Would you like to know how my day has been? Tough crap! Wrong blog
Seriously though, recent illness has at least been good for one thing: getting a story that has been swirling around in my brain OUT and plucking it onto a page. It seems feverish dreams spawn creativity at times. I present to my WTers ::drumroll please:: The latest, the unfinished, the unedited... part one of chapter one of the untitled:
Thomas trudged up the road, the uneven hillside making his steps even more labored. It was already dark, for which he was grateful. As far as he knew, this place was hidden from the gods.
The damp ground did not help with the load he was pushing. It was small compared to what he had sometimes had trudge up here, but that didn't make it any better for him. He stopped as he came to the grassy hill... was there any where left? The markers were untrustworthy. It wasn't just a hill for those who deaths had been witnessed and documented - anybody could've dug a hole here. The constant dampness and slippery ground would have made it unremarkable, and anyways who would investigate?
This was what was termed a Potters' field, but it was really just a dumping ground for undesirables. Traditionally that meant criminals, but to criminals that meant anyone who needed to be lost. Thomas often felt when he was up here that the wind sent the voices of the spirits free, that they whisked by his head as he buried the bodies found or was told about. It didn't bother him. He took care to bury each body as gently as possible, just in case, and hardly ever stole anything from them. Especially the prostitutes - those ladies had nothing in life, they ought to have a bauble or two for death. But the taxman, oh, the taxman was different. He made his money by stealing from anyone, bringing fear into the town below. That pocketwatch he wore on the inside of his shiny new coat - he hadn't earned that. He stole it off of others' misery. No, that went to someone else. He didn't even feel a twinge of remorse as he ranked that from the young man's body. He didn't even bother to make sure the body was right side up. He hoped the man would stare at Hell forever.
He stopped in a place where the markers were scarce. He hoped it was a good place, one where the markers hadn't simply been blown away or rotted. This was a young girl's body.
'Pretty little thing, maybe,' he thought as he unwrapped the little girl from her sackcloth prison. The rain had still soaked through, but not too much. He looked up at the moon as if to check for eyes hidden in them somewhere, and nodded. He was not guilty. He wouldn't have left this job to anyone else, and nobody else would either.
Then he dug.
"Nooooo!!!" a child screamed.
"Shhh!!! You're too loud!" Another child's voice. "We'll get in trouble!"
Then they giggled. Clara was a girl of ten, and Hodges her only child companion. The big house they lived in was in bad shape for rearing children in general, but it was like a county fair in terms of hide and seek. Hodges didn't know why Clara always found him though, because Clara had a secret.
Clara had explored all the best hiding places in the house. There were forgotten corners, trick doors, and places she had also warned Hodges never to go... SPOOOOKY places she would tell him. Hodges, though the same age, was younger than she, and was too timid and trusting to ever go looking in a place she had sanctioned as too scary or dangerous for him.
"Hodges, your knees are dirty," she said. "You must go clean yourself up. They'll want us for dinner soon."
"Okay," he replied, wiping himself off and obediently going toward his bedroom to change, and presumably, forget to wash up.
Clara herself had heard the big clock downstairs chime that the afternoon had officially, according to Father Time, arrived. It was faint, but she learned how to hear everything in this house. Every creak and voice and footstep. It was a necessity, because outside the house, the hill was always dark. Even now, when it was lightest, the rain made it appear to be twilight. But the clock had gone CLUNG faintly, and the merest tinkle of teacups and assorted china dishes could be heard a far way off in the kitchen. It was best as children to simply arrive without an adult having to pester them. The more they did themselves, the more everyone would let them do it by themselves.
Clara decided to wear the same dress she had put on that morning, as few people would remember seeing it. She had nipped down to the kitchen right away, as the grownups were already brewing a polite but deceptively lively debate, and crept out as quietly as she had come.
Her gloves needed changing. She had gotten them dirty by prying open the door in the far hallway that always stuck. Rust from the handle and manipulating the hinges stained her black fingers a dusty red. Aunt Lockley would be down there now for tea, and "dirty, unkempt" little girls would never pass the inspection of that glassy, surprisingly eagle-like glare.
Her cabinet was full of gloves. She was taught ever since she could dress herself that gloves were an essential part of not "putting others off." They meant her arms. She had marks from birth that resembled a tea stain all over her forearms, and a plethora of gloves were acquired for her in order to cover them up. When she was small, Clara would gaze at the stains before falling asleep, scanning the shapes and following the stories they told, like looking for shapes and stories in a cloud. She had seen horses galloping, journeymen traveling, memories haunting...
They grey pair would do, she thought.
Hodges came around and stood in the doorway, looking expectantly at her.
"Ready?" she asked. He nodded.
"Let's go then."
