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Changeling - Chapter 5

by noddy 

Posted: 15 July 2003
Word Count: 1684
Summary: The story is becoming darker now. This is a little rough, but I would really appreciate your comments to help improve it. Many thanks, Nod

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Daniel woke to the sound of the wind buffeting against the back of the house. He shivered and wrapped his quilt up around him. Although he was still fully clothed, his feet and hands were freezing and so he pulled his legs up close to his chest, foetal-like, to avoid the draught around the edge of the bed. He opened his eyes just enough to see a trail of sparkling dust motes caught in the early morning sunlight and stared at them as his mind began to awaken. His mother used to tell him that those glistening specks were fairies, and that if he stared carefully enough into the sunbeams he would be able to see them dancing towards him, their tiny silver wings fluttering like a thousand miniature butterflies new born to the morning. It was an image that had terrified him for years.

There was blood on his pillow; a dark, round pool the colour, size, and texture of an over-ripe peach. He lifted his throbbing head slightly and rubbed the dried residue from the side of his cheek before collapsing back down again, overcome by nausea and unable to maintain the weight of his swollen brain.

It took him several moments to gather his thoughts, and for a while he did not move, his mind reiterating the events of the previous night. Somehow it all seemed distant now, like a dream long past.

Just another dream.

Sliding down from the bed, his eyes narrow slits, he pulled back the curtains of the low window and looked across at the yard outside. A blanket of fresh snow covered the ground.
He stared out for a while, watching as the wispy flakes were lifted by the wind and thrown against the garden wall. There was still something magical about waking up to a snow-covered back garden. It reminded him of childhood winters, of snowballs and numb fingers, and frozen wet socks in heavy black welly boots that pinched his toes.

Just a dream. Everything's fine now. Just another dream.

He rubbed his hands across his unshaven face, then rested his head in his palms.
His sleep over the last few days had been patchy, an amalgam of lucid and confused dreams of Sandra and Matthew intermingled with the usual bizarre images of people and places that he only part recognised. He often awoke with the full intensity of those dreams still clear in his mind; a cocktail of emotions: love, hate, terror, joy, loss, and others that he would recall only later during the day, when the visions came rushing back together with the emotions that accompanied them. Sometimes it was difficult to differentiate between the dreams and reality; the dreams were just so real, and the reality seemed somehow so intangible.

He rose from the bedside and walked purposefully out of the room and down the narrow wooden stairs. Reaching the bottom, he glanced first through to the kitchen and then across the living room towards the front-door, where his eyes lingered momentarily. It was unlocked: just as he could remember leaving it in the panic of the night before. For a moment he paused, then he cursed himself and walked cautiously over.

As he moved through the living room, he became aware once again of the sound of the wind battering against the walls outside and felt a cold breeze from the chimney sweep around his legs. He glanced over to the fire and saw that it had long ago burnt down to small heap of grey ash in the hearth. He reached the door and slipped the chain back onto the catch before cautiously pulling it open.

There was nothing. Just the snow. He almost laughed at his paranoia: after all, what had he been expecting to see ?
His breath steadying, he slipped off the chain and opened the door wider.
“Oh God…”
The ground was blood-red around the base of the door; two legs and part of the lower torso of an animal were partially hidden beneath the red snow.

Salvador. His cat. Salvador

The rest of the animal’s insides had been scattered around the doorway, a mixture of scarlet and purple gore half-frozen like raspberry slush in the snow around his feet.
Daniel fell back, overcome by nausea and shock. As he did so, something fell from just above him and dropped to the ground with a muffled thud. In the snow lay the cat's head, now crushed almost flat, blood and brain pummelled into the stonework above the door. Vomit surged up into his mouth and he turned away, catching it in his hands.
He pushed the door shut again, tears filling his eyes, and sank to his knees on the floor.

Tears still in his eyes and a cloth held over his mouth to stop himself vomiting again, he cleaned the remains of the cat from the doorway and gave the animal a proper burial in a small cardboard box in the back garden. The ground was hard and it was difficult digging. Time and again the spade clanged down into the frozen soil, displacing only handfuls of gravel-shaped soil.

Bastards. Bastards. Why ?

He swung the spade down into the soil and stared down at the ground.

