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by noddy 

Posted: 21 June 2003
Word Count: 1876
Summary: I'd be really grateful for some feedback on this piece of writing. Fourth chapter of what started as 'Changeling' and is still to find a name. Bored of it all yet ?

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The fire crackled softly in the hearth and Daniel stared emptily into the flames. Outside of the cottage the wind howled within the gaps between the walls, as if searching desperately for some way in. But inside the fire watched him, guarded him, protected him. The fire gave him comfort and warmth.
Everything he needed.

It was Friday; nearly midnight. The week had passed by slowly, his mind too confused to find the inspiration to work. He was a freelance artist; fantasy and sci-fi commissions mostly. His paintings went on the covers of magazines and video games. Things had been different once; there had been a time when he had received acclaim for his vivid, obscure style. He had exhibited across the country, listening in fascination to the assembled critics as they had pored and frowned and concentrated on his images, seeing so much in the dancing colours of obscurity that even he had been often surprised by their observations. That had been ten years ago; much had changed since then. The fascination in his work had withered and died along with the rest of his life, and, although he still made enough money to feed himself and pay the mortgage, it was becoming increasingly difficult to find new commissions.

“Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.”

The words repeated themselves over and over in his head, no longer sounding like the voice of a five year old boy but more like some strange, bastardized version of his own screams. They haunted his mind from the moment he woke until the moment he finally drifted into sleep. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus. He could see nothing beyond the words; pounding, pounding, pounding in constant rhythm with the blood in his veins.

“Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.”

He rubbed at his sore eyes and ran his fingers through his greasy hair. His head was thumping, a constant ache at the back of his skull that no number of painkillers seemed able to ease. He closed his eyes and drummed his fists into his temples. He wanted to scream with frustration, to shout out loud, to cut himself, splinter his bones... anything to end the ceaseless torment.

There was half a bottle of Jack Daniels in the kitchen. He sat still for a moment, staring over towards the cupboard where he had left it last night, fingers pinching skin, pulling at strands of hair. When finally he succombed, he walked over almost robotically and pulled the bottle down, unscrewing the lid slowly before gulping down a full mouthful. It burned his throat; burned right down to the pit of his soul. He didn’t enjoy the taste; hated it. But he had no choice. This was his only route to sleep; the only thing that dulled the pain.
He took another swig, then another, and another, until the bottle was nearly empty and the first wave of relaxation had washed over his mind.

He walked back to the sofa and pushed the cat aside. It hopped off and circled the mat three times before stretching out and curling up in front of the fire. Daniel collapsed down and lay on his back, staring up at the beams on the ceiling until the lines of broken plaster and stretched, knotted wood began to twist and sway and merge into one. Then he rolled over and closed his eyes and slept.

The dreams had been a part of him for as long as he could remember; so long in fact that they no longer seemed strange or unusual.

In some of the dreams he could fly, the wind sweeping through his hair, soaring above the earth like a swallow. His limbs were light, and even the slightest twitch of a nerve could change his direction, taking him like a yacht cutting through the waves. He was always weightless, gliding just a few hundred feet above the rooftops, a spirit free of the laws of gravity and the constraints of earth.

He was never alone in these dreams. At his side was always The Light.

The Light was feeling, thought, and emotion fused into one. It flew alongside him, a bright nimbus that exuded warmth and love. Daniel never felt fear of The Light. He never felt confusion and he never felt awe. Only companionship.

Tonight he was above the town. There was snow on the rooftops, and the illumination of street lamps below was dulled by the haze of ice and freezing fog. He could feel The Light beside him as usual, it’s brightness just on the periphery of his vision. It’s warmth flowed around him, engulfing and shielding him from the bitter cold of the night air.

He passed over the town and into the countryside, watching the flickering lights gradually diminish until there was only darkness below him. Then he began to descend, no longer able to control his movements, guided by The Light like an aircraft on autopilot. When finally he reached the ground, he found himself standing in front of a huge Stone slab. The land around him was empty; no houses, no cars, no trees. The stone was the only thing visible for miles, towering above him like a giant monolith. It stood upright upon the snow-covered ground, yet no snow covered it. In fact, no snow lay around it at all, only a border of grass, as if the stone itself was somehow exuding warmth.

The Light was hovering beside him. He turned towards it, but as he did so, it darted across and somehow moved into the towering obelisk. It’s radiance increased in intensity as it entered, becoming brighter and brighter like flaring magnesium.

