Betsy tried to find an explanation that her friend would understand. Just then, they heard voices coming from the entry way. “-- go under then I’m holding you responsible.” “Ivon, please. Let’s talk about this when we’re both calmer.” Two men were standing in the middle of the entry way, arguing. One was tall and sandy haired, dressed in a shirt and tie. The sleeves were rolled up, and his trousers slightly crumpled. His arm was stretched out appealingly to the man across from him, who was short and dark, with thick eyebrows and a fierce, cruel glint in his eye. His suit was immaculate, and the light reflected in his polished shoes. They looked up as the group entered the room, and their expressions changed to neutral ones. The sandy haired man dropped his arm, and they smiled at Angela as she came toward them. “ Patrick, Ivon, I’m so glad you made it,” she said, acting as though the group had overheard nothing. The sandy haired man moved toward her. “Angela,” he said smiling, “Dexter’s already met us and has taken our things upstairs. We offered to help, but he wouldn’t hear it. He said to wait here for you.” “Of course, Patrick darling, you’d just have to come downstairs again to join the party,” she said laughing. “And Ivon, welcome,” she said, turning to take his hand. “Patrick’s told us so much about you. I’m so pleased you could join us.” The dark man smiled graciously, and Betsy found it hard to believe that he had looked so vicious just moments before. “Let me introduce you to everyone,” Angela said, and turned to face the rest of the party. “Everyone, this is Patrick Manning. He and Dexter have known each other since school. And this is Ivon Denton, his brilliant business partner. What is it you do again?” she asked unabashedly, “I can’t ever keep it in my head.” Patrick smiled. “At the core we’re an export company. We arrange for products to be sent overseas.” Ivon’s eyes flashed. “It’s a far load more complicated than that,” he barked, then appeared to think better of his outburst and conceded, “but that’s it in a nutshell.” Angela continued as though there had been no interruption. “This is Cynthia Pritchard and Louisa Benson; I believe you’ve met before?” Betsy watched as Cynthia blanched slightly, but when she turned to the two men, both of them were smiling graciously. “And this is my dear friend Betsy Malone, and Michael Bates.” “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” Ivon said, and stepped toward Betsy. She suddenly felt like a rabbit under the gaze of a wolf, and looked down quickly. She allowed him to take her hand, but took it back as quickly as she could. Patrick, on the other hand, smiled kindly at her, and he suddenly reminded her very much of Dexter. Ivon had moved to shake Michael’s hand, and Betsy thought she sensed a slight hesitation from Michael. Perhaps he felt it too, she thought, that there were cracks in the mask Ivon was wearing. But then again, maybe she was just imagining it, for Michael and Ivon were shaking hands with what seemed to be genuine warmth. Patrick and Michael shook hands, and the introductions were complete. “Well,” Angela said, looking around at everyone, “this is our party. Shall we all go upstairs and get freshened up for dinner? It will be in the upstairs dining room, promptly at five.” “So early?” Louisa asked. “Oh darling, we’ve got loads of things planned for tonight,” Angela said with a gleam in her eye. “Just you wait.” They all started through to the stairs, and met Dexter, on his way down. “Oh, my poor darling,” Angela cooed. “Now you’ll just have to go up again.” He looked at the group. “Actually, I’ve left something undone outside.” He glanced around, and his eyes lit on Michael. “It’s Michael’s bags. We left them at his car when he pulled round; I’ll just go fetch them and then meet you all up there.” “I’ll help,” Michael suggested, but Dexter shook his head quickly. “No need, it will only take a moment, you go up and see your room, and I’ll be right up.” “Of course darling,” Angela smiled, and they started up stairs. Once they reached the third floor, the room assignments were repeated for Patrick, Ivon, and Michael, and everyone went to their rooms. Betsy sat on her bed and opened her suitcase, taking out her camera. It was old, but reliable, and felt like an extension of herself. Her brother Charles had given it to her years ago; it had been a Christmas gift. He had somehow always known what she wished most for but never voiced. She still remembered the card attached to it, written in his distinctive, scratchy handwriting. It had said, “Let us see what your beautiful eyes see,” and was signed as he signed all his letters to her, “love love, meri, love love.” He was the only one who ever called her Meri, after her middle name, Meredith. No one even knew of the nickname anymore, she thought, not even Angela. The thought came to her that she would never hear his voice again, never see those words on another letter, and tears sprung to her eyes. Just then, through the glass that lined the room, she saw Dexter turn the corner from the stairs. He was carrying Michael’s luggage, and as he crossed into the ballroom, Michael saw him and came out from his room to retrieve it. Betsy watched as Dexter walked back toward the bedroom Angela and he shared. When he was almost to the stairs, he looked around quickly, and thinking that no one was looking, began to feel the bricks on the fireplace. He found a small cubby hole, and reaching into his coat, pulled out the parcel from the chemist that he’d left in the car. He looked at it quickly, and then shoved it deep into the cubby hole. Turning sharply, he faced Betsy’s room, and she looked down quickly. He walked toward her room, and entered it casually. “Settled in?” he asked kindly. “Almost,” she answered truthfully. “The glass walls are a little hard to get used to, but I suppose the curtains will help tonight.” “They do,” he assured her. “Almost like sleeping in a real room. We tried sleeping without them one night, and Angela woke