Blackfeather Chapter 2

The car skidded to a halt and Kate leaned forward, staring out at the pools of white light her headlights made on the snow. Twisting in her seat, she peered out of the back window, searching the road for the body of the man she’d hit. Her hand reached for the door handle, but she hesitated; it might be a trap. He could be waiting for her out there and she was alone, unarmed and helpless. On the other hand, he could be seriously injured and she couldn’t just drive away and leave him there. She unfastened the seat belt, opened the door and leaned out of the car.

“Hello? Are you all right?”

Silence.

She looked up and down the lane as she walked all around the car, looking in the verges at the sides of the road and checking underneath the vehicle. Nothing! He simply wasn’t there. Maybe it had been an animal, a deer perhaps, but anyway she looked at it, the road was empty. Her breath fogged on the cold air and goose bumps formed on her skin beneath her jumper. She hugged herself, rubbing her chilled hands up and down her arms to generate a little heat, and got back in the car, shaking with shock as well as cold. She sat up tall and rigid, gripping the steering wheel so tightly her fingernails dug into her palms, leaving dark half-moons indented in the flesh.

What on earth had just happened? She knew she’d been travelling far too fast for the icy conditions of the narrow lane, bombing along on the crest of the adrenalin rush after leaving the church, but she’d only turned her head for a second, glancing away from the road to stop the box from falling off the seat and when she’d looked up he was there. And had he smiled? She shook her head, it was a stupid thought. He hadn’t even raised his arms for the impact.

Wait! There hadn’t been an impact. She hadn’t felt anything: no bump, no noise, nothing.

I can’t have hit him then, she decided.

So where the hell had he gone?

The headlights of another car lit up the trees as it drove past, jolting her out of her reverie. In the absence of a body and eager to get home, she started the engine and pulled onto the road behind it. Keeping a careful eye on her speed this time and a safe distance from the car in front, she followed it down the winding lane. As she started to relax again, her mind wandered. She longed for the soothing warmth of a long hot bath and was trying to decide between Lavender Bliss and Coconut Cream bubble bath when they came to a tight bend.

The other car swerved and began to skid across the road. She could see the driver turning the wheel left and right, but with no effect. Kate slowed and came to a stop before the place where he’d lost control then watched in horror as the car slammed through a fence, down an incline and into a farmer’s field, where it crunched to an abrupt halt against a tree.

She sat stunned for the second time that evening before jumping out to go to the man’s aid. He opened his door and moaned, almost falling from the seat. Kate’s feet slithered to a stop in the churned mud and snow. She helped the man from the car and asked him his name.

“Michael,” he said.

“It’s alright, Michael. I’m Kate.”

He’d hit his head and was dazed and disoriented, and leaned heavily on her as she helped him back to her car. She leaned him against the curved bonnet while she made room for him, moving the box to the back seat and hiding it beneath her bag. Then she phoned for an ambulance.

While they waited for help she draped her coat over the injured man, talking to him and rubbing his cold hands to stop him from falling into unconsciousness.

“What happened?” she said.

“I’m not sure.”

He hadn’t been travelling that fast, there must have been a patch of black ice, hidden beneath the lethal glitter of snow.

“Did you see anything strange before you skidded?”

He turned towards her, flinching with pain.

“No. Like what?”

“I don’t know. A figure? Someone in the road in front of you?”

He frowned.

“No, there was nothing.”

He put his hand to his head and moaned.

“Never mind,” Kate said, shrugging her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. Help is on its way.”

She tucked her coat tighter around him and smiled reassuringly.

*  *  *

“Lucky thing you were here,” the paramedics had said. “He must have someone watching over him.”

As the blue lights of the emergency services faded away she pondered those words. If she hadn’t stopped for the mysterious disappearing man she would have been the one to skid on the ice and at the speed she’d been travelling she would have hit the tree much harder. Even if she hadn’t killed herself in the crash, any passing cars would have been unlikely to see her in the dip of the field and left there until morning, she would have frozen to death.

Had someone been watching over her?

