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Updated `THE CHASE`!!

by kmerignac 

Posted: 10 July 2003
Word Count: 2822
Summary: One of the opening chapters of a story I've been playing with - all comments welcome!

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Jo ran down the staircase, her heart racing and the sounds of her feet knocking against the floorboards loud in her ears. She could hear him on the stairs behind her and she stopped to look, her heart in her throat, to see him looming high above her. Sunshine was pouring in through the small window behind him, silhouetting his tall, wiry frame and casting heavy shadows over his face and features. For a moment the figure hung above her, threatening and formidable, then it stepped out of the darkness and down into the light. Jo could feel hysteria gaining ground and she had to fight to keep it at bay, then the figure was throwing itself down the stairs towards her and she had to spin herself around, almost stumbling on the stair, in order to escape. She couldn’t help but smile; her brother’s already blotchy teenage complexion had turned a horrid puce colour and his eyes had been so full of hate that the overall impression had been one of a madman. She could hear his footsteps loud on the stairs behind her as she bounded for the door and then she was screaming out into the sun and down onto the grass, her irate brother hot on her heels.
In all the twelve years she’d been living, twelve long years of struggling with the heat and the smells of the City, she’d never felt quite so alive as she did now. As she did since they’d moved into this place. She’d never had looks on her side – she was tall for her age and lanky too, and her mousy hair seemed to always hang in rat’s tails on her shoulders no matter what she tried to do with it – but she could at least say she was happy now. Happier than she’d ever been in London. Two months they’d been here - a relatively short time if compared with the twelve years she’d spent in the City - but it already felt more like home than the old house had ever done. She hadn’t cried on the day of the move, hadn’t wept a single tear for what she knew she’d be leaving behind, and when the van had pulled up in front of this place she’d been overwhelmed by a sense of belonging. A sense of coming home. But things weren’t quite so straightforward for Shaun who’d left a safe circle of friends and admirers back in London. He was a couple of years older than her and at that age where friendships suddenly took on a new meaning. Having to start all over again was proving difficult. She loved their new home and knew she always would, but for Shaun it was going to take a bit of getting used to. He might come to consider it home one day, but certainly didn’t yet.
She paused and turned to look at the house behind her. It was a grand affair, built in the late eighteenth century, although wings had been added almost a hundred years later giving it a kind of strange, although by no means ugly, appearance. The site for the house had been chosen for its view – on top of a small hill, it offered a breathtaking view of most of the surrounding countryside. It’s garden was green and lush with small flowerbeds dotted here and there, and a thick carpet of grass dropped away from its terrace and down to a small river next to which her dad had forbidden her to play.
A movement caught her eye away to the left and she became aware of the home’s gardener, Dorfmann, who was standing in one of the flowerbeds near the terrace watching her. His expression was grim, and thick with disapproval. She acknowledged this, and dismissed it again just as quickly, then turned to look at her brother who was still standing in the doorway undecided as to whether he should continue his chase or not. Jo giggled – she couldn’t help it. Or maybe she could, but sure as hell didn’t want to. Shaun glared back down at her, his face distorted with hate, and then he was down the steps and coming for her, moving more quickly than she would have thought possible, driven no doubt by huge surges of adrenalin, and she spun on her heels, screaming her delight.
When she came to the copse of trees at the bottom of the slope she slowed, anticipating the damp mud she knew she'd find there in its leafy shade. She entered the semi-darkness and stood still while her eyes adjusted to the new light. Then she moved on, picking her way over the damp ground and moving closer to the river on the other side. She looked up and realised she could already see the makeshift bridge that her dad had erected when they’d moved in. It was supposed to have been a temporary affair, but had already been around long enough for the term to no longer seem very appropriate. In actual fact it was little more than a few old planks and hardly what you might call solid, but it gave them access to the little path on the other side of the river and so constituted a handy short cut to the nearest village.
Jo hesitated. The river was deep here and she wasn’t supposed to come down this far. It was out of bounds. Hardly a good place to have an out and out fight with her brother. She thought about turning back but could hear Shaun's heavy breathing already just behind the trees and knew it was too late. She stood and chewed at her lip in silence while weighing up the pros and cons. Okay, she was going to get into trouble. And her dad was going to be furious. But there was no way she could back down now. If she did that she’d look a complete fool. Shaun was going to tell on her whatever she did… and above and over anything else, she hadn’t enjoyed herself so much in ages. She smiled, nervously, under the cover of the trees. She‘d pushed Shaun to his limits, and now that their confrontation was imminent she couldn’t help feeling a little apprehensive about just how violent it would be. She strode out into the middle of the bridge, pushed her doubts aside, and turned to face the oncoming enemy, determined to enjoy her moment of victory.
She could feel the warmth of the sun on her back, and the short, rasping sounds that were coming from her throat as she tried to catch her breath ripped through the silence, loud at first but receding all the time until eventually the sound was replaced by a more subtle one, that of the water as it trickled softly beneath her feet. She looked down. The river could well have been at its deepest here. It was dark. Black almost. Its surface flashed in the sunshine, glinting bright sparks of light that caught the eye and a small twig was floating off to the left, rocking in the current, moving gently back and forth. To and fro. The whole scene was one of calm, and peace. Tranquillity. She relaxed a little. The twig began to float out of sight and she moved closer to the edge of the bridge to watch it go. She became aware of the heat of the sun as it licked at her skin and tried to imagine what it would be like to be down there, floating in the river’s warm waters... floating gently to and fro. The trickling sound was loud in her head and had begun forming intricate melodies and soft lullabies in her mind ... and then there were what sounded like voices, songs even. Faint. Difficult to hear. She shuffled closer, and would’ve move forward even more but Shaun chose that moment to storm out from behind the trees, crashing into her intimacy and making her jump.
