Free Fiction: The Curse of Splintermoon Manor

It’s been a while since I treated you to some free fiction, so I decided it was time I rectified this oversight. This came from a flash fiction prompt I set my writing group, Writebulb, which was the proverb, ‘Never judge a book by its cover’. I hope you enjoy my take on it.

The Curse of Splintermoon Manor

splintermoon

The long, wide hallway was resplendent with ornate mirrors, oil paintings of previous occupants and intricately carved wood and plaster. As Beth paused to gaze at a particularly severe-looking woman, she realised just how much she enjoyed the research aspect of writing.

Splintermoon Manor, a 16th century mansion, lay deep in the Essex countryside. It was reputedly one of the most haunted houses in Britain, and as such, was the perfect setting for the novel Beth was planning. She wasn’t one to just surf the internet for research, Beth preferred to visit places, take photographs to refer back to and soak up the ambiance; there was a strong atmosphere in the manor to absorb.

She continued slowly along the polished wood floor, taking a few shots as she meandered then halted as she came to a strangely carved wood panel. This was so different from the rest; taking a photo she then moved closer.

The panel’s carvings of runes started at the centre then worked in an ever-growing spiral towards the edges. Around the frame were strange symbols; some she had come across in earlier research, but others were entirely new and they fascinated her.

Beth placed her index finger on the centre rune and traced it along the spiral until she heard a soft click. She looked around, but was alone. As she turned her attention back to the panel, she noticed a thin bead of light from one edge that hadn’t been there before. She pushed gently at the edge and was surprised when the panel swung inwards on well-oiled hinges, revealing a brightly-lit passageway.

Beth’s eyes grew wide and her mouth gaped; most old mansions reputedly had secret passages, but she never thought she would find one. After a brief hesitation she stepped over the lintel and gazed around. There was a dead end behind the panel, but the long passage turned a corner ahead so she couldn’t see how far it went. Taking a deep breath she began to walk forwards.

Moments later, Beth heard a soft click behind her. She whirled around and saw the panel had closed. No-one was there. Trepidation coursed through her, but she continued on her path.

The passage seemed so long with its many twists and turns; although still lit, the passage gave Beth chills, especially as the eyes in the paintings seemed to follow her. These portraits had a sinister edge – all the frames had the strange symbols carved into them.

Beth turned another corner and was met by a huge door with the exact same carving as the hall panel. She paused, pondering whether to continue on, her curiosity warring with her practical side, when the door swung open. Curiosity won and Beth moved cautiously over the threshold.

Entering the large room, she heard a reedy voice, “Welcome, Beth.” Sitting in an armchair by an open fire was an old man. Dressed in clothes from the Victorian era, his papery skin resembled parchment yet his eyes sparkled with youth. It was strange seeing this ancient man with such eyes.

“How do you know my name? Who are you?” Beth blurted out.

The old man chuckled. “Allow me to introduce myself – I am Edwin Splintermoon and your great, great uncle. I’ve been expecting you, my dear.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Beth replied automatically. “Sorry, but what do you mean you’ve been expecting me?” An uneasy inquisitiveness scorched her eyes and voice.

Edwin skirted the question, “You look so much like her, you know,” his voice wistful.

“Who?”

“Amelia,” he replied pointing to a portrait on the far wall. Beth’s eyes followed his finger and gasped as she caught sight of the woman. Apart from the hairstyle and clothes, she could have been gazing at her own reflection.

“Will you tell me about her?”

Edwin nodded and gestured for her to sit opposite him. Beth complied and waited for his account.

“Amelia was my eldest sister, your great, great aunt, and mistress of this manor. Five years after she inherited the house she met a man and became smitten. I didn’t like or trust him – he had shifty eyes – and tried to persuade her to send him away. She wouldn’t hear of it and we had a terrible fight. Two nights later, there was an awful commotion coming from her room. Fearing for her safety I rushed in, but there was no sign of her. Her room was in disarray and on her bed I found a lock of her hair and a drip of blood. She has never been seen or heard from since that night,” Edwin’s voice became sadder in the telling.

“I’m so sorry,” Beth wasn’t sure what else to say. She looked down at her hands and failed to see a strange glint in the old man’s eyes.

“You are the last descendant of our family and will soon inherit this magnificent home. As such, will you do me the honour of signing our family book?” Beth raised her head and saw a pleading in Edwin’s sad eyes. She nodded and he rose, shuffling across the room to an old writing desk.

On the desk was a huge tome. The outer covering looked like animal skin and the pages inside like parchment. He flicked through until he found what he sought – part of a family tree. He pointed at the elaborate diagram, “See?”

Beth stared at the page; there was her name and above that those of her parents and grandparents. Edwin passed her an old-fashioned quill and pointed just below her name. “Sign it there, please.”