He couldn’t lift his gaze from the stone. There was something moving within it. Slowly, as his eyes adjusted, he began to recognise the figure of a young woman. Her features were thin and narrow and she was still so bathed within the white aura that it was difficult to see anything other than her face.

It was a face that he somehow recognised; a face that he knew and loved and desired. She stared towards him, arms outstretched.

He felt himself moving again, floating towards the woman. His eyes were narrowed against the blinding light, and yet he had no fear. Only longing; longing to touch those outstretched hands, to feel that body next to his.
He drew closer to the stone, feeling its warmth caressing his skin like the touch of summer sun. He reached out to grasp the hands of the woman and pull her close to him, to become as one. But as he did so, the dream began to fade. He sought desperately for it within his mind, reached out to recapture the vision; to bring it back into sight and feel that wonderful warmth again.
It was gone. Only darkness pervaded.
And within Daniel there was a sense of loss so great that he felt his soul would surely burst.

He didn't know exactly how long he had been in the half-world between sleep and wakefulness when he became aware of the noise outside. He glanced from the door to the clock. It was twenty-past one.
Intrigued, he rose to his feet and made his way over to the door. Just before he reached it, he paused once more. There was no sound from outside now; even the wind seemed to have stopped.

For a moment a sense of fear overcame him. Something deep inside his subconscious stirred and whispered a warning.

Hide. Hide.

He looked back over to the sofa and saw the cat facing the door, its back arched and its eyes wide open and staring. He reached the door, hooked the chain across, and slipped the top bolt back. Breathing deeply, he pulled it open just wide enough to let the chain catch.

There was nothing. Through the gap in the doorway he could see that both the doorstep and the pathway beyond were empty.

He shuddered. The cold brought thin tears to the edges of his eyes and he rubbed them away down the side of his face.
This was ridiculous. His mind was playing tricks. It was just his imagination. There was nothing here.
He unhooked the chain and pulled the door open wide.
Still nothing.

Then he heard it. The whispering. The voices all around him; hushed, sibilant, chanting voices that almost harmonized with the murmuring of the wind in the trees across the street.

His body felt cold; colder than the ice on the ground, and he stood rigid, unable to move or speak. He opened his mouth to shout but no words would come. And so he screamed within his mind instead.

He could sense them now, all around him, the bodies behind the voices; they were calling to him, calling him by a name that was not his own. He knew them well; knew when they were coming. He could sense their smell, feel that familiar tingling sensation like the touch of breath on the surface of his skin.

What do you want ? What do you want with me ?

Time seemed to have slowed; even the wind had ceased. Somewhere in the distance an owl hooted and almost in response there came the shrill cry of a fox. He felt something scuttle by his feet and saw the flicker of moths dancing in the light from the cottage window. He was suddenly aware of everything, as if all movement was happening just a single frame at a time.

And then suddenly they appeared; darkness silhouetted darker than the night, materializing from out of the thick hedgerow opposite the cottage. Their faces were pale, long; part human, part something… maybe animal, with wide eyes and wolf-like features. He had seen them many times before, in dreams and in waking. He knew them and they him.

He felt his chest begin to tighten and his throat burning, and he dropped to his knees, staring at the ground unable to face them.
Images rushed through his mind, images that he half-recognized from his darkest nightmares. Bodies; twisted, broken, mutilated. Houses burning. People running, screaming. The stone; the woman. Pain, anger, hurt, fear.
Feelings that he had learnt - that they had taught him - to rationalize into words.

They are coming for you. It is beginning.

He felt a searing pain shoot across the side his face as if somebody had sliced him with a knife and felt a warm trickle of blood running down his cheek.

The pain aroused him, and he lurched back to his feet. He screamed then, with all of his remaining breath; a scream that reminded his conscious, sane mind of the howl of a wild animal. Anger, frustration, pain, all rolled into one tumultuous release. It freed him, and he felt his legs finally respond to the instinct to flee. He fell back, half-crawling onto the cold stone of the cottage floor, and slammed the door shut without pausing to slide across the bolts. Then he ran, chasing through the kitchen to the staircase. He stumbled up the stairs and into his bedroom, finally collapsing onto the bed at the back of the room.

He didn’t move for the rest of the night.

