So whilst I’m plucking away at Soul Inferno and the action is beginning to heat up (hehe) over there, like most writers I know, I have a guilty pleasure Work-In-Progress. I often find myself sneaking in a thousand words here or there before work or on the weekend. And while I’m almost instantly filled with guilt about writing something other than SI, I can’t help but read back over what I’ve done with a huge idiotic grin on my face. I am really loving this manuscript, but never fear, Soul Inferno is definitely on track for its release next year.
So to alleviate some of the guilt I’m feeling, I thought I’d share the first chapter of what I’ve been working on. Ink is the tentative title of my 1940’s fantasy, which includes secret societies, monsters and murder amongst other things. Please let me know (honestly!) what you think:
A burning ember landed on her shoulder, and for a moment, she didn’t notice.
Calliope Violet, now the sole remaining member of the Violet family, stood and watched her childhood home burn, as her parents turned to ash inside.
“Miss Violet,” one of the firemen had hurriedly brushed the ember from her shoulder and was now tugging at her bare elbow. The mansion had been deemed ‘too dangerous’ for them to even approach, and so they stood and watched with her. “Please, you don’t need to see this-”
She shrugged him off, not hearing. Tears had long ago pooled in her deep blue eyes and run down her cheeks, dripping from her jaw and staining the delicate lace of the party dress she still wore. She had expected a lecture on returning home late, from a party she wasn’t supposed to attend.
She hadn’t expected the inferno.
As the top floor of the mansion collapsed in on itself with a roar of smoke and embers, she turned away. She had never been strong, and too much strength was required to watch on anymore. She wrapped her arms around her torso and cried in earnest, feeling the prickling of cold rain on her shoulders.
As someone hurried her into an ambulance, which had been sitting uselessly after it became clear that her parents wouldn’t be emerging from their mansion, Calliope felt her heart break, ripping open in her chest. Crying seemed too trivial to express the pain, and so she huddled in a shaking mass as the ache in her chest destroyed her from the inside out. Dimly, she was aware of driving through the streets of the city. They were taking her to the hospital, as though surgeons existed who could fix her broken heart.
She let them take her to the emergency ward, allowed the nurses to fuss over her and wrap an unnecessary blanket around her shoulders. Eventually they conceded that she was, physically, in perfect health. They released her as a new dawn broke over the city.
They called her a cab and Calliope stepped into the unfamiliar black car, wondering what had happened to her parents’ town cars and their staff of twenty. Maybe they had burned along with her parents. The thought clattered against her mind but she had sealed her conscience against anything hurtful.
When the cab driver asked for an address, she rattled off the address for her parents’ city mansion, located within the heart of the metropolis. The cab driver, seemingly unfazed by the quiet teen still clad in a gaudy party dress and wrapped in a hospital blanket, pulled away from the curb quietly. Calliope watched the city slide by the taxi’s windows. The Violet mansion, on her parents’ estate, would be a smouldering pile of ash and embers by now. Would there be firemen or looters picking over the burnt remains of her home?
The cab pulled up out the front of her secondary home. Without looking back at the driver, Calliope stepped out of the car and closed the door delicately behind her. When the cab drove away from the curb without delay, she assumed no payment was in order.
Three stories tall, the Violet city mansion was made of a dark stone, and darker roof tiles. Vines crept up the walls, something she’d thought charming and quaint only a few weeks before, but now seemed threatening and cloying. Picking her way along the stone path to the front door, Calliope fished in her clutch for the front door key and let herself in.
Silence greeted her. The plush maroon carpet seemed the exact shade of blood, whilst the cream walls matched the hue of a corpse. How had she once found this place warm and jovial?
A tall, purple vase stood alone on a table in the hallway. Calliope approached it and picked it up, running her hands over the glass to admire the smooth sheen of the glassblower’s craftsmanship. Then she turned and hurled the vase at the mirror opposite her.
Both smashed in a cascade of razor sharp fragments. In what was left of the mirror, she could see her face, pale and wan, with large dark shadows under her eyes, a combination of mascara and lack of sleep. Tears had long since streaked the makeup down her face, marring the application she’d spent hours of the previous night perfecting. She couldn’t remember why. Something about a boy? Impressing someone? It seemed so trivial now she couldn’t even begin to contemplate it.
Avoiding the sharp slivers of glass on the carpet, she slowly made her way into the front sitting room. The sun was poking through the curtains, a single ray falling upon the carpet and making the broken shards glitter. With a scowl, Calliope drew the curtains tight across, and the sun was extinguished. The room fell into comfortable darkness and she immediately felt safer somehow.
The sun was still warming the room and she could feel her eyelids beginning to grow heavy. Fighting the urge to sleep, as it felt too unnatural as the sun rose in the sky behind the curtains, she was at a loss as to how to proceed with the day. Or the rest of her life for that matter.
An orphan. The ‘O’ word hit her with almost a physical slap. She sat on the sofa heavily, feeling tears begin to grow and her lip begin to tremble. How could she be expected to carry on her parent’s legacy? She was feeling the weight of responsibility begin to sink in. It was almost a relief when the telephone rang.
She stared at the phone on the wall, wondering who could possibly be calling so early. Were the friends of her parents really so eager to comfort the only surviving Violet? With a feeling of trepidation she lifted the receiver and held it to her ear.
“Hello?” her voice sounded thin and weak, even to her.
“Miss Violet. My name is John Launceston; I’m your parent’s attorney. I do apologize for the hour of my call, but I’m afraid we have some business to discuss that couldn’t wait any longer. Would it be possible for you to come down to my office on Harris Street?”