As Beth signed her name, she was surprised to observe red ink on the page. As she watched, it altered to black. Strange, she thought. She moved towards Edwin. “I really must go now. It’s been lovely to meet you – perhaps I can visit you again.” She extended her hand.

Edwin grabbed her hand in his papery ones; a sadistic grin marred his features and a sizzle of fear trickled down her spine. She pulled her hand away and moved towards the door, but it had vanished. Beth gasped and she heard a wicked chuckle behind her.

“Sorry, Beth, you’re not going anywhere. You see, in signing the book you have bound yourself to this house forever. You can never leave and you can’t destroy the book either, it’s protected by the curse.”

“Curse? What curse?”

“Legend has it that one of our ancestors was a witch hunter in the seventeenth century and he tricked a witch into falling in love with him just so he could destroy her. When she realised what he had done, she cursed him and his bloodline for all time. Within a couple of days of her death, this book appeared in the house. Every descendant of the witch hunter who writes in it has been bound to the house and isn’t released until the next relative does so. Now it’s your turn and I can leave . . . at last.” As she watched Edwin began to grow younger and at the same time, lose substance until he was little more than an outline.

“Will you help me, please?” she begged, tears forming.

“Sorry my dear, there’s nothing I can do. Perhaps you should be careful what you sign – after all, you can’t judge a book by its cover!”

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Mission

One of the challenges I faced when running the blog tour for the Heart Search launch was being asked to write a flash fiction Sci-Fi story for JB Lacaden’s blog. I’d never written in this genre before, but relished getting my teeth into something new. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone occasionally; it stretches you as a writer and give you the opportunity to explore your creative side in a different way. Anyway, here is the result. I hope you like it.

Mission

The ship landed in dense forest in the dead of night. They were safe in the knowledge the humans wouldn’t have been able to detect it on their antiquated radar systems or telescopes – their cloaking device and speed ensured that.

They had prepared well, studied the homo-sapiens and knew how they could blend in undetected. They pulled on their human skin suits, checking each other before exiting the craft.

Their mission was, to them, an easy one. All they had to do was obtain a particular stone and two humans carefully chosen from the millions inhabiting this tiny planet. Fortunately those they sought were in close proximity to each other, making their task that much easier. They held hands, concentrating on their first destination. A shimmering glow surrounded them and they vanished, reappearing in an alley in the middle of London just a few hundred yards from the building which was their target. They walked out onto the main street and gazed up at it.

The majestic towers and beauty of the ancient architecture were a source of amusement to the aliens; their world was so different with curved seamless buildings of white or silver, aesthetically pleasing to the eye, which glowed and glistened with light from the three suns orbiting their planet. The buildings all around them so dull in comparison; so laughable in the crude construction methods used.

“We must hurry. There is much to accomplish before their daylight begins,” the elder’s thoughts transmitted to his companion. The younger one nodded his agreement and together they closed their eyes picturing the room they needed to be in, another shimmer and they materialised in a room filled with locked cases containing crowns, coronets and tiaras which sparkled in the tiny nightlights in the ceiling. Spotting the sceptre, the younger alien smashed the case with his fist and grabbed it, a look of triumph on his face which quickly faded as a cacophony of sound assaulted their ears.

They heard footsteps approaching quickly and a jangle of keys, but the alarm made it difficult to concentrate; holding hands once more they closed their eyes and tried desperately to picture where they wanted to be next. Their attentiveness was compromised by the volume of sound around them and they pushed their powers to the limit. Just as the door opened, it worked and they disappeared right before the guard’s incredulous gaze.

Re-emerging in a quiet suburban street they breathed a sigh of relief; that was a close call and something they were totally unprepared for. They split up, one entering the home directly in front of them, the other a house further down on the opposite side of the road.

They emerged minutes later with sleeping children in their arms, one male and one female, both just pre-puberty. With victorious expressions they moved closer, closed their eyes and with the familiar shimmer vanished.

Laying the children in sleeping pods, they removed their human suits, and re-launched. They were returning home.

* * *

My first ever Sci-Fi story! It still amazes me how I respond to having a maximum word count and it sure is a great way of teaching a writer about self-editing and cutting extraneous words.

Free Fiction: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

In January this year our writing group, Writebulb, were set a flash fiction challenge. All we were given was the proverb ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’, and were able to interpret it however we chose.  Here is my take on it. I hope you like it.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

The full moon was low in the sky. Instead of its usual brilliance, the orb had a creamy opalescence against the ebony backdrop. She sat at the window seat and gazed out at the shadowed garden which still bore evidence of the latest winter storm. The ice encrusted snow lay thick and heavy in patches, just as it had a year ago. The fateful night that turned her world upside down. Quivers ran down her spine as her memory plunged her back into the nightmare.