"Dan !"
He jumped, his thoughts shattered, and fell backwards. The spade clattered to the floor.
“Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you.”

It was Ellen, his neighbor. She was standing on the narrow pathway that ran along the bottom of his garden. He nodded to her. “Don't worry. I was somewhere else.”

He felt his heart pound uncomfortably as he watched her move over to the gate. About five years his junior, she had a small, likeable face with big round green glasses and long, straggly, hair that flapped about her face in the wind. She was wearing a thick blue corduroy coat and green woolly gloves. A small, battered-looking rucksack hung over her shoulder and a long, red and yellow striped scarf dangled loosely around her neck. She had moved here about three months ago and during that period he had managed to avoid her as best he could. Ellen came across as bubbly, bright, and cheerful; characteristics that Daniel found particularly disconcerting. Fortunately she worked in London during the week and only came back to the cottage at weekends. This made the odd weekend conversation vaguely bearable.

Except this weekend.

“What’s wrong ?” she asked quickly. “What are you doing ?”
Daniel stared at the newly dug ground. “Nothing.”
She followed his eyes to the spade and then the box.
“Somebody killed my cat,” he said slowly.
Her voice was shocked. “Sally ? Oh God. I’m sorry. When did it happen ?”
He didn’t want to speak; any words seemed trite and empty.
The gate swung open and he heard her feet crunching through the snow towards him. “Are you OK ?”
He nodded, pulling himself upright and fighting back the tears.
“How did it happen ?” she asked quietly. Her hair flapped across her face and she pushed it away. “Was it a fox or something ?”
He shook his head.
“God. Have you called the police ?”
“But you will ?”
He thought about it for a moment. He had considered calling the police earlier that morning, but there were things that he couldn’t explain to them; secrets that were his and his alone.
“I’ll call them later,” he said quietly.
She was still for a moment, then she said: “You need a coffee.”
“No thanks. Not at the moment.”
She stepped towards him, and he saw her eyes try to meet his. For a moment he was unsure of what she might do. He shuffled backwards nervously.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” she said slowly, looking up at him. “But what have you done to your head ?”
She was pointing to the side of his temple, just to the right of his eye. He moved his hand to the spot and almost fell backwards with the intensity of the pain. When he brought his fingers back down, they were covered with bright fresh blood. He recalled again the images of the night before; the whispering voices, the visions...
“Are you OK ?”
Daniel stared at his scarlet fingers. “No… I… I don’t remember.” He moved his hand back again and gingerly explored the wound.
“You should put something on that.”
“I’m fine. It’s just…” He shook his head. “I must have caught it on something when I got up this morning.”
“OK. But just remember - if you need anything, give me a call.”
“I will.”
She nodded, then turned back down the pathway. "Dan..."
"Yes ?"
She shuffled and looked down uncomfortably. "If you feel like coming around the house this evening, or any other time - just to talk - then you're quite welcome. We can get a pizza in or something."
He felt his neck start to burn. "I'm OK, thanks. I've got a lot on my mind." He looked down at the small grave. “And I’m not sure I’d be much company.”
Her face fell. "OK," she replied. "No worries. Just don't forget the offer. I'm only next door if you need some company."
Then she turned and walked quickly along the steep downhill path, kicking up snow as she went. Just as she began to disappear, he called over to her. "Ellen ?"
She stopped and looked across.
"What time did you get back last night ?"
"I don’t know. Eleven thirty perhaps. Maybe later." A worried expression crossed her face. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Uh, no. No... You didn't see anything, did you ?"
"Like what ?”
"Nothing. Sorry, it’s nothing. Thanks anyway."
She stood for a moment, then smiled quizzically. "OK then. Take care, Dan."
He watched her as she turned and slid like a child through the fresh snow down the hill, then he turned back to the garden and the shallow grave.
"Don't do this to me," he whispered quietly. "Not again. Not again."

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Comments by other Members

Shadowgirl at 21:14 on 15 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Nod!

I happened to be online just as you posted this and read eagerly straight away. I loved it. I loved the dark edge - although there was always a hint in other chapters - I love that I don't yet understand, but know at some point I will. I am eager to read more. The spade section was, for me, the most frightening.

I love your use of italics and one liners between paragraphs - that in my opinion works so well.