They walked down one flight of stairs, two flights, then another, to reach the open tea room where Aunt Lockely and Marian Thornsby sat in stillness. As far as Clara could tell Marian was not a blood relative but a sort of permanent guest. Thomas Thornsby was the groundkeeper for as long as she could remember, but one day a Marian had been unearthed and introduced to the rest of the little family, and she simply stayed. Clara assumed she was family of some kind. She noted the slight ribbons of red hair among the silvery grey, a strong resemblance to Thomas' own coloring, when it was visible. Everybody in the house spoke little, but Marian spoke the least. But she spoke the most to Aunt Lockley, who appreciated the company as she spoke the most of anybody, and whose conversation was the least sought of all.
Mr. Thornsby was called just Thomas by all but Hodges and Clara herself. He was her favorite of the household, despite his gruff manner and the everpresent layer of grime that he tracked in from the grounds. He was always covered in dirt, damp grass, and a frown. He spoke little but Clara suspected he thought much. At times when she was instructed to go outside and 'play' she would find Mr. Thornsby and sit in an unobtrusive place nearby, and the two of them would not talk, together. He would acknowledge her with a nod, brown eyes glimmering under the bushy, unkempt brows. His face was largely hidden by a short, bushy beard. He would go along with his work. Sometimes he would glance over at her discreetly and appear to busy himself with some new task that wasn't particularly important, like taking spare nails out of old timber from a pile or rearranging something in the nearby flowerbed. Then when she got up and headed toward the house, he would stop what he had been doing, and disappear to somewhere else.
Hodges became timid around the man. He said once to Clara that his beard scared him, to which Clara had promptly replied that he had no business being scared of anybody just because of how they looked. After all, Aunt Lockley had a cloudy eye and teeth rimmed with black, and she herself had her birthmarks that had scared the other children at school her first day, and still made other adults from the town below uncomfortable. Some had even said that everyone in the house was "cursed." Even Hodges had a peculiarity about his ear. It was an odd shape to begin with, and folded over at the top like a dog's. The lobe had two small incisions at the bottom, as if a Hell hound itself had bit a piece of it off. Neither child went to school because of their various deformities. On Clara's first day of school the other children had chased her during playtime and threw rocks and kicked her when she fell down. It was decided by Aunt Lockley that Clara's education would have to remain at home, which resulted in a pleasurable exploration every day of any book she liked in the library downstairs. She was at leisure to peruse the many shelves, and in lieu of any formal instruction, Aunt Lockely would ask simply what she had learned that day. And when Hodges had shown up, she was told to instruct him too.
Clara had never remembered a day when she couldn't read. There were a number of things she couldn't remember, but had never been curious enough to inquire about. She had no recollection of a mother, or indeed a father, but had not missed having either. She knew from the books she read that a mother and father figure appeared to be a crucial part of the family construct, but she was not clear on why it was important and did not busy herself with such questions anyhow. She always found that topics about Animals, Mythology, and the vast array of mortuary subjects kept her well insulated from the petty incongruencies of her own situation.
She felt a tinge of excitement as she realized that this time spent with her books would commence after tea.
"Very prompt," Aunt Lockley nodded in approval as they appeared in the room. "Have some tea then? And a sandwich for you both."
The two children pulled their chairs out carefully and sat down. Each took some tea and a sandwich as offered - watercress paste, yuck! Clara thought to herself - and ate in polite silence.
"There will be guests here tomorrow children, so you know what to do. Except for you Hodges. Before you resume your usual activites with Clara tomorrow, Marian could use some assistance in the flower garden. She has expressed a desire to design a bouquet for the special occasion and I would like you to be sure she can access everything she needs. If she needs a wheelbarrow, you can fetch Thomas's smaller one. Every little thing that she asks of you Hodges, you.are.to.do.it." She wagged a finger at the child meaningfully. "No distractions! Once she is threw you may go back to your learning with Clara. Is that understood?"
Hodges nodded but looked up slightly at Thomas Thornsby.
Aunt Lockley sighed.
"I'm sure Thomas wouldn't mind fetching the wheelbarrow to leave for you in the morning, if you are too afraid to go out to the barn."
"Thank you Aunt -" Hodges began.
"Don't thank me! Thank Thomas."
Hodges fell silent. A barely perceptible bead of sweat began to travel from his forehead to his nose as he gazed awkwardly at the man looking down at him.
Thomas simply smiled, and nodded at the boy. Then turned decidedly back to his tea with the air of one who has no intention of breaking his concentration of it for quite some time.
Aunt Lockley sniffed, and the subject was dropped.
"What is the special occasion, Marian?" Clara asked.
Marian did not answer, but smiled.
"Do not be so curious, Clara! You will find out when it is done. That is all. It is no business of yours. You are to tell me something of the native customs of the land tomorrow night, however. I should like it to be researched thoroughly. You will probably need to utilize the mortuary section of the library for much of that."
Clara was not particularly unused to Aunt Lockley's special assignments. If anything it made her feel important to be able to present her aunt with information that would be well received from her. If she did a good job, which she always did, she would often be rewarded in some way.
"I will ma'am," she replied.
(To be continued...)