Snow had fallen earlier in the day lying soft and feathery on the frozen ground. Marc was restless, pacing the floor in front of the window peering out at the grey snow-filled clouds in the early evening sky. He turned towards her, a speculative expression on his face.

“Do you fancy coming for a walk with me?”

Surprise flittered across her face – this was a first for Marc. A romantic evening stroll through the snow was far from usual for him, but the change was a welcome one.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll just grab my boots,” Rene responded with a grin. She dashed upstairs and rummaged in her wardrobe for her wellies and a hat to keep her head warm. Five minutes later she was bundled up warmly and ready to go. Marc grabbed her hand and they walked out into the cold crisp night.

As they sauntered through the clouds of fluffiness they snuggled closer. The night air nipped at their faces; Rene’s nose tingled and as she wrinkled it, Marc chuckled.

“Awww, you look so cute when you do that!” Rene stuck her tongue out at him and he laughed harder.

“Just because you look like Rudolph’s brother, doesn’t mean you can take the mickey,” she pouted, pretending to be miffed. Marc laughed again and with the speed of a cobra, scooped her up in his arms and deliberately fell into the snow immersing them in its icy softness.

They giggled like two carefree school children. Rene rolled over and scrambled away, scooped up a handful of snow, shaped it into a ball and lobbed it at Marc, catching him on the forehead. She burst out laughing and reached for another handful, but before she could launch another attack a snowball smacked into the back of her head and she heard Marc chuckling behind her. She turned and threw another one then ran, not stopping to see if it found its target. A missile caught the back of her neck and she shrieked as the icy wetness found its way down her back.

Rene bent and grabbed another handful of snow, almost falling as her momentum carried her forward. She could hear Marc gaining on her and she took off over the field, crafting another missile as she ran. This was the most fun they’d had in too long.

Her footsteps masked the sound of his and didn’t realise he was no longer behind her until she heard a terrified scream which could have churned milk into butter at fifty paces. She whirled around, startled to find she was totally alone.

“Marc?” her worried voice appeared muffled in the wide open space, as if she were in a vacuum. She started running back, retracing her steps. Icy panic gripped her heart sending shivers through her torso.

It was a couple of minutes before Rene came across Marc’s footprints. A puzzled expression etched into her features as she noticed them veer to one side and she began to follow. The imprints progressed in an arc close to trees and bushes and then stopped beside two fresh furrows that vanished into the undergrowth. She took a few steps into the bushes then paused. A trail of bright red splashes of differing sizes marred the hoary surface and a coppery odour assaulted her nostrils.

“Marc?” she yelled, the fear in her voice hung among the trees, an almost tangible thing.

Rene staggered back a few steps, gasping in horror. Her breathing accelerated and she was close to hyperventilating. Her eyes gaped in the direction of the blood as a scream began to build in her lungs. A rustling in the bushes ahead drew her attention; her eyes flicked in the direction of the noise and a pair of yellow eyes stared back at her.

Her scream erupted into the night; Rene turned and sprinted back towards home, terror flooding through her. She could hear growling behind her, but no sounds of pursuit. However, she didn’t dare slow her pace or look back. She flung herself through the door and bolted it. As she leaned back against it trying to catch her breath, she heard howling echoing around the outside of the house.

She ran into the kitchen without turning on any lights and peered out at the moonlit vista. Standing six feet from the window, a huge wolf-like creature stood on its hind legs, its head thrown back as it bayed at the sky; the voice filled with agony.

Rene was mesmerised by the creature – she’d never seen anything so strange and terrifying – and scrutinised it from her place of safety. As abruptly as the howling began, it ceased and the beast lowered its head as it dropped to stand on all four paws. It gazed directly at the window where Rene stood; a pitiful whine escaped from its throat and a pair of tormented eyes met her stare.

She inhaled sharply; there was something about the wolf-like animal that she sort of . . .  recognized, yet how could she? Her eyes were unexpectedly drawn to something glinting on one of its front paws which the beast had lifted from the ground and as she realised what it was, her legs gave way and she crumpled to the floor, moaning.

“Marc!” a tortured whisper floated from her lips. Pain flooded her chest as her heart ripped in two. The glint she saw was the engagement ring she’d given to Marc only six months previous and just before he’d disappeared from her view she’d noticed fresh wounds around his neck and shoulder. He’d been bitten.

She couldn’t bring herself to move from the house, it was the only link to Marc she had left. But she didn’t dare venture out at full moon anymore; she’d lost Marc to it, but refused to lose herself.

I really hope you enjoyed that and would love to know what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment or several. 🙂