Comments to improve it? Oh that's tricky, except I think you write very much as I do. You have written sentences full of emotions/feelings/descriptions which take us right to the heart and soul of Daniel. I know that when I have editted A Letter from England, I realise that some of the detail isn't as necessary as I first thought. I think it is important to get it down at first, but maybe on a re-read you could eliminate a little, meaning that what was left was even more powerful than in already it. I hope this helps, and it's not a criticism at all, because I for one loved to read it as it was.

Well done again Nod - but one question - have you finished it, or are you still writing it?

Best wishes

noddy at 21:27 on 15 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Shads,
Crikey, I've only just popped it up there.

Thanks for reading it for me... it's funny, when it appears in this format there seem so many more errors! I think you're right about the emotional descriptions for sure... I'll have a bit of a hack at those later.

The novel is finished, but much of it is still raw and I've been re-writing since Christmas (I'm slow, I know).

Catch you later.
Best Regards

Nell at 08:12 on 16 July 2003  Report this post
Hi Noddy,

Gripping. Love the mystery and as Shads mentioned the sense that the story will unfold to reveal the answer gradually. There's a real sense of empathy with Daniel now - the reader cares about him and is carried along by the awful events.

I like the contrast between the beauty of '...tiny silver wings fluttering like a thousand miniature butterflies...' before you plunge us straight into the horror of '...blood on his pillow; a dark, round pool the colour, size, and texture of an over-ripe peach...' and 'Vomit surged up into his mouth and he turned away, catching it in his hands.' The last seems somehow horribly realistic - something unlikely that has the ring of truth about it.

The dialogue between Ellen and Daniel seems real too, looking forward to the next chapter, best, Nell.

Becca at 12:59 on 16 July 2003  Report this post
Yes, this is getting very tense now, and Shads comment about not needing to know what's going on too soon holds true for me too, but I really do want to know, as you post in the pieces it really begins to build.
I smiled when I read that he was terrified for years about the dust-motes and fairies.
The only thing I'd say is in the burial you have the word soil three times in quick succession (sp?), a dead easy thing to deal with.

Mika Smith at 20:40 on 17 July 2003  Report this post
Dear Noddy

I enjoyed your juxtaposition of horror and beauty. His acceptance of his own injury is conveyed well. I think people have a resourse for dealing with the unspeakable, a sort of detachment which kicks in when we are in the thick of it and he seems to be in this state.
I found the girl reacted oddly to his brush off re his head injury, particularly as he says he doesn't remember how it happened. I'd be carting him off to A&E if I was her not arranging a hot pizza date! The tension in the piece is great. I'm looking forward to being made to feel sick some more.


noddy at 21:03 on 17 July 2003  Report this post
Thanks for reading this, folks.
Nell... really grateful for your positive words. I'm learning a lot from this site and it's good to know what works and what doesn't.
Becca... many thanks also for keeping up with it. Sorry for tantalising you. I'm hoping to keep the tension going for a while longer without drawing it out too much.
Mika... many thanks for your comments. You're right about the dialogue... on re-reading , Ellen moves on too quickly. I'll try to make the change a little more subtle.

Thanks all.

Best Regards

Becca at 21:30 on 17 July 2003  Report this post
Mika, I think she fancies him a rather lot.

Mika Smith at 21:54 on 17 July 2003  Report this post
She could get quite close applying Germolene.

noddy at 21:57 on 17 July 2003  Report this post
Mmmm pink, smelly stuff. Now that's real horror!

olebut at 22:17 on 17 July 2003  Report this post

it is as entrancing as its predessors,

what ever you do don't use germoline pink horrible smelly stuff that makes a wound go sloughy wash it and let the air at it

one small point I loved the phrase cocktail of emotions but not sure if you need to use it and then list them seems a bit like tortology to my simple mind, but then what do I know about short stories

just hurry up and post the next bit

take care


Nell at 07:44 on 18 July 2003  Report this post

That's good advice re. the Germolene, but this is fiction! And I definitely agree with letting the air get at it!

stephanieE at 11:34 on 18 July 2003  Report this post
I won't re-iterate all that has been said already, but this is damn good. I don't see much need for heavy editing to this section at all, although I think that the dialogue could perhaps do with a little more hesitation to make it more real. That's not to say that it doesn't work as it is, but I know that when I listen to dialogue, it's sprinkled with er... and um... and well, and really and pauses - because that's how we really talk (OK, unless you're Andrew Marr perhaps).

