Silent, Still Missing

The plan: I started this story nearly a decade ago and just couldn’t find an Agent at the time.  Most of the Agents thought the quality of the writing and story idea was above the norm in terms of submissions but they didn’t feel they could take the ms to a publisher as the story wasn’t quite marketable. So I thought I might test the waters here for a while. Anyway, there’s no harm in posting a few pages of a story that’s currently gathering dust, so here goes:

Gavin, Friday Afternoon:

Still waiting for Lucy to get back to me. I wonder if she’s angry about last night. She said nothing about it when she left for Uni earlier.  Just that she wanted my opinion on something.  Let’s have lunch in the park and I’ll tell you about it, she called on her way down to the car. Then she drove away.

The situation’s complicated. You see, the flat doesn’t belong to Lucy but to a friend of hers, Maxine, who’s away for a month. Lucy’s flat sitting for Maxine.  

2.15 pm.  I phone Lucy again, but I don’t leave a message this time. She must be upset about last night.  

I arrived in Leeds late yesterday afternoon, having come straight up from London where I live.  I spent the night on the sofa in the sitting room while Lucy slept in the bedroom. Just as I was dropping off, I heard Lucy shriek, so I went in to check on her. Maybe I shouldn’t have done – but whatever. You can’t exactly ignore someone’s screams, especially when the sounds travel through the walls. I found her thrashing about, clawing at the bed sheets. Trying to escape from something. She had the main light on, which surprised me – as it suggests she’s afraid of sleeping in the dark.

I leaned down to wake her.  

Bad move.

She lashed out at me, then promptly forgot about it, but I’ve still got a sore left cheek. I had to apply ice to it after she left this morning.  Anyway, I didn’t think I should remind her of the incident, but I’m  concerned for her.

Where is she?   2.30pm

I walk back to the flat, through tree-paved streets. It’s a decent area, sort of leafy and green, and expensive. Row of shops and old three-storey houses with privet hedges round the front. I wonder how Lucy’s friend Maxine affords the rent. In London, I live in a box room near a triple carriageway and it costs a lot.

I turn the corner.  That’s weird.  Lucy took the car when she left earlier but it’s outside the flat now.   I let myself in with the spare key.  

Ground floor flat.  Small sitting room at the front (sofa where I slept last night).  Small bedroom at the back (Lucy’s nightmare). Kitchen overlooking a rear garden.  

‘Hi.’

No answer.  I go through to the sitting room.  

Silence. The flat’s exactly the same as I left it. Loose chain by the landline phone. Pile of letters for Maxine.

The kitchen next.  

Cereal bowl in sink. Sunlight coming in through the blinds.

‘Lucy?’ I tap on the bedroom door.  After a moment’s hesitation, I venture into the room, risking another sharp swipe across my left cheek.

Empty.   I speed dial her number.

Nothing. Just four rings, then voicemail.  I leave a message. Hey, Lucy, give us a ring, yeah?  I’m back at the flat.

***
LUCY

What happened? Where am I?

She tries to sit up.  

Can’t.  Feels sick.  Headache.

Tries to think. Who is this man? And why has he taken her?

At least, he hasn’t gagged her.

The Cybercafé.

That’s right. She just about remembers the Cybercafé.

She’d gone to there to do something important. Earlier today.

A man sitting at one of the computer terminals.   Baseball cap.

Eye contact.

She recalls a struggle later, out on a street.  A black cloth.  Chemical smell.  A van door shutting with a thud behind her.

Now she’s trapped.

Just like something people read about in the newspapers.  

But happening to her.

Darkness suffocating, choking her.  

Can’t move.  Can’t breathe.  Can’t swallow.  

She screams.  

And again.

But no one comes.

Silent – How It Began

Hi, I started this story nearly a decade ago and just couldn’t find an Agent at the time. Most of the Agents thought the quality of the writing and story idea was above the norm in terms of submissions but they didn’t feel they could take the ms to a publisher as the story wasn’t quite marketable. So I thought I might test the waters here for a while. Anyway, there’s no harm in posting a few pages of a story that’s currently gathering dust, so here goes:

Friday, May 2019  

My name’s Gavin, I’m eighteen. Lucy’s asked me to meet her in the park.  She said she needed to talk to me about something, but she wouldn’t say what.  

I arrive at the café near the play area and glance at the time on my phone.  

1.15. Friday afternoon.  Outside café, I text, and go in to buy a can of coke, working my way through the queue. I return to my waiting spot and check the messages to see if Lucy’s responded.  