She’d heard of stories like this, people warned of danger by mysterious strangers who  appeared out of nowhere. The man in the road had been barely visible through the blur of half melted snowflakes on the windscreen; one minute he was there, tall, possibly fair haired – the next he was gone. She didn’t believe in that kind of nonsense. The mind was hard-wired to see faces in random patterns. All that had happened was that the snowflakes had formed the shape of a figure and her mind had connected the dots. It was a trick of the light, exceptional good luck even – but that was all.

 

Back to chapter list                     Chapter 3                         Buy me a coffee

Advertisements

The Final Hurdle

I have just eight weeks  to go before I complete my undergraduate degree in English Literature and History. Just the matter of a dissertation on fairies, an essay on children’s literature, two essays on creative writing, a 3000 word short story plus edits and one final dreaded exam to get through and I’ll be free, to do what I want – most of the time.

In preparation I’ve been making a few plans. First and foremost is to complete the first draft of Persephone Reborn. I’ve been going through my plot notes and what has already been written and it currently stands at around 32,000 words. That’s about a third of the way through the story, so another 60-80,000 words and it will be ready for the first round of rewrites and edits. It makes the 15,000 words or so that I have left to write for university seem almost easy in comparison, but I would much rather be working on the novel than planning another essay.

Having had to put my writing career on hold for the best part of the last five years it’s been a struggle to build a readership for my books, but I’m hoping to change that by using this blog as a base from which I can share insights into my writing process and interesting (I hope) posts that relate to what I’m working on. You can probably expect things about the locations, history and myths that feature in the next novel, everything from Greek vampires to Liverpool’s sunken graveyard and I’m going to try and become more active on  instagram, facebook, twitter and pinterest. All things I’ve neglected over the last few years.  I’m not the most natural self-promoter so we’ll see what happens.

For the moment it’s back to that essay…

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can  with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

Blackfeather – Chapter 1

Kate threw the pipe under the scaffolding and hurried down the path to her car. Her hands trembled, her knees were weak. Had anyone seen her, running through the graveyard, flustered and grubby, with a suspicious bundle? She had just stolen something from a church and she didn’t even know what it was.

As she fastened the seatbelt and started the car, she remembered her promise to Reverend Pilling. She swore and raced back to the rear of the church, locked the vestry door and hid the key beneath one of the three plant pots arranged in a triangle near the wall. If anyone had seen her, they hadn’t bothered to investigate what she was up to. Back in the driving seat, she took a deep breath.

Just an hour ago she’d been standing at the lych-gate, looking fondly up at the church where she’d been christened, preparing herself for an afternoon away from the office, researching the family tree of a new client. Scaffolding covered the walls instead of ivy, and mesh screens had been fitted over the stained glass windows to protect them from falling masonry and vandals. By the look of things, repairs to the roof had begun just in time.

She blew away the flurry of snowflakes that danced round her head with a puff of hot breath and pushed a wind-whipped strand of hair back under her woollen hat with a gloved hand, then shouldered her bag, unlatched the gate and made her way up the path to the porch. The iron hinges squeaked as she pushed open the heavy wooden door. It was the perfect accompaniment to the whistle of December wind that played through the bare branches of the trees and it sent goose bumps up Kate’s arms in spite of the layers of warm clothing she’d piled on.

Inside the entrance stood a Christmas tree, its branches as yet untrimmed and at intervals down the nave were leafy green wreaths and swags of ivy, laid out ready for someone to fasten them in place. The decorations brought back happy memories of candlelit Christmas Eve carol services, and being carried back to the car in her father’s arms afterwards, too sleepy to walk.

The rainbow of light from the tall medieval stained glass windows was reflected on the arched stone wall opposite and Jacobean box pews, lined up in rows down the nave, mirrored the dark oak beams in the ceiling. At the entrance to each pew was a small posy of flowers, placed in a conical holder. A couple of sparrows and a plump wood pigeon had found their way in through a hole in the roof and while the pigeon perched on the curve of a wall monument, trying to sleep, his feathers puffed up for warmth, the sparrows chirruped and chased each other from beam to beam.