I particularly like the way you manage to describe the horrific image of the cats mangled body without being overly sensationalist.

Keep it going, and yes, please do keep tantalising us with what might have happened...

kmerignac at 16:40 on 25 July 2003  Report this post
Have just read all five bits in one go (I've got a bit of catching up to do as I've only just started here) and am green with envy. I really think this excellent and there is very little to be said. This is exactly the kind of genre (although I hate that word and have the same problem when it comes to naming my kind of writing because as soon as the word 'horror' or 'fantasy' spring up people cringe - it's all become so stereotyped) I go for and all I can say is bravo!

The first chapter is excellent, and it's obvious you have kids to be able to create that kind of atmosphere - very realistic and easy to read. A good opener - it runs quickly and smoothly and sets the tone. I was hooked immediately.
The second (and third) give us all the suspense and tension. I loved the reference to stars in the sky and his 'He somehow didn't expect there to be much light in the heavens when he was gone'. It just works really well. I think maybe 'It had become his home' in Changeling 2 didn't need to be in italics. A good little sentence, but I feel italics is maybe just a little too much.
The fourth didn't have quite the same feel. I loved the bit when he's on the sofa looking at the ceiling! Little details but which really flavour your work. On the other hand 'felt his soul would surely burst' felt a bit like a cliche (I personally think it would be better without 'surely'), and also 'he paused once more' (before going outside) could possibly lose the 'once more' because he's just woken up and stood up and hasn't apparently paused yet - am I being stupid?!
The fifth is fantastic again and I love it. The feet scrunching on the snow, and the dialogue all ring really true. Nothing is shoved in your face and yet there's so much detail - it's really good writing. Reference to a pizza feels a bit weird to me though too. It's a bit too mundane for me and feels strange in such a clever text. Maybe just leave out 'We can get a pizza in or something' altogether because it works just as well without it. Maybe play down the blood on his head a bit too if you feel she's moving in a bit fast in the circumstances, although I can understand her invitation and don't feel that's too odd - let's face it, she's probably had her eyes on him for weeks!
Sorry this is so long, but wanted to encourage you, and comment on the whole thing. If this isn't snatched up by someone then what chance do the rest of us stand?!
Well done!

viky7258 at 21:43 on 03 August 2003  Report this post
I love these Changeling stories. They are great, they certainly keep you reading, and wanting more.

No doubt everyone does it while they're reading, but I visualise the scene as if it were a film in my head (no doubt this is why we're disappointed when books are made into films). Your writing certainly conjures up some strong images in my mind.

Post more, more, more and keep my ever hungry mind fed please.

Thanks ;)

Hilary Custance at 13:56 on 08 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Noddy, I'm hopeless, only found this last night. Apart from making the serious error of reading it while eating my sandwiches, I enjoed it. (better somehow than the last chapter - but that may just be me struggling with fantasy). I particularly like the way you describe dust motes so that the reader can see them as beautiful - than slap us in the face by revealing them as a source of nightmares. This also cleverly reveals the 'abnormality' of the changeling himself.

I admit that until Ellen's appearance I had imagined his cottage to be miles from any other human habitation, but that is probably the effect of reading things in tiny slices (not to mention the aging memory system).
The colour, size and texture of an over-ripe peach? Weird but again maybe you want that.

I shall keep on reading, so your lovely writing has overcome my disinclination to read in subject area.

Cheers, Hilary

noddy at 20:14 on 08 August 2003  Report this post
Hi all, and many thanks for your kind thoughts... I haven't been around on the site much for a few weeks because of other commitments, but it's a real confidence booster to see your comments.
Hilary - I've taken a break from Changeling (it was getting a bit wood-for-trees on the editing, if you know what I mean) and am rattling through another novel at the moment... at that wonderful stage where I'm actually creating something rather than re-drafting. It's a much more human story than anything I've done to date, and I've a feeling I'm going to need your expert opinion on a couple of areas in the future !
Thanks again

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