'You cow!!’
He was screaming. Looked completely mad. She stared at him, stupidly, and for a moment couldn’t quite remember why this should be. Then it all came flooding back. She looked down at the bridge and at the water rolling by beneath her and realised that her heart had suddenly started beating much faster. She felt nervous and disorientated, knowing she was much closer to the edge than she should’ve been, and so she stepped back, her head swimming in confusion, and then looked up at her brother again. His face was red, and fine pearls of sweat were sticking to his brow. His hair was hanging, limp, plastered to the sides of his hot face and his fists were clenched into tight little balls by his thighs. Jo felt dizzy. She knew she was blushing, and the soft heat of the sun felt uncomfortable now on her hot cheeks.
‘Sorry,’ she said.
He looked at her, incredulous, and she knew she was going to have to do better.
'Really. It was a completely stupid thing to say. It wasn’t even true. I made the whole thing up… I’ve never even spoken to her… Honest.'
They were arguing about Nikki, his most recent love interest. Pretty, but the intellect of a sponge. Shaun stared back at her, apparently doubting her sincerity and inspecting her the way he might a weird species of beetle. But she thought he looked calmer. A bit.
'I hate you.’
Flat. A statement, not a reproach.
He unclenched his fists and stuffed the hands they were attached to down into the pockets of his jacket.
‘You’re a bitch,’ he said, ‘and I hate you’
His face had assumed its usual sulky expression. She didn’t trust herself to say a word.
'What is it with you?… Why can't you just leave me alone for Christ's sake?'
He turned to go back to the house, back to his bedroom, his sanctuary, grumbling under his breath about how unfair life was, and Jo watched him go. She felt uncomfortable. Guilty too. Something moved and she caught it with the corner of her eye. She glanced round but saw nothing and supposed it to be a small animal or insect dashing into hiding. She turned back to see Shaun disappearing into the trees. The sun was still high in the sky but a cold wind had sprung up and she could feel gooseflesh prickling the tops of her arms. She pulled her cardigan more tightly about her and let her mind drift back to what had just happened. She looked down at the water and shivered. Flecks of light were flickering off the water, just as they’d always done, and the only sound she could hear now was that of the water rolling gently by. Just as it had always done. No music, no voices. No mystery. She turned to follow Shaun back to the house. Something warm brushed against the back of her legs. She flinched immediately, and twinges of panic sprung up in her stomach, bright and alive. She turned to look, but there was nothing there. She felt scared now and wanted to get off the bridge as quickly as she possibly could, but before the signal from her brain could reach her feet someone pushed her in the back and she was pitching forwards into the river. She tried to grab at the overhanging branches as she fell but the few that she could reach just slipped through her fingers. The surface of the water rushed closer and closer, and when the inevitable became obvious she screamed with as much force as she could muster into the silence; Shaun had gone, but he couldn’t have gone far, and if he heard her he would surely come back… although as the icy water engulfed her body she realised that the last was an assumption she couldn’t necessarily count on and her heart skipped a few beats.
The change in temperature was sudden and breathtaking. Adrenalin pumped through her body as it coped with the cold and in her heightened state of awareness she prepared herself for what she expected to be a rough landing on the riverbed. But instead of crashing to the bottom she kept falling, deeper and deeper. Colder and colder. The sound of the water rushing past her roared loud in her ears and her heart accelerated as the depth increased. And she wondered how this could possibly make sense. How the water could possibly be so deep. Then she touched down. Suddenly and without warning. And everything seemed to stop. The sound of the water in her ears was replaced by a gloopy silence and she sat floating in the water, weightless, held aloft. As the pull of the surface reclaimed control of her body and began to lift her up out of the depths and towards the sun she opened her eyes. She looked up, and saw soft ripples glittering on the river’s surface high above. She kicked at the water with her feet and flapped with her arms to accelerate her climb. A head appeared above, peering down into the river, its form distorted by ripples. A shaky image - a gaping shape mouthing words she couldn’t hear and wide staring eyes - and she realised it was probably Shaun. He looked daft and she wanted to laugh and that surprised her. Her panic had gone. Had been replaced by calm.
Tiny bubbles were floating in the depths between her and her brother, silver droplets sparkling in the sun as she coasted like a bird in a clear summer sky. Water embraced her. Enfolded and protected her. Music drifted into her mind, the same she’d heard before from the bridge, rising up from the bed. She looked down to where weed was swaying and fish were darting to and fro, apparently undisturbed by her presence. She could see a mirror. Huge, and filled with a bright dazzling light. Almost… She peered closer, her brain refusing to accept the information her eyes were delivering. She lashed out with her feet in an attempt to manoeuvre her body around and at exactly the same time something gripped her arm with a force that hurt and pulled her roughly backwards through the water. Panic kicked in again, even more acute, more sudden and more terrifying than before, and with it came the realisation that she couldn't breathe. Neither could she free herself from that vice-like grip. Terror squeezed at her stomach as her lungs emptied themselves of oxygen and in her panic she found herself trying to scream, but as soon as she opened her mouth icy water was sweeping into her body making her choke, violently and painfully, and her chest felt like it was going to collapse under the pressure. Her head began to feel lighter and her vision was fading, and then she couldn’t choke any more, and the water was stopping its aggressive invasion… was becoming a part of her… and she was floating again… and consciousness was slipping away…