Kate watched them for a few minutes until an elderly man wearing the ubiquitous grey suit, black shirt and dog collar of an Anglican vicar, emerged through a door in the north wall, half hidden by a second row of arches. When he saw Kate, a wide smile formed on his face. She grinned back as he strode towards her, carrying his cane rather than admit his need for its support by leaning on it, and vigorously shook her hand.

“Goodness me, Kathryn, you have grown up,” he said with a chuckle. “You were just this high the last time I saw you.”

He held up his hand to chest level, then tapped the cane on the stone floor three times, a habit he’d developed soon after acquiring it.

“It’s been ten years,” she said.

“It can’t be!”

Kate nodded.

“Well, tempus fugit, as they say. You must be surprised that I’m still here. Though I think it won’t be long before I’m replaced by a woman. The Bishop is keen to increase the congregation and move with the times. There’s a vicar in the city centre you know who gives sermons dressed as a clown”.

He turned away, then muttered, “Idiot!” under his breath. She heard him, nonetheless and pressed her lips together to stifle a giggle. The Reverend tapped his cane again.

“Well, I expect you want to get on with your research?” he said, adjusting his glasses and turning to look over his shoulder at her with eyebrows raised.

She nodded once more and he led the way down the narrow aisle, between the pews and through the wooden door into the vestry. To their left was Reverend Pilling’s office, but they entered the room opposite, a room filled with shelves of leather bound books, where the church archives were kept.

“I’m afraid I can’t stay, Kathryn. One of my parishioners has suffered a bereavement and I need to get the funeral arrangements underway. I’ll go out the front and lock the main door, but I’d be grateful if you’d lock up round the back and leave the key under the pot when you’ve finished.” He handed her a large, old-fashioned brass key. “I must be off.”

He punctuated his words by tapping the cane a further three times and disappeared back the way they’d come.

Kate sighed with contentment. She loved the solitude of working alone in old buildings and began making herself comfortable, placing her notebook on the table in the centre of the room and laying her outdoor clothes over the back of a wooden chair. She took her time, walking a circuit of the room and running her fingers over the red, leather spines of the books. The dates were stamped on each one in gold lettering and when she found the one she needed, she pulled it from its place and laid it on the lectern on the table. Then she sat down and opened the notebook at a fresh page, wrote the surname of the family she was researching in capitals at the top and opened the register.

Her client had appointed Sharpe’s, Genealogists and Probate Researchers to finish his family tree when he could get no further on his own and had got himself in a muddle with the various records he had so far accumulated. Peter Sharpe had assigned the project to her.

She lost track of time as she worked, poring over the names and dates in the archives until the real world faded away. Anything beyond the book in front of her and the room in which she sat ceased to exist. She was copying the details with meticulous care and double checking the records already provided by the client when she was startled by a loud, reverberating crack and thundering echo from inside the church. She paused, listening for any other sounds before calling out.

“Hello? Is anyone there?”

There was no answer, but it was unlikely that anyone would have heard her from the thick walled room. It couldn’t have been a door banging shut. Reverend Pilling had locked the main door and this had sounded like a large, heavy object falling on stone. Something from the roof, maybe.

It was quiet now, too quiet, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate properly until she’d investigated the cause of the noise. Kate put down her pencil and left the sanctuary of the archives, passed through the vestry and emerged into the hushed church. The sound of her boots scuffing on the paved floor echoed round the building. There was no one there and nothing out of place that could offer an explanation for what she’d heard, but as she skirted the Norman font and turned toward the chancel, she found the culprit.

A huge piece of masonry, probably loosened by the roofing contractors, had fallen from high up in the east wall. It had crashed to the floor, miraculously missing the choir stalls and altar table, and landed smack in the centre of the chancel. The only damage was a broken flagstone.

Kate edged towards the slab, glancing nervously upwards with each step. A triangular piece of paving stuck up from the floor at an angle and she nudged it with the toe of her boot. It twisted and fell inwards, revealing a cavity below.