She hasn’t. I stand there with my sunglasses on, sipping coke and scanning the park area for signs of her.  You can’t miss her. She’s just over five foot four, pretty small really. Honey blonde hair down to her shoulders, blue eyes with a hint of ginger around the pupils. Gorgeous but we’re not an item. I’m not sure what we are, but we’re definitely not boyfriend and girlfriend. And that’s come as a disappointment to me.  

1.50.  No texts or missed calls.    

I phone her, but Voicemail kicks in after four rings.  

Hi Lucy, it’s me, Gavin. I’m by the café near the play area. I’ve been there since quarter past. Everything okay?

***  
LUCY  

She doesn’t remember opening her eyes. Just lying on a hard surface in the cold, aware of flickering light in the background.  

Voices call out to her. The voices disappear and she finds herself alone again, trapped by darkness. The stench of damp and rot drifts over, the smell getting stronger.    

In the distance, water drips.  Tap. Tap. Tap. Figures form in the blackness, sewer rats with enormous eyes. They slide along the surface, sniffing as they get closer. She hates them.    

What’s happened? Where am I?

She attempts to push herself forward, wincing when something resembling a wasp sting digs deep into her arms and ankles.  

‘Help,’ she attempts to shout.    

‘There’s no need to be scared, Lucy,’ a voice says in the dark. The voice belongs to a man. ‘Unless you attempt anything stupid of course. Then I’ll have to hurt you. And hurt you pretty badly. I’ll leave you to think about it.’  

He knows my name. Who is he?

Close by, a door opens and shuts.  She hears the man bolting the door, locking her in. His footsteps fade away in the dark.    

Guilt By Association – Short Writing Sample

He coughs, clears his throat. ‘As I see it, we have two options. The best thing would be going to the police. But if we did…well, think about it. You wouldn’t want to be driven out, would you?  You’re innocent in all this.’

She pictures the scene. Journalists surrounding them. Cameramen chasing them to the car.  A woman with a mop of unkempt grey hair snarling that she hopes they all rot, spittle flying from her lips.  Afterwards, they return to the village  – to the whispers, the sniggers, the social isolation.    ‘What’s the other option?’  

‘The other option?  You play their game.  You give the impression you want to comply.  You arrange contact, and that is where I come in.’

‘And what’s your plan?’

‘You would simply have to trust me – that’s if you choose the other option.’


Dreams Of The Past

Drifting away into a mishmash of dreams:
meadows and orchards
abandoned farmhouses
chickens feeding on sawdust and maize by wired fencing
an August heatwave
petrol cans and parched grass
an old wooden barn in the centre of a field.

Then he is fifteen again
standing on top of the mound by the railway line during another heatwave
watching as one of the local boys stumbles, falling to the bottom of the slope
into the path of a speeding train. 


© Lawrence Estrey 2021    fiction poetry

Trapped Underground – A Fictional Depiction

Got to get out of here!
 
Can’t stand the dark and the damp and the dust.  
Claustrophobia; the imagination offering countless possibilities. The ceiling caving in, burying me. If the floor gave way as well, I would fall into blackness, panting and suffocating, knowing that I’d never escape. Certain death.
 
Buried alive.  Like in the famous Rachmaninoff Prelude. Pounding chords as the man attempts to fight his way out of a grave.  
 
Help!


 

A Picture Of Pathos

At around this time I learnt Beethoven’s piano sonata, The Pathetique.

The dramatic opening reminded me of the opening in my novel Secrets.
The protagonist making his way up Whaley Hill in Lancashire in the November chill and fog in search of the man he’d helped put behind bars sixteen years earlier.
The angry, almost violent, chords that answer the pathos of the melody in the Pathetique. The build up of rain, the promise of a storm on Whaley Hill.
The continuing intensity of emotion in the Pathetique as lyrical despair alternates with irate harmonies and powerful pauses. 


A mist has settled. Going back for a torch, I take the pathway up the hill, like we did that other day, although it was hot and sunny then. Acrid, almost
I pass the row of trees where we hid that other time.
The tyre swing has gone now. 
The gust gets stronger, sweeping through the trees and shaking the bushes ahead.
 When I reach the bench near the reservoir, I shine the torch around.
A carpet of soaked leaves. Dead twigs.
Beyond lies the water, eerily still under the glow of the torch.   


© Lawrence Estrey 2021   fiction poetry
 

Your Main Character In Fiction – Too Good (Or Too Bad) To Be True…

The difficult part.  Creating a realistic character – or in fact, creating two.  Protagonist and antagonist.