in the middle of the night, sat up and saw her own reflection in the glass, and just about screamed the house down.” He laughed at the memory, and Betsy joined him. “I can just imagine it,” she said. Lowering her voice she added, “I hope Cynthia and Louisa pull theirs tight, or we’re sure to have more screaming tonight. Though they may scream just to get Mr. Bates to come to their rescue.” She looked through the glass at Cynthia in the room next door and repented. “I’m sorry, that was wicked, wasn’t it.” “You won’t hear any reproof from me,” Dexter said, glancing over at Cynthia and lowering his voice as well. “According to Angela those girls are after rich husbands, and they think Michael must have money as everyone keeps talking about him.” “Does he have money?” Betsy asked, and Dexter looked at her in surprise. “I haven’t any idea,” he replied, “I’ve never met him before. Angela said she met him at a party, but it must have been when I was in another room. She says it’s always interesting to have a wild card at a party.” “I suppose,” Betsy said, and wiped the lens of her camera. “You’ve brought your brownie!” Dexter observed. “Planning on taking pictures of the house?” “I thought I’d take some that you could use to promote the tours,” Betsy explained. “But with all the glass I don’t know if any will come out.” Dexter smiled. “What a fine idea. What a pal you are Betsy. If this whole scheme comes off, it will be thanks to you, you know.” “Not really,” said Betsy modestly. “The house does enough on its own.”
Friday, November 04, 2005
Chapter 4 The four women walked back into the conservatory. “Right now,” Angela began formally, “we are in the south conservatory, at the south-east most point in the house. Or is it the west? Hang it, I’ve forgotten.” She giggled, and the others joined her. “In any case, this is the largest of the conservatories. There’s another on this floor on the other end of the house, one directly above it on the third floor, and one at the dead center of the second floor.” She led the way through the hallway, back into the entry way with the stairs to nowhere. “Through here is the dining room and kitchen. Rather a bit much for one person, don’t you think?” The others nodded in assent. The room was large enough to fit a party of twenty five and have room to spare. The walls were papered in thick green brocade, imprinted with intricate spiral shapes. A massive table dominated the room, and the chairs sitting around it were upholstered in matching brocade. Adjoining the dining room, separated only by a change in wall paper, was a sitting room with a fireplace that took up much of the wall. An oriental rug in shades of blue sat in the center of the hard wood floor, and was ringed by chairs and chaises. “Did the old thing entertain often?” Cynthia asked. “Never,” replied Angela. “After her husband died, she went into complete mourning, and remained until the end of her days. No one but her servants saw her for 30 years.” “How ghastly!” Louisa said faintly. Betsy was inclined to agree. She had seen first hand what grief could do to a person. Her father had reacted similarly to the loss of his son. After they had received the telegram stating that Charles was missing, her father had refused to leave the house. When the news came that his plane had been found but there was no sign of him or his gunner, her father had stopped allowing people to come to his home. He sat in his room, silent except for the few words of thanks he uttered when Betsy brought him his meals. His only contact with the world outside was the letters he wrote daily to Washington, to any address he could find of persons living near the French border where the plane was found, to hospitals all over Europe. All responses were negative. And then, a year later, he broke his solitude. He went out in search of a table tilter he had read about in the newspaper. If the living could give him no answers, he would turn to the spirits. And the spirits had failed him as well, Betsy thought bitterly. Angela had continued. “The house was far from empty, darling. Come through here.” She led them through a large kitchen, similar to the one upstairs, but more obviously used, and pointed down a hallway. “The men servant’s quarters are down that hall. The women’s are through here.” She slid aside a panel in the wall and they walked through it. “There are four beds in each room, and five rooms, so there were twenty female servants, and twenty male. Old Aunt Virginia may not have wanted to see anyone, but there were forty other people in the house all the time. Although Mrs. Rice says the house is arranged such that it’s possible to walk around the house all day and not see another person.” They turned around and walked back through the kitchen. Turning in the dining room, Angela slid another panel, and they walked into an ornate ballroom. The floor was inlaid with complicated patterns in various shades of wood, and the walls were draped in intricately weaved tapestries. A large organ stood against the wall, pipes reaching toward the ceiling. "Aunt Virginia played the organ; Mrs. Rice says she was very good. Sadly, that’s the only thing this room was used for. But we’ll soon change that!” Angela said with a laugh. Louisa looked around and wrinkled her nose. “Did the old bird not have a phonograph?” she asked. “Not that we’ve found darling. The dear wasn’t modern at all. Other than the lights, of course. And she did have a telephone put in, heaven knows why. Who she’d call I can’t guess.” “Perhaps the doctor,” Betsy offered. “Of course, you must be right,” Angela said with a smile. “You’re always so practical, darling.” They walked through the ballroom, and entered a long hallway. Trying to get her bearings, Betsy decided they must be below the hallway they had walked down to get to the kitchen upstairs. The hallway led into an area that left them speechless. The room had been divided into the smallest bedrooms any of them had ever seen. Six bedrooms, just large enough for a bed, made a border