People were often buried beneath church floors, in fact there were other grave slabs nearby, but Kate couldn’t see any carvings on this one, not even worn ones. She crouched down and swept the palm of her hand across the stone’s smooth surface, confirming the absence of an inscription.

She felt along the jagged, broken edge of the flagstone with her fingertips then gave an experimental tug. It didn’t budge, so she pushed her hand into the hole, up to her wrist. Something tickled her and she pulled it out again. The tickle continued, travelling up her arm along with the spider, and she jumped to her feet, shrieking and shaking her arm, brushing furiously at it to dislodge the tiny creature. She hated spiders. When she was sure it had been flung far away from her, she took a deep breath. Her heart pounded and she looked back at the hole with trepidation.

Leave it, she thought. Whatever’s in there isn’t worth it.

She walked away, got as far as the font, stopped and blew out her breath in a long, slow sigh. She was far too curious to let it go.

I don’t believe I’m doing this, she thought, pushing the sleeves of her jumper up to her elbows, and steeling herself to try again.

It took several deep breaths and a number of false starts before she plucked up enough courage to thrust her hand all the way into the hole. It was deeper than she’d expected, but about a foot below the surface she felt something cold and solid and flinched away from it. When it didn’t move she touched it again. Beneath a thick layer of dust she could make out a surface covered with small bumps. Her trembling fingertips traced along the edge of the object, found a corner and continued on until she’d returned to her starting point. The object had depth to it too and with her arm as far into the hole as it would go, she felt all over it, building up a mental image, like a blind person touching the face of someone they’d never met before. It felt like a box.

She brushed the dirt off her hand and pushed herself up, sitting back on her heels to survey the floor around her. The piece of mortar she squeezed between thumb and forefinger crumbled to dust. All the other stones were cemented in place, but this one had been packed round the edges with dirt. It had compacted over the centuries, giving the illusion it was fixed in place like all the others, but if this had been a burial, why had it been left loose?

Go on, dig it out.

The thought was in her head so it must have been her own, but it didn’t feel like something she would say.

She looked around, chewing at a fingernail on the hand that hadn’t been in the hole, while she weighed up her options and wondered how long Reverend Pilling would be gone. She dreaded to think what he was going to say when he saw the damage to his church. Was she really going to do this?

With the decision made, she retreated to the archive room and rummaged through her bag for something to help remove the dirt from around the stone. The old nail file she found would have to do. The box was too big to come out through the hole, but if she could loosen the flagstone she might be able to lift it.

What if I get caught? she asked herself.

 We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Her inner monologue was really playing devil’s advocate today.  It didn’t even sound like her any more.

Go on then, it prompted

It took her fifteen minutes to scrape the dirt away. She stood at the unbroken end; bent over with both hands in the hole and pulled it towards her with all her strength. She managed to raise it an inch or two before the weight of the stone pulled it down again.

Unwilling to admit defeat, Kate scanned the church for something to use as a lever and was surprised by how dark it had become. The late afternoon light had faded to dusk, the church had turned gloomy and the silence settled like a heavy, wool blanket. Even the birds had gone.

The air felt electric, like the moments before a storm when you were just waiting for it to break, and the prickling sensation at the base of her neck made her feel as though she was being watched from the shadows. She shook her shoulders, trying to dispel the idea.

There was nothing she could use inside the church, and she knew better than to even think of using the medieval silver candlesticks adorning the altar, so she slipped outside to search beneath the scaffolding among the discarded rubble. The snow had started to stick and was already filling up the gaps between the stacks of roof slates leant against the wall. She turned up a length of steel pipe and after testing its weight decided it would do the job.

With one end in the hole and using the fallen stone as a fulcrum, she pushed down on the pipe. The flagstone raised enough for Kate to thrust in her spare hand and pull out the large casket that had been hidden there. She released the pressure and the flagstone thudded back into its original resting place. She held the box up to what remained of the light and examined it. Something shifted inside and she screwed up her eyes in an effort to peer through the keyhole on the front.

