winter, 1892 (ish)

see below: an extract from my novel. it’s my birthday & i’m lazy. this is from chapter #25, provisional title: SWEET CHIMING CHRISTMAS BELLS. unseasonable, i know.

it’s a story of dreamy boys & girls, snow, various sorts of unrequited love, & lots & lots of gothic architecture. oh, & there’s airships. & murder. & catacombs. it’s all terribly metal.

artwork’s mine.


A fortnight before the Mawstice ended, Elizabeth caught the train down to Hollowing. It was not like any train she had been on before; it was small and rickety and made mostly of wood; she had to sit on top of a crate of chickens, and kept coughing from the smoke and sawdust. Her hands were red with cold by the time she got off.

The Hollowing station was a single wooden platform, backed by fir-woods; on it Theo waited alone. She registered thin wrists sticking out of a greatcoat- black curls grazing cheekbones- and then he was shaking her hand, getting out of his coat to wrap it round her shoulders. ‘Elizabeth, I’m so glad to see you- but what on earth are you doing dressed like that? You must be frozen- here-‘

He led her out to a snow-rutted road, and she laughed. Waiting for them was a ridiculous outdated pony-trap, at least half a century old; the wheels looked on the verge of crumbling from sheer age. Harnessed to it was a wizened horse that looked no younger than the trap, jaundiced eyes staring out at them, its strawberry coat patchy and faded.

‘I felt absolutely awful harnessing Mary to this thing,’ Theo said, helping Elizabeth in. ‘I felt like a murderer, honestly, but he’s the only horse left. If he starts foaming at the mouth, would you mind us getting out and walking? I’d really rather not have his blood on my hands. Not to feed the rumour-mill, but it’d be tantamount to patricide. Are you comfortable? Do you need a blanket? I can give you my scarf if you like.’

Elizabeth, who was starting to sweat in Theo’s overlarge coat, assured him that she was perfectly fine, and no, she did not need a blanket or his scarf or anything like that.

Theo sat in front, reins in hand, and gradually they jolted off up the hill, into the forest, climbing slowly and painfully. Occasionally he would lean back to shout an explanation on the lay of the land, or enquire after her health; mostly, though, they let the landscape pass by in silence. Elizabeth had visited nearby in the past, and had found it beautiful. They were deep into myth-country. The endless forests housed any number of fey, witches and immortal bears, if the stories held true; the snow fell deep and silent here; and underneath the bright winter air lay the smell of the sea.

She knew from what Theo had told her that the fishing-village of Hollowing lay in a valley, hemmed in by the sea on one side and two hills on the other. The Arkwright house crowned one of these hills, distant enough that the village was invisible from it. The other hill, if scaled, led eventually to the cliffs where stood Hollowing Monastary, childhood home to Melchior Collins.

On this journey they did not pass through Hollowing village, or glimpse the sea; it was several miles uphill until finally, just when Mary’s powers of endurance began to be seriously thrown into question, they reached a pair of iron gates. These Theo dragged open, one by one, putting his entire body behind them to make them move, before driving the pony-trap though and finally pulling up in front of the house.

Staring, Elizabeth got out. The Arkwright house was an ancient block of stone, with a hole in its roof on the far side, revealing struts and the jagged teeth of beams. The windows were grimy, its door a faded and peeling blue. Elizabeth wondered if she was imagining the air of dreamy malevolence that clung to the place.

As Theo wrestled her suitcase away from her with protestations of chivalry, the door burst open and Usher came charging out, heralding them with enthusiastic barks. He danced round Theo first; came to attack Elizabeth with his tongue; went back to Theo.

Amid Usher’s assaults it was a moment before Elizabeth realised that someone else was coming out of the door- a young woman, who leaned back against the doorway, folding her arms, smiling. They went to her, Theo lugging the suitcase. ‘Liorn,’ he said. ‘This is Elizabeth- Elizabeth, my sister, Liorn.’

Liorn looked soft and lovely and invulnerable in a nurse’s white pinafore, tendrils of leaf-gold hair uncoiling round her face. Matching the reasonably tall Theo in height, she towered over Elizabeth, and looked older than Elizabeth would have thought; after a moment she recalled that Liorn was twenty-nine. She offered a hand to Elizabeh, smiling. ‘Theo hasn’t stopped talking about you from the moment he arrived. It’s good to meet you at last.’

‘Oh- you, too,’ said Elizabeth, shaking Liorn’s hand, reddening under a searching look.

They were guided in. Down a narrow corridor; into a dank-smelling room. ‘I doubt that Mother and Grandmother will be appearing today,’ Liorn was saying, ‘but our brother Eamon’s here somewhere. I’ll tell him you’ve arrived-‘ she left the room.

Elizabeth looked around. The room had a certain decayed grandeur to it; an exotic carpet, now threadbare, covering the stone, and delicate, faded paper on the walls, discoloured in places, appearing to bubble in others, peeling a little. There was a strange absence of furniture. One sofa, dark rich velvet, and a couple of mahogany cabinets could not fill up acres of floor, and there were rectangular dark patches on the wallpaper in places, where paintings must once have hung. Cobwebbed candelabras of half-blackened silver stood on the cabinets. A great window of warped old glass let in the winter light; it looked out over blinding snowfields, and the occasional claw of a tree.