around the room. Except for the entrance from the hallway, each bit of wall was divided, so that the rooms made a square with a large space in the middle. Bathrooms separated the bedrooms, and at the rooms closest to the hallway entrance were a parlor and sitting room. In the center of the space between the rooms sat a koi pond, recessed into the floor. The women stared at it, and Angela laughed merrily. “Aunt Virginia was afraid the spirits would find her in her sleep, so she never slept in the same bed two nights in a row. Just upstairs,” she pointed upward, “is a set of rooms just like these, except that the rooms are bigger. And there’s no pond.” The fish in the pond swam serenely under the water lilies that floated along the surface. “Aunt Virginia used to use the pond to try to reach her husband,” Angela said. Betsy looked up from the pond in surprise. “I thought she was afraid of spirits?” “Oh darling, she was. That didn’t stop her from trying to contact them. Mrs. Rice says she use to hold a séance every night. The bell outside would ring seven times at midnight, and she would begin. I suppose she just didn’t want them coming any old time.” Just then, the bell in the tower rang loudly. Louisa screamed, Cynthia looked faint, and Angela’s eyes brightened. “Maybe it’s Aunt Virginia come back to the house?” Angela asked excitedly. Cynthia’s face was pale. “Now dear, you know for certain that’s not true,” Betsy said sensibly. “Someone must be out there messing with the bell. Is there a faster way to go to it than all the way through the house?” Angela frowned as she thought. Then her face brightened. “Of course darling, there’s a door near the servants’ quarters. They were the ones who had to ring it, you know.” She led the way out through the hallway and through the ballroom. “You don’t think it could have been Aunt Virginia then?” she asked Betsy as they walked. “Don’t be a silly goose,” Betsy replied reprovingly. “You know it wasn’t, and poor Cynthia’s almost scared to tears.” Angela looked back at Cynthia and Louisa who were following behind, and smiled reassuringly. “Of course it wasn’t any spirit,” she said. “I’m sure it’s just Dexter mucking about.” Turning through the kitchen, they ran into Dexter and a young man in a red coat coming in through the door in the hallway. “Darling, was that you ringing the bell?” Angela asked. “You nearly frightened us all to death. Look at poor Cynthia; she’s still white as a sheet!” Dexter looked at them, apologetic. “I’m sorry; Michael pulled up and I was showing him the grounds, and told him about the ringing mechanism, since it’s so odd. I didn’t realize it would startle you.” “That’s quite all right, darling,” Angela confessed. “It wouldn’t have startled us so if I hadn’t just been telling them about Aunt Virginia having it rung before her séances.” Dexter laughed. “So it wasn’t our fault at all!” he claimed. “You were just scaring yourselves with spooky stories.” Michael spoke for the first time, and his voice was low and soft. “This young lady looks like she could benefit from some cold water,” he said kindly, and moved toward Cynthia. She flushed from the unexpected attention, and swooned slightly, letting him steady her. Then leaning against him, she let him lead her into the dining room, where he sat her on one of the chairs near the table. Betsy noticed a flash in Louisa’s eyes, and guessed that she was disappointed that Cynthia had triumphed in getting Michael’s attention so quickly. But with no further indication of her disappointment, she went quickly to the sink and got a glass of water, which she brought into her ailing friend. Betsy suspected she was being more opportunistic than friendly; bringing the water once again put her in the same room as the object of their competition. Not that Betsy could blame them. Michael Bates was a very handsome young man, blond hair sharply cut, and a face that was sharp but kind. His clothes were expensive but tasteful, and the red coat, though unusual, wasn’t flamboyant. His blue eyes reminded her of cornflowers. She found herself staring at him, and turned away, embarrassed and glad his attention was elsewhere. With Cynthia and Louisa fawning over him, there was no way he would notice her, she thought. She would just be Angela’s old friend.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Chapter 3 Angela led the way out of the room. They walked into the center of the ballroom, and she gestured toward the ceiling. “Look up darling, and count the panels,” she instructed. Betsy obeyed, and saw that the ceiling was made up of seven interlocking wooden panels. “Aunt Virginia was dotty over the number seven. She claimed it warded off the spirits, and things are in sevens all over the house. We keep finding them in the oddest places; it’s like a guessing game. Look here.” She walked into the adjoining dining room and pointed at the wall paper. Bouquets of daisies were embossed onto the golden paper. Each bouquet was made up of seven flowers. “Count the petals,” Angela said, and Betsy complied. Each daisy had seven. “Mrs. Rice says Aunt Virginia had it specially made. She designed it herself.” Betsy shook her head in wonder and looked around the room. A massive crystal chandelier hung low over the table, and glittered in the sunlight coming through the windows in the hallway on the other side of the room. She looked at it closely, and then laughed. Angela looked at her quizzically. “Just another seven, Angela dear. Each of the seven arms of the chandelier has seven lights.” “My heavens, you’re right. I wonder how many more we’ll find. We should give a prize to whoever finds the most. Although, of course, now, you’ve had a head start.” They walked into the narrow hallway and then into a large kitchen. Cast iron pots and pans hung from rails, cabinets lined the walls, and a large stove took up much of one wall. As Betsy looked around, something struck her as odd. She ran her hand over the wooden counter top. “Angela dear, have you had these counters replaced?” she