A rustling from the choir stalls made her jump again. With heart in throat she wasted no time in sweeping the dirt into the hole, back filling the crevices and tidying up as best she could before someone came in and discovered her. When she was satisfied the scene looked as undisturbed as she could make it, she rubbed the loose soil from her hands and wiped them down the front of her jeans, leaving dirty, grey streaks.

What now? she thought as she sat on a nearby pew with the box on her knee. She pulled at the lid, but it wouldn’t open.

Take it home.

Oh no, that was a step too far. She was no thief and whatever was inside was probably an old church relic or a saint’s bones, placed there when the church was built. It was one thing to remove it from the crypt so it didn’t suffer further damage but to steal it..? She shook her head. She would leave the box on Reverend Pilling’s desk with a note explaining everything and phone tomorrow to ask him about it.

With the note written and the box placed squarely on the Reverend’s desk, she took one last look at it and stepped away.

Don’t you want to know what’s inside?

She straightened, tossed her hair back over her shoulder, and firmly pulled the door of the office shut.

Satisfied she had done the right thing, she went back to work. She sat down at the desk in the archives room and picked up her pencil.

What if someone comes in and takes it before the vicar gets back?

       Why would anyone do that?  she thought in reply.

It would be much safer in here with you.

That was true, she could watch over it until she had to leave, at least. Reverend Pilling might be back by then and she could give it to him personally.

That’s right, it will only take a minute to get it.

She got up and moved towards the door and suddenly found herself rooted to the spot.

You don’t have to do this, Kate.

“What?” she said aloud.

Where had that come from? Was someone else here with her? She was sure she had heard someone speak.

“Who’s there?” she called. “Reverend Pilling, is that you?”

There was no reply. She turned the brass knob of the door, but it wouldn’t open. It couldn’t be locked. Unless someone was on the other side.

She heard whispering and stiffened as she tried to hear what was being said, but all she caught were snatches of a few words and phrases between what sounded like two people arguing.

shouldn’t be doing this… can’t interfere…

       …she should know… what if she wants to…

There was a pause and the door was released and Kate stumbled back a step.

Take the box before someone who shouldn’t does.

The thought was so forceful and induced such an overwhelming sense of fear for the safety of the box that Kate hastily packed up her work and a few minutes later was back in the vicar’s office.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the air. “I don’t know why, but I need to know what’s inside. I’ll bring it back. Promise.”

 

And that’s how she found herself fleeing the scene of a crime.

In the time it had taken her to free the box, the road had been obliterated by a layer of snow. Kate restarted the engine of her cherry red VW Beetle and with a quick look over her shoulder pulled away from the church. The back end of the car swung out into the road, but she managed to regain control and accelerated out of the village onto a narrow, unlit country lane.

The branches of the trees on either side of the road reached so far over they met in the middle and interlaced like an arch of swords formed by a military honour guard. The tunnel they formed made it so dark Kate could hardly see where she was going. She hunched over the wheel, her eyes squinting through the blizzard of snowflakes that battered against the windscreen, obscuring her view even further.

She had thrown everything into the back except the box, which lay on the front passenger seat. She tried to focus her attention on driving, rubbing her hand over the inside of the windscreen to clear the mist her breath made on the glass, but the box, thrown about by the movement of the car, jerked forward and teetered on the edge of the seat. She pushed it back, looked up and gasped in shock, jamming her foot onto the brakes.

The man had appeared out of nowhere, and as Kate’s car sped towards him, he looked straight at her and smiled.

 

Back to Chapter List               Chapter 2 released next Tuesday                    Buy me a coffee

It’s My Book and I’ll Serialise It If I Want To

I’m trying something a bit different. Instead of running giveaways on Amazon etc. I’ve decided to serialise Blackfeather here on the blog. Other authors seem to do it to good effect and hopefully it will at least boost my readership and bring a new audience to the book. If all goes well, I might serialise Immortal afterwards and maybe even the next novel, Persephone Reborn.