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 21:51 on 24 June 2003  Report this post
Noddy, no, not bored of it yet, but if it's the fourth chapter, although I don't think I've read them all, have I? - I kind of get a sense of wanting to know a bit more about the roots, background of it all, a sort of pinning down, but without wanting the magical quality to go. Does this make sense? One thing I did notice was in the sentence 'In some dreams he could fly..' you have a yacht. This image jars with the arial images.

noddy at 22:34 on 24 June 2003  Report this post
Hi Becca,
Thanks for reading it (I was beginning to think I'd been sent to coventry by everyone).
First there was the spooky kid prologue, then the first chapter which introduces Daniel, the explosion at the building site, and then this one... so this is kinda chapter 3.
I really wanted to reveal things slowly, a little bit at a time, but now I'm a bit concerned that it's maybe too slow. I'll take another look at that.

Also, I can see your point about the yacht line. That and the 'autopilot' are a bit jarring on the re-read.

Thanks again, Becca

stephanieE at 19:24 on 25 June 2003  Report this post
I like this Nod, it gives a great sense of menace, touching on those unseen horrors that we're all afraid might materialise from our nightmares. I think you've got the pacing about right, and I'm intrigued to know what might happen in the next chapter.

For me, I was concerned about the cat (!) - a chap on the edge as Daniel appears to be doesn't seem to be the sort that would have the time and consideration to feed and keep a cat - but then perhaps I haven't read your other postings, so context may help... It's a very minor thing really - I think you've constructed a strong, eerie piece here.

noddy at 19:49 on 25 June 2003  Report this post
Many thanks for commenting, Stephanie. I appreciate your feedback.
Daniel kind of inherited the cat with the house, and it's one of his few links back to reality... it has some references in the next chapter but I'll have a quick read and see if it makes sense to cut (actually that's what was going to happen to the cat anyway... quite literally).

Kind Regards

Nell at 20:50 on 27 June 2003  Report this post

Have just read this, but would like to read the foregoing chapters before commenting. I did find myself reading faster and faster towards the end though, and wanting more. Will post again later.

Best, Nell.

Nell at 22:10 on 27 June 2003  Report this post

I've read all the chapters now and want to read on. Very scary stuff and quite immediate - I can almost see it a film playing in my mind.

Waiting now for the next chapter.

Best, Nell.

noddy at 23:54 on 27 June 2003  Report this post
Hi Nell,

I really appreciate you reading through these chapters and taking the time to comment. It's a bit rough around the edges at the moment, but I'll keep on chipping away...

Thanks again.

Best Regards

Shadowgirl at 22:59 on 09 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Nod - NOT bored, I repeat NOT bored!!!

You have a great way of drawing me in. The opening paragraph of this chapter had me captured again - so by the "almost" I HAD to read on. It was very visual, and almost aural - if this was a film I could see the camera drawing back from Daniel, and the gentle but unobtrustive music begin and then fade....(just what came into my head as I read anyway).

The rest....oh I did love that opening paragraph...I felt for him so, this moved me very much. I could very much sense his..is it loneliness (you tell me?) It was very graphic and the pounding, pounding, pounding made me gasp. I also loved the contrast of the cat, almost, to be anyway, representing relaity and life going on, as it does, despite everything.

It is very good Nod. Honestly. The dream - capturing the dream like quality but still making it so very real (maybe even more real than the waking hours).

You really do have something here. Sorry, if I have rambled, or not made much sense, but I wanted you to know my initial feelings.

Please post more and soon.
This SHOULD be a success - I'd buy it!

Best wishes

Hilary Custance at 09:25 on 10 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Noddy, the same warmth comes over in this chapter as in the others, which I liked so much .

I did feel I was being marched across events I would have liked to experience with Daniel. The second paragraph is a whole missing chapter. I think we need to travel this rollercoaster too, so that we can feel closer to his current state of mind.

I don't really feel up to speed on the fantasy stuff, though I am happy to take it as the product of a fevered brain (though I think I'd have liked it written in the first person - but then it is your story not mine!)
My favourite line - 'The cold brought thin tears to the edges of his eyes...'

Keep writing, cheers, Hilary

noddy at 18:41 on 10 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Shads,

Many thanks for taking a look at this and commenting. You're far too nice, you know... but you've really cheered me up today :-)

Best Wishes,

noddy at 18:56 on 10 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Hilary,
Thanks for reading this for me... must catch up with your latest chapters (so much to read, so much to work on).

I can see what you mean about the second paragraph - perhaps I need to work on this area... Daniel's life before the events of the novel could probably fill a whole prequel and perhaps I've skimmed over it too much.

For some reason I'm not comfortable with writing first person narrative; I've always steered well clear of it... I'm sure that there's some deep rooted psychological reason behind that !

Best Wishes,

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