asked. Angela looked delighted. “Oh darling, you’re so clever to notice! We haven’t had them replaced at all. There was no need. There are no marks on them because they were never used. Nothing on this whole floor was ever used.” She laughed merrily at Betsy’s look of confusion. “I told you Aunt Virginia was afraid of the spirits. She thought that if she put everything that a house would need on the top floor, then the spirits would be fooled into thinking that it was the whole house. So this floor has everything, a kitchen, dining room, conservatory, ballroom, bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting rooms, parlors, even a full library. All completely decorated, and never used. Isn’t it the strangest thing you’ve ever heard?” “It most definitely is,” Betsy agreed. And wasteful, she thought, but Angela had continued. “It’s quite perfect for this weekend,” she said. “We can all stay up here, with everything we need, and the tours can go through the two bottom floors. We’ll just tell them that the top floor is still a mystery.” A horn honked from the driveway. Angela looked toward it in surprise. “Who could that be?” she asked. “No one’s expected for at least another hour.” They walked out of the kitchen and through the dining room. Instead of going through the ballroom, Angela turned to the left. “There’s another stairway through here darling.” She slid the panel aside to reveal a staircase. They hurried down the two flights of stairs, and came out in a large dining room on the first floor. Betsy shook her head. “It’s like a game of chutes and ladders,” she said. “How many staircases are there?” “We’ve found six,” Angela answered as they walked through the room and found themselves in the front entry way between the stairs to nowhere. “Not counting these, of course.” Standing in the entry way, staring at the stairs, were Louisa and Cynthia. With their bags at their feet and their simple, straight sheath dresses, Betsy thought they looked like a pair of dolls. Louisa had naturally blond hair while Cynthia’s was dark, but with their perfectly coifed bobs they looked almost interchangeable, down to their slightly heeled pumps. They jumped slightly when Angela and Betsy appeared. Cynthia recovered first. “My goodness Angela, you nearly frightened us out of our wits! First we find the door standing open, then these frightful stairs, it’s all too much!” Angela and Betsy smiled and walked toward them. “You get used to it darling,” Angela soothed, “I promise. Although I’m sure I closed the door when we came in…” Her voice trailed away as she looked at the door. “Didn’t we darling?” She turned to Betsy. “I don’t recall,” Betsy answered truthfully. She’d been too distracted by the stairs to remember the door. “I’m just glad we got here,” said Louisa in her breathy voice. “I’m afraid we’re early, but no one seemed to know how long it would take. And we didn’t want to be late!” “That’s quite all right,” Angela assured her. “Let’s take your things upstairs. Dexter should be back soon, and the others won’t be here until later tonight.” As they walked toward the stairs, Louisa asked, “Who else will be coming?” “Michael Bates,” Angela began, and Cynthia and Louisa cooed. “He’s such a dear,” Louisa said. “And so handsome,” Cynthia added. “However did you manage it? I always see him at parties, but no one seems to know how he gets there. Vivien wanted to invite him to her party last week, but no one knew how to find him.” They started up the stairs, and Angela spoke over her shoulder. “I’m afraid I cornered him at the Bakers’ bash,” she confessed. “I told him about the house, and about our party, and he said he’d be delighted.” “How ever did you know where to send the invitation?” Louisa asked. “He gave me his address of course, silly dear.” Cynthia and Louisa gasped. “But where does he live?” Cynthia asked excitedly. “You must be the only one to know!” Angela laughed. “I’m sure I’m not. It was in care of a hotel. He must be staying there until he finds a permanent place.” Cynthia and Louisa pondered this new information. Betsy sighed, amused. Poor Michael Bates, she thought. Between the two of them, these gossip hungry girls would fleece him of all his secrets before the weekend was over. She, for one, would respect his privacy. “Who else will be here?” Louisa asked, clearly hoping for more names like Michael Bates. “Patrick Manning, and Ivon Denton,” Angela answered, and Cynthia stopped short. Betsy, walking behind, bumped into her. “Oh, I’m sorry Cynthia, dear,” she apologized, and Cynthia looked back at her, startled. “Are you all right?” Betsy asked cautiously. For a moment, she had seen terror in the young woman’s eyes. Cynthia shook herself and smiled weakly. “I’m fine, the stairs just made me dizzy,” she said, and started up again. They exited the stairs, and Betsy watched Cynthia. One of the names had upset her, but had it been Patrick or Ivon that inspired such fear? Angela was explaining the room assignments. “And Cynthia darling, you’ll be down here, across the hall from Ivon.” Betsy saw Cynthia and Louisa’s eyes meet, and Louisa protested, “Angela, ducky, do you mind terribly if Cynthia and I switch? I’m feeling a bit of a cold coming on, and a room away from the windows would do me such good.” Angela, who had noticed nothing, agreed easily. Betsy watched as the girls went to their rooms, and as they put away their things, she walked down the hallway toward Louisa’s room. She went into the library, and marveled at the collection of books. She took a volume off of the shelf nearest the door, and noted that the spine had never been cracked. It seemed impossible that here sat a library full of books that had never been touched, save the day they were shelved, but in this house, she thought, nothing was impossible. She heard a scraping sound, and went to the window. Looking down three stories, she saw a tall, blond haired young man, in dirtied trousers, pushing a car around the side of the house. She left the window and went to find Angela. She