I’ll post a new chapter every week. I’ve still got around eight weeks of my degree to do, but after that I’m hoping to start posting more regularly, updating you on the progress of Persephone and other things I think might interest you surrounding the world of my new characters and various other topics. And with luck (and determination) progress should be made – which brings me to my next experiment.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed the ‘Buy me a Coffee’ button over on the right. Like many other writers, artists, musicians etc. I find myself in a quandary. On the one hand we love what we do and want to share it freely with others, but in the real world, creating is still work, takes time, energy and effort, is often subject to piracy (I’ve had 148 notifications of my work being pirated this week alone), but on the other we still have bills etc. Not everyone is comfortable with it, but again, other authors have recommended it and as a soon to be starving writer (when the student loan runs out) I thought I’d give it a go.

All support is gratefully received, whether that’s following the blog, donating or buying my books or spreading the word to others. My goal, of course, is to become a full time writer and you can only do that with a steady income.

The first chapter will be posted tomorrow 🙂

 

Reading the Vampire

Blood Clot under microscope. Image from https://imgur.com/gallery/v9Yik

I’ve just written a short essay on Dracula. It’s a scene study and had to include a comparison between a passage from a book and a scene from a film. It didn’t have to be an adaptation of the book, but whichever book and film I chose they had to have some relevance to each other.

It’s only a couple of years since I read Dracula for the first time, I did a blog post on it here, and knew that Coppola’s film version was a little bit different, including a love story that didn’t appear anywhere in the book.

That was my starting point. I was going to write on the changes in characterisation of the vampire between Stoker’s evil monster, meant to repulse the reader, and Coppola’s anti-hero who invokes sympathy in the viewer. Instead, I ended up writing a comparison of the blood transfusion scenes and how they related to fears and anxieties present at the Nineteenth Century fin de siècle that emerged again during the late twentieth century. That’s the thing about close reading – once you start, a simple analysis can lead you down all kinds of roads until you end up with something entirely different from what you initially thought the text/film was about.

As a result, it became an essay about contagion, sexual danger, syphilis and AIDS. The connection, of course, is the vampire as a symbol of disease and plague transmitted through blood.

In class, we’ve looked at how the vampire has changed over time from aristocratic monster, ravaging the countryside whilst feeding on the blood of peasants (Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad Dracul whilst Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian vampire, Carmilla, has leanings towards Countess Bathory) to sparkly, teenage, lovesick puppy. We also watched Jim Jarmusch’s strangely mesmerising Only Lovers Left Alive. The ‘good stuff’ (blood that can only be obtained through dealers that work in hospitals) appears to be a narcotic substance in an unspecified dystopian future where human blood is contaminated with an undisclosed disease and the vampires refer to humans as zombies.

This means, of course, that I can see very well where my own little vampire romance novel sits on the timeline and there’s definitely no hint of a glisten, a twinkle or even a shimmer. Nathan Blackwood has a job, a social conscience and a coffin full of secrets. Whilst I’ve taken a more traditional view of the vampire, the aversion to sunlight, the need for blood etc, I have introduced some contemporary elements. Incidentally, both Carmilla and Dracula could tolerate daylight, but their powers were diminished, so perhaps we shouldn’t consider this a traditional a trait after all.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

Gothic Beginnings

I was a solitary child, playing alone in the shadowed confines of the garden, gathering sycamore seeds and autumn leaves and chattering to Henrietta, the girl who wasn’t there. As an adult, I discovered there had been a real girl called Henrietta who had lived and worked as a domestic servant in the vicarage that had once existed on the spot where our house was built.

One night there came the sound of slow, heavy footsteps climbing the stairs. It was just mum and me in the house and we’d both gone to bed.  ‘Is that you, Helen?’ she called out. I replied that it wasn’t. We’d both heard it, but neither one of us went to investigate. In my mind, it was simply the echo of the old vicar retiring to bed himself.

I’d always believed that the house we lived in had been a part of the vicarage, but I recently found a picture of it and was disappointed to find that it was a much grander building that had been demolished and replaced by our little row of houses.

The vicarage

I lived in a world of perpetual imagination. Mad scientists worked in the portacabins on the car park at the bottom of our street. I knew this because the desks were strewn with glass beakers, Bunsen burners and test tubes. Their white lab coats hovered like ghosts in the semi-dark after everyone had  gone home for the night.

