Although we normally showcase romance on Bookish, I was excited when Lucy Fenton agreed to let us share an excerpt from Superstition which is a gothic horror with some romantic elements. Enjoy!
The wish to be special and have a life less ordinary is pretty common, and I wished for that too when I was a child, too young and innocent to know about the darkness in the world. I would look up at the first star of night and think about the future, a place where things made sense and I would understand everything. No uncertainty, no confusion. But wish fulfilment, particularly when you weren’t too definite on what exactly you were wishing for, can backfire badly. No one told me that you have to be specific in your wording and that any wish you make, even the softest whisper to yourself, has the potential to be heard. Instead, I was raised in ignorance, misadvised as to which of my night-time terrors were imagined and which ones were very real and I had every reason to fear.
As a child, I was afflicted by bad dreams. Most nights I would wake clammy with sweat, heart fluttering, eyes blinded by terrors of dark forests and strange creatures who, if I reached the pinnacle of the dream before waking, bit into my flesh with rows of needle sharp teeth. As I grew into a teenager, the nightmares came less and then disappeared almost completely, until they were just a strange echo in my memories of childhood. I found new things to worry about, things not confined to the night. I came to better understanding of what depression is, although I had known for years that most mothers didn’t sleep all the time. As the years went by, my mother got worse and when she finally left us, the saddest part was how little difference it made. She had already gone.
The move from the city to the seaside town of Helton was for Dad. He looked so tired and sad when he broke the news we were moving that I didn’t have the heart to hurt him further by arguing. The protest died in my throat at the sight of his glassy eyes, trying to hold back and not cry in front of me. The idea was that a sea change would do us good – the fresh air of the countryside, sunshine, sea, blah, blah, blah. On the last day of Year 10, I hugged my friends from school goodbye. They promised to come and visit, but the distance already growing in our eyes said what we couldn’t at the time acknowledge. The phone calls would get shorter with longer periods in between them until we stopped contacting each other altogether. Where we were going was too far away for a quick visit and not exotic enough for a longer holiday. Having that lie between us made the goodbyes easier.
We drove together to our new home and it was the longest time I could remember us spending together, ever. After four hours we arrived in sunny Helton, which was at the end of a long lush valley with steep green hillsides that ran down to the sea. Opening the car window, I let the wind blow on my face and inhaled the pristine air, scented with summer. The grass was long and impossibly green, the sea sparkled, the waves crashed on the picturesque sandy beach, sending gusts of invigorating salty air through the town. It looked like the perfect, unspoilt seaside country town. The steelworks where Dad had a job was two towns away, which meant that he would have to travel further to get to work each day, but allowed us to live away from the bleak industrialised area that had grown up around the plant.
We followed the moving van through the main street of the town, which looked very basic – a supermarket, a café, a fish and chip shop, a cinema, a pharmacy and a petrol station interspersed with a few other random shops that seemed to sell granny clothes and knickknacks. In moments, we left the small town behind, heading upwards. The house was at the far end of Helton, isolated on the steep slope halfway up the headland. It was a big old square stone and weatherboard house that was painted white throughout. It looked like a holiday house from one of those cooking and lifestyle shows. As the deliverymen slowly disgorged the accruements of our previous life into the empty white shell, it became increasingly apparent how the city minimalist furniture from our last house looked completely wrong for this house. Still, a couch was a couch and I couldn’t imagine Dad having the time or energy to redecorate, so it would stay, like me, out of place in its new environment. A wide wooden veranda wrapped all around the house and all the bedrooms were on one side and opened onto it. Without a word, I took the bedroom at the back. Dad took the main one at the front. The bedroom between us remained empty, a storage space for the unopened boxes and extra furniture. We worked together to get everything into the house and unpacked. I took the large living room which took up the whole front of the house and Dad took the kitchen. I arranged tables and lamps, unwrapped ornaments and placed them as best I could. Taking a break, I opened the French doors onto the veranda and stretching my cramped muscles, looked out at the view over the town and beach. Despite my reservations, I had to admit that it was a very nice view. The yellow sand and blue and white waves breaking on the beach contrasted with the far headland, which was a mass of bright green grassy paddocks, dissected with faint lines of fences and edged in trees. Dad walked through from the large kitchen and dining room which made up the other side of the square house, carrying two cups of tea. Handing one to me with a smile, we stood in companionable silence looking out.