Theo, meanwhile, had left Elizabeth’s case in the hallway. Now he stood close to her and smiled, kind and crinkling, in the way she loved best. ‘It’s alright,’ he said. ‘Liorn will like you- and Eamon. I’m so glad you’re here.’

Before she could reply a man shouldered his way into the room. ‘Theo- you’ve brought your friend? Ah- here she is.’ He had to crouch a little to see her properly. ‘Well, you look awfully respectable. I’m sure we’ll do each other fine. Welcome in.’

A huge hand was offered her. She shook it and thought she felt her bones pop.

Presumably this was the infamous Eamon, but he did not look how she had imagined. She’d pictured an elder Theo, slender and rakish; Eamon was a big man, sunburned, crinkle-eyed, his shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbows. Over his arms, creeping up his neck, was an atlas of tattoos in whale-blue ink, delicate as lace. He had Liorn’s blond hair, cut close to the skull. Once he had finished shaking Elizabeth’s hand he moved on Theo, but only ruffled his hair in a way that almost knocked him over.

‘Eamon,’ came Liorn’s voice. She was standing in the doorway. ‘Would you mind taking Elizabeth’s case to her room?’

Eamon left, with a friendly nod.

‘We’re going to put you in old aunt Lettie’s room,’ said Theo. ‘Don’t worry, there’s no Lettie in it now.’

‘He’s trying to scare you,’ said Liorn. ‘It’s been a guest-room for a century and I promise you that no-one has died in it of late.’ She took Elizabeth’s hand. ‘How would you like a tour of the house, Elizabeth?’

‘Oh- yes, please.’

‘You don’t have to, of course,’ came Theo’s voice; he had thrown himself extravagantly over the sofa and was chewing on some sort of root. ‘The only bits you really need to know about are the lavatory and the kitchen.’

‘But it would help,’ said Liorn, ‘if you ever want to find your way to either of those.’

Elizabeth consented; Theo drew his legs up from where they were splayed over the sofa. They set off.




14 thoughts on “winter, 1892 (ish)

  1. Is the drawing of Theo, perhaps? his “black curls grazing cheekbones” with a mane of hair (assuming his parentage is only metaphorically equine). It’s very good. Anyway, congratulations for not being dead…yet. Now to literature! & chapter #25, which seems to be a transitional chapter. The protagonist being taken into a mythical world, like the reader, quite passively and through a series of strangely inadequate vehicles (the uncomfortable train made of wood, the jaundiced horse…) taking her to the ominous House of Usher. I’m anticipating it’s fall, or at least some sort of character collapse, as you introduce the reader (that’s me) to a set of characters which dwarf Elizabeth in height. Her terse, perfunctory speech and passivity certainly lowering her in our estimations. I always find so much in your prose! Perhaps it’s a glandular problem.

    I’m also thinking of the Biblical names (Mary—the mother), Melchior (the wise man), and Theo (the etymological root for God): the ‘patricide’ section is really interesting… but wait Mary rode a donkey into Bethlehem not a horse? Ah, I don’t dare confabulate a meaningful answer! I read into things too much! Out of interest, what happens in chapters 1-24? 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • yes it is! and thank you! it was a gel-pen doodle that got out of hand 😉

      i will have to address the rest of your comment tomorrow morning when i’m a fully functioning human again- so much to think about! (i always like getting your comments!) but as to the last question- there’s an overarching murder plotline involving airship brothels and twenty-year-old diaries and all sorts of mayhem, but really chapters 1-25 are about elizabeth getting in with theo’s unruly crowd.

      i am actually in the process of roping all my friends into reading the damn thing, if you’d be interested? warning: it’s long.


      • Of course I will read your manuscript, I would be honoured; I so seldom get to read anyone’s (currently) unpublished thoughts & prose! Though, as a reciprocal warning, I might end up attempting to psychoanalyse you…

        Liked by 1 person

        • wonderful, thank you! of course you have no sort of obligation to read the whole thing, so don’t feel like you’re getting yourself into anything you can’t get out of. could you give me an email address i could mail it to you at? or a facebook if you use messenger (or you could find me on mine if you understandably don’t want private details on my public blog!)


          • unless it’s anything like Kafka’s “The Castle”, I’m sure it won’t feel as inescapable as that… I definitely picked up the Alice / Lucy / Coraline / Pan’s Labyrinth trope in this chapter where a mostly ingénue protagonist by the sheer force of narrative & external characters is inducted into a fantasy world. My first proper attempt at creative writing was centred on a similar character, my current nom de plume Han Black, who now comes with his own email address:

            Liked by 1 person

            • i have not read ‘the castle’! terrible, i know. love ‘metamorphosis’, tho.

              elizabeth is definitely your naive ingénue- at least at first. eventually she turns out to be one of the strongest characters in the whole thing, because of course. 😉

              email incoming!


    • okay: proper response!

      this is indeed the protagonist being drawn into a mythical world- really that’s elizabeth’s relationship with theo in a nutshell, at least until things get a little messier… and yes, haha, i admit i wasn’t really thinking about any potential symbolism behind the strangely inadequate vehicles- mostly those were intended to suggest the oddness & out-of-the-way-ness of where theo lives, the sense of having to go back in time to reach it. & nice catch about them all dwarfing elizabeth! she’s a bit of an alice in wonderland figure, for sure. she’s small & passive now- but she has her moments.

      haha, yes, mary the horse! melchior- melchior is very important 😉 patricide- and other sorts of ‘cides- will crop up again and again.

      Liked by 1 person

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