But the most influential and Gothic element of my childhood was the Victorian mansion that stood opposite my own home and in whose grounds and rooms I spent as much time as I was allowed. It was my Green Knowe. I spent many a day dreaming up stories about the phantom children that occupied its rooms and often expected to see a leafy St Christopher striding past the high stone wall with Tolly on his shoulders. I never saw him, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t, one day.

St Christopher with Tolly on his shoulders from The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston

If you climbed the grand staircase that greeted you as you entered the house and went on up to the attic you’d find a variety of dusty and cobwebbed vintage organs left over from days gone by. In the bowels of the house you’d be confronted by the giant bat that blotted out the light from the only window. The bat was a crumpled sheet of newspaper, but that’s what it looked like to me.

During World War I the house had been used for the rehabilitation of sick and wounded soldiers, one of whom had made a small teddy bear whilst he waited for his wounds to heal and had left it behind when he left. I often took it down from the shelf and wondered what has happened to the soldier who’d made it or if he’d been drawn back to the house as one of its ghosts.

It was here that I met the other Helen, the owner’s grand-daughter who, not only had the same name as me, but was the same age and when I think about it probably looked a lot like me too. A case of Gothic doubling! On one of her visits I was allowed to stay the night. We were put to bed in the master bedroom in a bed that was much larger than the double bed my parents had. I was too excited to sleep and spent the night scaring ‘my twin’ with tales of ghosts and ghouls and convincing her that the heavy blue drapes that covered the windows were moving in some supernatural breeze from the otherworld.

When the house was put up for sale and the company over the road (the one with the mad scientists) purchased it and demolished it to make another car park I was distraught. Where would my ghosts roam now?  When they cleared the garden and chopped down the trees the kestrel that made it’s plaintiff cry from the chimney each night was never heard again, the raven, that I’d nicknamed ‘Soot’ after Dickon’s pet in The Secret Garden also flew away. And here was the real horror – that someone could carelessly discard the many beautiful objects, furniture and personal possessions representing decades of memories of a person’s life without a second thought. The vintage organs, the highly polished mahogany dining table and anything else the owner didn’t have room for in her new flat in a sheltered housing complex was to be left behind and skipped. I don’t know what happened to the teddy bear.

As the house came down, brick by brick, I wept. It still angers and upsets me, but the house lives on in my memory. I can still open the wrought iron gate, walk up the driveway to the porch, push open the door and stand in the hallway with its black and white tiled floor, turn left into the dining room and run my fingers along the polished table, play a few notes on the piano, pick up the teddy bear from the dresser where the patterned soup tureens line the shelves and then walk out through the white French doors down the three steps onto the cool grass of the lawn. Those French windows make an appearance in Blackfeather in Kate’s lounge.

Or I can turn right into the living room and lie on the yellow chaise longue in front of an immense stone fireplace. Even the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen couldn’t make this room feel small and cramped and it was always a real tree that shed its needles on the thick patterned carpet. Or I can walk along the corridor by the stairs, past the door to the cellar and turn into the kitchen with its beautiful cream painted cupboards, long wooden counters and Belfast sink beneath the window. The airy space is filled with sunlight and the greenhouse attached to the kitchen overflows with ripe tomatoes and fat juicy courgettes.

One day this house will become the setting for a time slip romance story I’m going to write in which a young woman inherits an old house and meets the ghost of a World War I soldier.

Nothing could replace Springwood House, but during my teenage years, my friends and I often visited a nearby stately home where the Fairfax family had lived during the English Civil Wars. A house this old always has more than its fair share of ghosts. The haunted room where the Jacobean cradle used to rock to the touch of an invisible hand was our favourite, followed by the mark on the floor of the great hall which legend has it was the indelible blood stain of a murder victim.

I didn’t know, back then, that there was such a thing as The Gothic. It’s only through studying it as part of my degree that I can look back and see the gothic elements of my childhood and the influence they’ve had on my own writing and reading habits and my insatiable desire to know what’s behind every closed door or investigate where a spiral staircase leads. And what a glorious childhood it was, free from adult responsibility, the ability to read whatever I chose and dream for hours on end. It may have been solitary, but I was never lonely.