The move seemed to do some good. Things started looking up – in the first few weeks Dad was home more and the mood improved markedly. There was fresh food in the fridge and the house was cleaner, though not exactly spotless. But even while I basked in this warm sun of normality, I knew it wouldn’t last. It never did. Whatever demons haunted our lives, they never eased up for long.
Two weeks after the move, Dad and I organised to spend Saturday together, exploring the limited options offered by the town. We had breakfast together, cereal and juice for me, coffee and toast for Dad.
“So what are the plans for today? What would you like to do?”
We had only just moved to Helton, but there didn’t seem to be much on offer that I could see. “How about a movie? I thought about a hike along the coast, but the weather might be coming in so I thought we should save it for a better day.”
“Great! Hopefully nothing that will make your old man have nightmares?”
“Strictly comedy, I promise. I thought we could see an early session and then get some lunch?”
“Perfect. When are we leaving?”
“In about an hour? It’s not like there’s any traffic here that we have to worry about!” It was completely true. I don’t think Helton had more than about four cars moving through it at any one time.
The call came as we were walking out the door. Emergency at the works, which didn’t shut down for anything, so even though it was the weekend and we had plans, I watched my father drive away with an apologetic twist of his mouth. I gave myself a few minutes to give in to the anger and disappointment, and then rubbing my eyes, grabbed my sneakers and heading out the back, went to explore the headland.
The leaves were dry and brown underfoot, the smell of hot eucalyptus releasing with the crackle of my steps on the small twigs that criss-crossed the ground. The trees were sparse enough that walking through wasn’t too difficult, despite there being was no path that I could discern. Keeping the ocean to my left meant it wasn’t hard to navigate. Being lost in the bush can be dangerous, given the lack of water, so being careful was essential. This is not the way I planned on dying.
The further I moved into the bush, the rockier it became. All sounds of humanity were lost to birdcalls and scampering movements of small creatures in the underbrush. I waited for the usual quiet peace that would wash over me like a balm when I was alone, but although my thoughts quietened, it never arrived. I kept walking, my unsettled thoughts keeping me company.
And then through the trees, I saw something. At first thinking it was a rocky outcrop I moved towards it, trying to see what was veiled by the leaves of the trees. As I walked out into small clearing I could see it was the ruins of a stone building. The roof was gone and the walls stuck up like the blunt teeth of a fallen giant. Walking around, I could see that it had been a large structure, left to crumbled back into the earth. Catching sight of a marking on the stone, I moved towards it to examine it more closely. It was weathered almost flat, but as I traced the rough gritty surface with my finger, I made out the distinctive shape of a convict arrow. Amazed, I walked in through the open doorway, trying to work out what type of building it had been. There had been a large central room with many tiny rooms opening from it. They were small, storerooms perhaps? Exploring deeper into the ruins, I found a room that had been more protected at the rear and the purpose became apparent. The remains of bars were still attached to the wall at one point and in the corner of the room were cross hatched markings on the walls, counting off the days. I was standing in a convict gaol.
A whistling noise sent me jumping into the air. I spun around, my imagination instantly conjuring the ghost of a murderous convict, but it was just the wind I could hear over the rapidly pounding rhythm of my heart. Quickly moving out of the ruins, I kept walking around the outside, figuring it was closer to keep going in the same direction in order to get back to the place I had come in from. At the far side on a slight rise was a cemetery, the stones so old and weathered the writing was no longer legible. Apart from one. One was new. I walked closer to it, my attention drawn by the wilting bunch of flowers laid on the headstone. The writing was crisp and new, untouched as yet by the fingers of time.
Elizabeth Archer 1997 – 2013
There was no epitaph, no mention of relatives. This place was unsettling. It had the same feel as Alcatraz or Port Arthur, as if human suffering had leeched into the very soil of the place. Lost and abandoned in the bush, like it was not mean to be found. A shudder rattled down my spine, so strong my whole body shook.
“Stop,” I muttered to myself, trying not to let my imagination get the best of me and give in to the urge to run screaming from this place. Still, I had no thoughts of lingering. Turning, I retraced my steps, noticing the further I moved away the louder the usual sounds of the bush, the calls of the birds and buzz of the insects, became.
Lucy has offered an ebook copy of “Saint Kate of the Cupcake” for our giveaway.
Click HERE to enter.
Thanks so much Lucy for the excerpt and giveaway!