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The Colour of Bones Chapter 3

by Freebird 

Posted: 13 February 2012
Word Count: 2180
Summary: Can you glean any more of Eliza's character from this?
Related Works: The Colour of Bones - amended prologue • The Colour of Bones - Chapter 1 • The Colour of Bones - Chapter 2 • 

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I flew from the cellar as though the creature was already snapping at my heels. Back in my room, I barred the door with a chair beneath the latch and dived into bed.
I knew beyond all doubt that whatever may be down there, it was not my sister. That voice was not Hannah’s.
What if it came up after me? I had left the cellar door open in my haste, and there was nothing to stop it creeping up the stairs, eyes burning as it searched for me. Huddled there, trembling, I drew my cold feet up to my chest and muttered the Lord’s Prayer over and over.
until the shouts from the quayside told me that first light had arrived.
I flung open the shutters and perched on the window seat, trying to calm my juddering breaths. Mother would likely scold me for sitting in my nightgown in full view of everyone down below, but who would think to look up here when there was so much hurry and fluster going on down there?
The Dancing Bear was being unloaded. The men must have started early, judging by the stacks of barrels already on carts. Fat hogsheads packed with loaves of sugar, smaller brandy barrels with their lids painted cherry red. Bales of cotton wool and tiny spice barrels.
And something else. A long, rectangular box carried by two men and laid on a horribly familiar looking barrow.
My stomach lurched; it was like reliving Hannah’s death all over again, for the box was unmistakably a coffin, and the figure removing his hat and walking, head down, beside the barrow, was Thomas.
Without thinking, I threw open my window as he passed beneath.
“Thomas!” I called, the demon momentarily forgotten.
A sea of faces looked up, leering and laughing. Someone whistled, and my cheeks burned.
Thomas looked, shook his head and walked on.
“Thomas, wait! I need to talk to you. It’s urgent!”
Thomas said something to the barrow boy, who halted and lowered the legs into the mud. “Make yourself decent first, Eliza, if you can do it quickly. I have business to attend to.”
I nodded, slammed the shutters closed and bumped into the bedpost in the sudden darkness. I groped for something to cover myself with. No doubt Mother would have me wear the blue damask gown with those frightful panniers that made me look twice as wide as a carthorse. But I couldn’t lace myself into it without help. I cursed, and wished for the simpler days when I could at least dress myself without having to ask someone to assist me.
Instead, I yanked the counterpane from the bed and draped it round me, hoping that Mother would stay late in her bed, as she often did after a restless night. It would have to do.
I crept down the stairs, trailing the counterpane like a royal robe, and went to the front door. Father must have gone out already to supervise the unloading of the Dancing Bear, so the door was unlocked and I was able to open it just enough to see out.
“Eliza!” Thomas looked horrified, but a glimmer of a smile played around the corner of his mouth. “I see that being a lady hasn’t changed you at all.”
“I’m no lady,” I sighed, “though Mother spends most of her time trying to make me so. I cannot see the benefit myself.”
Now Thomas did smile, but it was a rueful one. “Aye. No dunking in the village pond on a hot day, or dancing among the haystacks under the moon.”
Had I really done those things? It seemed like a life that belonged to someone else; to a stranger.
“Thomas, I need your help.”
I tried to hide my body behind the door as a couple of men marched past, one swigging from a bottle of rum and the other with a deeply furrowed brow. This latter cast me a filthy look as he passed, and I recognised Hooknose Matthew and Nathaniel Gray, two of Josiah’s men.
“What kind of help? I have pressing matters to attend to.” Thomas waved a hand at the barrow boy, who didn’t in the least seem to mind the enforced break, and was leaning against the warehouse wall, stuffing a clay pipe.
“I see it, and I’m sorry. Is it someone... you know?”
Thomas grimaced. “My dear friend, Richard Brockbank.”
I squinted as the early sun made an appearance, suddenly streaking the river with gold. “Do I know him?”
Thomas shook his head. “It isn’t likely. He wasn’t a village lad. I met him when I came to town.”
“No. Stone mason. He worked on the new chapel, and a little on the tower at St. Mary’s.”
Sometimes it seemed that Lancaster was one big building site. New houses, even new streets were springing up everywhere, as though the town was growing tendrils and creeping along the river like some noxious weed. And more people. There were too many people for my liking – all living cheek by jowl and spreading disease.
The town was teeming with stone masons. I supposed it was quite possible that Thomas had befriended one. But there was a small streak of jealousy in me. Thomas was supposed to be our friend. Well, Hannah’s first and foremost, but mine too. Not that he had visited much since Hannah...
I blinked hard, and swallowed. “What happened to him?”
Thomas shrugged. “He went out to Antigua – not of his own free will, I might add.”
I nodded. I knew the stories about Nathaniel Gray; how he would prowl the inns the night before the ship was due to sail, looking for young men deep in their pots. He would engage them in conversation, ply them with more ale, and they would wake up next morning sailing out past Glasson Dock into the open sea. I shuddered, and leaned forward out of the doorway. I could see Nathaniel still, peering into warehouses and casting his gaze about, as though he was looking for something.
“Your friend died in Antigua?”
Thomas pressed his lips together. “He did. Not much of him left to bury now, I’ll warrant. It’s a long voyage.”
I tried not to imagine what remains might be inside the coffin, and pressed on with my own concern. The memory of last night came rushing back now, like a shadow. I found myself darting a glance over my shoulder, half-expecting to see the demon slinking along the passage behind me.
“Thomas, I need to ask you something. You might know how to deal with this, being a Quaker and all.” Thomas raised his eyebrows, and I feared I had hit a raw nerve. After all, if it hadn’t been for his strict Quaker beliefs, he would probably have courted and married Hannah before Josiah ever got his hands on her. “I need to know how to get rid of a demon.”
“A demon?” Now his eyebrows disappeared into the floppy thatch of his hair. “Eliza, this is not something to jest about.”
“You don’t believe they exist?”
“I do believe they exist, and that’s why I’m telling you not to concern yourself with such matters. It can only cause harm.”
“But there’s one in our cellar.”
Thomas tugged at his collar. “I’ve told you, Eliza. Leave it! Or call in the parish priest. I have enough to deal with.”
He turned on his heel, flicked his fingers at the barrow boy, who leapt to attention and picked up the shafts, pipe still clenched between his teeth.
I closed the door and pressed myself against it. Very well; if Thomas wasn’t going to help me, I would resort to the old methods. I knew the tradition of burying animal bones to deter ghosts – perhaps it would do the trick with a demon.
Once the fuss and fluster about dressing my hair and body were over, I hung about the kitchen, and invented some cock and bull story about a sickly puppy. When I begged Martha for a leg of chicken, she puffed and panted, smacked her lips and eventually gave it to me. I kissed her cheek, prompting a blush and a shooing away, then took the leg outside into the back yard, where I ripped the meat from the bone. I looked around at the bare yard, not yet planted with vegetables, and debated what to do with the meat. Mother was always trying to persuade me to eat less like a hog and more like a mouse, but I wasn’t going to waste good food by tossing it to the pair of stray cats that were sitting on the wall. It was barely a mouthful, but I crammed it into my mouth and wiped the grease from my lips with the back of my hand. The bones I wiped with a handful of grass until they were clean and dry, and I hid them in my apron.