found all three ladies in Cynthia’s room. “Angela dear, Dexter’s back, and he seems to be having trouble with your car.” “Oh dear, it must have run out of gas again. I hope it didn’t break down. It’s such a bother really. I wonder how far he had to push it this time? I suppose we should go down and cheer him up, the sweet.” Everyone agreed, and they went down the stairs, much more quickly now that they were unencumbered by baggage. They came out of the stairway as Dexter came in through the conservatory. He saw them, and looked self-consciously down at his trousers. Then he shrugged “Hello,” he said with a smile. “Cynthia, Louisa, it’s nice to see you. I’m so glad you could make it. And Betsy dear, it wouldn’t be a party without you. How well you look in that dress. Is it new?” Betsy knew that Dexter was well aware that she didn’t have money to spend on a new dress, and she smiled fondly at him. She had approved of him from the moment Angela had nervously introduced them, and over the years he had come to take the place of her brother Charles, as much as any one could. “Dexter, darling, how was your trip?” Angela asked with a mischievous smile as she kissed him on the cheek. “You know perfectly well, you minx,” he answered, pulling her into an embrace. He released her, and explained. “The beastly car ran out of gas, and I had to push it. Luckily I made it almost to the bend before it stopped, so I only had to push it about 3 yards, then the slope of the hill took it. I had to jump in to stop it from running into the house, and of course I stopped it too soon. I had to push it the rest of the way to the side of the house.” “How dreadful!” Cynthia said, and Betsy and Dexter shared an amused glance. The very thought of dirt was abhorrent to Cynthia. Luckily she didn’t often have cause to be near it. They all turned to walk into the other room, when Angela turned back to Dexter. “Darling, did you bring the package from the chemist?” she asked. He shook his head. “I left it in the car; I’ll just be a moment.” He turned to go back outside, and Louisa asked for the powder room. “It’s right through here,” Angela said, and they turned back and followed Dexter through the hall. While Cynthia and Louisa took advantage of the two powder rooms inexplicably situated side by side, Betsy wandered over to the large window and looked out at Dexter. He took a medium sized parcel from the seat, and opening it, took out a vial that Betsy assumed contained the aspirin Angela had requested. He folded the paper on the parcel back over whatever remained inside, and reaching over, shoved it under the seat of the car. Before Betsy could wonder what he was hiding, Cynthia and Louisa came back into the hall, and the tour began anew.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
Thanks for the comments so far, the encouragement has been extrememely helpful. Below is chapter 2- so if you haven't read chapter 1 yet, scroll down and read that first. I'll wait here. --------------------- Chapter 2 Betsy sat with her eyes closed as the taxi rumbled down the long country road. While the address of The Mystery House was Los Angeles, it was set out in the far reaches, far from the glow of Hollywood. Angela had called, and pleaded for Betsy to come early, and Betsy had given in, despite the late hour she’d gotten in the night before. It was a fact of her job that most secret assignations took place in the still of the night, and if the people she was paid to photograph were up late, then so was she. Luckily her efforts the night before had resulted in some crystal clear images of Mr. Danford, who told his wife he was out of town on a business matter, getting quite comfortable with his blond secretary at a local hotel. Mrs. Danford should be very satisfied, and hopefully her gratitude would filter down to a slightly larger percentage for Betsy. Sleep was almost upon her, when the cabbie spoke. “Miss, we’re almost there Miss, just around the bend.” Betsy opened her eyes, and saw that they were driving along a long pathway bordered with stones. Trees dotted the fields that surrounded them on either side. She could see no sign of the house, until they turned a steep corner that banked into a small valley. And there it was. The house stood majestically against the morning sun. Painted in what seemed to be various shades of white, it appeared to glow. With the noonday sun shining upon it, Betsy thought, it would be blinding. As they drove closer, Betsy admired the architecture. It was classically beautiful, with round turrets pushing dramatically toward the sky, and glass walled towers protruding at angles. There were beautiful stained glass windows, and spectacularly clean clear glass windows; in fact, Betsy observed, there seemed to be more windows than there was wall to fit them. The second floor appeared to have fewer windows than the floors above and below, but before Betsy could confirm that, the taxi had stopped. “Here you are, Miss,” the cabbie said, and got out to open her door. She stepped out and turned to pay him and collect her luggage. As she did so, she heard that dear, familiar voice. “Betsy! You’ve arrived! I wasn’t expecting you for at least another hour, but I heard the car, and who else could it be?” Angela came running toward her down the path, and caught her in an embrace. Betsy warmly returned it. “Put your money away darling, I’ll pay this nice man. You just collect your luggage, and I’ll help you bring it in. I had to send Dexter out for some aspirin, but we can manage on our own.” She paid the taxi driver, who tipped his cap in thanks and turned around to drive back up the path. “Come in, darling,” Angela said, leading the way, carrying the smaller of Betsy’s two bags. “I can’t wait to see what you think of our little home.” The massive wooden doors of the house stood open. They were intricately carved with images of people floating upward, arms outstretched. “Aunt Virginia was sure that the spirits were attracted to her,” Angela explained, as Betsy examined the