Someone was shaking her… could hear someone speaking her name. Tried to open her eyes… couldn't.
Her lids felt heavy.
Hazy images.
Shaun in soft focus. Leaning over her. His face pale.
'Jo? Jo! Are you okay?… Jo?’
He saw her see him through half open eyes and his shoulders slumped.
'For God's sake!’ he said. There was exhaustion in his voice. ‘You scared the living daylights out of me… I didn't think I'd ever get you out.’
She reached to put her hand in his but couldn’t speak; her throat felt raw. He stared at the hand he was holding.
'God'struth, Jo, you're freezing!… Are you sure you're all right?… I should phone a bloody doctor shouldn’t I.'
'I'm fine.’
Her voice was gravelly, and he looked doubtful. She swallowed hard.
'Really,' she said. ‘I’m fine.’
She tried to stand. Her head swam with the effort, but she managed to stay on her feet. Shaun offered his arm for support and she took it.
'Can’t we just go home?'
Her throat was gritty and she felt weak, but apart from that she was just about okay. She certainly didn’t think there was anything really wrong with her. She stood on the bank for a moment to get her balance and then began to move in the general direction of the trees with Shaun following close behind, anxiety still contorting his features. As she reached the trees she turned to look back at the river; its surface was shining in the sun, winking softly in the light, looking just the same as it always had, and then Shaun moved closer to put an arm about her shoulders and shielded her view. Jo turned to leave. She walked into the shade of the trees, and the river was gone.