By nightfall, a wind had sprung up, keening about the chimney pots. I waited until Father was snoring and crept downstairs to the cellar once more. I focused on keeping my footing on the damp steps and tried to ignore the tight coil of panic in my chest.
“I am not afraid of you,” I announced to the darkness, holding the crossed bones before me in one hand, the candle in the other. “I’m not.”
“Afraid me?” A snort came out of the darkness. There was a stifled sob.
I was so startled that I dropped the bones. I stooped to pick them up, but the demon was quicker. A hand darted into the pool of light cast by the candle – a hand so black that it could only have been forged in the fires of hell – and snatched the bones. There was a licking, snarling sound like a starving dog, then the bones came flying out of the darkness, accompanied by a low growl. One of them struck me on the shin, drawing a scratch there.
“Are you hungry?” I ventured.
“Hungry?” The demon gave a soft, sly laugh. It spoke English, sure enough, but I had difficulty understanding the sharp, jolting accent.
I didn’t know how to reply. Did that mean it was hungry or it wasn’t?
“Wait here.” I put the candle down at the foot of the steps and hared back up into the kitchen.
The moon was almost full, casting a bluish light through the kitchen window. I shivered and wrapped my arms close around my chest. A pair of rabbits hung from the beams, spinning slowly in a secret breeze. The moonlight made a lattice on the flags and I stepped through it, one square to another, until I reached the deal table, where a hardening hunk of bread sat beneath a clean cloth. I snatched up the bread and hopped back across the moonlit squares to the cellar door.
The remaining stub of candle burned at the bottom of the steps, casting a flickering glow across the earthen floor. Now I picked it up and held it out before me like a fire poker, stirring the dark.
“Where are you?” I murmured. “Show your face and I’ll give you food.”
The cellar was silent, but for my noisy breathing. Had the demon gone? Had it slithered up the steps behind me and into the house? Was it even now stalking up the stairs and into Mother’s bedroom, filling her mouth with darkness? I pictured its scaly tail and feathered back, the talons on its awful feet and the glowing trail of sulphur it would leave along the patterned runner Mother had laid on the stairs.
I pressed my hand to my mouth to hold in the scream that was building there, and listened; the river was louder tonight, muttering to itself as it swirled past. A musty tang eased through the hatch. Something was breathing – not in a regular way, but in sharp, uneven gulps.
I crouched and put the candle on the ground. Then I laid the bread in the circle of light.
“Take it,” I whispered.
There was a scraping sound and a pair of feet appeared. Ordinary looking feet – thinner by far than mine, and blacker than pitch – but human feet, nevertheless.
The hand that I had seen before darted out and picked up the bread. Then the darkness became noisy with tearing, chewing and the smacking of lips.
“I... thank...you,” said the voice between gulps.
I frowned, and stooped to pick up the candle. My hand trembled so much that the light danced and flared on the walls, but I lifted it high, bracing myself for the full horror of the creature’s face.
There was a cry and the remains of the loaf fell to the ground. The hands flew to protect the face, but I had already seen the pale gleam of teeth and the rolling whites of its eyes.
I gasped. “But you’re not a demon at all!”