doors. “This door was supposed to encourage them to go to Heaven, rather than stay around here.” She looked at Betsy’s incredulous expression. “I know darling, as though spirits use the front door,” she smiled. “Wait until you see the rest of the house!” They walked in the entryway, and Betsy gasped. Two massive staircases arced gracefully, climbing to meet flush with the second floor wall. Betsy looked inquiringly at Angela. “Don’t ask me, darling, I haven’t the slightest idea. You can actually walk up them if you like, come on!” She pulled Betsy by the hand, and dropping their bags, they scampered up the stairs like children. Laughing and panting at the top, they touched the flat wall before them. “I haven’t done that before now,” Angela said laughing, “I’ve been too frightened!” Betsy laughed at her friend’s confession. “Silly dear, what did you think would happen?” “I don’t know,” Angela pleaded, “it’s just so strange. Why build stairways to nothing?” “Maybe there’s a secret door,” Betsy supposed. She ran her hands over the wall, then turned, disappointed. “Nothing,” she said, “they really lead nowhere.” The friends walked down the stairs, and picked up the bags they’d abandoned. “Let me take you up to your room,” Angela suggested, “and then I’ll show you around the house. Hopefully between the two of us, we won’t get lost.” “I hope you’re not relying on me,” Betsy protested. “I’ve never been here before, dear.” “I know, but you’re so frightfully clever, I’m sure you could find your way. Now, to get to the stairs up, we go to the right.” They walked through the entry way, passing a luxuriously decorated sitting room as they turned right. On their left was a bare, flat wall with a painting of an elderly woman hung in its center. Angela gestured toward it. “That is dear Aunt Virginia, may she rest in peace. Wasn’t she a sweet old thing?” Betsy thought she looked nothing like a “sweet old thing”; the painter had given her piercing narrow eyes and a mouth set in a hard line. “Dexter suspects there’s a room behind that wall, but we haven’t found how to get into it,” Angela commented, as they walked into a large conservatory. “Why would he think that?” “You’ll see. It’s one of the only places in the house that you can’t see right into. Aunt Virginia wanted to be able to see any spirits that might be coming for her, so every room has windows all the way around. Good thing the poor dear lived alone, there’s no way to have any privacy. Even the servants’ quarters have windows everywhere. Oh, here we are,” Angela said, and pushed at the wall. A panel slid to the side, revealing staircase. Angela led the way as they walked up and up. “How do you know so much about Aunt Virginia?” Betsy asked. “I thought you’d never met her.” “Oh, I never did,” said Angela, looking back for a moment, and then continuing. “Mrs. Rice, the housekeeper, she’s told us everything. She was with Aunt Virginia for simply ages. We’re keeping her on to help with the house; she’ll manage the help we’ll have in to keep everything clean. Can you imagine? 102 rooms we’ve counted and we’re not entirely sure that’s right. New rooms seem to appear out of no where, and we can’t remember if we’ve counted them.” “102?” Betsy asked incredulously. “102. Let’s see if I can get it straight, I have to know to tell the tour people. There’s 2 kitchens, 2 dining rooms, 2 ballrooms,” she recited. “3 libraries, 4 conservatories, 6 parlors, 15 sitting rooms, 18 bathrooms, and 38 bedrooms. The rest of the rooms are sewing rooms, or butler’s pantries or such things.” “And the old dear lived her by herself? What did she do with all the room?” “Hid from the spirits,” Angela said ominously, and then turned, and Betsy could see the twinkle in her eye. “Here we are. Finally!” They walked through another sliding panel into a wide hallway. Angela beckoned with her free hand. “This way.” They turned a corner and entered a large wood paneled room. On the right and left sides it was bordered by rooms, and directly ahead it transitioned into a dining room with a massive wooden table. “I’ve put you in this room, I think it’s the prettiest,” Angela said, and opened a glass paneled door at the end of the row of rooms on the left. It was a pretty room. Lavender brocade covered the bed and the parts of the walls that weren’t covered in windows. Angela had been accurate in her description; each of the rooms bordering the large ballroom had large windows on each wall that covered at least two thirds of the space. It was possible to see into each and every one, from any room you happened to be in. “We’ve put in curtains,” Angela said, “to make the rooms habitable. You just close them like so,” she flipped her wrist and a heavy drapery slid across the rod and shielded the room from the view of the next room, “and you can sleep in peace.” “Some poor dears will have to pull three different curtains to keep from being seen in their skivvies,” Angela added mischievously as she pulled back the curtain, “but for the sake of decorum, I’m sure they’ll suffer through it.” “I certainly hope so!” Betsy said, laughing, and set out to put her clothes away while Angela sat down happily on the bed. “I’ve put Louisa in the room next to yours,” Angela said. “Since there’s a connecting door it seemed bad form to put a man in there.” Betsy nodded in agreement. The very fact that she was at a house party with unmarried men would have been enough to do her poor father in, but sleeping in a connecting room with one? As it was, she hoped her boss wouldn’t find out. Angela continued. “Patrick and Michael will be in the rooms across the ballroom, and Dexter and I will be in the large room at the corner.” Betsy remembered seeing a room that looked quite lived in as they’d come from the stairs. “Cynthia and Ivon will be down the hall from us, in the two rooms opposite the library. They’re on different sides of the hallway, do you think that’s far enough to be decent?” Betsy smiled. Her friend was modern enough to have a mixed party, but still clung to her old fashioned ways at heart. “I’d think so darling. After all, they will have curtains. I’m finished here,” she said, straightening up. “Why don’t you show me the rest of this incredible house?”
Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Because my dear daddy asked
The prologue and 1st chapter of MURDER AT THE MYSTERY HOUSE. Comments are welcome, as long as you don't say anything discouraging. And if you've already figured out who did it, don't tell me or I'll cry. :) Oh, and Elizabeth's name will most likely be changed to Betsy- just so you all know. ------------------------ You are enthusiastically invited to join us for a spooky and scary weekend to celebrate the Grand Opening of The Mystery House to the public. Come prepared to contact the other side. Scairdy- cats can please stay at home. October fifth through the eighth, Ninteen hundred and twenty four. 1500 Bainley Circle, Los Angeles Angela and Dexter Bently RSVP Chapter 1 The invitation lay in the middle of the pile of envelopes Mrs. Bandstock handed over the small counter that sat just inside the door of the boarding house. Elizabeth Malone nodded in thanks, and flipped casually through them as she walked toward the stairs that led to her small room. A bill from the department store for the winter coat she’d recently bought; she wouldn’t have spent the money, but her old one was almost rags. She’d have to see if she could put them off for a week or so, or pay in installments. A letter, dated months earlier but delayed by forwarding, from a friend of her father’s stating that he’d just gotten back from abroad and had only now heard the news of her father’s death. He offered his condolences and his wishes that he could assist his dear friend’s daughter, but times being as they were, he was sure she would understand. His prayers and thoughts were with her. Prayers and thoughts don’t pay for new winter coats, she thought, and crumpled the letter in one hand. Then she thought better of it, and unlocking her door, set the letter down on the bureau just inside, and tried to flatten it out again with her palm. Manners dictated that she write a thank you note, and so she would. But not until later. Leaving the letter on the bureau, she came to a cream colored, square envelope that sat heavy in her hand. She instantly recognized the hand that had addressed it. She smiled in anticipation and, slipping off her sensible flat shoes, sat on her bed to open it. She slid the invitation out carefully and skimmed over the information provided in swirly black ink. She smiled, then frowned, then frowned again. The smile came from the use of the name “The Mystery House” and the realization of it’s being open to the public. Weeks earlier, Angela had called, ecstatic that all of her and Dexter’s money problems would be over. Her dear aunt’s Aunt Virginia, she said, had just died and left them her house! It was a bit odd as the dear old bird had never actually met Angela, but a house was a house, and hers was rumored to be magnificent. And since she and Dexter hardly needed that much room, they would simply sell it off, and viola, no more money troubles. Elizabeth pondered just how it was possible to have money troubles with an allowance from a doting father on one side and a trust fund on the other; but, she considered, all things were relative. A few days later, Angela called again, this time in tears. The house, it seemed, was unsellable. Apparently, explained Angela, Aunt Virginia was as batty as an entire attic, and the house was a manifestation of her madness. Stairs led to the ceiling, doors opened on to brick walls; no one in their right mind would want this house, and now she and Dexter were stuck with it. She cried into the phone while Elizabeth tried to calm her, and finally she came upon the idea that did. Why not open the house for tours? If the house was crazy enough to visit but not to live in, why not let people pay to see it? Angela was ecstatic again. Elizabeth was the best and dearest friend any girl could ever have, and she’d saved the day, she enthused. In addition, it was Elizabeth who’d come up with the name “The Mystery House”. Short, descriptive, and sure to attract the curious. Her frown was in response to the not so veiled reference to the part spiritualism would play in the house party. She knew that Angela’s interest in spirits came more from a desire to scare herself than any belief in actual visitations, but Elizabeth saw such forays as far more than games. They’re the worst kind of fraud, she thought, and I can’t have a part in it. She thought about declining to attend, but then sighed. Angela would never understand if she didn’t go. She’d never explained to her friend about her father’s decline, his obsession with reaching Charles, his son and Elizabeth’s brother, after he went missing during the war. His search led him to medium after medium, fraud after fraud, who each took his money and left him heartbroken. There had been no message from Charles, from the land of the living or the dead, and her father had wasted away as their money did, until he died, broken and broke. She shook her head to clear the memories. Maybe she could just sit out the inevitable Ouija board, table tipping, and planchette writing. She could claim she had a headache. It wouldn’t be too far wrong. Yes, she thought, as long as it’s only people mucking about, I’ll put up with it for Angela’s sake. But if one of those infuriating mediums appears, I won’t stay for a moment. The second of her frowns was a reaction to the dates listed at the bottom of the invitation. Only Angela could call four days a weekend. Spending Thursday and Friday at a house party meant two days that Elizabeth wouldn’t be able to work, not counting Saturday and Sunday, which were among her busiest days. After her father died, leaving her with no money and no means of support, Elizabeth had been forced to fend for herself. Moving into the heart of Los Angeles, and calling on her not-so-meager talents as a photographer, she convinced