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Comments by other Members

Becca at 15:57 on 10 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Kmerignac, I want to know more. Good clear writing here, sense of expectation. Will it be a story or is it part of a chapter of a novel? Feels like a novel. Slightly too short a piece to be able to say much on, so I hope you'll continue to post.

Nell at 17:07 on 10 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Kmerignac, I like the way this begins - fast pace, almost running down the stairs with Jo - who's behind her, what will he do if he catches her, is she in danger? Then the sudden change - 'she'd never felt quite so alive as she did now,' - good writing, keep posting.

Best, Nell.

noddy at 20:26 on 10 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Kmerignac,
Nice pace... I'd be interested in reading more.

Best Rgds

kmerignac at 17:52 on 11 July 2003  Report this post
Thanks for your comments, and you're right it isn't much so I will give you some more as soon as I manage to find a few minutes (two young children take up loads of time!). Will keep in touch - this is a fantastic site and I just wish I could sit here all day!

Ralph at 13:51 on 12 July 2003  Report this post
looking forward to reading some more of this - the pace is fantastic and it makes for a gripping opening. I really hope you do find the time :)

stephanieE at 12:07 on 14 July 2003  Report this post
Too short to really give positive feedback, except to say that it starts quite dark and then allowed me a sigh of relief... (oh, and there's a type in 'looming high abover her')

Sarah at 13:51 on 17 July 2003  Report this post
Hey... good feeling of suspense there at the beginning... I've been chased by an irate brother as well, one much bigger and stronger than me... can remember the exciting horrible fear of being caught...

kmerignac at 14:06 on 21 July 2003  Report this post
I've managed to spit the rest out - at last - and want to thank all of those who have commented on the first couple of paragraphs. It's fantastic to get some kind of feedback. I'm glad the chase at the beginning and the twist from fear to exhileration seems to work, and just hope you like the rest! Whether you do or don't, let me know!

stephanieE at 15:01 on 21 July 2003  Report this post
Great stuff kmerignac - very good description of sinking below the surface of the river and the strange sensations that swirl around Jo.

I was wondering about point of view though. This is told from Jo's POV, but there are some things that don't seem to have quite the right 'feel' for a 12-year old (not that I'm an expert you understand!) Would she, for example, know the gardener as Piers Dorfman. And if she did, wouldn't she think it was a bit of a weird name? Would she phrases like breathtaking view, surge of adrenalin, temporary affair? Don't get me wrong, I think this is well-written, but I'm just not entirely convinced I'm in Jo's head yet...

And a small thing that tripped me:
and down to a small river next to which her dad had forbidden her to play shortly after the move. I don't think you need the last four words - they're superfluous and just make the sentence overlong...

An intriguing start to a tale that leaves me wanting to know more.

kmerignac at 12:48 on 24 July 2003  Report this post
Thanks StephanieE, I really appreciate your feedback. Interesting what you say about the view point - to be honest I hadn't really given it much thought; I kind of assumed that because it wasn't first person it wouldn't shock that much and I didn't really want to write in a Peter and Jane style! So thanks for that, even though at the moment I'm not sure quite what to do about it! The gardener's name - I changed that just before I sent it because I was going to leave the last name off then thought it might be better to 'introduce' the character properly, but you're probably right. I've also taken on board what you said about 'shortly after the move' and agree that it's a bit too much - it's not always obvious to see what should be staring you in the face!
All in all, thanks very much, very constructive criticism, and I'm glad that it made you want to read more as this is kind of the idea!!

kmerignac at 13:52 on 24 July 2003  Report this post
UPDATE: NEW AND IMPROVED 'THE CHASE' is for those who haven't yet read 'The Chase' in its entirety and who would like to - please send me your comments.
Thanks to everyone, kmerignac.