Both are crucial to the story, but in some ways, the antagonist needs greater complexity, as that character drives the story forward – perhaps more so than the protagonist.

Stereotypes (e.g all bad, all good, all tough) don’t help.  Readers find it difficult to identify with a persistently flat character. Yet, in life, personality trends tend to fall into a few basic categories, suggesting that humans are pretty stereotypical at heart.

Until you dig deeper…

I think the secret lies in balancing the character’s strengths and virtues with their weaknesses and conflicts.  No one can be truly good all the time.  The truly good person must have conflicts of their own, regrets, resentments, etc.

Conflict provides a key to the main characters.   For instance, a writer should ask their major character questions: “What’s your problem?”, “What drives you?”,  “What’s the worst thing you’ve done that no one knows about?”,  “What are your secrets?”  Some writing coaches suggest doing exercise like these in the First Person, to get deeper insight into the character.

A further tip…make a note of the questions or character qualities that prompt a strong emotion…later, they may provide you with plenty of story questions to drive the narrative forward.  Plus, you may get a couple of satisfying, three-dimensional characters: protagonist and antagonist

 

Reading A Novel (un roman) In French…

I’m currently reading a novel in French, having immersed myself in the language for the past six weeks.  During my school days, I studied French grammar and basic vocabulary, but I only recently got the  hang of conversational French, in particular the use of past perfect (passé composé)

The novel – Moka by Tatiana de Rosnay –  tells the story from the first person perspective of Justine, who receives an unexpected phone call informing her that her son has had a road accident.  Although I still have lots more to read, I would imagine that Justine’s search for the truth behind the accident leads to a surprising, maybe shocking, discovery.

Admittedly, I wouldn’t normally read the English version of a novel in that genre, preferring crime thrillers or gritty teen/Young Adult, but I felt the novel would give me a chance to widen my experience of the French language.  

So far, I’ve found the flow of words easy to follow.  I like the immediacy, the sense that a reader can understand complete sentences in a different language, even if they don’t recognise particular words.  Also, I hope to sense and experience the world from the perspective of the principal character, without language being a barrier.

As you can probably imagine, I’m pretty keen on the French language…plus, I love to read, play piano on a serious level, and write my own stuff.  Fiction.  Gritty.  Crime. 

Meanwhile, I’ve put my latest working novel (the third) aside for a bit, having just received a professional critique, but my debut Secrets (adult thriller) and second novel EggHead (teen/Young Adult), are available on Amazon.  Check out the reviews.

Novel Writing: Dealing With Flashbacks and Repressed Memories

Flashbacks and repressed memories make for interesting reading in fiction, but there’s a problem.  So often, the subject can become another cliché, similar to an opening italicised dream.

Clearly, though, some people repress memories of a traumatic event and  triggers such as a smell or a sound can cause those memories to come back, often resulting in distress.  

Since fiction is all about character and since characters reflect people and their problems, I can see no reason for advising against the use of flashbacks in novel writing.   However, I would suggest the following:

  • Imagine that you are the character
  • Introduce fleeting impressions of memory at first, relying on one or more of the five senses
  • Make sure there is an adequate trigger for the first flashback, preferably a sound or a smell. Alternatively, discussing an event can trigger memories that a person wasn’t aware of
  • Avoid using italics
  • Develop the memory over the course of the story, especially the images and the impact on the character
  • If the character is remembering a traumatic event, have some of the details echo
  • Introduce something new each time you deal with the memory scene

I’ve reached the 65,000 word stage in my first novel, a psychological thriller, and am now dealing the above points.  Rewarding and not too difficult.  I’m enjoying it.

Backing Up Fiction And Music: Great Online Tools

I’m a chronic worrier.  One of the things I worry about most is losing all my writing, especially after the work I’ve put in.  Water dripping through the ceiling, a fire, a burglary…and the novels would be lost.  Worse, my printer isn’t working properly at the moment. 

Yet, with the Internet revolution of the last ten years and Web 2.0 sites, no one need ever worry about losing their work.  At the end of each writing session, I send the latest novel draft to several, if not all, of my six email accounts.  This keeps them safe.  Many email accounts can also store digital music files and photographs.  

Every week or so, I upload the novel in progress to Mediafire.com, a free online place for storing documents, photos and music.

I also take advantage of Google Docs and Zoho Docs, both free.  Google Docs limits the size of each file, but it’s possible to upload an entire novel by dividing it into smaller sections.

Finally, I create a new page of my WordPress blog, copy/paste the novel to the page and save the page as a draft that only I can see.

Admittedly, I still worry about losing my work at times, but the measures mentioned above should help.