Friday, 28 November 2014

Anti-Nano - the final check-in and an extra long snippet

The end is upon us! November is pretty much done and although I didn't quite meet my target of writing every day, I wrote a lot more than I have for most of the year. And I like what I'm writing, a lot. So I'm calling it a win.

Since I missed Wednesday's snippet, I'm leaving you with an extra long one here. Hope you enjoy it!

Feeling nauseous and achingly sad, she obeyed. She hit something warm and solid as she backed away, and a caught a whiff of pleasingly earthy cologne. Turning, she saw Christian McKinley, his face tight with distress. She guessed it wasn’t caused by her walking into him. “Are you okay?” she asked him.

He blinked, seeming surprised to see her. “I don't think so,” he said. He was pale, eyes unfocused, and Scarlett wondered briefly if he was going to pass out.

She took his hand – surprised to find his fingers were trembling – and tugged at him. “Come on. They’re clearing people away. There’s nothing to be done.”

He let her guide him away from the scene and she felt some of the tension leave him as they walked. His grip on her hand loosened and his shoulders relaxed. At the end of the street, they passed an antique store, and he pulled her to a stop. “Come in,” he said, taking a set of keys from his pocket. “I need a coffee. I need so much coffee.”

Scarlett glanced at the store. When he’d said he ran an antique store she’d kind of imagined a junk shop, but it was clear Christian McKinley did not deal in junk. The store front was painted a rich chocolate brown and the store name was painted in gold across the window. The window display was an arrangement of children’s bedroom furniture – a swinging crib in birch wood, a gorgeous old rocking horse that begged to be taken home – and past that, under artfully low lighting, she saw the glow of brass and gold within the store itself. It was warm and inviting, and despite her inclination to dislike Christian, she found herself following him inside.

The interior smelt of sandalwood and beeswax. Scarlett couldn't resist running her fingers over the smooth, polished muzzle of the rocking horse while Christian switched off the alarm. “Did you know her?” she asked. Her voice sounded too loud, the words too blunt, and she wished she'd kept silent.

Christian tensed again. “Casey Adams. She was a really sweet kid, really musical. She was supposed to be going away to college next year. She had a scholarship.” He shrugged then threw his hands up. “Holy shit. How can she just -” He raked his hands through his hair and cast Scarlett a distraught look. “I dated her sister. I always joked that when Casey was old enough I'd take her for her first drink.”

He shook his head and wandered through a door at the back of the shop. Scarlett followed him into a small, neat office. A cappuccino maker sat on the desk and he set about making them drinks. He seemed on auto-pilot, movements stiff and small.

“Would you rather be alone?” she asked him. She would have, but she'd never felt safe showing anyone raw emotion. People always seemed to take it as an invitation to dig deeper.

“Not really,” Christian replied. “If you leave, I'll have to open my mail or call my mom and I don't think I can cope with that on top of seeing one of my friends dead.” He waved at a two-seater leather sofa against the far wall. “Stick around. At least share a cup of coffee with me.”

Feeling awkward, Scarlett took a seat. Christian fussed over the coffee machine and finally presented her with a drink. He sat on the desk, sipping his drink morosely.

She tried to think of something to say. Sympathy bubbled in her but everything she thought of sounded trite or intrusive. When she was on shift at Lola's and someone obviously hurting or angry came in, she'd serve them a drink and make a sweet quip about drowning their sorrows. In the face of violent death and monstrous killers, she suddenly wanted to hunt down every person she'd done that to and apologise for not doing better.

“I'm sorry,” she said finally. “This must be so hard for you.”

He smiled weakly. “It's just so soon after Amelia. And like that, too. Poor Casey. I mean...” He stared into his coffee, eyes glazed. “I've never seen anything like that.”

“Emilio told me it was an animal attack.”

He shook his head. “No normal animal kills like that.”

“So it was an abnormal animal?” Fever-green eyes, nails like skewers. Nothing normal about what she'd seen last night.

“I guess so. Rabies, maybe. I don't know. The police will figure it out,” he said doubtfully.

Scarlett pulled a face, sharing his doubts.

“Okay, so they probably won't,” he said. “But I don't know what else you're supposed to say at times like this.”

“You're better at fun,” she said, remembering his words from yesterday.