Becca at 19:48 on 24 July 2003  Report this post
Kmerignac, can I call you KM? In this piece the river has become a character, sensual and menacing at the same time. I wondered if you know a river like this and have stared into it. There's a wonderful tension in this, I couldn't quite get why the river changes it's emphasis, but it didn't matter in the slightest. This writing is good. There would be only one thing I would say and that is to go through it for repeated words, say within four sentences and change all but one to something else. I'm not saying there are a huge number, but the one that sticks out is 'Joe felt nervous and disorientated.' And then not to far away 'Joe felt disorientated.'
I really enjoyed reading this, thank you for it. What is it part of? Novel, short story?

Nell at 20:26 on 24 July 2003  Report this post

I loved the darkness amid the everyday in this, and the all too familiar intensity of brotherly/sisterly emotions. I found myself reading faster and faster as the piece progressed - that tension Becca spoke of - and yes, I can see this as something much longer with the river an ever-present force and fascination lurking at the bottom of the garden. I think that what this is really about though is the love/hate relationship between siblings - the river is perhaps a device to show Jo that deep down her brother truly cares about her. Good writing and a very enjoyable read.

Best, Nell.

kmerignac at 11:39 on 25 July 2003  Report this post
(Of course, KM is fine!). I'm glad you liked it and liked your comments. The emphasis on the river does change and it's done on purpose because this is one of the opening chapters of a novel I've written in which the river holds center stage - at the beginning anyway. It holds a secret, and so the mystery is supposed to come across. And I'm glad you felt strongly about the description of the river because I did hope that would happen. I have no clear memories of any river in particular, but of course all writing seems to come from personal experience somewhere along the line, and I'm glad I managed to get some of that feeling across.
Thanks for spotting the repetition - to be honest I hadn't read through the final version so I'm not surprised. Very unprofessional, and I'll go back and look. I was so keen to get it onto the site and have your opinions!...
Thanks for your encouragement.


Different comments, but just as interesting, and I'm glad you picked up the pace as you read - as an opening chapter I did try to gear it up for that... get them interested and all that! And that you found there was a mix of everyday and darkness is fantastic. I open with the every day in the hope of grabbing the reader's attention and then place a bit of darkness and mystery to introduce one of major elements of the novel, ie: the secret held by the river. The relationship between the brother and sister is of course important because is serves to portray a little of the heroine's (Jo) character, but this being a novel the underlying storyline is going to be important too... and that's where the river comes in.
But I'm glad you seem to like it, and really appreciate your feedback.

Many thanks to you both, KM.

Ralph at 11:27 on 28 July 2003  Report this post
There's a powerful, possessive quality to this. Incredibly penetrative descriptions,breath taking tension. Superb writing.
I loved the rythym both of your words and the turning of your phrases, and the subconscious confidence of your narration which doesn't impose on the reader at all but pulls them right in to the story.
The only points I could really make about this are very picky ones. Just a couple of places where the sentences seemed to slip slightly from the major force of the piece:

1) The line about the temporary bridge... something slightly awkward about the term not being "incredibly appropriate".

2) As Jo hits the water, her heart "skipped a few beats". Just slightly clichéd compared to the originality of the rest of this.

Like I say, incredibly picky. Kmerignac this is beautiful. Please post more.



kmerignac at 17:30 on 29 July 2003  Report this post
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your positive comments - it's a real morale booster. I was beginning to have a few doubts and now feel much more motivated!
And your comments are completely valid -funnily enough I'd actually already changed 'incredibly appropriate' on a reread because I thought it sounded daft! I put 'very' in because I thought it ran better, but maybe even that's a bit stupid - I don't know, if you have five minutes maybe you could let me know! And as far as 'skipping beats' is concerned, I think you're quite right. It felt a bit clichéd as I put it down, but thought I'd give it a go - as you do! I think that will come out now though.
You sent a very complete and comprehensive comment, and thank you for that, I really appreciate it,
Yours, Kate

Ralph at 09:28 on 30 July 2003  Report this post
I think the "very" works really well - just that extra little emphasis. It's a gift you have to make every sentance catch the reader like that, without any of them jarring...
Oh God... you too huh? It's horrible when you start doubting, and it can absolutely paralyse you sometimes - but you have nothing to be doubtful about. I know it probably doesn't help much for me to say that, but do keep writing because this is certainly something I have loved reading and I'm not the only one. You have a talent, Kate.
All the best with it

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