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Comments by other Members

Issy at 12:15 on 14 February 2012  Report this post
The world is so richly brought to life with the details, the characters of the men outside, and the mc, a bit of a rebel, leaning out of the window, Thomas's horror, and though he is in a hurry with the coffin of his friend he stops to talk, and then the mc's jealousy that he has other friends.

And then the scenario with the chicken leg.Astonishing insight into the ideas of the time.

I realised on the second visit that this was no demon and I thought the mc had realised that too, which is why she went to get more food, but it seems that she didn't until the last line. I wonder if she thought he was still a demon when she took the food back, that she wasn't more scared.

But that's all. So very well written as always. The quality of writing in this group is amazing, no wonder so many of our current and past members have gone onto publication. It rubs on all of us, I'm sure.

Midnight at 12:53 on 14 February 2012  Report this post
Hi Freebird,

Really interesting read you have there. The writing flows and it pulls the reader into the time that it is set in as well as your fantasic imagination. I love the way that you show us the MC fears and how irrational fear truely is when there is often a logical explaintion to things such as this. Eliza seem to play by her own rules, not worrying too much about the gossip when she come to the door not dressed properly. In a short chapter she shows a range of human emotion making her a nice complex character as people are in real life. This helps to bring her to life for me.

I flew from the cellar as though the creature was already snapping at my heels.

Huddled there, trembling, I drew my cold feet up to my chest and muttered the Lord’s Prayer over and over.
until the shouts from the quayside told me that first light had arrived.
Should the until be a capital or the comma a full stop?

what a fantastic choice of vocabualry.

I crept down the stairs, trailing the coounterpane like a royal robe

The chspter closes nicely making the reader want to find out what will happen in the next chapter. Thanks for sharing.


funnyvalentine at 18:15 on 14 February 2012  Report this post
This was lovely Freebird ( I thought it was a real demon...despite reading your synopsis). Nothing to criticise and some lovely bits (the bit about the chicken) - might she be in love with Tom? Looking forward to more!