a local private investigator to hire her for what he called “shutter jobs”. Following the people -mostly husbands- that her boss’ clients wanted watched, Elizabeth was paid to bring back proof of indiscretions and infidelities. Nobody noticed a plain, quiet looking young woman with a camera, even when she was hiding in bushes in the dead of night. It wasn’t glamorous, but it kept a roof over her head, and food in her stomach. That food would be stretched without four days of work, but at least Angela and Dexter fed their guests well. She would have to eat extra while she was there. She shook her head, pushed her hair from her face, and set the invitation on the bed. Getting up she slipped her feet into worn blue slippers and went out into the hall. No one was using the telephone at the end of the hall, so she walked down and called Angela to RSVP. The phone rang twice, and then Angela’s voice burst joyously through the line. “Hello, darling!” Elizabeth wondered amusedly who Angela thought was calling. “Angela? This is Betsy. Who were you expecting?” Laughter burbled through the wire. “Oh darling, how ghastly! I’m so glad it was you. Could you imagine? I picked up the phone and the words just came out! But really darling, how are you?” Elizabeth smiled at her friend’s folly. They first met when they were seven, and had been best friends ever since, despite their differences in practically every arena. “I’m fine darling. I just got your charming invitation, and was calling to accept.” “Oh, how wonderful. You couldn’t have said no, of course, I’d have cried. Seeing as all of this was your idea in the first place.” “Yes, yes. But dear, do tell me what you’re planning so I can be prepared.” “Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly. Everything is a secret, and I can’t tell even you, please don’t make me, Dexter would be furious if I ruined the surprise,” Angela protested. “At least tell me who’s coming,” Elizabeth sighed. “Well,” Angela gave in hesitantly, “all right. I suppose that won’t spoil anything. We’ll be a party of eight. Myself and Dexter and you, of course, then Cynthia Pritchard and Louisa Benson- you know them?” Elizabeth did. They were friends of Angela’s more than hers, but they’d been to enough parties thrown by mutual acquaintances to know each other comfortably. They were flappers, their hair and skirts both daringly short. But they were sweet girls, and she wouldn’t mind spending the weekend with them. Angela continued. “Then there’s Dexter’s friend Patrick Manning; they were at school together, rowed boats, the sweets; and Patrick’s business partner Ivon Denton.” “What business are they in?” Elizabeth asked. “Heavens if I know,” Angela laughed. “Whatever business people are in these days. All I know is that Patrick asked us to invite Ivon, so we did. Hopefully if they need to talk shop they’ll do it to each other and spare the rest of us.” Elizabeth tallied guests in her head. “I thought you said there were eight?” she asked. “Oh yes. Our eighth is a young man you’ve not met, he’s just moved to Los Angeles from New York. His name is Michael Bates, and he’s delightful. No one quite knows what he does; everyone thinks perhaps he’s an actor. If I were an actor I’d tell everyone, but Dexter says that perhaps he’s avoiding the news people. Either way, he’s very tight lipped about it. It’s all too mysterious.” “A perfect guest for The Mystery House then,” Elizabeth said, and Angela laughed merrily. “Wait until you see it Betsy! You can’t imagine how queer it is. When we first saw it I hated it to tears, but I’m quite liking it now. People will come from all over to see it, and at fifty cents a person, we’ll be rolling in it in no time.” Elizabeth shook her head at her friend’s mercenary tone, but smiled. If this plan did work, if the people did come, then Angela and Dexter would have what they felt they needed. And wasn’t that what was important? “Well dear, I’ve got to run, I’m almost asleep on my feet,” Elizabeth said truthfully. All of the sudden she felt very tired. “Poor sweet, you get off to bed. All that sleuthing must tire you out something terrible.” Elizabeth didn’t bother explaining yet again that her job involved little to no sleuthing, just following sordid people to sordid places and taking sordid pictures. She’d tried too many times to count, but Angela stuck to her romantic vision of her friend’s occupation. It was better that way, Elizabeth thought. There was no reason for Angela to be exposed to those realities. Let her live in her mystery house, like a princess in a castle, away from the nastiness of life.
The last Agatha Christie book that I read in preparation for NaNoWriMo (which starts today) was Black Coffee, which actually wasn't written by her at all. Well, I guess that it was originally- the book is an adaptation of a stage play that Ms. Christie wrote back in 1930. The play was then adapted posthumously by a Charles Osbourne, who, while he is a decent writer, is no Agatha Christie. You can tell that the core of the story- the twists and turns- was concieved by Ms. Christie, but the writing itself is missing that special touch that is hers. It's a decent read, the words just don't sing. And that leads me- albeit a bit negatively- to this years NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is a word which in some language doubtless translates to "a group of crazy people who simultanously lose their minds in the month of November as they attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days". This madcap endeavor has been going on for a number of years, I've only participated for the last two years- the first year I quit after a day and last year I actually succeeded in finishing! This year the adventure begins anew, as I attempt to write a murder mystery. I have most of the pieces I need, now I just need to start writing. And of course, instead, I'm writing this, and cleaning my house. But I will start, and I will succeed. And maybe, if people are interested, I'll post bits here as I go.