She wrapped the cord of the phone around her finger unconsciously. Was this man really asking her to worry about her parent’s business ventures on the day after their demise?
“I beg you not to think of me as a monster, Miss Violet.” He did sound truly regretful. “But your parent’s will is quite insistent.”
Her grip tightened around the receiver. How easy it would be to hang up and forget the call entirely, but the weight of responsibility had seized its moment and settled again on her shoulders.
“Your address please.” She said quietly.
Her mother had left a small notepad and pen beneath the phone and she quickly scribbled the address he told her. She hung up before he could utter another word.
Perhaps it would be better to get this business over and done with. She fiddled with the page she’d written upon before tearing it off and crumpling it in her hand. She would go to the attorney’s office and settle her parent’s accounts. That’s what responsible orphans did, wasn’t it?
The note still clenched in her fist, she ascended the stairs to the second floor and then the third. Her bedroom was in the west wing of the house, and obviously hadn’t been touched since her last visit. Pushing painful memories to the back of her mind, she slid out of the party dress and shoved it under her four poster bed where she couldn’t look at it any longer.
There was a burgundy dress suit in her closet. Before, she had almost considered it too mature for her curvy frame; it would make her seem older than her eighteen years. She plucked it from its hanger and stepped into it, then buttoned the jacket that went with it. Finding sensible black heels, she tugged them onto her feet and then set about cleaning the ruined makeup from her face. As she replaced it with a fresher coat, she thought of her parents and what they’d left behind. There was her, to begin with, but also numerous stocks and businesses. All the duties that had once been her parents’ now fell to her, and she would not allow her parents to be shamed through their only child.
So for this outing, she would be brave and she would be stone. She wouldn’t allow herself to mourn until returning to the mansion.
Repeating the mantra in her head, she settled a small pillbox hat on her auburn locks and tugged the netting over her eyes. Wearing the suit and hat felt like armour, and she got the distinct impression she was heading into battle.
“Again, please accept my apologies for the hastiness of these proceedings,” John Launceston peered over his glasses at her. “I understand that it was only last night-”
“Mr Launceston, please,” Calliope interrupted quietly. “My parent’s accounts.”
“Of course,” he reached into his desk drawer and removed a large file wrapped in canvas and bound with string. He untied the string and laid the contents of the file on his desk. “Obviously you are the sole recipient of your parents’ residential properties – excuse me, property – their businesses, their shares and all of their wealth. As you have just come of age, you are to do with these as you see fit. I can recommend advisors and the like, as your father did most of the accounting himself and I doubt he, uh, passed it on.”
Calliope didn’t meet his gaze as the lawyer stumbled again. He pushed his glasses further up his nose and continued with the names of several advisors, but she wasn’t listening.
John Launceston was younger than she’d expected, with short brown curls and deep set green eyes. He was dressed smartly in a waistcoat and jacket, and she had spied a long golden chain leading to a pocket watch. As he finished with the list of advisors he looked up at her again, catching her looking at him, but she felt no embarrassment.
“Did you know my parents, Mr Launceston?” she asked.
The young lawyer hesitated.
“Your father came in several times. In fact, I believe he and my father were old friends.”
“He never mentioned him.”
He frowned at her, pausing in the process of gathering documents back together.
“Funny,” he said eventually. “Mine spoke of yours quite a lot.”
The grandfather clock suddenly clunked, before sounding off the midday hour. As each note clanged in the small office, Calliope stood.
“If that is all?” she asked when the clock had finished.
“Yes, I believe it is.” John Launceston answered, and reached into his coat pocket. “Please, take my card and feel free to phone me at any time.”
She accepted the card, slipping it into her jacket pocket and turning to leave.
She turned back. John was holding the file out to her.
“I don’t want it.” she said immediately.
“Your mother asked me to make sure you got it,” he gestured with the file again, wincing; it was obviously heavy. “She wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
She bit her lower lip, and then held her hand out for it. With the file settled into her arms, she turned and left the office, leaving John Launceston watching her mournfully.
The file rested heavily on her lap during the cab ride back to the mansion. She plucked at the string binding it, wondering if she should burn it, but the thought of flames made her shudder.
It was late afternoon by the time she got back. Alone in the mansion, listening to the ticking of the clock in the living room, she found herself treading the stairs to her father’s study. It seemed the appropriate place for the file.
The large desk that her father had spent many hours at seemed incomplete without his stately form behind it. She had spent many hours in here with her father, reading quietly as he handled the family accounts. As she settled in the leather chair where he’d once sat, she suddenly felt too small for the chair, as if she were a child again. Shaking the feeling, she unwound the string from the file and began to read, her eyes blurring as she realised it was mostly financial jargon. About to abandon the pointless gesture, she noticed the corner of an envelope protruding from the pages. She slid it from the file and held it before her. It was a slim, white envelope sealed with purple wax.
The seal was unbroken.
Why hadn’t John mentioned it to her? It was possible he hadn’t seen it, she had to admit. He didn’t seem the type to hide information from his clients.
With trembling fingers, she broke the wax seal and tugged the letter from the envelope. Unfolding it, she began to read what she recognised immediately as her mother’s handwriting.
My dearest Callie,
If you’re reading this, it means that the worst has befallen us. I am so very sorry, my petal, for leaving you alone in this world.
Her fingers clutched at the paper as though it was her mother’s hand. She bit her bottom lip fiercely as tears threatened to fall onto the letter.
I wish I could send you words of love and comfort, but, my dear, I’m afraid I cannot afford such lies at this time. You will have to be brave, my Callie. You will have to be strong.
Because unfortunately, my love, if you’re reading this letter, it means that your father and I have been murdered.