Arboreal Sal at 23:44 on 14 February 2012  Report this post
Hi Freebird, the characterisation is great! The setting is alive, but not too distracting, because Eliza is able to remind us (as all good MCs should) that it's all about her.
Thanks for the read!

Freebird at 09:20 on 15 February 2012  Report this post
Thanks for reading, everyone. I'm glad that Eliza's character is coming out - I really struggled to write the first draft because I didn't know who she was really, and then I had some brilliant advice about how to make a character seem more real (which I knew already, but somehow never put into practice - the totally simple instruction to put in a lot more thoughts and feelings! I'm so busy trying to 'show not tell' that I often forget to say what the mc is actually thinking - thus they can come across a bit bland)

ShellyH at 21:18 on 15 February 2012  Report this post
This was great, Freebird. Absolutely nothing to add, as I read straight through and was totally caught up in it. Nothing jarred or felt wrong, I just wanted to keep on reading.


SusieL at 16:03 on 27 February 2012  Report this post
Some wonderful descriptions, lighting dropped into the chapter but powerfully evoking the day-to-day world around Eliza. Very much a 3-D story.

Thought you've got her character across very well. Love the reminiscing about dunking in the village pond and dancing among the hayricks. Just from that simple line we know so much about her. No worries on the characterisation front. I can see Eliza very clearly, and imagine how she might respond to certain situations already - although I'm sure she's got a lot more hidden character traits we've yet to find out about. We're all emphasising with her, and certainly at the beginning of this chapter I was (mentally) yelling "don't go back down to the cellar - haven't you seen the movies - never go down to the cellar!!"

Steerpike`s sister at 12:18 on 03 March 2012  Report this post
This is the first I have read of this story, so coming to it cold, and I liked it a lot. The writing is good and strong, and I do think we get a sense of Eliza's character. My only thought was that it seems a bit unlikely that she'd be so casual about running around in her nightie. I mean, it's not really about being ladylike in this society, when women are so vulnerable - it's more about not getting seen as a slut, which could be really, physically dangerous for her. I just thought that bit of behaviour was a bit modern, and there could be other ways of getting her rebelliousness across. But on the whole, really liked this.

TessaF at 13:09 on 15 March 2012  Report this post
I found this a thoroughly absorbing read. As someone already mentioned it has really good flow and nothing jarred for me. You have some beautiful imagery throughout this chapter - I particularly like
as though the town was growing tendrils and creeping along the river like some noxious weed

I very much like the possibilities it brings of a young white girl befriending a young black girl (I hope I am right about that?)and the historical context that would play out in. That's definitely the sort of book I would buy for my daughter.

I love the rebelliousness of the main character and think that young teenage girls of today would settle for nothing less given the constraints Eliza has to live by. I really think sheis a very relatable charcter.

I'm sorry I have not commented on this before now but I am really struggling with time at the moment. Such an enjoyable read though!

Freebird at 13:12 on 15 March 2012  Report this post
thanks for the comments (sorry, Leila, I hadn't realised you'd left a comment!)

All very useful and encouraging. Tessa, I'm glad you approve!

Jonny Hardway at 20:19 on 25 March 2012  Report this post
A good read Freebird. Just a couple of grammatical things I noticed:

Fat hogsheads packed with loaves of sugar, smaller brandy barrels with their lids painted cherry red. Bales of cotton wool and tiny spice barrels.

Don't think a full stop works there. Maybe use 'cherry red, and bales of cotton wool and tiny space barrels.'

It seemed like a life that belonged to someone else; to a stranger.

Think a comma would be better here than a semi-colon maybe.

Very well; if Thomas wasn’t going to help me, I would resort to the old methods. I knew the tradition of burying animal bones to deter ghosts – perhaps it would do the trick with a demon.

Again, I think a comma (or a full stop) would be better here than a semi-colon. Also, I'd have a full stop after 'ghosts' and start a new sentence with 'Perhaps'.

But yeah, I enjoyed reading this. I look forward to more!

Freebird at 22:23 on 25 March 2012  Report this post
Thanks Jonny! Where you up to with Pale Wolves?

Shika at 11:18 on 27 April 2012  Report this post
Hey Freebird,
Not sure that I can add anything that hasn't already been said. Having read the syopsis over at the synopsis and outline group it's working really well. S

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