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter

 

 

The Memory of Evil

I never wanted to go to Auschwitz. There are lots of places I have always wanted to visit – Florence, Paris, Carcassonne, Egypt, the wreck of the Titanic – some of them I’ve been lucky enough to get to, but Auschwitz was never on the list. A friend of mine warned me before I went, ‘Be careful, because these places change you.’ I wish I’d taken her warning more seriously.

I wrote my first post about Birkenau a few days after I came back from Krakow, but it’s taken me more than two weeks to even start this post because even now I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not sure how long it will take me to publish it. I said in that last post that I didn’t feel an oppressive sadness from the site of Auschwitz ll, even though far more of the murders took place there, so I’m not sure why I had such an emotional reaction to Auschwitz itself.

The memory of evil - a visit to Auschwitz - Nel Ashley - www.nelashley.co.uk

The entrance to Auschwitz. Copyright Guinevere Saunders http://guinsaunders.wixsite.com/artist/photography

The first thing you realise when you get there is that the infamous gate, with the words Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you free) above it, is, like Stonehenge, much smaller than you’d expect. It’s rather nondescript, but instantly recognisable. The whole site is much smaller than Birkenau and as you walk around the grounds you can almost feel the eyes of the guards that would have watched from the towers that surround the perimeter and hear the barking of the dogs that were left to run between the electrified barbed wire topped fences.

The Wall where prisoners were shot Copyright Guinevere Saunders http://guinsaunders.wixsite.com/artist/photography

The first building I entered, Block 15, bore a sign outside that stated the exhibition showed the ‘Struggle of the Polish People’. We had visited a photographic exhibition the day before in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow with images of Auschwitz, abandoned cemeteries and now derelict buildings. I expected something similar. Actually, now I think about it, I’m not certain this was the first building I went in. The first showed images of survivors who had returned to Auschwitz in their later lives, positive images of defiance and courage, but the building I was now in had several connecting rooms, the images growing progressively more disturbing in each one. A photo of a distraught young girl kneeling by the side of her dead father, her hands held up to ask why, dead bodies lying in the street, dead children, lots of dead children – one of three children, all under five lying naked, side by side, one had his stomach torn open. I wondered, who stops to take a photo like this? Did they help the girl after or walk away? 

In the next room – prisoners standing facing a wall with a Nazi firing squad lined up behind them, guns aimed and ready to fire. You realise you are witnessing the final seconds of someone’s life. In another, the photographer records some of the grotesque experiments that were carried out at the camp. I’m not going to go into details. I can’t. The images are etched into my brain, but there are no words to explain them. By this point I was already struggling to hold back tears and didn’t want to see anymore.

We all know what went on here. We’ve all seen images of the atrocities, films based on true events, newsreel even, but none of it prepares you for the photos on display. These photos put you in the position of the person who took them. You are seeing these acts through the eyes of someone who participated in evil and there is nothing you can do to stop it, except turn away or close your eyes. As I type this I am crying again.

I didn’t go upstairs, I couldn’t bear to see whatever was up there and turned to leave. I found out later that this was where the artefacts were displayed. Mountains of hair and shoes and other personal items of the dead.  In my haste to get out I lost my bearings and started to panic, but I managed to retrace my steps and almost ran out of the building when I saw the open door to the outside.

I will never forget the aeons of sadness in the eyes of the two year old girl, one of triplets, who was experimented on by Mengele. Even now, weeks later, Auschwitz haunts our dreams.

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

Auschwitz today. Copyright Guinevere Saunders http://guinsaunders.wixsite.com/artist/photography

Part of me thinks that Auschwitz should have been flattened, but then it would be forgotten and we should never do that. Part of me regrets that I didn’t see everything there, but there were buildings I simply could not enter. Strangely, it feels as though it is our duty to see and remember these things.

So, would I go back? Yes.

Do I want to go back? No!

Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance  and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.

You can  connect with Nel on Facebook and Twitter