“I am,” he said. “Ask anyone in town. Christian McKinley for fun and fine furnishings. It's on my business card.”

She laughed.

“See? You hated me yesterday and now you're laughing. Imagine how useful I'll be at Casey's funeral.”

“I'll make sure you're invited to Amelia's. I have a feeling I might need the laughs.”

“You and me both.” He flashed her that winning smile, although it was tempered with sadness today. 

“Listen, would it be okay for me to come round some time? Amelia had a lot of great items. I'd really like to take stock of her collection.”

Surprised, Scarlett could only shrug. “I guess. I mean, I don't know. I wasn't planning on selling up. At least, I haven't thought that far ahead.” If she didn't plan to stay in Mercy's Gate, it made no sense to keep Saint Dymphna, whatever Amelia's will said. Why not let the local antiques expert help her start clearing out?

“It's a date then. Well, a morbid date. Does that still count?” He tried the smile cautiously.

“It's not a date,” she said firmly, rising. “It's an appointment. Look, I should go. I'm sorry – I don't want to abandon you -”

He waved her off. “I really should call my mom. She's know Casey's family forever. Thanks for distracting me.” Shadows fell across his face

Impulsively, she touched his arm as she passed, wishing she could do or say something that would work, that would matter. “I'm sorry,” she said again.

“So am I.” He covered her hand briefly with his. The simple gesture, the unity it suggested, was surprisingly warming. She hurried out before she could wreck it by saying something stupid.
She resolved to get to work on funeral arrangements when she got home. It was very nearly the grimmest thing she could imagine doing, but there didn’t seem to be any other choices. She couldn’t keep running off into the swamp looking for monsters. She’d been lucky last night, but this morning had made it plain – that creature could have ripped her apart. She wasn’t going to face it again, not without a better plan than, oh shit, I hope I don’t die. And since she had no idea how to start working out that plan…Funerals it was.

Lost in thought, she almost walked into the group of kids hanging at Saint Dymphna’s gates. There were three of them, punky and brimming with attitude. Two guys with spiked hair and cigarettes hanging loosely from their lips, and a girl with faded ocean blue braids and a vintage Ramones t-shirt. Scarlett stopped before she ran into the girl, but got a death-glare anyway.

Watch out,” the girl snapped.

Sorry.” Scarlett stepped back, assessing them properly. “Are you here for a reason?” Saint Dymphna was far enough from Mercy’s Gate’s centre that you wouldn’t just casually stroll by. They were probably cutting school, and this was as good a place to hang out as any. Scarlett had certainly always snuck back here when she was cutting. You could spend all day in the gardens and never see another human being.

Come to see the murder house,” one of the boys said with a smirk. “We were just daring Max to go take a look at the slaves’ graveyard.”

The girl – Max, Scarlett guess – scowled at him. “I don’t need to do it. You’re the one who’s scared.”
Scarlett’s stomach twisted. Murder house? Was that for the slaves or Amelia? Gruesome, either way.

I’m not scared,” the boy insisted. He elbowed his companion. “Caleb, make her behave.”

She’s my cousin, not my pet,” the second boy complained. He looked Scarlett up and down. “You Amelia’s kid?”

Niece,” Scarlett corrected.

Caleb’s look turned speculative, and he nudged Max. “Amelia’s niece.”

Her face hardened. “You live here now?” she demanded. “Jump in her grave, did you?”

Her aggression was surprising, but Scarlett stifled her reaction, just shrugging the words off. “I’m not the one trying to sneak into the graveyard for shits and giggles.” If they were hanging around here for ghoulish kicks, she wanted them gone, permanently. The image of the dead girl was splattered across her memory. “It’s private property. If I catch you in the grounds, I’m calling the cops,” she said, pushing past them to open the gates.

You can’t stop us coming round here,” the nameless boy taunted. “What’re you gonna do?”

She’ll set fire to you,” the girl said. She wasn’t taunting. She sounded furious. Scarlett whipped round to meet her eyes and saw them full of unshed tears. That stopped any response Scarlett might have had.

Max, let’s go. Eli, don’t be a jerk.” Caleb took Max by the shoulder, pulling her away from Scarlett. The second boy, Eli, followed them without another word. In seconds they were gone, round the street corner and out of sight.

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